Almost two years post lockdowns, the dynamics of “work” have changed dramatically – and perhaps indefinitely. While many people have returned to offices, others have continued on remotely, whether fully remote or pivoting back-and-forth between home and office.
Remote workers make up a significant percentage of the working population. In a recent CivicScience survey tracking from January 2022 onward, nearly one-third (31%) of employed U.S. adults report they work remotely, while the remainder work at an office or location.
Like all things in flux, everyone is still figuring out the lay of the land when it comes to remote work. As people rethink jobs and re-enter the workforce in a tight labor market, one valuable area for employers to pay attention to is job satisfaction.
Remote work may seem appealing to many, attracted by greater flexibility and presumably a better work-life balance. However, a deep dive into remote work and job satisfaction suggests that remote workers are significantly – and surprisingly – more likely to report lower levels of job satisfaction.
CivicScience has been tracking job satisfaction levels for years, asking respondents to self-report how “happy” they feel in their current job. When cross-analyzing recent data with current work status, results show that more than half of remote workers report some degree of happiness in their jobs. Yet 42% are “unhappy” in their jobs – exactly twice that of “on-site” workers.
Of course, this is concerning for the future of remote work. What’s behind these numbers? Getting into the “why” requires first taking a look at demographics.
Remote Worker Demographics
To start, remote workers are more likely to be younger when compared to people working at an office or physical location. Gen Z and Millennial employees make up a sizable portion (42%) of the remote worker respondent base, versus 22% of the on-site workforce, which is more likely to be dominated by people ages 45 and older.
That said, a startling 68% of Gen Z (18- to 24-year-old) remote workers report they are unhappy in their jobs. That’s compared to 36% of Gen Z on-site workers. Millennial and young Gen X remote workers also report significantly higher levels of job unhappiness.
Remote workers are more likely to earn $50K or less per year. This makes sense, considering that younger employees earn less on average. At the same time, they are slightly more likely to make $150K or more annually, perhaps due to the types of high-paid work that can be done remotely (such as some management and tech positions).
CivicScience data show that lower income earners tend to report lower levels of job satisfaction. Therefore, it’s expected that a large pool of young remote workers would account for lower job happiness levels compared to on-site workers. However, this is only true to an extent. Survey results consistently show lower job happiness levels for remote workers in each income bracket – including $100K+ earners.
So while income certainly plays a role, it alone does’t fully explain why remote workers are more likely to report lower levels of job satisfaction.
Digging deeper into job dissatisfaction among remote workers requires taking a look at work-life balance. Past studies have already shown that remote workers are more likely to work while sick, because they can. But what does that mean for quality of life and concerns such as employee burnout and turnover?
First, the good news: top-line data show the majority of workers are “somewhat” to “very” satisfied with their work-life balance, although remote workers report slightly less satisfaction than on-site workers.
However, as with the previous findings, satisfaction varies wildly with age. Young remote workers are considerably more likely to report a poor work-life balance, far exceeding the average – 36% of Gen Z say they are not at all satisfied with their work-life balance, compared to just 12% of Gen Z on-site workers. Millennial remote workers are also more likely to report a poor work-life balance. Inversely, Gen X and Baby Boomer remote workers are more likely than their on-site counterparts to feel they have a satisfying work-life balance.
The dataset further emphasizes how drastically work differs across the working population. And it supports other ideas about how remote work is disproportionately impacting young workers.
Finally, remote workers are overall more likely to report experiencing feelings of stress, but it’s on-site workers who report stronger levels of stress.
Data also indicate that younger on-site workers experience the greatest levels of stress. Considering the nature of service industry jobs, medical jobs, and first responders, that’s understandable. Remote workers are more likely to hold tech, sales, and other professional/managerial positions.
Stress is not a leading indicator of job satisfaction among remote workers. While some may experience more stress in certain jobs, overall, job satisfaction is tied more intimately to other factors.
Rather, the surveys suggest that work-life balance is key to deciphering job happiness among remote workers. Employers stand to benefit from better understanding what this means to their employees – especially to young workers just beginning their careers in an unprecedented situation.