The Happiest Workforce in the World and Why it Matters

A Review of the Global Workforce Happiness Index | 2016

I spent time reviewing Universum's latest Global Workforce Happiness Index, and the results were interesting. The survey lists the happiest workforce by industry, as well as the bottom five happy industries. The least happy workforces are:

  • Healthcare services media & advertising
  • Tourism engineering & manufacturing retail

Continue reading to find the top five happiest workforces, as well as the countries with the happiest employees :)

Chad Harrington

A new study reveals the happiest workforce in the world by country and industry. The study, released today, was published to help provide a “data drive approach to attracting and retaining top talent.” The study includes recommendations and solutions for employers.

The Happiness Quadrant


Universum surveyed 250,000 professionals in 55 markets for their 2016 Global Workforce Happiness Index. They found the top five happiest countries are (in this order): 

  1. Belgium
  2. Norway
  3. Costa Rica
  4. Denmark
  5. South Africa

Research results are based on: 

  • (a) Employee satisfaction 
  • (b) How likely they are to recommend their employer
  • (c) Their current loyalty to their employer

Initially, the most interesting feature of this study was their Happiness Quadrant image (above). Interesting graphic, but what does this do for decision makers? Not much on its own.

However, the chart’s categories are very helpful in understanding a typology of workforce happiness. For example, America is listed as predominantly “restless,” which means we are satisfied with our jobs but still open to changing jobs. The U.S. stands in contrast with countries like Turkey or Japan, whose workforce is predominantly “stranded” by their categorization. “Stranded” means employees are not satisfied with their job, but they don’t have the flexibility for changing jobs for various reason (high unemployment, for example, as Universum notes). Helpful insight.

As I dug into the study, though, the most interesting feature of the study was their recommendations for employers and solutions. I appreciated the final sections, where they list the implications for employers, especially growing companies who want to be proactive in finding and retaining talent.

One example caught my eye, where the study cites Deloitte’s case of a pharmaceutical company, where the scientists were leaving en masse from the company. HR couldn’t figure it out. What they didn’t know was that the scientists who were leaving expected to a salary increase each year, an industry norm in their country. They were being poached, because the employer didn’t know they were “seekers,” nor what they were seeking exactly: consistent salary raises.

Universum presents unique solutions that are for more than just HR; they’re also for company leaders. The reason non-HR leaders will benefit from this is, they rightly say, because knowing the happiness of your company’s workforce isn’t just a recruitment issue; workforce happiness is a “business-critical” issue. That’s a key point for key leaders to discern.

My summary: This study was most helpful for the most up-to-date stats from a broad pool of respondents. Also, their categorizations of “workforce happiness” were valuable. Only issue I had was they left me wanting more by hinting at how their findings by country and industry could be presented together. Maybe next year they will present workforce happiness stats by country and break down the industries for each country. I recommend this resource for not only HR leaders, but also for CEOs and hiring managers, because, as the index rightly suggestions, knowing the happiness of your workforce is business-critical for long-term growth.