Updated 15 August 2017

6 reasons why people are unhappy in their jobs

A survey found that tough schedules and stress in the workplace are among the reasons why people are unhappy at work.

Do you loathe your job and wish you could walk out and never return? You are not alone.

Physical and emotional strain is common among workers, and hazards abound in the workplace, a new study finds.

The survey

A nationwide survey of just more than 3 000 American adults found many had unstable work schedules, along with unpleasant and potentially dangerous job conditions.

The findings stem from a 2015 survey described as one of the most in-depth ever to examine life in the American workplace.

"I was surprised how taxing the workplace appears to be, both for less-educated and for more-educated workers," said study lead author Nicole Maestas.

She's an associate professor of healthcare policy at Harvard Medical School and adjunct economist at the nonprofit RAND Corp., which co-sponsored the study with the University of California, Los Angeles.

"Work is taxing at the office and it's taxing when it spills out of the workplace into people's family lives," Maestas added in a RAND news release.

6 reasons deduced from the survey

Here's how the survey portrays the American workplace:

  • Changing schedules: While 80% of respondents said they had steady and predictable work all year long, only 54% said they worked the same number of hours day to day. One third said they had no control over their work schedule.
  • Physical labour: Nearly three out of four respondents reported either intense or repetitive physical effort at work at least 25% of the time. Workers without a college education did more physical labour, but many college-educated and older workers did, too.
  • Telecommuting myth: Despite the rise of telecommuting, nearly eight out of 10 workers said they were required to be present at their workplace during business hours.
  • Hazards and unwanted attention: More than half said they were exposed to unpleasant and potentially hazardous working conditions. Nearly 20% said they had faced a hostile or threatening social environment at work. Younger women were most likely to encounter unwanted sexual attention, while younger men were more likely to be verbally abused.
  • Deadline demands: More than a quarter of respondents said they had too little time to do their job, with white-collar workers most likely to make this complaint. About half said they did some work in their free time in order to meet job demands.
  • Work-life balance: About one third of workers said they can't adjust their schedules to deal with personal matters. More than one quarter reported a mismatch between their work hours and social and family commitments.

Preferences change with age

The report also revealed that preferences change as workers age. Older workers tend to prefer being allowed to set their own pace and control how they work, along with less physically taxing assignments.

Many older workers said they rejoined the workforce after retiring, and many over 50 who are unemployed said they would consider going back to work if conditions were right. That underscores the social importance of the workplace. More than half of workers described their boss as supportive and said they had very good friends at work.

But fewer than four in 10 workers said their job offered good prospects for moving up, and all workers become less optimistic about advancing as they get older, the findings showed.

For most, work brings "meaning" to life. Four out of five workers said their job provides meaning always or most of the time. Older men with a college education were most likely to report meaningful work.

The researchers said they plan to follow up with a study exploring how conditions in US workplaces compare to those in other countries.

And workers in South Africa? 

In 2016 Health24 did a survey to determine how South Africans felt at work. Most of the participants (32%) were on mid-level employment with top-level management being the least representative (5%). Junior positions were in the middle of the range (17%). 

According to the survey results, almost half (48%) of the participants said their salary is a reason why they are not completely happy in their job. Other reasons were limited career opportunities (46%) and not being appreciated or rewarded (35%).


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