Meaning Over Money

Would you give up 20% of your lifetime earnings for a valuable job? Author Dan Goleman on the answer.

Daniel Goleman, author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence, and co-developer of the Goleman EI online learning platform, is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, is available now. 

This may come as a surprise: most employees value meaningful work more than their income.

A study in the Harvard Business Review reported that more than 90% of employees would be willing to trade a percentage of their lifetime earnings for greater meaning at work. When asked for the specifics, 2,000+ respondents—workers across all ages and salary groups—said that they would forego an average of 23% of their future lifetime earnings in order to secure a meaningful job until they retire.

This is particularly salient during a pandemic, where so many companies are facing a decline in revenue.

Consider Gravity Payments, a credit card processing company whose mission it is to “level the payment processing playing field” for small businesses. Five years ago, their CEO, Dan Price, made national headlines when he slashed his salary in order to help implement a $70,000 a year minimum wage across the company.

In March, his purpose-driven move paid off.  “We don’t know what’s going to happen, and I don’t have a solution for you,” he told employees when—almost overnight—Covid lockdowns took away over half of their business. Employees immediately emulated their founder—98% of them volunteered to give up a percentage of their earnings to avoid layoffs. 

“It was no question,” Gravity employee Jess Moore told a local news channel, “We want to make sure everyone stays employed. The only way we can help more clients (is) if we’re all here and in it together.”

The temporary pay cuts—which averaged 20%—not only resulted in $750K in savings, but it gave everyone the opportunity to double down on the mission and innovate. Gravity Payments found new ways to serve it’s bigger purpose by helping small businesses manage their online orders. Last month, Price was able to draw from it’s recovering revenue to repay employees for their generosity.

“With the concern that we have, which is that the pandemic could go on for quite a lot longer, we just felt like we owed it to really trust those employees and give them that money back,” he told Yahoo Money.

Price and his company demonstrate what Korn Ferry’s CEO Gary Burnison calls "We-dership," where instead of a top-down model of leadership, there’s an openness to finding solutions from everyone for a shared dilemma. And the Covid-driven financial crisis is just that.

“Today, more than ever, it’s time to drop the “I”—embracing “we-dership,” not self-entered “me-dership,” Burnison says, “Others always stand on the shoulders of leaders to accomplish the goals of the organization. Indeed, it’s always about the team.”

And if that team embraces a compelling mission, all the better. While few companies have been able to weather the economic downturn unscathed, the past five months has offered new opportunities for organizations to show their commitment to something meaningful. For some, this has meant pivoting their services to new and emerging needs. For others, it has meant doubling down on their commitment to caring for employees. For those who put purpose at the heart of everything, it might mean both.

Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification.