With the light at the end of the tunnel finally visible for the British economy, the nation’s office workers are happier than they have been since the onset of recession. However, with the job market also looking brighter for 2010, it could be the prospect of changing jobs that is making people happier in the office.

According to the latest Badenoch and Clark Happiness at Work Index, 76% of respondents reported high levels of happiness in the workplace. That’s an increase of 4% from the last quarterly Index, which marked a happiness low point since the Index began.

However, despite these recovering levels of workplace happiness, nearly half (42 %) of all respondents are looking to move jobs in the New Year. The trend could mean challenging months ahead for employers, as people who fought to cling on to their jobs during the height of the recession increase in confidence and re-enter the job market, Nearly a quarter (22%) of respondents already feel more confident about their job prospects for 2010.

Some of the most high profile sectors to have been hit by the recession reported high levels of employees on the move. Nearly two thirds of employees in banking and financial services (63%) and sales, marketing and media (61%) reported plans to change jobs in 2010.

The prospective exodus of employees from their current roles comes at a time when workplace morale is at rock bottom. Nearly three quarters (72%) of employees found morale in their workplace low.

The Happiness at Work Index has tracked happiness in the workplace since its inception in early 2007, charting a slow but steady decline in workplace happiness throughout the UK. The recession has been a significant driving factor since the middle of 2008, but happiness is now notably higher as workers contemplate changing roles in the New Year.

Neil Wilson, managing director at Badenoch & Clark, comments: ”In the last year, we’ve seen the recession have a significant impact on happiness and morale levels. On the face of it, the increase in happiness in the latest Index is a positive thing for employers.

“However, when looked at alongside falling morale levels and increasing numbers of people looking to change jobs, the picture becomes less straightforward. An improving economic picture could mean people are happier at work as they feel more secure in their jobs. That security hasn’t translated to rising morale though, and many people are now feeling confident enough to start looking for jobs again – something which could be having a beneficial impact on overall happiness levels.

“Wherever possible, employers should capitalise on the feelings of security and happiness amongst their workforce by looking to enhance the prospects of employees’ current roles. Retention strategies should top the agenda. Tactics such as maintaining strong employer brands, providing clear career paths and offering competitive benefits should be employed to persuade workers to remain for the long term.”