Loving what you do has become rare – despite companies attempting to make the workplace more flexible and enjoyable, most Americans say they are not engaged with their job. In an ideal world, people would do what they love and let their passions determine their career. However, passions often don't pay, and with a high cost of living, following your dream can be detrimental to financial success and long-term well-being.
Despite the risks, are people still chasing their dreams, or are they taking advantage of rising wages and working for the money? We surveyed over 1,000 employees about the motivations behind working and what that means for their job satisfaction. Keep reading to see who is guided by passion or their payday.
Money on the Mind
The American workforce is continually changing, and with a new wave of workers comes more young women. However, their reasons for working may not be rooted in passion – 62.5% of women reported working for money, while only 12.8% reported worked for passion. Men were more likely to work for passion than their female counterparts, but age may have even more of an impact than gender.
Baby boomers were the most likely of the three generations to work for passion (16%), with just over half working for money. Millennials, on the other hand, were significantly more concerned with a paycheck – 62% reported money as their primary reason for working. This makes sense, as women and millennials are some of the most underpaid demographics.
The gender pay gap is pretty well-known, and despite millennials shaking up the workforce, closing the gender gap, and even moving for higher salaries, they continue to be the lowest-paid generation. However, generational differences are likely rooted in experience rather than bias. Millennials are just getting started, and their salaries reflect their inexperience. But women and millennials' lower wages are causing financial anxiety, likely preventing them from following their passions and forcing them to work for as much money as they can.
The Why Behind the Work
Money may be the main reason behind hectic work schedules, but it certainly isn't the only reason to clock in at the office. For 62.7% of men and 46.4% of women, saving for retirement was one of their top priorities. Retirement was also the second most common reason for all generations, including baby boomers. Despite nearly half of baby boomers already being retired, the oldest generation's lack of savings and increased cost of health care has led to a retirement crisis, likely leaving the other half to stay in the workforce longer than anticipated.
Vacation and a large purchase were also top reasons for working, according to over a third of men and women. However, when it came to working to support children (36.1%) or for passion (35.2%), men were significantly more likely than women to say each was a primary reason – only 28.1% and 30.8% of women reported the same, respectively.
The discrepancy between men and women working for their children may be obvious – men are typically the financial providers of the family. However, the percentage of stay-at-home moms has stayed relatively the same since 1989, and the share of men staying home to take care of children has increased. If this continues, then, the percentage of men and women working for their children may decrease even more.
Clocking Out for Good
Dropping unemployment rates, higher job security, and an accumulation of savings have led to a skyrocketing number of employees quitting their job. While the increased availability of jobs may give employees confidence that they will quickly find a replacement, people are not just quitting to quit.
Almost a third of men and 33.7% of women cited insufficient pay as the top reason for potentially quitting in the next five years. Lack of growth opportunities was also a popular reason, but more so for men than women. Men were also more likely to leave their current job over a lack of passion, but women weren't far behind – 15.8% of men cited a lack of passion as a top reason to quit in the next five years, while 14.7% of women said the same.
When it came to generational differences, though, insufficient pay remained the top reason for millennials and Gen Xers, with passion coming in third. For baby boomers, on the other hand, retirement topped the chart, followed by insufficient pay. The oldest generation was also less concerned about passion, naming a lack of growth opportunities and health concerns as bigger reasons to quit.
Spending or Saving?
If employees are so concerned about money, does a higher salary mean people are more likely to prioritize passion? Not so much. An increase in salary led to a shift in priorities, but only about how people used the money they earned. The more people earned, the more likely they were to save for retirement. Once salaries reached the six-figure mark, retirement replaced pay as the top reason for working.
Interestingly, passion didn't top the chart for any income bracket, but it was the least popular reason when salaries reached $35,000 and dipped the lowest for those making between $50,000 and $74,999 annually. Considering most passions don't pay the bills, it makes sense that those making the least were the most likely to work because it was their passion.
Love It or Leave It
Job hopping used to be frowned upon, but now, changing jobs is simply a part of getting a raise – and those working for the money seem to know that. People who cited pay as their main impetus for working held more jobs overall in the last five years compared to those who worked jobs related to their passion.
Interestingly, how often people changed jobs depended not only on whether they worked mostly for passion or pay – but also on their overall life satisfaction. People claiming to be "very dissatisfied" were the most polarized when it came to job changes. With an average of 0.4 job changes in the last five years, people very dissatisfied with life and working for passion were the only group more likely not to have had any job changes in the last five years. On the other end of the spectrum, people working only for pay while also very dissatisfied with life were the most likely to seek a job change overall, averaging 2.5 job changes (or a new job every two years).
Sectors of Satisfaction
Some people may choose a career in a top-earning industry for the money, but others often choose industries that they are at least somewhat passionate about. Employees working in engineering, education, and business topped our list for being the most passionate about their jobs, while employees in the sciences were the least passionate about their jobs on average.
However, the arts industry didn't lead to nearly as much life satisfaction as the other industries. Employees working in engineering, education, and business ranked above average in life satisfaction, with only health sciences and technologies ranking higher. Interestingly, health and technology also happen to be the top two growing and thriving industries, allowing employees to have the perfect combination of passion and pay.
Money may not always lead to happiness, but considering Americans spend more than 900,000 hours in their lifetime at work, job passion may be the secret to a more satisfying life. Interestingly, job passion and life satisfaction peaked for those making at least $75,000 – the point at which science says money no longer affects happiness. While work passion and life satisfaction go hand in hand regardless of income, it may be at this point on the salary scale where passion has the greatest impact.
Eager for More
Not only does passion for work lead to higher life satisfaction, but it also seems to carry over into job commitment. While people who made less than $50,000 were the most eager to find a new job regardless of their main reason for working, those working for passion were significantly more committed as their salary increased. People making at least $75,000 while working for pay considered quitting after just under two years; however, those making between $75,000 and $99,000 while working for passion wouldn't consider job hopping until they reached the 3.5-year mark. Commitment grew even more when people working for passion made at least $100,000, with employees not considering quitting until five years later.
People who are only in it for the money are less committed than their passionate counterparts, but it's for a good reason. To continue seeing a substantial increase in income, employees have to leave their current job and find a new one – even if they like the one they have.
Americans spend most of their waking time at work, and while the majority of employees come to work with money on the mind and leave their passions at the door, we still found that some employees work primarily for passion. Signs.com is passionate about making the mission and message of your business shine and provides solutions for all of your display needs. From custom banners, political signs, and yard signs to canvas and metal prints, our passion is to make your business standout and grow.
All respondents were over 18 and employed in a full-time position. The sample included 498 male (median age 33) and 503 female (median age 35) respondents, with three additional respondents identifying as nonbinary. The overall margin of error for the report was 3%, with margins of error between 4% and 8% for all subpopulations of the main survey. Most survey items were constructed by the author; however, an adapted version of the Work Passion Scale (Chen, Ellsworth, & Schwarz, 2015) was used to determine work passion for some of the above items, and an item used to measure life satisfaction was taken from the 2015 Gallup World Poll. Some sets of data were dropped due to incomplete data or response rates that were too low to include in analysis (e.g., Generation Z). As all data were self-reported, the study is inherently limited by caveats found in all self-reported data.
Fair Use Statement
Weighing the costs and benefits of working for a paycheck versus a dream can be difficult for many people in the workforce, and we hope this report helps people to understand how such a choice affects them. If you enjoyed the report, you are free to use or share materials for any noncommercial use; just be sure to link back to this page so that our authors receive credit for their work.