Passion and Pay

By Scot Herrick | Cube Rules Commentary

Jan 10

I was surfing other blogs, reading about business. I subscribe to over 100 blogs, not all business, but am always on the lookout for something interesting to read. And to learn.

Over on Slacker Manager last week, there was this interesting post written by Kareem as part of “guest blogging day” where anyone registered could write a post on Slacker Manager (a cool idea).

The reason Kareem’s post was so interesting to me was it was the first post I’ve seen that talks about working for a company with passion. And even more interesting: bumping up that passion to the pay received.

In essence, Kareem took a $17k pay cut and moved to a city he didn’t like to work for ESPN so that he could work on the best fantasy football program out there. Passionate about sports and applying his great skills, he survived the interview gauntlet where the questions asked about how much he knew about sports and — only after passing that part — asked about his skills at programming.

After being hired and working seven days a week to make fantasy football on ESPN be a reality, he hit burnout, but told himself “it would be worth it in the end.”

It wasn’t. “The 3% pay raise was pretty standard.” And the overall pay, he contends, was based on how well you negotiated the salary up front.

His conclusions?

First, when an individual is intrinsically motivated “like when my co-workers and I were building the best freakin’ fantasy football system in the world” he or she will run through walls to make something happen, and will have fun doing it. The problem occurs when people start doing what they’re doing only for the money, like when I was burning out.

And second, inequitable pay practices in corporate America contribute to much counter-productive wasted time, energy, and dissatisfaction.

Kareem and I exchanged some good comments on the post. Here was my first comment:

But I think there is an underlying message here in the post that is being missed: passion for the work can only carry one for so long. After that, there is the balance of pay versus the effort.

If one is working full-time, supporting a family and living in a place where you don’t want to be, how far does passion for the work overcome working 18-hours a day for a 3% pay raise and mediocre bonus carry you?

Even if you are building the world’s best widget.

And Kareem made an excellent point in response:

I believe that passion can sustain you for a long time if you perceive you’re being treated fairly (i.e. equal work for equal pay). In your scenario, you might leave your job to spend time with your family, but I’d argue that’s a reflection of stronger passion for your family than for your job. In other words, the trade-off isn’t passion at a job vs. comp at a job even if comp is low (remember, comp is equitable in this scenario). The trade-off is passion for your job vs. passion for your family. I honestly think it’d be a really tough choice to leave a job that you truly loved where you were treated fairly.

My second comment:

I agree with this. From a corporate view, everyone’s definition as to what is “fair” is constantly in motion. So it is really a level of what one is willing to put up with for the pay that is the constant balancing act.

That changes with time, circumstances, and changing business conditions. It really means that each person has to have a clear understanding about what they are getting out of the job as compared to what is being provided by the environment (pay, benefits, passion, hours, etc.).

That’s the challenge, really: what is your framework for saying this job is a good one and one to keep?

See that last sentence: what is your framework for saying this job is a good one and one to keep?

If you’re a Cubicle Warrior, it’s critical to understand what job is good and one to keep.

I’m going to do some thinking and a little research on that one. I think it will be a great opportunity to have some discussion around the “job to keep.”

Kareem brings up some really good points. Check out the whole article on Slacker Manager: Two ways to make your company a happier (and better) place to work.