Only 45.3 percent of American workers say they are
Only 45.3 percent of American workers say they are satisfied with their jobs

More than half of working Americans are dissatisfied with their jobs, according to a new survey. That's bad news for employers because worker discontent can hurt productivity and stifle innovation.

Lynn Franco, co-author of the report, says Americans' job satisfaction is at its lowest level in more than two decades.

"Today, only 45.3 percent of workers say they are satisfied with their jobs compared to 61 percent in 1987," she says.

Dissatisfaction runs high at early and late career stages

The report was produced by the Conference Board, a non-profit organization that helps businesses strengthen their performance.  It is based on a survey of 5,000 U.S. households. It shows a drop in satisfaction in many aspects of an employee's work life, including interest in the job, dealing with co-workers and bosses, commuting and job security. As a group, neither young people who are just entering the workforce nor employees who are about to retire, Franco says, are happy with what they do.

Ian Ayers, a Yale professor, says economy woes cau
Ian Ayers, a Yale professor, says economy woes cause some employees to feel trapped and unhappy in their jobs

"What's interesting is that we're finding that our youngest entrants and our future leaders are the most dissatisfied," she says. "Only about 36 percent of workers under the age of 25 say they are currently satisfied with their jobs. And it's not much better among baby boomers. Twenty years ago, more than 50 percent of baby boomers were satisfied. Today, that's down to 46 percent."

The most satisfied group of workers in the survey was those aged 25 to 34. Franco suggests that they may see some opportunities for upward mobility as baby boomers retire.

Why the high unemployment rate contributes to unhappiness for those with jobs

The Conference Board survey also asked about the reasons behind job dissatisfaction.

"We're finding that there are economic reasons such as wages, promotion policy and bonus policy that are sort of adding to this level of dissatisfaction," she explains. "[We're finding unhappiness with] the benefits as well: vacation policy, flextime  and a variety of other factors as well such as recognition and acknowledgement, performance review processes, work load, work life  balance, communication channels and even potential for future growth, are all coming in very low on this satisfaction scale," Franco adds.

Conference Board's Lynn Franco says survey topics
Conference Board's Lynn Franco says survey topics include job interest levels, relationships between co-worker and bosses, commuting and job security

When the economy is in a downturn and unemployment rates are going up, one would expect that people who are still employed would be satisfied. But Ian Ayers, a professor at Yale University's School of Management, says that's not the case.

"In some ways some people feel locked into their jobs," he says. "This is an important time to revitalize a workplace. Individual professionals can make commitments to update their resumes, stop putting off their business plans. Incentives and accountability are the keys to keeping your employees engaged and on track," Ayers says.

Employers can take steps to improve staff morale

Lori Becker owns a small printing company with 14 full time employees. "We have a weekly meeting, we go over whatever these goals are," she says.

The weekly meetings provide a forum for employees to participate in setting work goals and to offer suggestions about office hours.

"We have a pretty flexible schedule," Becker says. "We are in the heart of Boston so some of us, myself included, come a little bit later to avoid some of the traffic in the morning and not be on the road as long to spend as much gas. I truly have a work hard, play hard group we learn everyday from each other," she adds.

Employees who are motivated and interested in their work tend to be more satisfied, according to Franco. 

"What we've seen is that interest in work is key to engagement," she explains. "So there are such things as rotational assignments that continue to sort of challenge people and keep them engaged. Also communication both up-ladder and down ladder so people feel they sort of part of what's happening, that their voice matters. This leads, I think to greater productivity," she says.

Franco says she hopes the results of the Conference Board's survey will encourage employers pay more attention to job dissatisfaction red flags, and address them. She adds that will not only contribute to their workers' well being and happiness, but boost their business' bottom line as well.