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Are you underpaid?


 I. Fifth Avenue and 44th Street, Manhattan., Digital ID 482743, New York Public LibraryIt's 4 o'clock and you could swear that the clock must be stuck since it feels like it has been 4 o'clock for hours.  Everything aches after that two hour workout you did yesterday because you got stuck in yet another meeting that went nowhere.  On top of it all, you just got an email from your boss saying you need to complete another report that you know he isn't going to read and it's due in a day.  When you finally get home after fighting the crowds on the hot, filthy subway cars, you might catch yourself saying, "They don't pay me enough to put up with this!"

With a current unemployment rate of 9.3% nationally, it's not unusual to feel powerless and overwhelmed by an unsatisfying work situation.  What leverage can you have with nowhere to go?

By examining the factors that influence job satisfaction as well as compensation, you may be able to find ways to make every day a little bit brighter either on the job or in other areas of your life.  Pay is only part of the picture when it comes to being happy at work.  While being underpaid to the point where you cannot meet your financial obligations can make it impossible to stay at a particular job, salary on its own isn't usually the underlying reason for feeling unmotivated or dissatisfied with work.

Industrial psychologist, Frederick Herzberg, conducted studies and published articles on how to motivate employees and found that a lot of the things that we typically complain about at work are not the things that motivate us or make work more satisfying.  According to Herzberg's findings, factors that affect job satisfaction can be categorized as "hygiene factors" and "intrinsic motivators."  The hygiene factors are aspects of your job that can contribute to dissatisfaction with your work, but do not contribute to your motivation.  Intrinsic motivators, on the other hand, tend to lead to greater job satisfaction, and, as the name suggests, motivate you to work harder.  If you review Herzberg's article, One more time:  How do you motivate employees? republished in the January 2003 issue of The Harvard Business Review, you'll notice that salary is a hygiene factor, not an intrinsic motivator.

In other words, if you come home every day and complain about the money you're making, you may want to ask yourself the following question: is it really the money or are you just fed-up with the job?

If you're on the fence about that question, it might be worth reading Beverly Kaye's book Love it, Don't Leave It to get some ideas about how to make the most of your current situation and to determine whether or not it's just time to move on.

Also, it's always a good idea to do your homework when it comes to compensation.  The data will come in handy when it comes time for your performance appraisal or if you're planning to enter the job market soon.  Two good websites to try are and  Use any salary data you find with caution!  The Riley Guide offers a very helpful article on evaluating the data found on those websites, as well as others.  Also, be sure to check-out The Riley Guide review of's Personal Salary Report.

In general, keep in mind that total compensation is more than just your salary.  Take any other perks you have into account.  Keep in mind that certain aspects of your current work culture are not givens at other organizations (e.g. flex time, 401k matching, generous vacation, business casual dress, casual dress, professional development funds, etc.)  Also, if you have a short commute, friendly co-workers, and a generally interesting job, that might make up for salary short-falls as well.


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job satisfaction

This coming month I give up my medical practice to take a salaried position within commuting distance. While there are many aspects to the type of patient care that have driven me for decades, the process of earning the money that should be forthcoming from the volume of work took a sufficient toll on me to want to delegate that to somebody else. Among my colleagues there are many who work for the mega-medical center. Despite ample salary, they are some of the most bedraggled psyches that I encounter. They often don't have control of which satellite office they want to attend on which day, how their natural patient care pace is scheduled, or a carved out niche of time for teaching or research. Control must be the ultimate intrinsic motivator, except for perhaps the most inveterate procrastinator.

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