Which jobs make us happy? Insights from 10 years of UK labour market wellbeing data
We spend a large part of our lives working, and the time we spend in paid employment is a major factor in our wellbeing.
Yet, despite the UK’s strong track record and history in measuring wellbeing, people are poorly armed with information about the subjective wellbeing associated with a particular job or career.
To help increase access to – and use of – this knowledge, we have looked at 10 years of UK labour market wellbeing data.
Here, Senior Analyst and report author Simona Tenaglia takes us through the key insights.
What we did
We analysed UK data 2012-2022 to explore how:
- wellbeing varies between occupations
- wellbeing changed over time across different occupations
- salary affects wellbeing
- the pandemic affected wellbeing
We looked at all four ONS4 measures (life satisfaction, happiness, anxiety and feeling that the things we do in life are worthwhile) for nine main Standard Occupational Classification occupation types over the last 10 years. Data was taken from the Annual Population Survey and the 2020 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings.
This analysis is part of our work to accelerate wellbeing data analysis, making our own methods visible and transparent, the data more accessible – by making it quicker, easier and cheaper to use – and metrics more widely used. The code is available on GitHub.
It updates work conducted in 2016, which looked at the relationship between gross annual salary in 2013 and mean life satisfaction 2011-2013.
- A positive relationship between gross annual salary and mean life satisfaction, confirming previous analysis.
- Higher life satisfaction and lower anxiety levels when occupation is permanent, regardless of occupation type.
- Higher life satisfaction is reported for those that work at home or adjacent to home, for example in a garage or garden office.
- Findings reflect national population subjective wellbeing data, i.e. a positive trend overall until 2020.
- Managers and Directors present the highest mean levels of life satisfaction. They are also those with the highest percentage of permanent jobs, highest median gross annual earnings, and are most likely to frequently work at home.
- Caring, Leisure and Other Services Occupations present the highest level of feeling that the things they do in life are worthwhile and, during the pandemic, also the highest level of anxiety. They are less able to work from home, have lower median gross annual earnings and lower percentage of permanent jobs. While these jobs provide a high sense of purpose, they also present a high risk of stress and less financial stability.
- Professional Occupations, Associate Professional and Technical Occupations and Administrative and Secretarial Occupations saw a higher drop in high life satisfaction scores during the pandemic. Administrative and Secretarial Occupations are also those that saw the higher increase in high anxiety scores, along with Process, Plants and Machine Operatives Occupations.
Using this data
Occupations are very different, but with this more granular data it was possible to identify differences in wellbeing, as measured by the ONS. One application of these insights is that they allow us to identify which sectors have managed better in response to Covid-19. We can now interrogate the ‘how’ and ‘why’ further to capture learnings to inform future job design, build resilience and bouncebackability.
The insights from these data raise the question of how we make core services sustainable and attractive careers. Here is the hard evidence that we need to address high-risk professions with sector-wide wellbeing strategies, particularly important for growth industries to support productivity and drive the UK economy.
The dissemination and use of this type of metric by business, non-profit organisations and the public sector – which already happens within the Civil Service – will allow those entering the workforce to have relevant information on different careers.
Employers and policy makers can also benefit from this type of measurement, as it can inform risk-based strategies for different sectors and roles, and they can devise interventions aimed at promoting the wellbeing of different groups of workers.
There is ample room for deepening this type of analysis. For example:
- Including additional variables measuring job quality in relation to all five drivers of wellbeing in the workplace.
- Further increasing the granularity of analysis of different types of employment to account for their heterogeneity.
The pandemic has resulted in greater choice about where and how we work, and this is reflected in the data. For employers, these findings can be used in conjunction with the recent Loneliness at Work report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Tackling Loneliness and Connected Communities. This report explores the extent of loneliness at work in the UK and how changes since the Covid-19 pandemic – including the shift towards more home and hybrid working – may have affected this.
The APPG report found that disabled workers, those with long-term health conditions, workers from minoritised ethnic groups, and senior managers report much higher levels of loneliness. There is no simple link between homeworking and loneliness at work; contact with colleagues on its own isn’t enough to prevent loneliness and home workers were not lonelier than those working onsite. Also, changes in working location during the Covid-19 restrictions led to improved relationships for many.
The APPG recommends action in four areas for employers, including ensuring home, onsite and hybrid workers are all supported to develop and maintain work relationships. Read the full findings and recommendations.
Measuring wellbeing in the workplace
Together with the Department for Work and Pensions, in 2018 we developed a set of diagnostic tools that businesses and not-for-profit organisations can use to identify the drivers of workplace wellbeing – and understand which factors may be contributing to higher or lower wellbeing at work in a particular context.
Explore our guidance and resources for measuring wellbeing here, along with our Workplace Wellbeing question bank.