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The economy is strong and workers feel good.

Unemployment is near a historic low, employee job satisfaction is at a 20+ year high, and workers are more engaged than they've been in decades.

But there's room for improvement. Many employees don't feel they are getting workplace mentorship, and some companies lack career development programs and opportunities to work your way up the ladder.

We reviewed the latest research on job satisfaction to better understand what's happening here and found three takeaways that can help you land the job you want. They are:

  • Decide which workplace factors are most important to you. Are you looking to advance your career? Which benefits do you consider essential? Is your commute key? Answer these questions before you have a job offer in front of you.
  • Be honest about what you want. Once you decide what would make you happy, use negotiating skills to get a better deal for yourself in the final stages of the hiring process.
  • Use your cover letter to explain how your goals connect with an employer's mission. Research shows that having a deeper connection to your work will make you happier. Make that connection clear in your application documents.

With a strong economy and bustling job market, the employer-employee relationship is starting 2020 off in a good place …

Workers are happy.

Sixty-eight percent of workers say they're satisfied with their job (up from 61 percent in 2018). Jobvite

Worker Happy Graph Mb

Only four percent say they're very dissatisfied with their job. Morning Consult

But they aren't particularly committed to their employers …

The great majority of employees (80 percent) are looking for a new job or at least open to opportunities. Ajilon

Employee Commitment Mb

… and turnover is at an all-time high.

Turnover hit 19.3 percent in 2018, up 3.5 percentage points since 2014. Salary.com

Turnover Mb

Plus, employees aren't as maximally satisfied.

Forty-five percent say they're just somewhat satisfied. Morning Consult

Employee Satisfaction Mb

Let's take a closer look at why …

Here's what workers are satisfied about, ranked by the percent satisfied with each benefit/perk:

Workers Satisfaction Graph Mb

Intriguingly, the bottom five benefits, which have ranked very low for several years running, are related to employee performance and professional growth, suggesting that employers should invest more in professional development and career advancement.

Here are the five most important drivers of satisfaction:

  • Potential for future growth
  • Communication channels
  • Recognition/acknowledgement
  • Interest in work
  • Performance review process

The Conference Board

This shows why workers are only partially satisfied. Employers fall short in areas related to the core of job satisfaction.

Employee engagement is strong.

The number of highly engaged workers — those who are "involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace" — is at 34 percent, tied for the highest it's been since Gallup began collecting the figure in 2000. Gallup

Employee Engagement Mb

Respect is one of the biggest factors in increasing employee engagement.

New employees experiment with their professional identity and model their behavior on superiors in the workplace, one study found. Signs of respect can play a role in that professional development. Administrative Science Quarterly

Employees who get respect from their leaders report:

  • 55% more engagement
  • 59% better health and well-being
  • 1.72 times more trust and safety
  • 89% greater enjoyment and satisfaction in their jobs
  • 92% greater focus and prioritization
  • 1.26 times more meaning and significance

Harvard Business Review

Eighty percent of employees treated uncivilly spend a lot of work hours ruminating over the behavior, while 48 percent intentionally reduce their efforts. (Harvard Business Review)

Harvard Business Review Mb

Additional factors in job satisfaction include finances, job type and education level.

For example, workers in high-income families are more likely to enjoy their jobs:

Income Graph Mb

And people in management positions are more satisfied than people in occupations that have less agency:

Management Graph Mb

Pew Social Trends

Plus, job satisfaction increases slightly as you get more education (according to workers aged 30 to 45 years):

Job Satisfaction Graph Mb

The College Board

Good benefits help increase job satisfaction.

Seventy-two percent of employees say more benefits would increase job satisfaction. Zoro

Good Benifits Mb

A good boss makes a difference.

Employees who rate their boss poorly are four times more likely to be looking for another job. TINYpulse

Here are the benefits employees don't have (but want):

Benefits That Employee Need Mb

Zoro

Meanwhile, there are a lot of perks employees say they can live without. Here are the top ten:

Employee Can Live Wo Mb

Zoro

And here are perks employees would give up for an extra week of PTO:

Perks Mb

Zoro

While benefits are nice, money is a more salient factor for the majority of employees …

When forced to choose between a higher salary and more benefits, employees choose salary:

  • Salary increase 56.8%
  • Job benefits 43.2%

… and respect is an even more powerful factor yet.

Praise from their direct manager (67 percent), attention from leaders (63 percent) and opportunities to lead projects (62 percent) all outrank monetary incentives in increasing employee engagement. McKinsey

Just as important: People want to like what they do.

Most Americans (60 percent) say they would slash their salary in half if it meant they'd love their job. Lexington Law

People Like What They Do Mb

In the end, for many people, job satisfaction is related to a deeper connection to one's work.

Fifty-two percent of part-time employees say their work is "just a job to get them by." Just 24 percent of full-time employees say the same. Pew Social Trends

In 2010, researchers found that workers who find meaning in their jobs had increased:

  • Motivation
  • Engagement
  • Empowerment
  • Career development
  • Job satisfaction
  • Individual performance
  • Personal fulfillment

They also experienced less:

  • Absenteeism
  • Stress

Research in Organizational Behavior

Everyone wants to enjoy their job. The stats above will help you figure out what you need and want in the workplace. Read more in our 2020 employment stats series to get a leg up:

Donald Sjoerdsma

Donald Sjoerdsma

Career Advice Expert

Don is a freelance writer with more than five years' experience in digital media. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Oprah.com, Yahoo! and HuffPost. While at OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, his creative use of archival content...

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