Desk-Bound Dissatisfaction: What’s Driving Discontent in the American Workforce?

Picture two very different types of employees: One is chipper, polished, and eager to throw himself or herself headfirst into his or her work every day; the other is bleary-eyed, lethargic, and may have pressed snooze one too many times this morning. While both archetypes certainly exist within the American workforce, the latter stands out as the ubiquitous portrait of a full-time worker.

We wanted to learn more about this ubiquitous persona: Which industries had the most dissatisfied workers? How many people have considered flying the coop? And what would it take for them to make a change?

A recent study by Comet found that nearly 20% of American workers were dissatisfied with their current jobs, and a whopping 66% had already considered quitting. Employees in the hotel and food service industry reported the highest rate of job dissatisfaction, followed closely by wholesale and retail. It’s no surprise that service positions topped this particular list: Having to maintain a sunny disposition in the face of challenging customer situations has been known to wear people’s patience thin.

Finicky clients aside, the main reason driving employee dissatisfaction was wage-related, with all but four industries listing a low salary as their most prominent pain point. Three of the outlying sectors—construction, manufacturing, and scientific fields—reported that their workload was weighing heaviest on their minds, while warehousing and transportation bemoaned a lack of appreciation above all.

But which industries’ employees were closest to the edge? Technology professionals were most likely to have considered throwing in the towel, at a rate of 77%. Meanwhile, over 70% of individuals in retail and wholesale, transportation, and food service and hospitality had also daydreamed about resignation. One-quarter of surveyed workers had only been incubating the idea for between 1 and 5 months, but another 12% reported being stuck in this thought loop for 2 years or more.

However, thinking about quitting and actually quitting are two different things entirely. Job stability was the number one factor keeping people glued to their current office chairs, as was the fear of not being able to apply their professional expertise to another field or position.

It’s only logical, then, that having a new opportunity on the table was the most likely thing to push people to finally jump ship: Hopping from one job to the next means no unemployment, no gap in income, and no job uncertainty. Taking a pay cut or earning a low salary to begin with was the second-strongest motivator for people to resign.

For two-thirds of respondents, all it would take was a pay increase of less than $15,000 to precipitate a job change. And when the power of self-actualization was put to the test, 30% of workers were willing to leave their dream job behind for less than $10,000 more a year. Money talks, people!

So, what’s the current outlook? Although many people had grievances to air about their jobs, the overarching reality was much more nuanced. For example, while nearly two-thirds of IT and data processing employees had explored the idea of quitting, 71% said that they felt satisfied in their current role despite its stresses. Even in hospitality, the most dissatisfied industry overall, 64% of workers felt similarly.

No job is perfect, and it’s okay to feel frustrated from time to time—but just like the respondents in tech, hospitality, and beyond, never lose sight of the things you enjoy about your job!

Steph Ullman is a Montreal-based copywriter who enjoys exploring the wonderful world of data and how it can deepen our understanding of being human.