Feeling unhappy at work? You’re not alone

Over half of Canadians are unhappy at work, a new survey finds—and even more feel unsuited to their jobs

If you’re spending your days staring out the window and longing for the weekend, you might be surprised to learn you’re not alone. According to a recent study by specialist recruitment firm Hays Canada, roughly half of Canadians are unhappy at work. What’s more, “workplace fit” was identified as the number one reason employees left a job (voluntarily or not.)

Hays defines “workplace fit” as the match between people, workplace practices and their expected social behaviours. It breaks down the term into four major factors: ethics, social behaviour, office conformity and the ability to connect with a team’s working style. Think an introvert in a noisy open-concept office, or an employee with a dark sense of humour his superiors don’t appreciate. According to the study—which surveyed 2,500 employers and employees—Canadians are consistently prioritizing a higher paycheque over a job they’re actually well-suited to.

While 86% of respondents believed workplace fit was essential to contentment and success at work, only a third felt confident with their own fit at work, while another third said they had no idea whether they were a good match for their job at all.

Rowan O’Grady, President of Hays Canada, attributes these findings to a fundamentally flawed hiring process. “The recruitment process is set up to fail when it comes to fit,” he explains. “From a candidate’s point of view, it’s set up as a competition. If you get offered the job, you’ve won the competition. It’s extremely difficult to turn down a job offer, especially if it’s a job with significantly more money. And in situations where the candidate takes the job only for the money, the majority of the time it does not work out well.”

When it comes to employers, 49% admitted to hiring someone they felt was ill-suited for the position, a decision that they reported costing them anywhere between $10,000 to $100,000 in the long run.

At the time of hiring, both employers and employees ranked work ethic as the most important qualification for any position. Yet, both also rated social incompatibility as the main cause of termination. O’Grady sees this as a lack of proper prioritization when it comes to selecting the right candidate for the job. “People tend to prioritize tangible things—skills, experience, references—over fit. The problem is, these things don’t always signal whether an employee is right for a job.”

He believes that employers and potential employees need to get to know one another in a non-interview context, in order to determine whether they would integrate well into the workplace. “If an offer could be coming, I encourage candidates to ask ‘could I come into the office and meet the team’ or ‘would I be able to spend an hour and see how things work’? Once you’re in the office you can get feel for ‘if I was actually working here would it feel right?’”

It would be easy enough to write off the number of unhappy employees as merely those exhausted by the 9 to 5 grind. O’Grady admits that, “if you had the option to not work and get an income, I think a lot of people would choose that.” Yet he isn’t willing to concede that the study’s findings reflect dissatisfaction with work in general. “What’s actually most important is, ‘do I like the people I work with?’” he says. “It doesn’t matter what you do—flipping burgers, working as an accountant, doing construction work—if you can get along with your coworkers and be yourself, the 9 to 5 element doesn’t have that much of an impact.”

So if you do, in fact, like your job? “If you like where you work, and you like the people you work with, I’d advise you to stay where you are,” says O’Grady. “Regardless of money, who you spend your days with is going to determine how happy you are in your work.”