In November and December 2021, individuals working in the creative industry were invited by If You Could to participate in a 15-minute survey on job satisfaction, work life balance, and mental wellbeing. A total of 380 participants completed the survey. The main findings are highlighted below.
Overall job satisfaction, happiness at work and work-life balance were low
- For example, low levels of agreement were found for feeling a sense of accomplishment from work (45%), happiness with salary (42%), and satisfaction with prospects for career development (34%).
- Higher levels of agreement were found for satisfaction with job security (58%), recognition and appreciation by line managers (61%), and having the freedom to work in a way which suits them (67%).
- Individuals in more junior positions were substantially less satisfied and more unhappy at work than those in senior positions.
- Younger individuals, women and those from an ethnic minority expressed lower levels of job satisfaction and happiness at work.
Employers can help to improve job satisfaction and happiness of employees
- Five key areas of improvement were identified:
o Better management and clear communication;
o Increased pay and appreciation;
o More opportunities for career development;
o Provision of flexible working and healthier work-life balance;
o More creative freedom.
Life satisfaction, happiness and wellbeing were lower than the national average, while anxiety levels were considerably higher
- There were large disparities by job seniority, as individuals from mid-weight and junior positions had lower satisfaction, happiness and wellbeing and higher anxiety compared to those in senior level jobs.
- Job satisfaction was strongly related to measures of life satisfaction, happiness and wellbeing, even after accounting for differences in job seniority.
The ‘Great Resignation’: More than half (58%) of respondents are looking to move jobs in the next 12 months
- Company culture (87%), quality of work (84%), company reputation (53%) and company benefits (52%) are the most important factors when researching potential employers.
- Individuals looked for four key aspects of company culture:
o a friendly working environment;
o a healthy work-life balance;
o a progressive, open-minded and inclusive environment and;
o autonomy with opportunities for growth and development.
Creative autonomy and salary are key motivations to stay with an employer
- The main motivations to stay a job were: creative autonomy (43%) and salary (41%).Clear career progression (25%) and good benefits (20%) were cited by fewer people.
- The most popular work benefit was generous holidays (75%) followed by mental health support (43%), healthcare (42%), educational assistance (34%) and a generous pension package (31%).
- The value of benefits differed across gender, job level, age and ethnicity.
Aside from a salary, people expect work to provide creativity, fulfilment, purpose, and growth
- These findings were consistent across gender and level of seniority.
Job satisfaction and work life balance
Participants were asked how much they agreed or disagreed with a range of statements related to job satisfaction, happiness at work and work-life balance. Figure 1 summarises the findings and shows that most participants agree that if they get the job done, they have the freedom to work in a way which suits them (67%), that their work is recognised and appreciated by their line manager (61%), and that they are satisfied with their job security (58%).
Conversely, only 34% of respondents agree they are satisfied with their prospects for career development, only 42% are happy with their salary, and 45% say that their work gives them a sense of accomplishment. Around half of participants say that they regularly work more than their contracted hours (46%), feel supported by their company in terms of their health and wellbeing (49%), and that their line manager supports them to find a good work-life balance (50%).
Looking at difference between socio-demographic groups, we found differences in job satisfaction by gender, age and ethnicity. Women were less likely to be happy with their salary (39% vs. 50%) and to feel supported by their company in terms of their health and wellbeing (44% vs. 57%) compared to men. Respondents from an ethnic minority were also less likely to be satisfied with their salary compared to white respondents (33% vs. 45%, p<0.05). Respondents aged 40 and over were more likely to agree that they had the freedom to work in a way that suits them if they get the work done (85% vs. 61% of those aged 30-39 and 66% of those aged 18-29). This was also found to be the case among ethnic minorities where 76% agreed with the statement about having the freedom to work in a way that suits them compared to 64% of white participants.
