Toil and trouble: Job satisfaction hits record low
Desirable jobs are even rarer amid a recession. Add stagnant wages, high health costs and lack of stimulation, and working for a living becomes less rewarding.
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — We can't get no job satisfaction.
Even Americans lucky enough to have work in this economy are becoming more disenchanted with their jobs, according to a survey that found only 45 percent of Americans are satisfied with their work.
That was the lowest level ever recorded by the Conference Board research group in more than 22 years of studying the issue. When the group's first survey was conducted in 1987, most workers — 61 percent — said they were happy. In 2008, the number had dropped to 49 percent.
The erosion in workers' happiness can be blamed partly on the worst recession since the 1930s, which made it difficult for some people to find challenging and suitable jobs. But worker dissatisfaction has been on the rise for more than two decades.
"It says something troubling about work in America. It is not about the business cycle or one grumpy generation," said Linda Barrington, managing director of human capital at the Conference Board, who helped write the report, released today.
Workers have grown steadily more unhappy for several reasons:
• Fewer workers consider their jobs to be interesting.
• Incomes have not kept up with inflation.
• The soaring cost of health insurance has eaten into workers' take-home pay.
If the job-satisfaction trend is not reversed, economists say, it could stifle innovation and hurt America's competitiveness and productivity. And older workers could become less inclined to take the time to share their knowledge and skills with younger workers.
One clue that may explain workers' growing dissatisfaction: Only 51 percent now find their jobs interesting — another low in the survey's 22 years. In 1987, nearly 70 percent said they were interested in their work.
Workers who find their jobs interesting are more likely to be innovative and to take the calculated risks and the initiative that drive productivity and contribute to economic growth, Barrington said.
"What's really disturbing about growing job dissatisfaction is the way it can play into the competitive nature of the U.S. work force down the road, and on the growth of the U.S. economy — all in a negative way," said Lynn Franco, another author of the report and director of the Conference Board's Consumer Research Center.
Conference Board officials and outside economists suggested that weak wage growth helps explain why workers' unhappiness has been increasing for more than 20 years. After growing in the 1980s and 1990s, average household incomes adjusted for inflation have been shrinking since 2000.
Also, compared with 1980, three times as many workers contribute to the cost of their health insurance — and those contributions have soared. The average employee contribution for single-coverage medical-care benefits increased from $48 a month to $76 a month between 1999 and 2006.
Workers younger than 25 expressed the highest level of dissatisfaction. Roughly 64 percent of workers in that age group say they were unhappy in their jobs. The recession has been especially hard on these workers, who face fewer opportunities now and lower wages, some analysts say.
The most satisfied were ages 25 to 34, who may see some opportunities for upward mobility as baby boomers retire. About 47 percent of workers 25 to 34 said they were happy in their jobs.
Other key findings of the survey:
• Forty-three percent of workers feel secure in their jobs. In 2008, 47 percent said they felt secure, while 59 percent felt that way in 1987.
• Fifty-six percent said they like their co-workers, slightly less than the 57 percent who said so last year but down from 68 percent in 1987.
• Fifty-six percent said they are satisfied with their commute to work even as commute times have grown longer over the years. That compares with 54 percent in 2008 and 63 percent in 1987.
• Fifty-one percent said they are satisfied with their boss. That's down from 55 percent in 2008 and around 60 percent two decades ago.
It wouldn't be fair to blame low job satisfaction solely on bad bosses, Barrington said.
"It is two-way responsibility," she said. "Workers also have to figure out what they should be doing to be the most engaged in their jobs and the most productive."
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.
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