Is doing something you love more important than making a lot of money? This is a question everyone asks themselves at some point in their career. Students in college face this question when selecting a major: I love classical music but will I find a job in that field that pays the bills? I want to earn a high salary as a CEO, but how can I also follow my real passion of working with animals? These are tough questions to answer when you consider the tradeoffs between pursuing a career that makes you happy or one that allows you to earn a high salary.

Of course there are times when the two coincide—some people find a career that provides a good living while doing something they’re passionate about. But the question of choosing one over the other is ever-present. Human resources professionals often come face-to-face with this question as part of their job: when considering candidates for a position, when offering promotions and raises, and when coming up with workplace policies. In each scenario, the balancing act between compensation and passion can be a deciding factor for both the HR professional and the employee or candidate.

Let’s look at each scenario more closely.


The hiring process is usually long and arduous. Whether you’re hiring from a pool of candidates or looking for someone within your organization, the selection process is never easy. Part of what should be considered is the candidate’s motivation. Is the candidate interested in the position because of the considerable salary or because he or she is passionate about the work? In most cases this question is not easily answered and there can be arguments for and against each motivator. If a candidate is motivated by the compensation, it doesn’t necessarily mean she’s not passionate about the work too, or that her job performance won’t be on-par with what’s expected.

In some cases, being driven by compensation can be an indicator for performance. A 2007 article in The Journal of Happiness Studies reported, “Individuals with strong financial aspirations are socially inclined, confident, ambitious (…)” Given that correlation, it may be that a candidate who seems motivated by salary is also likely to be confident and ambitious, characteristics that can prove useful in the workplace.

Promotions and Raises

The two often-conflicting scenarios also come into play in the HR world when promotions and raises are offered to current employees. It’s important to remember that employees have a lot to consider when they are offered a promotion. It may seem like a no-brainer, but a promotion usually comes with more money and more responsibilities, longer hours, and potentially more stress.

Sometimes employees are happy just where they are and excel at what they do because they enjoy their current tasks and workload, something that may motivate a manager to recommend them for a promotion. Now that employee is placed in the predicament of whether to accept a bigger paycheck but also more work and more stress. Faced with this decision, some employees might take the promotion—and the raise—but their performance and productivity may decline as a result of their being unhappy with the new role and responsibilities.

HR Policy

Finally, the question of compensation versus passion can be a driving force when creating workplace policies. Some policies, like programs that give back to the community, becoming greener in operations, or offering professional advancement workshops, can tap into employee passions. These programs can help employees value the company and thus their own work more fully. Similarly, for those employees who are more motivated by financial compensation, monetary incentives and raises can help them become more productive.

Both money and passion are strong motivators, which is why they should be intrinsic considerations in HR policies and decisions. Whether you are hiring new employees or offering raises to existing employees, HR professionals will do well to think about the primary driving forces behind what people want, so they can make decisions and develop policies that best reflect these motivations and harness their power.

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, is an author, speaker, Human Resources professional, and workplace social media expert who has a passion for recruiting, training, and all things social media. She is the president and CEO of Xceptional HR, and a leader in the HR community with more than 12 years of industry experience. The author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, Jessica was named by HR Examiner as the second most influential recruiter on the Internet and the seventh most powerful woman on Twitter. She is a columnist for both SmartBrief and The Huffington Post, in addition to Blogging4Jobs and Human Resources One on One. Jessica has been interviewed for professional articles in CIO Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, SHRM’s HR Magazine, and on CBS. Jessica earned a Senior Professional in Human Resources designation in 2008, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Business from Kansas State University. Originally from a small town in Kansas, Jessica currently lives near Oklahoma City with her husband, Greg and daughter, Ryleigh.


  • Avatar Peter Farris says:

    I didn’t go after my passion and now my job is killing me. I went into engineering for the stability, and then when I was miserable there, I changed to an IT. The money’s great, but the job is painfully boring to me.

  • Avatar Lesley says:

    I admire people who managed to balance their passion with rewarding enough profession. It must be great to be well-compensated for something you love. My passion is simply not suitable for paying bills – I’m a yoga trainer. But at least I’ve learnt to accept life as it is and I don’t regret my choice. Everything in life is a learning experience.

  • Avatar Jess says:

    I think we don’t have to sacrifice our passion for money. There’s no point in looking for jobs in companies with brand names or those with high salaries. We live only once and the most important is whether we feel content with what we do, especially for people of artistic mind.

  • Avatar Brian says:

    When hiring a person for the job it’s important to pay attention what drives them money or passion, but for most people money is good enough reason to start being passionate about what they do, isn’t it?

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