What makes employees happy on the shop floor? A question that is acutely faced by many employers against the background of the current ‘war for talent’ and the shortage of skilled employees. A study of AMS, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and House of HR shows that, on average, employees rate their career satisfaction 7.4 out of 10. Nonetheless, 20% of employees are not happy with their career. High time then for more equal opportunities and more realistic professional prospects.
1 in 5 employees are not happy with their career. All the more reason to find out what makes a career sustainable and last the distance. In this respect, the most marked expectations employees hold out are mental health and happiness at work. 55.6% of respondents attach the utmost importance to mental health, 45.8% say the same thing about happiness. Conversely, only a quarter of respondents consider productivity to be very important for the future.
Young people are most vulnerable in terms of mental well-being and happiness at work
One striking finding is that especially the younger generation scores lower in terms of mental health. For instance, 18 to 25-year-old employees on average rate their mental health 2.8 on a 5-point scale, where this figure rises to 3.6 out of 5 among the over-55s. This is explained by the fact that young people are still finding their feet when it comes to their career, whilst displaying greater career mobility. “What is sorely needed are realistic career prospects to prevent career regrets”, AMS researcher Sofie Jacobs explains. “The right coaching efforts for new entrants on the labor market may be conducive to help mitigate the reality shock when people transition from the world of education to the world of work. More comprehensive career advice and more time to explore career options can make all the difference in this respect.”
Conventional view of success
In spite of the distinct preference for mental health and happiness at work among the interviewees, it is striking to see that the traditional status symbols of success, such as career promotion opportunities, salary packages and status continue to take precedence in the way many employees view their own careers. Which explains why career satisfaction ratings are significantly higher among people in middle and senior management posts, professionals, etc. 15.3% of these post holders express low satisfaction with their current career. Among blue-collar workers and operational white-collar workers on the other hand, this figure is seen to rise to 22.5%.
For women, so the study confirms, there are no stand-out differences in terms of career advancement opportunities: women get promoted in equal measure as men. Yet this upward mobility is not reflected in their salaries. In addition, the study shows that more men hold senior positions. As salaries go up in relation to the post held, salary differences with women continue to exist. Forward steps have been made towards gender equality but there is still some way to go when it comes to posts and salaries.
All in all, one third of interviewees reports having regrets over their career path. In this respect, the study shows a striking difference in the way regret over career paths is experienced between the various generations. The over-55s, who also have more work experience behind them, rate their sense of regret 2.6 on a 5-point scale whereas young people aged 18 to 35 on average rate their experience with regret 3 out of 5. One possible explanation for this put forward by the researchers is that the older generation already had more time to take certain steps in their careers or have resigned themselves to the way their careers have turned out. The younger generation on the other hand shows greater regret over their careers. Possibly they still hold out unduly high expectations or have unrealistic views of careers and the labor market.
“An inclusive career policy that offers opportunities for all is sorely needed”, says Sofie Jacobs. “This would keep all groups on the labor market on the radar to a sufficient degree. Also, the importance of actively as well as passively getting to grips with one’s own career should not be underrated. The latter aspect has an impact on the extent to which employees experience agency, i.e. feel like they are in the driving seat of their career.”
About the study
The findings in this report come as part of a large-scale survey conducted among employees in Belgium and the Netherlands, devised by Antwerp Management School, House of HR & Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Sofie Jacobs, who is Professor HRM & Creative Industries at Antwerp Management School and Jos Akkermans, Associate Professor of Sustainable Careers and Organizational Behavior of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam carried out a large-scale survey among 1,610 employees in Belgium and the Netherlands in association with House of HR. In November 2021 a representative sample survey was carried out. The respondents were approached by way of an online panel, whereby the definition of the representative sample group was based on region, age, sex, qualification and post. The study results zoom in on the way Belgians and Dutchmen experience their career, how they define happiness at work but also on the things they feel regretful over.