Do You Know What's Upsetting Your Employees?

Do You Know What's Upsetting Your Employees?

Roughly 3 in 4 employees acknowledged feeling happy at work (75 percent of women and 74 percent of men), but that overall satisfaction might be tied to more than exciting team-building activities. While research shows compensation alone won’t make employees happy, those who felt they were compensated fairly were more than twice as likely as people who were unfairly compensated to be happy at work. Salaried compensation (80 percent) versus hourly compensation (68 percent) was also an important factor in employee happiness, in addition to their position on the company ladder. Higher job titles might come with more responsibility around the office, but people in senior-level or management positions (86 percent) were more likely to report being happy at work than those in mid-level (76 percent) or entry-level (75 percent) positions.

Age may play a role in employee satisfaction as well. Baby boomers still reported being the happiest employees overall (85 percent), and although Gen Xers (75 percent) and millennials (72 percent) were harder to please, 77 percent of Gen Zers were happy at work.

A Pleasant Advantage

What you do for a living may be equally as important as where you work and the culture your company has cultivated. For women, the happiest employees worked in professional, scientific, and technical services (90 percent), and men in financial and insurance services reported the highest level of contentment (86 percent).

While happiness may differ from one employee to the next, there’s no denying that feeling fulfilled in the work you do can lead to better satisfaction overall. Compensation, scheduling, and enjoyment are all important, but so is connecting work to your core values, being well-suited for the work you do, and having room for growth. Similarly, experts suggest confidence is often fundamental to happiness in the workplace. Employees with a lower sense of self-esteem may find it more difficult to identify their passions, as well as fail to take risks or set proper goals compared to people more confident in themselves.

Not all industries may inspire happiness at work, though. Women working in retail were the least likely to be happy (55 percent), compared to men who said the same about administrative and support services (60 percent).

Trickle Down Effect

People in management and other leadership positions were more likely than entry-level employees to be happy with their jobs, and that happiness may have far-reaching consequences. Many analysts agree that being a good manager means finding a balance between work and people. Of course, how much of the job is about skill set and technical ability and how much of the job is about empathy and communication remains to be seen.

Bosses with poor communication skills were one of the leading factors in workplace unhappiness. Compared to just 34 percent of employees who felt their management lacked a strong communication capacity but still felt happy with their job, another 58 percent were unhappy. Communication is often considered fundamental in establishing better employee relationships, encouraging productivity, and helping to support multigenerational relationships. Bosses who were unqualified to manage their employees, showed favoritism, and had unrealistic expectations were also more likely to trigger unhappiness in the workplace.

It Starts at the Top

The multigenerational aspect of the workplace is considered one of the biggest challenges, and with Gen Zers coming into the fold, that challenge could become even more complicated. Employees of different ages often prefer different styles of communication, collaboration, and motivation, making it increasingly difficult for leaders to manage expectations and obligations.

Gen Zers were more likely to be happy with their jobs than Gen Xers and millennials; they were also more likely to be happy despite being upset by their managers. Compared to just 51 percent of baby boomers and roughly 75 percent of Gen Xers and millennials, 83 percent of Gen Z workers expressed having poor relationships with their bosses but being happy regardless. The biggest issues concerning Gen Zers were unrealistic expectations (36 percent) and a lack of training for new hires (30 percent). Poor communication skills from managers ranked as the most irksome behaviour by millennials (28 percent), while showing favoritism was the most worrying to Gen Xers and baby boomers.

Too Much Time Together

The average person spends over 90,000 hours at work throughout their lifetime, meaning it’s possible you could see more of your co-workers than you do your friends and family. While respondents identified behaviours from their managers that could impede workplace happiness, they also had opinions on the behaviours of co-workers that could have a similar impact.

A lack of productivity among co-workers might be the most likely to tank workplace happiness. Compared to 31 percent of employees who were still happy despite unproductive co-workers, 56 percent of unhappy employers were upset by this. Experts suggest confidence can be a key factor in both job performance and productivity, particularly among younger employees. When employees experience “imposter syndrome,” feeling unqualified or unprepared for their positions, they might suffer from diminished self-efficacy and confidence. According to our survey, employees who felt their co-workers were arrogant, unqualified for their positions, and overly pessimistic or negative were also highly likely to contribute to workplace unhappiness.

Great Expectations

Akin to people who were bothered by their bosses but still managed to feel happy with their jobs, younger employees were also more inclined to forgive poor relationships. Compared to just 61 percent of baby boomers who were upset by their co-workers but still happy with their place of work, 80 percent of millennials and 78 percent of Gen Zers said the same.

While younger employees may have disagreed on the behaviours they least enjoyed from their managers, they did agree on the most aggravating actions by their co-workers: talking excessively. In contrast, both baby boomers and Gen Xers identified participating in office gossip as the reason they were most likely to be bothered by their co-workers.

Striking a Balance

Feeling stressed at work and enjoying your job isn’t always mutually exclusive, particularly when you feel emotionally invested in the work you do. For people passionate about reaching their professional goals, stress may come with feeling motivated to get ahead. According to some experts, it isn't that you feel stressed that’s especially bad for your physical or mental health – it’s how you manage that stress that makes the difference.

More than 2 in 5 happy employees working in education and training, information technology, health care, sciences, and retail also acknowledged feeling stressed. In three of these industries – retail, health care, and education – working on the weekends could trigger stress, a concern that commonly leads to feeling job burnout. Toxic work culture was also more common among people working in information technology and accommodations (15 percent each) and health care (14 percent).

Perks Employees Are Proud of

Pay alone may not be able to make employees happy in today’s working environment, but compensation and benefits are still crucial elements in attracting (and retaining) high-caliber employees. As many as 72 percent of companies offer benefits above and beyond conventional health and financial packages that have become expected over time.

While experts suggest the perks that will have the most positive effect are often tied to the age and generation of employees, we found a few benefits were more likely to be linked to happier employees than others. The most important benefits were traditional offerings: health insurance (82 percent), paid vacation (62 percent), paid holidays (54 percent), and 401(k) plans (50 percent). More specialized benefits were also identified as being important to happy employees. A casual dress code (24 percent), flextime (21 percent), and paid maternity and paternity leave (20 percent) were essential benefits.

Finding Your Work Vibe

If you wake up Monday morning dreading the workweek ahead of you, you might not want to write those feelings off. If you’re unhappy with your job, your performance will suffer, your productivity will drop, and your relationship with your co-workers could worsen – not to mention the damage you could be doing to your home life by enduring an unhappy or toxic workplace.

As we found, employees often linked their happiness to a variety of factors, ranging from benefits and compensation to specific behaviours from their bosses and co-workers. Employees of different generations often had different expectations for what made a positive working environment, and concerns from younger employees were often linked to success and productivity, reinforcing the importance of confidence and self-esteem in the workplace.

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We surveyed 1,059 people who actively worked in a variety of industries about their happiness in the workplace. Survey answers were recorded January, 2019. Participants who were not actively working in each industry were excluded. Breakdown of participants surveyed:

Respondents ranked happiness on a scale of 1 to 7 (with 7 being extremely happy) which have been grouped by level of happiness.


This survey relies on self-reported information from employees. Problems with self-reported responses include telescoping, selective memory, and exaggeration. This is important to remember when reviewing survey results, as this data was not statistically tested and relies solely on self-reported survey responses.

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