When comparing differences by job role, seniority, working environment and duration of employment with the same company, several differences in job satisfaction were found and are shown in Figure 2. The largest and most consistent differences were by seniority where junior level staff, compared to senior staff were less likely to:
- feel they have the freedom to work in a way that suits them (57% vs. 77%);
- be satisfied with their level of job security (52% vs. 67.2%);
- feel supported by their company in terms of health/wellbeing (47% vs. 61.2%);
- be happy with their salary (35% vs. 58%);
- say that their work gives them a sense of accomplishment (39% vs. 55%);
- and feel satisfied with their prospects for career development (36% vs. 43%).
People working in larger companies (100+) were more likely to report being happy with their salary compared to smaller companies with 1-14 people (50% vs. 37%) and more satisfied with their level of job security and (65% vs.50%). When looking at duration of employment, we found that those who were working in their company for a year or less were more likely to be happy with their salary compared to those working for 1-4 years or 5 or more years (57.6% vs. 33% and 40% This group were also more likely to report feeling supported by their line manager to find a good work-life balance (59% vs. 45% and 48%) and be more satisfied with their prospects for career development (47% vs. 25% and 35%).
People who work remotely, were more likely to report that they have the freedom to work in a way which suits them if they get the job done compared to those with a mix of remote and office working, and those who work in the office (72% vs. 68% and 55.8%). No other differences in job satisfaction were found by socio-demographic, job or workplace factors.
What can employers do to improve job satisfaction among their staff?
1) Management and communication
Around a third of participants suggested that an improvement in management and communication would improve their job satisfaction. There were several aspects related to this which focused on improving project management, team communication and workflow. In addition to giving employees freedom to manage their own workload, these steps were considered essential to ensuring that deadlines and milestones are set and that there are enough people available to meet the objectives which are set and to prevent overworking and burnout.
“Have a more personal connection with staff. A manager should care about more than just the work. Taking the time to get to know your employees is key to a happy team.” Senior aged 18-29
“Less micromanaging and giving me and other less senior roles more freedom to manage our own workload balance” Midweight aged 18-29
Several people suggested that having more one-to-one meetings with their line manager would be helpful to get feedback on their work and as an opportunity to provide support for a project if needed. Many people suggested that hiring more staff or short-term freelance to support teams on projects as and when they are needed would help support employees and get projects completed to a higher standard.
“They should be more interested in my job. I don't think they really know what I am doing or how I am doing it. I feel my supervisors are really not involved or involved only when they hear complaints about me or when I want to talk about my salary. I feel like I don't have a supervisor.” Midweight age 30-39
“More regular check-ins, more positive feedback, fighting my corner to more senior staff for change such as hiring freelancers when it's busy or pushing back when we are given too much to do.” Junior aged 18-29
2) Pay and appreciation
Several respondents suggested that the one thing a company could do to improve job satisfaction is to increase their salary. This was mentioned by around 15% of all respondents with some suggesting this could come in the form of bonuses for when people go above and beyond to complete a project or after a review or appraisal process with opportunities available for promotion. Others suggested that renumeration could come in other forms such as company benefits or more support to work remotely e.g., by providing an allowance to set up a home office or by subsidising travel or overnight stays for when office work is required.
“Better pay that appreciates my contribution to the company.” Midweight aged 18-29
“Pay me for the work I’m doing. My entire career has been spent going above and beyond my white counterparts yet I do not get paid the same salary.” Midweight aged 30-39
Around 1 in 10 people mentioned that appreciation for the work they do is important for their job satisfaction. This was often recognised alongside pay and rewards but also included the way people are treated day-to-day. For example, many respondents simply wrote that they wish for their contribution to be recognised, appreciated, and celebrated. Many spoke about the need to be treated with empathy, to be encouraged to reach their potential and to help people take pride in their work. Aligned with the theme of being appreciated was the need for better job security in the form of longer-term contracts to help establish stability.
