Job Applicants Can Support a Company’s Mission—and Still Ask for More Money | Kanebridge News
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Job Applicants Can Support a Company’s Mission—and Still Ask for More Money

Research suggests that would-be employees fear that negotiating for a higher salary will make them look selfish

Fri, Jun 9, 2023 10:25amGrey Clock 3 min

Want to work for a company that says it makes the world a better place? Be careful—you might feel guilted out of asking for higher pay.

Job postings today are peppered with language promoting an organisation’s mission, its purpose and the importance of making an impact. But those positive messages can have a chilling effect on applicants. In several studies, my colleagues and I found that the social messages in job postings make people think it would be a bad idea to ask for more money. They fear that the managers will think of them as selfish, or that company values make salary requests taboo.

Great reluctance

To be clear, the problem isn’t that companies advertise broad social initiatives—known as social impact framing—or that they want employees to genuinely care about the work itself. Longstanding research has even shown that corporate social programs can benefit employees, who enjoy a greater sense of motivation and meaningfulness when their work demonstrably makes a positive difference.

But this notion of higher purpose can make applicants wary of seeking higher pay.

My colleagues and I tested this idea over five experiments that measured how applicants handled salary negotiations with different companies: Some were described with phrases such as “mission orientation,” “higher purpose” and “giving back,” while others weren’t. We didn’t say whether the company was a nonprofit, engaged in charitable giving or could afford higher wages; our focus was on the language or framing used to describe the work, regardless of the company’s business model.

The results were remarkably consistent. Across the studies, job candidates exposed to social impact framing told us the company would see it as crass or inappropriate to ask for material rewards like a higher salary—so they avoided negotiating for more.

In the first study, 392 participants provided open-ended responses as to whether they would ask for higher pay at hypothetical companies, along with their rationale. Those who were given social impact framing were 32 percentage points less likely to say “yes” to negotiating. In addition, the group who gave negative responses was more than twice as likely as the control group to use phrases such as “doing so would be taboo,” “make you look selfish if you asked,” and “would likely make the organization less interested in hiring me.”

In the second and third studies, we tested the effect in real-world contexts. In one, we asked 438 undergraduate students whether they would ask for more money for a purportedly real on-campus job opportunity. In the other, we asked 1,525 online workers recruited from a crowdsourcing marketplace to bid for a purported writing-related task.

In each case, the odds of negotiating were approximately 42 percentage points lower when the work was framed in social impact terms. Survey responses showed that this was driven by workers’ perceptions that they would be violating the organisation’s expectations for employee motivation by showing interest in higher pay.

Our fourth study replicated the effects above, while our fifth study showed that effects held across a range of industries—from education to financial services.

A matter of perception

Why did this happen? We theorise that the applicants assumed that managers and companies had motivation purity bias—thinking that employees who are interested in a job’s material rewards care less about the work itself. And, indeed, previous research has shown that this bias does affect managers’ decisions.

That means few applicants want to be seen as the person who gives priority to money over more lofty, altruistic goals. You either love the work itself and want to help others or care about material rewards like higher pay. It can’t be both.

But that attitude is simply romanticising. Research shows that people often do their jobs better when they get a combination of extrinsic rewards like high salary and intrinsic ones like idealism about a mission.

The consequences of holding back on salary requests can be huge. Previous research has shown that fear of asking for even a small increase in starting pay can cost people hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a career. For companies, skimping on pay because of misguided beliefs can lead to missed opportunities to boost performance and productivity.

How to overcome the bias? Employees should do research on companies to see how the businesses react to salary requests. For their part, companies can create greater pay transparency, use objective criteria to set salary and train managers to watch out for bias.

Passion for work is wonderful. But we shouldn’t romanticise it as the only legitimate reason to take a job.


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At the World Plogging Championship, contestants have lugged in tires, TVs and at least one Neapolitan coffee maker

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GENOA, Italy—Renato Zanelli crossed the finish line with a rusty iron hanging from his neck while pulling 140 pounds of trash on an improvised sled fashioned from a slab of plastic waste.

Zanelli, a retired IT specialist, flashed a tired smile, but he suspected his garbage haul wouldn’t be enough to defend his title as world champion of plogging—a sport that combines running with trash collecting.

A rival had just finished the race with a chair around his neck and dragging three tires, a television and four sacks of trash. Another crossed the line with muscles bulging, towing a large refrigerator. But the strongest challenger was Manuel Jesus Ortega Garcia, a Spanish plumber who arrived at the finish pulling a fridge, a dishwasher, a propane gas tank, a fire extinguisher and a host of other odds and ends.

“The competition is intense this year,” said Zanelli. Now 71, he used his fitness and knack for finding trash to compete against athletes half his age. “I’m here to help the environment, but I also want to win.”

Italy, a land of beauty, is also a land of uncollected trash. The country struggles with chronic littering, inefficient garbage collection in many cities, and illegal dumping in the countryside of everything from washing machines to construction waste. Rome has become an emblem of Italy’s inability to fix its trash problem.

