By Claire West

Job satisfaction has shown a surprise increase across UK workplaces during the Autumn, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) quarterly Employee Outlook survey, suggesting that the ‘fixed grin’ phenomenon identified by the survey during the recession has returned.

The survey of over 2,000 employees represents a bleak picture of employee attitudes throughout the UK, following the £81bn of cuts to public spending announced by the Government in the Comprehensive Spending Review. In the public sector, one in four (25%) workers believe it is likely they will lose their jobs and 63% say stress has increased as a result of the economic downturn, compared to 54% last quarter. Respondents across all sectors are also three times more likely to report their standard of living over the last six months has fallen (29%) than to say it has increased (9%).

Despite this gloomy outlook, job satisfaction — which is calculated in the survey by subtracting the percentage of employees satisfied from the percentage dissatisfied — has climbed across sectors to a net score of +42 from +35 for the previous quarter.

Ben Willmott, CIPD Senior Public Policy Adviser, said: “The findings echo what happened during early Spring 2009 against the backdrop of recession, when job satisfaction hit +46, before falling as economic and employment conditions improved. Both then and now there was talk of job losses and bleak economic commentary, suggesting that — when faced with an uncertain outlook — employees place more value on simply having a job than they do during more benign economic times. They are also less likely to look enviously over the fence and think the grass may be greener with another employer, which is not surprising given that two thirds of employees think it would be difficult to get a new job if they lost their current position.”

The survey shows that there are a number of fault lines that could undermine employee engagement and wellbeing in the months ahead, particularly among public sector staff. Nearly a fifth (19%) of workers report their organisation is planning redundancies, however among public sector staff the figure is 50% - a 10% increase from the previous quarter. By comparison, only 10% of private sector staff and 17% of voluntary sector workers say their employer is planning to make redundancies. On top of this, 39% of employees say they are under excessive pressure at work either every day or once or twice a week, rising to 44% in the public sector.

Public sector workers are also most likely to report an increase in stress, conflict at work, bullying by line managers and an increase in people taking time off sick, as a result of the state of the economy. All these measures have increased when compared to the previous quarter.

Willmott continues, “Past findings suggest that the rise in job satisfaction could be a temporary one — particularly for public sector workers. The survey shows some real causes for concern, with job insecurity and stress at high levels and trust in senior management at extremely low levels.

“With just one-fifth of public sector staff agreeing that they trust their senior leaders compared to half disagreeing, there is a danger that employee engagement could nosedive, which could have a damaging effect on the quality of public service delivery. To counter this it is important that public sector employers look to consult and involve staff over proposed changes and ensure that managers at all levels are equipped with the people management skills needed to motivate and support staff during turbulent times. “