“Understand the value of my creativity and be more respectful of my time spent on projects.” Junior aged 18-29
“Providing more positive feedback when it's deserved to members of the team - either throughout the project, at check-ins or once the project has finished. Especially when a lot of extra hours have been put in.” Junior aged 18-29
3) Career development
Around 1 in 10 participants expressed a need for better career development support. Several respondents suggested that this could be achieved by having discussions with their supervisors about the opportunities available for career development and how and what that might look like. Others suggested the need for mentoring to help plan out future career goals and paths available to them. A common suggestion was the desire to have opportunities for specific work tasks to improve their skills and future prospects. For example, several participants requested more challenging work or to be able to work on specific projects to help them develop their skills.
“Proactively provide professional development opportunities for me to grow as a professional. Also provide clarity or a roadmap on routes to progression, whether in promotion, job title or salary increases.” Midweight aged 18-29
“Allow me to work on new challenges that would further my learning and experience” Junior aged 18-29
4) Flexible working and work-life balance
Discussions of flexible working included requests to allow and support remote working and to allow flexible working hours. This includes changing company policy and by providing the equipment needed to make remote working effective.
"Provide clear guidelines to remote working and provide digital equipment and programmes needed to complete day-to-day workload efficiently, with no expectation to use personal equipment or funds.” Midweight aged 18-29
“More of a work life balance like letting us work where we want and flexibility over when we work as long as you complete your designated hours.” Junior aged 18-29
In addition to effective project management to ensure employees are not overworked, and flexible working so that people are able to complete their tasks in a way which suits them, there were several other aspects of work-life balance which were described by participants. These included removing obligations of overtime work, not contacting employees outside of work hours, increasing annual leave, reducing work hours, and shifting to a 4-day working week.
“Better work ethics: strictly no overtime work, realistic deadlines, no juggling too many projects at once. Hiring more, to ensure that everyone works less, and is able to work in a conscientious and relaxed way.” Midweight aged 18-29
“Making sure that I am not overworked and have support for equal work balance life.” Midweight aged 18-29
5) Creative freedom
The majority of the participants are in a creative design role which may explain why several mentioned creative freedom as an important aspect of job satisfaction. Many of the comments simply stated that they would like more creative freedom, to take more risks, work on more creative projects and to be trusted about creative decisions. These suggestions were couched in the knowledge that creative freedom is sometimes constricted due to deadlines, client preferences and work-force capacity.
“Strive creatively, let us push boundaries and experiment instead of having the most corporate clients that set unrealistic deadlines for conscriptive work. Don’t call yourself a creative agency if you don’t allow creativity.” Midweight aged 18-29
Mental Health and Wellbeing
Figure 3 shows the results to the ONS4 questions which asks about how satisfied people are with their life, to what extent they feel the things they do are worthwhile, and how happy and anxious they feel. The average scores were 6.1 (SD=1.9) for life satisfaction, 6.0 (SD=2.1) for life being worthwhile, 6.1 (SD=2.2) for happiness, and 5.2 (SD=2.7) for anxiousness. These scores are considerably worse than the national average taken from April 2020 to March 2021 (satisfaction=7.4; worthwhile=7.7; happiness=7.3 and anxiousness=3.1).2 These results should be interpreted with caution as anxiety and happiness scores vary by seasons and are often lowest in the winter months.
When examining differences in mental health and wellbeing by workplace factors, we found striking differences by job role with more senior members of staff reporting better mental wellbeing. Respondents in senior level jobs compared to those in mid-weight and junior positions were more likely to be satisfied with their life (mean score = 6.6 vs 5.8 and 6.0), feel that the things they do in life are more worthwhile (mean score= 6.6 vs 5.9 and 5.8), be happier (mean score= 6.5 vs 5.6 and 5.9) and report being less anxious (4.6 vs 5.4 and 5.6).
