I love my job, but research suggests I'm in the minority. A 2015 survey by the nonprofit Conference Board found that only 48.3 percent of Americans are satisfied at work. This has not always been the case. In the late 1980s and mid-1990s, job satisfaction hovered around 60 percent. To make matters worse, Americans spend an awful lot of time at their less than joyful jobs: according to Gallup, an average of 47 hours a week for full-time workers—nearly a full day beyond the 40-hour week. What does it take to find more fulfillment, less stress and greater productivity on the job? That's the question we set out to answer in our special report, “Work Smarter, Work Happier.”
Many modern employees worry that robots and artificial intelligence threaten their livelihood. Computer scientist Sandy Pentland of M.I.T. turns this idea on its head by showing how technological devices can actually foster the most human part of labor: the social connections essential to teamwork and innovation. “In the laboratory and in real life, we have found that these aids can help co-workers communicate better, find greater success and enjoy work more,” he writes in “Betting on People Power.”
In “No Workplace Like Home,” journalist Rachel Nuwer explores the growing trend of telecommuting, examining research that shows how distance workers can exceed their office-bound peers in both productivity and job satisfaction. And in “Give Me a Break,” contributing editor Ferris Jabr looks at solutions to what may be the single biggest stressor for the modern desk jockey: the failure to unplug from the always on, always connected workplace.
As much time as we invest on the job, we spend even more hours sleeping. Or trying to sleep. This is an active area of research for brain scientists, and both our Consciousness Redux column by neuroscientist Christof Koch and the opening stories in Head Lines look at fascinating new findings.
Finally, as the country lurches toward Election Day, we bring you several articles that are relevant to voting. British psychologist Kevin Dutton examines the intriguing—and alarming—overlap of personality traits found in politicians and psychopaths. Don't miss his assessment of the current presidential candidates. In our Perspectives column, behavioral scientist Supriya Syal and behavioral economist Dan Ariely extract lessons from research on how to improve voter turnout. Elsewhere, our inimitable advice columnist, Sunny Sea Gold, offers practical wisdom on how to be a more responsible, informed voter. It's worthwhile reading, whatever your politics.