Why do certain industries top the happiness charts while others fail so consistently?
Whether you're just deciding on a professional path or ready for a mid-career change, here's the psychology behind industry happiness levels.
What Is Job Satisfaction?
Most organizational psychologists call happiness at work "job satisfaction." Edwin Locke, the most published organizational psychologist in the history of the field, defined it as pleasure or positive emotions resulting from one's work.
Job satisfaction encompasses job security, work-life balance, management styles, the content and challenge of one's work, pay, growth opportunities, autonomy, coworker relations, "institution aims and strategies," and work environment - among others.
kununu, where I'm a millennial career advisor, defines happiness by the highest average ratings of these four criteria: support from management, challenging work, office environment and teamwork.
According to their "Career Happiness Index" which looks at nearly 200,000 employee reviews from 2016, these are our nation's happiest industries of 2016:
Government employees enjoy great benefits, hours, vacation policies and job stability. They consequently "experience less work family conflicts as compared to their private sector counterparts," according to one study. Another tea that teamwork is more prevalent among public sector employees than private sector ones. Moreover, in kununu's data, support from management was rated particularly high.
Perhaps most importantly, however, government employees feel that they're working for the common good. A Harvard School of Government study notes, "The civil service has a distinctive mission which is to serve the public, and its employees seem to strongly reflect this ethos, and to feel that this work was rewarding." While public sector workers "have less freedom than their business equivalents," they also experience a "stronger sense of fulfilling a useful role that contributes towards society."
One longitudinal study published in 2011 followed American high-schoolers who graduated in 1957 throughout their lives. Researchers found that individuals with stronger desires to help others have higher life-satisfaction and happiness than individuals with weaker desires.
With a projected growth rate of 18% until 2020, management consulting is booming. The average industry salary is $58,702, and consultants report, and enjoy, particularly challenging work.
kununu data also shows that employees in the advisory services/consulting industry rate teamwork highly, perhaps due to the project-based nature of the field. Psychology research exhaustively shows that a sense of collaboration is so critical for job satisfaction that it can actually predict it.
So it's no surprise that, according to Fast Company, the consulting firm Bain and Co. is rated the second best place to work in 2017. It's also won several other best company awards in the last five years.
The Arts & Entertainment
Contrary to the stereotype of the depressed creative, employees in the arts, culture and entertainment rated all five of kununu's happiness criteria highly.
Career Bliss's annual list of the 10 happiest jobs in America substantiate these findings. A recent USA Today article sums that "The most satisfying jobs were those involving caring for, teaching, and protecting others, as well as creative pursuits."
Artists may enjoy the uncommon autonomy of their work. Interestingly, however, the people who work in the arts and entertainment industry who left reviews on kununu gave high scores to teamwork. Perhaps many of the artists who wrote reviews for kununu are employed "in-house," where they can bounce ideas around and don't have to worry about finding work.
The Least Happy
According to kununu's data, professionals in healthcare/pharmaceuticals, legal advice and real estate/facility management score the lowest.
For legal advice, very low support from management ratings brought down the overall happiness score. Dissatisfaction in healthcare could be due to a glitchy, complicated transition to the Affordable Care Act and apprehension over the future of healthcare - especially in light of the 2016 presidential election. Finally, employees in real estate and facility management complained about poor office environments and insufficient support from management.
Other research indicates that teaching, social services and customer service roles score below average for psychological wellbeing and job satisfaction. Still, in general, professionals fare better than labor industries, such as automotive manufacturing and paper processing.
Caroline Beaton is a workplace psychology journalist and kununu's millennial career expert. Sign up for Caroline's newsletter to get her latest articles to your inbox.