Work worth living for

September 2011

“Become your own boss” – this slogan is currently being used by a large German telephone company to attract job applicants. In the competition for talented new employees a company wants to display what it has to offer, the telephone giant promises flexible working hours, downtime and initiatives aimed at improving the work-life balance. The campaign demonstrates two things: in the face of demographic change, companies must put more effort into actively attracting motivated employees; and that prospective applicants should be offered not only a salary in return for the work undertaken, but also an increase in quality of life. Admittedly, the majority of Germans are generally quite satisfied with their job, nonetheless a non-negligible proportion expresses itself more critically. Causes of frustration in the workplace include too much stress, too much overtime and an unbalanced relationship between work and free time. Above all, younger and newer employees are missing the right work-life balance.

It is well known that business is hard without sufficient and motivated staff. At a time when a shortage of skilled labor begins to affect the first sectors, those who are in employment feel increasing dissatisfaction. More than 40% of Germans are stressed by their jobs due to high pressure at work, a further third is dissatisfied with the work-life balance and more than a quarter complain of frequent overtime. These are the results of an international GfK study that polled more than 3,000 workers in Germany alone on different criteria for their wellbeing at work. Particularly younger workers did not appear to be happy with the circumstances they experience in their working lives. As regards a poor work-life balance they are ahead: almost 40% of 18 to 29-year-old workers admit to being regularly or even almost always dissatisfied. Also more than one in three of those employees aged between 30 and 39 think that the balance between work life and home life is not good enough.

Business size: dissatisfaction rises in medium-sized companies

This effect is heightened by the size of the business. In medium-sized businesses with more than 50 employees, dissatisfaction with the work-life balance is more frequently apparent than in smaller or larger businesses. The reasons for this are a matter of speculation. Maybe it is because very small companies are more informal while large companies have fixed structures that help to give the employees support – both are aspects that could increase satisfaction, but which could be less apparent in medium-sized German businesses. It is possible that those companies with between 50 and 1,000 employees are commonly in a period of growth and while in the past, informal structures prevailed, are now in the process of altering their business culture to resemble the structures of large corporations. In addition, these companies can not be quite as flexible as smaller companies in difficult economic times and they do not have the scale to possess a stable structure either. All this can influence the mood of the employees.

A look at the stress levels felt by employees confirms this. It is above all the employees of companies with between 50 and 1,000 workers that complain of high stress levels. 46% are regularly or almost always dissatisfied with the hectic pace they are faced with at work. Employees of much smaller or much larger companies are more satisfied when it comes to stress.

With more responsibility comes more stress

When it comes to stress, age again plays a role and those aged 30 to 39 fare worst, with 46% of employees feeling that they are under so much pressure that this has a bearing on their satisfaction. This may be because an increasing amount of responsibility is taken on and the first steps at the higher end of the career-ladder are climbed at this age. At least one thing is certain: whoever has reached the top often wishes they had less to deal with. People with leadership responsibilities often feel more dissatisfied than the average with the level of stress they have to deal with.

This is most probably because they are habitually required to attend to their work outside of the normal working hours. Employees at management level complain most frequently that they are not happy with the amount of overtime they do. The greater the responsibility, the longer you will spend in the office. This lack of free time leads to people with more responsibility sometimes wishing for a better balance between work and leisure time. The degree of dissatisfaction with the work-life balance increases with every step on the career ladder. The more senior the position and therefore the greater the responsibility, the higher the dissatisfaction among respondents. Of course, one could say, the managers have to take on more responsibility and that takes up more time, but companies cannot afford to overwork their managers on a long term basis. Today, 41% of Germans who hold responsibility for others, including even senior employees, almost always or regularly wish that they had more time outside of work. Of those leading a team of employees who are not management level, 37% see things in the same way. On the other hand, only one in three employees without management responsibilities complain for the same reason.

However, this does not mean that only employees with responsibilities, who as a rule are slightly older, feel monopolized by their jobs. Around 30% of workers between the ages of 18 and 49 feel they do too much overtime and as a result are frequently or almost always dissatisfied.

Motivation declines after starting work

Whoever begins a new job with a company frequently accepts long evenings, stressful days and little free time – but only for a certain period. While workers who have just started working for a company complain less, stress, too little balance and long days in the office increasingly begin to affect employees after about a year. Workers who have already been at a company for a year view the lack of balance between work and private life as a strain and consequently dissatisfaction due to stress and overtime is more common than average. It is therefore those who are incorporated into the company but are still full of new ideas that are more critical in this regard than the average.

In terms of the demographic change, the implications could be serious. If increasingly fewer young workers are available to the labor market, it will be even more important to keep hold of those who have chosen to work for a particular company and to win over new employees that will be even more spoilt for choice in the future than they are today. A promise of an increased quality of life could tip the scales when it comes to deciding for or against a particular employer. Aristotle already realized that cheerful people are better at their work, saying “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work”.

Data source: GfK (GfK International Employee Engagement Study, 2011)

If you have any further queries, please contact Dr. Ingrid Feinstein from GfK Trustmark.

If you have any further questions relating to GfK Compact, please contact Claudia Gaspar, e-mail: