What Do U.S. Workers Think About Their Jobs and Bosses?

4 min read

How do workers describe their jobs and their bosses? A recent survey by Preply asked a cross-section of U.S. workers to describe their typical work day, as well as their bosses, using just one word. Workers were also asked about their annual salary so that results could be broken down by those receiving higher and lower levels of pay.

What were the results of the survey?

Across all jobs, the adjective that was by far the most common was “busy” (more than 40 percent of workers surveyed). Roughly an equal number of employees described their jobs as “exhausting,” “boring,” and “enjoyable” (about 12 percent each). Only 8 percent said their jobs were “stressful” (although research on stress and burnout would suggest that jobs that are labeled as “exhausting” and “boring” would be defined as being somewhat stressful (that is, people experience stress when they are both overworked and underutilized; Riggio and Johnson, 2022).

How does salary come into play?

Those reporting the highest income (over $150,000 annually) were most likely to characterize their jobs as “enjoyable,” while those with the lowest pay (less than $25,000) were most likely to describe their jobs as “boring” or “exhausting.” Research suggests that people with pay above $100,000 annually are more likely to be satisfied and have higher well-being.

Of course, jobs vary so much that it is hard to interpret a lot of these findings without knowing the exact type of work each worker is doing. For example, on the heels of the pandemic, workers in healthcare still have incredible workloads, and although many of them may be well-compensated, they lead work lives that may be stressful and exhausting.

How do workers describe their bosses?

On the positive side, workers most frequently characterized their bosses as “kind,” “understanding,” and “friendly.” In terms of negative adjectives, the three most common were “incompetent,” “absent,” and “demanding.” This suggests a couple of things: First, there are good bosses out there who have positive relationships with those they supervise – consistent with research on the very best leaders (for example, Bass and Riggio, 2006). On the other hand, many bosses would be described as being “laissez-faire,” or bosses that simply are “absent” or neglectful in their leadership role. On the other hand, some bosses are simply awful, described by their supervisees as being “arrogant,” “mean,” and “rude,” with some workers going so far as labeling their bosses “jerks” and “a**holes.” Those who described their bosses with strong, negative adjectives were, however, only 20 percent of workers surveyed.

What can we conclude from this data?

As with all general surveys, we need to take these findings with a grain of salt. Without knowing more about the survey respondents, it is hard to interpret the specific dynamics of these workers’ jobs and their bosses. These results, however, do correspond with what we know about leaders and managers. While there are good bosses out there, who are well-trained and good leaders, there is also a subset who should probably not have been given the important responsibility of leading and managing others. Managers are often appointed based on seniority, or because they appear to look “leaderlike,” but they don’t actually possess good leader characteristics and competencies.

On the other side, there are good bosses and good jobs out there. In any case, it tells us that those of us who work in the area of industrial-organizational psychology have a lot of work to do to help organizations select good, qualified leaders, and to help organizations ensure that jobs are not overly stressful, and to ensure that workers have the resources needed to make their jobs manageable, challenging, and rewarding.

The results of this survey are reported here.

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