Britons near the top of Europe's misery league

Jun 09 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

British workers are among the most unhappy in Europe, a new survey has found, with HR and customer service professionals finding their working lives particularly miserable.

A survey of more than 14,000 people across Europe by recruitment agency Kelly Services found that fewer than half (47 per cent) of workers surveyed in the UK would describe themselves as either happy or very happy with their current position.

In contrast, almost seven out of 10 (68 per cent) of Scandinavian workers and Ė despite their economic gloom Ė six out of 10 French workers are happy in their jobs.

But spare a thought for workers in Belgium, only just over a third of whom (35 per cent) claim to be happy at work.

Kelly's figures broadly correspond with recent research from recruiter Stepstone that found that Scandinavians enjoy the best working climate in Europe, with over with over three quarters of employees describing the atmosphere in their workplaces to as good or excellent.

But while half of Germans told the Kelly survey there were happy at work, Stepstone found that many German organisations have severe morale problems with almost a third of all employees just waiting for the opportunity to move on.

Meanwhile, contrary to the belief that Britain is suffering from an endemic long hours culture, it's not long hours or poor work-life balance that Brits complain about.

While almost six out of 10 said they were happy with their work-life balance, only a third (36 per cent) were happy with the level of pay and only a quarter (24 per cent) with the health benefits available to them.

Apart from salary, the greatest cause of disquiet with the British workers was the lack of opportunity to expand skills and the lack of formal training provided.

Just over half also said they approved of their employer's ethical standards and practices.

Those workers most happy in their jobs in Britain were engaged in research (59 per cent) and engineering (53 per cent). Almost half (45 per cent) of managers also said they were happy with their lot.

But topping the misery league are HR professionals, four out of 10 (39 per cent) of whom claim to be unhappy, a figure almost matched by people working in sales and customer services.

Kelly Services's Steve Girdler said the survey shows importance of understanding the motivations of today's workers, getting the right mix of people, and thinking differently about how to motivate for a high performing workplace.

"Today's workforce is changing due to many factors. The economy, a sluggish retail sector and confusion about the future of European trade all contribute to people feeling uncertain and concerned" he said.

Other research has suggested that job satisfaction in Britain is on the decline, with excessive work loads, 'robotic' jobs, a lack of scope for personal initiative being blamed for the nation's workplace discontent.

A study led by Professor Francis Green of the University of Kent found that there was a small downward trend in average job satisfaction in Britain between 1972 and 1983 but a significant decline during the 1990s.

The fall in job satisfaction between 1992 and 2001 could be accounted for by people having less personal responsibility and use of initiative in their work, combined with an increase in the effort required, Professor Green suggested.

On side effect of this, as Steve Girdler pointed out, is that people make career changes more than ever and more feel empowered to be a 'free agent' to pursue a freelance path, something that poses real challenges to employers.

"Understanding these motivations and helping employees chart their own course in the company with proper training and incentives is key," Girdler said.

"Today's society is more about instant gratification - people's overall expectations are significantly higher than in the past. This carries over into what workers expect from employers.

"People want increased transparency from their employers with ethics much higher on the agenda. Employees need to feel valued rather than a cog in a machine."