10 U.S. Cities Where Employees are Happiest

You can find these kinds of lists everywhere, so instead of taking the list approach you will first see the top 10 cities and then get a broader perspective of why these cities were chosen. This way you can find out the commonalities and differences that caused these cities to make the list, then find other locations that may not be cities but have the same basic characteristics. By the way, New York was dead last, and that shouldn’t really surprise anyone – including New Yorkers.

Here is the list of the top 10 cities, in descending order.

  • Miami
  • Los Angeles
  • Raleigh, N.C.
  • Louisville
  • Omaha
  • San Jose, California
  • Sacramento
  • Oklahoma City
  • Seattle
  • Fresno, California

Four of the top 10 are in California, and that is a bit of a head scratcher given the overall condition of the state and the fact that people are leaving the state in droves. But this fact will give you some insight as to why you should always do your own research and not immediately pack up and move.

Four of the top 10 are located on a coastline, while Fresno, Sacramento, and Raleigh are all roughly two hour drives from the coast. Being able to take a weekend drive to the beach and get away from the corporate madness has to contribute to employee happiness. As for Louisville, Omaha, and Oklahoma City, we are continuing to investigate. Fortune magazine says in its report on the survey that only “two top towns” got high marks with ocean location as a significant factor. Obviously the people at Fortune don’t believe in weekend road trips. And “towns.” Really?

Next factor to consider is the cost of living. It is clear why New York placed dead last for this reason alone. On the other hand, how did 4 California cities make it into the top 10? And Seattle?? Obviously some cities like Raleigh and Omaha have reasonable costs of living, and remember these last few items are factors out of the control of the employer – or so they say. Amazon apparently understands the concept of relocation regardless of employee happiness (see: New York City headquarters 1).

To end the “out of control” factors there is the availability of affordable housing. Like the cost of living, it makes no sense to make $80,000 a year and lose most of it to taxes and housing. It’s not just the availability but also the commute that has to be taken into consideration. There’s nothing like a stressful 45 minute commute on a Monday morning to help you walk in happy to your job. (We’re looking at you Los Angeles.) It is doubtful these surveys were taken on Monday mornings.

Now for the factors that employers do have control over.

The first and maybe the most important factor is creating a challenging work environment. Maybe that is why so many California companies made the list. We are talking high tech jobs, and compared to microwaving roast beef any high tech job is worth having. The reason is probably you get so engrossed in your work you forget you are actually working. Of course, then you have to go for lunch and get a gross meal from a dissatisfied employee. Is this a balance or a contradiction?

A related factor is the freedom to work independently. Regardless of your position, nobody needs or wants to have a manager crawling up their keester 8 hours a day. This makes a lot of sense, and any company who likes to micromanage should be removed from the list.

Speaking of managers, cities who made it to the top 10 have managers who encourage ideas from their subordinates. There are many companies who openly admit they have benefited from the ideas of employees – and profited from them. Yes, there is a seamier side to this factor that needs to be pointed out. There was someone who went to a supervisor with an idea. After spending a few minutes in the manager’s office, they were told “Thanks for sharing.” What the employee later learned it was manager code for “Get out!” Just because management is willing to listen doesn’t mean they are willing to act. Weigh this factor in accordingly.

The final significant factor that pushed a city to the top 10 was lending support to an employee’s long term goals. To be fair, this can be trappy because an employee can be encouraged yet find themselves at a dead end after several years with the company. But in its simplest form it makes no sense for a manager to lead someone on because it takes time and energy. Granted, there are managers who have plenty of time to waste, but an abundance of such managers in a city are not likely to have placed in the top 40.

Hope this helped you serve as a guide on what to look for, whether you are near one of these cities or you are looking to quit and find another job soon. Being able to whistle while you work is a good thing, as long as it doesn’t annoy the person in the cubicle next to you.


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