If you are dissatisfied with your working life, my experience tells me that you might want to know why you are dissatisfied, if you don’t know already, but you really care about what you need to do to become satisfied. Let’s take a very short look at what the research has to say.
There is well respected scientific research that measures how people feel about their working lives. That research describes how many people are dissatisfied or disengaged and why. Before we dive into the results, let’s make sure we know what we mean by dissatisfied and disengaged.
Definition of work satisfaction
One definition of work satisfaction is pretty straightforward. It’s basically the degree to which we are getting what we expect from our work. Research shows that if we are dissatisfied, we’ll start coming in late, call in sick, have low morale, low productivity or quit. Another definition is our general attitude toward our job, employer or workplace. This second definition starts to sound a lot like something called employee engagement.
Definition of employee engagement
One definition of employee engagement is a measure of our enthusiasm and involvement with our work, as well as satisfaction. Engagement is a broad term and includes concepts like work satisfaction, enthusiasm, involvement, organizational commitment and intrinsic motivation. Another definition describes engagement as a step beyond satisfaction. Lastly, the concept of employee engagement is much newer than satisfaction, so there has been less research done on engagement.
These definitions show that we can look at work satisfaction and engagement as very similar things. Let’s do that now and see what the research has to say.
There are thousands of peer-reviewed and informal studies of work satisfaction, engagement and much more. Here’s a very short summary of a very small selection of related research. You can click here for the references .
To see more, just search a keyword like, job satisfaction on Google Scholar.
- Nearly 30% of working Americans are either dissatisfied with, or disengaged from, their jobs (Clifton, 2017; Gallup, 2013; Society for Human Resources Management, 2012).
- In Canada, of the over 18 million working Canadians (Statistics Canada, 2016), only between six and seven percent are dissatisfied with their employment (CBC News, 2013; Shields, 2006).
I find these Canadian studies hard to believe.
If they are accurate, then a lot of these dissatisfied people must have been my clients! My consulting experience tells me that Canadians are at least as dissatisfied as Americans. But worldwide, the statistics are much worse. Clifton (2017) found a global average of only 15% of 1.2 billion workers were engaged in their work.
What does all this dissatisfaction and disengagement cause?
Faragher, Cass, and Cooper (2005) found strong positive correlations between job dissatisfaction and mental health issues, including burnout, low self-esteem, depression and anxiety (pp. 107-108). In Japan, rates of burnout and suicide associated with work dissatisfaction were so high that the government needed to intervene (Clifton, 2017).
But, what does the research mean?
Most good research attempts to prove what we already think is true, or to disprove what we already suspect is false. Some research might offer an explanation for why something is happening, but it should only offer that as one possible reason among many. When it comes to studying humans, research is better at telling us what is happening, than why it’s happening.
While research can be helpful, it can’t help everyone. If it could, then the solution to everyone’s dissatisfaction with work could be found in an existing study, or in one that has yet to be done. Studying work satisfaction took off in the 1930’s, but we obviously still have a long way to go to solve the problem. Before I discuss reclaiming our world of work, here’s a little insight on how much of our lives is spent engaged in the many aspects of our working lives.
Time spent with work
Aside from how working makes us feel, good or bad, the time we spend engaged in our working lives also contributes to the influence and power of the world of work.
In Europe, the average duration of a working life is about 35 years. In North America, people will spend an average of 40 to 45 years at work. Most people in developed countries will begin working in their late teens or early twenties and stop in their late fifties or sixties. But these averages do not tell the real story of the time we spend engaged with the world of work.
Starting in our early teens, our education systems are almost entirely focused on imparting the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in the workplace. Then, as we enter the workforce, not only can we expect to be working the average number of years discussed above, but our non-working, waking hours will largely be spent engaged in the many other aspects of our working life.
There are 168 hours in a week. If we’re lucky, we spend 56 hours sleeping. That means most of us are awake for 112 hours per week. Then, we spend a minimum of 40 at our workplace and about 5 hours commuting to and from that workplace. And, if you’re like most people, you’ll spend at least an hour per day, every day, thinking about work when you’re not at work, that’s 7 more hours. This means that at least 52 of your 112 waking hours are spent engaged in your working life.
In the remaining 60 waking hours, you need to do all the chores and tasks of daily life. This includes personal grooming and getting dressed, getting food, maintaining your home and belongings, travelling between places, and all the other stuff we do. Let’s add a conservative one hour per day for the chores. Now we’re down to 55 hours per week to call your own, at the most. You can spend those hours with your friends, intimate partner your children. But remember, you’ll only have your children at home for about 20 years of the 40 plus years you’ll be working.
With a minimum of 52 hours per week spent engaged in the many aspects of our working lives, and a maximum of 60 hours for absolutely everything else, we can see that work is the single largest project in most human lives. The only way something could consume more time than work is if you spent time with that thing or person for your entire working life and a long life in retirement. The 60-year marriage might be the only bigger project than work.
All the research and statistics show us that to work is human. And it shows us that work is a powerful influence in a human life.
The time to reclaim our world of work is now.