People may not be happy about their financial situation, or the state of the world, but they are happier about what they do for a living then in the recent past. “Job satisfaction is at a 36 year high. When I talk to non-online people I’m amazed at the gap between their positivity toward how capitalism is working for them and malcontent intellectuals. Especially ‘gig economy’ workers, who seem to like making their own hours,” says Richard Hanania. Due to technological changes, jobs involve less drudgery than they used to, and workplace conditions are less hazardous, with fewer workplace accidents.
Fortune Magazine suggests that the very softness of the economy may increase people’s satisfaction with their jobs. It says that “Employees feel they have fewer job prospects during recessions, making them more content with their current role.”
This is echoed in a study in the Academy of Management, which states:
While recessions have many adverse consequences for individuals and organizations, we propose that they have positive implications for job satisfaction. We argue that during bad economic times, people will be less attuned to other possible jobs, and more likely to see their own jobs favorably. We find support for these predictions across three studies. Study 1 (n = 23,335) utilizes a large cross-sectional survey of American adults collected over four decades and finds that job satisfaction increases during recessions and declines during booms. Study 2 (n = 12,859) replicates this result using a large longitudinal survey of British adults and finds that job satisfaction rises and falls with the unemployment rate even within the same people. Finally, Study 3 (n = 512) uses an experimental design and finds that the relationship between economic conditions and job satisfaction is mediated by the reduced salience of alternative jobs. While scholars have long recognized that job satisfaction is affected by situational features inside organizations, our findings suggest that conditions outside the workplace can also influence how people think about and evaluate their jobs.
However, this effect of recessions is fairly small. Job satisfaction was lower in the Great Recession of 2007-09 or in the pandemic economic decline in 2020 than it is today.
Some have suggested that job satisfaction ratings may have risen for another reason: Because some people who hated working have simply left the rat race, resulting in fewer people who still have jobs being unhappy to work. However, labor force participation rates have rebounded from their pandemic lows, and are fairly normal. So this is probably not the reason.