Are UK workers the true Miserables?

I had to do a double take on an article this week about the latest Office Angels survey on happiness at work.  A quote that struck me immediately was “It is now heartening to see a positive, happy feeling persisting amongst UK workers…”. What an uplifting message in these difficult times.

But hold on.  The research says just 42% of people in the UK are happy in their jobs. Call me cup half empty but doesn’t that mean 58% are unhappy?

Our own “Corporate Prisoner” work back in 2009 suggested around 40% of UK workers wanted to leave their current employer. If the Office Angels data is right, and we have no reason to suggest otherwise, then the whole situation has got a lot worse.

People who are miserable at work aren’t motivated to perform.  And you need motivated people to deliver everything from great customer service to quality and innovation. So – far from good news for UK PLC – this survey should be a call to arms.

I could be cynical and suggest that a lot of recruitment businesses might actually be smiling at this point. Miserable people are less likely to stay in their jobs. They keep staff turnover up which in turns means more opportunities for placements and fees. The nightmare scenario for the recruitment industry may be lots of energised, happy, engaged people staying put. If happiness at work ever hit 100%, they’d be extinct.

Of course that won’t happen. There will always be people who, no matter how well looked after, decide the grass is greener elsewhere. However imagine the boost to performance if we could get 70 or even 80% of the workforce happy!

The basic numbers of employee engagement are sobering.


Disengaged employees

Engaged employees

Sickness absence



Understanding customer needs



Likely to recommend their employer’s product



Active advocates for the Company



What makes people happy at work differs enormously. We’ve run workshops for HR teams asking the key questions: what motivates your people and how does that align with your employer proposition? The tool we’ve used for this is the Chiumento Career Motivation model – which breaks employees into five motivation types.

To get high happiness scores you need a strong alignment between what an organisation offers (ie their proposition) and what their employees want for themselves. It’s the basic law of career management.

Some employment relationships made in hell include:-

  • Achievers – who thrive on development, challenge and personal growth – recruited into jobs with high routine and repetition and low autonomy. An increasing risk in a world where many graduates are probably doing non-graduate jobs just to scrape by.
  • Materialists – who are primarily driven by extrinsic reward – recruited into median/low pay environments. Materialists are typically the least loyal and most vocally negative in the workforce. Not – as some recruiters would have you believe – the most driven.
  • Protectionists – who value predictability and work life balance – who land a job where the boss hands them a Blackberry and expects them to be on call 24/7.

The link between career management and engagement is unbreakable. Get it right and the miserable ones will dwindle.

So come on UK PLC, what are you going to do this month about the disaffected 58%?

Sarah Chiumento
Chief Executive