Do Employees Sacrifice Mental Health For Higher Earnings?

We all have different goals in our professional lives, many seek fulfilment, crave knowledge or long for power. There’s one thing we can all agree on and that is we strive for a certain wage. While it is crucial we earn enough to provide for our families and can afford household bills and mortgage payments, few of us are happy to stop there and continue to push ourselves to increase our monthly wage.

Employees and job applicants are in a tough market and are constantly trying to find new ways to get ahead of the competition. CPD accredited training, apprenticeships and other online training programmes are seeing an increase in learners, especially during the pandemic.

But why are we so obsessed with earning more money? The obvious reason is so we can afford ‘nice things’ and in-turn this will make our lives happier. But is this really the case? A study from The ONS provided an interesting insight into how employees are feeling with their happiness and mental health in correlation with their earnings.

Working individuals were surveyed across various industries to provide a deep look into if there is a correlation between sectors.

Happiness and Wages

Data was collected to see if there was a correlation between increasing earnings and happiness.

The industries with the highest correlation were retail, trade and repairs (92%), accommodation and food services (89%), education (89%), administration (87%) and manufacturing and engineering (86%).

These correlations show that in these industries, as wages increase, so do happiness levels.

However, there were sectors that showed there was very little correlation between increasing wages and happiness. These were mining and quarrying (22%), scientific and technological activities (26%), chemical manufacturing (33%), real estate (33%) and finance and insurance sectors (34%).

These are typically higher-paid roles, but these wages are not reflecting any happiness within the employee. This could be due to the stressful, demanding traits of these roles.

For example, mining and quarrying is a physically demanding career, which can often be dangerous and lead to long and short-term damage to health. No matter what is paid to compensate for this eventuality, workers’ happiness levels do not increase.

Higher Wages and Anxiety

As wages rose, industries showed a correlation in higher anxiety levels. Anxiety is a feeling that does not counteract happiness, the two emotions can be held at the same time.

The industries with the highest levels of anxiety in correlation with happiness were retail, trade and repairs (74%), manufacturing (72%), education (68%) and accommodation and food services (68%).

It is interesting to see that these are very similar to the highest correlation with happiness. So we can see that as wages increase, happiness also does but these are teamed with anxiety.

Typically, wages increase alongside job responsibilities and these added pressures can be what is leading to this diminishing mental health.

However, health and social work, a sector infamous for high anxiety levels, reported the lowest correlation at just 53%. This could be due to levels of anxiety remaining the same throughout a career in the industry and they may begin high.

It could be that with experience and therefore higher wages, staff become more accustomed to the role and learn to handle anxiety better.

Satisfaction and Anxiety

We can experience wage satisfaction, regardless of the numerical figure we receive each month. Wage satisfaction simply shows we believe we are being paid fairly for the role that we do.

However, those who stated they were completely satisfied with their salary showed a 65% correlation with anxiety levels. These employees may be paid a fair wage for the work they provide but perhaps they are not being supported enough in their role.

Similarly, those who stated they were ‘living comfortably’ showed a shocking 90% correlation with high levels of anxiety. Showing that they may have the lifestyle many strive for, for their mental health is something others should not be envious of.

Satisfaction and Happiness

Retail was yet again the high scorer when it came to income satisfaction and levels of happiness, with a correlation of 87%.

Mining and quarrying were the lowest at a tiny 9%. Again, this is most likely due to the poor working conditions and negative impact on the bodies of staff members. They may believe they are paid a fair wage, but this does not provide comfort for their demanding daily duties.

Bonuses and Happiness

While none of us would turn our nose up at the bonus, no matter how small, the thinking behind these schemes may not be working how employers had hoped.

The main reason these are provided is usually to boost productivity and encourage staff to work harder in order to meet the stipulations set out to achieve these bonuses. They are also used to heighten morale in the workplace.

While staff members push themselves, it appears the end outcome does not justify the means and employees can often feel overworked for a reward that isn’t worthwhile.

This could be by the strongest correlation between happiness and bonuses was a meagre 41% from the construction industry.

It could also be hypothesized that the sum of these bonuses is not considered substantial enough to encourage a change in attitude.

Overall, we can conclude that yes, a higher wage can bring happiness, but only within certain sectors. Demanding roles may provide a ‘better’ wage but the long term implications of these may not be weighed out by financial compensation.

Unfortunately, this evidence also shows that you must be willing to possess higher anxiety levels to achieve these salaries. So if you do want to earn more, be prepared to sacrifice elements of your mental health.

Rylie Holt