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Would You Take a Pay Cut to Be Happier at Work?

By Maurie Backman – Mar 4, 2019 at 7:16AM

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We all want to earn as much money as possible. But sometimes, it pays to sacrifice income in the pursuit of personal satisfaction.

Given the amount of time some of us spend on the job, finding a role that brings you joy is a good way to keep yourself motivated and lower your risk of burning out. But what factors are most important in making employees happy today? You might think high salaries and stellar benefits, but new data from work management platform Wrike tells us that might not be the case.

Though unhappy employees rank compensation as the most important factor in making them happy, employees who actually are happy on the job cite meaningful work as the thing that's most important to them. Following that, happy workers point to flexible hours and the ability to do their jobs remotely as the next most important factors contributing to their happiness. Compensation, meanwhile, ranks lower.

Smiling man in suit at laptop


Not only that, but 58% of happy employees claim they've taken a pay cut to snag a more fulfilling, meaningful role. And surprisingly, men are more likely to trade pay for happiness than women -- perhaps in part because women tend to earn less than their male counterparts and therefore can't afford pay cuts as easily.

If you're unhappy on the job, it pays to consider a different opportunity that lends to more satisfaction and a better work-life balance -- even if it means lowering your income in the process.

Your happiness is definitely worth something

They say money can't buy you happiness, but that's not 100% true. Having a decent salary can eliminate much of the financial stress you'd otherwise face, thereby lending to a more positive outlook. Furthermore, a higher salary can buy you a more comfortable home, the option to dine out, and other such luxuries that lend to happiness in life.

That said, given that you probably spend the bulk of your waking hours working in some shape or form, it pays to invest a bit more in your job-related happiness -- even if that investment involves a pay cut. Trading a boring or stressful job for one that's exciting and engaging could do more for your outlook than a slightly larger apartment or fancier car, so think about the upside of spending your days doing something meaningful, and then take steps to go after a role that's more mentally and emotionally rewarding.

But don't just up and quit your current job without a plan. First, make sure you're in a solid place financially so that you're able to absorb a pay cut. Create an emergency fund with three to six months' worth of living expenses so that if your paycheck takes a dive and you're unable to save money for a while, you'll have a safety net to fall back on. At the same time, prepare to cut some expenses in your budget to accommodate your dip in earnings. If you get a new job with lower pay but continue spending at the same level, you'll risk racking up debt, and that could be a major driver of unhappiness in general.

Finally, don't assume that by taking a pay cut, you'll lower your earnings potential forever. Once you work your way up in your new role, you might find that your income increases. And until then, there's always the option to turn a hobby into a side hustle and bring home some extra cash. The key, either way, is to recognize the value of being happy at work, and put yourself in a position where you genuinely get to enjoy what you do.

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