Faking Happiness at Work

There's a kernel of truth and even some scientific relevance to the statement, "Fake it till you make it." But what if you're not pretending to belong somewhere? What if you're trying to cover up your feelings in the office?

We surveyed 993 full-time employees about what it's like to fake happiness at work. How do fake dispositions impact employees' ability not only to perform but also enjoy their workplace surroundings and even their personal lives? Read on to see what these American workers had to say.

Faces of Fake Happiness

Fake happiness at work

Only 65% of people felt genuinely happy at work. Nearly a quarter said they were flat-out unhappy on the job, and another 12% were somewhere in the middle.

Regardless of how they felt, most respondents said they cared about how co-workers perceived their happiness at work. Managers and higher-salary employees cared the most about these perceptions. Perhaps leadership positions come with the pressure to have an air of authority or success. That said, women –who are often paid and promoted less – were more concerned than men about how their happiness was perceived in the office.

Women were also more likely to fake happiness at work. Eighty-six percent of female employees said they faked a smile at work, compared to 77% of the unhappy men.

Act of Faking It

Not-so-secretly unhappy

According to the data, specific behaviors can indicate whether a co-worker is sincerely happy. The top behavior reported by employees faking happiness was not getting enough sleep. Because fatigue is so heavily correlated with depression, signs of poor rest may call into question any claims an employee makes about how happy they are at work.

Forty percent of those who admitted to faking happiness also complained at work, while another 38% avoided talking to co-workers entirely. The World Economic Forum insists that maintaining good relationships with colleagues is a key element of job happiness, so to avoid conversation completely or use dialogue to complain could raise flags about workplace demeanor.

Managers could also easily tell as to whether their employees were sincerely happy. Eighty-one percent said they could tell when an employee pretended to be happy, and more than half wished employees would talk to them instead of putting on a happy face.

Authentic Productivity

How faking happiness affects health and productivity

Studies show a correlation between genuine happiness and productivity, but what about faking happiness? Could a "fake it till you make it" attitude really help a person's productivity? The short answer is no. Those who faked happiness at work wasted an average of 35 minutes more than their genuinely happy counterparts at work daily. This means that each week, nearly three additional hours are wasted when an employee pretends to be happy. Perhaps just the exhaustion from pretending is throwing a wrench in employee productivity.

But productivity wasn't the only thing sacrificed by counterfeit joy. Respondents who faked happiness were promoted less frequently, half as likely to feel successful, and less optimistic about job growth than their truly happy counterparts. Finding a job you love may not mean never having to work a single day in your life, but it could mean you won't have to waste an extra three hours each week at the office either.

Happiness at Home

Happiness at work and your personal life

Although the workweek claims a good chunk of the American life, it can claim even more if office unhappiness bleeds into personal life, which is exactly what our data showed. Eighty-nine percent of those faking happiness at work felt exhausted at home, compared to just 5% of happy employees. Moreover, those pretending to be happy were half as likely to exercise and eat healthy throughout the workweek. With poor sleep, lack of exercise, and lacking diet, employees stand a harder chance of feeling fulfilled.

Interestingly enough, exercise was actually a key tool for happy employees when they did experience negative emotions at work. Thirty-eight percent of this group worked out to blow off steam, and another 17% turned to yoga or meditation, whereas unhappy workers were more likely to complain, watch TV, drink, or get high when the office stressed them out.

93% of people

Unfortunately, romantic relations suffered as a result of faking happiness, as well. Ninety-three percent of people who were genuinely happy at work were satisfied with their romantic relationships, compared to only 77% of those faking happiness at work.

Instagram vs. Reality

How genuine are workplace posts on social media?

One of the easiest ways to fake happiness today is to post about it online. Almost 1 in 4 people who were unhappy at work still posted positive content about their jobs online.

This fake online behavior can feel obligatory in the workplace. Employee advocacy, or the promotion of your company, is a key tool for businesses. In fact, companies with successful employee advocacy programs are "58% more likely to attract and 20% more likely to retain top talent." Fourteen percent of respondents said they felt pressured to post positive news about their jobs on social media, and 13% had a boss explicitly ask for a positive online post.

Authentic Workplace Happiness

You can't always fake it until you make it when it comes to workplace happiness. People who pretended to feel joy at the office were less productive, less healthy, and overall less happy at home.

Remember that the pursuit of happiness on the job begins with the interview. When you apply for a position, you are there not only to advocate on behalf of your candidacy but also to find out if that company is truly the right fit for you. At Ladders, there are nearly 200,000 verified, high-paying jobs to choose from that enable you to search and filter by what you're specifically looking for. So head to TheLadders.com to determine what will make you happy today.

Methodology and Limitations

We used Amazon Mechanical Turk to survey 993 people about their happiness and behaviors at work. For respondents to be included in our data, they were required to complete the entire survey and pass an attention-check question in the middle of each survey. Participants who failed to do either of these were excluded from the study.

Of all respondents, 50% were women and 50% were men. Forty-six percent of respondents were millennials (born 1981 to 1997); 34% were from Generation X (born 1965 to 1980); and 21% were baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964). Generation Z (born 1998 to 2017), the silent generation (born 1928 to 1945), and the greatest generation (born 1927 or earlier) were excluded from the study. The average age of respondents was 41 with a standard deviation of 12 years. The data had a 5% margin of error for millennials and Generation X and a 7% margin of error for baby boomers.

The data we are presenting rely on self-reporting. There are many issues with self-reported data. These issues include, but are not limited to, selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration. In finding averages of quantitative values, we removed outliers so that the data were not exaggerated.

Fair Use Statement

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