Chipotle doesn’t serve burritos, it “provides food with integrity.” Facebook doesn’t sell advertisements, it “bring[s] the world closer together.” WeWork doesn’t sublease office spaces, it “elevates the world’s consciousness” (and it might not do that for much longer).

Why do these for-profit companies insist on selling themselves as such do-gooders? In part, they want to market themselves to potential consumers. But perhaps even more so, they want to motivate their workers.

In the latest CNBC|SurveyMonkey Workplace Happiness Survey, 69% of workers said it’s “very important” to them to work for a company with clearly stated values, and 35% said “feeling that your work is meaningful” was the most important factor in their overall happiness at work. Humans crave meaningful relationships, and businesses have learned to capitalize on that emotion. By encouraging employees to see their work as fulfilling a higher purpose, they can try to retain workers by paying them in good vibes rather than dollars.

But trying to rally employees into a feeling of higher purpose at work misses something more fundamental: At root, people want to be compensated well for the work they do. Businesses that create a puffed-up company ethos but skimp on their most basic responsibility of paying their workforce well will end up with unhappy employees no matter how grandiose their company mission statement.

Defining happiness at work

In these latest survey results, workers ranked “being paid well” a distant second (21%) to “finding that your work is meaningful” in terms of what factor most determines their overall happiness at work. Those top two choices are followed by “having opportunities to advance” and “having control over how you do your work” (tied at 16% each), and finally “having colleagues who value your work” (11%).

Each of these five factors is one component that makes up the CNBC|SurveyMonkey Workplace Happiness Index; for simplicity, we refer to them as meaning, pay, opportunity, autonomy and recognition.

Source: CNBC