So it was fitting that at the recent World Plogging Championship more than 70 athletes from 16 countries tested their talents in this northern Italian city. During the six hours of the race, contestants collect points by racking up miles and vertical distance, and by carrying as much trash across the finish line as they can. Trash gets scored based on its weight and environmental impact. Batteries and electronic equipment earn the most points.

A mobile app ensures runners stay within the race’s permitted area, approximately 12 square miles. Athletes have to pass through checkpoints in the rugged, hilly park. They are issued gloves and four plastic bags to fill with garbage, and are also allowed to carry up to three bulky finds, such as tires or TVs.

Genoa, a gritty industrial port city in the country’s mountainous northwest, has a trash problem that gets worse the further one gets away from its relatively clean historic core. The park that hosted the plogging championship has long been plagued by garbage big and small.

“It’s ironic to have the World Plogging Championship in a country that’s not always as clean as it could be. But maybe it will help bring awareness and things will improve,” said Francesco Carcioffo, chief executive of Acea Pinerolese Industriale, an energy and recycling company that’s been involved in sponsoring and organizing the race since its first edition in 2021. All three world championships so far have been held in Italy.

Events that combine running and trash-collecting go back to at least 2010. The sport gained traction about seven years ago when a Swede, Erik Ahlström, coined the name plogging, a mashup of plocka upp, Swedish for “pick up,” and jogging.

“If you don’t have a catchy name you might as well not exist,” said Roberto Cavallo, an Italian environmental consultant and longtime plogger, who is on the world championship organizing committee together with Ahlström.

Saturday’s event brought together a mix of wiry trail runners and environmental activists, some of whom looked less like elite athletes.

“We like plogging because it makes us feel a little less guilty about the way things are going with the environment,” said Elena Canuto, 29, as she warmed up before the start. She came in first in the women’s ranking two years ago. “This year I’m taking it a bit easier because I’m three months pregnant.”

Around two-thirds of the contestants were Italians. The rest came from other European countries, as well as Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Algeria, Ghana and Senegal.

“I hope to win so people in Senegal get enthusiastic about plogging,” said Issa Ba, a 30-year-old Senegalese-born factory worker who has lived in Italy for eight years.

“Three, two, one, go,” Cavallo shouted over a loudspeaker, and the athletes sprinted off in different directions. Some stopped 20 yards from the starting line to collect their first trash. Others took off to be the first to exploit richer pickings on wooded hilltops, where batteries and home appliances lay waiting.

As the hours went by, the athletes crisscrossed trails and roads, their bags became heavier. They tagged their bulky items and left them at roadsides for later collection. Contestants gathered at refreshment points, discussing what they had found as they fueled up on cookies and juice. Some contestants had brought their own reusable cups.

With 30 minutes left in the race, athletes were gathering so much trash that the organisers decided to tweak the rules: in addition to their four plastic bags, contestants could carry six bulky objects over the finish line rather than three.

“I know it’s like changing the rules halfway through a game of Monopoly, but I know I can rely on your comprehension,” Cavallo announced over the PA as the athletes braced for their final push to the finish line.

The rule change meant some contestants could almost double the weight of their trash, but others smelled a rat.

“That’s fantastic that people found so much stuff, but it’s not really fair to change the rules at the last minute,” said Paul Waye, a Dutch plogging evangelist who had passed up on some bulky trash because of the three-item rule.

Senegal will have to wait at least a year to have a plogging champion. Two hours after the end of Saturday’s race, Ba still hadn’t arrived at the finish line.

“My phone ran out of battery and I got lost,” Ba said later at the awards ceremony. “I’ll be back next year, but with a better phone.”

The race went better for Canuto. She used an abandoned shopping cart to wheel in her loot. It included a baby stroller, which the mother-to-be took as a good omen. Her total haul weighed a relatively modest 100 pounds, but was heavy on electronic equipment, which was enough for her to score her second triumph.

“I don’t know if I’ll be back next year to defend my title. The baby will be six or seven months old,” she said.

In the men’s ranking, Ortega, the Spanish plumber, brought in 310 pounds of waste, racked up more than 16 miles and climbed 7,300 feet to run away with the title.

Zanelli, the defending champion, didn’t make it onto the podium. He said he would take solace from the nearly new Neapolitan coffee maker he found during the first championship two years ago. “I’ll always have my victory and the coffee maker, which I polished and now display in my home,” he said.

Contestants collected more than 6,600 pounds of trash. The haul included fridges, bikes, dozens of tires, baby seats, mattresses, lead pipes, stoves, chairs, TVs, 1980s-era boomboxes with cassettes still inside, motorcycle helmets, electric fans, traffic cones, air rifles, a toilet and a soccer goal.

“This park hasn’t been this clean since the 15 century,” said Genoa’s ambassador for sport, Roberto Giordano.


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