Is it Just About the Salary?


With so many people claiming to be unhappy with their current job, we need to look at why this should be. Is the real reason to work as simple as providing a metaphorical or literal roof over our heads? Or are there more compelling factors that motivate us in the workplace? It could be argued that any role and every job offers the potential to be satisfying on a number of levels. But is it just about the salary? 

But low-paid, repetitive work that society insists on due to the demand for affordable goods such as electronics, cars, clothing, etc, means job satisfaction can be lacking.  We may assume then, that only certain types of work allow people to find satisfaction beyond a salary. Work such as medicine, the arts, teaching, nursing – jobs with engagement and so-called higher-meaning.

So, are we saying work that satisfies us is not available to everybody, or that unsatisfying work is the result of an appetite for materialistic pleasure?  Both sound reasonable. But what if both were wrong?

The real reason to work, and to continue to work, is tied up in a desire for purpose.  It is a real need to feel part of something that we are actively contributing to. And that feeling is as meaningful to a heart surgeon as it is to someone working on a production line.   

Without getting too deep, we are all looking for a purpose to our lives. Relating that to your work life is a fairly obvious step. In normal circumstances, we all spend the majority of our adult lives in work. Even if your current job is not satisfying your purpose, you generally try to do your absolute best work each day. This will help you to achieve a sense of accomplishment that only hard work tends to provide. Activity builds its own momentum, so if you are working hard at your current job, you just increase your odds of running into the right purpose in your work. That sense of satisfaction is an incredibly powerful emotion, outstripping the work, your position in the company and yes, even your salary. Take that one element away and no matter the financial rewards (within reason!), you will be miserable.

Is a salary the only reason to work?

Although finding your life’s’ purpose in work alone is not desirable or realistic, do not undervalue the importance of finding meaning and fulfilment in what you do in your job. Try and find ways to bring your own personal meaning to your work, no matter what you do. If you work with customers face-to-face, ensure each interaction is as meaningful as it can be. We have spoken about personal integrity in another blog post, and that is important here too. Knowing you have made a difference in someone else’s life, no matter how seemingly inconsequential can have a major positive effect on your attitude and relationship with your work.    

Being good at what you do makes work more enjoyable, whether you are building a wall or are a professional musician. The reason, of course, is that colleagues and clients appreciate a job well done and are likely to express their appreciation.

Behavioural psychologists refer to this as social reinforcement. Social reinforcement is every bit as powerful as money. Respect, praise, or friendliness are as potent as any drug in motivating people to work hard. What is more, social reinforcement increases your interest in the work you do because it gets filled with social significance. These experiences – and not money – are the real reason to work. It is what makes people want to return to their place of workday after day, even after retirement.

And what about plain old satisfaction? Satisfied workers are engaged by their work. They lose themselves in it. Not all the time, of course, but often enough for that to be salient to them. Satisfied workers are challenged by their work. It forces them to stretch themselves—to go outside their comfort zones. These lucky people think the work they do is fun, often in the way that doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku is fun.

Why else do people work? Satisfied people do their work because they feel that they are in charge. Their workday offers them a measure of autonomy and discretion. And they use that autonomy and discretion to achieve a level of mastery or expertise. They learn new things, developing both as workers and as people.

You should not forget that most jobs are vastly entertaining. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the workplace is a stage and all the men and women there merely players. By all means, work to live, but remember your job must fulfil you as a person, so make the most of it!

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