The Great Gloom? U.S. worker happiness is eroding at a record pace. And health care pros most dire of all
BambooHR has been tracking employee happiness levels since 2020. Overall, the quotient has been coming down but never as fast as it has since the start of this year
In spite of a U.S. labor sector that’s grown employment “greener pastures” at a record pace for nearly two years straight, with job openings outpacing available help and wage growth that surpassed inflation earlier this year, a new report finds most U.S. workers are not happy.
And the level of unhappiness in some critical areas, like education and health care, has never been lower.
A new analysis from BambooHR finds employee happiness has steadily declined at a rate of 6% from the start of 2020 through the present. But 2023 has seen a steady and precipitous drop, with a decrease of 9% in eNPS, a measure of employee satisfaction, since January. The rate of decline so far in 2023 is happening at a rate 10 times faster than the previous three years.
Since January 2020, BambooHR has been gathering monthly data from 57,000 employees at over 1,600 companies. The eNPS, or employee net promoter score, tests employee sentiment about their company and what factors those feelings are based on.
The data shows overall employee happiness hit a peak in April 2020, with a 45 eNPS score, as the initial shock of lockdowns faded and more information about the virus — and relief plans — emerged, according to the report. At that time, nearly two-thirds of employees, 63%, identified as promoters, likely out of sheer gratitude as the U.S. unemployment rate soared to a record-breaking 14.7%.
But that “just glad to be working” vibe wouldn’t hold up and BambooHR’s data shows employee happiness reached a low point of the last few years in June 2023, with an eNPS of 37.
In a Deseret News interview, BambooHR head of human resources Anita Grantham said the data belies the wide misconception that employee satisfaction has been on the rise since the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.
“Despite having the worst of the pandemic behind us, people are just more unhappy than they’ve been before,” Grantham said. “Supposedly we have found more work-life harmony. And companies say they are caring for their employees like they never have before.
“But, what have we generated? Unhappiness.”
Report authors point out that the current low happiness quotient may be a reflection of the pandemic’s lingering health and economic effects that continue to disrupt Americans’ lives. They note that around 65 million people now live with long COVID, with symptoms spanning cognitive problems, respiratory issues, and chronic fatigue. And even though real wages for U.S. workers have been on the rise, 61% of Americans still live paycheck-to-paycheck and 21% struggle to pay their bills.
So which workers are registering the lowest marks on the happiness scale?
Of the eight industry categories monitored by BambooHR, health care professionals are rating their job satisfaction at the lowest level with an eNPS score of 31 in June of this year.
Since 2020, health care employee happiness has seen a steep 40% rate of decline and it has only seen even more rapid downward acceleration in 2023.
“The health care industry urgently needs to address the causes of widespread unhappiness—especially the trauma, dissatisfaction, and burnout resulting from the pandemic,” the report reads.
Failure to address the ultra-low morale in the health care industry could lead to a seismic shift in available personnel, according to the report.
An industry report from Elsevier Health released last year found nearly half of U.S. health care workers, 47%, plan to leave their current positions by 2025. And among that group, 39% report plans to leave the health care profession altogether. According to the report, most clinicians, 74%, predict that health care staff shortages will worsen with time.
Not far behind health care workers in the realm of deep work unhappiness are professional educators.
BambooHR’s data finds job satisfaction ratings for educators is at an all-time low, with many feeling overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated. A Merrimack College survey of 1,300 educators conducted last year found that just 12% are “very satisfied” with their jobs. Experts told EdWeek the causes are complex and layered, including “poor workplace cultures, standardized testing and burnout-inducing workloads caused by staff shortages.” On top of that, 74% of the teachers that participated in the survey said they feel unsatisfied with their compensation.
While overall worker happiness is down there were some bright spots in the BambooHR employee data.
Of the eight business sectors in the BambooHR study, which include construction, education, finance, health care, non-profits, restaurants/food and beverage service, technology and travel/hospitality, one industry easily outpaced all others when it came to its current eNPS scores.
While the employee happiness index has fluctuated over the past three years, according to the report, construction workers’ eNPS scores have remained high and topped the list for the first six months of 2023 at 49.
Ongoing work and high wages have helped keep the morale of construction employees high, according to the report.
Grantham said BambooHR’s employee happiness data enables company managers and industry leaders to gain some insight about what is, and is not, working when it comes to keeping employees satisfied and productive in their jobs.
“Happy employees drive happy customers,” Grantham said. “For some, this data will be a wake up call. For others, a help in identifying and addressing problems and providing the tools to reengage.”