When pandemic measures were largely lifted for the final time in 2021, many big companies were adamant their staff should return to the pre-Covid business-as-usual format: the typical nine-to-five, Monday to Friday, workplace-based standard. But after two years of working in different ways and locations, staff weren’t necessarily keen. Companies have therefore had to compromise, offering hybrid working patterns where possible, ushering in one of the biggest collective shifts the working world has seen in decades.
Complete with complete with insight from business experts, we’ve taken an in-depth look at the importance of employee satisfaction for both employers and employees, and how to measure and increase it in your organisation.
Freedom at work
Is greater freedom enough to finally satisfy the discerning 21st-century worker?
The Guardian recently reported that UK workers would accept a 10% pay cut for ‘above average’ happiness, based on research by MIT Sloan, Institute for Work and Employment Research. Their findings came after surveying jobseekers in the US, Canada, and the UK, with the conclusion that companies should "invest in organisational and management practices that are conducive to worker happiness."
So, what is happiness and satisfaction in a business context? What should companies be doing to ensure the satisfaction of their workforce? In his book Job Satisfaction (1935), Robert Hoppock defined job satisfaction as "any combination of psychological, physiological, and environmental circumstances that cause a person to truthfully say that they are satisfied with a job."
Nearly 90 years on, this still holds true, with a few nuances:
Clear communication between employees and employers
A culture where people feel valued and where they can be themselves
Opportunities for progression and career development
A cooperative environment with respect for diverse ideas
Opinions and constructive feedback
Pay and benefits
Rewards and recognition
A desire to engage and do well.
What the experts say
Here's what today’s experts think needs to be addressed to raise employee satisfaction and engagement:
Chris Brindley, Head of Reward & Co-member Experience at Reed
“A lot of companies are realising that what leads to satisfaction for one person will not for another. We do believe there are certain things that can help overall, such as a purposeful job, open and honest communication, feeling safe and like you belong, and like you are well rewarded and recognised for the work you do.
“You learn over time and respond to employee feedback – collect it regularly and over various stages of the employee lifecycle. Perhaps try to think about what could make your company different, and better, than its competitors, and stand out in a crowded sector.”
Carolyn Nevitte, Director at employee engagement consultants, People Insight
“Employee satisfaction is made up of several aspects, as captured in the PEARL model: purpose, enablement, autonomy, reward and leadership. Reward is only one aspect, so while organisations might reach for pay as a tool to improve, other aspects of satisfaction can be more significant (or as we call them, more important drivers of employee engagement).
“Behaviour of leaders and managers has a significant impact. Creating a culture where leaders and managers treat employees with empathy, respect, and take interest in them doesn’t have to cost a lot. If line managers know their people, notice the effort their team put in, and say thank you for work well done it has a significant impact. Similarly, trusting employees to do their job without looking over their shoulder, empowering them to make decisions creates autonomy – a real driver of satisfaction.
Over time, it’s the culture and opportunities for career development including coaching, secondments, project opportunities, role swaps that can help raise satisfaction and employee retention.
“Sometimes employees demonstrate low satisfaction because they are frustrated with process, don’t have resources they need, or there are other blockers in the organisation that add frustration into their day. Identifying these blockers through your employee surveys and acting on them might not cost anything!
“There’s a range of non-financial rewards that organisations put in place to support their people and these are more effective at the recruitment stage, supporting the employee value proposition. Over time, it’s the culture and opportunities for career development including coaching, secondments, project opportunities, role swaps that can help raise satisfaction and employee retention.”
Matthew McDonnell, Director of Employee Experience, Willis Towers Watson
“Over the Covid period, we found that as people and organisations rallied around the crisis, engagement levels went up – people had a greater sense of purpose, there was a perception that how work was getting done was improving, agility and customer focus were better, people felt valued and rewarded as managers excelled in connecting with and supporting people in ways they hadn’t before. What seems to be happening in 2022 is that these elements have simply been unsustainable and engagement levels and commitment to the organisation are beginning to drop.
“People have had the chance to reflect, reprioritise what is important in their lives. Also, as the cost-of-living crisis bites, people are less satisfied with reward decisions. Though better use of technology has helped keep people connected and working collaboratively, people report higher levels of social isolation. Organisations need to take these trends seriously and look at ways to support colleagues around workload, stress, and social connection and find ways to support them financially outside of traditional pay mechanisms."
This complex subject will always be a talking point as businesses develop new ways of working, and in the current market of more jobs than applicants, employees are in a strong position to demand more from their bosses, shaping the future of work. Those who choose to listen to and learn from their workforce will be the ultimate winners.
For further advice on how to attract the best candidates to your team, get in touch with one of our expert recruiters.