The Most (and Least) Satisfied Professions

March 21, 2013 by Mike Sauter

Where you work can be an excellent predictor of your health, happiness and stress levels. A recent Gallup poll demonstrates the extent to which workers in different professions tend to have similar levels of overall well-being. According to the 2012 results of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, physicians had the highest level of well-being of any major profession, while transportation workers, including drivers, pilots, flight attendants and air traffic controllers, had the lowest.

Gallup-Healthways asked more than 170,000 workers a series of 55 questions covering physical and emotional health, life evaluation and workplace environment. Gallup assigned a score between 0 to 100 to each of 14 major professional categories, with 100 representing ideal well-being. Based on Gallup’s score, these are the most and least satisfied professions.

Click here to see the most (and least) satisfied professions

While each of the 55 questions had some impact on the profession’s final well-being score, certain measures highly contribute to workers’ health. These include such factors as getting regular exercise, not smoking, learning something new every day, and being treated well by their employers, to name a few.

In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Dan Witters, research director for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, explained that the professions with high levels of obesity and related conditions like heart attacks and chronic physical pain were more likely to have much lower overall well-being. Just 14% of physicians were considered obese, compared to the more than 37% of transportation workers.

The majority of health insurance coverage in the United States is provided by employers, resulting in some dramatic differences between professions. Virtually all physicians surveyed (97%) reported having health insurance, while just 77% of transportation workers could say the same. Witters explained that health insurance, besides making people more likely to receive treatment they need, “has a lot of influence on the proactive nature of which people tend to their health.”

Conventional wisdom suggests that working long hours has long-term negative mental and physical health effects. In fact, Witters explained, the data do not support this. While working long hours can lead to stress, many of the jobs with the longest hours, including doctors, professionals such as lawyers and engineers, and business owners, have among the highest levels of well-being. One reason for this, Witters noted, is that long hours translate to higher income in these positions. Higher income, he explained, has a very high correlation with well-being, as it gives people access to basic needs.

One group that may surprise some with its high level of well-being is teachers, which ranked only behind physicians for well-being. “Teachers are a lot higher than a lot of people would guess. They are good eaters, their obesity, while too high, is well below the national average, and they have good workplace well-being. They get to use their strengths a lot.”

24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 14 professional categories surveyed by the Gallup-Healthway’s Well-Being Index in 2012. On top of calculating an overall national level of well-being, the index also calculates the well-being for each profession, assigning scores from 0 to 100, with 100 representing ideal well-being. In generating the rank, Gallup combined six separate indices, measuring access to basic needs, healthy behavior, work environment, physical health, life evaluation and optimism, and emotional health. In addition to the index, we considered income data and job descriptions from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook.

These are the most and least satisfied professions.

14. Transportation
> Job types: Bus drivers, flight attendants, air traffic controllers
> Well-being index score: 63.3
> Obesity: 62.9%
> Pct. with health insurance: 77.0%
> Pct. satisfied with job: 84.8%

Just over 80% of transportation employees believe that they use their strengths at work, lower than any other occupation except for clerical workers. Many transportation jobs, such as bus drivers and cab drivers, pay low wages, possibly contributing to a lower sense of well-being. Other positions in the industry pay quite well. For instance, air traffic controllers had a median pay of $108,040 in 2010, a pretty good haul considering that the position only needs an associate’s degree. However, the position involves a high amount of stress due to the intense concentration necessary and the nights and weekends involved.

13. Manufacturing or Production
> Job types: Assembly line workers, bakers, machine workers
> Well-being index score: 64.3
> Obesity: 70.4%
> Pct. with health insurance: 78.8%
> Pct. satisfied with job: 83.4%

Manufacturing and production employees — such as factory workers, food preparation workers, garment or furniture manufacturers — had lower ratings of their work environments than nearly all other occupations. They were less likely to feel satisfied in their job and among the least likely to be satisfied with how their supervisor treated them. Many of these jobs are low wages jobs. The median annual salaries of bakers and food processors were $23,450 and $23,950, respectively in 2010. The median 2010 salaries of assemblers, metal and plastic machine workers, and printing workers were all below the national median for all occupations. Manufacturing and production employees also ranked as the nation’s worst for healthy behavior due to high rates of smoking and low rates of exercise.

Also Read: America’s Happiest (and Most Miserable) States

12. Installation or Repair
> Job types: Mechanic, linesman, maintenance worker
> Well-being index score: 64.8
> Obesity: 70.7%
> Pct. with health insurance: 75.9%
> Pct. satisfied with job: 87.2%

Installation and repair workers, such as linesmen, mechanics, as well as maintenance and repair workers, were less likely to practice healthy behaviors. They were among the least likely employees to regularly eat fruits and vegetables, and among the most likely to smoke. Additionally, these workers also provided lower self-evaluations of their current lives than all occupations except for transportation workers. Many of these positions require no more than a high school diploma alongside moderate or long-term on-the-job training and do not pay considerably more than the median pay of $33,840 for all occupations.

11. Service Worker
> Job types: Police officer, barber, waiter
> Well-being index score: 65.3
> Obesity: 74.4%
> Pct. with health insurance: 73.0%
> Pct. satisfied with job: 83.6%

Service workers include a wide range of occupations, from fast-food servers to firefighters to barbers. Some service jobs can be dangerous. Police officers, landscapers and janitorial workers all had injury rates well above the national average. The job category ranked last on Gallup’s physical health index, with workers among the most likely to be sick or have health problems that prevent them from participating in normal activities. The sector was also the worst performer for emotional health. Service workers were among the least likely to say they felt treated well within the past day and the most likely of all professionals to say the felt sadness much of the day. In addition, they were also among the most likely to say they were dissatisfied with their job, and among the least likely to feel they used their strengths daily.

10. Construction or Mining
> Job types: Carpenter, plumber, miner
> Well-being index score: 66.1
> Obesity: 76.1%
> Pct. with health insurance: 61.2%
> Pct. satisfied with job: 86.2%

Construction and mining workers received high scores in physical health, falling third behind professional workers and physicians. This was despite the fact many such workers — including carpenters, oil and gas workers, and roofers — all had above average injury rates. Just 9.5% of those surveyed said that health problems prevented them from age appropriate activities, the lowest of any kind of worker. They were also the least likely to report having high cholesterol, diabetes or cancer. However, of all professions, construction and mining workers had the lowest score for access to basic necessities, ranking among the most likely to report lacking enough money to afford food, shelter or medical care. The median pay of construction trades and extractions jobs was higher than the median for all occupations.

9. Sales
> Job types: Sales agent, manufacturer’s representative, clerk
> Well-being index score: 68.0
> Obesity: 77.6%
> Pct. with health insurance: 83.8%
> Pct. satisfied with job: 83.7%

Sales workers include sales associates, store clerks and manufacturers’ representatives. The qualifications for sales positions vary dramatically. A typical retail sales worker earned just over $10 an hour in 2010 and had less than a high school diploma. By comparison, individuals who sell financial or complex scientific products earned more than double the median for all occupations. Sales workers polled poorly in emotional well-being in 2012, finishing fourth-worst among all professions. However, they frequently had to make a strong impression on clients; 86.3% of sales professionals claimed they had smiled or laughed a lot in the past day — the second highest rate.

Also Read: The States with the Strongest and Weakest Unions

8. Clerical or Office
> Job types: Secretaries, bank tellers, postal clerks
> Well-being index score: 68.1
> Obesity: 73.8%
> Pct. with health insurance: 89.9%
> Pct. satisfied with job: 87.5%

Clerical and office workers were the only occupation where less than four in five workers said that they use their strengths at work to do what they do best. They also tend to have a less active lifestyle. This was the only occupation on our list in which less than half of the respondents indicated that they worked out at least 30 minutes a day at least three days in the past week. Perhaps as a result, these workers as a whole tend to have more health problems than other workers. For instance, nearly 12% have been told they had asthma, the highest percentage of all 14 occupations. More than 7% have been told they has diabetes, a higher percentage than all but two professions.

7. Farming, Fishing or Forestry
> Job types: Fishermen, lumberjacks, farmers
> Well-being index score: 68.12
> Obesity: 75.8%
> Pct. with health insurance: 72.0%
> Pct. satisfied with job: 90.3%

Workers in the farming, fishing and forestry industry score well in some categories of well-being and poorly in others. These workers had the second-best emotional health, according to Gallup, with only physicians faring better. More than 93% of these workers indicated that they were treated with respect in the past day, higher than any other occupations. People in this sector also scored higher than all but doctors in terms of healthy behaviors. Despite that, they had the second-worst physical health index score, perhaps due to the demanding physical labor of their jobs. More than 31% had recurring back and neck pain in the past 12 months, while more than 26% had knee or leg pain. Both figures were the highest among all professions.

