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This page was published on 08/08/2006
Published: 08/08/2006

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Published: 8 August 2006  
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Job satisfaction key to happiness, EU study reveals

Europe's labour market is in a state of flux, with workers feeling strained by tighter deadlines and increasing workloads. Ageing populations are likely to add to the stress, and even stress-related health problems. But job satisfaction, says the EU-funded Epicurus study, is the key to contentment. 

Happy in work, happy in life. © PhotoDisc
Happy in work, happy in life.
© PhotoDisc
The Greek philosopher Epicurus famously wrote to Menoceus that “…we must meditate on what brings happiness, since if we have that, we have everything. And if we have not, all our energies are directed at gaining it.” He would be surprised to learn that, contrary to expectations, Europeans are happiest when they are satisfied at work, followed by satisfaction with their family lives and their time spent on leisure pursuits.

These were the unusual findings of the three-year pan-European study of societal and economic effects on quality of life and well-being, carried out by EU-funded researchers in the project named after the philosopher. Several UK newspapers, including the The Daily Mail and The Times, picked up on this unexpected turn.

“Career fulfilment provides workers with the means to maintain life satisfaction, according to our results,” lead researcher Ioannis Theodossiou of the Centre for European Labour Market Research (UK) is quoted in the Scottish daily The Scotsman as saying. This comes as sobering news, as evidence comes to light of an alarming rise in stress-related illnesses among employees working in high-pressure jobs with tight deadlines. And yet the labour market is demanding more flexibility, mobility and versatility from European citizens, as it restructures itself to meet shifting socio-economic realities.

“The effects of socio-economic status and working patterns on individuals' quality of life and well-being is an issue of policy concern and deserves attention,” note the researchers in their key findings based on the studies in Britain, Denmark, France, Greece, the Netherlands and Spain.

Perhaps less surprising…
Other notable results of the study include the uncomfortable relationship between job satisfaction and education level. The better educated respondents generally expressed significantly lower levels of satisfaction at work. Wages are also considered to have a positive impact on job satisfaction across all countries surveyed, but “rising expectations” tempers the result.

The type of work performed and employment status are also factors determining the level of contentment at work, and inevitably at home. Those working on a part-time basis by choice are generally happier than full-time workers and involuntary part-timers. Rotating shift work and a top-down approach to rostering are not favoured by European employees.

People living with disabilities and illness are also grateful for the opportunity to work part time. “If labour markets accommodate individuals who are unable to work full time due to ill-health, there will be a direct gain for society in terms of lower transfer payments, as well as … increased satisfaction and well-being of the sick or handicapped workers,” note the researchers.

Perhaps more surprising, team working is not as popular as employers might think. “This potentially reflects the employee's beliefs that teamwork negates their decision-making independence [and] individuals loathe the free-riding that takes place within teams,” the results suggest.

Among the remaining findings, loyalty on both sides of the employment equation is highly valued, and employees express a strong desire to retire early (between 55 and 60), which could be a major headache for European economies given the potentially shrinking labour force as the baby-boomers reach retirement. The results, presented to EU officials and decision-makers at a recent conference in Brussels, will be used to help shape future employment policy.

Epicurus, news sources

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See also

Epicurus website
Epicurus fact sheet (FP5 project, Danish Research and Innovation Info Service, CORDIS)
The Scotsman

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