Saturday, May 14, 2011

Money and Jobs

Herb and I were talking yesterday about how we have never been motivated by money in our long working lives. We have never chosen a job or worked zealously, because we wanted solely to earn more money. More money was always welcome, because there were a lot of bills to pay along the way.

We also liked being able to incorporate others into our "hanai" family of choice and of the heart, and money was often handy to help others over a hump. (A "hanai" family is a Hawaiian concept of an extended family that you choose, not limited to blood relations.) However, choosing a job or developing our skills and knowledge never had anything to do with seeking more money.

Since we are both very good strategists and negotiators, we did negotiate knowledgeably and strenuously for a good compensation package once we became interested in a job. We took into account amenities as well as dollars in compensation packages. Sometimes it's flexibility in hours or access to education and professional development that trumps a higher salary.

Herb always said, "Money (in the form of a salary) doesn't make you happy. Depending on how much you feel you're underpaid (and everyone feels underpaid), it just makes you less unhappy."

I love this story my brother, Jon, tells about our late brother, Chris, who once told a prospective employer, "Pay me the $15 an hour I'm worth and that you were going to pay me after I pass probation in 90 days instead of starting me at $10 an hour. Don't wait to see if you like my job performance to increase my pay. If you don't like it, fire me at any time." Christ was a confident risk taker, logical and persuasive, and he got the higher hourly rate.

Herb's and my interest has always been in the work itself. We like a challenge, and we like working with stimulating people. Our rules for deciding on whether or not to take a new job or a promotion are pretty straightforward:
  1. Am I interested in the work itself? Will I learn new things and have new experiences?
  2. Do I believe in the mission? Can I support it?
  3. Do I feel I can make a contribution? Will the job and workplace structure allow me to be successful?
  4. Do I respect the people I'll be working with? Are they honest and trustworthy?
Asking and answering each of these two-part questions honestly will go a long way towards enhancing future job satisfaction. Each question has a component that focuses on what the job and employer will offer and what you can contribute to making the job satisfying for yourself. Both you and the job and employer can make or break a job, and it's important to look honestly and objectively at the fit between you and the job. Money often clouds judgment in deciding whether or not to take a job.

One of the strengths of our marriage has been total support for the other partner's inclinations and decisions about jobs. I still remember a movie (I think it was Parenthood, 1989) starring Steve Martin and Mary Steenburgen in which he quits his job, and she forces him to go and beg for his job back, because another baby is on the way. I despised that dynamic between that movie wife and husband so much. I think that movie wife disrespected the personhood of her husband in asking him to subjugate himself in a demeaning employment relationship with his boss and company.

Herb and I have always agreed that we could scale back to the one-bedroom apartment we started out with, if circumstances required us to do so, rather than to make either one of us go to work everyday feeling like we were walking into a soul-sucking job. Our family's philosophy has been that there are resources and sacrifices in every family's life, and every family member shares in both the joys and the tribulations.

Leaving a job is something that many people do poorly, and I have some insights about that, too. But I'll save them for a future post.

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