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How much pay would you be willing to sacrifice to be happier at work?

It's a question many of us ask on days when work feels like drudgery. While salary and bonuses remain key considerations when weighing a job offer or change of responsibilities, our desire for happiness is increasingly playing a larger role.

According to a new survey by Fidelity Investments, the first wave of millennial workers (those born between 1981 and 1991) would be willing to take an average pay cut of $7,600 (U.S.) for a job that offers an improved quality of work life. That includes better career development opportunities, a corporate culture more aligned with their values and greater work-life balance. In fact, when asked which they value more – money or quality of life – 58 per cent chose the latter.

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That millennials will trade some financial security for increased happiness doesn't surprise Ron Newton, an employee development expert based in Dallas and the author of No Jerks on the Job.

"They are a generation of workers that have been taught that they can achieve anything and it won't surprise me if they find that happier work place they desire," Mr. Newton said.

This isn't just a matter on the minds of millennials. Responding to the question on LinkedIn, dozens of people spoke about leaving their jobs for less pay and more gratification.

Eva Martinez, 46, is one example. Currently the senior director of business development in the training and simulation division of Bluedrop Performance Learning Inc. in Halifax, Ms. Martinez said she left a former job because her values didn't align with the company's corporate culture. Drawing on years of industry experience, she suggested changes she believed would improve performance of her product line. But she said they fell on deaf ears.

"The more I asked, the more I was told it wasn't going to change and that I should just assimilate," Ms. Martinez said, adding, "I decided I was not the right fit."

She did find new work, in a more senior role that allowed her to shape and build the business – but for less pay. However, the position came with more vacation time, a shorter commute, a more flexible schedule and better employee engagement.

"It's impossible to put a dollar figure on the importance of fit," Ms. Martinez said, adding that even if that former employer had offered to double her salary, "it would not have compelled me to stay even a day longer."

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She's not alone in her view. Aymie Rondeau, 35, the director of project resourcing at International Financial Group (IFG) in Calgary, recalls the years she spent in a sales role at a large multinational company. She took the job aware that the environment was "highly competitive," which never sat well with her. Despite this, Ms. Rondeau found success at the firm, earning well over six figures annually.

"While I really loved the money, and the financial freedom and luxury it provided me, the competition and internal backstabbing always really got to me. I loved being able to go on European vacations, but hated that I felt I had to check my e-mails every day to make sure a sale didn't come through that someone else could take away from me. … Work-life balance was definitely lacking," she recalled.

She eventually hit her breaking point and Ms. Rondeau ended up taking a new role with a company in a completely different field.

"My compensation was cut in half, but it was a well-deserved break. … I could leave work at work. I wasn't connected via a BlackBerry. I rarely logged in from home or worked overtime. I was still happy and enjoyed my life, and lived comfortably without buying an expensive handbag or shoes every month. It really helped me to see that there's more to life than money," she said.

Figuring out what makes employees happy is no simple task, and can vary from person to person. However, Ms. Martinez suggested that many companies could start in the interview process by being honest about the corporate climate and asking the right questions about a candidate's goals.

"Companies needs to ask questions about what motivates and drives a potential employee to get a sense of what they value and what's important to them to determine if they will be a good fit and if the company will be able to deliver to the employee's expectations," she said.

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"Money isn't always the answer."

Leah Eichler is founder and CEO of r/ally, a machine-learning, human capital search engine for enterprises. Twitter: @LeahEichler

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