Survey: 60% of Workers Say Pay Is Very Important to Job Satisfaction

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I’ve never believed the talk you always hear that salary or pay isn’t a big motivator of employees.

Yes, people may say that when asked in a survey — after all, who wants to believe that they’re so shallow that they’re only driven by more bucks? — but when it comes right down to it, my experience managing employees is that pay for most people is a pretty big deal.

So count me as one of those not too surprised by the top line finding from the Society for Human Resource Management‘s new research report titled Job Satisfaction and Engagement: The Road to Economic Recovery (sorry, it’s behind SHRM’s paywall), that said that when asked “what was very important to them, 60 percent of employees said compensation/pay, making it the biggest contributor to job satisfaction.”

Compensation the top factor for first time since 2006-07

It’s also possible that the 60 percent figure is actually a little low, because when you dig into the survey you find that it was taken in 2013 (and there’s no indication of when in the year it happened), and, “in total, 347 HR professionals completed the online 2013 HR Professionals’ Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey. All respondents were employed, either full-time or part-time.”

That seems like a fairly small sample size, with scant additional information about them. Make of that what you will.

According to the press release from SHRM about the survey, respondents were asked “about the importance of 35 different contributors to job satisfaction. Based on an analysis of the individual ratings, SHRM identified pay/compensation as the top contributor.”

They add that, “The last time compensation/pay was the top contributor to overall job satisfaction was the pre-recession period of 2006 and 2007. Since the recession, compensation/pay has fluctuated among lower rankings.”

“Incomes have grown slowly since the recession, and that undoubtedly is having an impact on workers’ priorities and one explanation for the leap to the forefront by compensation,” said Evren Esen, director of SHRM’s Survey Research Center, in the press release about the survey.

“81% of U.S. employees  said they were satisfied”

Some of the other findings from the research:

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  • Job satisfaction — “81 percent of U.S. employees said they were satisfied overall with their current job, unchanged from 2012. It was the first time in eight years that employee job satisfaction has not changed from the previous year.”
  • Employee engagement — “73 percent of employees said they were satisfied with their relationships with co-workers, and 70 percent were satisfied with their relationship with their immediate supervisor.”
  • In addition, 68 percent of employees thought their work was interesting, challenging and exciting and were satisfied with it, a drop from 76 percent in 2011.
  • Some 79 percent of employees said they were determined to accomplish their work goals and confident that they could meet them, making it the top factor measuring employee engagement.
  • Interestingly, less than two-thirds (62 percent) of employees said they had passion and excitement about their work.

How do engagement number square with Gallup?

I haven’t dug too deeply into this survey, because once you get behind SHRM’s pay wall and find it, you’ll see that there is a lot of data there to dig through. But, I am surprised at the findings about engagement because they seem to fly in the face of the work that Gallup has done nationally in their State of the American Workplace survey

That research found that only “30 percent of the U.S. workforce is engaged in their work, and the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is roughly 2-to-1, meaning that the vast majority of U.S. workers (70 percent) are not reaching their full potential.”

So, who do you believe — SHRM’s survey of 347 HR professionals that says that 81 percent of employees are satisfied with their job, or Gallup’s nationwide survey that says most aren’t? Or, are you hearing and seeing something else entirely?

If you are able to get behind SHRM’s paywall to look at Job Satisfaction and Engagement: The Road to Economic Recovery, you’ll probably find it interesting even if that findings do seem at times  to fly in the face of what you hear anecdotally from HR and talent management leaders in the workforce.

How does this compare with your experience?

What I keep hearing is that pay is indeed a bigger factor than previously thought, mainly because raises have been so small for so long, and now people are getting hit hard by sharp increases in food and energy costs. In addition, people seem to feel that engagement continues to be a drag as unhappiness over management policies during the recession (over things like pay and staffing levels) continues to fester along with mediocre job growth.

SHRM’s survey seems to find a much happier, more satisfied, and more trusting workforce than I keep hearing about, and if nothing else, this new survey is worth taking a look at to see how it compares with what you’re experiencing in your little corner of the world.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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5 Comments on “Survey: 60% of Workers Say Pay Is Very Important to Job Satisfaction

  1. I’m wondering why SHRM would ask HR people what employees are thinking???? Also did Gallop ask actually employees or HR people???

  2. Job satisfaction and engagement are not the same. Even the worst performer can be satisfied with many aspects of their job. Actually with poor perfoemrs, it would be desirable to find they are dissatisfied.

    As with several HR issues engagement is a construct and it seems every researcher defines it somewhat differently. And the research looks at different factors. Gallup, for example, does not consider salary level or salary increase although in their Q12 survey questions they look at recognition.

  3. Only 60 %?????….sorry not buying that one…….90% I might believe…with the 10% of starving artists types who don’t seem to care

  4. Not very different from the old Maslov “Hierarchy of Needs.” Employees cannot be satisfied with the higher levels unless their base needs are satisfied first. However, base needs don’t mean a cardboard box to live in. Base needs are what the employees believes are base needs. So that might mean a bigger house, chance to eat out more often, better car, more disposable income, etc. With COL going up and wages remaining stable satisfying “base” needs becomes more important.

  5. 60% seems low to me also. But not that it is top priority. I doubt surveys claiming low priority for pay. My inner cynic suspects this is ploy to justify lower compensation. Most people work to live, not the other way around.

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