Employee job satisfaction goes up during economic downturn

Cheerful young woman celebrating her achievement while reading good news on laptop from home office
Job satisfaction actually increases during economic downturns.
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Employee satisfaction? In this economy? 

Well, yes, actually. According to new research, people are more content with their jobs during recessions.

Though economists are still conflicted about whether the U.S. will enter a recession, the research offers companies a novel way to consider its effects on retention and engagement.

The research, which collected data from more than 23,000 respondents over 40 years, found that job satisfaction increased during economic downturns likely because employees feel they have fewer job prospects and are, therefore, more satisfied with their current job. 

“We know from decades of research in psychology that upward social comparisons typically make us less happy with whatever we have,” says Emily Bianchi, one of the study’s authors and a professor at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. “When you think of somebody who’s wealthier, smarter, or more attractive, that tends to make people feel worse about themselves. The same is true for jobs.” 

Any increase in job satisfaction seems to be borne of a “beggars can’t be choosers” mentality rather than one of genuine fulfillment. Nonetheless, Bianchi warns that a recession shouldn’t discourage continued efforts to promote employee satisfaction. In fact, it’s a time when employees might be more receptive to such initiatives since they’re already more focused on the positive aspects of their job. Second, she says, don’t get complacent about employee satisfaction when the economy rebounds because workers are more prone to look for greener pastures then. 

However, Bianchi is quick to note that the economy is just one component that influences how people feel about their jobs. Fortune has reported extensively on other factors like belongingprofessional development, and work-life balance

It’s also worth noting that even though the research was published last month, it only collected data through 2016, long before the COVID-19 pandemic upended many long-held conventions about work.

Paolo Confino

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Though skills-first hiring has become popular, a new analysis from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce finds that employees with bachelor’s degrees still secure better jobs over time. 

"Georgetown studied the government data of over 8,000 Americans born in the early 1980s from their teenage years until they turned 30. Within that time range, they picked out 38 decision points that they figured would influence the workers’ ability to snag a 'good job.' Of those decision points, none were more impactful than working to earn a bachelor’s degree," writes Fortune's Jane Thier. 

Around the Table

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- Successful DEI initiatives require a clear baseline against which to measure progress and goals that align with the company's overarching vision. McKinsey & Company

- The rate of U.S. women in the workforce has barely increased since 2005. Axios

- In a phenomenon known as “nearshoring,” tech jobs are migrating to nearby Latin America instead of Asia. Bloomberg

- Microsoft made its HR training videos so engrossing that employees have become genuine fans. Wall Street Journal

- Idealistic Gen Zers are falling out of love with Big Law and its moral complexity. Financial Times


Everything you need to know from Fortune.

No raises. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told salaried employees they wouldn’t get raises this year. —Kylie Robison

A.I. upskilling. An executive at IBM encouraged managers to learn how to use A.I. otherwise, someone else might. —Orianna Rosa Royle

No prescription. An FDA panel approved the sale of an over-the-counter contraceptive pill in a decision that could upend health care benefits. —Matthew Perrone

Skill of the future. Analytical thinking is the most critical skill needed to master A.I. and land jobs in the future, according to a report from Microsoft. —Eleanor Pringle

This is the web version of CHRO Daily, a newsletter focusing on helping HR executives navigate the needs of the workplace. Today’s edition was curated by Paolo Confino. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.

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