Help! I hate my job

DETROIT -- Odds are you're unhappy at your job. And we've got the numbers to prove it. Only 45.3 percent of Americans are "satisfied" with their work, according to a survey for the Conference Board Consumer Research Center released last month. Wh...

DETROIT -- Odds are you're unhappy at your job. And we've got the numbers to prove it.

Only 45.3 percent of Americans are "satisfied" with their work, according to a survey for the Conference Board Consumer Research Center released last month. When asked the same question in 1987, more than 61 percent of Americans said they were content with work.

It might seem crass to be whining about job satisfaction when so many people have been laid off, bought out and displaced. But the study's authors said that once the economy rebounds, disaffected workers could be a drag on a company's performance.

The survey numbers showed a steady drop in job satisfaction even when the economy was booming and despite increases in income. Behind the decline, researchers said, is the perception that work is less interesting, engaging and meaningful.

"Employees largely judge the overall quality of their jobs in terms of the degree to which they are challenged or stimulated," the report said.


Sheila Johnson, 47, Detroit, knows what makes her happy as a human resources technology services expert for the city of Detroit. And she knows exactly what makes her feel dissatisfied.

"I love the challenges," Johnson said. "I love the problem-solving."

In her current capacity, Johnson is working to improve efficiency. At previous jobs, Johnson felt dissatisfied when she felt as if she was not fully trusted or when she was prevented from performing at full tilt.

"I'm self-motivated. I'll fix the world for you, but if you micro-manage me, it's a problem," Johnson said.

How we are treated at work matters, experts say. And the survey cites co-workers as one of the top things many people actually like about their jobs.

Our appreciation for our co-workers was the second most-liked aspect of our jobs, with 56 percent of employees rating interaction with work buddies as satisfactory. Still, we don't like them as much as we used to. In 1987, satisfaction with co-workers was cited as satisfactory by 68 percent.

But likeable cubicle mates don't solve everything. Since 1987, the percentage of people who said they were interested in their work dropped from 70 percent to 51 percent.

"You're not going to get the maximum effort from an employee who's not interested in the job, and that could impact the bottom line," said Lynn Franco of the Conference Board.


For many workers, it's the lack of potential growth that leads to dissatisfaction. Even if you've avoided layoffs and buyouts, it may seem there's less room for advancement because there is less voluntary turnover.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that between January and November 2009, 19.6 million people quit their jobs, the lowest amount since 2000.

The Conference Board survey suggests employees are antsy -- 22 percent said they didn't expect to be in their current job next year.

"There is a desire to move on, but because of the economy, decisions about job mobility are extremely limited," Franco said. "But once the economy improves, employees can talk with their feet."


Janie Brill, communication and change implementation consultant in the Southfield, Mich., office of Towers Watson, a global human resources consulting firm, said unrelenting corporate expectations often mean that business leaders don't have a lot of time for people. But, she said, research confirms that happy employees typically feel as if "senior leadership cares about me and my well-being."

Here is some advice from Brill for employees and employers:

For employees


- Volunteer to take on new projects. Remember, change is good when it upends monotonous routine and makes you stretch.

- Take a week's inventory of how you spend your time at work -- how much on e-mail, in meetings, planning and actually doing the work you like best. Assess what you enjoy at work, and what makes you productive.

- Rather than be distracted by e-mail throughout your day, set aside dedicated blocks of time to deal with it. Spend more concentrated time on what gives you a more satisfying payoff at work.

For employers

- Be visible and talk to your workers.

- Paint a picture of where the business is headed and how employees fit in and make a difference. Employees want their work to be relevant, meaningful and make a visible impact on their team and business.

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