From the Desktop of Alec Drummond, Vice President, Retention & Engagement Solutions

February 15

"I really like my job, but my salary has not been increased in over two years. I know this is because of the economy, but I cannot keep doing twice the work without a fair raise."

"This company needs to have stronger communication with its employees. We need to feel important and if there are staffing cuts or reduced benefits, tell us. We should not have to find this out on our own."

"Morale is really dragging right now as we are all working so hard with more work and less staff."

"Better internal communication is needed so we know that we won't lose our jobs at any moment."

"The vibe in our office was really positive, but that has all changed over the last year. People just don't seem to care or they are not willing to give 100% of themselves anymore."

How happy are your employees? Is your company one of the many out there that are apprehensive that its' star employees will jump ship once the economy turns? The quotes above are actual employee responses taken from recently conducted employee satisfaction surveys. There is relevant information these days that indicates employees in the U.S., of all ages and income brackets, have continually grown disenchanted and disengaged in the workplace. In a great economy, this would be a concern, but with the deep recession of 2008-09 and the anticipated, albeit slow, economic turnaround in 2010, employers in all industries are in fear of their high performers and strong knowledge base being consumed by their competitors.

Recently, the Conference Board released a research report that focused on employee satisfaction titled, "I Can't Get No...Job Satisfaction, That Is," and the findings were not pleasant for employers. Those conducting the research have found that fewer Americans are satisfied with almost every aspect of their employment experience than any time in the past two decades and this has affected all levels and industries of employment.

The survey was comprised of 5,000 participating U.S. households and was conducted by the Conference Board by TNS. The first time the survey was conducted in 1987, the percentage of Americans satisfied with their jobs was 61.1 percent. Today, only 45.3 percent of Americans say they are satisfied with their jobs. Of that 45.3 percent, a mere 12 percent say they are "very satisfied" with their jobs. Those under the age of 25 show the highest levels of dissatisfaction and 22 percent of all respondents do not expect to be in their current roles a year from now. Alarming? Yes!

Some people might look at these findings and claim that the low satisfaction levels are a result of the bleak economy. While there is some validity to this thinking, the Conference Board's data, collected over the last two decades, illustrates worker unhappiness is not cyclical and has been amplified through both strong and weak economies. Their data does not showcase a direct link to this consistent trend, but it does offer other avenues of what would drive this behavior. For example, the average household income grew at an annual rate of 2.0% in the 1980s and 2.1% in the 1990s, but had dropped to -0.2 percent in 2002. Wage earners working more than one job to make ends meet have remained flat since the late 1980s and fewer employees are receiving employer-provided health insurance. Tack on the longest work commutes in history and you just begun to scratch the surface of why employees are dispirited.

While job satisfaction is a strong barometer of your workforce, it does not delve deeply enough to indicate how engaged your employees are. To garner this information, organizations must observe the emotional and behavioral habits of how their employees interface with their employers — how meaningful are their relationships with coworkers and managers? Are they strong brand ambassadors for their organization and are they entrenched and truly enjoy their craft?

To further understand engagement, the Conference Board compared significant declines in the employee experience to that of the overall drop in job satisfaction. Areas in the employee experience with the steepest decent were "Interest in Work" which dropped 18.9 percent, "Job Security" slid 16.5%, "People at Work" fell 11.6% and "Supervisor" showed a 9.5% decrease. These categories align very closely with the Conference Board's research on the most dominant drivers for employee engagement - Job Design (challenge and variety of the job), Organizational Health (integrity of Senior Management Team), Managerial Quality (Employee Recognition) and Extrinsic Rewards (Salary & Benefits). Derived from these findings, a strong message emerges — challenging and meaningful work is vitally important to American workers.

Naturally, if employees' responsibilities are not stimulating and challenging, their poor morale will infect their overall perceptions of their employer — everything from pride in their employer to their interpersonal relationships to company loyalty and the effort put forth in their jobs. This has an overall impact on individual productivity, image and company profitability.

Organizations need to look at their employee population now and gauge their satisfaction and engagement levels. I'm sure you've all heard rumblings from dissatisfied employees or found similar results in your own employee satisfaction findings — maybe you are not as happy as you once were. From what we have learned, this is not a short-term fix, but something that must be ongoing and constantly reviewed to warrant success.

With a decrease in job satisfaction comes an increase in turnover, especially once the job market begins to grow. Try to resolve disengagement issues now, while your current employees have limited opportunities to leave your organization. Open communication and recognition are tantamount to keeping your employees happy. Truthful communication — good or bad — is what employees seek. Keep in mind your employees are your biggest marketing tools, especially today with the prevalence of social media. You want them to live your external brand as well as your internal brand. If there is a disconnect between the two, you can be sure they are telling their friends and family and displaying these feelings on sites such as Facebook and Twitter as well. Companies cannot afford to be portrayed in a less than favorable light — especially when a surge in the job market is expected later this year. A strong internal brand promise will extend tenure for your staff and elevate you as an employer of choice.

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