Job Satisfaction 2021: Job satisfaction remains high even in the midst of the pandemic and economic chaos | The Conference Board
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Job Satisfaction 2021: Job satisfaction remains high even in the midst of the pandemic and economic chaos

This research examines trends in job satisfaction plus implications for today’s labor market and employee engagement, including how workers rank a full complement of job satisfaction components (e.g., wages, job security, work/life balance, supervisors, and bonuses).


In 2020, overall job satisfaction remained historically high. Despite the pandemic, economic crisis, mass layoffs, and the increase in the unemployment rate, job satisfaction climbed from its lowest ever rate of 42.6 percent recorded in 2010 to 56.9 percent—the highest in 20 years. The percentage of workers reporting engagement in their work also increased from 53.2 percent in November 2019 to 54.3 percent in November 2020. However, some components of job satisfaction declined because of the recession and economic stress. In aggregate, the results show an intriguing perspective on and changing dynamics of the relationship between employer and employee.

During the pandemic, companies devoted more efforts and resources toward supporting the well-being of employees and their families. Companies stepped up and responded with compassion, flexibility, and support during the chaos of the pandemic and social unrest, helping to keep overall job satisfaction for workers at a high level. Many of the components of employee job satisfaction that are in direct control of the company, such as health plan, performance review process, flexible time plan, family leave plan, sick leave, and supervisor, significantly improved in 2020.

It was not all good news, though. Some of the determinants of job satisfaction that are especially connected to labor market conditions, such as wages, bonus, retirement/pension plans, potential for future growth, and spending on training, tend to suffer during recessions. And indeed, satisfaction with these categories did decline in 2020. Many of these components were casualties of the financial straits some companies found themselves in.

The change in job satisfaction between November 2019 and November 2020 varied by age group. The under-35 group experienced a drop, while the 55+ cohort experienced an increase. Younger workers typically suffer more during periods of weak labor markets, and that may have lowered their job satisfaction in 2020.

Insights for What’s Ahead

Postpandemic, job satisfaction is forecast to improve, continuing the trend of the past decade. In 2021 and beyond, we expect job satisfaction to continue to improve, mostly because we expect a significant recovery in economic conditions. The weak growth in labor supply and the strong growth in demand for workers will likely lower the unemployment rate to almost 4 percent by year’s end, barring a reversal in the pandemic trajectory. When the pandemic hit, a tight labor market seemed to be years away, but it may reappear as soon as 2022. The reduced stress as the pandemic and childcare crises die down may raise job satisfaction as well. Additionally, the long-run shift from manual services and routine office jobs to highly satisfying professional jobs is likely to continue in the coming years, further raising overall job satisfaction.

With expected ongoing pandemic challenges and resulting mental health issues of workers, companies will need to continue focusing on job satisfaction by providing support for employee well-being. Along with the focus on physical wellness, companies need to pay attention to worker stresses that may reduce their productivity. These may include mental health and psychological challenges, financial stresses, social wellness and belonging, professional and career wellness, and even community and family wellness. The compassion, flexibility, and support companies showed in 2020 resulted in increased job satisfaction for workers; there is every reason to assume these issues require ongoing focus.

While the dramatic shift to remote work for many workers did nothave a noticeable impact on job satisfaction in 2020, that could easily change as remote work becomes an established norm. Organizations will need to accommodate a new workplace model (remote, in office, hybrid) and adjust rewards and services for the different populations to support ongoing job satisfaction. Working remotely, the biggest recent trend in the US labor market, was not significantly correlated with job satisfaction or employee engagement this year. While some respondents may have appreciated the increased flexibility and the elimination of a daily commute, others may have suffered from the lack of in-person interaction and perhaps a less-than-ideal working environment at home, due to inferior equipment, lack of space, or child and other dependent care disruptions. Remote work trends will continue to evolve, and different workers will have different needs. Companies will need to assess how they might respond.

The trend among boards and senior management of shifting focus from shareholders to stakeholders will bring increased attention to human capital management, and may also contribute to even higher job satisfaction levels in the long term. The 2020 ruling by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires disclosures on a company’s human capital resources, measures, and objectives that are materially important in managing the business. This new mandate underscores how important it is for boards to devote time and attention to understanding, evaluating, and strategizing their firm’s human capital capabilities, needs, and performance. This renewed focus will drive more dialogue on topics such as worker satisfaction, employee engagement, and company culture.




Gad Levanon, PhD

Vice President, Labor Markets
The Conference Board


Amy Lui Abel, PhD

Vice President, Human Capital Research
The Conference Board


Allen Li

Associate Economist, CCI


Calvin Rong

Research Analyst, Human Capital
The Conference Board



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