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Which U.S. Cities Have the Happiest Workers?

Career site Glassdoor has released its second annual Employment Satisfaction Report Card, which shows how the 50 largest American cities compare from workers' points of view. The survey looked city-by-city at feedback from local employees of public and private companies, universities, and the government.

The survey also tallied the most in-demand jobs and some of the top-rated employers by metro area. While the results confirm the conventional wisdom that software engineers are sought after in California, it also turns up some surprises, such as the fact that military and transport hub Norfolk, Va., edged out Austin and Seattle -- cities lauded for their lifestyles -- in terms of overall worker contentment.

The Top 5 U.S. Cities for Employee Satisfaction

The Bay Area keeps its top spot from last year, with San Jose and San Francisco rating first and second, respectively. Both cities have high employee ratings for compensation and benefits as well as career opportunities. And in both cities, more than 40% of the employees surveyed are optimistic about the six-month business outlook.

Working in San Jose has perks that go beyond pay, of course. Employees who spoke with Glassdoor also mentioned the great weather, relatively short average commute times, and Silicon Valley's innovative culture as reasons they give the city high marks:

Rounding out the top 5 cities on the list are Washington, Norfolk, and Salt Lake City. The latter also topped the list for business outlook optimism, with 52% of survey respondents saying they expect the Salt Lake City's business climate to improve in the coming six months.

Most improved cities

Two East Coast cities -- Baltimore (14) and Jacksonville, Fla. (19) -- showed the biggest gains in employee satisfaction over last year's survey. Each of them rose 16 places in the rankings. Close behind in the big-improvement category was Los Angeles, which rose from 26th place last year to 13th this year.

Cities with the most employers hiring

The Big Apple ranked 28th for overall worker satisfaction, but it's tops for the number of companies looking for new hires. More than 13,000 employers have the "help wanted" sign out in New York right now, according to Glassdoor. Chicago, at 35th for worker satisfaction overall, has about 9,300 companies looking for employees, followed by Los Angeles with 9,200.

The highest-rated employers and most in-demand jobs in the top 10 cities

Even in happy-worker cities like San Jose, some employers stand out among their local employees. And the highest-rated enterprises aren't all tech companies, although there are plenty on the list. Several universities, the military, and a private grocery-store chain all earned positive feedback from their workers. (Ratings are on a scale of 0 to 5.)

1. San Jose, Calif.

Most in-demand employee: software engineer

Top-rated employers:

  • Google (NASDAQ: GOOG  ) (4.3)
  • Stanford University (4.2)
  • eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY  ) (3.8)

2. San Francisco

Most in-demand employee: software engineer

Top-rated employers:

  • Twitter (NYSE: TWTR  ) (4.4)
  • Riverbed Technology (NASDAQ: RVBD  ) (4.4)
  • Genentech (4.0)

3. Washington, D.C.

Most in-demand employee: Java developer

Top-rated employers:

  • American University (4.0)
  • George Mason University (4.0)
  • National Institutes of Health (4.0)

4. Norfolk, Va.

Most in-demand employee: sales associate

Top-rated employers:

  • U.S. Air Force (4.2)
  • U.S. Navy (4.0)

5. Salt Lake City

Most in-demand employee: customer service representative

Top-rated employers:

  • Fusion-io (NYSE: FIO  ) (4.0)
  • University of Utah (3.9)
  • Intermountain Healthcare (3.7)

6. San Diego

Most in-demand employee: software engineer

Top-rated employers:

  • U.S. Marine Corps (4.1)
  • Qualcomm  (NASDAQ: QCOM  ) (4.1)
  • UC San Diego (3.9)

7. Seattle

Most in-demand employee: project manager

Top-rated employers:

  • Zillow  (NASDAQ: ZG  ) (4.2)
  • University of Washington (3.9)
  • Starbucks  (NASDAQ: SBUX  ) (3.8)

8. Oklahoma City

Most in-demand employee: sales associate

Top-rated employers:

  • University of Oklahoma (4.3)
  • Oklahoma State University (4.1)
  • Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK  ) (3.7)

9. San Antonio

Most in-demand employee: customer service representative

Top-rated employers:

  • University of Texas at San Antonio (4.1)
  • H-E-B Grocery Stores (3.9)
  • USAA (3.8)

10. Austin

Most in-demand employee: software engineer

Top-rated employers:

  • HomeAway (4.0)
  • University of Texas at Austin (4.0)
  • National Instruments (3.9)

The complete 2014 worker satisfaction rankings

Check out the list below to see how the 50 largest U.S. cities compare:

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Casey Kelly-Barton

Casey is a writer and journalist who follows the consumer goods, travel, and tech industries for The Motley Fool.

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