Are your co-workers just pretending to be happy at work on social media? This 900+ employee survey investigates

During a normal week at a normal job, you spend more time at the office than you do at home with your family. For a majority of Americans, the daily grind is just a part of life.

No matter how passionate you are about your career or industry, though, your workplace culture and environment can have a profound impact on your physical and mental health, regardless of whether you’re on the clock.

A toxic work environment can cause stress (even triggering a heart attack or stroke in severe, prolonged cases) or lead to depression and other health complications. And while it’s been suggested there are two primary causes of toxicity in the workplace, the people or the system, it’s possible more of your co-workers are unhappy with their jobs than they are letting on.

So, how happy are most people with their jobs, and how often do they let it show? To answer that question and more, Ladders, a job search platform for high-paying positions, conducted a survey of over 900 employees about what it’s like to fake happiness at work.

Nearly 1 in 4 employees admitted to feeling unhappy at work, and more than 4 in 5 had faked their happiness. While a majority of employees were happy, 65% of your co-workers – a not-so-small percentage – could be feeling put off by their jobs and hiding the truth.

Typically, women (86%) were more likely to fake their happiness at work compared to men (77%), followed by people in lower positions (82%) or with lower annual salaries (85%).

Faces of Fake Happiness

And while so many employees faked their happiness at least occasionally, 72% cared that their co-workers at least perceived them as being happy at work. Compared to just 65% of men, 79% of women acknowledged wanting their co-workers to see them as being happy with their jobs.

Respondents in management positions and those earning more than $47,000 annually were less likely to fake their happiness but more inclined to suggest they wanted their co-workers to see them as being happy with their jobs.

The lies didn’t just begin and end at the office, either. Fourteen percent of employees admitted to feeling pressured to post positive news about their jobs on social media, and nearly 1 in 4 employees who were unhappy at work still left positive reviews for their jobs online.

While 13% of respondents had a boss ask them to make a positive social media post about the company, 10% took to social media on their own to gain favor with their managers.

Employees may perceive themselves as hiding the truth about their unhappiness, but actions can speak louder than words. Nearly two-thirds of employees faking their happiness admitted to not getting as much sleep as they knew they should.

Furthermore, 2 in 5 happiness fakers confessed they had complained to their co-workers about their job, and nearly as many avoided speaking to their co-workers (38%) during office hours, compared to 12% of employees who identified being happy with their jobs.

Dodging your co-workers may be an easy way to avoid having to put on a brave face when you’re not feeling good about your work, but some research shows that having real friends at work can boost job satisfaction by as much as 50%.

Other common behaviors among people only pretending to be content with their careers included putting minimum effort into their appearance or attire (27%), arriving late to work (23%), and using time off or sick days to avoid going into work (22%). In fact, unhappy employees were twice as likely to use their personal time off as a way to avoid work.

No matter how good you think you are at hiding the truth, there’s an even better chance your boss can see through a fake smile or a disingenuous attitude: 81% of managers believed they could tell when their employees are faking happiness.

Managers often consider themselves perceptive enough to know when someone is faking their emotions, and many (52%) wished their employees would talk about what’s really making them unhappy. And while 2 in 5 managers were unbothered by employees pretending to be happy as long as their work was accomplished, more than a quarter would rather employees didn’t pretend at all.

Aside from having to worry if your boss is on to you or whether your co-workers can see through your veil of unhappiness, pretending to feel better about your job can have a negative impact on your health and productivity.

The study found that happy workers were more likely to be promoted in six months or less and more than twice as likely to feel successful in their careers. Happy employees were also over three times as likely to feel optimistic about their career growth compared to employees faking happiness.

When asked to rate various levels of their job satisfaction, just 21% of employees feigning happiness were satisfied with their jobs, followed by 46% who were satisfied with their co-workers and 39% who were satisfied with their bosses.

In contrast, people who identified as genuinely happy were far more satisfied with these areas of their work lives, including their relationships with co-workers (92%) and bosses (88%).

Unhappy employees also wasted nearly twice as much time throughout the day: Compared to respondents who identified as being happy and averaged 44 minutes of unproductive time daily, respondents hiding their true feelings averaged 79 minutes of unproductive time at work every day.

The impact of hiding how you really feel at work can follow you home long after you’ve signed off. A majority of employees faking their happiness (89%) acknowledged feeling exhausted after getting home from work, compared to just 4% who felt energized instead.

People who were happy with their jobs reported a different impact on their personal lives. While more than half of genuinely satisfied employees still came home exhausted at the end of the day (59%), 17% reported having neutral energy levels, and 24% were energetic.

Feeling energetic before or after work can also impact your physical health. Employees who faked their happiness and often came home exhausted were twice as likely not to exercise during the week and twice as likely to eat unhealthy foods after work.

When you don’t think you can be honest about your job while you’re at work, those pent-up negative emotions can follow you home in more ways than one.

Respondents who acknowledged feeling unhappy at work were far more likely to keep to themselves (50%), complain about work to their significant other (48%), watch an excessive amount of TV (44%), and look for other jobs (43%).

While unhappy employees managed their negative work feelings in more unhealthy ways, genuinely happy respondents were more likely to manage bad feelings at work through exercise (38%), helpful advice from others (23%), and yoga or meditation (17%).

Read next: How to Cope When Work Feels Overwhelming (infographic)
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