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Gallup Report: Many Americans Are Unhappy at Work

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Nov 28, 2023

iStock-526548812 Sad Frustrated Loss

Americans are unhappier at work than they have been in years, according to a 2023 Gallup report, The Wall Street Journal reported, a phenomenon that can be traced to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This anger, stress and disengagement persists despite wage increases, more paid time off and greater control over where they work, according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2023 Report. Job satisfaction scores have fallen to their lowest point since early 2020, after a 10 percent drop this year alone, a BambooHR analysis of data from more than 57,000 workers showed.

The unhappiness is part of a rethinking of work life that began in 2020, the Journal reported, as inflation eats away pay gains, uncertainty still pervades the nature of the workday, the white-collar job market contracts and companies cut costs.

Stephan Scholl, chief executive of Alight Solutions, a technology company focused on benefits and payroll administration, told the Journal that many of his company’s Fortune 100 clients boosted spending on employee benefits such as mental health, child care and well-being bonuses by 20 percent over the pandemic years, but “[a]ll that extra spend has not translated into happier employees.” An Alright survey found that 34 percent of the 2,000 U.S. employees surveyed dread starting their workday—an increase of 11-percentage points since 2020. Corporate clients have told him that their mental-health claims and costs from employee turnover are going up.

Nearly a third of workers at large firms don’t work in the same metro area as their managers, up from about 23 percent in February 2020, according to data from payroll provider ADP, so such  long-distance relationships between bosses and staff might also be an issue. Distance has weakened ties among co-workers and heightened conflict, said Moshe Cohen, a mediator and negotiation coach who teaches conflict resolution at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, in an interview with the Journal.

The lack of personal connections also hurt. One Los Angeles-based consultant in his 20s, told the Journal that many of his largely remote colleagues were focused on their own work, many leave cameras off for video calls and few people show up at the office, making it hard to build relationships.

The share of U.S. companies mandating office attendance five days a week has fallen this year from 49 percent at the start of the year to 38 percent in October, according to Scoop Technologies, a software firm that developed an index to monitor workplace policies of nearly 4,500 companies. Some companies that have reversed flexible remote-work policies to boost employee engagement and productivity have faced worker backlash.

The situation is not all bad, however. A November 2022 Conference Board surveyof U.S. adults showed that workers were more satisfied with their jobs than they had been in years. But, the Journal pointed out, that poll was taken before a spate of layoffs at high-profile companies and big declines in the number of knowledge-worker and professional jobs advertised.

When Farmers Group’s new CEO cancelled the company’s previous policy allowing most workers to be remote, workers posted thousands of mostly negative comments on the insurer’s internal social-media platform. One employee, Kandy Mimande, told the Journal that she felt betrayed, having sold her car and having spent thousands of dollars to redo her home office under the remote-work policy.

Realizing that she no longer felt a sense of purpose from her product-management job, she resigned last month and now helps to promote a band and pet-sits. “It’s so much easier for me to report to myself,” she said.