Two-in-three Canadian workers would like to make a significant change in their careers

Two-in-three Canadian workers would like to make a significant change in their careers

Nine-in-ten who have made a major career change in the past say they’re glad they did so

October 27, 2016 – For many Canadian workers, it appears that the grass is always greener at somebody else’s job.

While three-quarters of working Canadians say they are satisfied with their current careers overall, almost two-thirds say they’re interested in making a significant career change – pushing for a promotion, a new employer, or a new career entirely.

These are some of the findings of a public opinion poll of more than 4,500 Canadian adults, including more than 2,500 workers, conducted in three waves by the Angus Reid Institute. The survey reveals a generally contented workforce, but one that still sees significant room for improvement in its employment situation.

The desire for better circumstances may be a product of past experience: Most Canadians say they’ve made a significant career change before, and those who have overwhelmingly say they’re glad they did it.

Key Findings:Angus Reid Institute

  • Most Canadian workers are satisfied with a variety of aspects of their careers, from opportunities for advancement (60% satisfied) to the type of work they are doing (80%)
  • More than half (54%) identify “pay and benefits” as one of the most important factors in their job satisfaction, but fewer are satisfied with this than with other facets of their work
  • Almost two-in-three Canadian workers (63%) say they would be interested in making a significant change in their careers, but 43 per cent say “a change would be nice, but I wouldn’t know how to make it happen”

Career satisfaction: Who’s happy with what they do?

Most Canadian workers express satisfaction with their careers, but some are more satisfied than others.

Asked about their current employment situation overall, three-in-four workers (74%) say they are “satisfied,” though most leave room for improvement. Only one-in-five (20%) say they are “very satisfied,” as seen in the graph that follows:

Angus Reid Institute

The people who are “very satisfied” with their overall careers are also more likely to be pleased with each individual element of work canvassed in this survey. Those elements are as follows:

  • Opportunities for advancing your career
  • Your pay and benefits
  • Your employer’s appreciation for your work
  • The amount of job security you have
  • The type of work you are doing
  • Allows balance/flexibility for family needs
  • Lets you use your training and skills
  • Personal fulfillment
  • Workload/amount of stress

Among all workers, satisfaction ranges from 60 per cent (the total satisfied with opportunities for advancement) to 80 per cent (satisfied with the type of work they do). Among those “very satisfied” with their overall careers, however, at least nine-in-ten are satisfied across the board, as seen in the following graph:

Angus Reid Institute

On most of the items asked about in this survey, satisfaction is also higher among older workers than it is among younger ones. This follows a well-documented pattern of older people being more likely to be happy with their lives, a pattern the Angus Reid Institute has encountered in previous studies.

That said, there are two notable exceptions to this trend: job security and compensation. On these key areas, workers of all ages are roughly equally likely to be satisfied (see comprehensive tables for greater detail).

One group that is noticeably happier about their pay and benefits? Those who make more money. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of workers from households that earn $100,000 or more per year report satisfaction with their compensation. Among those with lower household incomes, satisfaction is significantly lower, as seen in the following graph:

Angus Reid Institute

As might be expected, the type of work people do also affects their job satisfaction. Those who work in managerial or executive positions, skilled trades, office and administrative jobs, and professions are more likely to feel good about their employment situations overall.

Those who work in sales and service, the knowledge and creative sectors, and as unskilled labour are less satisfied:

Angus Reid Institute

These findings align broadly with published lists ranking the happiest and unhappiest careers, which often sort retail clerks and salespeople – as well as labourers – into the least happy category, while placing high-salary managerial positions such as “chief operating officer” near the top of the list.

What’s most important?

“Do what you love,” the saying goes, “and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

This adage, dispensed at graduation ceremonies and in self-help books for decades, may actually be terrible advice that glorifies glamourous work and denigrates necessary jobs for which few people have a deep passion.

Luckily for Canadian workers, perhaps, personal fulfilment isn’t at the top of the list when it comes to factors driving their career satisfaction. A better saying for them might be Cuba Gooding Jr.’s mantra from Jerry Maguire: “Show me the money.”

