Best of TLNT 2017: 8 Reasons We Are Not Happy at Work

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Oct 19, 2017

Editor’s Note: It’s an annual tradition for TLNT to count down the most popular posts of the previous 12 months. We’re reposting each of the top 30 articles through January 2nd. This is No. 23 of 2017. You can find the complete list here.


Why are we unhappy at work?

That’s the question I wanted to answer when a poll my company, InspiredWork, conducted found that 84% of workers globally reported being less than perfectly happy at work.

What I discovered is that we have any number of reasons we’re not happy. But 8 of them stood out at the top of the list.

1. Poor Relationships with Boss/Coworkers

The number one reason most people dislike their job is because they don’t like the people they are working with – especially their boss. In fact, 44% of all workers who left their jobs left because of a bad boss, according to Bamboo HR.

In some cases, this stems from issues with people managers and human resource departments. For example, I had a high tech client who told me that when she went to her HR manager in confidence to get help with her boss, that manager went behind her back telling her boss about the conversation. The boss treated her even worse after that until she had no option other than to find another job. Although I believe this is an extreme example, it does show that a bad boss-employee relationship can cause employees great unhappiness and even drive them to leave their jobs.

Researchers have found that only a small percentage of workers quit their job because of their boss. See “Surprise! Most People Leave Companies, Not Managers.”

2. Lack of Recognition and Security

The second most important reason why people are unhappy at work is due to lack of recognition and security. In the gig economy, it seems like most jobs are really just temporary project assignments. As a result, many employees feel they are disposable commodities versus valued humans.

47% of workers either don’t feel appreciated or feel only somewhat appreciated at work, according to one study. More recently, an AttaCoin survey found only 53% of employees reported feeling “appreciated at work.” The lack of recognition especially combined with lack of job security, cause many employees to feel disengaged and unhappy about their work situation.

3. Unable to Use Talents/Creativity/Lack of Career Development

IBM found that 81% of employees are happier at work when their jobs effectively make use of their skills/abilities. The reverse is also true. When people feel they are stuck in the same job for years with no opportunity for growth or the role itself is designed so they are not able to use their talents or express their creativity, then they are unhappy at work.

4. Don’t Like Company/See Future with Company

91% of people who changed jobs in the last three years also left their companies to find employment somewhere else, according to Gallup. So, when people look for new jobs, they most often want to work for a new company. I saw this same phenomenon in the InspiredWork Quiz Results where global professionals said they didn’t feel aligned with the company and its values and didn’t see a future for themselves there.

5. Feel Underpaid or Unfairly Compensated

Money is an issue, especially when the cost of living is going up every year and many employees do not get raises at all let alone ones that cover inflation. According to Glassdoor, employees earn a 5.2% increase in pay on average when changing jobs. So, there is a built-in incentive to switch jobs to cover cost-of-living increases every few years.

It is also important to note that 90% of millennials – the group of workers who change jobs most frequently – said they would choose to stay in a job for the next 10 years, if they knew they’d get annual raises and upward career mobility, according to Qualtrics.

6. Lack of Flexibility with Benefits & Commute

Different people want different benefits. So, a major issue for many people is finding a company that offers flexible benefits – benefits that matter to them. For example, 62% of employees under 50 wouldn’t consider working for a company that didn’t offer voluntary benefits, according to BenefitsPro.

7. Work-Life Imbalance

McKinsey coined the term “The New Normal” to describe the post-recession economy. One often overlooked aspect of the New Normal is that after companies automated and sent jobs offshore, they asked the remaining workers to take on significantly more work without any additional compensation in most cases. As a result, many remaining employees feel that they have to do more hours and more work just to keep their jobs or face being replaced.

Work-life imbalance is now one of the top reasons employees quit, according to the Work Institute. And, 95% of human resource leaders admit employee burnout is sabotaging workforce retention in 2017, according to Kronos.

8. Want to Start Own Company, But Can’t

The final reason that people are unhappy at work is because they want to start their own companies, but many of them can’t. In fact, 41% of Americans would quit their job and start a business in the next 6 months if they had the tools and resources they need. Of this group, millennials are the generation most likely to say this (54%). With the rise of the Internet and more and more people successfully creating online information product businesses, there has been an increase in the number of people who want to start their own company and be their own boss. The 2017 Annual Kauffman Index said that startup activity is up for the third consecutive year. But, still there are even more would-be entrepreneurs who are stuck as unhappy workers.

With all of these issues, is it any wonder that Udemy reported that 60% feel stressed all or most of the time at work and that I found that 84% of global workers are unhappy at work?