Money Talks… Or Does It?

As Recruitment Consultants we are always exploring with people what they are looking for in their next role, and where they would like to see their career heading.  Being happy at work is surely a priority for many of us, but what it is that would make us happy in a role can vary greatly and is incredibly individual. This week alone I’ve spoken to one HR professional who loves the fact that her current employer allows her the flexibility to deliver exercise classes around her normal working hours and another who has found genuine happiness in working on a campus site that provides fantastic facilities and office views. Another is delighted that she can work a short walk from home as opposed to the 4-hour round trip that her daily commute used to entail. Interestingly, not only did these individuals not mention money, they had actually all taken pay cuts or turned down opportunities to earn more money to ensure that they retained or moved to roles that they found fulfilling and rewarding, and gave them a good work/life balance.


So what does you dream job look and feel like? There are a huge number of factors to consider and you can’t answer that question based on what anyone else thinks or advises. Happiness, job satisfaction and generally feeling like you can make a difference are often highlighted as popular answers in surveys on this subject and most of us would probably agree with these being important factors. Despite this, when it comes to actually making decisions on opportunities, salary will be one of our biggest incentives. This is quite natural as we all have bills to pay and predominantly we do go to work to earn a living; there aren’t many people who would be happy to get to the end of the month and have their pay cheque replaced by a thank you card. But is it always Money that talks? What price would you put on your own happiness at work? A great headline salary can be very appealing and makes for great justification when deciding whether or not to accept a job offer or even put ourselves forward for the role in the first place. However, considering the money on offer for a role as a significant differentiator should be done with caution and can often be more of a distraction than it is a benefit.


An extensive study reviewing various research into the impact of income on the evaluation of our own lives and emotional wellbeing (Kahneman & Deaton (2010)) found that once somebody earned more than around £35,000 to £40,000, additional earning doesn’t increase your happiness. In other words, once you earn a certain amount of money, additional increases in salary will have a minimal impact on your emotional well being; money ceases to buy you happiness. This finding indicates a pattern, but where that salary threshold lies will again be very individual. You may prioritise higher salaries for enabling a certain lifestyle, but once you personally cross your own salary threshold, you need to ensure you prioritise what makes you happy in your role – not what it pays. Perhaps an alternative way to consider the question is how much would you sell your happiness for? How much would somebody have to pay you to do a role that made you dread going to work each day or left you flat and uninspired? Would that work for you day in and day out over the duration of your entire working life?


Perhaps one of the best examples of this in action is the counter-offer. You decide to leave a role for any number of reasons. As you hand your notice in and head out the door, you’re offered a pay rise. You decide to stay because of money. Have any of the reasons for you deciding to leave actually changed?  Probably not, but money has distracted you and makes it an easy decision, but is it really the right decision for you?