Worker happiness: Birmingham 1, New York 0

January 31, 2011, 7:41 PM UTC

A new study on cities where workers are happiest says that, despite offering the nation’s highest pay, New York City doesn’t even rank in the top 10 — but Birmingham, Ala., does.

By Anne Fisher, contributor

If you’re not lucky enough (so far) to work for one of the enterprises on Fortune’s Best Companies list, cheer up. You may still live in a place where employees are happier than average.

That’s the conclusion of a new study by researchers at job site CareerBliss, who analyzed more than 700,000 data points to arrive at a ranking of 50 U.S. cities according to 8 criteria: compensation, benefits, work-life balance, career advancement, job security, quality of senior management, growth potential for local companies or industries, and how likely current employees would be to recommend their town, and their employer, to others.

San Jose came out on top, ranked no. 1 overall in the nation, followed by San Francisco, Jacksonville, Miami, Washington, D.C., Memphis, El Paso, Los Angeles, San Diego, and yes, Birmingham. Seattle, Houston, and New Orleans also outranked the Big Apple, which came in at 14.

“It really brings home the fact that high pay doesn’t necessarily correlate with overall happiness,” says CareerBliss CEO Heidi Golledge.

Based in Irvine, Calif., CareerBliss posts reviews of several hundred cities, from Aaron, Ky., to Zeeland, Mich., all written by people who live and work there. To be included in the happiness ranking, a city must have received at least 50 reviews.

What is it that people like about places like Birmingham and Memphis?

“Many of these smaller metropolitan areas go out of their way to attract talent by promoting family-friendly features like good public schools, affordable housing, and lots of community activities,” notes Golledge.

Also, she says, “in their own ways, companies all over the map are trying to be more like Google (GOOG), by emphasizing work-life balance and offering people flexible, creative career paths.”

And where are workers most discontented?

The bottom 10 cities: Tampa, Portland, Ore., Tucson, Brooklyn (technically a borough of New York City), Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Omaha, Indianapolis, and St. Paul.

With a few exceptions, one thing the top 10 towns share is temperate weather, while many in the bottom 10 are enduring a miserable winter. The folks at CareerBliss “don’t have data to support whether weather is a factor,” says Golledge, “but it is an interesting correlation.”