Workers in the technology industry are some of the happiest overall, and why shouldn't they be? With their high salaries, enviable perks, and jobs that really are changing the way the world works, tech workers are a lot better off than workers in struggling industries.
In the latest quarterly CNBC|SurveyMonkey Workplace Happiness Survey, a full 90% of tech workers say they are very or somewhat satisfied with their job. Of course, true happiness is complex, but on five measures meant to comprise a fuller picture of job satisfaction — pay, opportunity, autonomy, recognition and meaning — technology workers' responses either exceed or match the averages across all industries, sometimes by double-digit percentage points.
Compared with all workers, tech workers say they are better paid (81% vs. 73%), they have better opportunities to advance their careers (70 vs. 59%), and their contributions are valued more often (88% vs. 81%).
The survey was conducted Oct. 14–20, 2019, among a national sample of 8,155 workers in the United States. Data have been weighted initially for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau's American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States age 18 and over, then weighted for age, race, sex, education, employment status, and geography using Census Bureau's Current Population Survey to reflect the demographic composition of United States employed population.
These are great results, and tech leaders should be proud that they're raising the bar in terms of workplace happiness. But pick up a newspaper or scroll through social media, and for every positive story about tech companies expanding their paternity leave policies or offering their employees time off to volunteer you can find an even more negative story about tech workers' incredible stress or gender discrimination.
There's a lot that tech gets right when it comes to treating their employees well at work, but big gaps remain. The truth is that the technology industry is neither the angel it portrays itself to be nor the devil that some claim.
What tech gets right: Valuing skills over degrees
In most industries, workers without college degrees have lower measures of workplace happiness than those with diplomas. The best jobs—the ones that pay well and that have clear paths for promotion—typically require at least a bachelor's degree, and that shows in the survey results.
In the combined three CNBC|SurveyMonkey Workplace Happiness surveys of 2019, with a total of more than 24,000 workers across the country surveyed, 76% of workers with a college degree say they are very or somewhat well paid for the work they do compared with 71% of workers without a college degree who say the same. Even more notably, 86% of workers with at least a college degree say their contributions are valued by their colleagues, six points higher than the response among those without a college degree.
That's not true in tech. Relative to tech workers with a bachelor's degree or more, tech workers without a college degree are slightly more likely to say they're satisfied with their job (89% vs. 86%), equally likely to say they're well paid (81% each), and equally likely to say their contributions are valued (88% each).
A college degree is a lot of things: evidence that you're diligent about learning, a record of the different subjects you've mastered, a totem of your intellect. It's also a very expensive piece of paper, and for a lot of people it is out of financial reach. The fact that someone without a college degree can find work in technology and feel equally satisfied with their pay, opportunities, and recognition at work indicates that tech is doing something right.
The story of the white male college dropout who founds the next big tech company is the exception that proves the rule; you don't need to have an advanced degree to build a successful career in tech, and that's something to be applauded.
But tech still isn't the hero it could be
Other stereotypes about tech are uglier, and unfortunately just as true. Women in tech have horror stories of sexual harassment, discrimination, and simple unfairness that have been well documented and publicized. We've also backed them up with data before.
Black and Hispanic tech workers have some of the same complaints: pay disparities, lack of respect, and generally being treated as second-class citizens in tech. Using three waves of the CNBC|SurveyMonkey Workplace Happiness Survey, we can break out our measures by race within industry to provide evidence for all these faults. Because there are relatively few blacks and Hispanics working in tech—a problem to explore in another survey—we group them together to yield a large enough sample size for comparison.
In our survey, black and Hispanic workers in the technology industry are significantly less likely than whites to say they're very satisfied with their job, are well paid for the work they do, and have excellent opportunities to advance at work. All of these hold to a greater degree than is true in non-tech industries.
Across all industries, for example, 26% of whites and 24% of blacks or Hispanics say they are very well paid—a two percentage point gap that is within the margin of error. Within tech, those numbers increase to 34% among whites and 28% among blacks or Hispanics. Notice how even though both numbers are higher among tech workers (who are happier overall, after all) the margin between them widens to a real difference of six percentage points.
Asians in tech have more mixed results. They report being less satisfied with their jobs and less well paid relative to their white, black, and Hispanic peers; but they also are more likely than everyone else to say they have excellent opportunities to advance their career. Though these results aren't as completely negative as those among black and Hispanic workers, they still indicate differential experiences determined not by someone's ability or effort, but just by their race.
Technology companies often motivate themselves by setting high-reaching mission statements: to connect, power, and improve the world. Until their own workers are treated fairly, this will be hard to do. In some ways, tech can show the way forward but in other ways it has some real work to do to catch up.
—By Laura Wronski, senior research scientist, and Jon Cohen, chief research officer, SurveyMonkey