Belgium: High levels of job satisfaction but doubts about career prospects
A survey finds that a majority of Belgian employees are motivated, satisfied with their level of autonomy at work and happy with their performance. Fewer are positive about their professional development and career advancement opportunities, however. This is due, in part, to the absence of career policies in Belgian companies. The article also highlights the link between job quality and employees' confidence in their ability to work to retirement age.
Job satisfaction among Belgian workers is very high: 87% are satisfied with the level of autonomy they have in their job, 88% say that they perform better than is expected of them, and 89% describe themselves as motivated and believe their work is useful. Despite ongoing economic uncertainty, 83% are not afraid of losing their job.
These results come from the 2013 annual survey on employee satisfaction (in Dutch) by SD Worx, the human resources services provider. The survey questioned 2,500 employees on roughly 100 topics concerning motivation and engagement.
Less optimism about career development
Career development and opportunities for promotion yielded the lowest scores: 51% of respondents report that they lack opportunities to advance to another job, and 57% feel they have insufficient promotion opportunities. Although 66% say that they have enough scope to develop their skills through training, 44% report that their organisation does not adequately support their career development. These results show that employee satisfaction is lower in relation to career progression than salary level – 66% deem their salary to be in line with the salaries of others in the labour market.
Dissatisfaction with career development can be explained, in part, by the absence of career policies in many Belgian companies. Previous research by SD Worx on career development strategies in more than 750 enterprises (5 MB PDF, in Dutch) indicated that less than half (49%) of employers provide a career policy. While the percentage is lowest among small and medium-sized enterprises, a majority of industrial enterprises also do not have a career policy in place. Only 10% of companies have a formal written career policy; in most cases, companies depend on informal practices. Again, the larger the company, the more likely it will have a formal career policy.
Companies that do have a career policy emphasise that they want to develop the competences of their employees and their long-term prospects. The most common means of doing this are the announcement of internal vacancies, coaching, holding formal career conversations, training in areas unconnected with current responsibilities and discussing the employee's potential with their manager.
Most current career policy practices focus on specific target groups, such as experts, employees with specialist competences or employees with management potential. Practices such as individual career guidance, provision of a career path outline, development centres or succession planning are not available in 60% of the companies that participated in the survey.
Job quality linked to longer careers
The findings of the SD Worx survey are consistent with other studies, including the well-known three-yearly survey of attitudes towards work (in Dutch) by the Foundation for Innovation and Employment, part of the Social and Economic Council of Flanders (SERV). The results of this survey allow a comparison with 2004 data and show improving quality of work over the past decade. The proportion of employees who felt they had limited opportunities for learning decreased from 22.6% in 2004 to 18% in 2013; problems with work–life balance decreased from 11.8% to 10.8%; and the number of ‘demotivating’ jobs reported decreased from 18.7% to 18.1%. Only the indicator of stress at work increased slightly, from 28.9% in 2004 to 29.3% in 2013.
The report focused particularly on the link between aspects of job quality and motivation, and how this might affect a person’s decision whether or not to work until the legal retirement age of 65. The research looked at the responses from employees aged 40 or over who were satisfied on all four indicators (stress at work, learning opportunities, work–life balance and motivation). Of this group, 83.2% reported that they planned to continue working until the legal pension age. Willingness to carry on working decreased in line with the reported quality of work. Among all employees aged 40 years or over who reported problems on one or more indicators, only 48.5% said they were likely to continue in their job until the legal pension age.
The Research Department of the Flemish Government has conducted research on the effect of job quality on the employment rate (in Dutch). Since 2008, long-term sickness absence (greater than one month) has increased by 47%. The increase has occurred in all regions and all sectors and as much for blue-collar workers as for white-collar. The correlation between the rising age categories and the rising long-term sickness leave is remarkable. The researchers also included the increasing stress-at-work indicator (see above) and conclude that a career in which an employee is continuously overburdened results in a high drop-out from work due to long-term sickness. The researchers argue that a preventive policy supporting workers' ability to work would enable employees to have a longer career; this, in turn, would increase the employment rate, especially in the older age categories.
Higher job satisfaction in the public sector
The public sector – employing workers in public administration, health and social care, and education – provides more job satisfaction than the private sector, according to the studies from SD Worx and the Foundation for Innovation and Employment. A survey by Selor, the recruitment department of the Belgian federal government, backs this finding. In 2012, according to this survey, 83% of federal civil servants judged their decision to work for the federal government as a good decision and were satisfied in their job.
On the other hand, the food industry and the transport sector have the lowest job quality ratings. Another notable area is the financial sector, where the global economic crisis has had a strong negative effect on working conditions, and indicators for job motivation and stress at work have deteriorated since 2007.