November 6, 2018

Money, time or autonomy: Which will you negotiate for?

What motivates you?

When exploring a new job, what do you negotiate for?  Or, put another way, what would make your current work environment 10% better for you right now?  Is it a bigger salary?  Is it autonomy, or the ability to control your work day and overall work life?  Is it less time at work, or a flexible schedule to manage your home and work calendars?

You need to know.  Understanding your deepest motivators will help you define what you are looking for in a new job, or how you might increase your satisfaction in your current situation.

The myth of money as a key motivator

When I am coaching someone about improving their work situation, I often start with the question, “what matters most to you?” Sometimes, this leads to a top 10 list of the things that matter most.  We combine work and home, because it’s all one life, and the rankings might surprise you.

I have consistently seen that money, if it is on the list at all, falls at #6 or #7 on a 10-item list.  It is almost never at the top.  Money is important, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the key driver of satisfaction.  In fact, research indicates that there is less than a 2% correlation between level of pay and job satisfaction.  There is even a school of thought that money is at best a neutral factor, and at worst, can be a demotivator for employees.  There are plenty of other ways to motivate people that often mean more than money.

Autonomy is all it’s cracked up to be

For many people, the top issue that concerns them in the workplace is a lack of autonomy, or the sense that they have no control over the pace, volume and timing of their work.

It turns out that negotiating to get the authority to manage your own schedule is empowering and meaningful to most people.  It’s not that we get to be in charge of everything, but we get to manage our own behavior.  This fascinating article includes autonomy as one of the top three motivators for most people, and I agree.  To quote the author, “autonomy does not mean independence. It means freedom to choose, within a framework of interdependence.”

Time is a precious currency

I consistently hear from my clients that time is more valuable to them than money.  Time to be with family.  Time to take care of themselves.  Time to breathe.  Time to think.  Time is precious to most of us.  It is my belief that we have a finite amount of life energy, and it’s entirely up to us how we use it.

Think about it.  Would you rather have $10,000 more in salary per year, or 10% less time at work?  We exchange our time for money, with which we can buy things, experiences and necessities.  But sometimes, in today’s hectic work world, time is as or more valuable as anything we can buy with money.

This isn’t always the easiest concept to internalize.  You might need to shift your frame of reference to think of time as a primary currency while you think about what matters in your work life.  Fortunately, more time is often an easier win than more money.  Many employers are happy to be somewhat flexible about time for a motivated and productive employee, even if they can’t seem to find the resources for a higher salary.

Autonomy, mastery, purpose

Daniel Pink, in his book, “Drive:  The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” describes three primary motivators for most people:  autonomy, mastery and purpose.  I highly recommend this book as you explore what motivates you and those around you (perhaps including those who work for you).

Pink’s book explores the difference between internal and external motivators.  People who are internally motivated are driven more by the chance to do good work that has meaning to them than by external rewards for doing the work.  And I’ve found for most people, the fuel that gets them to and through work each day are actually much more intrinsic than extrinsic.  It’s less about money than time and autonomy, or about mastery and purpose, as Daniel Pink suggests.

What’s your preferred currency?

I’m curious how these ideas will change the next thing you negotiate for, either in your current job or in the next one you go for.  What is most important to you?

Last updated November 6, 2018

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