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Workers in Bad Jobs Have Worse Well-Being Than Jobless

Workers in Bad Jobs Have Worse Well-Being Than Jobless

Engaged employees are most likely to be thriving

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- American workers who are emotionally disconnected from their work and workplace -- known as "actively disengaged" workers -- rate their lives more poorly than do those who are unemployed. Forty-two percent of actively disengaged workers are thriving in their lives, compared with 48% of the unemployed. At the other end of the spectrum are "engaged" employees -- American workers who are involved in and enthusiastic about their work -- 71% of whom are thriving.


These data were collected as part of a special Gallup Daily tracking series to explore in-depth American workers' engagement levels. Gallup's employee engagement index is based on worker responses to 12 workplace elements with proven linkages to performance outcomes, including productivity, customer service, quality, retention, safety, and profit.

Engaged employees are involved in and enthusiastic about their work. Those who are not engaged are satisfied but are not emotionally connected to their workplaces and are less likely to put in discretionary effort. Those who are actively disengaged are emotionally disconnected from their work and workplace and jeopardize the performance of their teams.

Gallup classifies Americans as either "thriving," "struggling," or "suffering" according to how they rate their current and future lives on a ladder scale based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale. The unemployed, as measured by Gallup, are those who are not employed, even for one hour a week, but are available and looking for work.

Gallup's findings are in line with those in a recent Australian study, published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, which found that the unemployed have poorer mental health than the employed, but those with poor work environments had worse mental health than the unemployed.

Unemployed Report More Positive Daily Experiences Than Actively Disengaged

Actively disengaged workers do worse than the unemployed across five key positive experience measures that Gallup surveys as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. These questions ask respondents about their positive experiences and emotions such as enjoyment, smiling or laughing, learning something interesting, being treated with respect, and feeling well-rested "yesterday."

Actively disengaged workers are less likely than the unemployed to say they felt well-rested, were treated with respect, smiled or laughed a lot, learned something interesting, or experienced enjoyment the day before the survey.

Engaged workers, on the other hand, are more likely than other workers and the unemployed to report several of these positive experiences, including learning something interesting, enjoyment, smiling or laughter, being treated with respect, and feeling well-rested.


Actively Disengaged Workers as Likely as Unemployed to Experience Negativity

The unemployed and workers who are actively disengaged are about equally likely to report negative daily experiences across five key negative experience measures that Gallup surveys as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Daily worry, sadness, stress, anger, and physical pain are as prevalent among workers who are actively disengaged as they are among the unemployed. Engaged employees are the least likely to report each of these negative daily experiences.



It is important to note that this analysis cannot definitively determine the direction of the causal relationship between engagement and well-being. It is possible that workers who are actively disengaged are for some reason predisposed to or inherently register lower well-being. However, Gallup analyses of engagement within organizations suggest worker engagement and disengagement are significantly influenced by how employees are managed.

While previous studies indicate workplaces that engage employees increase the odds of improving organizational performance, the data presented here suggest that these workplaces also increase the odds that their employees will have higher well-being. Workplaces that create environments that disengage employees create a potential well-being risk. Even at a time when unemployment is high and many people are thankful to have a job, those who are actively disengaged in their work have lower well-being than the unemployed.

About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks U.S. well-being and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit

About Gallup's Employee Engagement Index

Gallup's employee engagement index is based on decades of research studying which workplace elements matter most in driving performance outcomes across organizations throughout the world. Gallup researchers identified 12 elements that are summarized into 12 survey items. A composite of employee responses to the 12 items is used to formulate the engagement index groupings: engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged.

About Gallup's Unemployment Index

Gallup's unemployment index categorizes respondents as "unemployed" if they are not employed, even for one hour a week, but are available and looking for work.

Survey Methods

Unemployment results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup Daily tracking survey Nov. 16-Dec. 15, 2010, with a random sample of 1,266 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling. Employee engagement results are based on telephone interviews using the same random sampling procedures for adults, aged 18, and older working in organizations, surveyed from Dec 9-13, 2010. The survey includes 400 actively disengaged, 1,116 not engaged, and 594 engaged respondents.

Maximum expected error ranges for subgroups vary according to size, ranging from ±2.8% for the largest group (unemployed) to ±4.9% for the smallest group (actively disengaged).

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each daily sample includes a minimum quota of 200 cell phone respondents and 800 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, cell phone-only status, cell phone-mostly status, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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