If you seek happiness, try living off a captain or a tiled wall. But choose to be a judge, a housing officer, or a theme park attendant, and be prepared for a certain amount of pain.
Groundbreaking research into the “full earnings” of UK workers (which attempts to factor in benefits and cash earnings) has revealed that the reality of the working day undercuts the jobs where wage benefits are undermined and the jobs that offer the greatest return in addition to wages.
The research, conducted by leading academics at the London and Paris Schools of Economics, shows that the best jobs are marked by autonomy and provide satisfaction through the completion of tasks, while the worst jobs include roles where employees are attacked by other people’s problems – whether they are Customer service, management or benefits officer.
It also claims that income inequality in the UK – already the worst in Western Europe – is a third larger than previously thought when well-being is taken into account, creating a hidden “real income” gap.
“The worst performers in this widening gap tend to be women and minorities, while the winners tend to be white men,” said Andrew Clark, a professor at the Paris School of Economics.
The study was co-authored by Maria Kotofan and Professor Richard Layard, a pioneer in the “economics of happiness” and co-editor of the World Happiness Report, which compares average life satisfaction in the UK Ranked the 24th happiest country.
Scholars monitoring well-being in Europe and the United States are increasingly concerned that traditional economic indicators — such as gross domestic product (GDP) — underestimate the extent of social divisions, threatening political stability. They point to a surge in anti-government protests in recent years in Britain, the United States, France, Italy and Spain, and analysis shows that voters’ feelings about their income are a better predictor of whether they will vote for or against Brexit than their actual income.
At the top of the “total income” list are elected representatives such as CEOs and members of Congress. Building and construction industry executives, plasterers, floorists, wall tilers and decorators also came close to the top of the list for their reported life satisfaction, despite having less cash income. When well-being is considered, pilots, flight engineers, ship and hovercraft officials join the ranks of high earners such as sports and fitness trainers.
Jobs where a lack of happiness reduces overall income include call center workers, lawyers, IT support staff, local government managers and hospital porters, kitchen assistants, bar staff, wait staff and theme park attendants.
“Career is one of the most important decisions an individual makes,” the study concluded.
Clark said workers with autonomy, managerial roles, skills or jobs in the public service tended to have higher full pay.
“Working in health and education has a reward for doing good,” he said. “Sales and customer service suck. There’s definitely no inherent reward for selling something.
The study used data from the 2014-18 Office for National Statistics annual census of full-time employees aged 18 to 65 – a sample of 210,000 people. The people were asked to rate their “life satisfaction” on a 0-10 scale, from “completely dissatisfied” to “completely satisfied.” Earnings are measured in real hourly earnings, and each person is assigned to one of 90 different occupational categories.
“Some low-wage occupations, such as customer service, store clerks, and low-skilled labor, also have the worst non-monetary aspects, resulting in full earnings that are less than real earnings,” the researchers found. “Once the value of amenities is factored in, some primary construction and Agricultural workers earn more in full.” The latter finding may indicate the benefits of outdoor work.
Findings suggest that there is also satisfaction in seeing work done – something decorators and tilers often enjoy. Their construction site colleagues, steel fitters, bricklayers and carpenters all earned less. They also point to the negative effects of a lot of passive jobs like call center operators and kitchen porters.
People with degrees have higher overall incomes than people with only A-levels, GCSEs or lower. Those with higher education also had smaller differences in average life satisfaction, reflecting greater inequality in welfare among those with less education.
Ways to reduce hard cash inequality include taxes and higher minimum wages, Clark said, while stronger unions could help improve wider well-being if they succeeded in improving working conditions more broadly.
Three people share what they get from work
Cruise captain: ‘The bridge will turn orange and red with the sun’
“Days at sea sitting on the bridge are breathtaking,” said P&O captain Robert Camby, who has worked in the cruise industry for 27 years and is about to take the helm of Arvia, a cruise ship in the Caribbean and Mediterranean. The new 5,500-passenger behemoth. “You get turquoise waters, clear blue skies. We sometimes go straight into sunset and the bridge turns orange and red with the sun.”
Captaining the ship, he said, was like a “toy boy” – although he stressed that there were also female captains. “We can also work with a diverse team. We have 50 nationalities and we can learn about so many cultures.”
The job is also managing director of the ship, which has a theatre, spa, galley, engine room and a crew of 1,800. To passengers, the captain is a bit of a celebrity, showing up at shops and events. “It’s like walking around your own town and you’re the mayor,” he said.
The main challenge is the weather, and he recently had to dodge 9-meter waves from Storm Younis. “As far as the wind goes, it’s pretty scary,” he said, but he got the boat safely to Southampton.
Overall, the job was “very rewarding,” he said.
Decorator: “I really enjoyed finishing these properties”
Hanging £600-a-roll wallpaper in the homes of footballers and old-fashioned millionaires can be a stressful business; any mistake can cost a fortune. But Adam Bown, 38, says the satisfaction of getting a job done well is huge. He runs Cheshire-based Divine Decorators, which put the finishing touches on multimillion-pound homes in the county’s wealthy “Golden Triangle” area.
“Room remodeling is a really satisfying part of the job,” he said, adding that he understands why decorators rank so high on the happiness index. “A lot of what we do is visible. No one really appreciates a boiler on the wall, but they appreciate nice wallpaper.”
Bowen painted and decorated football players such as David Beckham and Sergio Aguero. He said: “I really enjoy finishing these properties. It’s a good business; not much physical, but enough to keep you fit. It’s a very detailed job and I really enjoy building well with clients Relationship.”
Kitchen Porter: ‘My family is my main thing’
When Keilon Richardson, 25, worked as a kitchen porter at Fat Duck, emptying overflowing bins was the worst part of the job. He worked 11 hours at Heston Blumenthal’s three-Michelin-star restaurant in Bray, washing dishes, pressing boxes and cleaning.
Despite being one of the most thankless jobs in the restaurant industry – George Orwell described kitchen porters as “slaves of the modern world” – Richardson wasn’t unhappy, even when faced with chefs who “really screwed up” ‘s thickest pan.
“I’ve never been afraid to go to work,” he said. “As long as the workload is reasonable, I focus on the people around me.” He likes to get recipes from chefs — pasta and ribs, rather than the restaurant’s famous specialties like snail porridge — and try theirs at home family.
“Work is a necessary process,” he said. “My family is the most important thing to me. Every job I take on, I take it to heart.”