The press has been lamenting recent dismal numbers on job satisfaction. Early this year, the Conference Board – which regularly pumps out interesting data on employment, the economy and business trends – issued a report that indicates job satisfaction is at its lowest level in two decades. This fact seems stunning in an economy where one in 10 of us is searching for a job – after all, if you have a job, shouldn’t you be satisfied, by definition? Or should you?

A number of red flags stand out in the report:

  • Only 45 percent of those surveyed are happy with their jobs.
  • Gen Y – the under-25 crowd – is unhappiest in their work.
  • Twenty-two percent of the 5,000 surveyed don’t expect to be in their current jobs in a year.
  • The drop in satisfaction extends across four ‘drivers of employee engagement’: job design, organizational health, managerial quality and extrinsic rewards.
  • The survey results point to a risk that knowledge transfer will be lost.

Job satisfaction and engagement with your employer’s goals are tightly linked. When your employer doesn’t – or can’t – give you meaningful, fulfilling work, your satisfaction with that job will drop. But with one in 10 unemployed and perhaps another seven or ten percent who have given up or are underemployed, looking for another job is a terrifying prospect.

But there are choices you can make, even in this environment.  Here are just a few: prepare yourself for a new career, take action to make your job more rewarding, or stay dissatisfied and blame it on external factors.

Gen Y may find it easiest to prepare for a new career. They have less invested, are often fresh out of school and are less likely to be encumbered by mortgages and families. You’d think they had the least to lose, but I would argue they have a lot to lose: their faith in the job market, their trust in their employers, and even their belief that careers are worthwhile. Hey, why not be a waiter or a ski bum when a corporate job looks so unrewarding?

Gen X, struggling with mortgages and families, may feel trapped. And baby boomers, aghast at what the markets and the government have made of their retirement prospects, may feel betrayed on all sides and emotionally unable to invest in their jobs. Yet for Gen X and baby boomers the key to satisfaction is action. But what action?

The TalentCulture ‘action’ prescription is culture. If you’re dissatisfied with work, it’s time to look for workplace culture, personality-culture fit, and a culture of work-life balance.

My colleague Mike Ramer argues that culture is the superglue that bonds people to a mission. A smart employer understands this and creates a workplace culture of purpose, shared goals, engagement, and reward.

A smart employee invests his or her energy in a corporation with a culture of success, teamwork, accountability and excellence.

Satisfaction in a job is a shared responsibility, requiring the employer to create a culture of success and engagement, ensure organizational health, demand the best from its managers, and provide extrinsic and intrinsic rewards to committed employees. Career seekers: your responsibilities are to understand what drives you, seek the right culture fit with an employer, and continually invest in skills. Create a balance in the work/life equation by exploring personal interests and maintaining physical and emotional wellness.

Job satisfaction is a shared responsibility, especially in difficult times. We think that with the right mix of attitude, culture and collaboration it’s possible to be satisfied with a job, even to renew satisfaction in a stale job. What do you think?