Christmas has come and gone. Many a cheese board and chocolate selection box has been gorged on. Parties have been had. And bank balances are feeling the strain. It’s no real surprise that January can feel like the gloomiest month of the year after December’s festivities.

So, as the nation removes their ‘out of office’ and resumes business as usual, we’ve zeroed in on the factors that really influence how UK workers feel about getting back to work after the Christmas break.

Does the idea of tackling the commute again fill everyone with dread? Is having less time to spend with family and friends making them feel blue? Or, in contrast, has the dawn of a new year provided people with renewed motivation to strive towards new goals and resolutions?

Using survey data covering the UK’s top 10 most populated cities, we shed some light on the happiness levels of Britain’s workers.

Money doesn’t buy happiness – or does it?

While there’s far more to a job than money, a generous salary can certainly add to the appeal of a role. At least that’s what our survey results suggest, with 70% of respondents who earn £75,000 or more a year stating they’re looking forward to returning to work in the new year, compared to just 31% of those earning £20,000 or less.

Following suit, ‘a pay rise’ takes the number one spot on the list of things our respondents hope for at work in 2019. Championing this goal are those in the travel and transport sector, with over half (57.5%) of them eager to see an increase in their salary this year.

Predictably, London workers are the highest earners among those surveyed, though this is relative to the cost of living in the capital. On average, London dwellers are reported to spend £751 a month to rent a double room[1] and a monthly travel card will set them back anywhere between £135 and £250. To put this into perspective, respondents from Sheffield were the lowest earners in our survey, though monthly rent costs an average of £363 for a double room in the city. Over half (55%) of the Londoners were happy about returning to work compared to just 36% of those from Sheffield, however, indicating a higher salary can keep staff sweet regardless of other factors.

Furthermore, with rail fares increasing by 3.1% in January 2019 and energy prices likely to rise on average 5% in April[2], it’s no wonder the nation has money on the mind. Money isn’t the be all and end all, however, as a recent study by Mercer found that factors such as flexible working, wellness initiatives and a sense of purpose are considered far more important than salary when it comes to job satisfaction.[2.5]

The commute grinds our gears

For the majority of the working population, the daily commute is simply a by-product of employment that they learn to accept. One that can become costly, time-consuming and stressful at that.

In fact, according to a 2018 study[3] Londoners have the tenth worst commute in the world – suffering an average journey time of 84 minutes. Consequently, just over a fifth (21%) of Londoners are dreading returning to their commute.

Despite London’s chaotic reputation, it’s Bradford and Manchester residents who are the least enthusiastic about their trip to work. Bradford inhabitants are also the most likely to want flexible working options, with one in five respondents from the city listing it as something they’d like to see offered to them in the year ahead. Meanwhile, Manchester workers are the most likely to pin point early mornings as something they’re not looking forward to, perhaps suggesting they set out for work earlier than their counterparts in other parts of the country.

Manchester suffers the worst congestion of anywhere outside London, according to the National Infrastructure Commission,[4] resulting in longer and longer journey times. Not only can a lengthy commute such as this feel like a waste of time, but it can also become detrimental to an individual’s health, causing stress and exhaustion.

Millennials feel under the most pressure at work

When quizzed on their biggest concerns about going back to work, 41% of participants aged 25-35 years old identified stress as an issue. This was more than any other age group surveyed.

On the same track, a study conducted by the Mental Health Foundation unearthed that millennials felt more under pressure at work than their baby boomer colleagues, with more than a quarter (28%) stating that working through stress was expected in their job.[5] Fortunately, the same generation are also the most likely to seek support from their manager when in a position of stress.[6]

So why is it that this generation feel the pressure so much more?

It could be argued that it is down to the fact that they entered the workforce post-financial crisis era – meaning lower wages, fewer job opportunities and less chances for career progression than previous generations.[7] On the other hand, the “always switched on” habit that has been fostered by the growth of technology and communications can create the expectation to be working around the clock.

Friendships at work lead to higher job satisfaction

Britons in full-time employment will spend an average of 37.3 hours a week at work[8]. That’s a pretty significant chunk of our adult lives spent working, so it makes sense that friendships with colleagues can make the time go by a bit quicker. Aside from personal happiness, studies have also found that positive relationships in the workplace can improve productivity, engagement and creativity levels among staff.[9]

For many in our survey, forging new friendships at work is a priority for the new year. Bristolians even ranked it higher in importance than goals such as receiving a pay rise or a promotion. It’s a very different story for those in the East Midlands, however, who singled out their colleagues as a reason they’re not looking forward to getting back to work – even more so than the pressure at work, a lack of free time and their commute.

Both sides indicate that a working environment can be hugely impacted by the people within it, a factor which can prove tricky to regulate for an employer. Assessing culture fit when hiring and encouraging socialisation among employees are both suggested ways of boosting team relations and morale. [10]

The UK’s happiest employees work in business management

With 70% of business management respondents looking forward to getting back to the office, is it possible that this is the UK’s happiest sector? They also happen to be the least stressed and the highest paid of all the industries, which takes us back to the link between salary and job satisfaction.

Also the highest paid, Londoners appear to be the happiest workers among the 10 cities, indicated by over half (55%) of respondents from the capital replying that they’re eager to get back to their jobs.

A happy workforce is a productive workforce, and by striving to ensure employees feel appreciated and supported in their jobs, businesses will have strong teams driving their success. While making sure the basics are in place is important — with sick leave, employers’ liability insurance and fair working practices in place — this is just the tip of the iceberg.

So, what is the recipe for a happy employee? From our findings it could be suggested that the financial offerings of a job are still of utmost importance. Though with so many seeking new friendships and flexible working in the new year, it’s clear there’s far more to job satisfaction than a generous salary.


[1] https://www.homesandproperty.co.uk/property-news/renting/how-the-cost-of-renting-a-room-varies-across-the-uk-a112471.html

[2] https://www.peachy.co.uk/blog/will-uk-living-costs-rise-2019/

[3] https://www.expertmarket.co.uk/focus/best-and-worst-cities-for-commuting

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/alankohll/2018/07/10/what-employees-really-want-at-work/#240fe3265ad3

[4] https://www.nic.org.uk/news/manchester-tops-traffic-congestion-league/

[5] https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/millennials-stress-workplace-higher-baby-boomers-mental-health-awareness-week-2018-a8350631.html

[6] https://www.businessleader.co.uk/millennials-twice-likely-parents-suffer-stress/41829/

[7] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/millennials-pay-less-than-expected-careers-office-national-statistics-a8557946.html

[8] https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/earningsandworkinghours/timeseries/ybuy/lms

[9] https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/matthew-finch/the-importance-of-having-_3_b_17305330.html

[10] https://smallbusiness.chron.com/five-ways-improve-teamwork-workplace-13766.html