UK workers happier than their US counterparts

2003

While employees in the US and UK express about the same levels of overall satisfaction with their jobs – 67 per cent satisfaction in the US and 71 per cent in the UK – UK workers appear to be more content with many aspects of their day-to-day work life, according to a survey from Mercer Human Resource Consulting.

The survey – conducted in the US as People at Work and in the UK as Britain at Work – polled a representative sample of more than 5,700 workers across a broad range of industries about their perceptions of their job, organisation, work environment, compensation, benefits, and the management of their organisation. The largest differences revealed in the survey relate to issues of cooperation, fairness, and quality, as well as the role and effectiveness of workers' immediate managers. For example:

  • 85 per cent of UK workers, compared to 70 per cent of US workers, say the people they work with cooperate to get the job done.
  • 76 per cent of UK employees, versus 64 per cent in the US, feel personally that they are treated fairly in their organisation.
  • 75 per cent of UK workers, compared to 63 per cent of US workers, say commitment to quality is a high priority in their organisation.
Views of senior management
Neither workers in the US nor the UK hold particularly positive views of senior management, although the US workers were less generous in their assessment of management's effectiveness.

According to Mercer's survey, fewer than half of the US employees say senior management does a good job of establishing clear priorities (47 per cent) or establishing clear objectives (48 per cent), compared to 54 per cent and 57 per cent, respectively, in the UK. And only 33 per cent of the employees surveyed in the US and 37 per cent in the UK say senior management does a good job of confronting issues before they become major problems.

When it comes to managing the organisation as a whole, 44 per cent of US workers and 50 per cent of UK workers say senior management does a good job. In addition, just 34 per cent of US workers and 39 per cent of UK workers say they trust management to always communicate honestly. Only 40 per cent of US employees and 45 per cent of UK employees believe management's behaviours are consistent with organisational values.

Opinions of immediate managers
While senior management received low marks, workers tend to hold their immediate managers (e.g., a department manager) in somewhat higher regard. In particular, UK workers gave more favourable responses on many aspects of their manager’s and their department's performance.

"Workers in the UK and US share a similar view of top management, which perhaps shows the global influence of the recent corporate scandals in the US," says Dr Rod Fralicx, global employee research director for Mercer. "But UK workers clearly have a more positive view of their immediate managers. This could be a difference of style or expectations. Either UK managers are more effective in some way, or US workers have higher – and unmet – expectations about the role and effectiveness of their day-to-day managers."

Other differences
Reward alignment: While neither group of employees rated their employers high on the propensity to link rewards with performance, US employers were more likely to agree that when the did a good job, their performance was rewarded (29 per cent of US workers agree with this versus only 20 per cent of UK workers). Similarly, 32 per cent of US workers believed that in their organisations, teamwork and cooperation was rewarded compared to 23 per cent of UK workers.

"This statistic contrasts with the finding that most UK workers consider their coworkers to be cooperative," Dr. Fralicx notes. "Their spirit of cooperation does not appear to be motivated by pay."

Opinion surveys: UK workers had a more positive outlook regarding employee opinion surveys conducted by their employer. More of them said they believe management would communicate the major findings to employees (56 per cent vs. 43 per cent) and take meaningful action on the issues identified (39 per cent vs. 26 per cent).