Do Employers Owe Workers More Satisfying Jobs?

Research by the Conference Board suggests that job satisfaction for U.S. employees is at a 23-year low. This appears to be occurring in the midst of a dramatic growth in information technology that was supposed to make work easier for employees. What is going on here? Are employers failing to consider an ethical responsibility to employees by providing a satisfying, fulfilling experience at work?

When Professor James Heskett of Harvard posted information about these low job satisfaction rates on his blog, respondents provided a variety of different explanations for why U.S. workers are less satisfied than they were in the past. They included economic pressures, instability in the business environment, and increased competition to get the best jobs. Others believe businesses have become so focused on stock prices and profitability that the personal relationship that used to exist between employers and employees has been lost. Still others proposed that in a poor economic environment, employees who wanted to switch to a new job aren’t always able to find alternatives, leaving them “hostages” to a dissatisfying work situation.

Whatever the explanation, there is cause for concern. Survey data from Towers Watson’s global workforce study of 20,000 employees in 22 markets around the world found that employees are especially concerned about job security and feel they are entirely responsible for ensuring their long-term career prospects work out. In the current economic environment, it seems that in employers’ minds, employee well-being and security have taken a back seat to coping with workplace realities.

What can managers do to ensure they are making ethical decisions about protecting the quality of the workplace in their organizations? As we have shown, managers can enact a variety of concrete steps—including improving working conditions and providing a positive social environment—that will make work more enjoyable for employees. Employers may also want to think about whether their efforts to achieve efficiency and productivity are creating a work environment that is not very satisfying for employees.


Source: Based on J. Heskett, “Why Are Fewer and Fewer U.S. Employees Satisfied with Their Jobs?” Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, April 2, 2010,; Towers Watson, 2010 Global Workforce Study, New York: Author