I’ve got a substantial raise. Why am I not happy?

Some years ago, after working in a company for some time, I got a substantial raise. My teams were performing, I introduced new methodologies that proven right and quickly it started influencing others teams around. My impact on the organization was visible and the financial compensation was the positive consequence of it.

But I wasn’t happy. As a matter of fact, I haven’t slept that night with this paradox of not being thrilled having more money on the pocket.

While reading the book “Drive – the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” from Daniel Pink, I went some years back and it became even more clear the reason behind it.

Big disclaimer: The book is really inspiring and it’s written so beautifully that anyone can read it in few days. There you can find small scientific cases supporting the statements, in a easy and accessible language.

What follows now, it’s my napkin talk only.

There are two kinds of work in all our professional and personal activity.

Repetitive work

Some decades ago, most of the work was an algorithmic routine, predictable and linear. One knows to how perform it and typically is correlated with tasks where efficiency is valued. Therefore, very tied to an external compensation (the carrot).

It’s called the Motivation 2.0 and there some concerns to take into account:

Destroy intrinsic motivation.  Repetitive work comes with clear boundaries that typically lead to low autonomy and therefore, low creativity and space to learn and grow foster skills. e.g. controlling expenses every month

Destroys Creativity. When the nature of work is predictable, it conditions our brain on a very specific path to find the fastest solution on a known path. Getting faster to the solution doesn’t mean is the best. Sometimes our brain is so wired that he can hardly get into a solution on a feasible term. e.g. candle problem from Karl Duncker

Worsen performance. Conditional compensations in the long run can create dependencies until they quickly become the status quo. People will never be willing to receive less for the same type of work. e.g if I get 10 Eur to wash the car, I will hardly do it for less

Can harm behaviors. If we get $ compensated for something we are altruist in doing, the benefit by itself can neutralize and contaminate the action – it feels wrong. e.g. blood donation

Yet, there are cases where comes with the job work that is not intellectually challenging neither inspires us such as building reports, work on technical debt, fixing bugs, creating a report, preparing a presentation or curating a long closing project document. If you are a leader have this three aspects in mind:

Tell the motivation of the work. A not so interesting work may get more charming if is known its impact for the organization.

Acknowledge it as a boring task.  Creates empathy and explains the reason of a possible conditional reward.

Autonomy. Let people work the way they see fit after explaining the results you need.

Creative Work

Times have changed and now we need to embrace uncharted territory in most of our work. Product Development-wise, we are never sure whether we spot on what customers needs and due to the spread of new technologies and frameworks we struggle in building solutions that are durable in time, scalable and easy to maintain solution – complexity and unknown.

At their core, human beings have an internal drive to do good work. Luckily, they also tend to search new things to explore and learn. If you lead or manage people (or yourself), start from there. The 3 keys to motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Chase intrinsic feelings over external reward. At all costs, promote creativity.

Autonomy. Have the freedom to choose the team and the way to best to perform our work.

Mastery. Effort is one the things that gives meaning to life. Means we value something that is important to work towards and become better in the way.

Purpose. Love, humanity, positive impact in the world.

Something that is also highly valued (sometimes more than a reward) is a proper feedback loop. People can’t improve if they don’t know what they are doing and nothing better that a intentional and actionable feedback.

Fake feedback is vague and doesn’t tell the person what to replicate or improve. e.g. you did a great job on that project.

Real feedback is relevant and supported with specific examples. This way the person knows what to replicate and eventually learn from there. Extensively can also come with suggestions points to be considered on a next time. e.g. you provided the client with detailed, weekly status updates. This made the client feel involved  and taken care of. Great job!

Summing up

Evermore we want be to intrinsically motivated with the best of two worlds: having fun and challenged in something that is tied with a personal purpose.

  1. Have a proper and just base compensation
  2. Have clear objectives and time-frames from the leadership about the work to perform
  3. The objectives are challenging and make us growth in a way that is meaningful to us
  4. We are given autonomy (and with that, responsibility)
  5. We are given feedback loops that are relevant and meaningful


Getting back to the initial question. Why I wasn’t happy?

Rather than a single and extravagant monetary compensation and continue doing more of the most with an unclear future ahead, I ambitioned to get promoted and access to a more challenging environment so I could excel my tool-set of skills towards the vision of my place within the organization.