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The Key to Employee Happiness

​JOB SATISFACTION directly affects effectiveness and profitability. Poor job satisfaction can hinder an organization’s ability to deliver services as well as its ability to retain personnel. It can also contribute to staff misconduct, which can lead to criminal liability. By understanding what causes employee dissatisfaction, managers can help to avoid problems and keep morale and productivity high.

Available research on the topic indicates that more than 50 percent of employees are dissatisfied with their jobs but their bosses are unaware of this fact.

The government actually scores a little higher than the private sector in job satisfaction. The recent Federal Human Capital Survey conducted by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) found that 57 percent of federal employees were, overall, satisfied with their jobs. Still, with regard to recognition, promotional opportunity, communication, and leadership, satisfaction ratings were under 50 percent.

The 2009 Employee Job Satisfaction Survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) might explain the high satisfaction number in government employment. The SHRM survey of private employees indicated that of all factors considered by employees when rating job satisfaction, job security was the most important factor. Typically, federal jobs carry more job security than private industry.

More specific data regarding the job satisfaction of federal employees who work in protection roles comes from a 2009 survey of federal probation officers. This study showed that 41 percent of respondents intended to leave their positions. Of these respondents, 30 percent were seriously considering leaving their position in the near future, and 11 percent were actively seeking employment elsewhere. Mirroring the OPM survey, respondents cited compensation, promotional opportunities, and the fairness exercised by management as primary reasons for their job dissatisfaction.

With regard to the private sector, an enlightening data set comes from a 2009 survey conducted by This survey found that while 65 percent were “somewhat” satisfied with their employment, the same percentage was either actively or passively seeking other employment opportunities. Additionally, 57 percent of respondents stated that they planned on intensifying their job search within the next three months even given the unsettled economic climate.

More surprising than the number of employees planning on seeking other job opportunities was the lack of awareness companies had regarding their employees’ job satisfaction. Employers surveyed by thought that only 35 percent of their workers were looking for new jobs, while 78 percent of them thought that those employees were unlikely to intensify their job search.

Job satisfaction data specific to the security industry is scarce. In a 2009 survey by the security recruiting firm L.J. Kushner and Associates, IT security professionals were surveyed regarding job satisfaction. A majority, 52 percent, stated that they were unsatisfied with their current employment. Turnover data underscored respondents’ job dissatisfaction. Thirty-four percent said they leave an employer every two to three years, and 31 percent leave after four to five years. This represents a more than 60 percent turnover rate every five years.

Generally, employers appear to be oblivious to employees’ needs and desires. If an employer is unaware or mistaken regarding employee needs, it is impossible to shore up job satisfaction through modified compensation plans, leadership development, and work restructuring strategies.

An analysis of survey data sets reveals six specific reasons that employees leave their jobs. These identified keys to job satisfaction are: job security, leadership, job enjoyment, social justice, personal development, and adequate level of challenge.

Job Security
As highlighted above, an employee’s perceived level of confidence that they will remain employed is the most crucial factor in job satisfaction. Communicating job security to employees is more than just assuring them that they will be employed tomorrow. Consistent recognition for good job performance and how their contribution brings value to the organization is a good first step. Second, but just as important, is consistent and honest communication regarding the strategic long-term initiatives of the organization. Employees want and need to know what the future entails so they can plan and be prepared. Failure to communicate the organization’s strategy for the future may leave many employees wondering if there is a future and if it includes them.

An organization’s leadership must set clear expectations. Leaders should instill trust in the work force and consistently model the organization’s values. The ability to communicate clearly and honestly on a consistent basis, which means every day with everyone, is also crucial. Modeling the ethical values expected of all employees is even more important for the leader, who becomes the standard by which others model their behavior. An unethical leader creates an oppressive work environment that employees seek to escape.

Task Enjoyment
The total percentage of time an employee engages in tasks that are enjoyable and that suit their personality has a serious effect on job satisfaction. Everyone’s job contains unpleasant tasks that are tedious, labor intensive, or boring. Although the boring tasks can’t be eliminated, managers must strike a balance between routine and uninteresting tasks and those an employee enjoys. Security managers must know and understand their staff to strike that balance, so once again, communication is the key.

Social Justice
Social justice in the workplace means that compensation, recognition, and advancement opportunities are based on performance and merit, while discipline is delivered in an egalitarian manner. This is a critical factor that can’t be overlooked. Employees want tangible rewards for their hard work and consistent good performance. This recognition must go beyond a mention at a department meeting. Likewise, employees need to know that poor job performance is penalized, since it requires other staff to work harder to satisfy organizational goals. Advancement opportunities that are based on merit and favor internal candidates reflect a commitment to social justice, while nepotism and favoritism do not.

A positive sense of development exists when employees have the opportunity to cultivate new skills, gain knowledge, and advance their career within the organization. There is an element of social justice implicit in the sense that development opportunities are available to everyone. Leaders should proactively help employees to build career paths within the company. Not only does development of employee skills aid the employee in seeking advancement opportunities, it instills a sense of recognition that the organization is investing in the employee. A more skilled employee benefits the organization now and into the future.

Providing a challenging environment means giving employees the opportunity to fully use their knowledge and skills. This factor correlates with enjoyment in some instances, because many employees derive enjoyment from challenging assignments. Presenting employees such tasks gives them a chance to build confidence and enjoy a sense of achievement. Leaders can also benefit from the process because it gives them a chance to see who rises to the occasion and most deserves advancement.

Equipped with this information, leaders in the security profession can begin establishing a baseline strategy for improving job satisfaction within their organization. That is the first step toward reducing turnover and developing a committed, knowledgeable, and productive work force.

William P. Carr is a program security manager for Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Sunnyvale, California. He is a member of ASIS International.