A vital part of any successful business is attracting and retaining hardworking and happy employees. Whether it’s a generous salary, a satisfying title or a rewarding office environment, employees need to be content in order to perform to the best of their abilities. Identifying what incentives bring in and keep the top talent happy, however, is difficult to determine.

Luckily for small business owners, a recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has revealed the top five factors that lead to employee satisfaction.

Are American Workers Satisfied?

Before we take a look at specifics, let’s quickly focus on generalities and see just how happy the typical American worker is. Overall, the American worker seems content with his or her current job:

  • According to the study, 81% of American workers are satisfied with their job; broken down further, 38% of all respondents are “very satisfied,” while 43% are “somewhat satisfied.”

Meshing well with coworkers and superiors seems to be a factor in employee contentment, as over 70% say they are happy with their relationships with the people they work with. This satisfaction, however, does not translate to retaining talent, as many are hopeful of making a change in the near future:

  • 44% of respondents say they are likely to look for work outside their current organization in the next 12 months.

While this may be bad news for business owners, this reflects good news for the American economy as a whole, as the SHRM relates this eagerness to make a career move as evidence of optimism in the job market. With an anticipated increase in employee walkouts on the horizon, keeping workers happy can go a long way to maintaining a productive staff.

Let’s take a look at the best ways to keep your employees satisfied.

5. Good Relationships with Immediate Supervisors

  • 54% of respondents say a good relationship with their superiors is a key to their satisfaction.

Maintaining a positive and reciprocal relationship between junior-, mid- and senior-level employees is vital for successful communication within and among departments. Ultimately, this sends a signal to lower-level employees that they’re an important part of their team, and that can definitely contribute to employee retention.

4. Good Communication Between Employees and Management

  • 57% say good communication is key to satisfaction in the workplace.

This goes right in line with the previous statistic, as good relationships foster good communication, which in turn makes for happier and more productive workers. This factor was significantly more important to employees with longer tenures of 11 to 15 years. The SHRM study relates the need to have good communication as a way to cultivate an open and creative work environment. Poor communication has proven to stifle creativity and innovation, as employees can be reluctant to voice concerns and ideas because of a fear of repercussions.

3. Compensation

  • 60% say a vital part to employee satisfaction is their pay.
  • Only 58% say they are happy with their compensation.

The importance of compensation is not a surprising factor to employee satisfaction. Whereas the previous two stats are reflective of a worker’s need to feel like part of the team, fair compensation sends the message that their contributions are valued properly. Compensation was reported as more important among lower-level employees with less than five years of tenure and among those in organizations with 500 to 2,499 employees.

2. Job Security

  • Job security is key to the satisfaction of 61% of respondents.

Another no-brainer, high turnover rates and layoffs can significantly lower employee morale. Job security was rated as the No. 1 factor to employee satisfaction in five previous SHRM studies since 2002, so its relegation to No. 2 is actually another indication of optimism in the job market. Similarly, 40% say they are not at all concerned with job security. This factor was more important to employees with little to no college education than those with university degrees.

1. Ability to Use Skills and Abilities

  • 63% say this is a key to their satisfaction.

This is another factor that falls in line with the desire to have good relationships with a team. The majority of respondents are now looking to make contributions in fields they feel they excel in. While utilizing skills is a great way to gain job security, better pay and promotions, the fact that this beat out all those factors shows that workers are now focusing on achievement over their recompense. This also shows more optimism in the economy, as workers are slowly being reassured that income is available and that their career focus can now be placed elsewhere.


Society for Human Resource Management: “Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement”