What Salary Signifies Success to Employees?

August 12, 2014 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – A survey finds most employees do not need to make a six-figure salary to feel successful.

The percentage of workers who say they earn their desired salary is positively correlated with rising incomes, according to a recent survey from CareerBuilder. While a majority of Americans are not satisfied with their current salaries, there does appear to be a tipping point. From the $75,000 to $100,000 income range up, a majority of workers say they earn their desired salary. In addition, the survey finds that 39% of men say they currently earn their desired salary, compared with 30% of women.

“The survey supports past research suggesting that the $75,000 threshold is particularly significant, as this level allows households in most areas of the country to not only get by, but enjoy an ideal lifestyle and a secure future,” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, based in Chicago. “Interestingly, what workers would ultimately like to earn does not necessarily factor into what they need for a successful career.”

Salary and Feeling Successful 

Despite the fact nearly two-thirds of workers are not yet satisfied with their earnings, most say they can feel successful without earning large paychecks. In fact, 55% say they feel successful making less than $70,000.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents do not think they need to earn $100,000 or more to be successful. Although, men are nearly two times as likely as women to need $100,000 or more (29% versus 15%).

“In many cases, success is relative to the type of work individuals do or their current career stage. Regardless of income, workers tend to find success near their own salary level or in the range directly above,” says Haefner. “This is healthy because it shows workers can derive meaning from their work at any level while still striving for that next promotion or raise.”

Asking for More

More than half of workers (56%) have never asked for a raise. However, among those who have, two-thirds (66%) received them. This is virtually the same for men and women, but women are less likely to have asked for a raise (38%) than men (49%).

Should Salary be Transparent?

CareerBuilder finds that salary transparency–disclosing the pay of all employees at a company–is a hotly contested subject among workers and employers. Concerns over privacy and potential lawsuits clash with hopes that transparency could actually ensure pay equality and foster a competitive meritocracy within firms.

Nearly three in 10 (29%) employers openly disclose worker salaries. IT companies and sales organizations lead all industries, at 37% and 34%, respectively. Businesses with fewer than 20 employees are more likely to openly disclose all salaries than most other company sizes. A similar share (28%) list salary ranges in job listings.

While a majority of employers do not make pay transparent, support for such a policy is strong, says the survey. Nearly half (47%) of employers view openly disclosed salaries as positive, with 24% saying it ensures pay equality and 23% saying it can dispel wrong assumptions.

Fifty-three percent of employers view pay transparency as negative, with 42% citing jealousy and morale issues, 33% saying it violates worker privacy, and 19% saying it can lead to equal pay litigation. Workers appear to be even less favorable to the idea, with about two-thirds (65%) saying they would not like it if their company openly disclosed all salaries.

Salary Increases Improve Slightly

The WorldatWork 2014-2015 Salary Budget Survey shows pay increases at U.S. employers improved slightly in 2014, up to 3% versus 2.9% in 2013. Forecasts from the survey show the average raise in base pay for 2015 in the United States is projected to be 3.1%.

Findings also show that organizations continue to converge on salary increase budget amounts between 2% and 4%, with 85% to 90% of all organizations landing there, depending on employee category. The percentage of organizations not awarding increases has dropped to the 2% to 5% range, fairly close to historical levels.

When it comes to employee performance in 2013, organizations averaged a 2.7% merit increase for mid-level performers and a 4% payout for top performers. Low performers averaged a 0.6% increase in 2013. Pay increases for 2014 performance are expected to remain at 2.7% for middle performers and increase to 4.1% for high performers.

The CareerBuilder survey was conducted online by Harris Poll, among 3,372 workers and 2,188 hiring and human resource managers ages 18 and over, May 13 and June 6. The WorldatWork survey had 5,252 responses from 17 countries representing nearly 13 million employees. Data was collected during April.

CareerBuilder is a provider of human capital solutions. WorldatWork is a nonprofit human resources association for professionals and organizations.