To Love, Honour and Survey


As a recent survey claims that job satisfaction is at a new low, Emer Sugrue examines the motivation behind such statistics

Last week a story hit the presses detailing a worrying new survey about job satisfaction. Conducted between 2010 and 2011, the report states that one in three Irish workers are seriously considering leaving their job, up from a fifth reported in a similar study conducted in 2004. This is even higher among younger workers, with just under half of sixteen to twenty-four year olds and forty-one per cent of those aged between twenty-five and thirty-four considering leaving their jobs. The largest decline in the survey related to how happy Irish workers are with their benefits. Only forty-seven per cent of Irish workers say that their benefits are as good as, or better than, those offered by other organisations in their industry, down from seventy-one per cent in 2004. The greatest concern of employees by far is base pay, the basic salary before overtime or bonuses, but only forty-six per cent say they are satisfied with this pay. Job security is the second most important factor for Irish workers.

While the headline-grabbing result that one in three workers wants to leave their job may have come as a surprise to those feeling that anyone lucky enough to be employed these days should be grateful for what they have, the general downturn in happiness is probably to be expected. Pay cuts and general job insecurity take their toll on people, and often cuts in some areas mean extra work is pushed on those remaining – thirty-six per cent said that the amount of work they are asked in their jobs is unreasonable, with the same number unable to maintain a healthy balance between their work and personal lives.

Is this a significant story however? While these survey results are certainly an interesting reflection of the recent recession, it must be viewed in the light of two major facts that have been somewhat skated over in the news: The survey size was just 1,000 people, and it was conducted by Mercer, the world’s largest human resource consulting firm.

1,000 people is just 0.05 per cent of the Irish workforce and hardly sufficient to give a clear snapshot of the thoughts and feelings of a population. The report doesn’t explain how these workers were found or what industries they work in. There are no such details for the 2004 report either and therefore there is no way of knowing if the groups asked then and now are in any way comparable. We don’t know whether the survey was conducted in person or via email, or whether response was mandatory or voluntary. While thirty-five per cent are reported as seriously considering leaving and forty-two per cent not, twenty-three per cent did not commit to either option. This is used as an indication of worker apathy in the survey but could easily be down to ‘survey apathy’. How many did not reply to the survey at all?

Maybe they were too busy with their fulfilling job. We don’t know. There are any number of biases that could be occurring in this report but there is absolutely no information available on its methods.

What makes this lack of information particularly relevant was that it was not conducted by a university, government agency or even by a media outlet, but a human resource consultancy. So what we have here is in fact less of a study than a PR exercise; a survey of employee dissatisfaction conducted by a company who hires themselves out to businesses to decrease employee dissatisfaction. Well done Mercer, at least someone is satisfied. Statements in Mercer’s report highlight the true purpose of the study, “These scores point to an environment that is ripe for employers to boost communication efforts, helping employees connect the dots to improve overall knowledge and acceptance.” Now, who can we find that offers just this sort of communication training…

This may not invalidate the results, but they were not produced by a disinterested party. This sort of skewed undertaking is so common that it is hardly worth presenting an example. Almost all surveys, studies and ‘scientific formulae’ for the ‘most depressing day of the year’ or ‘how to make the perfect cup of tea’ that are joyfully printed in newspapers every day are actually campaigns to get a product some publicity. They make the funny pages, the science pages, the business pages and even the news pages. Surveys without published methodology should always be taken with a pinch of salt and even more so when their producers are selling the product that is ‘lacking’. Just something to keep in mind before, say, hiring a human resource company to help with employee job satisfaction.