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Will a pay rise make you happier?


Three strategies to help you avoid the pay trap.

Have you ever asked yourself, ‘Will a pay rise make me happier?’

Spoiler alert.

We don’t believe it will.

If you've ever been in a career funk, you'll be able to relate to telling yourself 'I'm not paid enough to put up with this' after a rough week or month at work. Or maybe the voice in your head sounds more like ‘If I was earning more then I’d be happy to deal with this, but not on my current salary’.

Our word of warning is: beware the pay trap.

When we are in a career funk, it’s easy to convince ourselves that more money is the answer – that a pay rise will snap us out of our current state, like a magical pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. But unfortunately, in our experience, a pay rise alone is not enough to fix that sense of dissatisfaction.

Sure, it might offer us a temporary high immediately following the raise. But that lift in positivity will be exactly that, temporary. It’s a quick fix that tricks you into thinking that you’ll be more engaged and able to tackle whatever frustration comes your way because you are paid more.

That’s what we call the pay trap. It’s a false expectation that more money equals more happiness.


But if this was true, then all highly paid professionals would be happy. And we all know that isn’t the case.


Now don’t get us wrong, we love pay rises! We also strongly believe that you should be paid what you are worth. And we know that there are people who are very happy because of the high income they earn.


In most circumstances however, a pay rise alone is unlikely to be the primary solution when you are in a funk. That is because it is impossible for money to single-handedly remove all pain points.


It’s not black and white and we need to take the time to understand what else is going on. What is it that truly makes you feel fulfilled? What is out of whack at the moment? What trade-offs or sacrifices might come with a pay rise and how does that align to your values and goals?


Here are our 3 strategies to avoiding the pay trap.


1. Understand your own values


The greater alignment you can find between your core values and the culture of your workplace, the happier you will feel.


Values discovery is an introspective process and it allows you to lay the foundation for fulfilment and satisfaction by understanding what drives you.


Ask yourself questions like:

  • What is most important in your life beyond your basic human needs?
  • When you feel admiration for someone, what is it that you are most drawn to?
  • How would you like to be remembered?
  • When you are responding to a difficult situation, what is non-negotiable for you?

Then look for themes in your answers. Consider what consistently comes up for you as a source of motivation and concern, and how this drives your behaviour. Identifying these patterns in your life will give you greater clarity as to what your values are.

2. Map out your priorities 

Your priorities are the things that you invest energy in. They are generally time sensitive and most successfully achieved when they are underpinned by your values. Unlike your values, your priorities may change more frequently over time based on your personal circumstances.


For co-host Shell, her values haven’t changed much over the years. But after having her second baby, her priorities certainly did. She reflected on her values and what she wants from her career and family life. She decided her priority for the next couple of years is to spend more time with her family and less time at work. This influences the career opportunities she chooses to pursue and because she is clear on her priorities, it reduces the likelihood of ending up in a funk.


3. Consider the full picture


When you are in a career funk and you secure a pay rise, we are confident you will feel pretty good for an amount of time. But there is a high risk that it will be short-lived. We encourage you to take this opportunity to look at what else is going on in your life.


Consider what your mental and physical wellbeing is like. Are you taking time out for family, to be social, to engage in hobbies, and to recharge with some ‘just you’ time? Are there any other adjustments that could offer a positive impact alongside or instead of a pay rise?


By exploring your life more holistically, rather than just looking at one piece of the puzzle – your income – you’ll be more likely to satisfy your values, achieve your goals and feel a sense of increased happiness.


Invest in these and regardless of whether you do or don’t achieve a pay rise, we are confident you will feel a greater sense of happiness than if you were to simply earn more money.


Keep in mind that the happiness we are talking about is a longer term, deeper happiness that is consistent and sustainable over time. It is a richer, more innate sense of contentment based on how fulfilled you feel most of the time about your life, and not the more changeable measure of whether today was a good day or a bad day. They will always exist.


Emily Bowen and Shelley Johnson are HR professionals and host the my millennial career podcast. For more on finding happiness at work, check out their episode ‘Fact or fiction: pay rise = happy’.

This article is intended to provide general information of an educational nature only. Information in this article is current as at the date of publication.

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