When asking about how often respondents feel lonely, 22% said they never or hardly ever feel lonely, 38% feel lonely occasionally and 40% feel lonely some of the time, often or always. Those in more senior positions were also less likely to report often feeling lonely compared to junior or midweight staff (27% vs 45 and 46%). We also found that those who are working from the office were more likely to report lower levels of life satisfaction (5.8) compared to those with a mix of remote and office working (6.6) and those working remotely (6.1).No differences in the ONS4 measures or the loneliness scaled were found by socio-demographic variables (e.g., age, gender, ethnicity)
The role of job satisfaction in mental health and wellbeing
We found very strong evidence that job satisfaction is associated with mental wellbeing as measured by the ONS4 after adjusting for differences due to gender, level of seniority and working environment: these associations are summarised in Table 1. For example, individuals who were happy with their salary had 1.1 points higher life satisfaction compared to those who were not happy with their salary. Although regularly working more than your contracted hours was not associated with the positive measures of wellbeing (life satisfaction, life worthwhile, and happiness), it was related to higher levels of anxiety. Lower levels of anxiety were associated with feeling supported in terms of health and wellbeing, having work recognised and appreciated, feeling supported to find a good work-life balance, and being satisfied with job security.
When looking at loneliness, we found that being challenged at work to learn new things and feeling like your work gives you a sense of accomplishment were both associated with lower levels of loneliness.
When examining associations between variables in a cross-sectional survey such as this, results should be interpreted with caution as there is potential for reverse causality. For example, someone’s general level of anxiety may impact their satisfaction with their job security, feelings of being supported or of their work being recognised and appreciated.
What do people look for when searching for a job?
More than half of participants (58%) said they were looking to move jobs in the next 12 months with 24% unsure and 17% saying ‘no’. When examining differences by sub-groups, we found that those who have been in their current job for 1-4 years were more likely to be looking for a new job (68%) compared to those who have recently started a new job (46%) or those in a long-term job (50%).
When researching a company, the most important things people look for is information about the company culture (87%) followed closely by the quality of work (84%). Other important areas to research were the reputation of the company (53%) and company benefits (52%). In the free-text responses, many respondent mentioned the importance of salary, options for flexible working, the mission and purpose of the company, and opportunities for career progression.
When comparing differences by socio-demographic and workplace factors, we found that the quality of work was important more to design professionals (88%) compared to business/admin (66%) and those in other professions (80%). We also found that those working remotely were also more likely to think quality of work was an important factor to research (88%) compared to those working in the office (78%). Conversely, design professionals were less likely to research a company’s reputation (47%) compared those in business and management roles (66%) and those in other roles (63%) and that people in smaller companies (1-14 people) were less likely to research reputation (42%) compared to medium-sized (15-99 people) and larger-sized companies (100+ people; 53% and 64% companies).
The only difference in gender we found was that women were more likely to say they would research the benefits package available compared to men (56% vs. 42%). There were some clear differences found by age with younger people more likely to place importance on the website and social media presence. For example, 18% of those aged 18-29 said they would research a company’s website compared to 13% of those aged 30-39 and 3% of people aged 40 and over. Similarly, 7% of those aged 18-29 said they would look for a social media presence when researching a company compared to 2% of those aged 30-39 years and 0% of those aged 40 and over.
What aspects of company culture are most important to you when looking for a job?
1) ‘Friendly’ environment
The most common aspect of company culture that individuals searched for when looking for a job was a ‘friendly’ environment. Two different aspects contributed to the definition of ‘friendly’ environment: 1) a fun, enjoyable and positive working situation and 2) being able to consider colleagues as friends. Individuals highlighted the desire for a kind, welcoming and easy-going environment at work. They believed that having a friendly and open atmosphere would allow them and their colleagues to work well together, without barriers.
“Friendly people, superiors that are approachable and a calm, relaxed atmosphere. A fast paced, hostile atmosphere will never create great work.” Midweight aged 18-29
Many individuals also highlighted their desire to become friends with their colleagues and for these friendships to extend to time spent together outside of work. This included drinks after work, work parties, away days, or regular team bonding activities.
“I think it is important to have a friendship with your colleagues as it makes your day-to- day working life much more enjoyable. It also gives you the chance to be yourself, not have to put a guard up, and be comfortable in your working environment.” Junior aged 18-29
However, not all individuals felt the same; for example, a small number of respondents specifically avoided companies where after-hours drinks at the pub were part of the company culture, while others aimed to restrict the social aspect to maintain clear boundaries.
