Why are people so unhappy at work? Prior to the pandemic, the job market was booming. Supposedly. A historic economic run showed job creation increasing, yet wages remained stagnant. In fact, the sentiment from the shrinking middle class was one of anger and resentment. For the first time in recent history, the hope that the next generation would create more wealth than the prior one has diminished. Stuck in dead-end jobs that paid significantly less than what people felt they were worth, the working class grew frustrated with the lack of opportunity, the increasing income inequality, and to put it bluntly…crappy benefits. The onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic only highlighted these issues.
So why are people so unhappy at work?
In a comprehensive study performed by the Lumina Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Omidyar Network, and Gallup, researchers surveyed over 6,600 workers, asking them their views on what makes a “quality job,” including compensation, benefits, the opportunity for advancement, job security and stability, and dignity. The findings were depressing but insightful and filled with all kinds of nuggets for improvement.
Over the past several decades, the American workforce has gone through a radical transformation. Globalization, automation, and the gig economy have changed the landscape for advancement and opportunity. While jobs have been created, it’s questionable if these jobs are high quality…ones that offer people satisfaction, meaning, dignity, and hope of a better future.
What did the study show?
The study found that only 50% of American workers felt that they were in quality jobs. Doing just enough to ensure they don’t get fired, they don’t contribute in ways that add value to the company and their own lives. The numbers are even more dismal for low-wage earners and there was a strong correlation between unhappy workers in poor quality jobs and race, ethnicity, and gender.
The results also showed that most people felt that the quality of jobs and opportunities for advancement had decreased. This leads to a lack of inspiration, loyalty, and engagement. People who felt they had bad jobs were twice as likely as those in good jobs to be looking for a new one. People who are unhappy at work are unhappy at home, too, compounding the effect of dead-end jobs. Across all participants, it was universal that everyone wanted a job that gave them a higher sense of purpose, not just a steady paycheck.
Career Wellbeing: The Gallup Poll
In the Gallup Organization’s book, “Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements,” the authors state the most people don’t fully understand how important being happy in their jobs is to their overall wellbeing. But it makes sense. We spend most of our time working. We are introduced by what we do. “This is Kerry Siggins, and she’s the CEO of StoneAge.” If your job drains you of energy, purpose, and dignity, it’s hard to show up as healthy in the other four areas of wellbeing: Social, Financial, Physical, and Community.
In fact, Gallup found that people who rate their Career Well-being as being high are twice as likely to be thriving in all areas of their lives. No matter what kind of shape you are in or how great your social life is, if you hate your job, you probably spend time worrying about it, complaining about it, and dreading getting out of bed to go it.
CEO and business leaders need to take heed. To create a strong company, you need strong managers to develop strong teams. Strong teams require healthy, engaged employees who feel a sense of purpose, belonging, and being valued. Uninspired employees are unproductive and unhappy. Their energy is contagious, spilling over to other employees, creating a toxic workplace. And when talent leaves, the toxicity only thickens.
If you want to be a leader who makes a significant impact on the world, you must start within your company first and work to create a culture that encourages engagement and a sense of purpose. You must work to create higher quality jobs that lead to better opportunities and improved working conditions. You need to create an environment where employees are happy and can thrive.
I’m not saying it’s easy, but it starts at the top. Don’t allow toxic behavior to exist within your organization, especially within your leadership team. Treat every employee with dignity and respect, no matter their job function. Find ways to engage your employees and ask their opinions. If you have a broken culture, tackle one issue at a time, so you don’t get overwhelmed and lose steam. Be honest and transparent about your efforts. And pay liveable wages. It’s hard work but worth the effort. You’re employees and customers will thank you.
Like this? Check out my blog on how to be a great manager.
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