😡 What Makes Employees Unhappy?
Approximately 75% of employees are frustrated with their managers, with nearly 1 in 5 saying they experience personal attacks or unkind remarks.
Employees are the core of every business, and keeping them happy can lead to more successful outcomes. Happy employees are more productive, more creative, and more likely to stay at a company long term.
But today’s employees aren’t happy — they’re exhausted, stressed, angry, or bored at work. We found that nearly 60% of workers feel some negative emotions about their job, with nearly 1 in 4 feeling only negative emotions.
Placating disgruntled employees should be a priority in today’s workplace. More than 47 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs in 2021 in search of living wages, better benefits, and healthier working conditions. A toxic company culture characterized by discrimination, verbal abuse, and poor work-life balance has fueled this Great Resignation of American workers.
To learn more about what makes employees unhappy, we asked 1,000 full-time employees in the U.S. about their biggest frustrations in the workplace.
We learned that traditional incentives such as high pay and good benefits are important, but today’s employees work best for businesses that respect their mental health and personal boundaries.
😫 Employee Unhappiness Statistics
- The No. 1 reason employees are frustrated with their managers is because of unclear communication (31%), followed by micromanagement (27%) and favoritism of other employees (27%).
- Fewer than 1 in 3 workers (32%) say they are expected to respond to employer communication only during normal business hours. The rest are expected to respond before or after work hours, on weekends, or during paid time off.
- Nearly 1 in 5 employees (19%) say they experience personal attacks or unkind remarks from their managers.
- Nearly half of workers (46%) say discrimination, prejudice, and harassment is a problem at their workplace.
- Employees cite pay gaps (35%), racism (33%), and sexism (30%) as the three most common issues.
- Although 1 in 3 workers (31%) spend more than four hours a day in meetings, about 1 in 5 (19%) feel uncomfortable taking breaks because their employers may view them as unproductive.
- 1 in 8 employees (13%) say their employer explicitly discourages them from taking breaks.
- About 70% of Americans who work in an office would prefer to work remotely at least some of the time.
- About half of full-time remote workers (47%) do not want to return to an office.
- Although a majority of employees (51%) report more than 15 days of paid time off, about half (49%) use 10 days or fewer each year.
- Roughly half of employees (48%) don’t use all of their PTO because they are concerned it will have a negative impact on their careers.
- Nearly 1 in 10 workers (9%) don’t receive any PTO. Of those who don’t have PTO, a majority (56%) say it negatively impacts their mental health, and 40% say it causes negative emotions toward their employers.
- Only 24% of employees are offered at least the 12 weeks of paid family leave that experts recommend.
- Nearly half of Americans (46%) receive one month or less of paid parental leave, while 1 in 5 have none at all.
- A majority of workers (56%) would take a salary decrease if it would guarantee they’d be happy at work.
- 1 in 6 employees (16%) would take a pay cut of $20,000 or more.
75% of Employees Are Frustrated With Their Managers
Our data proves the old adage true: “People don’t quit companies. They quit their managers.”
Good leadership is considered very important to 61% of employees, but 75% are frustrated with their managers. The No. 1 cause of frustration among employees is unclear communication (31%), followed by micromanagement (27%) and favoritism of other employees (27%).
Employees who have a positive relationship with their managers are more likely to be loyal, collaborative, and productive in the long run — but too often, supervisors are responsible for creating an environment of fear that makes workers unhappy. Nearly 1 in 5 employees (19%) say they experience personal attacks or unkind remarks from their managers, and 1 in 7 (15%) experience harassment or bullying.
That criticism carries over into performance reviews, with 1 in 5 workers (20%) saying their managers tear down their confidence and negatively impact their self-esteem during reviews. As a result, nearly one-fourth of employees (23%) feel stress, dread, or anxiety when they have a performance review.
1 in 8 Workers Are Discouraged From Taking Breaks
Managers who use cruel and negative feedback to incite hard work may actually accomplish the opposite. Poor performance reviews can cause employee productivity to nosedive. Supervisors may try to course correct by working employees to the brink of burnout.
About 1 in 8 workers (13%) say their employers explicitly discourage them from taking breaks, and more than one-fourth (28%) say they regularly work through lunch.
Although 1 in 3 employees (31%) spend more than four hours a day in meetings, 1 in 5 (19%) feel uncomfortable taking breaks because their managers may view them as unproductive.
These bad-boss behaviors can quickly cause employees to become disillusioned, leading to lost productivity and higher turnover rates.
