The reason rich people keep on working
Sat. 10, Dec, 2016. 08:18:58 am
When Keith, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, worked at a
technology company that went public, he became rich
overnight. He was sure he’d never need to work again.
His pay-out from the initial public offering was well into the
“tens of millions” of dollars, he says, a life-changing amount.
It gave him the type of financial security that most of us can
only dream of.
He stayed on at first, but soon stopped working. He spent a
year travelling and spending money on “frivolous things” but
found it difficult to enjoy his life, he says.
Like most people, Keith (who asked that his last name and
identifying details not be used due to the personal nature of
his story) had long believed he worked simply to make
money. He was wrong. And so even with savings that would
last a lifetime, Keith started another job search.
There’s a higher reason why we all go to work
“I just felt unhappy at the lack of structure and not knowing
what my purpose in life was. My skills were deteriorating and
I was finding it difficult to interact with other people
intellectually,” says Keith, now in his mid-thirties. “There’s a
higher reason why we all go to work.”
Now, he's back at work — and significantly happier than he
was not working.
You’d think striking it suddenly rich would be the ultimate
ticket to freedom. Without money worries, the world would
be your oyster. Perhaps you’d champion a worthy cause, or
indulge a sporting passion, but work? Surely not. However,
remaining gainfully employed after sudden wealth is more
common than you’d think. After all, there are numerous high-
profile billionaires who haven’t called it quits despite
possessing the luxury to retire, including some of the world’s
top chief executives, such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.
Money and job satisfaction
But it turns out, the suddenly rich who aren’t running
companies are also loathe to quit, even though they have
plenty of money. That could be, in part, because the link
between salary and job satisfaction is very weak.
According to a meta-analysis by University of Florida
business school professor Timothy Judge and other
researchers, there’s less than a 2% overlap between the two
factors. In the long run, we derive job satisfaction from non-
monetary sources, which include positive peer relationships,
the ability to work on meaningful projects and even
leadership opportunities.
But, most of us take our jobs and the nonmaterial things they
bring us for granted. We don’t realise that, though, until we’re
faced with a situation of extreme wealth, says Jamie
Traeger-Muney, an Israel-based therapist and founder of the
Wealth Legacy Group who works with clients all over the
Money is a much smaller driver of happiness and
fulfilment from work than we anticipate
About 98% of her patients continue working in some way
after they are financially secure, she adds. For some, it’s
about a sense of purpose; for others it’s a way to keep a
much-needed routine.
“Money is a much smaller driver of happiness and fulfilment
from work than we anticipate,” she says. “There’s a
difference between what they fantasise about and what
actually feels meaningful, motivating and fulfilling.”
When social status disappears
There’s another, more egotistical reason why some of us
can’t stand not being in the game: status.
Imagine the embarrassment of being so highly-accomplished,
so associated with your work successes and then, as time
passes, you can’t answer the question of “What do you do?”
so easily, says Brooke Harrington professor at the
Copenhagen Business School.
We lose status when we’re not employed in a job that
can help others place us in the social hierarchy
Going back to work — or never quitting — helps maintain an
identity that’s derived from our professional achievements,
especially if that identity has long been tied to our work, says
“We lose status when we’re not employed in a job that can
help others place us in the social hierarchy, and help us place
ourselves [in the hierarchy],” she says. In short, it’s hard to
know where you fit in when you’re not at least on the ladder.
As a serial entrepreneur, Karen Gordon, the founder of an
employee engagement firm that she launched more than a
decade after starting a telecommunications firm, decided
that starting something new — and staying at work — was
more important than spending her profits over the years.
“People enjoy accomplishment and enjoy [being] able to be
competitive — and to win,” says Gordon, who is based in
Austin, Texas in the US. She also craved the daily challenges
that come with working as team, she adds.
A sense of loss
Then there are the surprising negative emotions that sudden
wealth can yield. Quit your job and you might find yourself
depressed within a few months .
In those cases, that increase in leisure time didn’t bring
happiness or contentment and you’ll need to quickly
reassess your goals, says Dr Traeger-Muney. Those who are
very young when they reached financial independence are
especially prone to the downsides of quitting, she adds.
There’s a sense of loss that they didn’t anticipate
If you happen to get rich quickly, she suggests taking a year
to come up with a new set of social and work-related goals
that can bring out the same type of drive that made you a
success in the first place.
“There’s a sense of loss that they didn’t anticipate,” she says.
“You have to have a really strong ‘Third Act’,” she adds.
For Keith, continuing to work provides structure and meaning
in his life. Staying on a career path can make you
accountable in a way that volunteering, travelling or simply
spending time with friends cannot, he says.
Of course, he has been tempted to quit a job when big
challenges come up — after all, he’s got the money to walk
away — and he feels he is less eager for a promotion than
colleagues. But, Keith says he’s learning to treat his work in a
way that’s more fulfilling. He now recognises that the little
details of work he used to find annoying can be useful.
“When you have a real job there’s meetings and there’s
presentations and there’s deadlines and there’s performance
reviews and water cooler talk,” he says. “It pushes you to do
a lot of the challenging tasks that you don’t want to do, but
are necessary for you to actually achieve.”

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