Taking A Pay Cut Can Lead To Better Job Satisfaction, A New Survey Says, But Here’s How Privilege Factors In

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Is earning the big bucks really what makes a job worth going to every day? Or is there something more to feeling happiness at than the money? According to a major survey by project management platform Wrike, happy employees will take a pay cut to seek more fulfilling work, USA Today reports. Conversely, unhappy employees said compensation was the top factor in their work happiness, says USA Today. It appears money might not buy happiness after all — at least, not at work.

Wrike commissioned an independent research firm to do an online survey of adults working full-time at organizations with more than 200 employees in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany and received at least 1,000 responses from each country. Overall, the survey results say respondents did rank compensation as the most important factor that contributes to their happiness at work. If you stop there, it might look like money is what makes people happy.

But employees who said they’re “mostly happy” or “elated” with their current jobs said meaningful or fulfilling work was the most important factor that contributed to their happiness. Employees who reported feeling unhappy at their current jobs said compensation was the most important factor to them. “This may indicate that the happiest employees are content with their current salaries, whereas unhappy employees believe an increase in compensation would improve their overall happiness,” the report says.

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More than half of the respondents said they have accepted lower-paying jobs at some point in their careers because they thought it would make them happier, the report says. And of those who took those pay cuts, more than half said the career moves did make them happier, according to the report. But Wrike acknowledges there’s privilege underlying this data.

“The majority of respondents who report being ‘mostly unhappy’ or ‘miserable’ say they have never taken a pay cut to accept a job that made them happier,” the report says. “We acknowledge that this is not simply a matter of values or willpower. It’s likely that many are stuck in unhappy careers because they are dependent upon higher-earning-potential jobs that do not bring them happiness.”

And this discrepancy in who is taking pay cuts for happiness disproportionately affects women. According to the report, 72 percent of men have taken a pay cut to seek jobs they think will make them happier compared to 44 percent of women. Wrike posits that this might be because the gender pay gap still persists, making it more challenging for women to take a pay cut. According to the World Economic Forum, across the world, women still only make 63 percent of what men do, with the global pay gap not expected to close for at least another 202 years, the Guardian reports.

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While more men than women report that fun workplace perks like free lunches and snacks contribute to their workplace happiness, according to the survey, women report that they’d prefer perks like higher compensation and time off benefits. The survey results are certainly telling of how gender roles play a part in the way people view what workplace benefits matter to them.

Taking a pay cut for a job that makes you happier isn’t something everyone can do. But it’s really great to know there’s an alternative to the societal status quo of climbing the corporate ladder. It’s totally OK to define success for yourself, and it doesn’t have to include making a ton of money if you don’t need it to.