Job satisfaction is creeping upwards but not for everyone.

Last month, the ONS updated its Measures of National Well-being Dashboard.  The dashboard uses a number of dimensions to track how we feel about ourselves and the country we live in.  One of those measures is job satisfaction.

Back in 2015/16, 55% of people felt mostly or completely satisfied with work.  Since then the proportion has nudged upwards.  The most recent data (2020/21) shows that 60% feel satisfied at work.

That ONS data is useful but it is now two to three years old and it doesn’t cover the Cost of Living crisis.

Our own quantitative tracking data brings us up to date. Each month, we ask respondents to rate job satisfaction on a scale from one to ten.  In October 2020, the average response was 6.7.  Last month it was 6.6.  While the monthly numbers fluctuate a bit, the trend line is steady.

When you lift the bonnet, a more complicated picture emerges.  In 2021 we started asking an additional question, about whether or not workers are more or less satisfied than they were a year ago.  In that time the proportion of people who feel much the same about their job has declined (from 46% to 37%).  That’s a significant difference.

At the same time, the proportion of people who are either a lot more satisfied at work or a bit more satisfied has grown – by nine percentage points in both cases.  Further, the proportion who are less satisfied has declined.  Expect your HR department to be smugly claiming the credit…

However, not everyone is singing the company song in the canteen.  Older workers (generally the over 50s) are much less satisfied by work than younger colleagues.  This is not a new phenomenon – Gen X have been cheesed off for some time.

Looking at our May data, 60% of Gen Z employees are much more, or a bit more, satisfied at work than they were during the pandemic.  Among Generation X, the proportion is 35%.

One in five Gen X workers are less satisfied with work.  That compares to 13% of Generation Z.

Many older workers are less fulfilled by work.

So what? 

Well, there are 3.5 million over-50s who are of pre-retirement age and not part of the labour force.  By way of comparison, the population of Wales is 3.1 million.

The number of people aged over 50 who are economically inactive has increased by 320,000 since the pandemic.

At a time of labour and skills shortages, having so many economically inactive people is a drag on the economy.

Some of these missing older workers are absent from the workplace for reasons of poor health.  However, that doesn’t explain the full story.

In March of last year the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development published “Understanding Older Workers; Analysis and recommendations to support longer and more fulfilling working lives.”  The report’s title explicitly references the need to make work a more fulfilling experience for Gen X.  The CIPD made three broad recommendations; greater flexibility in hours worked, better health and wellbeing measures and finally development and training.  On training, the CIPD observes that; “Employers … should guard against assumptions that older workers are less likely to be interested in training or career progression.”  Reading between the lines of the report, it’s clear that many older workers feel that work has become less rewarding and what they really want is for their employers to both recognise them and value them.

New measures in the Spring Budget attempted to financially cajole some older workers back to their desks but what if it’s not about the money?

Perhaps some older workers have just had enough of 360 appraisals, agile working, restructures, recalcitrant printers, hackathons, rail strikes, procurement departments, rush hour on the M8, profit assurance, a focus on young talent and Maureen from accounts?

What does it say about the modern workplace that our many of our most experienced workers would rather live on limited means than return to their desks?



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