Impact of salary on job satisfaction

Two job search magazines have published the results of job satisfaction surveys of workers in Belgium. Jobat and Vacature asked about salaries, bonuses and holidays, and investigated the link between job satisfaction and factors such as age, employment status, function, sector, and company size. Taken together, the results of both surveys tend to confirm each other’s findings, one of which was that around half of Belgium’s workers feel their workload warrants higher pay.


In 2012, job search magazines Jobat and Vacature each carried out job satisfaction surveys in Belgium. Jobat’s survey, Jobat Loonwijzer 2012 (in Belgian), questioned around 33,000 Belgian employees, and the Vacature survey, Vacature Salarisenquête 2012 (in Belgian), had around 45,000 participants.

Salary scales

The findings of both surveys are very similar. The average gross monthly salary in 2012 was €3,133 according to Vacature, and €3,180 according to Jobat. Half of the respondents earn €2,800 or less. About 80% of employees receive a 13th month bonus, while about 1% also receive a 14th month bonus. On average, workers have 28 holidays a year.

International institutions, the chemical sector, the pharmaceutical sector and the utility sector are the ones with, on average, the highest wages. The lowest are in the retail and the catering sectors. Larger companies usually pay higher salaries than smaller companies. As the Brussels region has a relatively high share of the best-paying sectors and large companies, the mean wages are higher in Brussels. They stand at €3,579, compared with the Flemish region where the mean is €3,065, and the Walloon region where it is €2,840.

An employee receives, on average, four supplements to their gross salary. Lunch vouchers were given to 64% of the employees who received extra benefits. This was followed by health insurance (55%) and group insurance (46%) as the most common benefits. There was limited use of extra bonuses or variable salaries – 74% of the employees receive a fixed remuneration.

Wage rises

Compared to 2010, the average salary rise was limited. For most employees (63%), any pay increase was restricted to the national automatic index-linked rise. About 24% of respondents whose pay had risen said the increase was linked to a promotion.

In 2012, the mean starting salary was €2,179. The survey found that during a typical career, salary increases on average by 75%. The largest increase was seen after ten years at work, by which point salary may have increased by as much as 15%.

Only 37% of employees who had recently started a job were unhappy with their salary. After one year, this proportion had already grown to 50%. After that first year, the levels of dissatisfaction varied very little.

Satisfaction with pay

About half of the respondents were dissatisfied with their salary, saying it wasn’t in proportion to their workload. On average, they said their salary should rise by €305 to be in proportion with the work they did. Only 1% said they were overpaid.

Workers in sectors that were less well-paid were most unhappy with their earnings compared with their workload. The catering sector (63%) and the distribution and retail sector (60%) had the highest number of unhappy workers.

However, even in the health care sector where levels of pay generally matched the overall average, about 60% of workers said they were unhappy.

Employees in the utility services were most pleased with the size of their wage compared to their work load, with only 28% saying they were dissatisfied.

The working status is also important. Blue-collar workers as a group had higher levels of dissatisfied employees (61%) than the white-collar group (51%) or executives (37%). The results also showed the proportion of unhappy workers was higher among women (56%) than among men (45%). However, men who felt their salary was too low said their wages needed to be increased on average by 15% to make them happy.

Pay and motivation

The feeling of not being paid fairly in relation to workload has a negative impact on motivation, according to the survey. Employees unhappy with levels of pay were more inclined to change jobs (37%) than employees who felt their salary was fair (18%). On the other hand, employees were prepared to trade off lower salary against certain benefits, including:

  • a higher retirement payout (40%);
  • a particularly interesting job (28%);
  • a job near home (26%);
  • extra holidays (24%);
  • a (better) company car (23%);
  • extra job security (21%);
  • feeling less controlled at the workplace (10%).

Changing jobs

  • wages level is an important argument in terms of job mobility. More than one third of the respondents (34.7%) give ‘a higher wage’ as a reason for their intention to change jobs. Other important factors for Belgian workers are ‘more challenges in the job’ (20.5%) and ‘a better working atmosphere’ (12.4%).
  • intention to change jobs is highest in the retail and the catering sector, while the public services had the smallest number of employees intending to change jobs. There is a clear link between wage satisfaction and the intention to change jobs in those sectors.

Caroline Vermandere, HIVA-KU Leuven

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