Can You Be Badly Paid And Motivated? The Big Question

Last updated by Rosie Harlow

Whoever said that money can’t buy happiness has obviously never been to my house when I’m overdrawn. At times like that, no matter how much I concentrate on the small pleasures of everyday life, I still find it very hard to be content when, on the other hand, I have to juggle between accounts in the red and necessary expenses. And on top of that, tomorrow I’ve got another day at work ahead of me. It’s hard to motivate yourself when the pay doesn’t add up. Oh, really?

Can You Be Badly Paid And Motivated? The Big Question

Motivation? Give me money first!

Is pay the only motivating factor? It depends. You might think it depends on whether the question is asked on payday or on the day you’re overdrawn 😝. In fact, pay is still generally a motivating factor, or at least a fair salary, and while it may not be the top source of motivation, it does appear that pay that falls short of expectations and the job market does, of course, have a demotivating effect. However, salary alone doesn’t justify taking a job, keeping it, and committing to it. Do you know why? Because even a very good salary is no guarantee of well-being at work.

The only thing that counts is fairness

What does a good salary actually mean? For example, I tell myself that I’d be more invested, more comfortable, and that I’d, of course, have less financial stress if I earned, say.... $6000 🤑. OK, but what if during that time everyone else in the company was earning $12000? I’d say that the situation was unfair, that my worth wasn’t being recognized, I’d feel like I was being taken advantage of and of course, I’d suddenly be a lot less motivated. The most important thing then is to receive a fair salary that’s justified in terms of a pay scale established by the company. In this case, pay transparency seems to be important. That way, everyone can see where they stand and understand the reasons behind their salary.

I earn, therefore I am

So the link between motivation and pay is about being paid what you’re worth. It’s a fact that receiving a salary that matches your investment will inevitably make you want to invest more. A study carried out in 2018 shows that pay is the number one motivation at work for 1 in 2 employees, ahead of work-life balance and relationships with colleagues. Of course, you might think that this pre-Covid study is a little outdated, but you may also think that this figure is understandable, given that pay is a social marker.

Indeed, the figure on our payslip not only tells us what we can and can’t spend in a month 🫰, it also helps us to position ourselves socially in relation to others. And let’s face it, we’re always looking to compare our salary with other people’s, to find clues as to how much our friends and colleagues are earning. It’s thanks to or because of the amount of our salary that we gauge our social importance. It’s also closely linked to our self-esteem. Likewise, it’s therefore hard to feel valued and thus motivated if you think you’re underpaid.

I like my job, but I’m badly paid, what motivates me?

You know that as Millennials (or Generation Y) at work, it seems that pay is one of my last sources of motivation, at 12%. Far behind, a good atmosphere at work (29%) and opportunities for career development (29%) or skills development (16%). Indeed, it has to be said that you can’t rely solely on pay as a motivating factor. That’s not very much, especially if you earn a good living being shouted at by a toxic manager or find yourself on the verge of a burn-out.

Money counts, but during your day at work, it doesn’t make you happy.

What are the motivating factors at work?

When the going gets tough, and it’s 11.30am and your tummy’s starting to rumble 🤤 or 3pm, and you want to take a nap, what can keep you going, keep you motivated, and even tell yourself: I love my job?

1. Atmosphere and social ties

As human beings, we need to feel comfortable and accepted in a group. At work, relationships with others are therefore important, provided of course that these relationships are calm, empathetic and caring, and that we’re not disrespected.

2. Recognition

Beyond the salary, which is recognition of sorts, everyone needs to know that what they do isn’t in vain and done for nothing. Having positive feedback on our work, our efforts, our talents, etc. Feeling listened to and supported goes a long way towards feeling fulfilled in your work.

3. Work-life balance

Respect for balance: being able to disconnect when at home, allowing employees to meet personal obligations, etc. In general, the flexibility that an employer can offer its employees will always be welcome and will help to build loyalty and increase motivation.

4. Meaning

Meaningful work is a great source of motivation. To achieve this, we need to make sure that we understand the tasks we’re asked to carry out in the course of our work, feel that these tasks have a positive impact and that they don’t generate cognitive dissonance, have measurable results, feel invested, etc.

5. Development prospects

Developing your skills is one of the greatest sources of motivation today. That’s why it’s so important to have prospects for development within your company. Having the opportunity to plan ahead, receive ongoing training and be entrusted with new tasks all contribute to the feeling of belonging to the company and the desire to do more.

6. Concrete needs

Working from home, autonomy, recruitment, a 4-day week, team-building activities, etc. The list of concrete needs is long and can vary from one company to another, but it plays an important part in keeping teams motivated.

Editor’s note: A major factor, but not the whole story

As you’ll have realized, salary is an important factor, but it’s not the whole story. Above all, it depends on how you perceive your salary and the things that go with it, such as a good working environment, recognition, etc. If you’re unable to find your place, feel fulfilled in your career, or feel unhappy, make an appointment with a psychologist to take stock of your current situation, your expectations, and what you need to put in place to be happier.

🤗 Understanding yourself, accepting yourself, being happy... It’s here and now!


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Article presented by Rosie Harlow

Writing has always been a form of therapy for me. For as long as I can remember, I have always used paper as a punching bag. Get to know me, I am Rosie Harlow.

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Wengood's favorite tunes 🎵

Wengood's playlist


  1. Only LoveBen Howard
  2. Invalid date
  3. Fix YouColdplay
  4. Beautiful DayU2
  5. Thinking out LoudEd Sheeran
  6. White FlagDido
  7. Lay Me DownSam Smith
  8. Nine Million BicyclesKatie Melua
  9. Put Your Records OnCorinne Bailey Rae
  10. Summertime SadnessLana Del Rey
  11. Imagine - Remastered 2010John Lennon
  12. Shake It OutFlorence + The Machine
  13. Space Oddity - Love You Til Tuesday versionDavid Bowie
  14. What A Wonderful WorldLouis Armstrong
  15. With Or Without YouU2
  16. HelloAdele
  17. Don't Stop Me NowQueen
  18. Skinny LoveBirdy
  19. WingsBirdy
  20. Californian SoilLondon Grammar

"Be yourself; everyone else is already taken." 

- Oscar Wilde

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