Happy Hour

Those who get paid by the hour are more likely to link money and happiness


If you’re feeling unhappy, how your boss pays you may be the problem. A recent study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin by researchers at the University of Toronto and Stanford University reveals that among hourly paid employees, happiness is more strongly linked to income than among those on salary.

“Payment practices influence your psychology,” says Sandford DeVoe, one of researchers and a prof of organizational behaviour and human resources management at U of T. “They influence how you define what happiness means.”

Given that 60 per cent of employees in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom are paid by the hour, this study suggests that for most people, happiness is directly connected to their income. For those who get an hourly wage and make a lot of money—say more than $100,000 a year, they feel happier. But most hourly earners make a lot less than that, says DeVoe, and their happiness levels are also lower.

Lacking a sense of purpose and satisfaction at work was a common complaint among people who took an online health questionnaire last year, the Q-Gap, which was developed by Scienta Health in Toronto. It was the number one psycho-social problem, and DeVoe’s research indicates that money—and our sense of self-worth at work—may be at the core of those negative feelings.

DeVoe speculates that being paid by the hour continually reminds people about how much their time is worth—every two weeks, for instance, these employees are faced with the fact that they worked X number of hours, and made Y amount of dollars. DeVoe calls this the “commodification of time.” If you’re not making a lot, you’re also getting reminded of how little value you and your time are in the eyes of your employer.

There are other consequences: people who get paid by the hour tend to volunteer less (36 per cent less time than salaried employees, in fact) and log more hours on the job. The thinking goes, “I should spend more time working and earning more money,” explains DeVoe. “Why work without getting paid?”

That’s the rub, he says, because there is plenty of evidence that volunteering actually makes people happier. But hourly wages are a disincentive to doing things for reasons other than money. Getting paid by the hour, say DeVoe, “focuses you on economic dimensions.” That’s at odds with how most of us actually want to pursue our lives, he continues. “Typically we try to think about our lives as having meaning outside of how much we earn. But hourly payment hurts our ability to do that.”

Take this year’s Q-Gap quiz: “How healthy are you?”


Happy Hour

  1. "For those who get an hourly wage and make a lot of money—say more than $100,000 a year, they feel happier. But most hourly earners make a lot less than that, says DeVoe, and their happiness levels are also lower."

    Smells more like correlation than causation.

  2. why said everybody volunteer at every available work position, bank accounts frozen and taken by the government, including all assets and the government give an equal stipend to everyone…equality for everyone, everyone made to wear the same clothes to show equality and adherence to government policy…..brrrrr sounds frightening but many think this is where this country is headed….sure hope not in my lifetime!

  3. Many wage earners don't volunteer because they don't have the time or energy. Low-wage earners are working 2-3 jobs just to pay the bills.

    Too many jobs have been devalued in Canada because of government pandering to the greed of business, and business never being happy with the free ride they've been getting on the backs of workers and taxpayers.

    Uh, delford t., methinks your scenario has already been tried in some third world countries and we've seen the ugly results in the form of insurgence and guerilla warfare. If Canadians wake up and do whatever they can to protect their democracy, we may be able to avoid it. We are already seeing the warning signs of the dangers of taking our democracy for granted.

    Attending the rally nearest you organized by the Facebook "Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament" group would be a good start. It's on Saturday Jan. 23, and you can check the Facebook page for times and locations.

    Making sure your friends show up at the polling booth on Election Day is another very important step.

  4. i work full-time. currently getting paid on the 15th and end of the month. so my cheques fluctuate. i don't mind. after looking over the financials (which were bad), the accountant said she would talk to my boss about putting me on salary, so i would make a bit more. the thing is, i want to leave this job. isn't salary based on a year? i already am here for 8.5 hours most days and get paid for 8. wouldn't salary just be 80 hours semi-monthly like my boss? i added up the hours from Feb 1st to Dec 31 and it is 1920. on salary that would only be 1760 hours. salary works fine for the boss who is hardly here, but wouldn't wage be better for me? i can't believe they would pay me that much more in salary that would make up for the lost time. any opinions/help?

Sign in to comment.