Improving Job Satisfaction

By Steven E. Sacks, CPA, CGMA, ABC

A recent report published by the Conference Board indicates that slightly over half (51%) of U.S. workers are satisfied with their jobs; this means a not-too-insignificant amount (49%) are less than satisfied with their jobs. The study consisted of 1,500 workers surveyed on 23 components that comprise job satisfaction.

Job dissatisfaction is not a new occurrence, and with the increased influence of technology, this issue has not experienced much improvement over the past 15 to 20 years. A recent study by Job Seeker Nation, indicated that 82 percent of workers would like to seek new employment opportunities, although the prospects of landing a new one would be more difficult than last year. A few years ago, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the average American worker will hold nine different jobs before age 32. The Millennials use this frequent mobility as a way to find a better culture and to quickly move up the salary chain.

However, there is no guarantee that the grass is greener in each new environment you enter.

Studies show the same dissatisfaction has impacted generations of workers in areas such as:

  • Job stress
  • Poor leadership
  • Lack of team cohesiveness
  • No recognition from leadership
  • Absence of a clear career path
  • Poor internal communication
  • No monies allotted for professional development
  • Lack of challenging work or increased responsibility
  • Ineffective supervision
  • Increased costs
  • Incoherent long-term strategy
  • Reduced benefits

These are not all inclusive, but they do have wide-ranging implications, such as reduced morale, decreased productivity, mixed messages from senior leadership, increased absenteeism and illness due to job stress. This last symptom can cost U.S. business $500 billion annually.

Attempts to Reduce Job Dissatisfaction Have Fallen Short

Organizations, whether in the public or private sectors have discovered different problems and sought to implement various approaches in their recruiting efforts. Their objective is not to be blindsided by employee departures, even after going through a deliberate hiring process. Some approaches:

  • Create clear and comprehensive job descriptions and responsibilities
  • Develop new hire onboarding processes that include orientation and training
  • Articulate to each employee a clear and achievable career path
  • Implement incentive and rewards program to recognize positive work performance
  • Communicate regularly to each employee on company activities and seek input
  • Recognize the need for work/life balance and create opportunities for remote work arrangements
  • Encourage employees to participate in company initiatives (e.g., charity work)

Realistically, there are times nothing an organization can do to improve job satisfaction. Maybe it’s a cultural thing or maybe there is a disconnect between management’s words and its actions. Job satisfaction also means different things to different people. What brings contentment to one is a throwaway to someone else. Regardless of the effort or how it’s packaged, such measures to improve job satisfaction are ultimately intended to benefit the business. Finding the sweet spot to satisfy the masses is really the holy grail.

Finding Job Satisfaction is a Two-Way Street

The goal of creating job satisfaction is not asynchronous; employees cannot solely depend on leadership to get them to a place of satisfaction. Employees need to expend efforts to determine what will make them happy(ier) in their jobs and be able to articulate it to management — and not just during the annual performance review.

Career contentment is like beauty: it’s in the eye of the beholder. It can be outside of what the current employer provides or promises. What makes one person unhappy, such as old technology, bossy supervisors or long hours can be overlooked by someone else whose mindset is elsewhere. This could mean challenging work, more recognition or some other intangible. If you can find contentment or satisfaction within your own set boundaries, then you don’t have to depend on management to make promises or implement new processes.

What makes one person content can make another person intolerant. If you reach a point where you wonder if you reached your potential or if your talents are better leveraged elsewhere, you don’t need to seek counsel or platitudes from the top. There are those individuals who look inward to discover a calling or seek meaning and purpose from their work.

No amount of cheerleading from on high will change an individual’s mindset. In other words, if an individual only cared about income, title and working conditions, he or she would no longer be in their place of employment. Conversely, the same holds true of the person who wants a career that benefits a different cohort or contributes something meaningful to society. The bottom line: a meaningful career can be created and not be dependent on employer-provided satisfaction.

What Employers Can Do to Encourage Career Contentment

No employee wants to have the wrong person doing a job that is not a fit for the individual or for the company. There are solutions to fix the problems to benefit both parties.

Here are some ways to help employees overcome reduce job dissatisfaction and increase career contentment:

  1. If an employee is not happy, find the factors that cause the unhappiness and seek to find a way forward. Keeping discontented employees is a recipe for disaster. Demonstrate that you support your employee, and if a mutually agreed solution cannot be found, offer assistance through the HR function to identify a job or career change outside the company.
  1. Create a culture of adaptability. Employees who are trained to adapt to process or system changes while using new skills will be more contented workers. They will accept challenges, rather than complain about them. However, the shift in responsibilities should align with their view of meaning and purpose. If this result can be achieved, there is a greater likelihood they will stay.
  1. The company should create and promote the commitment for worker satisfaction with the proviso that the burden to recognize and gain contentment falls to the employee. Workers who are given the freedom to pursue their contentment are more self-aware and self-sufficient. Management should never promise the magic bullet that provides worker happiness.
  1. Don’t try to hold on to employees who are discontented in their work; however, neither should you give up on them, especially if they are adept at their jobs. Instead, look for ways to match the employee with more meaningful work and one that offers a clear career path.


About Steve

Steven Sacks is the CEO of Solutions to Results, LLC, a consultancy that specializes in helping individuals, firms and organizations meet the challenges of communicating with clarity and purpose.