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Does Salary Equal Success Level? New CareerBuilder Survey

New survey reveals how salary level relates to workers’ perceived success.

Money may not be able to buy you class, but apparently it can buy you success. A new study from CareerBuilder looked at just how much money American workers feel they need to make in order to consider themselves successful – and the results might come as a surprise to some.

According to the press release, the vast majority of U.S. workers – 75 percent – don’t feel that they need to earn a six-figure income in order to be successful. Here’s what they did say it takes:

  • 28 percent of workers would feel successful earning between $50,000 and $70,000
  • 23 percent would feel successful earning less than $50,000
  • 10 percent would need to pull in $150,000 or more to feel successful

When it came to how they then evaluated their current success, workers gave the following responses:

  • 23 percent of workers say they felt they were currently earning their desired salary
  • 45 percent said they were close to earning their desired salary
  • 32 percent said they were not anywhere near their target pay level

The results don’t come as much of a surprise to Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources for CareerBuilder, who says that an individual’s perceived success is less about the size of their paycheck and more on the quality of their work.

While compensation is definitely important, workers don’t necessarily equate success with hefty incomes,” Haefner said. “Often you’ll see intangibles such as the ability to make a difference, a sense of accomplishment and work/life balance eclipses the size of a paycheck in what matters most to workers.”

Men and women have different measures for success (shocker)
Ugh, as if it’s not enough that they already earn more than women…according to the survey, men were nearly twice as likely as women to say that they would need to earn six figures to be successful – 32 percent of men compared to 17 percent of women. [Insert obligatory size does matter joke here.] Incidentally, looking at current salary levels, men were more than twice as likely as women to actually earn $100,000 or more.

Are sales people greedier than retail workers?
Not necessarily. But the survey did find that the definition of success in relation to salary varied among industries. Workers in Information Technology (48 percent), Sales (38 percent) and Financial Services (37 percent) were the most likely to report they would need to earn six figures to feel successful. Workers in Retail (36 percent), Hospitality (33 percent) and Manufacturing (22 percent) were the most likely to report they would feel successful earning less than $50,000.

Merit raises: Yes, they still exist. (Kind of.)
Asked about the last time they received a salary increase, nearly half of the respondents (49 percent) reported they have not had a merit increase since 2010, and 25 percent haven’t had one since before 2008.

Do these findings surprise you? How is success measured at your organization? What do you to help employees achieve that success?

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.
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