By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

In the past few weeks, a flurry of stories has been released revealing that employees are the least satisfied they’ve been with their jobs in decades. In fact, according to a report released today by The Conference Board, “only 45 percent of those surveyed say they are satisfied with their jobs, down from 61.1 percent in 1987, the first year in which the survey was conducted.”

One might think that with the US unemployment rate around 10%, and even higher in metropolitan areas, today’s employees would be happy just to have a job; however, according to Lynn Franco, director of the Consumer Research Center of The Conference Board, “Through both economic boom and bust during the past two decades, our job satisfaction numbers have shown a consistent downward trend.”

Franco and the other report authors, Linda Barrington and John Gibbons, say that job satisfaction is down in all age groups. Barrington warns, “The growing dissatisfaction across and between generations is important to address because it can directly impact the quality of multi-generational knowledge transfer – which is increasingly critical to effective workplace functioning.”

Retaining the Best Talent in Tough Times

On top of general low job satisfaction, the recession has had an impact on employee engagement. In November, Right Management announced findings which showed that 60% of employees intended to find new jobs in the next year, with another 21% saying they were considering it.

According to Douglas J. Matthews, President and Chief Operating Officer at Right Management, “Employees are clearly expressing their pent up frustration with how they have been treated through the downturn. While employers may have taken the necessary steps to streamline operations to remain viable, it appears many employees may have felt neglected in the process.”

He continues, “Talented staff can change jobs because they can and want to, not because they have to.”

In fact, a study by Alexander Mann Solutions found that the top strategy for attracting High Performers is aligning the company’s brand with its employee value proposition (EVP). As the report explains, “It isn’t the activities or responsibilities associated with a role, a great remuneration package or even the opportunity for development, but the company or employer brand that will really attract the best.”

Additionally, employer brand and EVP came in second in strategies for employee retention, right behind competitive remuneration packages.

The study shows companies are recognizing that high performing employees want to work for a employer closely aligned with their personal values. As it is explained in the report, “the role of EVP or employer brand has also increased in importance for many respondents. This could imply that organisations recognise that building an employer brand that resonates with current employees is even more important then defining one to attract new candidates, a suggestion that is reinforced by the respondents’ view here that organisational culture is vital for retaining high performers.”

These two studies should be a wake-up call. If companies don’t work to showcase their values and brand, they will be at a competitive disadvantage. This is one reason companies are becoming more eager to showcase socially progressive, innovative policies.

Engagement through Innovative Policy

For example, a recent report commissioned by the Sustainable Investment Research Analyst Network (SIRAN), showed that 93 of the S&P 100 now provide at least some sustainability information on their web sites. Additionally, “Sixty-six firms produced a formal sustainability report with performance data in 2008, a 35 percent jump from the 49 reports produced in 2007.”

Additionally, progressive companies, like Intel, are finding ways to give back to their community, engaging their employees in the process.

But what is the best way to identify what kinds of programs may help engage and retain employees at your company? Just ask them.

In a recent Triple Pundit article, Kelly Flores of Kanal Consulting encourages employers to look at what grassroots initiatives their employees have adopted on their own, and find a way to support them. She says, “Companies that recognize and engage employee desire for sustainability can reap tremendous benefits not only in retention rates, but productivity and profitability as well.”

After all, as the reports show, employee engagement comes from being treated not as a commodity but as an asset. Why not engage your staff today?