June 28, 2012 at 12:14 PM

Salary, Benefits, Culture And Happiness

"Money and health ~ we think about them most when we don’t have them"

By Polly White

Santa Fe Business Musings

Polly White is a local business owner, active community member and astronomy geek.

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I’ve often thought about how people value money and pay. As a manager of various businesses, I have had to make decisions on compensation & benefits, employees incentive plans, bonus plans, retirement plans, etc.

Yes, it’s clear that when people don’t have enough money to meet their basic needs, or when they’re worried that they’re going to lose a job, they’re very focused on how much money they’re paid. Money and health ~  we think about them most when we don’t have them.

Of course people care about being paid fairly. For instance, if you’re aware that someone else is getting paid more to do the same job, that breeds unhappiness.

However—once those conditions are met, money starts to be less important than other things at work. Although people recognize that for themselves, other values count more than money (though money remains important), they assume that other people find money the most significant aspect of work. In other words: after a certain point, we don’t think money is all-important, but we assume that other people think that money is all-important.

Several studies over the last few decades have found that when people are asked to guess what matters to their coworkers—or in the case of managers, to their subordinates—they assume money is at the top of the list. But put the question directly—“What do you care about?”—and the results look very different.  Lifestyle issues rank very highly. Type of work, hours, taking advantage of our strengths, feeling that we’re making a meaningful contribution, learning and growing, being part of a larger effort, and yes making friends, all are recognized as important. For example, in a survey of utility company applicants over the course of thirty years, “pay” was ranked sixth out of ten job factors. But when people were asked what they thought other people would find most important, they listed “pay.” 

In Santa Fe we have a few unique motivators, like getting Zozobra afternoon or Fiesta Friday off.

This is important stuff though, because if we all believe that everyone else is most motivated by money, we’re likely to make assumptions about work, motivation, and human nature that just may not be true. The relationship between money and happiness is one of the most complicated and emotionally tangled subjects within the broad issue of happiness. In another recent study of what makes people happy, “meaningful work” came in at number two, behind family and relationships. Out of 20 things, “money” didn’t even make the list.

What does that tell us about why we work?

What do you think?

How do you think about money, pay, benefits, and rewards—and how do you think others think about it?

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