Editorial: Be leery of ‘grumpy workers’ report (Jan. 7)

2010-01-07T04:00:00Z Editorial: Be leery of ‘grumpy workers’ report (Jan. 7)Gazette-Times Corvallis Gazette Times
January 07, 2010 4:00 am  • 

The Conference Board, a national business research group, weighed in this week with a report that job satisfaction among American workers has reached another record-low level.

We reacted as a nation by e-mailing this story to each other at work and then going back to check those Web sites like the one in which you can pretend you're a pirate or maybe "I Can Has Cheezburger." We sure do love those photos of cute cats.

The Conference Board said that only 45 percent of American workers report feeling satisfied with their jobs; that's the lowest mark recorded in the 22 years the organization has been doing this polling. By contrast, the number of satisfied workers in 1987 was 61.1 percent.

Not everyone's buying it: The Washington Post reported this week that The Conference Board's finding contradicts polling by Gallup and the University of Chicago, which shows that job satisfaction has been remarkably stable over several decades.

Regardless, it doesn't take much of a stretch to imagine that, in the middle of the most serious economic downturn in generations, American workers might be feeling a little bit leery about their jobs.

It's a sure thing that the numbers reflect anxiety about job losses, and consternation among survivors of job cuts that they have to pick up extra duties.

(It's no coincidence that the favorite in this year's Oscar race is "Up in the Air," a movie about a corporate ax man who flies in and out of cities to fire workers on behalf of managers who don't want to do the firing themselves.)

More worrisome, perhaps, and somewhat more surprising, was another finding from The Conference Board survey: Only 51 percent of workers find their jobs interesting, another low mark. The Conference Board worried that uninterested workers are less likely to be innovative.

Maybe. On the other hand, we bet that the roughly 10 percent of Americans who are unemployed would gladly exchange that status for a "dull" job that comes with a regular paycheck.

And maybe there's a silver lining in this: The satisfaction numbers could suggest a gradual (and generational) shift in our attitudes toward work. Ideally, Americans seek work that engages them - but they also increasingly understand that there's more to life than work. And our experience is that employees with a variety of outside interests turn out to be among the most capable and innovative workers.

For the last word on the topic, however, we turn to an undisputed expert, Scott Adams, the creator of the "Dilbert" comic strip: "When the economy was good, everybody was happier, no matter what the job was," Adams told the Post in an interview this week. "The fact you can't change jobs in this economy makes you think your current job is worse."

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