HR is the unhappiest profession in the UK

HR staff, the guardians of workplace well-being, are the unhappiest workers of any profession in the UK, new research shows.

In contrast, HR across the rest of Europe remains the most satisfied of all divisions of business, despite struggling economies, high unemployment and restrictive employment law.

The World at Work survey of 14,000 people across Europe reveals that only 46% of HR professionals in the UK are happy or very happy at work and almost as many (39%) say they are unhappy or very unhappy.

But across Europe as a whole, 65% of HR staff are either happy or very happy, compared to 22% who are unhappy or very unhappy. The remaining 13% are ambivalent about their jobs.

According to the research, conducted by global recruitment company Kelly Services, the happiest worker in Europe is a male HR professional from Scandinavia, aged between 45 and 54.

Phil Barr, head of HR at information services group Yell, said: “I am not surprised by these figures. In the past few years so many areas of business have focused on downsizing and reducing numbers and HR has taken the brunt of that. HR people have also had to develop commercial awareness and some are not happy about that change.”

Mike Emmott, head of employee relations at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said morale could be low because the HR task is inherently stressful.

But Emmott said it was unlikely that greater legislative burdens were to blame. “There has been a lot of legislation to digest. It adds more work, but it also gives them leverage with line managers.”

Susan Anderson, director of HR policy at the CBI, said she was surprised to hear that UK HR professionals were unhappy, as many are engaged in interesting and challenging work. But if morale is low, becoming more strategic could help, she added.

“Sometimes they feel overlooked because they do not have a place on the board, but the only way to get there is to add real value,” Anderson said.

The concern about adding value was echoed by Alison Hodgson, UK and Ireland HR director at catering company Sodexho. She said the role of transformational HR had been damaged by the government’s failure to properly implement the suggestions of the Accounting for People taskforce in the Operating and Financial Review regulations.

What is it about the HR profession that makes you unhappy?


Don’t worry, be happy

Ed Hurst, director of workplace psychologists, Saville Consulting, explains how to find out whether people are happy in their jobs by asking individuals about:

  • Person/environment – are you comfortable, happy and effective in the environment and culture of your organisation?
  • Personality and values – do your organisation and job fit well with your personality and values?
  • Talent – does your job allow you to play to your strengths? Do you have to expend energy on things that you are not very good at?
  • Inspiration and meaning – are you inspired by your job? Are you doing something meaningful?
  • Fairness – do you feel your effort is valued and rewarded fairly?
  • Autonomy and control – do you feel that you can exercise control over your own work and destiny?
  • Relationships – do you have the kind of relationships you want with work associates at all levels?
  • Practical and environmental factors – does your physical environment make you comfortable? Does the practical aspect of your work make you happy?
  • Long-term prospects – does your work contribute to your ambitions?

How can you address these issues? Go to

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