Is a pay rise a valid career aspiration?

Posted on July 18, 2019
By Catherine Heilemann

To date, I have not met anyone whose sole aspiration is money. Typically people report there is a combination of levers that motivate them in their career – things like interest in what they are doing, the organisational culture, alignment between the person’s values and the companies (although many people are not able to put their finger on this – it’s a sense of misalignment, something isn’t right), the job fit for them, career opportunities, and remuneration.

Money on its own is rather impersonal. It doesn’t speak to the value a person brings to the table in their work and life.

Think about this… a person is in a job – let’s say they are a banker. They have been in the same job for three years. They know it through and through. The person wants to do well. After three years in the same job they are feeling like there isn’t much new and exciting happening. They have done a few courses that the company has offered. They have good friends at work. They like their desk and chair.

They like… but the fire is missing.

The boss says – congratulations you’ve got money – 5% more. You’re excited. Imagine what that will help me do and so on. After a couple of months the 5% is just that. You’re back to wondering what else.

We humans are complex. What is right for one person isn’t right for the next. Research and understanding of wellbeing is on the rise. It’s a complex mix and unique to people. It comprises a number of factors.

According to The Better Health channel ( it comprises a number of aspects:

  • Happy intimate relationship with a partner
  • Network of close friends
  • Enjoyable and fulfilling career
  • Enough money
  • Regular exercise
  • Nutritional diet
  • Sufficient sleep
  • Spiritual or religious beliefs
  • Fun hobbies and leisure pursuits
  • Healthy self-esteem
  • Optimistic outlook
  • Realistic and achievable goals
  • Sense of purpose and meaning
  • A sense of belonging
  • The ability to adapt to change
  • Living in a fair and democratic society.

As you can see there is not just one thing that fulfils us. And on different days our sense of wellbeing can be different depending on what is happening in life.

When we relate this to our career you can see career aspiration and recognition of achievement is never just about the money. Money is the outcome of communicating and demonstrating your value. It’s one of the outcomes of career progression and/or performance reviews.

So what is value? It’s your contribution.

In an organisational context it’s about what the organisation gets from your contribution. It could be customer satisfaction, improved processes, improved productivity (yours, team, function), improved and/or consistently good customer satisfaction, better efficiency etc., and how it can be quantified.

It’s what you do and how you stand out from the rest of your colleagues. And the bottom line benefit the organisation gets from your contribution. This helps you achieve in your career through feeling like your contribution matters, that you are part of a greater system and community, that you have options, that your boss and their boss(es) appreciate your contribution and so on. Often organisations tie recognition to awards, vouchers, pay, bonuses, education, time off and so on.

And all of these things are absolutely valid career aspirations.

Is a pay rise a valid career aspiration?

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