Payspective gives us an incredible overview of how people engage with work. We see how people are rewarded for their exertions, but also how they feel about them. Asking for self-reported ‘happiness’ scores is notoriously difficult, but in a large enough data set (among fairly culturally similar people), we feel they can be used to point to factors that make people happy, or unhappy, at work.

We decided to use our 1500 data points to take a look at whether there were any notable disparities between the graduates of different Russell Group universities. 

Manchester produced the cohort happiest with life at work, reporting happiness 11% above average, closely followed by Birmingham, whose alumni reported happiness levels that were, on average, 9% higher than the rest of their Russell Group peers.

 

If you’re happy and you know it…

 

We were surprised to note huge swings in happiness levels between our Russell Group alumni. Manchester produced the cohort happiest with life at work, reporting happiness 11% above average, closely followed by Birmingham, whose alumni reported happiness levels that were, on average, 9% higher than the rest of their Russell Group peers.

At the other end of the scale, King’s (20% below mean score), Imperial (9% below) & Sheffield (8% below) made up the three universities producing the least happy employees.

 

Money can’t buy you happiness

 

Unhappiness at work was, for most, driven by factors outside of pay.

Interestingly, with the exception of Imperial, the unhappiest universities were only just below mean happiness with compensation (our way of finding out how happy people are with their salaries, as opposed to their overall happiness with work). Conversely, looking back to the example provided by Birmingham graduates, we can see that their alumni were the second happiest in the workplace despite reporting themselves to be 1% less happy with their pay than the Russell Group wide mean. In other words, unhappiness at work was, for most, driven by factors outside of pay. And unhappiness with pay didn’t directly translate into unhappiness with work.

Work hard, play hard?

 

Another surprising figure to drop out of our analysis was that the mean for days worked across all universities was 5.07, meaning that more alumni managed to get sucked into working on some of their weekends than managed to successfully scale down the number of days they worked. The biggest offenders in this regard were those from King’s, working 7.5% more days than the average. Suddenly it starts to make sense that they were the outlier in happiness levels at work!

 

Breaking down time at the office in terms of hours rather than days worked, we again see a more confused picture. Graduates of Manchester and Birmingham work a mean of 46.9 and 51.1 hours in a normal week. Compare this to Imperial and King’s, whose graduates score 52.8 and 47.0 respectively (despite King’s alumni working more on weekends). Both sets of our greatest outliers on the happiness scale score on either side of the Russell Group mean for hours worked (48.4 hours in a ‘normal’ week). In fact, across the entirety of our data set, the correlation between hours worked and happiness at work was a positive 0.04. In other words, there was a weak (and essentially insignificant) positive correlation between working more and being happier at work.

Company culture, expectations and personal relationships with co-workers will all undoubtedly play a considerable part.

All a matter of perception

There is then a question as to why we see discrepancies in happiness levels between universities’ alumni. It might be that our natural inclination to compete with our university peers means that some universities foster a culture in which alumni feel a more unrealistic pressure to achieve. In striving for our unreasonable idealised notion of achievement, we might be putting undue pressure on ourselves and this could moderate how we feel at work. Equally, people from Kings’ might just be naturally miserable…

Looking to our insignificant correlation between happiness and hours worked, it is easy to reason that happiness at work stems from factors other than the amount of time spent at work. Instead, company culture, expectations and personal relationships with co-workers will all undoubtedly play a considerable part.

 

– by Adam

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