Happy At Work: America’s Top Cities For Employee Satisfaction

Glassdoor’s latest Employee Satisfaction Report Card reveals the cities where workers are the happiest.

Happy At Work: America’s Top Cities For Employee Satisfaction
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Want to be happier at work? You may want to move to San Jose, California.


According to Glassdoor’s second annual Employment Satisfaction Report Card, San Jose–home to Cisco, eBay, and Adobe, among other companies–topped the list of the 50 largest U.S. metros.

The survey looked at the top 50 metro areas across the U.S. (based on population) and rated them for employee satisfaction, number of employers hiring, business outlook, career opportunities, and compensation and benefits over the past 12 months, according to local employee feedback.

Don’t start whistling “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” until you consider the other top cities. San Francisco scored the No. 2 slot, followed by Washington, D.C., Norfolk, Virginia (up eight spots from No. 12 last year), and Salt Lake City rounding out the top five. At the bottom of the list: Phoenix, Tampa, Las Vegas, Denver, and Pittsburgh.

It’s important to note that the satisfaction is graded on a scale of 1 to 5 (lowest to highest) and the difference in overall ratings between the top and bottom slots isn’t that big: 3.5 vs. 3.1.

Welcome to Norfolk

The Bay Area’s tech sector makes its top rank obvious, but what’s happening in Norfolk to make employees rate it so highly?


Scott Dobroski, Glassdoor’s community expert, tells Fast Company that the city is home to Naval Station Norfolk, one of the largest naval bases in the country, and is known for its strong military presence, rising tourism, and as a regional cargo port hub.

“When looking at reviews on Glassdoor over the past year, we see that Norfolk-based U.S. Navy employees give it a 4.0 satisfaction rating,” explains Dobroski, “while Norfolk-based U.S. Air Force employees give it a 4.2.”

Dobroski says Norfolk-based employees speak favorably about having pride in their work, fantastic benefits such as educational opportunities, tuition reimbursement, great veteran/retiree benefits, and opportunities to travel.  

A naval officer based in Norfolk offered this reason for a high rating: “Work with great people. Good professional training opportunities, excellent leadership experiences. Skills easily transferred to private sector. Good networking opportunities as well. Great benefits.”

In fact, Dobroski adds, “Norfolk is highly rated across several categories: #4 for compensation & benefits, and #3 for career opportunities.”


Demand for Work

It’s also a great place if you’re looking for work outside of the tech sector. Norfolk counts sales associates, project managers, and occupational therapists among the top jobs its 2,137 employers are looking to fill.

This is in sharp contrast to other top ranking cities–even those far from Silicon Valley. Software engineers are most in demand in locales such as Salt Lake City, Seattle, and San Diego.

Though it’s ranked at #28 this year, New York City still holds the top spot for the sheer number of employers hiring with over 13,000. Even lower ranked Chicago (#35) has 9,342 companies actively adding staff.

High Marks for Optimism

Denizens of Salt Lake City’s businesses are feeling really positive about their prospects in the coming months. More than half (52%) said business will improve, according to the survey. Utah’s unemployment rate has fallen steadily since 2010 and Salt Lake City has actively recruited companies from Goldman Sachs to startups. Of course, the capital city’s geography–ringed by rugged mountains, canyons, and its namesake lake–doesn’t hurt.

As one staffer at Fusion-io reports: “Salt Lake has tons of amazing outdoor opportunities. Skiing, hiking, mountain biking, camping, four-wheeling, it’s amazing. But yes, the job at Fusion-io. It’s awesome. We make world-class products with relatively small, high-caliber teams. We have close relationships with many of our customers and the feedback we get from them is very good. Employees are treated like professionals.”


Happiest Hives

We know that employee satisfaction doesn’t rest on one single measure. Nor does a paycheck guarantee a smiling, productive worker. Companies in the survey’s top-ranked cities were critiqued by their staffs for compensation, benefits, culture, and work-life balance. Here are some of the reviews:

Employees are passionate about their work and enthusiastic about coming to work each day, striking an appropriate work-life balance. There are opportunities for career growth–developing skills and experience–for those who are eager to learn and willing to work hard. As with any work: it is what you make of it.

– NPR Office Assistant (Washington, D.C.)

Encourages employees to take control of their career and embrace the ideas and interests that are presented. The benefits are amazing and they have remained an employee centric company.

– Eventbrite Account Executive (San Francisco)

Opower has built a great company culture and group of talented, interesting employees. It feels good to know that the work we are doing is truly helping the world at large. I am happy with my compensation and the flexibility to work remotely when I need to.

– Opower Software Engineer (Arlington, Virginia)

Glassdoor’s full list is below:

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About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.