Job satisfaction is high but more focus is needed on employee development

The CIPD/ Halogen’s Employee Outlook survey of over 2,000 employees has been tracking employee perceptions of work and working lives since 2009. In this article we explore trends in employee satisfaction with their jobs and broader engagement measures, as well as views on managers and satisfaction with learning and employee development opportunities and career fulfilment. Job satisfaction has increased since 2016, with 64 percent of employees now saying they are satisfied with their jobs, compared to just 16 percent who are dissatisfied. What is particularly interesting, though, is that job satisfaction continues to rise in the public sector at levels not seen before in this survey series. Seventy-two per cent of public sector workers are now satisfied with their jobs, compared to just 13 percent who are dissatisfied. While it’s not clear from this research exactly why such improvements have been made, it is part of an overall improvement in scores for the public sector which include attitudes to senior leaders, opportunities for voice in the workplace, as well as increased opportunities to learn and grow.

For our engagement measures – we look at four different areas that research has shown to inform employee engagement; these are: the influence employees have over their job, the ability to use their skills, and employee motivation and effort. When it comes to influence over job, employee satisfaction with the scope for using their own initiative within their job is higher than satisfaction with the amount of influence they have over their job in general. However, both of these scores are positive and have increased since autumn 2016.  Satisfaction with employees’ use of knowledge and skills is also high. Motivation, however is lower than the other measures of employee engagement, with two fifths agreeing that their organisation inspires the very best of them in the way of job performance, but almost a third disagreeing. Finally, in relation to effort, employees are most likely to say they are willing to take on more work to help relieve colleagues’ workloads, but they are more likely to disagree than agree that they would turn down another job with more pay in order to stay with their organisation.

These generally positive findings around job satisfaction and engagement indicators represent good news for UK organisations. Improvements have been seen across most areas since 2016, although there is still room for progress when it comes to employee motivation. Our findings on organisation purpose might also be helpful here.  These show that a high proportion of employees understand the core purpose of their organisation, but far fewer actually feel highly motivated by it. Organisations therefore need to work harder on engaging employees with the core purpose of their organisation and creating a sense of shared purpose right the way throughout the organisation. They could do this by asking employees to help articulate the vision and values of the organisation and encourage them to think and talk about the important ways in which they contribute to their organisation’s purpose.

 

Views on managers

An employee’s relationship with their line manager is a fundamental part of their workplace experience and dissatisfaction with that relationship can cause employees to look elsewhere. It is encouraging therefore that satisfaction with line managers is at a similar high to overall job satisfaction (64% are satisfied, compared with just 17% who aren’t). Employees in the public sector have the most positive satisfaction score and are significantly more likely to be satisfied with their line managers than private sector employees.

Attitudes towards senior managers have improved across the board since 2016. There have been particular improvements in confidence in senior leaders, on treating employees with respect and trust to act with integrity. When it comes to sector differences, although all items have improved across all sectors, the biggest improvements are, once again, in the public sector. The findings show, however, that employees remain dissatisfied with the way senior leaders consult with them on important issues. This is an important consideration for organisations and in particular in the light of wider political and economic changes that organisations and employees are currently experiencing in the UK. It’s important that senior leaders keep regular and open channels of communication with employees, let employees know where there are opportunities for consultation and any mechanisms in place for this and if there aren’t opportunities for consultation in particular areas, their reasoning behind this.

 

Learning and development and career fulfilment

One area of the research, which shows far less positive results than the others, is employee satisfaction with learning and development opportunities and career fulfilment.

Almost a quarter of employees disagree that their organisation provides them with opportunities to learn and grow (this is highest in the not-for profit and private sectors), and a further quarter are dissatisfied with the opportunity to develop their skills in their job. More worrying still, almost two in ten say that their managers do not provide any feedback and recognition on their performance. And, when it comes to matters of careers, we asked employees about whether they feel able to fulfil their career aspirations in their current organisation. Employees are fairly split on this question, with just over a third (36%) saying very likely or likely and almost a third (30%) saying unlikely or very unlikely.

It’s important for organisations to keep their focus on the longer-term and attention on developing all their employees. If dissatisfaction with development and career opportunities continues then it is likely to start to negatively impact on employees’ desire to stay with their organisations and even damage their organisation’s reputation. Ensure that line managers understand how important it is to have regular catch up sessions with employees, providing them with feedback and recognition on their performance and opportunities to discuss their development. For many organisations margins are tight, but thinking creatively about development doesn’t need to result in breaking the bank. Think about the possibility of cross-function or special project working, short secondment opportunities, internal mentoring schemes which can all help to develop and potentially up-skill employees.

 

Conclusion

It’s encouraging to be able to report some positive findings in our latest Employee Outlook research, particularly in relation to job satisfaction and engagement. It’s also positive to see increases in many of the scores rated by public sector employees. It could be that some of the Government’s messages on fairness and equality might be resonating with public sector workers.

Trust and confidence in senior leaders in the public sector has certainly increased in this survey, as have opportunities for employee voice. There is also the possibility that the challenging work associated with negotiating the UK’s exit package from the EU might be positively reflected in public sector workers’ increased job satisfaction, aspects of engagement and opportunities to learn and grow.

However, the findings do suggest a number of areas where organisations need to sharpen their focus. They need to work on developing a shared sense of purpose in their organisation which helps to motivate employees in their day to day work. Senior leaders need to maintain regular and open communication channels with employees and offer, where possible, opportunities for meaningful consultation. Finally, organisations need to ensure that they are thinking creatively with regards to development and up-skilling opportunities for all of their employees. As well as encouraging greater engagement, loyalty and productivity, it makes business sense to do this as it seems likely that possible future restrictions on labour mobility will further exacerbate the already high levels of skills shortages organisations face.

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Claire McCartney is Associate Research Adviser with the CIPD

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