How common are bad days at work and what causes them?

Almost 2 out of 3

Everyone has bad days at work – those really frustrating and stressful days that we just want to be over. But how how often do we have bad work days and what causes them? 

Our survey of over 700 employees worldwide shows that bad work days are disturbingly common and reveals some of the main causes.

Here are the main findings. For the other side of the coin, see our 2018 study of good days at work.

Bad days are rampant
How often do you have a bad day at work simple grafic

Question: How often do you have a bad day at work?
◼︎ Every day or almost every day: 19%
◼︎ More than one day a week: 29%
◼︎ About one day a week: 16%
◼︎ 2-3 days a month: 17%
◼︎ About once a month: 12%
◼︎ Never or almost never: 8%

The perfect workplace does not exist and the occasional bad day at work is normal and unavoidable. But when you have too many bad days it has a strong negative effect on your career, your health and your private life.

This is how we defined “bad work days” in the survey.

A bad day is one where you feel lousy on the job. You’re unhappy at work and when you come home, you definitely don’t feel like having more of those days.

So we’re not just talking about a mildly unpleasant day – we’re talking about really bad days at work.

Seen in this light, the results are frightening. 19 % of respondents have bad work days “Every day or almost every day”  an additional 29 % say “More than one day a week” and 16 % say “About one day a week”.

As a general rule, we believe that anyone who has at least one bad work day every single week is likely to be negatively affected by their job, and this is true for 63 % – almost 2 out of 3 – respondents.

Respondents wrote:

“All day I think ‘I don’t want to do this. I can feel my life wasting away.’”

“These are the REALLY bad days. Where shifting my mindset to as positive as possible couldn’t pull me out.”

“My bad days seem to be a “thousand paper cuts” sort of thing; none of the issues would be stressful in themselves, but the *combination* of long pointless meetings, badly specified requirements, a chaotic work environment and slow IT systems cause my frustration to skyrocket.”

“This is the first position I have ever held where I actually hate my job. I never understood people who say ‘I hate my job!’ or who constantly complain about their work lives until this last year. Now I know what those people are talking about.”

Crucially, these bad work days don’t just affect us at work but also in private life. Respondents wrote:

“They suck the life energy from me and I take this home to my family. I’m emotionally and even physically drained although my job is sedentary. I now realize that I need to just quit my job and get out of this poisonous environment.”

“I don’t sleep well at night, when I have a bad day at work because the anticipation and anxiety of the next day is always on my mind.”

“I can easily separate my personal life from my working life — but it is not so easy to achieve the opposite.”

Things are bad in Europe and even worse in North America

How often Europe North America
 How often do you have a bad day at work?


North America

◼︎ Every day or almost every day



◼︎ More than one day a week



◼︎ About one day a week



◼︎ 2-3 days a month



◼︎ About once a month



◼︎ Never or almost never



In the survey we asked which continent the respondent works in. Most replies came from Europe and North America so we only have statistically valid data for these two continents. Here are the results:

In Europe, 56 % of respondents have at least 1 bad day at work a week – in North America it’s a staggering 68 %.

We suspect (but can’t know) that most North American respondents are from the US, so this indicates that US workplaces are quite unhappy, for a variety of reasons.

Danes are much less unhappy at work

How often Denmark rest of world

Simultaneously with the international survey we ran the same survey in Danish (the results are here – in Danish). 700 Danes completed it and the results are markedly more positive.

21% of North Americans and 15% of Europeans have a bad day at work “Every day or almost every day.” The same is only true for 4% of Danes.

Only 34% of Danes have at least one bad work day every week – compared to 56% in the rest of Europe and 68% in North America.

This seems to fit well with previous studies that have found Danish workers to be some of the happiest in the world.  What explains this huge difference? Here are some possible answers:

Men and women have the same number of bad work days

At least 1 bad workday day a week men women

Our survey does not reveal any significant differences between men and women.

How often do you have a bad day at work?


Every day or almost every day



More than one day a week



About one day a week



2-3 days a month



About once a month



Never or almost never



63% of female respondents have at least one bad work day a week and the same is true for 62% of males.

Private sector employees have more bad days than public sector employees

At least 1 bad workday day a week public private
How often do you have a bad day at work? Public sector Private sector
Every day or almost every day



More than one day a week



About one day a week



2-3 days a month



About once a month



Never or almost never



65% of private sector employees have at least one bad work day a week – but the same is only true of 61% of public sector employees.

