A recent survey in early January found that job satisfaction is at an all-time low -- only 45 percent of American workers are happy with their work. While this isn't surprising, it is very disappointing. Unfortunately, too many companies have focused on short-term human capital strategies during the recession to the detriment of longer-term goals such as building highly motivated and fulfilled teams.

As the economy starts to improve, dissatisfied workers will start looking elsewhere. This can be a very costly situation for organizations. They are in danger of losing the very people who help drive their businesses, along with all the knowledge and experience that these workers possess. On top of these losses, it is costly to try to replace an employee. It typically costs a company two and a half times an employee's salary to hire a new person to fill his or her position.

On the positive side, businesses that are focused on creating exceptional workplaces have an opportunity to stand out from their competitors and attract the best and the brightest people in the marketplace. What does it take to be an exceptional workplace? Providing opportunities for employees to grow, get training, and take on new challenges; offering a family-friendly and flexible work environment; conducting open communications; and having respect for all employees -- these are just a few of the ways that your company can become a workplace of choice.

We should invest in employees in all economic climates. They are our front-line ambassadors to customers and the public, and the engine that helps drive our companies forward. The recent survey uncovered a problem that is lurking beneath the surface of many organizations. That makes it particularly timely to take stock of employee satisfaction at your firm, and make sure that you address any potential problems before they arise. Most importantly, if you view employee relations as a long-term, strategic area of focus, you'll give your company tremendous competitive advantage.<