Better Boss or More Money – What do You choose?

There was a survey done recently by Michelle McQuaid and the results were picked up by a number of news outlets and delivered as big news.  The basis of the study was, if given a choice, would your employee choose a better boss or a pay raise – and guess what they found!?

65% of employees say they would rather have a Better Boss than more Money!

So, my question to you – do you think this is true?  If you went to your employees right now, today, and told them – look we know, based on this survey you guys want a better boss, so we going to fire the idiot we have managing you right now and let you pick your next boss!  And, because we are doing this – you don’t get a raise next year – but don’t worry – you’ll be more engaged and happier because this next gal you pick to tell you what to do is really going to that much better! What do you say – are you in?!

Before you go cutting your increase budget for 2013, and funneling all of that money into leadership development – let’s look at a couple of things:

1. The person who did the survey -Michelle McQuaid – has a consulting business and guess what she’s selling? Engagement!

2. The survey sample was a total of 1000 folks from various demographics – and I’m sure was academically and statistically tested to be completely valid and reliable…

Unfortunately, the media outlets that pick this crap up never give the full story – that’s not their job – their job is to get you to click – and most people believe what they read.  Put into context, this survey is almost laughable – One person, trying to sell her ideas, throws a survey together that just by happenstance validates what she’s saying.  The Business Insider even tied Gallup into the article  making it look even more valid – which causes great confusion!

Here’s my real life study of this same subject – do this for me and let me know how it turns out:

1. Take $2500 cash – stacks of $20 bills – and set them in front of an employee.  Let the employee touch the money – pick it up.

2. Then, ask this one question – “You can have a new boss – a better boss – or you – right now – can have this money. Which one would you like?”

3. Do this to 100 employees – or 1000 (like it matters) – and tell me your results.

Here is my guarantee to you – and if it doesn’t work out this way – I’ll pay for your study.  You will not have 65% of your employees chose a new boss!!!!  I guarantee it.  Look I get what Michelle is trying to do – we’ve all drank the engagement Koolaid – so now we’re supposed to believe that money no longer matters to people. Well it does – it matters a whole lot – don’t try and kid yourself.  Telling yourself that your employees will pick a better boss over a raise is fools gold – and makes you look like an idiot to your executives – because they know reality.  People want a better boss – people need and want more money – more.

13 thoughts on “Better Boss or More Money – What do You choose?

  1. Tim the research this lady did may not be that valid but the result is the right one…if that person wants to feel “good” at work (I’m talking about high morale, resulting in a high level of engagement). Most research shows that how a worker sees the boss determines about 88% of morale/engagement levels. Pay has a far, far lower impact partly because it has to be competitive to get someone in the door; its much harder to create such a guarantee with a boss, “hiring” him or her is a good idea if possible, if a luxury idea for many…. and people move around so a great boss can be gone in months. The “boss from hell” has a devastating effect on worker health and well-being, a huge effect on turnover, etc. Of course as akabruno says, all this depends on where you are starting from in terms of boss and pay, so my comments refer to the overall situation.

    Given the choice between being paid a bit more or being happier at work instead of miserable 8-10 hours a day, most people choose happiness…..or leave to try and find both!

    David Bowles, Ph.D.
    Co-author, The High Engagement Work Culture: Balancing ME and WE

  2. I need to start asking this question in interviews and when the candidate says “Better Boss” because it’s the politically correct thing to say – tell them thanks, the interview is over, because you’re a liar! 😉

  3. Allison –

    Great point on a great boss being a career advocate. So now we just have to change an entire generations mind set to be patient and good things will happen… 😉

    I do agree with you on the right boss can make or break your career advancement – which will have a compensation effect. The bosses are pretty rare though as well.

    Thanks for stopping by!


  4. My kids want ice cream for breakfast everyday. Milk, sugar, some protein – sounds like cereal. But… it’s my job to be sure they get what they “need” not always what they “want.”

    The study is probably self-serving but it isn’t wrong. What we want vs. what we need are usually two different things. Greed is something we manage not something we resign ourselves to.

  5. Great topic, Tim. I would definitely say, pick the boss over the moola. I’m a big believer in actually “hiring your boss”. If you work for a great boss, bank skills and learn a ton — you’ll get promoted and voila make more money down the line. Bad bosses stifle careers, creativity and work product. Often, they end badly. And if the boss is really a jerk, you can bet that that person won’t give you a reference when you do leave them. I’ve seen way too many people take jobs for a great paycheck only to seriously hate going to work. Ultimately, it negatively effects their long term career and income prospects. That’s my two cents.

  6. Julie –

    In 20 years in HR the one thing has always been constant – people will want more money – every time – 6 months, 6 years, 6 years – in HR we have one constant – our employees will want more money for what they are doing. It doesn’t mean we have to give it – but the wanting will not go away!

  7. Paul –

    I don’t disagree we are conditioning the lab rats – but there is no difference with things like leadership development, autonomy, other benefits, etc. What I’m trying to say – I think the study is naive and altruistic. Should we strive to develop our leaders into the best possible bosses? Absolutely! But don’t try and get me to drink the Koolaid and forget about reality!

  8. I agree that most will likely take (or want to take the money), but you are likely going to have to wash, rinse and repeat this whole exercise in another 6 months because that bad boss…he/she is still there.

    Given this, I’m not sure if as many people would take the money the second time around.

  9. So we should ignore studies in favor of opinion? The problem with your solution is that all you’re doing is training your staff to wait for the money. Mercenaries are helpful but not what I would want in my organization. Sure people want money. Non one argues that but the real question isn’t “do you like money” – it’s “given the fact that you have to be here day after day after day – would you rather have a better boss for that time than a one-time bonus?” I would imagine that in the back of everyone’s mind is the fact that if I had a better boss I’d get the raise… so I get to kill two birds with one stone.

    No one would argue that cash is nice, and when you get that stack of bills in your hand it is hard to turn down. But it has been proven over and over we aren’t rational when making many decisions. Your example is one of them.

    If you run a business… the last thing you want are mercenaries… you solution creates that.

  10. Bruno!

    Look – I’ll take it all back – let’s just set down $500 cash in front of someone busting their ass everyday making $30K – and ask them – You want $500 or a New/Better Boss. I’ll still go over 50% take the Cash!

    Out –


  11. I’ll play devil’s advocate and argue that income level may very well influence your experiment. Media raise in 2012 is 2.9%, so $2500 is a little more than $86K. If I’m making $125K, $150K, or more, that $2500 is paltry compared to having to deal with the crappy 2000 hours a year, particularly if it is spread over 26 biweekly paychecks. If, however, I’m making $30K,, that $2500 may be more palatable and may make a difference.

    Again, how bad is the boss? How bad is the job? How much will you have to offer to make the choice a meaningful one?

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