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Well, are you happy with your job?...

Originally Published 12 December 2001
Professor Andrew Oswald at the Speakeasy
Professor Andrew Oswald at the Speakeasy

...was the question posed by Professor Andrew Oswald, of the Department of Economics, at the first Warwick Speakeasy on Tuesday 4 December. The first event of its kind, the Warwick Speakeasy brought together prominent regional employers, human resources professionals and representatives of a wide variety of sectors. Andrew presented his research on job satisfaction and the economics of happiness and his findings were augmented by the animated discussion that followed. Some of the more general points made were:
  • Reported levels of job satisfaction are fairly high in Britain. For example, on a standard numerical scale from 1 (“I am not satisfied at all”) up to 7 (“I am completely satisfied with my job”), the single most common answer is a 6.
  • Job satisfaction is U-shaped in age. Feelings of job security have the single biggest predictive effect on overall reported job satisfaction. Satisfaction is higher among women than men, high in small workplaces, lower in union workplaces than non-union ones, and largest in not-for-profit workplaces. The self-employed report high job satisfaction.
  • What is the correlation between self-employment and happiness? Autonomy has a massive impact on happiness and does not cost the boss much.
  • People are more satisfied, of course, if they are paid more. But the main effect is from relative rather than absolute pay (ie. wages compared to other people).
  • Levels of job satisfaction in the public sector declined especially sharply over the 1990s. Does the relative inflexibility of working patterns in the public sector impact on happiness? Possibly, add into that the other factors affecting public sector employees - league tables, public accountability, your next-door neighbour reads your job evaluation – all very difficult for people to cope with.
  • Gender of boss has no statistically significant effect on employees’ job satisfaction.
  • Britons with university degrees are happy with their lives overall. But when it comes to jobs, surprisingly, they do not report high satisfaction. Unattainable aspirations may be the cause.

Ms Wilkinson and Mr Brant at the Speakeasy