How happy are Aussies…and how do our workplaces contribute?

Happy workplace colleagues world happiness report

Australia scored highly in the United Nations’ 2022 World Happiness Report, ranking as the 12th happiest country out of 156 countries – ahead of Canada (15th), the United States (16th) and the United Kingdom (17th). What puts Australia in the top eight per cent, how do our workplaces contribute to this ranking, and how can we boost this ranking even further in the future?

The importance of happiness

We’ve come a long way in our understanding of happiness and the far-reaching role it plays in our lives, cultures and economy. Far from being a ‘woo-woo’ concept or merely a ‘nice to have’ emotional state, happiness across a population is now recognised as the strongest indicator of a country’s social progress. Social scientists now have methods to measure happiness, which can provide vital insight for policy makers. There is ample evidence to show that happy people tend to be healthier, more productive, more connected and more generous members of society. It makes sense that we would ‘get serious’ about happiness, fine-tuning our ways to measure and encourage more happiness across the entire population, in every arena of life.

Success is not the key to happiness, happiness is the key to success.

- Herman Cain

A global study of happiness

Now in its 10th year of publication, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network World Happiness Report is a landmark survey that ranks 156 countries on how happy their citizens identify themselves to be. Country scores are based on a survey in which respondents appraise the quality of their current lives on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being the worst life imaginable and 10 being the best. The report measures happiness in each country using six main variables: GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom to make life choices, generosity and perceptions of corruption. While additional indicators are factored in (such as age, gender, marital status, education, unemployment), these six variables are understood to have a major impact on one’s happiness and are regularly used to explain differences between nations.

Diverse colleagues having fun happy at work

Aussies are a fairly happy bunch

Australia ranked near the top of the list in the 2022 World Happiness Report, with a happiness score of 7.162 (on the 0 to 10 scale), placing it as the 12th happiest country in the world out of 156 nations. Australia beat Canada (15th), the United States (17th) and the United Kingdom (19th) but lost to a host of Nordic countries, along with other contenders such as the Netherlands, Switzerland and New Zealand. Finland was ranked the happiest country in the world for the fifth year in a row with a score of 7.821 – something to aspire to! It’s worth noting that Australia’s ranking hasn’t dropped in two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, despite border closures, extended lockdowns and various tough control measures.

A snapshot of Australian workers

The average person spends a whopping 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime. That’s roughly one third of our lives spent at work. It goes without saying that our work therefore has a massive impact on our level of happiness and how we feel about life. We can’t study happiness without looking closely at our work, our workplaces and our attitudes towards work.

Encouragingly, a survey of 1,400 Australian workers found the majority of Australian workers (69 per cent) consider their work as meaningful to them. On the diversity and inclusion front, 72 per cent of Aussie workers agreed that their workplace accepts them for who they are as a person. On a less positive note, 50 per cent of workers reported feeling burnt out in 2021, with that number jumping slightly to 53 per cent in 2022.

Financial stress is also a serious issue for Australian workers, with 60 per cent of females and 52 per cent of males saying that they are worried about finances. When asked if they feel they are paid fairly, the majority said yes, although a gender gap still persists, with females 10 per cent more likely to disagree they were paid fairly, and 14 per cent more likely to say that their pay was below average. Overall, we can see how these workplace stats correlate with Australia’s above average ranking on the happiness scale, but also highlight areas for improvement.

Happy colleagues having lunch together at work

Leveraging the six key happiness indicators within the workplace

Let’s take a closer look at the six main indicators used to measure global happiness: how can we leverage these within the workplace to boost our happiness?


1. GDP per capita

“Money can’t buy happiness. But neither can poverty.” – Leo Rosten

A person’s income has a substantial impact on their quality of life. Within an organisation, ensuring employees are paid fairly and on par with the national average goes a long way towards attracting and retaining the right people for the job, boosting morale and encouraging a positive outlook.

Happy and relaxed employee having coffee at desk

2. Healthy life expectancy

“The groundwork for all happiness is good health.” – Leigh Hunt

Taking care of your health is going to make your work – and your life – more enjoyable. The work we do can potentially impact our life expectancy, so choose wisely! Aside from obviously dangerous occupations, we could unwittingly shorten our lifespans by working in high stress roles and not taking time to look after our physical and mental health – be it exercising enough, eating well or implementing restorative practices into our schedule.


3. Social support

“Some people cause happiness wherever they go, others whenever they go.” - Oscar Wilde

Do you feel supported, included and respected at work? The World Happiness Report asks respondents: “If you were in trouble, do you have relatives or friends you can count on to help you whenever you need them, or not?” This same question can be applied in the workplace, in regard to your colleagues. Ways to ensure your organisation has a healthy morale and strong social support include: implementing diversity and inclusion practices, investing in team building activities and empowering all staff to speak out against bullying or other antisocial behaviour. For employers and employees alike, something as simple as ensuring you take the time to have meaningful conversations with team members that go beyond ‘job related’ topics can have a huge impact on feelings of social support.

Happy workers celebrating colleagues birthday social support

4. Freedom to make life choices

“The person born with a talent they are meant to use will find their greatest happiness in using it.” - Johann Wolfang von Goethe

Freedom to make your own choices and feel in control of your life has a major impact on your happiness. The World Happiness Report asked respondents: “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what you do with your life?” Again, this question may be applied to your work: do you feel you have freedom to choose what work you do? Do you feel empowered to guide your own career? Are you given sufficient creative freedom to make important decisions regarding your talent and how you use it?

Ways to ensure greater freedom within a workplace include: allowing employees control over aspects of their work, offering flexible work where possible and working with team members to co-create individual development plans, ensuring their input is considered. 


5. Generosity

 “The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.” - Albert Schweitzer.

Giving is known to have mood boosting effects – for both the giver and receiver. The World Happiness Report measured this by asking respondents: “Have you donated money to a charity in the past month?” Beyond financial generosity, we can apply this concept in the workplace by thinking of other ways we can be generous. Being generous with our time, showing our appreciation, giving credit where credit is due, offering rewards for work well done and even giving someone the benefit of the doubt are all morale boosting ways we can show generosity at work.


6. Perceptions of corruption

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” - Mahatma Gandhi

Our perceptions of corruption within an environment, also referred to as ‘trust’ in the World Happiness Report, is the final key variable that impacts our happiness. In the survey, respondents were asked “Is corruption widespread within businesses in this country or not?” Again, this question may be applied to your workplace. Ways to ensure greater trust in your work environment include: holding yourself and your organisation accountable (does everyone practice what they preach?), reporting unethical behaviour and encouraging transparency and clear communication at all levels.

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