2 in 3 Employees Are Expected to Answer After-Hours Communication
Employees are expected to communicate promptly and effectively, even when their managers do not. More than one-third of workers (37%) are asked to respond to employer communication as soon as it is received — regardless of whether it’s actually during normal work hours. Furthermore, managers require employees to reply:
- Within a specific time frame (35%)
- In the morning before normal business hours (23%)
- In the evening after normal business hours (19%)
- During approved time off (19%)
- On weekends (19%)
- On holidays (16%)
Fewer than 1 in 3 workers (32%) say they are expected to respond to work communication only during normal business hours. Among those employees, 32% have no frustrations with their managers, a 33% increase from the overall respondent pool (24%) — indicating that clear communication boundaries can improve employee happiness.
Employees who worry they’ll be viewed as unreliable or unproductive may find it difficult to disregard messages from a supervisor after hours. However, a workplace culture that expects employees to monitor and respond to work communication at all times chips away at work-life balance and contributes to chronic stress, leading to a generally unhappy environment.
Workplace Discrimination Is a Problem for 45% of Employees
Discrimination in the workplace has been illegal for decades, but data shows it still happens. Nearly half of employees (46%) say discrimination is a problem at their workplace, with Black employees 19% more likely than white employees to identify it as an issue.
Black employees tend to experience discrimination at higher rates than other racial groups. For instance, pay gaps are a problem for 35% of all employees, but Black workers (26%) are twice as likely as white workers (13%) to report poor salaries.
This mirrors national data that shows Black men earn 87 cents to every dollar a white man makes. Although Black men tend to work in industries that generally pay less, when Black and white men with the same education and experience perform the same work in the same location, Black men still earn less — 98 cents to the dollar white men earn.
Pay gaps also exist among different genders, with women earning 80 cents to every dollar a man makes. The difference is even greater among Black women, who collect just 63 cents to the dollar white men earn.
In addition to lower pay, women are more likely to experience hiring prejudice and unwanted sexual advances at the workplace. They are also more frequently passed over for a promotion. As a result, women are 17% more likely than men to say sexism is an issue at their workplace.
In addition to pay gaps (35%), racism (33%), and sexism (30%), employees cite these issues in their workplace:
- Weight discrimination (25%)
- Homophobia (24%)
- Ageism (22%)
- Religious discrimination (22%)
- Transphobia (20%)
- Nepotism (20%)
- Ableism (17%)
No one wins when discrimination is a problem in the workplace. While employers could face expensive litigation costs, workers may experience negative impacts to their mental health and job satisfaction. That’s why nearly half of employees (45%) say a workplace that values diversity, equity, and inclusion is very important.
More Understanding of Discrimination in the Workplace Is Needed
The research shows that many workers don’t fully understand diversity, equity, and inclusion. Employees have vastly different perceptions of what constitutes discrimination and how widespread it is in the workplace.
Among employees who did not identify discrimination as a problem at their workplace, 38% say it’s because they have never personally experienced or witnessed discrimination. This view is particularly common among white workers, who are 74% more likely than Black workers to cite this as a reason for the absence of discrimination.
When employees don’t personally experience prejudice, it may be difficult to realize how others are excluded. Discrimination often exists in subtle and implicit forms, and it’s an everyday reality for many workers.
Furthermore, about 1 in 8 workers (13%) say discrimination isn’t a problem for their companies because they have a very homogenous workplace — yet a homogenous workplace can actually be a sign of discriminatory recruiting and hiring practices.
Job postings, for example, may use pronouns and adjectives that deter applicants of a certain race or gender from applying. Recruiters may also rely exclusively on homogeneous networking and sourcing. Employers can reduce hiring bias and increase diversity by removing barriers to entry and expanding their applicant pool.
Three-Fourths of Employees Would Prefer Some Remote Work
Despite predictions that many jobs would remain fully remote after COVID-19 lockdowns lifted, only about 21% of Americans currently work from home full time. That number is down from 54% in May 2020 but still a big leap from the 6% of workers who were fully remote before the pandemic.
About half of employees (47%) who work remotely full time do not want to return to an office in any capacity. Those who have returned to an office haven’t necessarily done so by choice: About 70% of office workers would prefer to work remotely at least some of the time.
The percentage of in-office employees who would prefer to work remotely has risen 44% from 2021, when only 48% of office workers said they would rather work from home.
The increase is likely due to greater awareness of the advantages of remote work. Employees who work virtually not only save time and money from not commuting, but they also enjoy time away from bad managers and toxic workplace environments.
Despite a strong desire to work remotely, more than 1 in 4 employees (28%) say their companies have “poor” or “absent” remote work options.
Half of Employees Fear Taking PTO Would Negatively Affect Their Careers
Good benefits are very important to nearly 60% of employees, but 1 in 6 (16%) say they have a poor-quality benefits package or don’t have benefits at all. Paid time off (PTO) is one of the most commonly offered and highly regarded benefits.
