Employee job satisfaction is the highest its been in more than two decades, according to global research association, The Conference Board. 

Some of the drivers behind this increase in employee sentiment include better commute times, more exciting work, and for workers under 35 years of age, their paychecks. 

Although the employment situation is improving, it is unlikely that it will ever be as good as it was back in 1987 (the year of the first survey), said Gad Levanon, chief economist for North America at The Conference Board in this WSJ article

We've been through a lot since the late 80s; recessions, layoffs, outsourcing, and automation--to name a few. 

But, as the dust settles and we enjoy one of the best labor markets in history, employees are worried about more tacit aspects of their jobs. 

In their latest report, The Conference Board identified five job components holding U.S. workplaces back from their full potential. Unfortunately, these are the same five that contribute most to overall employee satisfaction. In order of least satisfied, they are: 

  1. Recognition 
  2. Educational/job training 
  3. Performance reviews 
  4. Promotion policy 
  5. Bonus plan 

Managers take note: The the top three areas of employee unrest are all within your wheelhouse of responsibility. Here are a few of my thoughts to help you address each. 


Despite compensation satisfaction being on the rise, employees still feel underappreciated in most workplaces. It's proof that money can't buy happiness at home, or work. To course-correct and progress, managers must take the lead and ensure employees feel recognized for their efforts.

In my experience, most managers struggle in this area because they don't realize it's their responsibility. They rely on their organizations to drive employee recognition matters, but unfortunately, organizations don't know what your employees are doing on a daily basis. 

To fill in the gaps between performance reviews, merit increases, and promotions, managers should seek to develop a culture of appreciation. Small acts can go a long way in this regard. My favorites are team shout-outs, offering new or expanded development opportunities, and a handwritten note. 

The key takeaway is that recognition is always more meaningful when it's tied to a specific accomplishment and is timely, which means it has to come from managers. 

Educational/job training

Stagnation and irrelevance are everyday concerns for many employees. Most realize that learning is key to continued growth and pertinency. On the other side of the equation, organizations that provide a culture of learning benefit from increased levels of employee engagement and satisfaction. 

Regardless of what angle you approach it, learning is key to organizational effectiveness.

Employees see educational and job training opportunities as an investment in themselves and often reward their organizations with higher levels of productivity and loyalty. 

Performance reviews

Performance reviews need to be rethought.

The traditional approach implies that you discuss goals once and performance once. Unfortunately, there is a year gap between the two. If you're like me, then you usually forget your goals during this time, change your priorities, or get pulled into a myriad of different projects of which none made your original goal list. 

As a result, a process that was designed to be fair and uniform is anything but. Performance is based on more subjective aspects that you can't control or influence in time for your annual review. 

Instead, organizations need to rethink their performance management practices to include more consistent, real-time feedback, and coaching. Trust me; your employees will appreciate the additional guidance and find the process more pleasant and meaningful. 

Job satisfaction is more than just a paycheck. To realize your employees full potential, and create an environment in which they can thrive, focus on supplementing direct forms of compensation with indirect ways of appreciation.