If you’re a rank-and-file professional working long hours at a desk job, you’ve likely spent at least a moment or two wondering if the grass would have been greener if you took a different career path, maybe one that doesn’t pay as well but is less stressful and keeps you on your feet. Would life actually be better if you were a bartender or out on the road? The short answer – and the good news – is no, not really. But there are still a couple of options that provide a better overall sense of well-being for bankers and other professionals who burnout or who want a second career.
Researchers for a new study published in Preventative Medicine Reports analyzed interviews from nearly 75,000 employees across 11 job categories, looking at their overall well-being along with five career factors that contribute to happiness: purpose, social life, financial stability, community and physical health (the complete definitions for each are at the bottom of the article). As you can see in the chart below, the “professional worker,” including investment bankers, stock brokers, accountants, lawyers, engineers, computer programmers and marketing professionals, report having a happier life than people in most other lines of work. Good news all round. Except, as the (red) chart below shows, some people are better-off still.
Unsurprisingly, one kind of person who's better off is your boss. Managers and executives feel better about where they are in life than those who report to them. Stick it out and become management and life may improve. The other 'lifestyle' option has likely danced across many idle minds: starting your own company. Business owners and those who classify themselves as self-employed report a better overall sense of well-being than professionals, despite not feeling quite as comfortable about their finances – the biggest deterrent for most people who would prefer to go out on their own. Other factors that lead to happiness like a sense of purpose, community and physical well-being more than make up the difference.
The final option: you can just say the hell with it and become a farmer or a fisherman. They’re the happiest of the lot.
While it may sound crazy, plenty of successful bankers have left the business in the hopes of finding a quieter mind by running farms, ranches and fisheries. Michael Wentworth Waites, a former head of equities at Deutsche Asset Management, left to run a commercial hill farm in the U.K. Former private banker M.G. Hoysala now manages a 40-acre farm and coffee plantation. Former Credit Suisse exec Hector Sants lists organic farming as his top hobby. “They've had enough, they've got young children, and they want to get away from the stress of it all,” estate and farm realtor Charlie Evans previously told us of the banker-turned-farmer phenomenon.
Money matters. And so does the size of the pond
Looking deeper into the numbers, a few key trends emerge. As one would assume, people who work in lower-paying industries like construction, transportation and manufacturing report lower levels of financial well-being, though the differences aren’t as stark as one would think. But after cutting the data using three different salary thresholds, researchers found that top earners in all 11 job categories reported higher scores in each of the five well-being indices than their middle-earning colleagues, who likewise outpaced low earners in every category and every measure of well-being – with no exceptions. The job that you have doesn’t affect happiness near as much as the amount you earn compared to others in your field. A well-paid plumber is more content in life than a poorly-paid accountant. The grass may not be greener on the other side of the fence, but it’s definitely greener in the corner office or with the higher-paying shift at the bar.
In sales, you better be good
By comparison, you might want to avoid sales. In a commission-based business, it makes sense for money to be a big predictor of happiness for salespeople. But the differences are really stark. When comparing the highest and lowest income groups, sales tied for the largest gap in overall well-being. Sales workers in the lowest income group also reported significantly poorer physical health than high or middle-income salespeople. The job puts employees at a higher risk for poor cardiovascular health than other groups, according to the report. To be short: if you aren’t a very good salesperson, you probably want to try something new. It’s making you miserable and could actually kill you.
Purpose: liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals.
Social: having supportive relationships and love in your life.
Financial: managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security.
Community: liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community.
Physical well-being: having good health and enough energy to get things done daily.
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