Money can't buy you happy employees

Company culture is most important across all income levels

A new Glassdoor study finds that culture is more important than money for keeping employees happy. 

Previous research has found that happiness increases with income—until you hit about $75,000 per year. But real-world experiments have had mixed results.

Read more: How a $75,000 salary does—and doesn't—make you happy

Glassdoor's data scientist Patrick Wong took a new approach. He sought to determine which factors—including compensation—are most important to employees, and how these factors change across the income spectrum.

For the purpose of the study, Wong and his colleagues looked into more than 615,000 employee reviews on, then sorted the employees who'd written the reviews into four income groups:

  • Under $40,000;
  • $40,000 to $80,000;
  • $80,000 to $120,000; and
  • Above $120,000.

Wong then looked closely at the reviews to gauge the amount each income group values the following six workplace factors:

  • Career opportunities;
  • Compensation and benefits;
  • Culture and values;
  • Senior leadership;
  • Work-life balance; and
  • Business outlook.

Employees consistently prioritized organization culture and values more than any of the other five factors. Culture was the factor most strongly correlated with employee satisfaction—and the trend held across all income groups. 

Engage staff in the mission: Turn your vision statements into strategic goals

Employees across income groups ranked other values similarly too. All four income groups valued the following factors in the same order:

  • Senior leadership (second place);
  • Career opportunities (third place); and
  • Business outlook (fourth place). 
The Importance of Workplace Factors as Pay Rises

The only factor ranked differently across salary groups was—interestingly enough—salary itself.

As the chart shows, for employees with an annual income under $40,000, compensation and benefits ranked sixth place, below work-life balance. But for employees that with an annual income higher than $120,000, salary was the fifth-most important factor.

Although the ranking of factors looks similar for everyone, the degree to which each factor matters changed across income groups. The top three factors—culture and values, senior leadership, and career opportunities—increased in importance as salary increased. Similarly, the bottom three factors—business outlook, work-life balance, and compensation and benefits—decreased in importance as salary increased. 

Retaining faculty can help you retain students too

The researchers note, however, that these results stem from reviews of current or past jobs—for job seekers, salary plays a much more significant role, Wong says. For recruiters, salary should still remain central.

The takeaway?

Employees with higher salaries are more likely to value:

  • Your organization's culture;
  • Confidence in senior leaders; and
  • Opportunities for upward mobility.

(Chamberlain, Harvard Business Review, 1/17; Dishman, Fast Company, 1/17; Wong, Glassdoor, 1/17).

Also see: To retain top talent, managers matter

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