Critical leadership actions that business owners and managers should be implementing to improve employees job satisfaction

This article attempts to identify critical leadership actions that business owners and managers should be implementing in order to address major concerns raised by employees in the current work environment.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently conducted a survey of 600 employees across 21 industries, seeking feedback on 44 aspects of job satisfaction and 38 aspects of employee engagement (i.e. motivation). 


These elements were then grouped into eight categories:

  1. Career development
  2. Compensation
  3. Benefits
  4. Employee relationships with management
  5. Work environment
  6. Conditions for engagement
  7. Engagement opinions
  8. Engagement behaviors. 

The survey is known as “Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement (SHRM, 2017)”.  SHRM also produced an executive summary of the survey with their findings and recommendations for action.


A huge disparity between workplace factors employees value and what they actually get from their company

Figure 1 below, reprinted herein with permission, is SHRM’s “Job Satisfaction Contributors: Differences in Importance vs Satisfaction”.  The chart lists 33 workplace factors that employees ranked in terms of personal importance to them, contrasted against their level of satisfaction regarding how well their companies were addressing those factors.  Figure 1 above, lists the top five factors in terms of importance to survey respondents.   A number of factors were deemed very important to the majority of respondents but companies have failed to adequately address their concerns.  (For example, 61% of the participants indicated that compensation was very important to them but only 26% of those responding were actually fully satisfied with their pay.)  Regardless of how important each of the listed factors were to the respondents, satisfaction levels across the board never even reached 50%.  More disturbing is the disparity between importance and satisfaction levels grew further apart the more important the issue became to the employees.  In other words, companies are not doing a good job of addressing the issues that are most important to employees. 

Between 50% and 65% of the respondents found a dozen of the factors to be “very important”.  Those factors can be loosely grouped into just three topics:

  1. compensation and job security
  2. the work itself
  3. the relationship between employees and management.  

Figure2: Job Satisfaction Contributors: Differences in Importance vs Satisfaction
Originally published as “EMPLOYEE JOB SATISFACTION AND ENGAGEMENT: THE DOORS OF OPPORTUNITY ARE OPEN” by Christina Lee, MA, Evren Esen, Samantha DiNicola. © 2017, Society for Human Resource Management, Alexandria, VA. Used with permission.


Respectful treatment is the number 1 concern among employees

Even without reviewing the survey results, one could surmise that compensation would be the number one concern among employees but, in fact, it was not.  The number one concern expressed by 65% of the participants as being very important was “respectful treatment of all employees at all levels”.   However, the real problem here is that 62% of the employees were NOT satisfied with how their companies were dealing with that issue.  Stated another way, nearly two-thirds of the participants feel respect toward one another is the most important factor in the workplace, yet nearly two-thirds of the participants feel their organizations are not adequately addressing the issue of respect in the workplace.  This is not a new development in the workplace either…the SHRM findings on this topic have been the same every year since 2014.  That suggests companies are not taking this issue seriously and are not making efforts to correct what should be a relatively inexpensive fix. 


The SHRM report describes “respectful treatment of all employees at all levels” as: workplace civility; workforce diversity and inclusion; prevention of workplace harassment; and prevention of workplace violence.  This topic is important enough that it should even be part of the company culture.   After all, culture by definition means the standards and norms of behavior that individuals in a group are expected to follow.  On the topic of company culture, I just returned from an HR roundtable where one of the participants stated that a positive company culture is not just a statement mandated by the CEO of a company but rather a model of behavior that must be constantly nurtured and owned at all levels of the organization.  In other words, just because the CEO says something is the company’s culture, doesn’t make it so.  Management has to embrace it and live it every day in order for the employees to believe in it.


How to address the issue of respect in the workplace

Practical steps that companies can take to address the issue of respect in the workplace, include:

  1. Establishing and enforcing policies that address civility in the workplace.

Policies must be crafted to discourage bad behavior and reinforce good behavior. Equally important, enforcement of policies must be applied consistently and fairly.

  1. Providing civility training for employees and management.

Such training should include: collaboration skills, listening skills, interacting with co-workers in a positive manner, and providing examples of both desirable and undesirable behavior.

