Which Workplace Factors Drive Employee Satisfaction Around the World?

What makes employees around the world satisfied at work? In past research, we’ve looked at which aspects of work matter for employee satisfaction in the U.S. on Glassdoor. But do employees in other countries value the same workplace factors? And are there any differences by industry or gender in what makes employees satisfied at work?

In this report, we examine for the first time which workplace factors are the main drivers of overall employee satisfaction on Glassdoor in five countries around the world — the U.S., the UK, France, Germany and Canada — as well as by industry and gender in the U.S. 

Key Findings: 

  • What matters to employees is similar in every country we examined. Among the six workplace factors we examined, three factors rise to the top in every country as the top predictors of overall employee satisfaction on Glassdoor:
    • The culture and values of the organization;
    • The quality of senior leadership; and 
    • Access to career opportunities within the organization.
  • By contrast, we find three workplace factors fall to the bottom of the list as the least important predictors of satisfied employees in every country we examined:
    • Work-life balance;
    • Compensation and benefits; and 
    • Business outlook of the organization.
  • Across different industries, some workplace factors matter more to employees than others. While the three top factors remain the same across the board, three industries stand out as being the most different:
    • Government employees are less likely to prioritize work-life balance among the factors we studied (perhaps because they already enjoy greater work-life balance than most sectors), and more likely to prioritize the culture and values of their organization;   
    • Nonprofit employees are less likely to prioritize compensation and benefits among the factors we studied, and more likely to prioritize about the quality of their senior leadership; and
    • Education employees — which include many school teachers as well as university faculty — are less likely to prioritize compensation and benefits and career opportunities, and are more likely to prioritize the future outlook of the organization.
  • By gender, the workplace factors that matter most to employees are similar. However, we find that female employees in the U.S. on average are more likely to prioritize work-life balance, while male employees are more likely to prioritize compensation and benefits, and career opportunities at the organization. However, these gender differences are very small.

What We Did

For this analysis, we used Glassdoor’s unique database of millions of employee reviews from around the world.  In addition to overall employee satisfaction, each review asks employees about several detailed aspects of work, including:

  • Career Opportunities
  • Compensation and Benefits
  • Culture and Values
  • Senior Leadership
  • Work-life Balance 
  • Business Outlook 

In this analysis, we examine which of these six workplace factors are the strongest predictors of employees’ overall 1-to-5 star satisfaction with their jobs. To do so, we use a technique known as “Shapley value” analysis showing which workplace factors have the most explanatory value in terms of the relative contribution of each to the R-squared of a regression of overall satisfaction on the six workplace factors.

Under this approach, the six workplace factors can be thought of as a single “pie” in terms of the predictive power of overall employee satisfaction. Our analysis shows which pieces of this “workplace factor” pie are most closely linked to overall employee satisfaction. Using this approach, we examined all approved employee reviews on Glassdoor for five countries — the U.S., UK, Canada, France and Germany — as of June 5, 2019. 

What are the Strongest Predictors of Employee Satisfaction? 

United States

First, we look at which factors are the strongest predictors of employee satisfaction in the U.S. The figure below shows the most important workplace factors that drive employee satisfaction in the U.S. 

There are three main drivers of employee satisfaction in the U.S.: Culture and values of a company are the strongest predictors, accounting for 22 percent of the pie; quality of senior leadership is the second strongest predictor, accounting for 21 percent; and career opportunities is the third strongest predictor, accounting for 19 percent of the total.

By contrast, the six-month business outlook of the organization (14 percent), work-life balance (13 percent) and compensation and benefits (12 percent) are the least important predictors of employee satisfaction. This is consistent with past Glassdoor research on which factors matter most for employee happiness in the U.S.

United Kingdom  

Next, we look at which factors are the strongest predictors of employee satisfaction in the UK. Similar to the U.S., there are three main drivers of employee satisfaction in the UK: Culture and values of a company are the strongest predictors, accounting for 22 percent of this pie; quality of senior leadership is the second strongest predictor, accounting for 21 percent; and career opportunities is the third strongest predictor, accounting for 18 percent of the total.

France  

Next, we look at which factors are the strongest predictors of employee satisfaction in France. Similar to the U.S. and the UK, there are three key drivers of employee satisfaction in France: Culture and values of a company are the strongest predictors, accounting for 24 percent of this pie; quality of senior leadership is the second strongest predictor, accounting for 22 percent; and career opportunities is the third strongest predictor, accounting for 16 percent of the total.

Germany

Next, we look at which factors are the strongest predictors of employee satisfaction in Germany. Unlike the U.S., quality of senior leadership is the strongest predictor, more than culture and values. The three leading factors are as follows: Quality of senior leadership is the strongest predictor, accounting for 22.3 percent of this pie; culture and values of a company are the second strongest predictor, accounting for 21.8 percent; and career opportunities is the third strongest predictor, accounting for 17.4 percent of the total.

Canada  

Next, we look at which factors are the strongest predictors of employee satisfaction in Canada. Similar to the U.S., UK and France, there are three key drivers of employee satisfaction in Canada: Culture and values of a company are the strongest predictors, accounting for 22 percent of this pie; quality of senior leadership is the second strongest predictor, accounting for 21 percent; and career opportunities is the third strongest predictor, accounting for 18 percent of the total.

What Matters Most to Employees in Different Industries? 

Workplace culture in industries like retail or food services is often very different from industries like technology and consulting. Are there big differences among industries on Glassdoor in what workplace factors matter most for employee satisfaction? 

We looked at 23 U.S. industries on Glassdoor, and calculated how “different” each industry is from the overall average in terms of which factors matter for employee satisfaction.  

