The Key to Happiness in the Workplace

Here's what the most content workers in America have in common -- and how you can benefit from it, too.

The Key to Happiness in the Workplace Photo by StudioByTheSea /

The happiest workers in America aren’t salaried or hourly employees. And they’re certainly not working for tips.

They are self-employed folks and freelancers, according to a recent survey. In other words, the happiest workers are those who get to be their own boss.

more than 1,000 workers in the U.S. about what makes them happiest about their employment situation. Happiness was measured on a scale from 1 (“very unhappy”) to 7 (“very happy).

The self-employed — like business owners or freelancers, who often work short-term gigs or do projects for multiple clients — scored highest. Folks who earn a base pay and work for tips on top of it — most of whom work in the food services industry — scored lowest. Specifically, the survey found:

  • Self-employed workers have an average happiness rating of 5.4 out of 7
  • Freelancers — 5.3
  • Salaried workers — 5
  • Hourly workers — 4.7
  • Base-pay- tips workers — 4.3 notes that the base-pay--tips pay structure has been criticized in recent years for not ensuring workers take home a “living wage.” Some states, such as Minnesota, have eliminated it. In Minnesota, employers must pay workers at least minimum wage. They cannot use the fact that employees earn tips to justify paying an hourly rate that is below minimum wage.

What makes workers most unhappy about their employment varies somewhat based on wage structure. The survey found that:

  • Self-employed workers are most unhappy about their job stress
  • Freelancers — job stress
  • Salaried workers — pay rate
  • Hourly workers — job stress
  • Base-pay--tips workers — pay rate and co-workers (tie)

Becoming your own boss

You don’t have to quit your current job to benefit from freelance income. You could start by picking up a side gig.

If you’re not sure what that means or how to go about it, consider these options:

Some 44 million adults in the U.S. work side gigs to supplement their regular paychecks, as we recently reported. Even retirees are freelancing to help stretch their retirement savings.

If you quit your current job entirely to become a freelancer, though, you are likely to enjoy the switch. According to the latest annual “Freelancing in America” report from the nonprofit trade association Freelancers Union, 79 percent of freelancers consider freelancing better than working a traditional job with an employer.

To get started, check out “11 Keys to a Successful Freelance Career.”

What’s your take on worker happiness? Let us know below or on .

Karla Bowsher
Karla Bowsher
I’m a freelance journalist and former newspaper reporter who has covered both personal and public finance. I've worked for a top 50 major metro daily and a community newspaper as well as ... More


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