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A Pay Rise Makes Us Happier, But Not if We Have to Work Longer Hours, Study Finds

It’s not worth staying late, folks.

PETER DOCKRILL
13 OCT 2015
 

Nobody likes having to work longer hours at their job, but we often kid ourselves into thinking it will ultimately result in a better outcome if we do. After all, putting more effort in will make it likelier that we’ll earn more money in the future, and that will make us happier in the long run, right?

Not necessarily so, according to a new study by German mathematicians, who analysed data on household levels of employment, income and satisfaction in Germany between 1984 and 2010. They found that the amount of money we earn for the work we do does have an effect on how happy we feel, but not in the way that you might think.

 

"Our findings show that wages and working hours have more to do with a worker’s happiness and/or unhappiness than was previously assumed,” said Christian Bayer, professor of economics at the University of Bonn.

The key finding of the study backs up what everybody chooses to believe about putting in extra effort. Earning more money does actually make people feel happier and more satisfied, but there are a couple of qualifiers to that rule.

Firstly, those pay rises can’t be temporary. Only long-term increases in personal income make people feel happier, with temporary increases in how much we earn not amounting to noticeable differences in satisfaction levels. As long as a pay rise is permanent though, it doesn’t matter how big or small it is. Even a modest increase in salary results in a significant boost to well-being, provided it’s for keeps.

But here comes the big caveat: having to work longer hours for that extra dough will trump any increase in happiness levels stemming from a fatter wallet. If ‘getting ahead’ means you’re spending more time at the office and less time relaxing, you might want to consider if you’re actually going backwards.

"Those who consistently have to work more become less happy,” said Bayer. “This finding contradicts many other studies that conclude people are more satisfied when they have any job than none at all.”

And that’s perhaps the most provocative element of the study. What the researchers found, once they’d accounted for the highs and lows of money earned versus time spent doing so, is that the actual satisfaction derived from being employed is effectively null.

“[O]nce one controls for the differential effects of persistent and transitory income shocks, employment per se no longer contributes to a persons’s well-being,” the researchers write, which flies in the face of what people often think about the importance of being employed.

According to the study, unemployed people suffer primarily from a lack of income, not the lack of employment itself, and the pride of holding a job is actually pretty meaningless in the bigger picture.

“So the formula for greater satisfaction in life seems to be: persistently more money while working the same number of hours,” said Bayer.

Sure. No problem. We’ll all just do that then. Everybody… go!

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