9 reasons your employees are unhappy

What's the secret to happiness in the workplace? The answer's not very surprising. Employees want to be listened to and feel that their concerns are taken seriously.

Employee Satisfaction is Important
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Employee Satisfaction is Important

There's a disturbing trend in the American workplace: Employers don't understand what motivates and satisfies their employees, and that leads to poor performance, disengagement and high turnover rates, according to the Answers.com 2014 American Employee Study.

Not only that, but employers are not doing nearly enough to rectify the situation, says Eric Feinberg, senior director, product strategy, for Answers Cloud Services. "Improving employee satisfaction leads to desirable employee behaviors, such as recommending the company to others, supporting its products and satisfying its customers. Considering the high cost of replacing employees -- anywhere from a fifth to 200 percent of the person's salary -- a true commitment to measuring and improving the employee experience should be an operational imperative for American employers," he says.

Answers.com surveyed 4,115 American employees in the fall of 2014, asking both specific questions about their engagement, availability of training and their company's commitment to understanding their career goals as well as rating their general job satisfaction on a 0-100 point scale.

By understanding how and which aspects of satisfaction and engagement impact specific behaviors, organizations can effectively design employee initiatives that will achieve measurable, positive business outcomes, says Feinberg. Here are the top nine most critical findings from the survey.

American employees are generally dissatisfied
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Can't Get No Satisfaction

American employees are generally dissatisfied, scoring a 65 in satisfaction, on a 0-100 scale. A score of 80 or higher is considered the threshold for excellence at which a company meets and exceeds employee expectations. But the reasons for the dissatisfaction are different from what you might expect, according to Feinberg. They are less about a worker's boss, compensation and job roles than about being heard, feeling engaged and having a sense of purpose in their job.

Only 46 percent of employees have ever participated in company-led employee experience measurement programs, the survey reveals. Of those who did participate, only 15 percent reported that action was taken as a result of their responses to those surveys.

"Employees aren't given the opportunity to speak their mind. Even executive HR leaders don't feel like they have a seat at the executive table like the CFO. The CMO represents the customer, the CIO represents IT, but the employees often don't feel they have a voice at all. It's critical not only to actively solicit employee input, but to act on that input to make the workplace better," says Feinberg.

employers don't listen
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You Don't Listen to Me

Only 46 percent of employees have ever participated in company-led employee experience measurement programs, the survey reveals. Of those who did participate, only 15 percent reported that action was taken as a result of their responses to those surveys.

"Employees aren't given the opportunity to speak their mind. Even executive HR leaders don't feel like they have a seat at the executive table like the CFO. The CMO represents the customer, the CIO represents IT, but the employees often don't feel they have a voice at all. It's critical not only to actively solicit employee input, but to act on that input to make the workplace better," says Feinberg.

Employers don't know what motivates employees
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You Don't Know Me

Nearly half of those surveyed (48 percent) don't feel that their employers understand their career goals. Sure, the nature of the work itself (whether it's challenging, motivating and interesting) and role clarity (whether the task is clearly defined and understood) contribute to satisfaction and engagement, but an employer must also know why an employee chooses to remain in their role, what their future plans are, and understand the importance of workers' feeling as though they have a stake in the larger company goals.

"While study participants gave relatively high marks when it came to understanding how their job contributed to the overall success of the organization and providing a sense of accomplishment, employers should find ways to ensure employees feel that they are given opportunities to challenge their skills and abilities," the report says.

Employers don't get enough relevant training
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Training Day

Those who have received zero training scored 52 in satisfaction. In stark contrast, employees who received formal training have a satisfaction score of 72, highlighting the difference an employer's commitment can make to employee perception, according to the study.

"Training and education opportunities help employees feel that their company is invested in them and their success, and that they are valued contributors," says Feinberg. "Providing these opportunities and encouraging workers to take advantage of them can help improve satisfaction and engagement."

Be a Good Leader
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Take Me to Your Leader

According to the survey, the American employee deeply craves company leadership that supports long-term growth over short-term gains and that can provide a clear vision of the company's direction. They also want to be informed and expect leaders to effectively and frequently communicate company information and updates. The complexities of the modern economy -- internationalization, importance of maintaining a competitive advantage, ease of "information leaks"-all contribute to many companies taking the easier path of simply not sharing information, but when employees demand to be 'in the know,' this will prove to be a long-term error, as it will lead to lower employee retention.

Pay your employees well
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Show Me the Money

Compensation isn't the most important metric when gauging employee happiness, but it does play a role, says Feinberg. "It's worth mentioning that fair pay is important, but given the results of the survey, we think it's safe to say that workers are more concerned with intrinsic motivators outside of compensation -- like feeling heard and appreciated, and feeling that the company is working to get their needs met," he says.

Good Managers are Paramount
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Relationship With Their Supervisor

Contrary to popular belief, 86 percent of those surveyed say they like their boss and have a good relationship with them, says Feinberg. "The reality is that employees who feel that they receive praise and recognition when they do a good job and who also receive constructive feedback when necessary are much more satisfied and engaged than those whose supervisors do not provide this sort of mentorship," according to the survey results.

"The irony of the existing canon of employee engagement research is that so much of it is focused on solving some over-exaggerated issue with the supervisory relationship," says Feinberg. "That would be helpful if most people didn't have a good relationship with their manager, but most do; it's a false flag," he says.

Get Your Employees Engaged
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Many Employees Are Disengaged

According to the survey results, 27 percent of respondents are engaged in their work, while 28 percent are completely disengaged. Nearly half of all employees surveyed (45 percent) fall somewhere in the middle. That presents a valuable opportunity to companies that want to effect change. "Focusing on moving that 'silent plurality' into the engaged column by addressing leadership, career goals and simply by listening, can have a tremendous positive impact on the organization," the study reveals.

Employers are Held to Higher Standard
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Raise Your Standards

For employers, these survey results clearly show that their employees are holding them to a higher standard than they used to; it's not just about compensation, putting in an eight-hour day and maintaining job security.

"Most employees are invested in the idea of corporate responsibility. They want to be in-the-know about the direction of the company and its long-term goals as well as how corporate decisions impact not just themselves and their jobs, but the global community, the environment, society as a whole," Feinberg says.

If workers don't feel that their workplace is making a positive impact, they're not just going to disengage, they'll actively look for a different place to work and they won't refer folks to your business, he says.

"Employee engagement drives customer engagement, too. When you deliver on these issues for your employees, they turn around and deliver on them for your customers. That drives better engagement, brand strength, productivity. Bottom line: addressing these key factors and improving employee happiness overall just makes good business sense," says Feinberg.