When it comes to attracting top talent, the most valuable perk you can offer job candidates may be a sense of purpose and pride. Recent research suggests that more than 9 in 10 Americans would fork over a percentage of their earnings in exchange for a job they found meaningful. Moreover, 87 percent of Americans say that taking pride in their employer matters to them personally. For the modern workforce, it seems that "just a job" is just not cutting it.
Yet, professionals are changing companies as rapidly as ever, and the gig economy is reshaping our sense of what a career can be. Just how much pride do people actually derive from what they do or where they work? How does that sense of pride relate to job loyalty? How does our employment contribute to our identity – and self-esteem?
We asked over 1,000 full-time employed people whether they took pride in their work to see how their answers varied across industries, generations, and income brackets. Our results present interesting contrasts between demographics, including men and women, baby boomers and millennials, and business owners and employees. How and why do people take pride in the work they do each day? Keep reading to see what we uncovered.
When identifying aspects of their professions in which they took pride, our respondents emphasized their abilities to perform their work well. Nearly 4 in 5 respondents suggested their professional skill sets were a point of pride. Additionally, 74 percent appreciated their professional reputations and self-reliance, which would ostensibly reflect their capabilities.
Workload completion was another top source of job pride: More than two-thirds of respondents felt proud of the quantity of work they could accomplish. Indeed, there is a fine line between pride that brings quiet confidence and pride that offends others when it comes to work quantity. Some experts suggest that an intense workload is now seen as a status symbol among professionals, resulting in a boorish phenomenon termed "busy bragging."
Interestingly, respondents were significantly less likely to tout the trappings of their positions as sources of pride. Merely 57 percent said their position level contributed to their self-esteem, and just 47 percent took pride in their work attire. Moreover, only 46 percent reported being proud of their paychecks. This finding could reflect modesty on the subject of money, but it might also reveal widespread dissatisfaction with compensation. According to one recent study, only about a fifth of workers feel comfortable with their earnings, suggesting salaries are more likely to prompt feelings of aggravation than accomplishment.
Feelings of pride differed substantially between business owners and employees, as well as among men and women in each of these groups. Notably, male business owners were more likely to take pride in virtually every aspect of their professional life than their female counterparts, with a few interesting exceptions. Women entrepreneurs were actually more likely to take pride in their self-reliance and ability to provide for their family. These data suggest a dynamic of empowerment. In contrast to sexist stereotypes concerning women at work, female business owners tend to take pride in their status as independent leaders and able providers.
Among respondents who were not business owners, however, this dynamic reversed completely: Men were more likely to take pride in their ability to provide for their family and their self-reliance. This self-reliance statistic is especially interesting because recent research suggests that female professionals are more likely to contribute to collaborative efforts at work.
Additionally, male employees were significantly more likely to feel esteem in relation to their salaries. This finding likely reflects the persistent gender pay gap: With women compensated at significantly lower rates than men across the labor market, it's no wonder men are more likely to feel proud of their paychecks.
Relative to their elders, millennials were the least likely to take pride in each aspect of their professional life. This trend could simply reflect inexperience: Perhaps younger professionals are on track for fulfilling careers but have not attained the skills and tenure needed to reach their goals. Yet, this finding resonates with other recent research suggesting widespread dissatisfaction among millennial workers. In one telling large-scale study, 43 percent of millennials said they plan to leave their jobs within two years. One culprit could be workload issues: Just under 64 percent of millennials took pride in their workload completion compared to nearly 92 percent of baby boomers and 76.6 percent of Gen Xers.
Baby boomers were most likely to take pride in a range of personal qualities, such as their skill levels, reputations, and capacity for self-improvement. Gen Xers, however, were significantly more likely than other generations to feel proud of how much they were paid. In some respects, this finding seems counterintuitive: In most states, baby boomers still earn more than Gen Xers. In fact, baby boomers were even less likely than millennials to take pride in their salaries, even though younger workers face much greater financial insecurity. Perhaps these sentiments relate to the prospect of retirement: Baby boomers may wish to make more before their earning years are over.
In recent years, the notion of work-life balance has generated much discussion: Some advocate equilibrium between the personal and professional, while others call this an unattainable ideal. But our findings do suggest those with strong personal relationships are far more likely to feel positive sentiments at work.
Among those who reported satisfaction with their friendships, about 60 percent or more felt confident, productive, and worthy in their professional roles. For those who were dissatisfied with their friendships, these figures were far lower. Additionally, just 15 percent of people who were dissatisfied with friendships said they were very or extremely fulfilled at work. These findings suggest that those who put work above their social life may ultimately face disappointment in both areas.