“A social side (but not too much, I don't want to spend all my free time with my colleagues!)" Senior aged 18-29
2) Work-life balance
The second most important aspect of company culture was having an environment that enabled a healthy work-life balance. While many did not expand beyond what they meant by this, others highlighted that a positive work-life balance consisted of a work culture that did not encourage employees to work beyond contracted hours, allowed flexible working and prioritised employee wellbeing above company deliverables.
“Accepted flexible working for everyone. Employee welfare is a priority. For me, this means not being expected to work beyond contracted hours.” Senior aged 30-39
Individuals wanted a company culture that recognised their welfare and wellbeing and had an open attitude to mental health including mental health support in the benefits offered. It was common for individuals to want to be prioritised as people first, and employees second.
“Just an understanding of supporting work life balance and sincere understanding of the pressures. I’m not afraid to work hard, but I have been placed in positions where I shouldn’t have been left to deal on my own, or pushed to burn out.” Senior aged 30-39
3) Progressive, open-minded and inclusive
Consistent with wanting the company culture to recognise their wellbeing, individuals also highlighted that they want a company that is progressive, open-minded and inclusive. This includes internal aspects such as diversity in staff, inclusive company policies, and a commitment to progressing and learning both as a company and as individual employees. Individuals valued a supportive and collaborative culture, where there was transparency and honesty and they felt both appreciated and respected for their work. Companies with a clear hierarchical structure were criticised and avoided, with many individuals expressing their desire to join companies with ‘flat’ or non-existing hierarchies.
“A flat-ish hierarchy, access to senior leadership and an ‘all in this together’ approach rather [than] layers of management structure”. Midweight aged 30-39
The desire for a progressive and open-minded culture also extended to external client- facing work that is innovative and ethical; many wanted to work for a company that was socially responsible and undertook work that aligned with their individual values (e.g., climate change, gender equality, sustainability).
“Clear ethical values and attention to sustainability towards people and environment is what I’m looking for in a company” Junior aged 18-29
4) Autonomy with opportunities for growth and development
While most individuals expressed their desire for a ‘friendly’, team-cantered, inclusive, non-hierarchical work culture, there was a clear desire for autonomy. Interestingly, it was common for individuals to appeal for a work culture that encourages teamwork and collaboration, while allowing creative freedom and autonomy. Many individuals spoke about avoiding work cultures with senior staff that ‘micro-manage’.
“Flexibility and trust in terms of working location and timings, appreciate an ‘as long as the work gets done how it’s done is up to you’ culture and high level of autonomy for senior/specialist staff." Senior aged 30-39
Individuals valued a company culture that prioritised the growth and development of their employees. This included specific technical training, persistent learning within the team, career mentoring, transparency of salary increases that reflect both time and performance, and opportunities for progression within the company.
Figure 4 shows how participants responded when they were asked which benefits, they would value from an employer. The most popular benefit was generous holidays with more than three quarters of participants selecting this option. This was followed by mental health support (43%). Healthcare (42%), educational assistance (34%) and a generous pension package (31%).
There were several differences found by socio-demographic and workplace variables in which benefits are valued, particularly for age and job level seniority; this is summarised in Table 2. For example, a generous pension package was more valued by those aged 40 and over (49%) compared to those aged 30-39 (36%) and those aged 18-19 (25%). This difference by age was also reflected in job level with 20% of junior staff, 30% of midweight and 39% of senior staff valuing a generous pension package. We found that a generous pension package was more valued by ‘other’ professions (49%) compared to those working in design and creative jobs (24%) and business or management jobs (40%).
There were similar differences by age and job seniority in the value placed on generous parental leave and childcare services. We found that generous parental leave was valued the most by those at a midweight level (25%) and senior level (22%) compared to junior (10%), and by those aged 31-19 (28%) compared to those aged 18-29 (17%) and those aged 40 and over (10%). Childcare provision was also more important for those at a senior (14%) compared to midweight staff (5%) and junior staff (4%), as well as those aged 40 or more (15%) compared to those aged 30-39(13%) and those aged 18-29 (3%). We also found that childcare provision was more valued by those with a mix of office and remote working (15%) compared to those working remotely (8%) or those working in the office (4%).
