Because I'm happy

Happiness in IT: Work-life balance ranks as most important to job satisfaction

Jane Elizabeth
work-life balance
Hipster Businessman image via Shutterstock.

What does it mean to be happy at work? According to recent research, it probably doesn’t have much to do with how much money you make.

What does it mean to be happy at work? The Indeed Hiring Lab has some pretty substantial research that points to a few things. Using 10 million company reviews on Indeed, researchers looked at reviews for overall job satisfaction as well as in specific categories like management, compensation, and workplace culture.

The conclusion? Work-life balance was the number 1 consideration for job happiness worldwide, followed by management, culture, and jobs security /advancement. Shockingly, compensation was consistently ranked as the least significant factor contributing to job happiness.

Work life balance is important for tech jobs, since tech workers are so easily prone towards burnout. More research from UC Berkley suggests that burnout is defined by exhaustion, cynicism, and a sense of inefficacy.

As the Dalai Lama said, “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”  People report higher levels of job satisfaction if they are working at a job they feel is making a difference or solving a problem. Perhaps that’s why engineers routinely rank as some of the happiest workers in the world.

SEE MORE: Burnout amongst developers: an industry disease? 

Money doesn’t buy you happiness but it sure helps

It’s true. Money can buy you happiness. Sort of.

There was a ground-breaking worldwide survey by Gallup published back in 2010 on the relationship between income and well-being. According to the researchers involved, there are two distinct but related concepts when we think of happiness. These are “life satisfaction” and “enjoyment of life”. Overall life satisfaction and day to day emotions tend to get conflated when we think about happiness, but there are some crucial differences.

Income tends to be the obvious and standard measurement of “happiness” by people around the world. People can’t help but compare their lot to whatever the local ideal is, i.e. a house with a white picket fence and two cars in the garage. Money can help with material prosperity – that new car, a bigger house, a fun vacation. Richer people report higher levels of “life satisfaction” than those with a lower income.

“When people evaluate their life, they compare themselves to a standard of what a successful life is, and it turns out that standard tends to be universal: People in Togo and Denmark have the same idea of what a good life is, and a lot of that has to do with money and material prosperity,” said Professor Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University.

Surprisingly, there is very weak correlation between income and “enjoyment of life”. The day to day positive emotions have little to do with what’s in your bank account and more to do with other psychological and social factors, such as feeling respected, strong social support, and working at a fulfilling job.

Diminishing returns

So money helps. For one thing, money can be exchanged for goods and services. But then, why does compensation rank so low for work satisfaction? Well, there’s more research on that.

The Princeton scientists responsible for the happiness research dug a little deeper and found that there’s a “specific dollar number or income plateau, after which more money has no measurable effect on day-to-day contentment.”

The magic income is roughly $75,000 a year. As people’s income rises, their day-to-day happiness rises as well. But once they hit $75k, the effect wears off.

Obviously, there’s some leeway in this number due to differences in local costs of living. New York is an expensive place to live, so its magic number is correspondingly higher. But the point that there’s a plateau on happiness derived from income is an interesting concept to consider.

Jane Elizabeth
Jane Elizabeth is an assistant editor for

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