Do we work harder when we're paid hourly?

Why We Work Hard: Hourly vs. Salaried

­A­lthough there are all kinds of hourly and salaried jobs, researchers have come to some general conclusions about what motivates employees to work at their best.

Many hourly jobs, for example, are considered entry-level. Even though they're paid relatively little, entry-level employees work hard to separate themselves from the pack and win a promotion to a considerably higher-paying position [source: Carlton]. Each step up the ladder brings a significant raise, enough incentive to keep working hard.

Another motivation for many hourly workers is that success on the job is clearly defined [source: Ault]. Most hourly work is task-oriented. You make TVs all day long. You code software. You change IVs. There is a beginning and an end to each task that brings a sense of accomplishment. This limited scope of responsibility allows the hourly worker to separate work and home life easily. Once the job is done, you can go home and relax.

In a tough economy, the strongest motivation for many hourly workers is simply to keep their job. Hourly workers are some of the first to go in downsizing efforts. High unemployment means stiff competition for the jobs that remain. After a round of layoffs, the remaining workers sometimes find themselves doing the jobs of two or three other people in addition to their own. In this type of highly competitive, high-pressure environment, only the hardest workers will keep their positions [source: Beuttler].



Salaried workers, many of whom are managers of one kind or another, typically have greater responsibility, accountability and overall influence than hourly workers. The downside of this higher level of influence is that success is more difficult to define [source: Ault]. This helps explain why salaried workers, in general, work more hours per week than hourly workers [source: Kuhn]. Whereas the hourly worker can stop when his or her task is complete, the salaried worker has a harder time knowing when he or she's "done" since the indicators are far less objective.

Some salaried workers are heavily influenced and motivated by the work culture at the office. In technology start-ups, for example, there's a culture of working extraordinarily long hours. The idea is that by working extremely hard for no immediate reward, all money and energy is being invested in developing a breakout new product. Later, when your company is bought by a larger company or you decide to go public, the people who got in at the ground floor will be richly rewarded for their hard work [source: Carlson].

Not all workaholics are made to suffer and sacrifice, however. At workplaces like Google and Microsoft, salaried employees are givens loads of incentives to never leave the office. You can get delicious free meals at the office. You can get your clothes dry-cleaned, your shoes shined and your car washed at the office. You can even get haircuts and massages.

A final motivation for all workers, both hourly and salaried, is a genuine love for their work. Some people just can't get enough of their jobs. They think about their jobs all the time, constantly looking for ways to improve their performance, make more money and contribute to the success of the company. This makes for not only the ideal job, but the ideal employee.

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  • Ault, John T. Southern Utah University Department of Psychology. "Professional vs. Employee."
  • Beuttler, Bill. Boston Magazine. "We Work Too Hard." Nov. 2001.
  • Bond, Terry and Galinsky, Ellen. Families and Work Institute. "How Can Employers Increase the Productivity and Retention of Entry-Level, Hourly Employees?" Nov. 2006.
  • Boyer, Shawn. Business Chronicle. "Helping the Bottom Line by Retaining Hourly Workers." Jan. 2009.
  • Carlton, Dennis W. and Perloff, Jeffrey M. Pearson Higher Education. "Motivating Workers."
  • Carlson, Nicholas. Gawker. "Jason Calacanis doesn't really hate your family, but he does think you should look for work at the post office." March 25, 2008
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  • Holmes, Stanley and Zellner, Wendy. BusinessWeek. "The Costco Way." April 12, 2004.
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