This surprised us somewhat. It is a common belief that private sector workplaces are generally better but this study indicates that might not be the case. We found the same result in our Danish study.

Employees have more bad days than their managers

At least 1 bad workday day a week middle manager employee
 How often do you have a bad day at work?Employees  Middle managersExecutives
Every day or almost every day




More than one day a week




About one day a week




2-3 days a month




About once a month




Never or almost never




It is no surprise that employees have more bad days than their managers. In short, the higher up in the hierarchy you are, the fewer bad days you have.

47% of executives have at least one bad work day a week, the same is true for 62% of middle managers and 67% of employees.

Bosses may have more responsibilities, but they also have more autonomy and control, which makes them happier at work in almost every single study.

When we’re unhappy at work, work is the problem

factors at work outside of work

The last time you had a bad day at work, was it bad because of factors at work or factors outside of work?
It was factors at work that made it a bad day 74.7%
It was factors outside of work that made it a bad day 2.8%
It was both 20.7%
Don’t know 1.8%

It might have been the case that bad work days were caused by problems at home, but this is clearly not so.

If the problem is at home, it’s most likely sleep deprivation or bad work/life balance

The last time you had a bad day at work, which factors outside of work contributed to making it bad?
A lack of sleep 54.3%

Bad work-life balance 41.1%
Illness (my own) 18.2%
My commute 17.9%
Problems in my relationship 15.3%
The weather 12.2%
Illness among family or friends 10.1%
Other 7.3%

It seems people need more sleep and more time.

The top 5 single factors that cause bad days at work

And here comes what we think is the most interesting question. We asked respondents “The last time you had a bad day at work, which factors in the workplace made it bad?”

The survey offered a long list of options and respondents could choose as many as were relevant.

  1. Here are the top 5 single factors that cause bad days at work:
  2. A lack of help and support from my boss (40%)
  3. Negative coworkers (39%)
  4. Lack of praise or recognition for the work I do (37%)
  5. Uncertainty about the workplace’s vision and strategy (37%)
  6. Busyness / high work load (36%)

Perks and physical work environment matter less:
These are the 5 least popular choices in the survey:

  1. My job is too hard (5%)
  2. Other (9%)
  3. My job is too easy (9%)
  4. Bad physical work environment (13%)
  5. A lack of perks in the workplace (15%)

We are fascinated by the fact that while “My job is too easy” and “My job is too hard” are both rare choices, twice as many people are unhappy because their jobs are too easy.

Also, the physical work environments and perks don’t seem to affect people too much. And yet, many workplaces start with perks in their efforts to keep staff happy and motivated. In our opinion, that is most likely to be a waste of time and money.

5 areas that make us unhappy at work

Looking at all respondents, there are 5 areas that make us particularly unhappy at work

1: Bad bosses

  • A lack of help and support from my boss (40%)
  • My boss (35%)

Here are some sample comments from the respondents:

“My boss contributes to the bulk of the cause of everything else that is bad at work. We have a new director, and my job has not changed. Just bosses changed. I used to love my job. Now I hate it.”

“I love my actual job. It is rarely job specific tasks that make my days go bad. It is almost always frustration about having to work through hierarchy despite that fact that my boss is recognized as ineffective throughout the organization. (just writing that made my day better!)”

“I love my new boss, but the c-suite is clueless and mean.”

“After five months away from a toxic ex-boss, I finally feel like I have my life back–and so far, at the current job there haven’t been any days that were really bad!”

“My boss suddenly started to instruct me on things that I do for 15 years. Very annoying.”

“My VP is an HR nightmare. He constantly makes derogatory remarks about employees behind closed doors during meetings that I’m forced to attend.”

Bad managers exist in every workplace and they must be stopped. Even worse, in some workplaces, bad bosses are the norm, because top executives create a toxic culture that only values and promotes people with similarly toxic management style to leadership positions.

We know from many studies that bad bosses make their employees unhappy, depressed, stressed, fearful and less productive and our survey indicates that this is the #1 factor that makes employees unhappy at work.

Resources: To create results, leader must put relationships first, Leading with happiness, How to deal with a bad boss.

2: Bad relationships with coworkers

  • Negative coworkers (39%)
  • A bad atmosphere among coworkers (35%)
  • Coworkers who constantly complain (29%)
  • A lack of help and support from my coworkers (26%)
  • Rumors / gossip (20%)
  • Bullying (16%)

Participants wrote:

“Coworkers who bully. Tell you to shut up if you are talking about work to someone else but don’t have any problem prattling on about nothing or making loud personal phone calls etc.”

