How satisfied are people with their jobs?

The youth survey released this week found that 84% of full-time workers and 78% of part-time workers aged 18 to 24 were satisfied with their jobs. 41% said that they were very satisfied (though unfortunately there was no option just to be ‘satisfied’, just ‘very satisfied’ or ‘somewhat satisfied’). How does this compare with workers in general?

Surveys have consistently found high levels of work satisfaction. In the Changing Australian survey of 1983, 49% of respondents said that they were very satisfied with their work and a further 38% were moderately satisfied, with 86% satisfied overall. 14% were a little or very dissatisfied. The National Social Science Survey of 1987-88 asked respondents to rate their work satisfaction on a 1 to 10 scale. If we class 6 or more as moderately satisfied or above then 85% were satisfied, almost exactly the same as the 1983 survey. If 1 to 4 are ‘dissatisfied’ then 9% fell into that category, but if we count those circling ‘5’ as a little dissatisfied again we can get a near exact match with 1983.

In a Saulwick Poll conducted before the 2001 election, 86% were satisfied – again, a very similar number to the other surveys. They separately identified casuals, 21% of whom were dissatisfied compared to 13% of the sample overall. This is quite similar to the division the Newspoll youth survey finds, though whether the problem is the casual work status or the nature of the employment is not clear (many casuals are students, who may find the low-level service jobs they do while studying unstimulating compared to the studies and low-status compared to their aspirations).

In the 2005 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes, with a 0 to 10 scale, 80% are satisfied on a 6 to 10 measure, the lowest of the surveys. But perhaps starting at 0 rather than 1 altered perceptions of the mid-point: on a 5 to 10 measure, 88% are satisfied. 47% were in the 8-10 range, which looks to be similar to the 49% who were very satisfied in 1983. Dissatisfaction (0-4) varied between occupational groups, from 5% for managers to 23% for ‘elementary clerical’ workers. Interestingly, the professional work that many people aspire to was just about on average for the sample as a whole for dissatisfaction and high levels of satisfaction (8-10).

Relations between managers and worker seem to have a big effect. Among those who agreed that management and employees had good relations at their workplace only 5% were dissatisfied and 57% rated the satisfaction as 8 or above. But among those who disagree that management-worker relations were good, a third were dissatisfied and only 19% rated their satisfaction as 8 or above.

As noted before, the match between the job and the respondent’s self-assessed abilities and qualifications is important. More than a quarter of those who think they don’t use their abilities and qualifications are dissatisfied, compared to 6% of those who do think that they use their abilities and qualifications. Predictably, those who think that they will lose their job in the next twelve months are much more likely to be dissatisfied (29%) than those who think their jobs are safe (10%).

Overall, young workers seem to have very similar patterns of satisfaction to the workforce as a whole. Those with casual or part-time jobs show higher levels of dissatisfaction, but this is likely to a temporary problem. Australian workers are rarely stuck in jobs with low satisfaction. A study based on HILDA data found that just 0.6% of their sample rated themselves in the 0-4 job satisfaction range in each of the 3 annual surveys covered.

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