  1. Reviewing and modifying the corporate culture to incorporate diversity and civility.

Again, culture cannot simply be a written statement but must be a genuine way of doing business that is practiced by management and employees at all levels of the organization.


Top reasons employees are leaving their current jobs

Dissatisfied employees result in higher employee turnover.  For those who choose to remain in their job despite being dissatisfied, the result is lower motivation and productivity.  The survey measured 13 different factors that employees take into account when deciding whether or not to stay with their current employer.


Following are the top reasons, aside from compensation, that employees are leaving their current jobs:

  1. Poor relationships with a supervisor, dysfunctional corporate culture, and stress in the workplace – a total of 30% of respondents quit work because of a supervisor (7%), poor culture (7%) or unmanageable stress (16%).
  2. Lack of opportunities for training and advancement – a total 26% of respondents quit due to lack of training opportunities (5%) and perceived “dead-end” positions (21%).   
  3. Lack of meaningful and challenging work – a total 22% of respondents left due to lack of meaningful (14%) or challenging work (8%).
  4. Job security – 25% of the respondents quit due to lack of perceived job security


The second most important concern raised in the survey was the issue of compensation.  Overall compensation was cited as being “very important” to 61% of the respondents.  However, this issue also showed a large disparity between importance and satisfaction levels.  Only 26% of the respondents were “very satisfied” with their compensation.  Stated differently, 74% of all respondents were NOT “very satisfied” with their compensation!  Not surprisingly, the number one reason for employees to leave their current organization was dissatisfaction with their compensation.  Although employees can have more than one reason for quitting their job, 56% of the survey respondents cited pay as the reason for quitting.


If companies want to retain qualified employees, they need to do a better job of eliminating the broadly held belief that compensation and benefits are not in line with expectations.  First, companies need to determine if in fact their compensation programs are actually competitive within the industry.  This requires a comprehensive HR review of current positions, job duties and compensation packages in order to determine if pay scales are competitive.   If pay scales are not competitive and companies are serious about improving employee engagement and retention, they will need to develop strategies to bring compensation up to industry standards.  On the other hand, if after careful study, a company determines its pay is competitive with the industry, it will need to develop strategies to change employees’ perceptions about pay in order to improve satisfaction levels.  This could include discussing such issues during employee reviews.


Equally important as compensation to employees was the topic of “trust between employees and senior management”.  Here again, 61% of survey respondents indicated that trust is “very important” to them in the workplace.  However, 67% of those people indicated they were NOT “very satisfied” with the level of trustworthiness in their organizations. Again, respondents indicated that 14% quit their current organizations due to poor relationships with immediate supervisors and poor corporate culture.  Another 16% left due to work related stress.


SHRM recommends that company leaders take an honest look at past mistakes that may have contributed to distrust amongst employees and take consistent effort in both words and actions to regain trust.  For those with “open door” policies, managers are encouraged to establish regular hours for employees to present issues.  However, regardless of open door policies, certain workers may be reluctant to formally present problems or issues to management.   Consequently, managers are encouraged to regularly engage workers in conversation out on the floor in order to identify problems that may otherwise be overlooked.   



The 2017 SHRM employee survey identifies critical areas of dissatisfaction in the workplace.  The number one source of employee dissatisfaction is the systemic lack of respect for employees at all levels of the organization.   This includes such topics as bullying, harassment, lack of civility and workplace violence.  Sixty-five percent of respondents cited treating employees with respect as being “very important”, yet 62% stated they were not “very satisfied” with their company’s efforts to address those concerns.  As this result has remained unchanged in the annual survey every year since 2014, one must conclude that companies are not taking the findings seriously and they are failing to address and correct the problems that nearly two-thirds of all respondents repeatedly say is “very important” to them.  Smart managers will recognize this general dissatisfaction in the workplace as an opportunity to improve their company practices. By turning these shortcomings into positive traits, companies can use these issues as a competitive advantage that will help them attract, engage and retain employees.   



Written by Paul McFarling - Legal Counsel

Updated on October 24, 2017 20:08