Pay Jumps to Top Factor Contributing to U.S. Employees’ Satisfaction with Their Jobs, SHRM Survey Shows

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81% of employees report overall happiness with their work, unchanged from previous year

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — After enduring years of frozen wages or small pay increases, U.S. employees are now tying compensation to how happy they are at work, according to Job Satisfaction and Engagement: The Road to Economic Recovery, a research report released today by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). 

When asked what was very important to them, 60 percent of employees said compensation/pay, making it the biggest contributor to job satisfaction, said the survey, which was conducted in 2013. The last time compensation/pay was the top contributor to overall job satisfaction was the pre-recession period of 2006 and 2007. Since the recession, compensation/pay has fluctuated among lower rankings.

“Incomes have grown slowly since the recession, and that undoubtedly is having an impact on workers’ priorities and one explanation for the leap to the forefront by compensation,” said Evren Esen, director of SHRM’s Survey Research Center.

The survey asked respondents about the importance of 35 different contributors to job satisfaction. Based on an analysis of the individual ratings, SHRM identified pay/compensation as the top contributor.

Esen noted that four generations of employees ranked compensation/pay as either the top or second-ranked aspect of job satisfaction. Employees at all job levels — with the exception of executives — ranked it as one of the top three contributors to overall job satisfaction.

According to the survey, more than one-half (56 percent) of employees reported receiving a raise in the last year, a six percentage point increase from 2012. But a much smaller portion (36 percent) of employees received a bonus in the last 12 months, a three percentage point decrease from the previous year.

“Often, the manager-employee conversation is only about pay,” said Alex Alonso, SHRM’s vice president of research. “At a time when salary budgets aren’t increasing significantly, employers might want to emphasize overall benefits packages — including health care, retirement savings and paid time off — as a way to help them retain skilled workers.”

Opportunities to use skills and abilities, the top factor cited by employees in 2012, tied with job security (59 percent each) as the second-biggest factor influencing job satisfaction.

SHRM surveys employees’ job satisfaction and engagement annually. The survey released today was conducted in summer 2013 and polled 600 randomly selected employees at small to large companies.

Overall Job Satisfaction

The survey showed that 81 percent of U.S. employees were satisfied overall with their current job, unchanged from 2012. It was the first time in eight years that employee job satisfaction has not changed from the previous year.

Employee Engagement

The survey also showed:

• Seventy-three percent of employees said they were satisfied with their relationships with co-workers, and 70 percent were satisfied with their relationship with their immediate supervisor.

• Sixty-eight percent of employees thought their work was interesting, challenging and exciting and were satisfied with it, a drop from 76 percent in 2011.

• Seventy-nine percent of employees said they were determined to accomplish their work goals and confident that they could meet them, making it the top factor measuring employee engagement. 

• Less than two-thirds (62 percent) of employees said they had passion and excitement about their work.

“While many employees emphasize compensation/pay when considering how happy they are in their jobs, a significant proportion also place importance on relationships with co-workers and supervisors,” Alonso said. “Fostering an environment that treats all employees equally and encourages communication among all levels of workers can be an effective way for employers to earn trust from employees and increase their satisfaction with their jobs.”

The full survey report is available on SHRM Online at

Media: A representative of SHRM’s Survey Research Center is available to answer your questions about the survey. For interview requests, please contact Kate Kennedy of SHRM Media Relations at 703-535-6260 and or Vanessa Gray at 703-535-6072 and

Follow the Research Department on Twitter @SHRM_Research.


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