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Happiness at Work

This year’s edition of the World Happiness Report, the fifth since 2012, gives special attention to the social foundations of happiness, especially in the workplace. The report includes a chapter by Professor Jan De Neve, Saïd Business School, co-written with George Ward, Institute for Work and Employment Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Professor De Neve comments: ‘People tend to spend the majority of their lives working, so it is important to understand the role that employment and unemployment play in shaping happiness.’

‘Our research reveals that happiness differs considerably across employment status, job type, and industry sectors. People in well paid roles are happier, but money is only one predictive measure of happiness - work-life balance, job variety and the level of autonomy, are other significant drivers.

There is a clear distinction in happiness between white and blue collar jobs with managers or professionals evaluating the quality of their lives at a much higher level than those in manual labour jobs even controlling for any possible confounding factors.

Happiness at Work key findings

  • Global reports on happiness show large differences across 11 job types with Manager/Executive/Official reporting the highest levels of happiness and Farming/Fishing/Forestry Worker the lowest. 
  • Manual labour is systematically correlated with lower levels of happiness – true in construction, mining, manufacturing, transport, farming, fishing and forestry.
  • People who categorise themselves as manager, an executive, an official or professional worker report higher levels of happiness.
  • People in well paid roles are happier, but money is only one predictive measure of happiness. Work-life balance is particularly strong predictor of people’s happiness. Other factors include job variety, the need to learn new things and level of individual autonomy.
  • In developed nations, those who are self-employed report higher levels of happiness but also reported higher levels of stress and worry.
  • Austria, Norway, and Iceland have the highest job satisfaction in the world with about 95% of employed individuals reporting being satisfied with their job.
  • The number of people noting that they are actively engaged with their job is typically less than 20%, while being around 10% in Western Europe, and much less still in East Asia. 
  • The employed evaluate the quality of their lives around 0.6 points higher on average as compared to the unemployed on a scale from 0 to 10.  Equally noteworthy is that individuals who are unemployed report approximately 30 percent more negative affective experiences. 

Read the full copy of the World Happiness Report 


Jan de Neve

Jan-Emmanuel De Neve View profile

Dr De Neve is Associate Professor of Economics and Strategy at Saïd Business School and a Fellow of Harris Manchester College. His research interests are in behavioural economics and political economy. The underlying theme throughout his research is the study of human wellbeing.
Read the chapter

Download Jan-Emmanuel De Neve and George Ward's chapter on Happiness at Work.