As the economy slowly recovers, more employees are ranking compensation as the biggest contributor to their overall job satisfaction.

Although workplace culture is often pegged as the most important factor in employee happiness, the majority of employees say compensation and pay play the biggest role in their job satisfaction, according to a Society for Human Resource Management survey. When asked what was very important to them, 60% of employees said compensation/pay. Compensation was last ranked as the top contributor to job satisfaction in 2006, well before the economy tanked, pushing the job market into a downward spiral.

SHRM’s Job Satisfaction and Engagement: The Road to Economic Recovery report finds that pay was held in highest regard or rated second among four different generations, which include millennials, Gen Xers, baby boomers and veterans [those born before 1945].

“Employees are staying with their jobs longer, and because the economy is sort of ambiguous – sometimes we get good reports and sometimes not-so-good reports – [there is] still the sense among employees that they are not so secure in their jobs and that they may be hesitant to look  for other work,” says Evren Esen, director of SHRM’s survey research center. “But because they are staying in their positions longer, they are probably not getting bumps in pay that they would get if they moved to a new position, so they are sort of stuck.”

One opportunity for employers unable to increase employee happiness with a bump in pay is to publicize the overall benefits package, which ranked fourth among the more 600 employees surveyed.

 “It is very important for employers to highlight the total compensation package, although they may think employees know what they are investing in terms of benefits, many employees are not aware,” says Esen.

Also see: Strong company health culture supports healthy workforce: survey

The long-term relationship between employer and employee is also evolving, according to Esen. In lieu of growing their salaried, employees are looking to grow their skills, either through workplace training or more engaging work, she says.

“I think employees want to be challenged, they want to be doing things that enhance their abilities,” Esen tells EBN. “Because the economy is [still] somewhat
suppressed they are looking at compensation as well as opportunities. They may take a position that maybe doesn’t have the salary they were hoping for, but they may take that position so they can gain some solid experience and expand their skills.”

Rounding out the top five contributing factors to on-the-job-happiness are: relationship with immediate supervisor (54%), the organization’s financial stability (53%) and the work itself (51%).  

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