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The Pursuit of Happiness in Work

10 April 2017 at 8:17 am
Wendy Williams
Money can’t buy you happiness, but what you actually do for a living is key, according to new research which found not-for-profit workers were among the most satisfied.

Wendy Williams | 10 April 2017 at 8:17 am


The Pursuit of Happiness in Work
10 April 2017 at 8:17 am

Money can’t buy you happiness, but what you actually do for a living is key, according to new research which found not-for-profit workers were among the most satisfied.

Curtin University in collaboration with mwah (Making Work Absolutely Human) has launched a new report to find the happiest and unhappiest workers in Australia and what contributed to greater satisfaction in the workplace.

The report, Happy Workers: How Satisfied are Australians at Work? released on Wednesday, found while pay, job security and hours of work counted, it was the job itself that mattered most.

Report author Associate Professor Rebecca Cassells from the Curtin Business School said the report highlighted the working conditions that were likely to bring Australians the most job satisfaction.

“Australians who work for themselves or in small businesses, in the not-for-profit or government sector and workers that can do some of their work from home each week are more likely to be satisfied in their jobs,” Cassells said.

“The trade-off between happiness with certain aspects of a job and dissatisfaction with others is evident.

“It’s unlikely that any job will deliver everything that is needed to be happy at work, but certain things can help.”

The report examined all aspects of work satisfaction across location, pay, generation, gender, education levels, hours of work, occupations, industries and business sizes.

It found that pay was associated with higher job satisfaction but only to a point, and that those who reported being “very satisfied” with their job overall earned a lower average amount each week than those who reported being “satisfied”.

Higher job satisfaction was also associated with older workers and those living further away from major cities.  

Tasmania was shown to be leading the way when it came to happy workers compared to Western Australia and Victoria which ranked last among states.

Other key findings of the report included:

  • Around 40 per cent of Australian workers reported being “very satisfied” with their job security and 36 per cent with their flexibility to balance work and non-work commitments.
  • Almost one third of Aussies (29 per cent) were dissatisfied with payment and working hours.
  • Gen Y and Gen X were more likely to report being dissatisfied in their job than other generations.
  • Higher education levels did not necessarily translate into higher satisfaction at work.
  • Women were more likely to report being “very satisfied” in their job overall than men (31 per cent compared to 27 per cent).
  • Satisfaction with job flexibility and hours of work decreased rapidly beyond 38 hours per week.
  • Australians who worked for themselves or in micro-businesses were more likely to report being very satisfied with their job than those in big companies.

CEO of mwah Rhonda Brighton-Hall told Pro Bono News there were “quite a few surprises” in the findings.

“There are a few things that intuitively you know are true and then when you see them in the report, you go: ‘Oh yeah we knew that’. Things like, you get less happy the more hours you work over a 40 hour week, I think that is fairly clear and we know that, even though a lot of us do it and we do it too often,” Brighton-Hall said.

“But there were also things that broke the rules a little bit. So I thought it was very interesting that people over 70 [years old] are the happiest, because we tend to talk about them as if they would be a bit exhausted or not really committed, but they’re actually the happiest workers we have and the most highly engaged which is fantastic.

“With the fact that more of us will be working into our 70s, it is probably a good sign. And the second happiest were people under 22 which is another group that we tend to go: ‘Oh they’re always whining’. But actually they’re the second happiest which is good news too I thought.

“More importantly, it’s what you do, how you are able to go about your work and who is alongside you that matters the most when it comes to job satisfaction.”

She said it made sense that the not-for-profit sector were among the happiest at work.

“The number one factor in being happy at work is doing work that you love, and I think in the not-for-profit sector you find people who are very passionate about what they do, very committed and their work really matters to them,” she said.

“I’ve had so many businesses come and say: ‘should we put in couches, should we put ping pong tables in’, and all this sort of jazz, and you say: ‘you can if you want to, but it’s got nothing to do with anything’.

“It is the work you do and the people you do it with and when you get into not for profits, you often find people who are likeminded, they share a value system and they really care about the stuff you are doing, so that’s why you find people who are probably some of the happiest we have.”

Brighton-Hall said we need to change the way we think about work.

“We tend to talk about work as work versus leisure which is an economic sort of discussion, and then we talk about it from a legal perspective, what do bosses have to do, what do companies  with titles do and all that sort of jazz, but just to actually be part of work is humanity, the opportunity to get up and go and contribute to the community or the people you work with and live around, the opportunity to be part of something, [a] social connection,” she said.

“I mean if you work with disability or you work with people having a very hard time getting work, you realise that work is incredibly important to all of us and I think that’s a much better discussion than purely economic for example.”

She said being happy at work was very important.

“Work is a core component of our existence, our identity, our financial independence, and ultimately, our overall well-being,” she said.

“A happy workplace where people feel valued can increase productivity and innovation and reduce unwanted outcomes like employee absenteeism, workplace grievances and staff turnover.

“So there is a business case for it.

“But I think much more importantly than that is just simply, we don’t just want to be building sustainable businesses, we want to be building sustainable society, and sustainable communities and to do that we have to make work human.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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One comment

  • Harin says:

    Interesting article. Just wish you’d have used a better image which is more representative of the workforce – rather than promote (consciously or otherwise) the sense that Australian workers are all white, able bodied and dress the same…

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