Don’t like your job (or career)? You’re not alone.

Seventy percent of American workers are disengaged with their jobs, and more than half would like to switch careers, according to recent surveys. (NICHOLAS KAMM - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Seventy percent of American workers are disengaged with their jobs, and more than half would like to switch careers, according to recent surveys. (NICHOLAS KAMM - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

It may be cold comfort on the eve of July 4th, but if you're stuck at the office hating your job and counting down the hours to the holiday, remember: It could be worse. You could want an entirely different career.

A recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive for the University of Phoenix found that 55 percent of American workers would like to change careers. Nearly 80 percent of working adults in their 20s and nearly two-thirds of those in their 30s would like to do so, too. "We the people," apparently, are pursuing not only life, liberty and happiness, but another career.

Granted, the survey was done for the country's biggest for-profit university, whose customers, to a certain extent, are people who may be considering a career change. But it also comes on the heels of Gallup's 2013 State of the American Workplace Report, a robust study with more than 150,000 respondents, which found that 70 percent of American workers are either disengaged or actively disengaged in their jobs. Put another way, only about 30 percent of us really like going to work.

It would be easy to blame the economy for these findings. With high unemployment and continued fears by corporations to hire, one might think that disengagement at work would have gotten far worse since people felt more stuck in their jobs and less able to seek new ones.

In reality, the ratio of "engaged" to "disengaged" employees has remained relatively stable since Gallup began the tracking the measure in 2000. Since then, through two periods of weak economic growth--one minor and one major--the percentage of people truly engaged in their jobs has only fluctuated by four percentage points. Ironically, in 2000 and 2005, both good years for the economy, just 26 percent of people felt engaged at work--a low point in the study--compared with 30 percent in 2001, 2002, and 2012, hardly banner years when it came to the job market. Similarly, the study found that in 2009, a terrible year for jobs, 18 percent of people were "actively disengaged" at work, a lower ratio than in 2007, before the Great Recession began.


Source: Gallup, 2013 State of the American Workplace Report

Perhaps when the economy is struggling, we're more grateful to have jobs, even ones we don't like so much. Or perhaps when the economy is good, we're a little more willing to think the grass is greener and wish we had something different. Or more likely, as I'm sure Gallup would agree, how engaged we are with our jobs--or our chosen careers--has little to do with the economy and a lot more to do with the quality of the managers and leaders for whom we work.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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Jena McGregor · July 2, 2013