Rebecca Cassels from Curtin University talks to Ross about a new study showing that older workers are happiest at work
Older workers happiest at work
Ross Greenwood: First up on Work, Life, Money, this week. I’ll tell you what. What is it most people say? “If I could make a fortune; if I could win the lotto, I’d give up work tomorrow”. Really? You’d give up work. Why? Work is so much fun. Well, the right work. I’ll tell you there is a difference though. I think sometimes, if you work because you want to and not because you have to, the choices you make in how you work, where you work, and why you work, actually also change.
Now, the other thing about happiness, because this is what it all boils down to, is whether you’re satisfied and happy and challenged, all those things. Because what do they say? “Happy wife, happy life”. That’s what they always say anyway. But it’s also true that if you got a great job that you love, guess what? You’re probably going to bounce out of bed that little more vigorously than if you’re really not happy with the people you work with or indeed, the circumstances of your employment.
Now, this has been borne out saying, in fact, that people who are aged over 70 in the workplace are three times happier at work compared with younger people. In other words, if you want a happy employee, employ someone who’s aged over 70. Now this study has been done by Curtin University in WI. The report author is Rebecca Cassells, who is on the line right now. Rebecca, hello there. How are you?
Rebecca Cassells: Hello.
Ross Greenwood: Are you happy with your job?
Rebecca: I think I’m reasonably happy with my job.
Ross Greenwood:: Really?
Rebecca: At the moment having a chat to you about happiness and happiness at work, a very important subject.
Ross Greenwood:: Why did you do the study in the first place?
The importance of being happy in the work place.
Rebecca: Well, we spend such a lot amount of time at work each day and lots of our lives, daily lives, are spent getting up out of bed, heading to work. We need to know what makes us happy at work. Because we’re there for such a long time, along part of the day, we need to be in an environment that’s going to be good for us.
Ross Greenwood:: Why did you want to track the happiness of individuals in the workplace? What was that about?
Rebecca: Well, if we can work out what it is about a job or a person doing a job that is going to make them most satisfied in the workplace, then it’s going to be beneficial for a number of people, both the individual and their own well-being, but also the company or the business that they’re working for and the business imperatives for that organization. Organizations that have happy workers, they’re going to be more productive and they’re going to be more innovative and they’re going to have a better bottom line really.
Ross Greenwood:: Who, according to your study, are the least happiest of all the workers in the workplace today?
Rebecca: Well, we actually found that people living in the West, West Australians, are the least happy. Also, people working in big companies compared to the small businesses or working for themselves, and people working in the private sector as opposed to the public sector or the not-for-profit sector.
Ross Greenwood:: Okay. We can break that down a little bit, I guess. People working for big companies might sometimes feel as though they’re overworked, and that they’re put into boxes and can’t get out of those boxes and maybe also the cost pressures. There are people in Western Australia are going to get that because unemployment rights are now much higher in W8 than they are in other parts of the country. I think these are some of the issues that we’re — you can almost identify why it is a person might feel unhappy or unsatisfied. In other words, if you’re stuck in a boxed, told don’t go anywhere — by the way, there’s not much in the way of pay rises around the place or in incentive, that doesn’t necessarily create a happy environment. Does it?
Rebecca: That’s exactly right. I think the other component driving that finding for Western Australia is the long hours that people who are in the labour force tend to be working. West Australians will work the longest hours on average compared to other states and territories, around 46 hours a week. Which is really going to impact upon your happiness because it’s very difficult then to balance all the other things you need to do in life: work commitments, balancing the family’s life, whatever else you have to do outside of work. It’s going to really be a compromise between hours and the pay you receive but also the flexibility that you have in your job.
You can’t really have it all necessarily in a job, but can you try to have a little bit more of a satisfied working life. I think employers can also do the same for their employees if they put a few different policies and processes in place. I think one of the things that was really interesting around this report actually is that being able to work from home. Those people who could do a little bit of work from home each week were much more likely to be satisfied with their job, overall.
Ross Greenwood:: I thought it was really interesting there too, because you say 46 hours a week. I was tempted to actually say, “What, only 46 hours a week? Is that all people are working?” Given my crazy life. But the one thing that you did mention there, and I think this is real, and that is flexibility. My job is incredibly flexible. You wake up in the morning, you don’t quite know where you’re going to be, who you’re going to meet, where you’re going to finish the day. I accept I know I will end up in a radio studio somewhere. But the truth is, if there is flexibility, and even occasionally, if things get a bit quite you can whip home stick on the washing or go on have lunch or do whatever you need to do. These things can be a little bit important in terms of quality of life.
Rebecca: Most definitely, and we’ve seen that. Again, if you’ve got the workplace flexibility, and not all jobs unfortunately can offer that workplace flexibility. But there’s so many pressures on us these days now to try to balance everything we need to. We’ve got commuting travel times eating into our day, which is also going to-
Ross Greenwood:: Got to be nightmare if you’re doing a big travel everyday, that would be a nightmare. Why is it that you think people aged over 70 are happier in the workforce than maybe people who are much younger?
Rebecca: It’s a really fascinating result actually, and I think one of the most intriguing ones. But we do have those, aged over 70, 60% of those said they’re very satisfied in their job now. If you’re 70 plus in the workforce, it’s an unusual circumstance in itself, so you’re staying there not out of necessity but because you love what you’re doing. On the other end of the spectrum, we saw that the younger generation, the Gen Y and the Gen X, they’re quite dissatisfied in their working life. Only around say 28%, 25% reporting being very satisfied in their jobs. That’s a big difference between the youngest and the oldest generations in the workforce.
The young generations do, of course, have those additional pressures that older workers don’t have anymore. They’ve probably already paid off their mortgage or about to see their mortgage completely out of the way. Their kids have flown the nest, hopefully. And they’ve done all of that combining work and life and now they’re just got the work to deal with. They’re staying on in the labour force because they actually like what they’re doing.
Ross Greenwood:: I’d tell you what, it’s a really interesting subject this one. I’m sure the research will continue as well. Rebecca Cassells is from the Curtin Business School, the Curtin University, and is an associate professor there. I reckon that’s a good study. You got to stay happy. Let’s be honest, that’s why you’re around the place. Isn’t it? to be happy. If you’re really genuinely dissatisfied, you’ve got to change. You’ve got to find something else to do. Rebecca we appreciate your time here on the program today.
Rebecca: Thanks for having me.