I routinely write with managers and leaders in mind but this time, I’ll mostly focus on the managed and the lead – employees.
In my experience, money is always a problematic topic with employees (and partners, but that’s a whole other story) when there is nothing more interesting or fun to talk about.
From a management standpoint, if you have an employee whose issues constantly revolve around the amount of $$, what happens is that you sort of “lose” that employee, and usually for good. Other than it’s time for a raise, something else is usually the reason for unhappiness with the current situation.
But if you are an employee, the fact is:
if you have fun, everything is a-ok.
When you like the people you work with (don’t necessarily even have to love them) and enjoy what you’re doing while being paid adequately (not being screwed over), chances are money won’t motivate you. I’ve never seen someone point out money as a dealbreaker if they got a fair deal.
Because money is a surrogate, whether it’s for love, happiness, or something else. It doesn’t buy them – it limits them.
Nothing beats fun
Almost everybody strives to be a part of the community. At the end of the day, the goal is to be happy and they are always optimizing to reach that goal. Even if you think that money gives you happiness, that’s what you’re optimizing for. It’s a simple solution because as species, we experience happiness in different ways. You buy yourself a jet or solve the hunger problem in Africa if that’s what it takes to feel content.
Being happy is an attainable goal we make great efforts to achieve because we can’t solve the biggest question there is:
the meaning of life.
So, the pursuit of happiness gives us meaning to “get on with our miserable lives” as John Oliver would say. A workplace is an interesting environment in that sense because it’s relatable and often fun, which in turn, makes you a part of a community.
Perhaps ‘fun’ isn’t the right word because it sounds childish. I perceive it on a much broader scope, not only as a playful state. For me, fun takes on a far broader definition that includes things like self-worth, a sense of appreciation, feeling needed, and being passionate about your work. When all is said and done, nothing beats that potent combo of gratification and fulfillment, especially not money.
That’s why I say people don’t work for money after they have it, they work because they want to. Money is the fuel that gets you to a goal, not the goal itself. I’ve seen companies overpay – didn’t work. I’ve witnessed people being pampered with longer happy hours, exotic trips, tons of crazy Google-style perks – no cigar. Nothing is sustainable like fun, or to be more precise – not as sustainable as fun.
Now, I fully realize this doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get up and leave. Sometimes, you don’t have a better option or don’t like changes that much. Other times, it takes you a while to figure out how to spend the money and what you can and can’t expect from it.
However, it definitely means you won’t be a very efficient employee because you will feel something is missing. It’s in our nature to never be satisfied. I’d like to think I’m doing pretty well in my life but I’d still love to have more money (a few billion, not asking much). And even then, I’d probably spend it strictly to make more money in return.
There have to be methods in place that maintain a positive balance between work and life. Incorporate checks that focus on a macro-level understanding of fun because that is something you, as an employee, can look forward to. More often than not, it’s a deciding factor on whether you should stay or go seek your fortune elsewhere.
Fun is cheaper than a raise
Switching back to a managerial/leadership perspective a bit: the same fun-centric principle applies. Creating a conducive environment where everyone feels appreciated will yield far better retention than any amount you can write on a paycheck (realistically speaking).
There are plenty of studies that correlate between high income and positive emotions. Bigger paycheck certainly is the most straightforward method to create a positive and productive ambiance but it’s often the wrong one. Working together is not really about working together as much as it is about having fun together so ideally, you want to instill team chemistry.
Most of us like how we feel in our skin. What’s also true is that for a great deal of us, the workplace is really not that great a place to work. That is why some companies go green, vegan, offer free food, indoor sports, yoga classes, gaming rooms, and anything else their workforce could possibly want – so that it could feel comfortable there too.
Still, nothing takes precedence over self-fulfillment needs. That is when money loses its value. A PlayStation 5 will replace the old one, there will be a pool table installed in the lounge but they’re only halfway to feeling valued and accomplished. People want to believe they are making a difference and more often than not, they feel they do when they are happy.
There is no twist on the conventional wisdom here. People with low(er) incomes can experience happiness at high levels and form stronger bonds with others in spite or due to less favorable circumstances. The same goes for people with high(er) income. We often overestimate how much pleasure we’ll get from having more.
The point is to enjoy sitting on a project, and another one that follows, and another one after that. Whether it’s learning together, talking, going out for lunch, trip, or just doing something that’s bonafide fun, you have to take great pleasure in relationships with other people.
Well, you don’t have to but it makes work soooo much easier and healthier. And from my experience – nothing else will keep you working there if fun isn’t present.