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Millennial workers eventually walk if the money doesn’t talk

Young nonprofit workers in managerial positions are more likely than others in their age group to jump to the private or public sector in search of better pay, Dalhousie research shows.

Jacob Wackerhausen/Thinkstock

The Globe's monthly roundup of research from business schools.

Previous research has taught Eddy Ng much about why so many young professionals seek out careers in the nonprofit sector where they are likely to draw lower salaries than their peers in private industry or government.

For starters: It's not all about the money, but a good paycheque doesn't hurt. This generation has a strong need for positive reinforcement on the job, and sees financial compensation as a form of praise for their efforts.

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At the same time, many in this demographic will opt to work for lower wages if they think that what they are doing is of social importance.

"They tend to want to solve world hunger. They want world peace. That sort of thing," said Dr. Ng, a professor of organizational behaviour at the Rowe School of Business at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

In his most recent study, however, Dr. Ng found that the altruistic attitude does not necessarily hold true for millennials as their careers advance.

In particular, Dr. Ng found that young nonprofit workers in managerial positions are more likely than others in their age group to jump to the private or public sector in search of better pay.

In a series of tests, the same willingness to switch to more lucrative work in different industries was also observed in millennials who hold a college or graduate degree.

The findings suggest the nonprofit sector may be facing a critical recruitment and retention crunch, particularly at the upper levels, in the none-too-distant future.

For these particular workers "pay matters," Dr. Ng wrote in the paper, which was co-written by Jasmine McGinnis Johnson of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and accepted for publication in the Review of Public Personnel Administration.

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"They are more likely to remain in nonprofit work when they are paid higher salaries."

Dr. Ng said the study results point to a need among nonprofits to stay competitive with salaries available to managers and university-educated workers outside the sector. That doesn't mean, necessarily, that nonprofits have to offer the same levels of pay.

Unless the money is particularly good, the discomfort and unknowns associated with a job change are often enough to keep most people (regardless of sector) from leaving.

"So, nonprofits don't necessarily have to offer the same level of salary as other industries, but if they keep pace, even though they pay slightly less, that would cause people to pause before they go off switching to the private sector," said Dr. Ng.

The (ironic) Dove effect

The marketing wizards behind the Dove brand have won the hearts of millions of women around the world – and quite a few industry awards along the way – through a long-running campaign that tells us real beauty comes from within and is not reliant on the number on the bathroom scale.

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But a new study co-authored by Brent McFerran, assistant marketing professor at Simon Fraser University's Beedie School of Management in Burnaby, B.C., found that this kind of pro plus-size messaging and images may actually be hazardous to our health.

There is already a stack of existing research that points to a host of negative consequences stemming from our repeated exposure to thin, Photoshopped, unrealistic models. "We know that," said Dr. McFerran, who, along with his co-author Lily Lin of California State University, has been examining obesity-acceptance cues in society for several years.

This study, published in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, examined the flip side of that scenario, with test subjects measured on their response to images and articles about larger-bodied women.

The study put subjects through five experiments in an effort to measure the impact of exposure to images and messaging that suggest obesity (as defined by body-mass ratio) is "normal" and "real" or "authentic."

In one experiment, test subjects were shown images of a 5-foot-2 woman in size-zero clothing. The same woman was then photographed wearing a "fat suit" that boosted her small frame to size 16, making her appear clinically obese.

Researchers then manipulated different tag lines to suggest the woman's appearance was either positive or negative.

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"We were curious what effects that might have on consumers," said Dr. McFerran.

What they found was, in each case, participants were more likely to eat junk food and less likely to choose a healthy lifestyle when they were encouraged to believe that obesity is more socially acceptable — ironically, the opposite of what many of these marketing campaigns are trying to achieve.

Dr. McFerran said he and his co-author aren't trying to be controversial.

"Ultimately, what I am trying to do is provide some science around some of the thoughts people have about these issues and make a meaningful contribution to understanding how we, as a society, can stem the rate of obesity that we have in almost every Western society," he said.

Want honesty? Make it the easiest choice

After a decade of studying honesty, Nina Mazar of the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management has learned a thing or two about human behaviour and what makes seemingly moral people lie and cheat.

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The good news? "Most people care about telling the truth," said Dr. Mazar, associate professor of marketing.

On the other hand, she said, "It's very, very human to give into temptation" – especially if you think you won't get caught.

Dr. Mazar's latest research into the topic focused on the Canadian tax system and, specifically, what can be done to keep even the most-honest among us from cheating on our tax forms, given the opportunity.

As part of the work, Dr. Mazar and Rotman marketing colleague Scott Hawkins sought to gauge how people would behave under different scenarios where their answers could potentially be rewarded with financial gain.

Consistent with findings from previous experiments on the same topic, Dr. Mazar said participants were most likely to play down their true income when they could passively ignore a question, rather than actively creating the dishonest response themselves.

For instance, if an empty box on the tax form asking for things like investment income or extra money could be skipped without consequence, test subjects were more likely to cheat "by omission."

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"We can find ways to rationalize our actions … and pretend [we] didn't see that field," she said.

Cheating was almost eliminated, however, when participants were automatically given the honest response and had to deliberately override it if they wanted to give a different answer that carried a bigger financial gain.

Those who deliberately cheated showed a slower response time than others, suggesting an internal struggle with their choices, according to the study.

Dr. Mazar, who serves as an adviser to Canada Revenue Agency and, more recently to the World Bank, said governments have much to gain by making adjustments to tax forms that are designed to curb this all-too human urge to cheat the system.

Notably, she said, if income information is automatically entered into our tax return, we may be less likely to alter it to something that is incorrect once it's there.

The question agencies need to ask themselves is, "How can I change the forms and the environments so that I make it harder for people to go against the norms?'" she said.

The paper was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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