By Melissa J. Anderson

The results of Gallup’s latest annual Work and Education poll have been released and the numbers show that worker satisfaction is holding steady at 47 percent. That’s risen slightly over the past decade. Gallup says that between 2001 and 2003, the percentage of completely satisfied people hovered below 45 percent, and since 2007, the percentage has remained above 45 percent.

Writing for Gallup, Lydia Saad explained, “While this is a positive sign, it does not clearly indicate that American employees are engaged at work – something that Gallup research has shown is closely connected to productivity and job creation.”

In fact, almost the same percentage as “completely satisfied” respondents said they were “somewhat satisfied” with their jobs (42 percent). And 11 percent were totally dissatisfied with their jobs. The mixed satisfaction numbers reflect the uncertainty many are feeling based on the economy – what does this mean for engagement?

Mixed Economy, Mixed Job Satisfaction

The researchers believe that the tough jobs economy has led some people to remain in jobs that they wouldn’t otherwise. Supporting this, Saad points to the percentage of people who are satisfied with advancement opportunities at work. This percentage has dropped from 39 percent to 33 percent since 2001. People may feel trapped in their current role, while at the same time, they may simply feel lucky to have any job at this point. She explains:

“Although job market conditions have improved in the last three years, they remain challenging, likely causing many workers to be especially grateful to have a job, regardless of the specifics. This may be reflected in the consistently higher percentages of Americans in recent years saying they are completely satisfied with their job. Still, the majority (53%) remain either dissatisfied or only somewhat satisfied.”

This could be a problem for employers. After all, employee engagement has been linked to higher productivity and loyalty. Saad continues:

“Both for the good of individuals and the health of the economy, it is important that workers feel encouraged and connected at work. The good news out of these data is that nearly 7 in 10 U.S. workers report high satisfaction with their fellow employees. Of concern, however, relative to fostering highly engaged workplaces, is that barely half of workers feel the same level of satisfaction with their boss or immediate supervisor.”

Perhaps employees are growing resentful of managers who have pushed them to do more with less in recent years. That could be a challenge when the jobs market picks back up and employees begin looking for greener pastures.

Other Factors

The poll, which surveyed over 1,000 people across the US, showed that employees have relatively high marks for workplace safety conditions and coworker relationships (above 60 percent of people said they were “completely satisfied”). Topics like workplace flexibility, vacation time, bosses, job security, workload, and recognition came in around the middle (between 40 and 60 percent said they were “completely satisfied”).

At the bottom were health benefits, chances for promotion, retirement plans, pay, and stress (below 40 percent said they were “completely satisfied”). In fact, the percentage of people “somewhat satisfied” with health benefits has dropped steadily since 2011, while respondents who were “completely satisfied” stayed about the same and “totally dissatisfied” presumably increased.  This reflects growing polarization on this issue that may be related to the nation’s political climate.

In only one measure, “the amount of on-the-job stress” was the percentage of totally dissatisfied people (33 percent) higher than the percentage of completely satisfied people (29 percent). The percentage of somewhat satisfied people (37 percent) was higher than both. Nevertheless, Saad notes, the percentage of respondents satisfied with this measure is still higher than it was when the Gallup started performing the survey in 2011.

All in all, the survey provides an interesting glimpse into how economic and political events may shape workforce job perceptions – global economic uncertainty is seeping into the way people feel about work, and that could be challenging for companies. When people aren’t satisfied with their jobs, productivity and innovation can decrease. Employers could examine the job factors individuals are satisfied with and work to maximize that satisfaction in order to attract, retain, and motivate top performers.