Younger workers report record jump in pay satisfaction

The economy is glowing, and it’s reflecting in workers’ attitudes towards their jobs. Last year, roughly 54 percent of all U.S. workers expressed satisfaction with their jobs – the highest rate of job satisfaction in more than two decades, according to a study by polling firm Conference Board. 

That figure represents a three percentage point increase over last year, making it the second-biggest jump in the 32-year history of the survey. People are happier than ever with their work situation, and it’s no coincidence that it occurs during a historic economic expansion. 

With unemployment at historically low levels, managers and executives are far more reluctant to let go of employees, providing workers with a stronger feeling of security. In fact, the same survey found that 59.2 percent of respondents were content with their job security last year, compared to just 53.8 percent in 2017.

“I think it’s interesting that you have this going on. People like their jobs more than usual at a time when jobs are so readily available, so people can more easily move,” said economist Elliott D. Pollack. “So, job satisfaction becomes very important to employers keeping employees. It’s really a good time for businesses to have made changes so their employees seem to be happier.”

Workers between the ages of 35 and 44 had the highest share of wage satisfaction, with 48.2 percent of the population showing satisfaction with their salary. However, millennials and members of Generation Z had the highest gain in pay satisfaction last year, jumping 9.8 percentage points from 2017. 

Almost 46 percent of this population expressed happiness with their compensation, compared to just 44 percent for those 55 and older. For the first time since at least 2011, workers under the age of 35 are more satisfied with their wages than those over the age of 55.  

Overall, 46.4 percent of workers were satisfied with their compensation, up from 43 percent in 2017. This leap likely stems from competitive, rising wages as a consequence of a tight labor market. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median weekly earnings rose five percent between the fourth quarters of 2017 and 2018.  

“For the first time in quite a while, [millennials] feel secure in their jobs, and they’re happy with the wages because they’re generally well-paid,” Pollack said. “It’s a combination of a lot of them having grown up during the Great Recession and the aftermath of the Great Recession – they now feel in the game. They’re more secure, they’re making enough money to pay their student loans, perhaps save for a house. That will allow them to become economically real adults. They’re in the game, and they’re making enough to be in the game probably for the first time in their careers.”

Another contributing factor could be the newfound workplace perks such as free snacks, recreational games, and lounge couches, Pollack notes. In fact, workforce attire – which has become increasingly more casual, even among larger corporations – can play a role in employee satisfaction. 

“I don’t want to call them toys, but they really are toys at work, and they create an environment where you’re not sitting at your desk all day,” he continues. “You can have interactions with other employees and you don’t have to wear a tie and jacket to work anymore – I think that’s really important. In my business, I had to put in a bike rack and showers because a couple of employees like to ride bikes to work. I think that it’s a general recognition that the world is different.”

In the survey, workers were least satisfied with recognition, educational/job training, performance reviews, promotion policy, and bonus plans. According to the Conference Board, these are some of the factors that have the most influence over the overall satisfaction of an employer; improving upon these could heavily impact a worker’s happiness. 

60 percent of respondents expressed contentment with their commute to work and the people at work, among other factors. Pollack believes that satisfaction with commuting may be the result of unorthodox commute avenues, such as telecommuting.  

“It’s a recognition that the world is changing, and you’ve got to basically change with it, and a lot of employers – especially large employers – are doing it,” Pollack said. “And especially in a world where with a cell phone and computer, you’re in business, so a lot of employees are working from home, are able to work from home a couple of days a week or as long as they’re available to get the job done. And it makes you feel like, ‘Yes, they’re concerned about me, and I’m enjoying life.’”

Ben Norman

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