Workplace Happiness Is Declining. What’s Going On?

How can leaders turn this around?

Posted Oct 25, 2020

Surveys of workers suggest that there has been a steady decline in workplace happiness over the past decade, with almost a 10% drop in just the last 3 years, from about 50% to 41%. Who are the least happy workers? Lineworkers and younger workers. Many of these employees feel a sense of pessimism about their working futures.

What are some of the reasons for this decline in happiness at work?

Lack of Job Security. With near-record unemployment rates and dwindling pensions, including threats to the viability of the Social Security system, lack of job security is certainly one factor. A generation ago, workers could expect some level of security, and 20, 30, or more years with the same employer was common. Today, workers feel little security that they will be with their employer next month, let alone next year.

Lack of Social Connections. With rapid turnover, many workers do not stay with a company long enough to make strong social connections. This leads to weak organizational cultures, where people feel isolated and disconnected, and this fuels unhappiness.

Bullying and Misbehavior in the Workplace. With an ever-changing cast of workers, and a lack of social connections, the incidence of bad employee behavior increases. Rather than working as a team, some people see the workplace as a competitive environment, with other employees as the competition for scarce jobs and resources. Coupled with apathy from other employees and management, bullies and others are able to get away (and get ahead) with their bad behavior.

Lack of Work-Life Balance. While happiness is declining, productivity is increasing. Many workers feel pressure to work more and more. Those who are working from home say that they feel like they are always working, and there’s no separation between work and family life. Even when on vacation, many workers are staying “plugged in” and answering work-related emails and taking phone calls or videoconferencing.

What is the answer?

Good leadership. Those in leadership positions need to keep their pulse on levels of employee morale and dissatisfaction. They need to take steps to stop dysfunctional behaviors on the part of employees and build a positive organizational culture. Attention needs to be given to helping workers maintain a work-life balance – ensuring that employees don’t feel pressure to work constantly, and supporting time off and “unplugging” from the job. Leaders need to provide opportunities for employee growth and development and find ways to assist workers in finding meaning in the work that they do.