HR Management & Compliance, Talent

Are Your Employees Faking Happiness?

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that sometimes, your employees fake their happiness. What may surprise you is the degree to which this occurs. A recent survey found that a whopping 81% of employees have faked happiness at work.


Source: Kaspars Grinvalds / Shutterstock

The survey, called “Faking Happiness at Work,” was conducted by Ladders and sought to understand how happy or unhappy people were at work.

The Perception of Happiness

When respondents were asked how they feel at work, 65% said they felt happy. An additional 23% said they were unhappy, and 12% said they were neither happy nor unhappy.

However, perceptions of happiness were very important to respondents. Seventy-two percent of full-time employees said they cared about whether their coworkers considered them to be happy at work. There were some differences between men and women, between employees and managers, and based on annual salary. See those results below:

Caring that coworkers perceive them as happy at work by gender:

Male Female
65% 79%


Caring that coworkers perceive them as happy at work by job level:

Employees Managers
70% 75%


Caring that coworkers perceive them as happy at work by annual salary:

$47K and less More than $47K
68% 75%


As you can see, women cared more about such perceptions by 13 points. Managers and employees were a little more closely matched, differing by only 5 points, and those making more money cared more about perceptions by 7 points.


The result of employees feeling it’s important that their coworkers perceive them to be happy is that they fake it when they are not. As mentioned, 81% of unhappy employees indicated they have faked being happy at work. The results are again broken down by men and women, employees and managers, and annual salary.

Faking happiness by gender:

Male Female
77% 86%


Faking happiness by job level:

Employees Managers
82% 79%


Faking happiness by annual salary:

$47K and less More than $47K
85% 79%


When you compare feelings of the importance of perceptions with the numbers of people who have faked happiness, some interesting trends arise. Remember that women cared more than men by 13 points about being perceived to be happy, and here, we see a 9-point lead by women pretending to be happy over men. We also see fairly similar numbers between employees and managers.

The most interesting result is that while better-paid employees cared more about perceptions by 7 points, those making less faked happiness more by 6 points.

Behaviors of Employees Faking Happiness

The impact of being unhappy, and perhaps of having to pretend to be happy, plays out in the behaviors of those employees. Here are some of the top behaviors employees who fake happiness display:

Not getting as much sleep as they should 66%
Complaining to coworkers about work 40%
Avoiding speaking to coworkers 38%
Visibly being on the phone 30%
Putting minimal effort into appearance/attire 27%
Putting in minimum effort 27%
Arriving late 23%
Using time off/sick days to avoid going to work 22%
Gossiping about coworkers 18%
Being short with someone in person 18%


The research also compared those numbers with people who said they were happy. First, 38% of those faking happiness avoided speaking with coworkers, while only 12% of happy employees did the same. Also, employees who were faking happiness were nearly twice as likely as happy employees to take time off.

Does It Work?

One of the most important questions arising from this research is: Do the fakers succeed in being perceived as happy? It may be disheartening to those employees who go through all the effort to pretend to be happy that 81% of managers can tell when they are faking it.

Click here for more complete results.

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