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Survey Results: What Americans Want at Work

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Stefan Schumacher

Nearly 70 percent of American workers are satisfied with the conditions of their workplace, according to an unscientific online survey conducted by SurePayroll. It’s a sharp contrast to other recent surveys that have concluded Americans are deeply unhappy at work.


Our survey focused on factors that impact almost everyone - salary, commute, office space, bathroom conditions and company culture.

When considering a new job, the following ranked as most important to respondents:

  • Salary (92%)
  • Work/life balance (80%)
  • Commute (76%)
  • Company culture (70%)


The actual workspace (desk/cubicle/office) mattered to about two of every five respondents, with 47 percent working in cubicles; 27 percent at a desk in an open office; 23 percent in their own office; and only 2 percent working from home. As many as three in four found the physical conditions of their workplace to be well maintained.

The open office has come under some criticism as of late. In a recent New Yorker article, Maria Konnivova wrote:

Psychologically, the repercussions of open offices are relatively straightforward. Physical barriers have been closely linked to psychological privacy, and a sense of privacy boosts job performance. Open offices also remove an element of control, which can lead to feelings of helplessness. In a 2005 study that looked at organizations ranging from a Midwest auto supplier to a Southwest telecom firm, researchers found that the ability to control the environment had a significant effect on team cohesion and satisfaction. When workers couldn't change the way that things looked, adjust the lighting and temperature, or choose how to conduct meetings, spirits plummeted.

An open environment may even have a negative impact on our health. In a recent study of more than twenty-four hundred employees in Denmark, Jan Pejtersen and his colleagues found that as the number of people working in a single room went up, the number of employees who took sick leave increased apace. Workers in two-person offices took an average of fifty per cent more sick leave than those in single offices, while those who worked in fully open offices were out an average of sixty-two per cent more.77146127-300x230


On the issue of privacy, 41 percent of respondents to the SurePayroll survey said they are able to work in peace and occasionally take care of personal matters; 34 percent said the workspace is not private, but there are designated areas for privacy; and 25 percent said they're essentially resigned to hiding in stairwells just to make a doctor's appointment.

Company Culture

Company culture was important to a majority of workers and 45 percent said their workplace is friendly and professional. One in three said their company culture was laid back with a tendency to get inappropriate. Only 12 percent their workplace as being "like a prison."

Workplace gossip, however, is a problem for slightly more than half of workers. Stress from work also affects the personal lives of 42 percent of respondents. However, more than half are able to productive at work and have enough time at home, even if that means working late occasionally. Only 5 percent said "my kids are growing up without me" and/or "I have no life."

The Commute

While we love to complain about traffic, surprisingly 74 percent of respondents said their commute is reasonable; 10 percent said it's long but reasonable; and 16 percent said they spend way too much time in the car or on a train or bus.

The Bathrooms

One in five (20 percent) want to see the bathrooms before they decide to take a job, and two in five respondents were on some level dissatisfied with the bathroom conditions at work. More than 50 percent, though, said their workplace bathrooms are clean, well stocked and in working order.


While much has been said about American being unhappy and overworked - perhaps needlessly so - are they happier than they're letting on? Perhaps they're not fulfilled with their specific field or position or boss, but there does seem to be value in the workplace itself. A purpose? A place to go every day where you're needed?

Sigmond Freud said the "ability to love and work" is the key to happiness. Our survey seems to suggest that whether or not Americans are happy with their job, they are happy working. The workspace, bathrooms and kitchen area, ability to work from, and even the commute are unlikely to make someone leave a job. Slightly less than 30 percent would consider leaving a job because of the commute; less than 12 percent would consider leaving for any of the other aforementioned reasons.

Salary and company culture matter much more; work/life balance slightly less.

We'd love to hear more of your thoughts? Tell us your reaction to the survey on Twitter and Facebook, or leave a comment.