Why you love your job

November 30, 2009

Which would you prefer: a great salary, or a great place to work?

Two family members have been rushed to A&E in the last week or so, for unrelated reasons.  While we waited to be seen I was interested to watch the people working in this environment.  In both cases we eventually got fantastic care from the doctors and other staff.  But, it was depressing to see these people have to start their consultation with an apology for taking so long and leaving us in uncomfortable circumstances in the meantime.

I think it’s a natural reaction, when you have a reason to use the hospitals, to think that these people should be paid much more than they are currently for the important job they do.  It’s also a bit concerning to hear the variety of international accents amongst the staff, and realise how difficult it must be to find these people and how dependant we are on immigrants coming here to work in our health system. (I imagine patients in Sydney and London think all of the Kiwi accents working in the hospitals there are odd too?)

But, would more pay actually solve a problem?  Or, is the real issue the crappy processes and facilities that they are forced to work with? (I’m sure it was Windows 2000 on the desktops!)

I doubt that many, if any, of these people choose their profession because of the pay, or are especially motivated at all by cash.  Paying them more may help in the short term, but as long as the system they have to work in is so flawed it will be difficult to create a job they really love.

I’m sure this will not be an easy thing to fix in our hospitals.

But, if you a running a startup it is an opportunity, because in the early days it is generally pretty easy to create an exciting place for motivated people to work.  When there are not many people in the team and there is lots of work to do, there are always lots of opportunities.  And, without a corporate facilities management department and layers of management keeping track of the work you do, you can pretty much optimise your own work space and work time to suit.  This is why a small team can nearly always outrun a much larger competitor – they are not responsible to anybody else apart from themselves.

The flip side is you’re unlikely to get a big salary working for a startup.  Or, at least you shouldn’t, until the company has created its own momentum!

If you have a great work environment and one of your team says “I could earn [current salary x some number > 1] at [large corporate or government department]” the correct response is: go for it then, and good luck to you.  If they don’t put a value on all of the good things about working in a startup then you probably don’t want them around anyway.

Likewise, I always smile when I hear a CEO or some media celebrity defending their unnecessarily large salary by saying that they need to be paid an internationally competitive amount.  I think: really, your job is so crap that the only thing keeping you there is the knowledge that you couldn’t earn more overseas?  That’s sad!

Maybe you’re lucky and have a great job that also pays well.  But, most will need to choose one or the other.  I recommend choosing a place you love to work.

And if you’re trying to attract great people to come and work with you, remember there are more things you can offer than a big pay cheque.

Why do you love your job?