5 reasons why more than a third of UK workers are unhappy in their jobs

A recent study into employee happiness by Indeed has shown some shocking results and should give every employer something to think about.

The study found that only 27% of Brits are happy most of the time at their job. Even more worryingly, this workplace unhappiness is impacting on peoples personal lives with 72% admitting that their work has a negative impact on their physical and/or mental health. For a third of people, this has led to physical symptoms such as headaches and migraines (55%) and insomnia (53%), and 22% admit to taking their work frustrations out on their partners back home.

The study asked 2000 employees about how happy they felt at their new job and it sends a clear message that employers need to do more to support their workers’ health and happiness.

Sadly, some employers will say that the happiness of staff isn’t their concern; but they couldn’t be more wrong. Not only do they have a legal obligation to support the physical and mental health of their employees, but thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw droves of employees deciding to resign and move on to something else as they felt motivated to make positive changes in their lives – known as ‘the Great Resignation’.

Furthermore, lower staffing levels mean more work for those left behind, more work means more stress, and more stress means unhappiness and poor health. You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you?

I’ve seen this happen first hand where I was contacted by a technology company who enquired about doing some mental health training work for their staff.

Unfortunately, they had decided to act well after the horse had bolted and years of toxic culture, poor support and crappy working practices had taken their toll meaning staff were leaving in droves, including many long-serving and highly skilled staff members. The knock-on impact of this was that customer service plummeted which meant that big-contract clients decided to look elsewhere for their tech services – that company no longer exists.

But what’s happening to make employees so unhappy?

  1. Lack of recognition: You might think that people just want to be paid for doing their job, and well, yeah, of course, they do. Unless someone is feeling especially charitable, we work to earn a living, but is that enough? I’ve met lots of people earning 6 figures a year who felt completely unfulfilled, miserable, and unrecognised.

    Back in my military days, I was on a pretty healthy salary – not rockstar wages but comfortable – and in terms of ACTUAL work, I probably did 5-10 hours a week. Sounds ideal right? And for a while, it was great until the novelty wore off and the reality of my job set in, the biggest of which was that I was just a drone to line managers, a number. Nothing was ever said unless it was to give a new tasking and a job well done was met with silence. Couple that with a toxic culture, and yeah, I was pretty miserable, and no amount of money was going to change that. People want to feel valued and appreciated for their contributions to the company. When they feel ignored or undervalued, it can lead to unhappiness and even resentment towards their job.

2. Poor communication: Miscommunication or a lack of communication can lead to confusion and frustration among employees. Having to repeat the same thing multiple times, mistakes made, or a task not completed is a perfect recipe to piss someone off.

This is especially true of communicating things from the top to the bottom. We often see that multiple levels of managers filter things out in a game of reverse-Chinese whispers until what is communicated with those on the lower levels of the organisation is either minimal or non-existent.

Clear and effective communication is crucial for maintaining a positive work environment. Sometimes this includes things that might not directly impact a person’s role but helps keep them in the loop, feel a part of the organisation and understand what they’re working towards

3. Lack of support: Imagine walking into work at the start of your working day feeling confident that someone is there to have your back, whatever happens in your day. Customer complaint? No problem, we’ll get it sorted. Some breaks? Don’t worry about it; we can get it fixed. Is someone in the office being a dick? Not tolerated and dealt with.

But it goes further than what I call ‘Top Cover’. It’s the idea that there are systems and ‘things’ in place to help if you’re not doing great – whether physically or mentally. For example:

  • Training managers in mental health and how to have a supportive conversation.
  • Having mental health first aiders who are specially trained to support someone’s mental health concerns and effectively signpost them to someone/something that can help.
  • Having systems & procedures in place that can be implemented, for example, for a bereavement, suicide, injury or loss of a baby. And if they feel like oddly specific examples, unfortunately, they are all real examples I’ve helped organisations with recently.

4. High-stress levels: OK, so this is the elephant in the room, and if I had of bothered to rank these in order of their impact then this one would likely be in the top spot. Stress is very normal and can be a healthy part of our lives. It’s also inevitable for most of us that we will experience stress in our job. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.

But a high-stress work environment can take a toll on employees’ mental and physical health. When employees are constantly overwhelmed and burnt out, it can lead to unhappiness and a lack of job satisfaction, especially if there is no outlet or support for that stress. Worse still, if you feel like your manager isn’t supportive and won’t be helpful if you chat with them about your stress (see point 1).

Taking the time to recognise what causes employee stress, what can be done about it, how the organisation can help and how employees can help is often a painful experience but also crucial to any successful team.

5. Lack of growth opportunities: Every now and then you find someone who is happy with sitting back and not chasing progression – I used to work with an ex-special forces communication engineer who was more than happy working as low-level tech support. No problem with that.

However, most employees want to feel like they are growing and developing in their careers. When they feel like they have hit a dead-end or there are no opportunities for advancement, it can lead to unhappiness and a desire to leave the company.

In the same way as we can focus on mental, physical and financial health we also need to focus on career health – appraisals that actually matter, inductions that aren’t soul destroying where you click ‘next’ as quickly as possible to get through it and recruitment/promotion that is fair and rewards genuine skill and qualities rather than time-served.

A factory wouldn’t not repair or maintain their production machines, would they? If they did, then the machines will eventually break down, and the business would suffer. And as much as I don’t like to refer to people as assets because they’re people, not things – employees are the most valuable asset any business has. Neglecting their needs will result in the business suffering – and, as I mentioned earlier, can even be fatal to the organisation.