A similar pattern emerged in connection to relationship satisfaction. For example, when compared to those dissatisfied with their romantic relationships, individuals who were satisfied with their romantic lives were twice as likely to feel accomplished at work. Similar gaps were evident for feelings of success and fulfillment, and those in satisfying relationships were more likely to feel each positive sentiment included in our survey. The results indicate the positive work impacts of a loving romantic relationship, a perspective that frequently goes ignored. While we often emphasize the difficulty of balancing work and romance simultaneously, we rarely consider that happiness in one area might support success in the other.
Respondents may be reluctant to take pride in their incomes, but salary and self-esteem do seem to be significantly related. Among those making $35,000 or less annually, fewer than half reported feelings of high self-worth from their work. Conversely, over two-thirds of those who made $100,000 or more thought highly of themselves. Of course, determining causation in these instances is difficult. Economic insecurity is a risk factor for a range of hardships and mental health challenges that could affect self-esteem, both at work and elsewhere.
Increased educational attainment also correlated with feelings of high self-worth at work, although this connection was much more modest. Feelings of high self-worth did spike for those with a doctorate or professional degree, even though this could be a function of that cohort's earning power.
Longevity at a given company yielded more mixed results, although individuals with tenure of 20 years or more were quite likely to report high self-worth at work. And while one might assume that ascending the corporate ladder would cause improvements in self-esteem, this trend was much more clear for men. Indeed, while 79 percent of male business owners or partners felt high self-worth at their companies, just 60 percent of their female peers said the same. This finding may reflect internalized impacts of gender bias, which persists at the highest levels of corporate leadership. Female CEOs, for example, are far more likely to be fired – even when their companies are thriving.
According to experts, modern professionals are increasingly interested in employers' social impacts, gravitating toward businesses with distinct missions. In our survey, respondents in health care, education, and science were most likely to feel their companies contributed positively to society.
Most workers in these industries reported high self-worth as well, although the connection between self-esteem and social impacts did not hold true in all instances. Among those who worked in arts and entertainment, for example, nearly 81 percent felt the organization they worked for benefited society. But only 35 percent felt high self-worth at work, suggesting broad social impacts don't always provide personal pride.
Perceptions of company impacts also varied slightly by professional position. Those in entry-level or internship positions were less likely to see their employer's social influence in positive terms. This could relate to generational differences: Young people who typically occupy these positions are more suspicious of corporate intentions than older generations. By contrast, none of the business owners surveyed said their companies had negative social impacts, a fact that speaks to their belief in their businesses – or the intensity of their denial.
Our findings suggest that most professionals take some degree of pride in their chosen careers, but these feelings vary greatly in their origins and intensity. For some, a sense of accomplishment arises from a hefty paycheck, while others value their industry's societal impacts. Many tout their tireless work ethics, while others cherish the respect of colleagues and competitors.
In other words, there's no single path to professional fulfillment. Perhaps our results prove that virtually every occupation has aspects worthy of admiration. If your current gig isn't a perfect fit, you can at least take pride in doing it well. When you move on to other opportunities, you'll take your perseverance with you.
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We collected 1,010 survey respondents via Amazon's Mechanical Turk, all of who were people with a full-time job. 55% of respondents were male, 44% were female, and 1% did not specify their gender. 12% were small business owners. Participants' ages were between 18 and 75 with a mean of 34.4 and a standard deviation of 9.6.
5.2% worked in the arts, entertainment, and recreation industry; 3.3% worked in construction; 10.2% worked in education; 6.9% worked in finance and insurance; 5.9% worked in government and public administration; 5.5% worked in hotel, food services, and hospitality; 8.0% worked in information services and data processing; 7.0% worked in manufacturing; 12.4% worked in medical and health care; 3.1% worked in scientific; 10.2% worked in technology; 4.0% worked in transportation and warehousing; and 8.0% worked in wholesale and retail.
4.7% of respondents earned less than $15,000 annually; 6.7% earned between $15,000 and $24,999; 15.7% earned between $25,000 and $34,999; 17.4% earned between $35,000 and $44,999; 14.8% earned between $45,000 and $54,999; 10.9% earned between $55,000 and $64,999; 29.3% earned between $65,000 and $99,999; and 9.9% earned $100,000 or more.
51.7% of respondents worked in their current company for less than 5 years. 31% worked for 5 to 9 years, 10.8% worked for 10 to 14 years, and 3.5% worked for 15 to 19 years. 3.1% worked for 20 years or more with a single company.
5.7% of respondents' highest educational attainment was a high school diploma. 10.8% earned an associate or technical degree; 15.3% earned some college credit but no degree; 43.9% earned a bachelor's degree; 18.0% earned a master's degree; and 6% earned a doctorate or professional degree. Fewer than 1.0% did not graduate high school and were excluded from the visualizations.
If a demographic group had a sample size of 25 or less, they were excluded from the analysis. The data were not statistically tested, and future research into this topic could aim to be more statistically analytical. Since our data were collected through a survey and rely on self-reporting, factors such as exaggeration, forgetfulness, and minimization could have influenced the results.
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