A new survey reveals the happiest workers in Europe all share this career

Image: Reuters/Jemima Kelly
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To hear European politicians tell it, the masses are unhappy. Hence the growing appeal of populist movements calling for the reinstatement of jobs for “locals” and linking social and economic problems to immigration. But talking to European workers themselves can tell a different story: High levels of optimism across a whole range of professions and countries.

That’s particularly true for tech workers, according to a survey of 10,000 European employees released by ADP, a US human resources company. Europeans who worked in IT and telecoms scored top in all the measures of job satisfaction, confidence and happiness at work in the survey, which was conducted in July 2016. They were most optimistic about the coming five years, felt most supported by their companies, were most satisfied with their current roles, and suffered the lowest amount of stress. When it came to work-life balance, 89% said theirs was good.

The delight apparently experienced by tech workers contrasted most sharply with workers in retail, catering, and leisure, who tended to score lowest—only about two-thirds of people in that sector were satisfied with their current role, for example. Healthcare workers, meanwhile, were most stressed, with a fifth saying they were stressed at work every day, and too much.

But even the less happy workers say they’re far from desolate. Over two-thirds of people in all the industries surveyed felt generally contented, taking all the questions on satisfaction into account. That was the same across all the eight countries covered by the survey—the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Poland, and Switzerland.

Research has found that people tend to be happiest at work when they feel they’re developing, noted Jeff Phipps, managing director of ADP in the UK. He said that one reason why IT workers might feel more contented was that the nature of their work requires constant learning and updating of skills. The survey seems to bear that out: A massive 90% of that sector’s workers said they felt they had to skills needed to do their job. Workers in both retail and sales were 11 percentage points less confident in their skills.

But there could also be simpler reasons. Technology is an expanding sphere that requires specific skills and has to pay for them. Retail and leisure, meanwhile, tend to employ younger people in less highly-skilled jobs, to pay them less, and have less need to retain them.

But those high levels of satisfaction experienced by tech workers in Europe may not be true for the profession worldwide—they stand in stark contrast with recent reports of unhappiness among US tech firms, most notably at Amazon (paywall.)