Employee Satisfaction Rises; What It Signals For HR Leaders

In the recent Glassdoor Quarterly Employment Confidence Survey, job satisfaction was ironically up while pessimism about the employment market was also increasing.  After three years of the job market ‘music’ being stopped and talent holding onto the chair they have, along with compensation cuts not fully restored and fears of more cost-cutting company, job satisfaction being up is quizzical.

How do we explain this rise and what does it mean to today’s HR Leaders?

Some of the reasons job satisfaction may be on the rise include:

  • Recent company success. As companies have recovered and benefited from record productivity numbers, and thus very strong earnings, it could be that the success of the company bleeds into job satisfaction and the aligned belief that company outlook is improving just makes it better.  Having something to celebrate is in itself a good thing.
  • Reinvestment in employees. Whether forced to do so or not, some companies have begun to provide compensation increases and have reinvested in employee benefits.  The past few years, specifically 2008-2010, will be remembered as the “lost years” because of the loss of jobs and compensation. The rise in employee satisfaction may be a reaction to employers committing to getting salaries back to where they were.
  • Increase in hiring: Companies are beginning to hire back a few positions and that must feel good to the worker who has been carrying the load of two or three of their lost co-workers.  While we all adapt, the elasticity of employee productivity is not infinite and there is a breaking point.  Just the recognition of this and a few strategic add-backs can go a long way with morale and job satisfaction.

These could all be contributing factors, but I fear that there is another reason and while it looks better now, the time-bomb continues to tick. Could it be that we are just tired of waiting for something to improve that isn’t likely to happen? Rather than go crazy waiting for Godot, are we now just settling into a new reality and accepting that this is the way it is going to be? Instead of letting frustration and defeatism become the drivers of our psyche, are we instead lowering our expectations and finding a lower gear to be satisfied with?

While this seems like a reasonable coping mechanism, can it be sustained or are we just masking the impossible to keep masked?  I call it the “talking in the shower” question.  What are we saying to ourselves in the shower?  Are we really satisfied or are we still asking, “why?” and “what can I do to get out of this mess?”

If you are an HR leader, you have to ask the same questions and do the best you can to put yourself into the minds and hearts of your employees.  Don’t try and fool yourself that everything is okay and that your employees really are more satisfied.  The study of geo-politics will show that many times what seemed okay on the surface was an unrest and dissatisfaction that could not be kept under wraps.

From one HR practitioner to another, let’s be sure that we are doing our jobs and digging for the underlying truth behind employee satisfaction and the real solutions to keeping and retaining top talent.  We’ve got a lot of people counting on us to do so.