Venitian Masks

Can Money Buy Workplace Happiness?

I had a professor in graduate school who insisted that money could buy happiness. He was teaching a personnel course, and he was going through a silly exercise of putting plus signs before job “satisfiers” (i.e., good boss, challenging tasks, room to grow) and “dissatisfiers” (i.e., tyrannical boss, boredom, no opportunity for advancement). People were nodding their heads in agreement–except me.

I questioned the assumption that a good salary would make someone happy. Rather, despite a chorus of “I’ll be happy if I’m paid well” from many of my classmates, I insisted that this belonged in the other column in his little chart. (Golden handcuffs anyone?)

Business Week has a great piece on this topic. Author Scott Shane looks at what he calls

“a paradox in the data: On average, the self-employed make less money, work more hours, and experience more work-related stress than the wage employed. Self-employed people have higher job satisfaction, however, than those who work for others.”


The reason? Flexibility and freedom. It’s a short article, and worth reading. The data comes from the Pew Research Center, which looked at differences in how “self-employed” and “not self-employed” ranked their job satisfaction and answered the question “Why Do You Work?”

Today’s (April 6) Sally Forth comic strip is also on point.

Photo by Smile My Day (Flickr).

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Comments ( 6 )

  • Deborah Brody

    This is part of the argument that Daniel Pink makes in his book about motivation Drive. He sees that motivation can be external (money) or internal (desire for flexibility, skill) and that internal motivation takes people further.

  • Hi Deborah,

    Now I really must start reading Drive. It seems so obvious, it’s amazing it takes people so long to grasp this concept.

  • Penny McKinlay

    Thanks, Daria. The article certainly mirrors my personal experience working freelance. I make less money, worry about when I’ll get another contract – BUT I wouldn’t change it for an office job because I love having the freedom to set my own schedule. And my work has so much variety – I’m never bored and always learning.

  • Hi Penny,

    You bring up a really good point. As independents and small business owners, we know we have to be always learning. I think that often puts us ahead of the curve and makes us betas testers and early adopters — vis-a-vis people with day jobs elsewhere. They can or perceive they can do their jobs and learn when they need to. We know we need to learn NOW.

  • @Daria and Deborah – Daniel Pink did a great TED talk on this subject that’s been making it’s way through the Twittersphere all week. I think it’s an absolute must watch:

    Daniel Pink on the surprising science of motivation.

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