Workers say they'd give up $21,000 a year for a meaningful job, new survey finds

FS Productions | Tetra images | Getty Images

Salary plays a big part in the jobs employees search for and ultimately accept, but a new survey finds that most workers would happily take a pay cut if it meant landing a "meaningful" position.

Nine out of 10 workers admitted they'd trade money for a workplace role that always offered them meaning, be it in the form of personal or professional growth opportunities, the chance to do work that betters the lives of others or simply having a clear shared sense of purpose within the company, according to the survey of 2,285 American workers by BetterUp Labs, a leadership development company.

Professionals long for this so much that the average respondent valued the trade at 23 percent of their future earnings —or about $21,000 a year.

That's a hefty sacrifice, but those who feel they're doing meaningful work seem to be happier in their position and more driven at work too, the survey finds.

For instance, employees stayed with a company 7.4 months longer when they found work "highly meaningful." When managers felt the same about their role, turnover rates dropped 1.5 percent, that's "less than half the national average," according to BetterUp.

These workers were also more likely put in an additional hour per week and take two fewer days of paid time off per year, the survey found. A single employee who moves from feeling moderately engaged to highly engaged, thanks to a renewed or newfound sense of purpose in their work, would generate an extra $9,078 in labor per year.

"To attract and retain top talent, and achieve optimal productivity, companies must build greater meaning into the workplace," says Alexi Robichaux, CEO of BetterUp, in a press statement. "Fostering meaningful work is emerging as a cornerstone of a more creative and conscious business world."

Companies can help create an environment employees are more likely to find meaningful by focusing on nurturing each person's path to personal career growth, creating strong social support networks, and weeding out any toxic workplace behaviors, like bullying and exclusion, as employees who reported such experiences scored their roles as 24 percent less meaningful than those who didn't, BetterUp found.

The other big thing employers can do? Award raises and promotions. Despite workers saying they would part with earnings to hold meaningful jobs, a big indicator of whether a person was engaged and finding purpose in their work had to do with the last time they got a wage increase or new title. Those who had earned a recent accolade were far more likely to say they had a "highly meaningful" job than those without a recent advancement.

So next time you're after a pay bump, maybe spin the request as a way to make you more engaged at the company, keep you in the role longer and lead to you putting in extra hours.

Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!

Don't miss: People who make time for this at work are 21% more likely to be happy than those who don't

Arlan Hamilton went from sleeping in an airport to running a multimillion-dollar venture capital firm
Arlan Hamilton went from sleeping in an airport to running a multimillion-dollar venture capital firm