What’s Wrong with Work Today: Money

Let’s get this obvious one out of the way. Many people, if asked about what’s wrong with their jobs might point to the money first. Two commenters touched on money yesterday and each highlighted an interesting point.

On the blog, Joel commented that in tough economic times, money is often a bigger concern than finding interesting work. This is also true. We work in order to provide for ourselves, so money is a motivator in our work. If you’re fairly compensated however, it is unlikely that more money will make you feel more motivated about your work. On the other hand, money can make you feel less motivated! If you know you’re being paid less than the average person in your position, your ability to self-motivate is likely zero. If you feel that your wages are unfair, it is probably the only aspect of your job you can think about. Insufficient or unjust compensation will zap any motivation you had in the first place.

MoneyOn Facebook, Vlad pointed out that it’s interesting that people want more than “zero-impact menial” jobs even if they get good paychecks. No amount of money will make you enjoy a truly boring job – which is why there are plenty of examples of people taking pay cuts in order to do more interesting work.

In fact, when the first assembly lines were created, Ford had to double the wages to even keep people working them. Craftsmen initially revolted and walked off the job.[i]  They did not believe it was possible to do quality work this way. It seems most people thought it wasn’t a good way to do work: “Between October 1912 and October 1913 the Ford Motor Company, with its famous production line, hired a whopping fifty-four thousand men to maintain an average workforce of thirteen thousand employees.”[ii]

Once assembly lines became standard, production levels were still a problem even with the standardization of processes and methods. Employees were paid per unit and tended to only work hard enough to cover their own needs. Crawford explains in his book Shop Class as Soul Craft that, contrary to what we think is normal now, workers at the time usually only worked enough to take care of basic living needs and then were satisfied:

“Eventually it was learned that the only way to get them to work harder was to play upon imagination, stimulating new needs and wants. Consumption, no less than production, needed to be brought under scientific management – the management of desire.”[iii]

Conveniently, consumer debt (and catalogues full of enticing products) gained popularity, paving the way for routinized assembly line work to become the norm. Workers, now able to improve their lifestyles by going into debt, stayed in secure but unsatisfying jobs in order to pay it back. With personal debt, employees had an incentive to work longer and harder than they would have normally. This is clearly still the case today as, “Consumption ties a tighter knot between work and free time than any of the schemes of reformers, employers or governments.”[iv]

If you’re trying to assess why you don’t like your job, the pay could definitely be a reason. But as we can see in the second example – more money doesn’t solve the problem of boring or bad work. For that, we’ll have to dig a little deeper so stay tuned.

What do you think about money and job satisfaction? Got any stories to share?

[i] Crawford, Matthew. Shop Class as Soul Craft (New York : Penguin Press, 2009), 39

[ii] Cuilla, Joanne. The Working Life (Crown Business/Times Books, 2000), 96

[iii] Crawford, 43

[iv] Cuilla, 200