To mark World Mental Health Day on 10 October and International Happiness at Work Week (23-29 September), Liz Hall rounds up some recent research into what makes people happy and well at work


What makes our clients – and us – happy at work? Meaning and purpose, challenging projects, being respected, work-life balance (with flexible working and holidays), canine friends in the workplace, going out in nature and, yes, pay – but not only pay.

Forty two per cent of UK employees are unhappy at work, according to Engaging Works’ The State of Workplace Happiness Survey 2019.

The survey, which has been taken by more than 10,000 employees globally since October 2017, rates the UK as eighth in the global ranking of workplace happiness, up from tenth place in 2018. Globally, 37% of participants feel anxious or depressed at work – in the UK it’s one in three.

There are regional differences. Employees in the West Midlands, East Anglia, and York and Humber are the happiest (81%, 77% and 79%, respectively), while employees in Scotland are the least happy – one in three say they don’t enjoy their working lives. Meanwhile, those working in healthcare rate their wellness lowest. London and Wales have the highest amount of people who feel anxious at work – 44% and 39%, respectively.

What strategies can coaches help clients employ to boost their happiness and wellbeing? Engaging Works finds regional variations in what people turn to. In the South East and West of England, 40% of employees go for a walk when they’re stressed. In the North West of England, 22% of workers call a loved one for support. In London, where 47% of participants feel stressed at work, hitting the gym is seen as a great stress-buster, 11% use a mindfulness app and 14% walk the office dog to tackle stress.

A study by pet care brand Purina suggests that introducing canine colleagues is the single, most cost-effective way to improve happiness at work. One in five (20%) UK workers have the option to bring their dog into work. Some 81% of respondents believe that pet-friendly workplaces are happier workplaces. The majority of those working in such workplaces say being allowed to bring in pets is the work-perk that’s had the biggest positive impact on overall wellbeing.

Many other studies have highlighted the power of spending time in nature for boosting happiness and wellbeing. Spending at least two hours a week in nature may be a crucial threshold for promoting health and wellbeing, according to a large-scale study led by the University of Exeter (White et al, 2019). It found that people who spend at least 120 minutes in nature a week are significantly more likely to report good health and higher psychological wellbeing than those who don’t at all or who visit natural settings for less time during an average week. It didn’t matter whether the 120 minutes was achieved in a single or multiple visits.

A survey by online learning organisation Udemy found the trick to all-round satisfaction and fulfilment is an environment that supports work-life balance – with flexible schedules and remote working options, for example.

Balance matters more than pay, praise, or purpose, says its 2019 Workplace Happiness Report. Meanwhile, Engaging Works’ research highlights the importance of holidays for many employees’ happiness, particularly in the South West of England and East Anglia – 43% and 41% of people in these regions said more holiday time would make them happier.

For the 1,011 full-time US employees surveyed by Udemy, quality of life drives their career choices and their sense of purpose at work – more than 37% ranked ‘good work-life balance’ as most essential to giving their work meaning.

However, millennials were least likely to prioritise work-life balance, with only 25% selecting it over other options, compared to 42% of Gen Z, 40% of Gen X, and 48% of Baby Boomers, finds Udemy. Instead, millennials ranked ‘constantly learning, growing, developing’ higher than did people in other age groups, finds the survey conducted online by Toluna International for Udemy earlier this year.

A study by executive mentors, Rutbusters, also highlights the importance of challenge and stretch. It shows that most managers are still happiest when they can get stuck into a challenging project, and be respected by their boss for their work on it.

The study was carried out among 1,000 senior managers, business owners, professionals and executives.

Some 64% of respondents say a challenging project will make them happier, according to Rutbusters’ study. Some 54% said greater management responsibilities would make them happier. In terms of having more flexibility to work from home, while two-thirds want this, the other third said this would have little impact on their job satisfaction or would make them unhappier.

Some 72% say more respect will make them happier (only 26% say it will have no effect on happiness). Respect was linked to happiness in Engaging Works’ research too. A quarter of people in the North West of England, for example, believe that feeling respected would make them happier. Meanwhile, 83% of people in the UK leave their job because of their line manager.

What about purpose? It also matters, especially for millennials, finds Udemy. While 62% of employees overall would take a pay cut to work for a company with a compatible mission, agreement was overwhelming among millennials (78%), compared to Gen X (43%) or Baby Boomers (43%). Overall, 90% agree or strongly agree that they find meaning in their careers.

What about the impact of pay and status on happiness? Engaging Works found employees in the South West believe most that more pay would make them happier. The region also has the highest number of people who’d like a four-day working week.

In London, 24% of people feel unhappy and one reason is because they feel un-empowered. But pay is an issue here too – 56% would like better pay to feel happier at work. According to Rutbusters’ research, 84% of senior managers want more pay and status, although 15% say it will have little impact on their happiness.



M P White et al. ‘Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing’, in Scientific Reports, 9(1), 2019