Happy employees look on the bright side of life

May 06 2009 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Perhaps it's that legendary stiff upper lip, but British employees remain relatively happy and appear to be making the best of the current tough times, with job satisfaction actually increasing since 2006, according to a new study.

The poll of more than 3,000 employees by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has found that the net proportion of people satisfied with their job has increased to 46 from 26 in 2006.

What's more the proportion of people who say their job makes them feel cheerful most or all of the time has also gone up.

Intriguingly this is despite the fact that three quarters of the employees polled admitted their organisations had been affected by the recession, with more than half arguing that workplace-related stress had risen as a result and that one in four had seen a rise in office politics.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, the proportion of people who said their job had been making them worried or tense had also increased since the 2006 survey, with nearly six out of 10 employees saying they were worried by the future.

Ben Willmott, senior public policy adviser and co-author of the survey at CIPD, said one reason for the disparity could an element of "gallows humour" in the workplace, with doing their best to remain happy against the increasingly grim economic backdrop.

"Job satisfaction may have edged up, but this could be the employee opinion survey equivalent of a fixed grin," he argued.

"Employees grateful to have a job at all are less likely to grumble and more likely to see scorched earth rather than greener grass on the other side of the fence," he added.

Yet the brave face being put on by many workers should not mean managers should be complacent, he warned.

"Beneath this positive glow, however, our survey highlights the impact the recession is having on the workplace," Wilmott said.

"Without action to tackle some of the stresses and strains that are clear in our survey, employers could find employee health and well-being deteriorating and employee engagement tailing off at precisely the time they need all hands to the pump to survive the recession and thrive in the recovery," he added.

It's also possible, of course, that one reason for workers' satisfaction could be that the recession has been forcing employers to look at more flexible ways of working, such as remote and home working, to cut costs but which are also often popular with employees.

Last September, for example, a poll by the UK Confederation of British Industry and recruitment firm Pertemps found that the number of people "teleworking" from home had risen dramatically over the past few years as employers offered more work flexibility.

Almost half of all employers said they now offered teleworking to staff, a dramatic increase on the 14 per cent reported in 2006 and 11 per cent in 2004.

There has been a similar trend across the Atlantic, with U.S Labor Department last year raising its estimate of the number of home workers by half and predicting that some 100 million workers would be working remotely by 2010, up from 14.7 million in 2006.

Others in the U.S, however, still remain to be convinced that a "mature", flexible approach to working and managing people can always work, with health benefits firm CIGNA recently suggesting that employees spent on average between two-and-a-half and five hours a week resolving personal issues at work.

Similarly, workers working remotely can often complain they get overlooked for promotion or advancement simply because their face is physically not there in the office and so they do not get thought of, whatever their credentials.

The CIPD research, meanwhile, said more than a third of employees were worried about being made redundant as a result of the recession, with most believing that finding a new job would be difficult.

And, while employees were still doing their best to remain happy and upbeat, almost four out of 10 reported that their organisations had already made redundancies or were planning to make job cuts, and just under a fifth said their employers had cut back on training or frozen pay.