“I am the only women at my workplace in a male dominated trade. Always put down by supervisor and some coworkers because I am a women. Been told by most coworkers that I am a better worker then those who bully so maybe they are threatened by me.”

“Other peoples bad days tend to rub off on everyone else.”

“Coworkers who think we are all there to serve them! Ugh!”

“I’m an American National working in an English company. My co-workers don’t want me around. They do everything in their power to make me quit. They’ve resorted to telling lies to get management to fire me. Management hasn’t fired me because I do a great job as their manager, but management also believes all the lies they hear.”

We know that a good relationship with coworkers is necessary to thrive at work and our study shows that bad workplace relations make is miserable.

Resources: 10 reasons why constant complaining is so toxic.

3: A lack of direction/clarity

  • Uncertainty about the workplace’s vision and strategy (37%)
  • Missing or unclear routines and policies (34%)

Respondents wrote:

“So many inconsistencies in what is expected of me and my co-workers from the boss (and these may change on a daily or hourly basis).”

“Company strategy report is simply nothing but words, with no management value to back it all up. Communication to the outside is perhaps the opposite of what goes on internally, this has forced me to start looking elsewhere.”

“The biggest issues with our work environment that lead to frustration usually center around upper management’s lack of applying policies consistently, playing favorites, using a higher level of scrutiny on staff that have a history of applying good scientific principles while those that have a history of consistently and publicly applying bad science are praised. This depletes staff morale.”

“Lack of clarity and vision of the boss, organisation, lack of commitment of the higher ups to organisation and customer needs.”

“Lack of leadership, accountability and direction causes an atmosphere of poor work culture where ethical, hard working employees have a hard time thriving and excelling.”

To be happy at work, we need to know not just what we do but why we do it and that our hard work makes a difference to the customers and/or the company. It seems that many people lack this feeling that their work has purpose.

We are happy when we get good results at work – especially when we know that we get meaningful results, ie. that our hard work makes a positive difference. Workplaces must give their employees a clear sense of where the company is going and how their work helps furthers that vision.

We also need to give people efficient structures and processes and eliminate red tape and bureaucracy that keep people from doing their jobs efficiently.

Resources: Why empty labor makes us miserable, 10 things companies should stop doing right now, Kill the suggestion box – here’s a much better way to listen to employees.

4: No praise for our work

  • Lack of praise or recognition for the work I do (37%)

Participants wrote:

“Worked many places, always been happy. No doubt my current work situation, and unhappiness are caused by an explicit lack of feedback.”

“The greatest complaint I have is that I feel underutilised and undervalued. My boss does not share anything with me. He prefers to give me menial jobs, leaves me out of trips to check on projects, which is a key accountability area.”

“A feeling of under-appreication and/or that I’m not adding enough value.”

“Lack of regular feedback negatively affects my motivation.”

When our work is noticed and praised we feel much happier at work. Unfortunately, many workplaces have a tendency to say nothing when people do good work and then come down like a ton of bricks on even the slightest mistakes. This does not contribute to neither happiness at work nor to high performance.

Praising employees takes no time and costs no money. It is one of the simplest thing a manager can do to keep employees happy.

Resources: Why praise makes us happier and more productive – and how to do it.

5: High workload

  • Busyness / high work load 36%

Respondents wrote:

“Work load has increases, management refuses to appoint more staff.”

“Constant deadlines.”

“I have days where I am completely overloaded and know that someone is going to be upset because i was unable to get back to them in their time frame.”

“Bad days have been more frequent since my organisation went through a massive restructure with a significant loss of staff. For us this has meant the loss of administrative support so we now have extra work to do – and work we are not that skilled or interested in doing. Plus the morale of the entire workplace is low with much unhappiness and grumbling – making for a difficult back drop when our workloads have increased.”

Many workplaces experience increasing performance demands – often without a similar increase in available resources. Or to put it another way: Everyone is busy these days and often too busy.

A high work load and constant busyness have a large number of negative effects in the workplace, including making employees feel like they’re not good enough at their jobs and hurting moral and workplace relationships.

Resources: The cult of overwork, How to stay happy at work when you’re really busy, What do you do when there is just too much work.

