More Than Half of U.S. Workers are Satisfied with Their Jobs

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Job satisfaction improved for the sixth year in a row, reports The Conference Board. For the first time since 2005, job satisfaction surpassed the 50% mark, meaning more than half of all U.S. workers are satisfied with their jobs.

The Conference Board Job Satisfaction survey is an annual barometer of satisfaction from the perspective of the U.S. worker. Survey results are based on workers’ perceptions of their current role and workplace environment. The Job Satisfaction survey questions are asked as part of The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Survey.

The increase in job satisfaction is largely due to the improvement in the labor market in recent years. “Workers are benefiting from historically low layoff rates, which adds to a greater sense of job security,” said Michelle Kan, Associate Director, Knowledge Organization, and a co-author of the report with Rebecca Ray, Executive Vice President, Knowledge Organization and Human Capital Lead, Gad Levanon, Chief Economist, North America, and Allen Li, Associate Economist at The Conference Board. “Employees have more opportunities at other companies and more confidence in pursuing those opportunities. And, as it becomes harder to find qualified workers and retain existing ones, employers are gradually accelerating wage growth and improving other job features.”

“The U.S. labor market will likely remain tight for most of the next fifteen years,” said Levanon. “With the massive retirement of baby boomers continuing through 2030, we expect the U.S. labor market will be quite tight during that period, contributing to higher job satisfaction levels in the coming years.”

However, at least for the foreseeable future, job satisfaction is unlikely to reach the levels of two or three decades ago. The U.S. labor market is very different from what it was thirty years ago. “Some of the structural trends in the U.S. labor market that led to lower job satisfaction in recent decades, such as a shift to outsourcing low-skill jobs, are unlikely to reverse,” adds Levanon. “A stronger labor market can only take us so far.” Several trends will continue to moderate satisfaction levels: the emphasis on maximizing shareholder value, declining unionization, outsourcing (both domestic and foreign) and market concentration.

In addition to overall job satisfaction, the report looks at 23 components that contribute to job satisfaction, including wages, job security and health plans. The report finds that workers are most satisfied with people at work (60.5%), their commute (59.2%), interest in work (58.4%), their supervisor (57.3%) and the physical work environment (56.1%).

Dissatisfaction Highest with Promotions, Job Training and Performance Reviews

The five components that U.S. workers are least satisfied with include promotion policies (25.4%), bonus plans (25.5%), educational/job training programs (30.8%), the performance review process (31.2%) and recognition/acknowledgement (34.3%).

The bottom five components are each related to evaluating employee performance and incentives for performance, including whether employees can expect to advance in their company. Low satisfaction with these components suggests these are areas for improvement. Given weak U.S. productivity growth, companies should consider paying greater attention to incentive structures to motivate and improve worker productivity. 

Job Satisfaction by Geography

State and regional nuances shape job satisfaction and contribute to how satisfied workers are with their jobs. This year’s survey results revealed the following:

  • Texas has the highest job satisfaction (56.3%). This could be attributed to the state’s rich natural resources and the oil boom, which included rising oil prices that occurred in the early years of the survey period 2011 to 2016.
  • Arkansas and Mississippi have the lowest job satisfaction (37.6%), and are among the only states to show a decrease in aggregate satisfaction from the previous year (1.4 percentage points). Several factors could contribute to low job satisfaction in these states, including a possible correlation between relatively low per capita income and low job satisfaction.
  • Shifts in the global competitive landscape and in how work gets done may have lowered job satisfaction in several states (e.g. the Rust Belt and interior coal region) as job displacement in manufacturing and coal industries may have caused workers to settle for jobs they are less satisfied with.

About The Conference Board

The Conference Board is a global, independent business membershipand research association working in the public interest. Our mission is unique: To provide the world’s leading organizationswith the practical knowledge they need to improve their performance and better serve society. The Conference Board is a non-advocacy, not-for-profit entity holding 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt status in the United States.


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