Survey results may surprise you
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Lottery tickets clenched in hands. Eyes trained on the numbered lottery balls in motion like popcorn popping. Mind solely fixed on this thought:
"If I win this one, I'll be rich enough to quit my job."
Rich enough to quit, but would you? Most people would keep working, even if those lottery balls lined up in their favor, says a Harris Poll survey released today. Just over half — 51 percent — of workers said they would continue to work, even if they didn't need the money, said the poll done for the Chicago-based CareerBuilder, a global human resources company focused on recruitment. That means 49 percent would hand in their resignations. (Of that number, 2 percent said they would skip the formality, and just never show up to work again.)
While the number of those who said they would continue working was only slightly higher than the number who said they would call it quits, the survey results contradict long-held beliefs about lottery winners. After claiming winnings, so it is commonly told, the next stop is to the job — preferably in a limousine — delivering this message: "You won't be seeing me around here anymore." This fantasy has at least been a fleeting thought of many who have purchased lottery tickets.
"Most of us tend to say: 'If I win the lottery, I'm out of here," said Elad Granot, an assistant dean of MBA programs and an associate professor of marketing at the Monte Ahuja College of Business at Cleveland State University. "Well, it is not that simple."
The meaning work holds for many complicates matters, said Granot, who is familiar with lottery-related surveys from his specialty in consumer behavior.
"Work for many people, especially those who would label themselves as engaged workers or engaged employees is more than money," he said. "Certainly money is important, but there are a lot of other aspects and elements that play a huge role in why we work. For instance, relationships, achievement and status needs go beyond money."
Nahla Harik-Williams, an associate professor of psychology at Cuyahoga Community College, agrees.
"When you think about the role that a job has in a person's life, it is often a huge part of who you are," she said. "We define ourselves many times in terms of our job. Many of us — especially in the United States, if we are fortunate enough or financially able to go to college — are encouraged to find some way of contributing to society, to make our life feel meaningful through our work."
Matt Tarpey, a career advisor for CareerBuilder, said even though winning the lottery is about landing big bucks, finding out people's thoughts about money wasn't the motivation for having the survey done.
"We saw it as a new way to approach the question of: 'Why do people work?'" he said in an email. "Obviously financial concerns are a driving factor, but what if money suddenly became no object?"
The survey found that while winning the Powerball, Mega Millions, etc. was the realization of a dream for many, money couldn't satisfy the non-monetary gains work brings.
"I would be bored if I didn't work," was the first place answer, given by 77 percent of respondents, as to why they would keep working. Coming in a close second, at 76 percent, was, "Work gives me a sense of purpose and accomplishment."
Third place, at 42 percent, was, "I want financial security aside from the financial winnings." Fourth, at 23 percent, was, "I would miss co-workers."
The online survey of 3,372 full-time, private sector workers at least 18-years-old, was conducted between May 13 and June 6. With a 95 percent probability, the survey has a sampling error of plus or minus 1.69 percentage points.
Tarpey said the survey showed that younger workers were more apt than their older counterparts to quit their jobs. Sixty-nine percent of workers 18 to 24 said they would keep working. For those 25 to 34, it was 61 percent. The figure fell to 52 percent for workers 35 to 44. Of those 45 to 55, only 45 percent wanted to keep working. For workers 55 and older, only 41 percent of workers said they would remain employed.
The survey found that those in the Midwest were among the workers who were least likely to want to remain on the job. Forty-eight percent of Midwesterners said they would keep working. In the Northeast, where only 47 percent said they would keep working, was the only region where a lower percentage of people wanted to remain in the labor force. In both the South and the West, 53 percent said they would keep working.
Harik-Williams said the survey's results confirm how Americans value work.
"There is this idea that I want to do something productive and useful," she said. "It is ingrained in us."
Even being rich enough not to work couldn't get many American workers to give up the goal of finding the job that is a perfect fit. While more than half said they would keep working, only 30 percent said they would keep their current jobs. In fact, only 15 percent said they were in their dream job. With such low numbers for liking the jobs they were in, one would predict these workers would be candidates for leaving the labor force all together. But even though they wouldn't have to work, they still valued holding a job. Thirty-six percent say that while they hadn't found their dream job yet, they believed they would — someday.
Harik-Williams said Americans so highly valuing work was something to admire as well as to be a little concerned about.
"Our work is clearly important to us, but we must be careful not to emphasize the role of work in our lives to the exclusion of things like health and self-care," she said. "One must feel a sense of meaning in life besides work. Volunteerism and other kinds of worthy types of activity are examples."
So instead of continuing to work, these hypothetical lottery winners should have considered valuable activities they could have engaged in other than holding a job, Harik-Williams said.
Granot said while this survey was consistent with other polls in which workers were asked what they would do if they won the lottery, their answers may not indicate how respondents really would act if they won. He said research shows people often do poorly at predicting how they will behave in certain circumstances. Granot gave the example of a survey in which customers had been asked before they went into a fast-food restaurant what they planned to order.
"The largest portion of respondents said something along the lines of a salad and a diet Coke," he said. "Then there were people observing inside as they were making their orders. As you can guess, that wasn't how it really played out."
"It wasn't that there was lying going on," Granot said. "They really had the intention of staying healthy. It is just that things don't necessarily play out as we had expected."
But he said one thing about the survey couldn't be debated. We need more than money in helping to define who we are and helping to give meaning to our lives.
"I am not belittling money," he said. "I am a business professor. But there is more to life than money.
"Can you imagine?" he joked.