6. Nurse
> Job types: Licensed nurse, registered nurse
> Well-being index score: 71.6
> Obesity: 74.8%
> Pct. with health insurance: 91.7%
> Pct. satisfied with job: 91.4%

Nurses were among the most likely professionals to evaluate their lives positively. They gave higher grades to both their life currently and in the next five years than nearly all other workers. Unfortunately, nurses also had among the worst grades on Gallup’s physical health index, and were the least likely workers to feel well-rested, or to have enough energy to accomplish what they wanted to. Also, more than 91% of nurses reported having some health problem when surveyed — higher than all but one profession. The median wage for licensed nurses was more than $40,000 a year in 2010 — above the median pay for all workers of $33,840. For registered nurses — who have a degree from an approved program as well as a license — the median wage was nearly $65,000 a year.

Also Read: The Worst-Paying Cities for Women

5. Manager, Executive or Official
> Job types: CEO, executive director
> Well-being index score: 72.3
> Obesity: 74.8%
> Pct. with health insurance: 91.9%
> Pct. satisfied with job: 90.3%

Managers and executives scored in the top half of all occupations in every single well-being category. The well-being category where these professionals scored the highest was in work environment, scoring higher than all but business owners and physicians. Nearly 62% of respondents in this occupation indicated that they felt their supervisor treated them like a partner, higher than all other 13 of the 14 professions surveyed. The professional satisfaction and overall health of those in executive positions is likely bolstered by their high pay. The median pay for top executives in 2010 was $101,250.

4. Professional (Excluding Physicians, Nurses and Teachers)
> Job types: Lawyer, accountant, engineer
> Well-being index score: 73.0
> Obesity: 78.0%
> Pct. with health insurance: 93.2%
> Pct. satisfied with job: 90.4%

Professional workers include architects, engineers, lawyers and computer programmers, among others. Requirements for these positions vary. Architects and lawyers require both professional degrees and licensing, while computer programmers can start with just a bachelor’s degree. Workers in these positions self-reported especially high scores in physical health, trailing only physicians. They were among the least likely workers surveyed to report being sick within the past day or to suffer from any form of recurring pain. Based on their self evaluations of their lives, nearly two-thirds of such workers were described by Gallup as “thriving,” behind only physicians and teachers.

3. Business Owners
> Job types: Contractor, store owner, entrepreneur
> Well-being index score: 73.4
> Obesity: 79.5%
> Pct. with health insurance: 77.6%
> Pct. satisfied with job: 93.3%

Business owners are more likely than any other class of workers to rate their work environment highly. Over 93% of business owners said they were satisfied with their job or the work they did, higher than any occupation except for physician. Additionally, nearly 89% of business owners reported their work environment was trusting and open — by far the highest of any type of worker. According to the BLS, as of February there were almost 14.5 million self-employed workers, down from nearly 15.9 million five years prior.

2. Teacher
> Job types: High school, special education teacher, teacher assistants
> Well-being index score: 73.6
> Obesity: 79.4%
> Pct. with health insurance: 95.7%
> Pct. satisfied with job: 91.1%

Teachers had higher self-evaluations of their lives than workers in every other occupation beside physicians. Nearly 70% of teachers qualifying as “thriving” based on their current and expected future quality of life. Teachers were also the most likely workers to report they smiled or laughed, experienced enjoyment or experienced happiness within the past day. Teachers surveyed also regularly practiced healthy behaviors. More than 64% ate at least five servings of fruits and vegetables at least four days a week, second only to nurses, and just under 6% smoked, less than only physicians. According to the BLS, median pay for “education, training and library occupations” was just over $45,000 in 2010 — higher than the median for all occupations.

Also Read: Ten Countries That Hate America Most

1. Physician
> Job types: Internist, obstetrician, anesthesiologist
> Well-being index score: 78.0
> Obesity: 86.0%
> Pct. with health insurance: 96.7%
> Pct. satisfied with job: 95.5%

Physicians ranked higher than every other profession due to top marks in life evaluation, healthy behaviors, emotional and physical health, as well as access to basic needs. Physicians were by far the most likely professionals to be described by Gallup as “thriving.” They were also less likely than any other workers to have felt sad or angry in the past day, and the most likely to have the energy needed to be productive. Physicians are often exceptionally well-paid. According to the Medical Group Management Association, primary care physicians earned a median annual compensation of more than $200,000, while for those with medical specialties the figure exceeded $350,000.