All factors that cause bad days

This is the complete list of options from the survey and how often respondents chose them:

  • A lack of help and support from my boss 39.7%
  • Negative coworkers 38.8%
  • Lack of praise or recognition for the work I do 37.3%
  • Uncertainty about the workplace’s vision and strategy 36.7%
  • Busyness / high work load 35.6%
  • My boss 35.1%
  • A bad atmosphere among coworkers 34.8%
  • Missing or unclear routines and policies 34.4%
  • Coworkers who constantly complain 28.5%
  • A lack of help and support from my coworkers 25.6%
  • Dissatisfaction with salary and compansation 25.3%
  • Boredom 23.9%
  • Negative customers, clients, users or similar 22.9%
  • Slow or unstable IT systems 22.3%
  • Long or boring meetings 20.4%
  • Rumors / gossip 19.6%
  • Bullying 16.1%
  • Fear that I might lose my job 15.8%
  • Large changes in the workplace 15.2%
  • A lack of perks in the workplace 15.1%
  • Bad physical work environment 13.1%
  • My job is too easy 9.4%
  • Other 9.2%
  • My job is too hard 4.9%

Take bad days seriously

Workplaces everywhere need to take employees’ wellbeing seriously. Studies clearly show that happy workplaces have happier customers and make more money. Studies also show that happy employees are healthier, are happier in private life and do better work.

Of course it should always be allowed for a person to have the occasional bad day at work. No one can be happy every single day and we can’t create perfect workplaces where everyone is ridiculously happy every day.

But when workplaces cause their employees to have many bad days at work, it lowers productivity and customer satisfaction and increases absenteeism and employee turnover. In short, it costs a ton of money.

You can also act as an individual. If  you find yourself having many bad days at work, you shouldn’t just put up with it – you need to either become happy on the job you have or move on and find something better.

It’s worth noting that you don’t create a happy workplace simply by fixing all the problems and frustrations. But it’s part of the process. And you certainly can’t expect employees to be happy and productive if bad management is rampant or if there is a constant negative tone between coworkers.

That’s why executives and managers need to take bad days seriously and identify and fix the issues that are causing them. Hopefully, this study can point us in the right direction, though it’s important to remember that the results are likely to be wildly different from workplace to workplace.

About the study

719 people completed the study. You can see the survey questions here.

Here is some information on the respondents.


  • Male: 201 / 28%
  • Female: 506 / 70.4%
  • Won’t say: 12 / 1.7%


  • Public sector: 203 / 28.2%
  • Private sector: 473 / 65.8%
  • Other / don’t know: 43 / 6%


  • Employee: 402 / 55.9%
  • Middle manager: 214 / 29.8%
  • Executive/top level manager: 85 / 11.8%
  • Other/Don’t know: 18 / 2.5%


  • Africa: 15 / 2.1%
  • Antarctica: 0 / 0%
  • Asia: 51 / 7.1%
  • Australia: 33 / 4.6%
  • Europe: 291 / 40.5%
  • North America: 315 / 43.8%
  • South America: 7 / 1%
  • Don’t know / Won’t say: 7 / 1%

We’re pretty bummed that we didn’t get at least one South Pole researcher to take the test, so we had all continents represented 🙂

Limitations of this study

We believe this study has some interesting findings but we are also very aware that it has its limitations. Here are the main ones.

1: We are not statisticians or survey experts
There may well be mistakes or biases in the design of the survey that weaken the validity of the results.

2: We only measure frequency and not severity of the factors that cause bad days
For instance, more respondents say they have bad days because of  boredom (24%) than because of bullying (16%). But there is no doubt that bullying affects people much more – but the survey does not address this.

3: Respondents are not representative
We recruited respondents through our newsletter and on social media, so there is no guarantee that they are representative of employees in general. For instance, 70% of respondents are women.

4: Possible differences in the translation
When comparing the international survey with the Danish one, it’s entirely possible that differences in the translation lead to different results. We originally created the survey in Danish and have tried to translate it as faithfully as possible but this is an additional potential source of errors.

About us

woohoo inc logo

This study was conducted by Woohoo inc. We are the world’s leading experts on happiness at work and have done hundreds of speeches and workshops for clients like IKEA, LEGO, Microsoft, HP, Hilton, IBM and many others.


Read more about our speeches and workshops here.

Our work has been featured in media outlets all over the world, including, CNN, BBC, New York Times, Times of India and many others.