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


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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The surprising passions paying off for investors

The Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index reveals investments of passion are paying strong dividends, in some areas at least

By Bronwyn Allen
Tue, Apr 9, 2024 4 min

Art was the investment of passion that gained the most in value in 2023, according to Knight Frank’s Luxury Investment Index (KFLII). This is the second consecutive year that art has risen the most among the 10 popular investments tracked by the index, up 11 percent in 2023 and 29 percent in 2022. Art was followed by 8 percent growth in jewellery, 5 percent growth in watches, 4 percent growth in coins and 2 percent growth in coloured diamonds last year.

The weakest performers were rare whisky bottles, which lost nine percent of their value, classic cars down six percent and designer handbags down four percent. Luxury collectables are typically held by ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWIs) who have a net worth of US$30 million or more. Knight Frank research shows 20 percent of UHNWI investment asset portfolios are allocated to collectables.

In 2023, the KFLII fell for only the second time, with prices down 1 percent on average.

Despite record-breaking individual sales in 2023, a surge in financial market returns contributed to a shift in allocations impacting on luxury asset value,” the report said. “… our assessment reveals a need for an ever more discerning approach from investors, with significant volatility by sub-market.

Sebastian Duthy of AMR said the 2023 art auction year began with notable sales including a record price for a Bronzino piece. But confidence waned as the year went on.

“It was telling that in May, Sotheby’s inserted one of its top Old Master lots – a Rubens’ portrait – into a 20th Century Modern evening sale. But by then, it was clear that the confidence among sellers, set by the previous year’s record-busting figures, was ebbing away. In the same month, modern and contemporary works from the collection of the late financier Gerald Fineberg sold well below pre-auction estimates.”

The value of ultra contemporary or red-chip’ art contracted the most in 2023.

“Works by a growing group of artists born after 1980 have been heavily promoted by mega galleries and auction houses in recent years. With freshly painted works in excess of £100,000 almost doubling in 2022, it was little surprise that this sector was one of the biggest casualties last year. There is a risk there are now simply too many fresh paint artists with none really standing out.”

In the jewellery market, Mr Duthy noted that demand was strongest for coloured gemstones of exceptional quality, iconic signed period jewels, single-owner collections, and items with historic provenance in 2023. In the watches market, Mr Duthy said collectors chased the most iconic and rare timepieces.

A Rolex John Player Special broke the model record when it sold for £2 million at Sotheby’s in May, double the price for a similar example sold at Phillips in 2021,” he said.

Although whisky was the worst-performing collectable in 2023, it has delivered the highest return on investment among the 10 items tracked by the index over the past decade, up 280 percent. Andy Simpson of Simpson Reserved, said 2023 was a challenging year but the best of the best bottles gained 20 percent in value. In my opinion some bottles that lost significant value in 2023 will return through the next two years as they are simply so scarce and, right now at least, so undervalued, Mr Simpson said.

Whisky was the worst performing collectable in 2023 but it had highest return on investment over a 10-year period. Image: Shutterstock

Classic car expert Dietrich Hatlapa said the 6 percent fall in collectable vehicle values in 2023 followed a 22 percent surge in 2022. The strong performance of other investment classes such as equities may have dampened collectors’ appetites it’s a very small market so it only takes a minor change in portfolio allocations to have an effect, and there has also probably been a degree of profit taking. However, we have seen some marques like BMW (up 9 percent in value) and Lamborghini (up 18 percent), which appeal to a younger breed of collector, buck the trend in 2023.”

Mr Duthy said a dip in the share price of the top luxury handbag brands last Autumn appeared to spook investors. Last autumn it was possible to pick up an Hermès white Niloticus Himalaya Birkin in good condition for under £50,000. The recent slide reflects a general correction at the upper end that’s been underway for some time rather than changing attitudes to the harvesting of exotic skins.

According to Knight Frank’s Attitudes Survey, the top five investments of passion among Australian UHNWIs are classic cars, art and wine. Fine wine values gained just 1 percent in 2023 as the market continued its correction, said Nick Martin of Wine Owners. “It’s been a hell of a long run, so I’m not that surprised. Some wines from very small producers that had enjoyed the most exuberant growth have seen the biggest drops. It had got a bit silly, £50 bottles had shot up to £200 or £300.”

Favourite investments of passion: Australia vs Global

1. Classic cars (61 percent of Australian UHNWIs vs 38 percent of global UHNWIs)
2. Art (58 percent vs 48 percent)
3. Wine (48 percent vs 35 percent)
4. Watches (42 percent vs 42 percent)
5. Jewellery (18 percent vs 28 percent)

Best returns among investments of passion (10 years)

1. Whisky 280 percent
2. Wine 146 percent
3. Watches 138 percent
4. Art 105 percent
5. Cars 82 percent

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

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