Survey: Americans happy at work — especially women, seniors

Despite Tough Economy, Most Americans Happy on the Job, National Survey Finds
But national survey finds job-satisfaction level sees sharp decline from 2008

RICHMOND, Va., Aug. 27, 2009 – Americans are happy at work, just not as happy as they used to be. According to a just-released national survey – the third annual Labor Happiness Index – more than half of the U.S. workforce (58%) says they are happy on the job, but that figure is down 7 percentage points, a significant drop from 2008.  The survey, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs, polled more than 1,000 salaried and hourly employees across the country.

“Even as we continue to face layoffs and other corporate cutbacks, the majority of the American workforce remains upbeat about their jobs,” said Shawn Boyer, founder and CEO of “But on the whole, we’re not as happy. Ongoing anxiety about the economy may well be chipping away at the happiness level.”

In a climate that has seen 6.7 million U.S. workers lose their jobs (source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), only one in four (24%) said their happiness was based on the fact they were employed.  A significantly higher percentage (41%) said they were happy that their jobs give them personal satisfaction or suit their lifestyle.

Even though many economists see a light at the end of the economic tunnel, the economy remains at the forefront of most people’s minds.  Mirroring last year’s findings, the economy still is considered by most (58%) to be the No. 1 issue facing America today, followed by healthcare (15%), immigration (6%), the war (6%), the environment (5%), terrorism (5%) and the housing market (3%).  In the first Labor Happiness Index (2007), Americans were most concerned about healthcare (21%) and the war in Iraq (20%); only 18 percent cited the economy as the leading issue.

Most survey respondents (56%) believe that the economic climate has stabilized but not yet begun to improve, but more than a third of workers (36%) fear that the worst is yet to come.   Only 4 percent think the economy has turned the corner.

“It’s clear that most Americans are cautiously optimistic about their jobs and the economy itself,” Boyer said. “We believe the economy is moving in the right direction based on the feedback we’re getting from hiring managers across the country.”

Unhappiness exists

Not everyone is happy, however.

Most of those surveyed (52%) report a decline in job security, saying that their job is less secure than it was a year ago, and of those, only half (49%) expressed happiness with their jobs.  Conversely, seven in 10 (70%) of those who think their jobs are more secure say they are happy at work.

Although most people decided against making a career change last year (only 18% switched jobs), of those that did, one-third (33%) said that they chose to do so proactively because they were looking for a new opportunity.  Only 25 percent reported that they sought new employment because they had been laid off or dismissed from their previous job.

Women/older workers are happiest

The survey found that women (64%) are among the happiest in the workplace, as are workers between 34-54 years of age (64%), those over 55 (70%) and those who are married (62%).

Income levels aren’t necessarily linked with overall job satisfaction.  Three in five (59%) earning less than $25,000 per year say they are happy with their job, a figure nearly equivalent to those earning at least $50,000 (62%).  Education levels, however, are a factor, as 65 percent of those with a college degree expressed happiness with their line of work compared to 54 percent of those with a high school education or less.

Among the least happy are workers 18-34 years old (47%) and those who are not married (51%).

Looking ahead

When asked what most concerns them in the long-term future, two in five (41%) expressed concern over saving for retirement, their child’s education or other large, future expenses.    Other financial concerns include worrying about how their family will be cared for (19%), paying bills (14%), their health (12%), losing their job (7%) or a lack of job mobility (4%).

Looking to the future, four in five (77%) say they have no plans to look for a new job now or in the near future and almost three in four (73%) say they are not proactively thinking of changing their job.  Married workers are even more likely than those who are unmarried to stay put for the time being (79% vs. 61%).

“We’ve seen from past recessions that the hiring rebound can be fairly rapid,” Boyer said. “If the experts are accurate in predicting the end of the recession this fall, we expect that the New Year will afford job seekers a better selection of opportunities and the opportunity for employers to compete for the most talented employees.”

Survey methodologies:’s third annual Labor Happiness survey, conducted July 9-15, 2009 by Ipsos Public Affairs, was culled from a nationally representative sample of 1,006 randomly-selected working adults aged 18 and over residing in the U.S. They were interviewed by telephone via Ipsos’ U.S. Telephone Express omnibus.  With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate within +-3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would have been had the entire population of working adults in the U.S. been polled.  The margin of error will be larger within regions and for other sub-groupings of the survey population.  These data were weighted to ensure the sample’s regional and age/gender composition reflects that of the actual U.S. population according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau

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