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Employee happiness has hit a 3-year low, new research shows

Workers are unhappier now than they were at the height of the pandemic. 

That’s at least according to new research from BambooHR, which found that job satisfaction has suffered a steady decline since 2020 and taken a sharp drop this year. 

The HR software platform analyzed data from nearly 60,000 employees at over 1,600 companies across the globe between January 2020 and June 2023. 

“Employees aren’t experiencing highs or lows — instead, they are expressing a sense of resignation or even apathy,” the report notes. “Most simply accept that morale is getting worse.”

While it’s true that more companies have recognized the importance of work-life balance in the wake of the pandemic and implemented policies — extended time off, the option to work remotely — to help workers achieve that, it’s not just when or where they work that’s causing employees grief.

Why so many people are unhappy at work

Research shows that the biggest cause of job dissatisfaction is unfair treatment at work: inconsistent compensation, lack of support from co-workers and bosses or unreasonable workloads, to name a few examples.

“The most common complaint I hear is a loss of control,” Srikumar Rao, the author of “Happiness at Work,” tells CNBC Make It. “The pandemic showed us, at a very visceral level, just how little control we have over our lives and our careers … it’s hard to make peace with that kind of realization.”

Inflation, widespread layoffs and uncertainty over return-to-office policies are all troubling employees and creating a “deep sense of unease” in workplaces, Jenn Lim, CEO of the organizational consultancy Delivering Happiness, points out. 

At the start of 2023, roughly three-quarters of adults said they felt anxious about the economy, while nearly half were concerned about having poor work-life balance, according to a Harris Poll/Fast Company survey of more than 1,000 adults.

Another factor driving employee unhappiness is the lack of meaning people feel in their roles, says Emily Liou, a career happiness coach and former recruiter. 

“There’s been a real shift in the way people look at their careers thanks to the pandemic and the ‘great resignation,'” Liou explains. “I don’t hear as many people saying ‘I want to make more money’ or ‘I want to climb the corporate ladder.’ Now, it’s ‘I want to feel more connected to my work,’ and ‘I want to be excited about what I’m doing.'”

New Gallup research shows that remote employees, in particular, feel increasingly disconnected from their workplaces’ mission and purpose. 

The lack of a shared mission and purpose can be detrimental to employees’ overall happiness and performance.

According to Wharton psychologist Adam Grant, employees who understand their work has a meaningful, positive impact on others are not just happier than those who don’t; they’re more productive, too. Additionally, one study found that raises and promotions are more common among people who find their work meaningful. 

Making employees happy pays off

Focusing on employee engagement and satisfaction isn’t just important for mental health in the workplace — it can also make or break a company’s bottom line. 

Gallup found that businesses with engaged workers see higher profits and significantly less turnover and absenteeism than businesses with unhappy workers, among other benefits.

In fact, Gallup reports, employee disengagement costs the world $8.8 trillion in lost productivity, equal to 9% of global GDP.

But the news isn’t all bad for bosses. It doesn’t take much to motivate an unhappy employee, says Lim. 

“It’s all about creating an environment of belonging, hearing and being understood,” she says. “You don’t need to fix everyone’s problems in a day — even aiming to have one meaningful conversation or check-in with the people you manage, once a week, can make a huge difference.” 

Want to earn more and land your dream job? Join the free CNBC Make It: Your Money virtual event on Oct. 17 at 1 p.m. ET to learn how to level up your interview and negotiating skills, build your ideal career, boost your income and grow your wealth. Register for free today.

Check out:

This is the happiest job in the world, according to new research: ‘You get to see the fruits of your labor’

How to be happier at work, says Ivy League-trained expert who’s led workshops at Google, Microsoft

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