UK workers are generally a happy bunch, but they’re happier away from work, according to new research.

A poll of more than 1,000 working people by NEBOSH (National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health) has revealed that 60% of UK workers are happy at work, with 10% describing themselves as “extremely happy” when doing their job.

However, as many 84% of those questioned said they were happy away from work, with 20% feeling “extremely happy” when not working. The figures suggest that British employers could do more to lift the mood of the workforce.

“Although the majority of people in Britain are happy at work, 40% aren’t,” said NEBOSH Chief Executive Teresa Budworth. “Happy workers tend to be more productive, so it’s a good idea for employers to take steps to ensure people feel good about work.”

The NEBOSH poll suggests that happiness at work is not linked to job type or pay-level. 61% of higher managerial and professional workers are happy at work, as are 61% of semi and unskilled manual workers.

Teresa Budworth commented: “Research by occupational psychologists has shown that financial incentives don’t motivate people at work in the long-term. The key to better productivity and staff retention is a friendly, relaxed working environment and making employees feel valued and respected.”

One area that employers could target to improve happiness is people’s health and well-being. The NEBOSH poll found that almost a quarter (22%) of UK workers are unhappy with their general health and well-being.

According to official figures, almost half a million workers in Britain suffer from work-related stress. Overall, around 30 million working days are lost each year in the UK through ill health (1).

Despite this, the NEBOSH poll showed that only 1 in five (21%) people have been given information, guidance or training at work on ways to avoid stress, while just 13% have been offered advice on exercise or healthy diet by their employer.

The NEBOSH Happiness, Health and Well-being at Work poll also revealed that 44% of workers in Scotland are unhappy at work, compared to 31% in the South East of England. Workers aged between 35 and 44 years are least happy at work. In fact, the poll suggests people tend to start off happy at work, grow less happy in middle age and then get happier again towards 65 and beyond. Happiness levels at work among men and women are roughly the same.