U.S. workers are less satisfied with nearly every aspect of their jobs than they were a year ago, survey finds


American workers are more satisfied than ever at work — well, for the most part.

Overall job satisfaction among U.S. employees increased a modest 0.4 percentage points in 2023 from the year prior, according to the Conference Board’s annual Job Satisfaction survey released this month. A 62.7% majority of respondents reported being content at work last year, the highest share since the survey began in 1987. 

But that record doesn’t tell the whole story: Worker sentiment fell across all 26 subcomponents of job satisfaction measured in the poll, which collected responses online from 1,699 working U.S. adults in November. 

“We were surprised, to say the least,” says Allen Schweyer, a principal researcher at the Conference Board who co-authored the report. He cited the group’s results a year before when job satisfaction was up overall and for every subcategory.

The survey’s subcategories include contentment with commutes, workplace culture, work-life balance, benefits, and time-off policies. The steepest dips were with health and bonus plans, promotion policies, and wages. 

According to the Conference Board's reporting, 2023 marks the 13th consecutive year that U.S. job satisfaction climbed incrementally. 

That trend generally parallels the strength of an economy that has averted recession, aside from the brief downturn during the Covid-19 pandemic, Schweyer says. Job happiness could be a product of workers getting more raises, experiencing more job stability, or receiving more benefits.

Still, dissatisfaction with specific aspects of the workplace offers “a warning sign for employers that things might be headed in the opposite direction,” Schweyer says.

Flexibility, in particular, has been key to upping worker happiness, according to Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter. Remote and hybrid work options have cut employees’ transportation expenses and time spent in traffic while increasing work-life balance, she says.

More than 65% of hybrid workers expressed overall job satisfaction, topping the 64% of fully remote and 60% of fully in-person workers who said the same, per the Conference Board’s study.

Though companies have adopted and retained flexible work policies, many are rolling back the enticing signing bonuses, extra vacation days and pay raises that workers have come to expect since the pandemic, Pollak says.

A cooling labor market, which has reduced pressure on companies to lure talent with attractive perks, coupled with higher expectations among workers may be contributing to the specific grievances reflected in the survey’s subcategory results, she says.

“Our expectations have risen, and partly it’s because certain companies have quite publicly hit it out of the park,” Pollak says, noting how social media increasingly allows companies to flaunt their generous benefits, such as paid child care and job training.

“If you’re in a place where you’ve had to invest in your own training, you might feel a bit grumpy about that — knowing that there were alternatives,” she adds.

For the seventh annual survey in a row, women trailed men in overall job satisfaction, this year by 4.5 percentage points, pointing to a persistent gender divide in work experience.

Nearly 65% of men said they were pleased overall with work last year, compared to 60% of women who reported the same.

Women were also less satisfied than men in 24 of the 26 study’s subcategories. The widest gaps appeared regarding bonuses, career growth, and health benefits.

Strict in-office work mandates can prohibit women from advancing in the workplace and fuel frustration, as they continue to shoulder more unpaid caregiving duties than men, Pollak says.

“The inflexibility of some of these workplace expectations forces them not to participate to the degree that they would like to and causes them to earn less, have a lower chance of promotion, et cetera than they would otherwise,” she says.

Greater work flexibility would “level the playing field” and help close the gender wage gap, Pollak adds, referring to Nobel Prize-winning Harvard economist Claudia Goldin’s research.

While dispirited workers may seek out a new employer hoping to find a more satisfying role, that doesn’t always end happily ever after.

Employees who left their jobs since the pandemic’s onset were less satisfied in 2023 than those who stayed at their workplace, by a difference of 5.6 percentage points, the poll found. Those who fled their jobs were also less content in 15 of the 26 subcomponents. 

“Really take your time before you switch employers,” Schweyer says. “Don’t just leave your job because you get a big offer.”

He adds: “Look at all the other elements of satisfaction” that might be a factor for you.

Predictably, three-quarters of survey respondents who intend to leave their current employer reported discontent with their job, compared to the nearly 14% of those planning to stay at their workplace who said they were displeased. The findings suggest that people looking to switch jobs are largely driven by a desire for better culture and leadership more so than higher pay, the report said.

Pollak describes the survey’s levels of unhappiness as an issue of “information asymmetry,” one that can be addressed if companies “do a better job of communicating exactly what the job entails” to prospective employees.

And for workers, she says, information from the study can inform and help fine-tune a job search according to “what matters most to them.”

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