How do I choose between my salary and my sanity?

How do I choose between my salary and my sanity?

If you have a question for Shannon, send it to [email protected].

Dear Shannon,

I have been making great money in investment banking in New York for three years but find that I am not motivated or satisfied with my job. I constantly ask myself what matters more: my salary or my sanity? I feel I am ready to take a big pay cut just to align my work with my values. Can you give me some insights as to how much of a pay cut I would need to make in order to break into the impact sector?

Joanna, New York


Dear Joanna,

When it comes to a tradeoff between your salary and your sanity, there can only be one sustainable choice. Beyond a certain level of income, money doesn't necessarily make our lives any richer — in fact, it can have the opposite effect. Some of the highest earners can be poor in terms of time, life satisfaction or purpose. Not having lived a life true to yourself was cited by a palliative nurse in a popular Guardian article as the No. 1 regret of the dying, while working too hard was No. 2.

The fact that you've written to me shows that you don't want to be that person, and as a woman who already has demonstrated her passion and determination by fighting her way into a male-dominated industry, you clearly have the mettle to take the leap into a new one if you so choose. A pay cut almost certainly will come — few sectors match the dizzying heights you're used to in investment banking — but what might surprise you is how having less money could make you better off in the long term.

And guess what else? You won't be alone on the journey. Many of us are migrating from traditional career tracks to follow our hearts, make a difference and feel we're adding value, despite the salary discrepancy. But just as there is no country in the world in which women are paid more than men — the International Labour Organisation estimates that the average gender-pay gap now stands at close to 23 percent — women moving from high-paying careers into sustainability or impact roles have to deal with an income double-whammy; first for the role, then for the gender. This may come as a shock, but the stats don't lie: Acre's 2014 Salary Survey (PDF) found that while men's salaries have stayed the same since 2012, women's have dropped by $7,627 on average.

Doing more with less

So why do we do it? Because making that choice helps us feel our efforts are more aligned with our values, more authentic or — as you put it — more sane. I left two high-paying jobs in my career, one from Barclays Global Investors in San Francisco and one from Deloitte in London, because despite the great salary and benefits, I just didn’t feel the values of my team and the organization were aligned with my own. Frankly, I didn’t feel good about going to work.

I hear this a lot from my career-coaching clients and I know it's a personal choice, one that is not easy to make. But being poorer and happier can be rewarding, forcing you to simplify your life and be freer — without the lures of consumerism and commercialism. It's less of a challenge than you might think.

Let's talk numbers

That said, nobody's suggesting you survive on minimum wage, so let's talk numbers. Acre's 5th CRS Salary Survey (Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability) (PDF) is a great resource that will give you a snapshot of trends in the impact sector in terms of salary, function, sector, etc. My company, Walk of Life Consulting, was a distribution partner for the report this year and we were invited to attend the launch event in April. Over 1,200 corporate responsibility and sustainability practitioners responded to the survey, offering an unparalleled insight to the state of the industry. The results show that there is continued growth and high levels of job satisfaction, but in terms of money, things look less rosy for women, consultants and those based in the U.K. and Rest of the World regions. Here are some key points:

  • The global average salaries for men and women are $115,015 and $88,476, repectively

  • The average female salary has declined compared to 2012

  • There are fewer women in higher-level positions

  • Those working in the Rest of Europe are the highest paid

  • Average salaries have risen in all regions except the Rest of the World and the U.K., where they have dropped (slightly)

  • On average, consultants are paid $14,745 less per year than those working in-house

Of particular interest to you will be the average salaries for CRS jobs in the Banking and Finance sector. This currently stands at $123,729 with an average bonus level of 19 percent — the fifth highest of the 15 sectors surveyed. TriplePundit sum up the findings nicely with some great infographics, explaining that the average salary for different roles ranges from $167,161 at director level down to $46,855 at assistant level. In the middle are the managers at $103,015 and advisors at $70,111.

Note though that most respondents had been working in a CRS role for between six and 20 years, while none had been there for less than two. This might suggest that Banking and Finance values people with solid, tangible CRS skills — something to be especially aware of before you make your career transition. That said, respondents also cited job satisfaction levels of 85 percent, with 82 percent recommending a career in the area — a resounding endorsement.

If you're thinking about switching roles for a job in CRS or would like to position yourself for maximum income as well as maximum impact, contact me for some tried and tested bespoke advice.

Top image by GTeam via Shutterstock.