Full-time employees accrue an average of 16 days of PTO, excluding paid holidays, after one year of service, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, half of survey respondents (49%) receive less than that amount.
Nearly 1 in 10 full-time workers (9%) don’t have any paid time off. Among employees who don’t accrue PTO, a majority (56%) say it negatively impacts their mental health, 40% say it causes negative emotions toward their employers, and 25% say it causes burnout. Furthermore, a lack of paid time off makes one-third of employees (33%) want to quit.
About 51% of respondents report accruing more than 15 days of PTO, but nearly half of them (49%) use 10 days or less annually. Of those who underutilize their PTO, roughly half (48%) are concerned that taking time off would negatively impact their careers, despite studies showing time off actually boosts productivity.
No business can succeed when its employees are mentally and physically exhausted. Taking time off provides an opportunity to recharge, but employees can’t reap the benefits if they’re too worried to use the time they’re given. Managers often reinforce this anxiety when they don’t encourage or approve time off requests.
Of those who didn’t use all of their paid time off in 2021:
- 20% were concerned about the negative impact on their career growth.
- 19% were concerned about falling behind at work.
- 18% say their manager discouraged them from taking time off.
- 15% say their manager didn’t approve their PTO.
75% of Employees Receive Fewer Than 12 Weeks of Recommended Paid Family Leave
Paid family leave has been shown to reduce infant mortality, increase newborn immunization rates, and promote parental bonding that’s crucial to childhood development — but the U.S. is the only developed country in the world without a national paid leave policy for mothers.
The United Nations Children’s Fund recommends that new parents take at least six months away from work when they welcome a new baby, while the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Pediatric Policy Council both support 12 weeks of paid, job-protected leave.
Only 24% of U.S. employees are offered at least the recommended 12 weeks of paid family leave, though. Nearly half of Americans (46%) receive one month or less, while 1 in 5 (19%) have no paid parental leave at all.
Some U.S. workers are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, but national studies show many don’t take this time off because they can’t afford to.
Modifying the law to include paid leave would provide more support for low-wage workers, non-white employees, and unmarried mothers who are historically less likely to take time off because of economic hardship.
Half of Employees Would Take a Pay Cut to Be Happy at Work
A good salary is very important to 64% of employees, but for many workers, an unfulfilling job in a toxic environment isn’t worth a fat paycheck. A majority of employees (56%) would actually accept a salary decrease if it would guarantee they’d be happy at work — with nearly 1 in 6 (16%) saying they’d take a pay cut of $20,000 or more.
Although traditional incentives such as higher wages and better benefits remain important, today’s employees prefer a workplace that prioritizes good leadership, work-life balance, and opportunities for growth.
Besides salary, the top five factors that contribute to job satisfaction include:
- Good leadership (61%)
- Good benefits (59%)
- Good work-life balance (56%)
- Opportunities for career growth (52%)
- Positive company culture (51%)
Although some workers are satisfied with their company’s efforts to cultivate a positive environment, the employee experience isn’t uniform. Black employees are 47% more likely to say that important benchmarks for job satisfaction are missing from their workplace.
Most notably, Black workers are 58% more likely than white workers to report that their workplace doesn’t value diversity, equity, and inclusion. They are also 31% more likely to say their workplace doesn’t have many opportunities for career advancement — an assertion supported by studies showing they are underrepresented in senior roles.
Furthermore, Black Americans experience more microaggression than their white counterparts. That may make it more challenging to form workplace friendships, which Black employees are more than twice as likely (130%) to say are absent from their workplace.
The proprietary data featured in this study comes from an online survey commissioned by Real Estate Witch. One thousand Americans who are employed full time were surveyed Feb. 10-12, 2022. Each respondent answered up to 21 questions related to their workplace experiences.
About Real Estate Witch
You shouldn’t need a crystal ball or magical powers to understand real estate. Since 2016, Real Estate Witch has demystified real estate through in-depth guides, honest company reviews, and data-driven research. In 2020, Real Estate Witch was acquired by Clever Real Estate, a free agent-matching service that has helped consumers save more than $82 million on realtor fees. Real Estate Witch’s research has been featured in CNBC, Yahoo! Finance, Chicago Tribune, Black Enterprise, and more.
What makes employees unhappy?
Approximately 75% of employees are frustrated with their managers, and nearly 1 in 5 say they experience personal attacks or unkind remarks. Learn more.
What percentage of employees are unhappy?
About 60% of employees feel some negative emotions about their job, with nearly 1 in 4 feeling only negative emotions. Learn more.
Why don't employees use their PTO?
Of employees who underutilize their PTO, roughly half (48%) are concerned that taking time off would have a negative impact on their career, despite studies showing time off actually boosts productivity. Learn more.
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