Sufficient income is a fairy tale! Let me explain…
If the best things in life are free, then why do humans want so much? Rather, why do we continue to want more when we’ve well passed the point of what we used to define as sufficient income? The answer: evolutionary momentum. And no HR professional on the planet has any hope of ever stopping it.
Several studies (links below) demonstrate some interesting facts about getting a raise:
- Wealthier countries have happier people in general, that’s true. But that’s more of a general quality of society impact than a personal wealth impact. Larger income gaps increase unhappiness, and lower income gaps increase happiness, no matter the average level of income. We want to be earning about as much as our neighbors, and the more we are all doing well, the happier we all are together as a society.
- A salary increase won’t make you happier over time unless your salary literally doubles. If you get a raise from 10,000 AED to 20,000 AED you’ll be happier for a while, but another 10,000 AED raise won’t do it for you next time. You’ll need 40,000 AED in order to get the same dopamine hit. And the joy won’t last.
- If you’re earning 25,000 – 30,000 AED per month and you can provide for your family, your satisfaction will start to go down as your income increases.
- There’s no point at which employees have “enough” to stop feeling unhappy when they don’t get more. There’s no plateau upon which any employee will stand and say, “I think I’m earning the right amount now. I’m good.”
So not only can money NOT buy happiness, but too much money tends to impede happiness, so why do we still use money as a go-to carrot for employee motivation?
Because the real drive isn’t the money, it’s the wanting. Wanting more has kept us humans alive for a thousand generations. Early humans who wanted more also chased more, worked more, hunted more, fought more, and therefore survived more. Humans who didn’t constantly want more, had less, and therefore had fewer resources with which to survive. So they survived less.
You were born into a family with a long lineage of humans that survived because of a 300,000 year old neurological best practice: wanting more. And so is every employee on your staff. And no HR professional can ever stop that drive, especially by throwing something as banal as money at it.
Don’t get me wrong, there are exceptions to every rule, but it’s still the rule for a reason. No one on your team will ever be satisfied, and that’s because
Case in point?
One of my client companies now is perhaps the highest paying employer in the UAE, with perhaps one of the lowest employee engagement scores (you know who you are). So clearly it’s not about the money.
How do we fix it? Great question…
You can’t. There’s no cure for human desire, especially when it comes to the collection of resources that have helped a thousand generations of our ancestors to survive. We were born to want more because we were born to parents who wanted more.
So here’s what you should do:
- Embrace the fact that wanting more is a part of what makes us human, and quite incurable. It’s a dominant trait of a dominant species, that’s all.
- Money is a proxy reward, it’s a generic anti-social answer to a specific neurological problem. Wanting can be better itched with thoughtful gifts, new knowledge, closer relationships, social recognition, and a just outcome to a problem. All of these scratch the wanting itch in humans and with more lasting impact.
- Take a Total Rewards approach to employee experience: recognition, environment, perks, time, and empowerment are all tools in the toolbox of a savvy HR guru.
Don’t get stuck in the myth of sufficient income. It doesn’t exist anymore than the tooth fairy. Follow the science. Wanting is human. Wanting is fun.