Why a higher salary won't necessarily make you happier at work

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If you think a pay bump would make you like your job more, you're probably right. But it's not quite as simple as you might think.

New research from career site Glassdoor suggests that more money can make employees more satisfied with their jobs — but not as much as other factors in the workplace.

The study is based on data from 221,000 Glassdoor users who contributed a salary report and an employer review for the same company since 2014. The users in the study earned up to $200,000 annually.

To be sure, higher salaries were associated with higher employee satisfaction. While 15% of users earning less than $30,000 a year gave their employer one out of five stars, just 10% of users earning upwards of $120,000 gave the same rating. On the flip side, while 40% of users making less than $30,000 gave their employer four or five stars, as many as 51% of users making more than $120,000 gave the same rating.

The caveat? A higher salary only makes employees a little bit happier. A more advanced data analysis revealed that a 10% increase in pay was associated with a mere 1% increase in employee satisfaction. So if you make $50,000 a year and you get a $5,000 raise, your satisfaction would theoretically rise from 75% to 76%.

When it comes to employee satisfaction, other factors could be more meaningful than salary. The researchers looked at different aspects of the workplace and found that employees valued them in this order:

  1. Culture and values
  2. Career opportunities
  3. Senior leadership
  4. Work-life balance
  5. Compensation and benefits
  6. Business outlook

This analysis adds to a growing body of research on the link between money and happiness. One study found that happiness levels off at incomes of $75,000 (or $82,000 in today's dollars). Another study found that the more money you have, the more money it takes to increase your happiness. The Glassdoor research is unique in that it puts salary in the context of other job attributes.

As Forbes' Susan Adams notes, it's likely that people making less than $30,000 would value compensation over other factors. But at the point at which you can take care of your expenses, save some money, and have a little fun, other aspects of your job may matter more than salary.

Ultimately, the difference between a job that pays $50,000 and one that pays $60,000 might not be that significant to your overall happiness. But the difference between a workplace where you'll stagnate and one where you can contribute to a team changing the world may be huge.

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