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Gap widens between Swiss and UK workers

What is it about the Swiss? Repeated staff surveys show them to be unremittingly satisfied with their work, with their employers, and with their working conditions. Some 68 per cent are even happy with their pay, while the norm for workers across Europe is a mere 40 per cent.

The British, on the other hand, together with Hungarians and Italians, have the least satisfied workers in Europe. Reasons for dissatisfaction in Italy focus on their immediate work environment: they don't like their working conditions, they feel they are poorly supervised and have a lower level of job satisfaction than in any other European country. Dissatisfaction among Brits focuses on management: attitudes towards the organisation, and the efficiency and quality of their work are among the least favourable in Europe. Hungarians combine a dissatisfaction with their own prospects with a lack of enthusiasm for their immediate superiors and general scepticism about organisational efficiency.

These insights come from the latest Tracking Trends in Europe report by International Survey Research (ISR), a firm which specialises in staff surveys for large corporations and which has an impressive data base (drawn from over 2,000 organisations worldwide) from which to make cross-national comparisons. It shows that certain generalities hold across 19 European countries. Aspects of working life which attract the most favourable response are: job satisfaction, with 70 per cent of staff answering positively, working relationships (also 70 per cent), and a sense of identification with the company (69 per cent).

Each of these criteria, says Roger Maitland, Deputy Chairman of ISR and author of the report, connects to what gives an individual a sense of self worth rather than to what makes for a successful organisation. They are primarily ego-centred; job satisfaction derives from performing a role, setting and achieving goals, and feeling that one's work is worthwhile. Much the same can be said for the satisfaction people gain from getting on with colleagues, feeling that their company is respected by the world at large, and believing it to be responsive to external customer demands.

If your workers' satisfaction ratings on these criteria are high, it does not necessarily mean you are doing well and that shareholders should be rejoicing. Aspects of working life which attract the lowest levels of favourable response across Europe are communications (only 47 per cent favourable), benefits (46 per cent) and pay (41 per cent). The latter two indices vary considerably between countries. Poor communications, which attracts a more consistent level of complaint, reflects a feeling that companies do not keep employees informed.

Generally, the Swiss, Norwegians, Danes, Austrians and Dutch have fewer grouses about conditions and relationships at work than the French, Spanish and Italians. Germany is somewhere in the middle but over the decade has been sliding downwards; particularly because of rising job insecurity. Britain, as it has done since the first tracking trends survey was published five years ago, has maintained its place at the bottom of the ratings.

The ISR's report is frustrating because readers are left to interpret the results. The complacency of Swiss workers may be related to their high degree of job security. The converse may be true for Britain, and latterly Germany. In another up-date report by ISR, published last month, which looks at British survey data only, the 1990s can clearly be seen as a decade of change. A sense of job security has gone into free fall and this has hit people's expectations: they want better training, opportunities for personal development, and are more quizzical about leadership within their organisation.