Nearly half of American workers aren’t happy

Who must we still try to convince of the fact that there has been a shift in Americans’ relationship to work?

Companies championing the constant crawl of productivity capitalism continue to question company culture, wondering how to get employees more engaged and how to improve output. But much to their chagrin, an increasingly common refrain has popped up since the pandemic began (one Kim Kardashian was on early about): No one really wants to work.

At least, that seems to be the case for about half of Americans, particularly younger workers who find themselves wading through a scrap heap of broken promises of some version of an American Dream made possible through hard work and sacrifice.

Just 51% of American workers a new Pew Research Center survey say they are overall “extremely or very satisfied” with their jobs. The same number say they’re satisfied with the day-to-day tasks of their jobs. And an even smaller share expressed high levels of satisfaction with the benefits, pay, training and development, and opportunities for promotion their employer offers.

What’s more, only about four-in-ten workers (39%) who did not identify as self-employed say their job or career is “extremely or very important to their overall identity,” 34% say it’s “somewhat important,” and 27% say “it’s not too or not at all important.”

There’s an air of work malaise that, over the last year and change, has turned into a real concern beyond quarterly business reports. Quiet quitting has spawned bare minimum Monday and a fueled a broader anti-work movement that simply has workers handing in their badges. The Great Resignation, which saw workers clamoring for better opportunities in a fervent job market, has turned into the Great Remorse. One reading might be that American workers are not only widely dissatisfied with work, but have little to no idea what, if anything, can change their fortunes.

And employees mental health is suffering, in part, because of it.

Older workers are happier than younger ones

Interestingly, when asked about the people they work with, those in the Pew survey say they are “extremely or very satisfied” with the relationships with their co-workers (67%) and with their manager or supervisor (62%). Nearly 80% say they feel they are treated with respect at work, and 72% say they feel they can be themselves. Additionally, 65% say they have at least one close friend at work and 62% say they feel their contributions at work are valued “a great deal or a fair amount.”

Depending on how you define culture within an office and company, that data would suggest that concerns around culture are far less worrisome and that there’s something else at play when considering whether people are satisfied at work and if they feel they get enough (benefits, pay, etc.) out of it.

Where employees land on those considerations of course vary along generational lines. Two-thirds of workers 65 and older say they are overall “extremely or very satisfied” with their job, according to the Pew survey. That’s higher than the 55% of those 50 to 64, 51% of those 30 to 49, and 44% of those 18 to 29.

Older workers are the most likely to say they are extremely or very satisfied with their relationship with their manager or supervisor, their day-to-day tasks, and their opportunities for promotion at work. They also are more likely to say they find their job to be enjoyable and fulfilling all or most of the time. 

Gen Z has been clearly leading the lines and carrying the torch for the anti-work movement; a quick scroll through TikTok reveals users publicly quitting or declaring in anti-capitalist rants they “don’t dream of labor,” but a larger trend is coming to fruition that suggests that more than just the youthful few are increasingly not satisfied when it comes to work.

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