Content Clergy, Satisfied Solicitors, and Bitter Barmen

15 October 2014. Published by William Jones, Senior Associate

A recent study by the Cabinet Office has found that the Solicitors' profession is the 44th most content in the UK*. We will all be pleased to hear that accountants trail behind at 45th.

Will Jones blog

On first glance, it is hard to find a unifying factor or any correlation between the types of job at the top and bottom on the rankings. What variables make for a happy employment?

American psychologists Keyes, Shmotkin, and Ryff published a paper in 2002 in which they explored the existence of happiness on two axes. The first type they identified was "Subjective Well-Being" or "Hedonic" happiness. The second was "Psychological Well-Being" or "Eudaimonic" happiness.

The first type (let's call this "Type A" happiness) is well illustrated by the following example. Imagine you have just scooped tens of millions of pounds from a Euromillions rollover. You find yourself reclining on a lilo in your favourite sunny destination. Your fruity alcoholic beverage of choice is just an arm's reach away, and the poolside radio is playing a marathon of that band you like. You don’t have a care in the world. Bliss. Now consider what it would be like to live perpetually in that circumstance. The lack of achievement, creation, and pursuit would make for an unedifying, depressing existence.

The second form ("Type B" happiness) is more existential and can be demonstrated by reference to the type of happiness that is gained as a bi-product of work. Picture a moment in your career in which you have toiled over a long period of time, and been rewarded with a good result, or particularly high praise and self-affirmation. The joy of a "job well done" and the feeling of achievement and purpose is a discrete form of happiness distinct from Type A. Experiencing solely Type B happiness would leave you fulfilled, but it would not satisfy the sort of superficial, vacuous happiness available over a few free drinks at Club Tropicana!

In a workplace context, the following variables are likely to influence Type A happiness:

- Variety of work

- Creative Freedom

- Level of responsibility

- Volume of work

- Status

- Workplace culture

- Affability of colleagues

- Work/life balance

Type B happiness would likely be affected by:

- Complexity of work

- Level of feedback

- Level of responsibility

- Duration of work

- Tangibility of work output

- Purposefulness

Arguably, the level of remuneration is a distinct third type of happiness. It is certainly true that people are willing to compromise on some degree of happiness in exchange for more money. However, I would suggest that remuneration is encompassed by Type A and B happiness. Those who treat money as a goal or an achievement will equate a large salary with Type B happiness. Those who derive happiness out of the accumulation of money, and the goods/experiences it facilitates, will experience Type A happiness. After all, it is money that allows the Club Tropicana epitome of Type A happiness to become a reality - at least for 25 days of the year.

The Happiest

Unsurprisingly, the occupations that have been ranked as the happiest possess a high degree of both Type A and Type B happiness. Take the following professions from the top 20:

- Clergy

- Chief executives and senior officials

- Medical practitioners

- Farmers

- Fitness instructors

Patently, these professions are very dissimilar in terms of the nature of the work that they entail, and the salaries that they command. On first consideration they don’t appear to share any common traits that could explain their mutual job satisfaction. However, from a Type A happiness perspective, all of these occupations involve creative freedom, as the individuals are to an extent their own bosses and are therefore unencumbered when choosing a particular path or making a decision. Another unifying feature is that the jobs all involve variety and the application of an expertise. The expertise also gives the occupations a status within society which feeds into the professionals' pride and happiness.

From a Type B happiness perspective, and with the exception of the clergy, the jobs all create a tangible quantifiable output. What's more, there is a direct relationship between the work itself and the fruits of that work. Whether in the context of a CEO's bottom line, a farmer's crop yield, or a fitness instructor's client base, the better the professional performs, the greater the output. Another point is that the jobs are all either physically or intellectually demanding, thereby increasing the sense of achievement and self-affirmation at the end of a working day. Furthermore, medical practitioners and the clergy possess a clear discernible purpose which further entrenches feelings of self-affirmation.

The Saddest

The following occupations are sourced from the 20 lowest ranked jobs by satisfaction according to the survey:

- Window cleaners

- Bar staff

- Debt, rent and other cash collectors

- Parking and civil enforcement occupations

- Telephone salespersons

Whilst there was no correlation in respect of remuneration for the happiest jobs, the least happy occupations are all at the lower paid end of the spectrum. 34% of the 50 worst paid occupations appear in the bottom 50 occupations for job satisfaction. Low remuneration is not symptomatic of, or synonymous with, unhappy jobs; rather it is more likely to coexist in occupations that cause unhappiness for other reasons.

The nature of the work and the working environments of the jobs listed above are less likely to cultivate Type A happiness. The work is more likely to be monotonous, and without any freedom of opportunity for creative input. In respect of Type B happiness, debt collectors, parking wardens and telephone salespersons are often at the receiving end of negative feedback from the general public, and this will likely harm perceptions of purpose and the likelihood of self-affirmation.


Whilst it is hardly ground-breaking that occupations that identify themselves as "happy" are likely to have something to be happy about – it is interesting to delve deeper into the underlying cause of that happiness. High level remuneration does appear to stave unhappiness in work, but real satisfaction seems to be rooted in the exercise of challenging work with the freedom and ability to make decisions (Type A happiness) that have a direct and material effect on the quality of a tangible work-product, which in turn produces self and third party recognition (Type B happiness).

So next time your alarm clock triggers an existential and occupational crisis, remember this – we legal types are in fact relatively fortunate.

*However, "Legal Professionals" come in at a miserable 108th place!

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