Overall, we find that the factors that are most important to employee satisfaction are similar in most industries. The three most important predictors of overall employee satisfaction remained the same in most sectors: Culture and values of the company, quality of senior leadership and career opportunities. Although the rank order of these factors varies among sectors, all three consistently ranked above business outlook, work-life balance and compensation and benefits. 

Although most industries are similar, a few stand out as having very different drivers of employee satisfaction. Three sectors stand out as having the most unusual drivers of employee satisfaction, in terms of being most different from the overall U.S. average: 

  • Government, 
  • Nonprofit and 
  • Education.  

In the figure below, we show the most important workplace factors for employee satisfaction among government employers. The blue bar shows which factors matter most to U.S. employees overall, while the green bar shows which factors matter to government employees, which include workers in local, state and federal agencies throughout the U.S.

Two factors stand out among government employees. First are the culture and values of the organization, which are much more important among government employees than in the U.S. overall. That factor accounts for 27 percent of overall satisfaction among these workers, compared to 22 percent for the U.S. overall. The underlying mission and values of government workplaces are especially important drivers of employee satisfaction among government employees on Glassdoor. 

Another key difference is that work-life balance is a much less important driver of employee satisfaction among government employees. That factor accounts for just 8 percent of worker satisfaction, compared to 13 percent for the U.S. overall. This pattern is likely the result of work-life balance being relatively high among government roles to begin with, making it less important as a day-to-day factor driving happiness at work compared to culture and values and career opportunities within government. 

In the figure below, we show the most important workplace factors for employee satisfaction among nonprofit employers. 

Two factors also stand out among nonprofit employees. First is the importance of senior leadership. Among nonprofit workers, that factor accounts for 23 percent of overall satisfaction, compared to 21 percent overall in the U.S. In the nonprofit world, senior leaders are often an organization’s top spokespersons and fundraisers, and Glassdoor data show they are the biggest contributor to employee satisfaction in the nonprofit sector. 

Second is compensation and benefits, which nonprofit employees rank as the least important of all six factors we examined for satisfaction at work. That factor accounts for just 9 percent of satisfaction among often-idealistically motivated nonprofit employees, compared to 12 percent for U.S. workers overall. 

Finally, the figure below shows the most important workplace factors for employee satisfaction among education employers. This sector consists mostly of primary and secondary school employees, as well as university faculty and staff. 

Two factors stand out among education employees as well. First is the future outlook of the organization, which was much more important to education employees than for U.S. workers overall. That factor accounted for 18 percent of satisfaction among education workers, compared to 14 percent for the U.S. overall. 

Second is compensation and benefits. Like employees in the nonprofit sector, education employees rated that factor as much less important than the average. Compensation and benefits accounted for just 9 percent of employee satisfaction in the education sector, compared to 12 percent for the U.S. overall. 

What Matters Most to Men and Women at Work? 

As a final step, we looked at whether men and women in the U.S. differ in terms of which factors matter most for employee satisfaction in the U.S. For this analysis, we divided our data set into Glassdoor reviews from employees who self-identified as men versus women, and looked at which are the most important drivers of overall 1-to-5 star job satisfaction for each group. 

The figure below shows our results. The green bar shows the importance of each workplace factor for women, while the blue bar shows each factor for men. Overall, men and women don’t differ much in terms of what makes them most satisfied at work: Culture and values of the organization, the quality of senior leaders and career opportunities top the list of most important factors for both men and women alike. 

However, there are two small differences by gender to take note of. First is work-life balance, which ranked as a slightly more important factor for female employees than for males. However, the difference is very small: Work-life balance accounts for 13 percent of satisfaction for female employees, compared to 12 percent for males.  

Second is career opportunities, which was ranked as slightly more important by male employees. Career opportunities account for 19 percent of satisfaction among male employees, while accounting for 18 percent among females. Again, this difference is very small, and broadly speaking our data show that men and women largely have the same views about what makes them happy at work. 

Conclusion 

In this analysis, we examined Glassdoor’s global database of employee reviews to show which workplace factors are the strongest predictors of overall employee satisfaction, by country, industry and gender. Overall, we find employee satisfaction is largely driven by the same core factors around the world, and in every industry — having strong company culture and values, great senior leadership teams and clear career opportunities for workers. Those three factors rise to the top in all five countries, and all 23 U.S. industries, we examined. 

However, what makes employees happy at work does differ somewhat among industries. We examined three industries in which the drivers of employee satisfaction were most different from the overall U.S. average: Government, nonprofit and education. In these sectors, employees generally placed less emphasis on compensation and benefits, and more on the quality of senior leadership and the culture and values of the organization. 

A common misperception among many employers today is that pay and work-life balance are among the top factors driving employee satisfaction in organizations. We find little support for this notion in Glassdoor data. Instead, the data from millions of employee reviews from around the world show that culture and values of organizations, the quality of senior leadership teams and career opportunities matter far more than pay or work-life balance for the long-term satisfaction of employees. Employers looking to improve workplace culture should place the highest priority on these three aspects of work.

(1) “Importance” of each workplace factor is determined by the relative contribution of each to the R-squared in a linear model, averaged over all possible permutations of explanatory variables. This is commonly referred to as “Shapley value” regression in the survey literature, and is implemented using the “relaimpo” package in R.

(2) Difference in the relative importance of workplace factors by industry from the overall average was calculated in terms of squared deviations of each industry’s percentage importance from the overall U.S. average, summed across all six factors. This measure can be interpreted as the overall “distance” of each industry from the overall U.S. average in terms of which factors matter for employee happiness.