Money Doesn’t Always Trump Happiness at Work

Men more likely than women to trade higher salary for more meaningful work
A man and a woman at work.

While compensation is one of the biggest factors in workplace satisfaction, when it comes to the happiest employees, money may be a bit overrated. A new study by collaborative work management platform Wilke found that the happiest employees say the most important contributor to their career happiness is doing meaningful work. Not only that, but 62% of the happiest employees have taken a pay cut to achieve that goal.

For most of those employees who’ve taken a pay cut, there is no regret. In fact, those who have done so are 63% more likely to describe themselves as being “mostly happy” or “elated” with their jobs than those who have not.

Gender also may play a role in whether someone chooses to take a pay cut or not. Men were 63% more likely to have taken a pay cut for a more desirable job than women, according to the survey. Men also were more willing to take a lower salary if they could benefit from a wide range of workplace perks such as happy hours, workplace snacks and on-site gyms. Women, on the other hand, were more focused on the bottom line. In fact, they were 126% more likely to choose a higher compensation over workplace perks.

One reason women may be less likely to accept a job with a pay cut or trade money for perks is because many can’t afford to do that. Women already trail behind men when it comes to salaries. Full-time female workers made only 80.5 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts in 2017, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. For black and Hispanic women, the disparity is even greater. In 2017, black women made on average 61% of what white men made and Hispanic women made on average 53% of what white men made, according to the American Association of University Women.

If you’re making less money to begin with, you have less money available for saving and achieving other financial goals. For example, a 2018 study by Prudential Financial found that women had saved 43% less for their retirements than men. Also, female-headed households tend to have less saved than households headed by men. Male-headed households had average savings of $35,000 compared to just $17,000 in average savings in households headed by women, according to data collected by the Federal Reserve. With women playing catch-up financially, they may find they need to keep a job with a higher salary even if they’d find more desirable work elsewhere.

Your own financial habits can also play a role in whether you can afford to take a lower-paying job that is more meaningful. If you’re worried about bills and trying to dig yourself out of debt, you’ll have fewer options because you’ll need a job that provides more financial security. By living below your means and sticking to a budget, you’ll have more freedom to make career decisions based on your heart rather than your wallet.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.

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