Unhappy Employees Are Staying Put

News Updates

U.S. employers take note: a majority of workers are dissatisfied with their jobs but have no plans to quit, two recent studies suggested.

Just 47 percent of Americans are satisfied with their jobs, according to a report released June 27, 2012, by The Conference Board, a global, independent business membership and research association.

Though the organization found some evidence of improvement in job satisfaction since the previous year’s study, The Conference Board noted that the last time a majority of Americans (52 percent) were happy at work was in 2005. “Widespread dissatisfaction has been entrenched since the turn of the century,” the organization noted in a statement.

By comparison, more than 60 percent of Americans said they were satisfied at work in 1987.

However, there are some positive signs in the data. When The Nielsen Company surveyed 5,000 households on behalf of The Conference Board in the fall of 2011, employees reported satisfaction with some aspects of their work, including job security, wages, promotion policies and training.

Moreover, employees said they have more interest in their jobs, better relationships with fellow employees and favorable views about the amount of recognition and acknowledgment they receive from supervisors, compared to findings from 2010.

Employers shouldn’t read too much into these findings, the organization cautioned.

“This trend may signal increased satisfaction with simply having a job rather than demonstrate increased engagement or happiness,” said Rebecca Ray, Ph. D., senior vice president of human capital at The Conference Board.

This can hamper organizations’ efforts to increase the level of employee engagement, Ray observed. “Widespread job dissatisfaction negatively affects employee behavior and retention, which can impact enterprise-level success,” she said.

Few Employees Intend to Leave

However, when the global consultancy BlessingWhite surveyed more than 3,500 employed professionals—2,616 from North America—between March and June 2012, and asked them if they planned to remain with their organization for the next 12 months, 56 percent said “yes, definitely,” and 33 percent said “probably.”

Just 12 percent of respondents, most of whom held executive, management or supervisory titles, answered “no way,” suggesting they had plans to leave their employers as soon as possible.

These findings are nearly identical to those found in BlessingWhite’s last engagement study conducted in 2010, the company noted. “When we last polled the North American workforce, 56 percent of employees said they would definitely stay, and 13 percent indicated they were headed for the door,” said Joan Dasher, vice president of the employee engagement practice, in a statement. “Our latest findings suggest that despite improvements in the economy, workers are not planning the mass exodus that many employers fear.”

Although leaders worrying about losing top talent might welcome such news, Dasher noted that some employees stay with an organization because of job security, pay and job conditions. “In a sense, they are being held hostage by what they are getting from their employers. That’s not a winning equation for business,” she said.

BlessingWhite found that respondents deemed “most disengaged” said they plan to stay with their current employer because:

  • They don't think there are other job opportunities out there in a recovering economy—23 percent.
  • They have no desire for change; they are comfortable where they are—17 percent.
  • They have favorable job conditions, such as flexible hours or a good commute—15 percent.

By comparison, those found to be the “most engaged” by BlessingWhite said they plan to stay because:

  • They like the work they do—42 percent.
  • They believe in their organization's mission—17 percent.
  • They have significant career development or advancement opportunities—9 percent.

“You need all your employees to be passionate about their work and to apply their discretionary effort toward your top priorities,” Dasher said. “Focus on helping employees find meaning in their work … Make sure your high performers are getting what they need in terms of challenge, growth and development.”

And if necessary, “cull those workers who have emotionally checked out … retention of the wrong employees is bad business,” she added.

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. To read the original article, please click here.