Employee satisfaction rises despite job insecurity

Job satisfaction has shown a surprise increase during the autumn according to the CIPD’s latest quarterly employee outlook survey, although there are worrying findings from the public sector.

The survey of more than 2,000 employees reveals a generally bleak picture of employee attitudes following the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review. Twenty-five per cent of public sector workers believe that it is likely they will lose their job and 63% say that stress has increased as a result of the economic downturn, compared to 54% last quarter. Respondents across all sectors are also three times more likely to report that their standard of living has fallen (29%) over the last six months than it has risen (9%).

However, despite this gloomy outlook, job satisfaction – calculated in the survey by subtracting the percentage of employees satisfied from the percentage dissatisfied – has climbed across sectors to a net score of +42 from +35 for the previous quarter.

The findings point to a recurrence of what has been called the “fixed grin” phenomenon, in which employees are simply happy to have a job amid uncertain economic conditions.

Ben Willmott, CIPD senior public policy adviser, said: “The findings echo what happened during early spring 2009 against the backdrop of recession, when job satisfaction hit +46, before falling as economic and employment conditions improved. Both then and now, there was talk of job losses and bleak economic commentary, suggesting that – when faced with an uncertain outlook – employees place more value on simply having a job than they do during more benign economic times. They are also less likely to look enviously over the fence and think the grass may be greener with another employer.”

The survey shows that there are a number of factors that could undermine employee engagement and wellbeing in the months ahead, particularly in the public sector. Nearly one-fifth (19%) of workers report that their organisation is planning redundancies. Among public sector staff, however, the figure is 50% – a 10 percentage points increase from the previous quarter. By comparison, only 10% of private sector staff and 17% of voluntary sector workers say that their employer is planning to make redundancies. On top of this, 39% of employees say that they are under excessive pressure at work either every day or once or twice a week, rising to 44% in the public sector.

Public sector workers are also more likely to report an increase in stress, conflict at work, bullying by line managers and an increase in people taking time off sick. All these measures have increased when compared to the previous quarter.

Willmott continues: “Past findings suggest that the rise in job satisfaction could be a temporary one – particularly for public sector workers. The survey shows some real causes for concern, with job insecurity and stress at high levels and trust in senior management at extremely low levels.”

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