Gaps widen in latest workplace happiness index

A study of 300,000 people from Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the US and UK provides a global outlook on the state of people’s working lives throughout 2023.

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New data from a large-scale study of employee engagement and overall happiness at work reveals what matters to employees.Against a backdrop of global inflationary pressures and cost of living crises, concerns over pay are a consistent theme in the WorkL research, particularly for Generation Z – those born around the turn of the millennium until 2012. Seven in ten employers believe that there is a significant gap between what employees expect to get paid and what they can offer as an employer.It also finds workplace engagement declining for Generation Z, and an increased 'fight risk' for certain demographics – particularly for people with disabilities – according to the report from WorkL.

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‘Demographic power balance shifting’

WorkL, an employee engagement data platform, reports falling engagement for the youngest workplace demographic over the last 12 months; decreasing from 71% in 2021 to 67% in 2023.Remote working and fewer opportunities to socialise and exchange knowledge with colleagues in the office could be a factor, as well as the cost of living and the need for purpose and shared values with their employer.In response, four in ten employers have introduced mentoring, which is also supporting the half of employers that believe Generation Z is not entering the workplace well-equipped with the skills and knowledge needed for their roles.Commenting for WorkL at the roundtable launch of the report, journalist Kamal Ahmed pointed out that, “Gen Z is the Covid Generation, whose education, relationships, work life and mental health were upended by the pandemic.”It is also the generation likely to be worse off than their parents over their lifetime; that has less than one month’s income in savings; is experiencing the largest falls in real wages as rising prices bite; and has made the fewest passive gains from home ownership, while seeing the goal of home ownership become more distant as house price increases outstrip growth in real incomes.“The worries of Generation Z are very different from the worries of Generation X, and the power dynamic is moving from the latter to the former,” concluded Kamal Ahmed.Employers that recognise this demographic tipping point – and other key workplace trends highlighted in the report – are best placed to address recruitment and engagement challenges.The soon-to-be-launched 2024 Think Global People & Relocate Awards, which this year takes flexibility and choice as the overarching themes across the nine categories, celebrate such creativity and intentionality around successfully aligning all employees' needs with strategic goals.

Global perspectives on recruitment, retention and engagement

WorkL’s ‘Global Workforce Report 2024’ is based on data collected throughout 2023 on six key areas: reward and recognition, instilling pride, information sharing, empowerment, wellbeing and job satisfaction. Respondents were also able to make free-text comments.The report highlights themes and responses by geography and across all working-age groups.Overall, inclusive cultures and practices that boost belonging and happiness for everyone are revealed as important responses to workplace challenges and that motivate employees.

The UK

The UK in 2023 lagged other countries overall on engagement. Its score of 70% is one percentage point lower than the global average (71%). Rising inflation means pay is a concern for the UK’s workforce, with ‘better pay’ used most by UK employees to describe what could improve their workplace happiness. Employees in the UK are also feeling the burden of the recruitment gap. Employees identified ‘more staff’ as something that would help improve their working lives, illustrating the acute cost pressures many employers face and the impact on talent recruitment and retention. The hospitality industry in particular this year continues to experience a recruitment gap.Amid ongoing conversations around the introduction of disability pay gap reporting, disabled employees in the UK are feeling additional pressure. WorkL’s measures around ‘Flight Risk’ and ‘Wellbeing Risk’ show “a very high flight risk in the UK for people with disabilities” at 37%. This is significantly higher than the score for people with no disabilities (28%) and higher than the global Flight Risk score of 32% for people with disabilities.  Cross-bench peer Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, one of Britain's most successful paralympic athletes and inclusion campaigner who helped launch the report at a roundtable, commented how thinking differently about what disability in the workplace means is the only way to make progress on these figures.“One of the things I feel very strongly about, and it’s probably rich coming from me as a Paralympian and an ex-athlete, is when people tell me 2012 changed the world,” said Baroness Grey-Thompson. “The [London] Olympics in 2012 were stunning, but they did not change the world for disabled people in any way shape or form.“The South Bank in London is a bit more accessible and we now have lifts at Kings Cross and Green Park and a few other things. But the reality is only a third of London’s tube stations are accessible. While it's important that we talk about employment, we have to think about not just disabled people, but the social model of disability and impairment, and actually ask ourselves what are companies doing, not just to open their doors, but to really shift the dial.”


Inclusion is also a key issue in Ireland, where people identifying as LGBTQ+ have significantly higher than average Flight Risk at 38%, compared to the LGBTQ+ global average of 32%. Similar to the UK, employees with disabilities in Ireland have a higher than global average Flight Risk of 34%, which is two percentage points higher than the global average for this measure.


With an Engagement score of 75%, the country outperformed 2023’s global average (71%). The US economy also outperformed expectations in growing economic output, labour market resilience and slowing inflation. This favourable financial climate is likely behind the USA’s strong score on Engagement in WorkL’s index.   


Working in Australia comes with a relatively lower Wellbeing Risk when compared to other countries, such as the UK. The country’s overall Wellbeing Risk is 31%: two percentage points lower than the UK (33%) and the same as the global average (31%). The Flight Risk score for disabled employees in Australia is 34%, two percentage points higher than the global average of 32%, suggesting a greater likelihood of disabled employees leaving their jobs.  

New Zealand

Workplaces here saw employees post a positive Job Satisfaction score of 73%, slightly higher than the global average score of 72%. Employees in New Zealand also appear to be empowered with an Empowerment score of 74%, one percentage point higher than the global average of 73%. Older New Zealanders are more than likely to be happy in their job with those aged 65+ having an Engagement score of 77%, marginally higher than the global average for this age range (76%).

Wellbeing and happiness gaps

With both International Women’s Day and UK gender pay gap reporting deadlines in the coming months, the global benchmarking study shows some positive findings on Wellbeing Risk. For men, this figure improved in 2023, falling five percentage points from 32% to 27%. Yet for women, this figure stayed at 32% and increased with age.Founder and CEO of Mumsnet and Gransnet, Justine Roberts, commented in the report, saying, “Like the gender pay gap, the Gender Happiness Gap reflects the additional pressure on women at home. If employers are serious about tackling the pay gap and the happiness gap, there’s plenty they can do. Flexibility is the number one ask among working parents on Mumsnet. Better paid and longer paternity leave will also help tackle the domestic divide.”People who are disabled also reported higher levels of dissatisfaction and flight risk. This time there is a six-percentage point gap between the global average and this population of employees, suggesting barriers and inflexible approaches remain, and that line management capabilities around leading inclusion practices could be improved.Commenting on the report and its findings, Lord Mark Price, WorkL founder, said, “This snapshot of the state of the world’s workforce is intended to inform and inspire organisations to understand how they can better motivate their employees.Headlines from our annual global report underline the need for employers to support minority employees better. The ongoing struggle people with disabilities face in the workplace is all too apparent in our data.  This report paints a picture of a workforce with a ‘disability workplace divide’ – people with disabilities suffer a high flight risk – they’re more likely to want to leave their jobs than people without disabilities. Similarly, we are also seeing risk to their wellbeing and they have the lowest score when it comes to their confidence in management.”

Read more on inclusion and workplace wellbeing in the latest issue of Think Global People magazine

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