It Looks Like People are Still Pretty Unhappy at Work — Why? Here are 3 Possible Reasons


So, the evidence is clear. People who work are generally unhappy at their work. Here’s the latest, from The Atlantic by Bourree Lam: Why Do Workers Feel So Unhappy? Just one-fifth of employees report believing that their workplaces strongly value them. Check out the article for a couple of useful charts and graphs. Here are the concluding thoughts from the article:

That’s right: Just one-fifth of employees report feeling strongly valued at work…
According to Gallup, the U.S. and Canada are already top in the world for employees who are psychologically committed to their work at a dismal 29 percent. Western Europe comes in at 14 percent engaged and East Asia is dead last at 6 percent.

So… why are employees so disengaged; why do they feel so unhappy?

We don’t know, for sure. But I think there are some obvious possibilities.

#1 – Wages have been stagnant, for too long, for many. And when a person does not make enough to move forward in any way, it is pretty tough to be happy at work.

Here’s a reminder, from Daniel Pink’s Drive:

If someone’s baseline rewards aren’t adequate, or equitable, her focus will be on the unfairness of her situation and the drive_book-by-daniel-pink_danpinkdotcom1anxiety of her circumstance. You’ll get neither the predictability of extrinsic motivation nor the weirdness of intrinsic motivation. You’ll get very little motivation at all. But once we’re past that threshold, carrots and sticks can achieve precisely the opposite of their intended aims.

#2 – Many are not treated as or even viewed as part of the “team” at work. This is true even for “full time” employees. It is exacerbated when we consider this: the percentage of contract workers continues to go up. More and more people are piecing together a living doing more than one job. It is hard for a contract worker, with no job security, to feel part of the team.

#3 – Let’s “start with why” in this arena also. For the lucky ones who work at a job that gives them meaning — a job that they feel makes a difference for the better in the lives of others… Well, my bet is that there is a higher percentage of happy employees in that group. It is pretty tough to be happy at work if a person feels like their work does not matter in a way that can make such a positive difference.

In other words, happiness at work requires some combination of adequate compensation, being part of a team, and doing work that matters.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours? Whatever the reason, this problem has been clearly identified, has lingered over many years, and seems to be getting no better. So, if companies and organizations and their leadership teams do not tackle this one carefully, there will be another article in a couple of years asking “Why are people still so unhappy at work?”

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