Asked which of the aspects of work canvassed in this survey is most important to their overall job satisfaction, a full majority of Canadian workers (54%) say “pay and benefits” is in their top two. No other item registers as a top priority for even half that many workers, as seen in the graph that follows:

Angus Reid Institute

Pay and benefits are the top priority across all demographic groups (see comprehensive tables), but older workers are somewhat less enthusiastic than younger ones about the need to be well-paid in order to be satisfied:

Angus Reid Institute

While they’re less likely to place a premium on compensation, older workers are more likely than other age groups to say their job satisfaction depends on the “type of work” they’re doing, and to emphasize the importance of their overall employment situation.

Younger workers are more likely to value personal fulfilment and opportunities for advancement, while those in the middle age group – in the midst of their prime child-rearing years – are more likely to tie job satisfaction to flexibility for family, as well as job security (see comprehensive tables).

Notably, those who say they are “very satisfied” with their overall careers are considerably less likely to choose “pay and benefits” as most important, while those who are “very dissatisfied” are much more likely to tie satisfaction to compensation:

Angus Reid Institute

In need of a change?

While the vast majority of Canadian workers are satisfied with their careers and the various aspects of them canvassed in this survey, most also say they would be interested in making “a significant career change” (defined in the survey as a change in career, a change in employer, or a change in role while working for the same employer).

Almost two-in-three (63%) express interest in making such a change (26% are “very interested,” and 37% “interested”). Another one-quarter (26%) are “not too interested,” and just one-in-ten (11%) say they are “not at all interested.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, those who are dissatisfied with their overall careers are more likely to be interested in making a change. As seen in the following graph, however, even a majority of those who are “satisfied” with their current careers would be interested in making a significant change. Only the “very satisfied” are more inclined to stick with the status quo:

Angus Reid Institute

Workers ages 55 and older are mostly uninterested in altering their career path (60% choose either “not too interested” or “not at all interested”), while nearly three-quarters of workers under age 35 (73%) would like to switch things up (see comprehensive tables).

Most have made a career change before

One possible explanation for Canadian workers’ willingness to consider making changes to their careers? Most of them have done it before.

Three-quarters of all Canadian adults (76%) – including retirees and people not currently in the workforce – say they have voluntarily made a significant change in their working lives in the past. Indeed, many have made more than one such change:

Angus Reid Institute

Not only do most Canadians have experience making major alterations to their careers, those who have done so overwhelmingly look back on the experience positively. Nearly nine-in-ten (89%) agree with the statement “I’m really glad I did it.” A full majority (58%) strongly agree.

Canadians of all ages are roughly equally likely to have made a significant career change, as seen in the graph that follows, though it should be noted that younger workers are more likely to have done so only once.

Angus Reid Institute

Those who have made significant career changes offer a variety of reasons for doing so, with no single explanation coming close to a majority, as seen in the following graph:

Angus Reid Institute

The top two options – a desire for career advancement and to do something new – resonate differently with different age groups. Younger Canadians – many of who are just beginning their careers and working in entry-level positions – are more likely to have modified their situations to advance their careers, while other age groups tend to have made changes because they wanted to do something new:

Angus Reid Institute

Most don’t want to take a career risk

Though most Canadian workers would be interested in making a significant change in their careers, and indeed have experience doing so, there are some factors in their lives that work against them making big changes.

One such factor is the widespread satisfaction discussed earlier in this report. This general contentedness, coupled with an aversion to taking career risks, could be enough to keep many Canadian workers in their current positions.

Almost six-in-ten workers (58%) agree with the statement “I’m just not the type to take a risk with my job,” and many others say they don’t feel qualified for the jobs they would like, or don’t feel like they know how to make a change happen, as seen in the following graph:

Angus Reid Institute

Among younger workers, agreement with the “change might be nice” and “I don’t feel qualified” statements in the preceding graph rises to 51 per cent (see comprehensive tables).


The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research organization established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.

Click here for the full report including tables, sample size and methodology

Click here for comprehensive data tables

Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey

Ian Holliday, Research Associate: 604.442.3312 

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