C'mon -- is there anyone out there who hasn't speculated what they'd do if they suddenly won one million, four million, 250 million dollars? Probably the first thing everyone thinks about is how it would affect their work situation. Would you "take this job and shove it?" or, as Hurley did in Lost, buy the entire company?
There's a whole ad campaign for the California Lottery in which people wax prolific about how they'd spend the money. "I'd help my brother produce his screenplay!" says one woman. Another guy says he'd hired the state's greatest chefs to cook gourmet meals for the homeless one day each year. All that altruism is fine and makes us feel less greedy about our lottery-winning fantasies, but are those fantasies also a reflection on our work ethic?
Pretty much, according to Richard Arvey, Itzhak Harpaz, and Hui Liao, who did an extensive study on the subject, "Work Centrality and Post-Award Behavior of Lottery Winners." They found that the majority of those to whom work was important continued to labor on -- even after winning enough to retire in uber-luxury.
It's all about control
"Given the staggering number of people who report that their jobs are a source of negative stress, you may be surprised by this research finding. I was not," says Dr. Paula Caligiuri, author of Get a Life, Not a Job: Do What You Love and Let Your Talents Work for You. The source of work-related stress is not the income-generating activity; it is doing this activity without control."
Dr. Caligiuri continues: "While many lottery winners continue earning an income, a very small percent of them continue doing exactly what they were doing prior to winning. The lottery winners' new financial freedom affords them opportunity to craft the careers they really want. They are fully in control of their career destiny."
According to the researchers who did the study, it's all about "work centrality," which they define as, "the degree of general importance that working has in one's life at any given time." Those who feel that they are defined by their jobs are more likely to continue working after winning (or inheriting) a large sum. If you're the type of person who responds to the question, "Tell me a little about yourself," by saying, "well, I'm a teacher" or "I work in retail," you'd be likely to continue working no matter what your financial status -- although if you won the lottery, you might be more inclined to start your own private school or buy a retail franchise.
It's all about the Benjamins
Researchers have found, however, that the likelihood of continuing to work decreases with the size of the winnings. Back in 1978, when $50,000 seemed like a lot of money, 25 percent of winners quit their jobs. When the winnings were increased to more than $1 million (an incredible sum in those days), 80 percent of winners stopped working altogether.
Also, those who won relatively larger prizes ($80,000 rather than $15,000 per year) reduced the number of hours they worked. And -- get this -- men have a higher tendency to continue working than women do, which is a direct reflection on how men and women identify with work in our society.
Occupation enters in as well. The largest number of people who continued in their jobs were professionals, managers, business owners, and craftsmen, but those less likely to stick with their jobs after winning were in the lower-status occupations like laborers, low-level service people and sales workers.
Of course age is a factor, too -- the closer you are to retirement, the more likely you are to quit working altogether after you come into a large sum of money.
So when you think about it, your fantasies might be trying to tell you something. If, in a perfect world you see yourself quitting your job and sailing around the world on a yacht while sipping frothy rum drinks from a pineapple, it might be a sign that your current job is too stressful, or, in fact, beneath you. Why wait to win the lottery? Why not do what it takes to change your working situation right now?