Job Satisfaction May Not Matter

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The press made a great deal of a report that job satisfaction hit in 2009 what is an all-time low in a 22-year-old survey conducted by The Conference Board. The new research shows that only 45% of people polled are happy with their work. Lack of wage increases and higher health insurance cost were among the reasons that the association gave for the drop in “happiness”

CNBC reported that economists are concerned that job satisfaction plays a role in innovation and productivity.

The Labor Department reported in early December that worker productivity in the US rose 8.1% in the third quarter which was the strongest increase since 2003. The improved results could be due to the number of lost jobs. The people still at work at firms that cut employees have to work harder. Those who are still employed probably want to prove that they produce enough work so that they are indispensible.

It is not possible to entirely reconcile the drop in worker satisfaction and the rise in productivity. The improvement in productivity argues against the notion that people who do not love their jobs are more likely to be slackers. There is not any widely distributed research that links innovation with job satisfaction. Innovative employees may actually be more likely to keep their jobs during a recession, especially if their innovations prove useful to their employers.

Happiness in the workplace may have nothing to do with worker output. The opposite may be true. People who have not gotten raises or may have to pay a larger part of their health insurance are no less likely than anyone else to fear for their jobs during a recession. And, “the sight of the gallows focuses the mind.”

Douglas A. McIntyre