Companies turn to ‘emotional salary’ perks in attempt to reengage apathetic workforce

Nearly $9 trillion lost due to productivity slumps has left companies seeking an alternative way to reengage their workforce through “emotional salary” compensation.

From calls for shorter work weeks, demands to maintain remote options, “quiet quitting” and underachiever movements, to “act your wage,” society’s adaptation to modern technologies and streamlined processes have heavily impacted employee engagement.

According to a report from Gallup, an equivalent of nearly 10% of the global gross domestic product was lost in 2023 because approximately three-quarters of the workforce became disengaged, amounting to a collective cost of about $8.8 trillion.

In the United States, engagement sat at around 33%, and Toronto-based Achievers Workforce Institute Head of Workforce Research Caitlin Nobes promoted padding an employee’s “emotional salary” to course-correct.

Image via Gallup

Speaking with Fox Business, Nobes detailed, “An employee’s emotional salary is the measure of whether they feel reward beyond base pay,” and noted, “Emotional salary is completely separate from monetary compensation, which is needed to meet foundational needs for safety and security.”

The kinds of perks sought after by those already comfortable with their monetary compensation included opportunities for advancement and improved work-life balance, without which the research suggested some of the negative trends like “act your wage” and “loud laborers” could creep into the workforce.

“Employees who feel their efforts and work go unnoticed are in turn more likely to underperform, disengage, and eventually quit,” said Nobes. “Something as simple as recognition, which is an investment in emotional salary, can shift this narrative.”

“Frequent and meaningful recognition is a critical driver of emotional salary, increasing a sense of belonging, engagement, and productivity, and lowering the risk of turnover,” she added.

“This insight is particularly helpful for industries that already pay high salaries (like finance, technology, and life sciences) who are seeing rampant disengagement rates and skills shortages across their workforce,” the researcher indicated as for those without higher wages, better pay remained the number one desire among workers.

In addition to increased engagement, Gallup’s analysis of over 100,000 business units found a 10% increase in customer loyalty, an 18-43% decrease in turnover, and as much as a 23% increase in profitability.

For those looking to gain “emotional salary” perks, Nobes recommended being upfront with an employer during the hiring process “and give tangible examples of what this looks like — health/fitness stipend, flexible PTO, regular work events, and more.”

“Pointing to specific skills you possess and outcomes you’ve achieved will give you a leg up when asking about emotional salary components,” she added.

Likewise, LinkedIn career expert Andrew McCaskill told Fox Business, “The only way to get comfortable talking about money or benefits that translate to money is to talk about it — so practice talking about yourself and your salary and benefits expectations with friends, family, past colleagues or other professional connections to get a better sense of what to ask and how you want to ask it.”

“And for those who are trying to add to their total compensation,” he went on, “whether that means asking for more PTO or for a more flexible schedule, or for your company to invest in your upskilling: The key is practice.”

Kevin Haggerty


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