There were several other key differences by age with younger participants expressing a greater value for mental health support (50% of 18-29 vs. 38% of 30-39 vs. 27% of 40+) and team excursions (22% of 18-29 vs. 10% of 30-39 vs. 15% of 40+). Similar results were found by both age (10% of 18-29 vs. 3% of 30-39 vs. 0% of 40+) and job level seniority (10% of 18-29 vs. 7% of 30-39 vs. 3% of 40+) for preference for membership deals.
There were a few differences found by ethnicity, with ethnic minorities more likely to value health care more than white participants (52% vs. 39%), whereas white participants were more likely to value gym membership (14% vs 6%) and generous parental leave (23% vs 11%) compared to ethnic minorities.
In terms of gender, only one difference was found and that was for women to value generous holidays compared to men (80% vs 66%). Looking at how long people have been employed at a company, we found that generous holiday more important to those employed for a year or less (86%) compared to those working for 1-4 years (70%) and those working in a company for 5 or more years (65%).
The role of work in life
Figure 5 shows the most popular words used to describe what people expect work to provide in life apart from their salary (participants were asked to provide three). The most commonly used words were ‘creativity’, ‘fulfilment’, ‘purpose’ and ‘growth’, followed by ‘security’, ‘progression’ and ‘challenge’. Appendix 2 contains these results stratified by gender and seniority. Overall, the words used were similar across all groups with some subtle differences. For example, looking at the top 15 words show that women prioritise ‘progression’ and ‘support’ whereas men mention ‘stability’ and ‘freedom’. When looking at job level, those in junior positions mentioned ‘support’, ‘stability’, ‘happiness’ and ‘community’ more than those in senior positions, who prioritised ‘satisfaction’, ‘security’ and ‘learning’.
We identified low levels of job satisfaction, unhappiness in work and poor work-life balance. Compared to national averages, we also observed lower levels of satisfaction and happiness in life, lower scores on finding life worthwhile and higher levels of anxiety levels. Happiness and satisfaction in work are strongly associated with happiness and satisfaction in life, indicating that employers can improve workplace wellbeing in order to improve the overall health and wellbeing of their employees.
Junior staff expressed significantly lower satisfaction and happiness than senior staff across most of the metrics, indicating that younger individuals and those just beginning their career are a particularly vulnerable group. As working patterns, traditions and culture have shifted over the last decade (and last two years), individuals have recognised the need for a healthy work-life balance, collaborative teamwork, communicative management, and more creative freedom. The desire to feel appreciated and recognised underlies these important aspects of work culture, whether through career progression opportunities, better pay, valued as a team member and positive team dynamics.
Consistent with global trends and other sectors, the majority of individuals are seeking to leave jobs within the next 12 months. This mass change has been named the ‘Great Resignation’ by economists and is driven by the COVID-19 pandemic in several ways. Primarily, individuals are weary of how they were treated by their employer during the pandemic. Negative experiences such as furlough, being laid off, poor flexibility regarding childcare and illness, increased stress and higher expected working hours, and little prioritisation of safety and wellbeing have all contributed to this. The importance of a positive company culture, a healthy work-life balance and financial security (via fair pay and opportunities for progression) are more important than ever to individuals. For some, the pandemic has caused a change in priorities; this may include changing working patterns to allow childcare, greater awareness of mental health and wellbeing, and desire to have a career that contributes meaningfully to the world.
To retain current employees and to attract and retain new employees, companies must improve their working environments and prioritise the wellbeing of their staff. This includes creating a company culture that encourages a healthy work-life balance and prioritises the welfare of all staff, improving management and communication, giving individuals more creative freedom and ensuring salary reflects appreciation and recognition of one’s work. Individuals want to join a company where the culture is collaborative and friendly, where the company is progressive, open-minded and inclusive and where the individual employees are given autonomy and opportunities for career development.
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