It's official: work makes people happy, says ONS


The UK’s first national subjective wellbeing report published this week highlights the positive effect of having a job on people’s ‘happiness’.

The Office of National Statistics has published three articles reporting progress in the Measuring National Well-being programme: Where we live; Health; and Subjective Well-being.

In addition, ONS releases an article setting out the domains and measures, which will be henceforth used for assessing well-being, based on extensive consultation summarised in an associated report, which is also published.

Glenn Everett, Programme Director for Measuring National Well-being Programme said: "By examining and analysing both objective statistics as well as subjective information, a more complete picture of National Well-being can be formed. Understanding people's views of well-being is an important addition to existing Official Statistics and has potential uses in the policy making process and to aid other decision making."

A good example of this is provided by the first annual experimental subjective well-being results. These show that 45% of unemployed people rated their 'life satisfaction' as below seven out of 10. This is over twice as much than for employed people, 20% of whom described their life satisfaction as below seven out of 10. This illustrates additional effects of unemployment on people, over and above material dimensions that can be measured objectively.

ONS has considered 1,800 responses to the consultation on proposed domains and headline measures and have issued a revised set of measures for monitoring National Well-being. Today's release includes interactive tools that allow local area mapping and distribution analysis of the subjective well-being data.

This is a long-term development project with more results to come in November 2012, including a 'state of the nation' report 2 years on from the launch of the programme.

'Where we live' highlights that a higher proportion of adults who owned their own property, either outright or with a mortgage, reported a medium/high level of life satisfaction (around 8 out of 10) than those with other tenures (around two thirds or 68%).

During the national debate about Measuring National Well-being the most common response from people about what affected their well-being was health. Those that report that they have health problems do not always report low levels of life satisfaction: about two in five report a medium or high level of life satisfaction. Similarly those who report good health do not always report high levels of life satisfaction: about 1 in 5 reports a low or very low level of satisfaction with their lives.

But separate analysis by the CIPD suggests the finding that work affects happiness, only holds true if people are managed well and engaged with their work.

The CIPD's Employee Outlook survey includes the four subjective wellbeing questions asked by the Office for National Statistics. The survey of more than 2,000 employees found that employees who agree they trust their senior managers and feel they are consulted about important decisions have much higher levels of wellbeing than those that disagree.

For example, employees who strongly agree that senior managers consult them about important decisions score a mean of 7.8 against the question 'Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?' compared to a mean of 5.7 among respondents that strongly disagree. In the same way, employees who are engaged (i.e. are prepared to go the extra mile for their organisation) score a mean of 7.5 against the question of 'Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?' compared to a score of 6 for employees with neutral engagement. Engaged employees are also significantly less anxious than those with neutral engagement or those who are disengaged.

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said: "Today's data highlights the importance of having a job to people's overall sense of wellbeing, however our analysis highlights that it is the quality of people management that will really make the difference if work is to really help underpin people's 'happiness' and resilience. Getting more people into work should boost national happiness - but there's also a huge amount more happiness to be had if people who already have jobs can be managed better.

"How people are managed on a day to day basis is central to their wellbeing beyond the workplace. Good managers spend time coaching and developing, providing high quality feedback, and rewarding and recognising good performance. Managers also need to have an interest in people as individuals and where possible provide flexibility and support if they are going through difficulties in their lives outside work."