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We haven’t been this downbeat about our jobs since the pandemic started—and tech workers are especially blue

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There’s a cloud over Silicon Valley so pervasive it’s bringing the whole workforce down. Employee satisfaction hit a new low during the last stretch of 2023, shows new data from BambooHR. Sentiment on average was 10% lower than three years prior when the pandemic first hit in December 2020.

But the mood isn’t distributed evenly—in fact, most industries experienced a slight increase in happiness during this period. For instance, construction, education, and travel industries reported relatively higher scores from 2022 to 2023. The main drivers of the record-low mood came from just two sectors: tech and nonprofits. Employee happiness for nonprofit workers dipped in response to a year of paltry donations and staffing issues as companies struggled to retain workers, explains BambooHR.

And our techies are especially upset these days as they push through the lowest satisfaction score since 2020. Most of that can be traced to the sector’s increasing volatility, whether it comes in the form of company layoffs or the threat of future layoffs, hidden in debates on whether AI will make roles redundant. Just half a decade ago, these tech jobs represented a dream job for eager-eyed millennials and Gen Zers looking to make a good salary, reap the reward of cushy benefits, and put their hands on some prestige and the promise of stability. Meanwhile, the pendulum is swinging toward the blue-collar field’s favor as construction employees sit at the top of the rankings as the most satisfied workers this past year.

In a period of self-correction, many tech workers are now navigating the downswing that threatens to represent a new reality for the industry. About 300,000 employees working within the tech field were laid off in 2023, per Layoffs.fyi. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg set the tone, beginning with labeling 2023 the “year of efficiency” and  culling Meta’s workforce with multiple rounds of layoffs. Cutthroat management became what was hot and trendy in 2023 instead of, say, free crunchy snacks or a metaverse lounge (remember that?). And so far this year, corporate giants show no signs of letting up. Add fears of AI making roles obsolete to the mix and tech workers are feeling bad enough to bring the whole workforce to new lows. 

“I had to move in w/ my dad at 39 after massive tech layoffs, hiring freezes & losing my home,” tweeted Adrian C. Jackson, in response to the recent job cuts. It’s sent a signal to Gen Zers about the level (or lack) of dedication that employers are willing to give their employees. 

Gen Z is “listening to the headlines,” Handshake chief Christine Cruzvergara told Fortune recently. “These were companies that for pretty much all of their lives were growing, and all of a sudden now they’re slashing and cutting jobs by tens of thousands. And that makes things feel unstable.”

There’s no use just pointing the finger at software engineers alone. Sure, they’re driving the average mood lower alongside some nonprofit workers, but there’s something larger afloat. America’s workforce has been suffering from a collective malaise ever since the pandemic hit, likely in part reeling from the disappearance of all the innovation promised at the start of COVID-19. 

During the early pandemic, many spoke of a new way of work where employees could control their schedules and where they worked. Yet as the years went on, a hybrid compromise was reached which, while creating grudging acceptance, didn’t necessarily thrill anyone. Taking advantage of a tight labor market, many had left when their job did not deliver on promises of a good salary or valuing their employees. 
Now, the job market and arduous hiring process is a different story and many are stuck working jobs without the same liberty or leverage. And trust in most institutions has reached another new low, with Gallup finding that Americans’ ratings of peoples’ ethics and honesty have declined for 12 out of 13 jobs in the past year. We’re becoming a more cynical nation as people deal with information overload, socioeconomic turmoil and navigate the dissolution of the “dream job” while struggling to cash in on their social contract with their employer. It’s all enough to make more than just a Google engineer feel a little peeved.

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