By Melissa J. Anderson

According to the latest report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), job satisfaction is down since its recent peak in 2009. But, SHRM indicates, this could be a sign of an improving economy.

Currently 81 percent of US employees say they are satisfied with their job. In 2009, that number was 86 percent. Mark Schmit, SHRM’s vice president for research commented, “Economic, demographic and social trends are among the factors that influence job satisfaction.”

He continued, “Satisfaction peaked in 2009 when employees were just glad to have a job. Now we are seeing it trend down some, which may be an indication that employees are starting to look at other opportunities again as the job market is starting to turn a bit more positive. Proactive employers will monitor job satisfaction and introduce change to retain top talent ahead of the trend.”

According to the organization, the research indicates how employers can better retain and develop their employees as the jobs market heats up.

Managing Engagement

The study, which polled over 600 employees in the US, measured job satisfaction and employee engagement, and asked workers to rank the most important elements that make them happy with their careers.

According to SHRM, employees were only “moderately engaged” this year (3.6 on a scale of one to five). That number has gone unchanged for two years. Three-quarters of respondents said they were “satisfied with opportunities to use their skills and abilities at work.”

That’s a good thing for their employers. The research showed that the ability to use ones skills and abilities is the number one concern for employees. The report says, “…this aspect ranked among the top two very important aspects of job satisfaction, regardless of employees’ tenure, age, gender or organization staff size.”

On the other hand, less than half of employees (42 percent) were satisfied with career advancement opportunities at their companies. Even fewer (36 percent) were satisfied with their “organization’s commitment to career development.” And fewer still (34 percent) were satisfied with career development opportunities.

The research shows that in general employees are satisfied with their job situation for right now. But looking to the future, they don’t believe their companies will be able to help them advance or develop.

Why Development Matters

This could be a problem for companies as the job market thaws, SHRM indicates. Because employees place a high value on being able to use their skills as abilities in their job, and because so many people are currently underemployed, they may seek career opportunities elsewhere if there doesn’t seem to be an opportunity to advance within their own organization.

At the same time, companies report that they are having trouble filling open positions as well. “The SHRM Leading Indicators of National Employment (LINETM) show that HR professionals in manufacturing and service sectors have reported a trend toward increased difficulty recruiting key candidates in 2012.”

Companies could solve both problems by investing in career development and training for current staff. “Employees frequently have skills and abilities beyond the position for which they were hired. HR professionals can help their organizations train and promote their employees to fill positions that require higher-level skills. This will then open up positions that require lower skill levels, which, in turn, may be easier to fill,” the report says.

Secondarily, the study revealed that many employees don’t experience communication between themselves and senior management. SHRM believes that by strengthening ties across the corporate hierarchy, companies can improve communication and highlight a path to senior management for lower level employees. The report explains:

“Employers can build a bridge between employees and senior management by training their line managers regularly and involving them in strategy meetings and activities. Doing so will enable line managers to better understand the organization’s vision and share it with their direct reports. These managers can complete the information-sharing loop by sharing with senior management feedback from the employees. Line managers who are encouraged to be open to what their employees say and then push this feedback up are key in ameliorating the communication gap.”

By improving career development and corporate communication, companies can better train and engage the workers they’ll need as the economy grows.