Amid Recession, Americans Hate Their Jobs

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NEW YORK (TheStreet) — Even after the deepest recession in 80 years and an unemployment rate that doubled in two years, many Americans don't like their jobs.

So says a Conference Board report, which found that only 45% of Americans are satisfied with their employment situation, based on a survey of 5,000 households. Just 12% said they were "very satisfied." That marks the lowest job-satisfaction rate since the organization first conducted the survey in 1987, when 61% of respondents liked their jobs. In 2008, the satisfaction rate was 49%.

The results come at a time when the unemployment rate hovers around 10%, with large companies such as Boeing (Stock Quote: BA), Cisco (Stock Quote: CSCO) and Microsoft (Stock Quote: MSFT) announcing mass layoffs throughout 2009. In such an economy, it makes sense that Americans were taking any jobs they could get — sweeping floors, flipping burgers or washing cats — and they're not happy about living below their normal means. Yet the data indicate that the job-satisfaction rate isn't directly related to the economy. In fact, with the exception of a slight increase in 2005, the satisfaction rate has declined for every five years since the Conference Board first started reporting it.

According to the survey, 34% of people are satisfied with their pay, 25% are happy with their company's job-training programs, 20% are satisfied with their company's promotion policy, and 19% are satisfied with the bonus plan. Regarding benefits, 46% are satisfied with their company's sick-leave policy, 41% with the health plan and 35% with the retirement plan.

But financial factors aren't the only things leaving employees cold. Only 34% reported satisfaction with their companies' flex-time policies, 28% were happy with nonfinancial recognition of their work, 31% said they were satisfied with the communication channels at their companies, 36% were satisfied with work/life balance, and 27% thought there was decent potential for future growth.

Of all the categories in the survey, "commute" got the highest satisfaction, 56%, likely thanks to the telecommuting trend. Co-worker satisfaction rated 56%. Supervisors, interest in work and physical environment each scored 51%. But even among these higher-rated categories, satisfaction rates were markedly lower than they were in 1987, when 70% of respondents found their jobs interesting and 60% liked their bosses.

Even when broken up by age groups, income levels and geographic regions, job-satisfaction levels were lower than ever. Workers under 25 (36%) and those who live in the mountain region (41%) were especially disgruntled.

Overall, nearly a quarter of respondents — 22% — expect to leave their current jobs within the next year.

So what's a boss to do? Salary and health benefits may be at the mercy of the economy. The Conference Board forecasts a salary-budget increase of 3% for 2010, the smallest in 25 years. But the report suggests that companies can improve morale (not to mention productivity) with a few strategies that aren't dependent on the budget. These include rotational assignments, intellectually challenging tasks, and, most importantly, communication.

To let employees know their work is relevant, employers should actually talk to them, the report says. More specifically, the report recommends building a "line of sight" that gives employees a means of understanding the impact of their contributions, encouraging employee involvement in major decisions and delivering company news face-to-face whenever possible.

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