What Makes the Difference Between the Best and Worst Job Ever?

The worst job I ever had also happened to be the one that paid me the most. Coincidence? I think not.


While creating a place where people want to work – where they give their best and are committed to the cause – requires so much more than a good salary and benefits package, far too many small business owners think that their motivational job ends with making payroll. “I pay them, that should be motivation enough,” they say.


Big mistake, that.


It was back in the mid-1990s when I was a young associate working for the big law firm in the big city. From the moment I met these guys they wined me and dined me; they schmoozed me and cajoled me. They seemed like a great group of people to work with, with big, interesting cases, and room for advancement.


And best of all they were going to pay me the big bucks.


Or should I say worst of all?


What I learned is that they weren’t paying me the big bucks for nothing. The reality of what I faced when I got there was so far different than what I had come to expect that it verged on fraud: The hours were grueling, the work was mind-numbingly boring, the atmosphere was uber-competitive, and the camaraderie was non-existent. Like I said, it didn’t take long for it to dawn on me why they paid their young associates so well.


I felt like Tom Cruise in The Firm, only I wasn’t defending mobsters.


When a business makes the mistake of thinking that employees are simply motivated by money, they shortchange both the employee and the enterprise. You end up in that case with a very mediocre business.


What motivates people? What makes them love their job and company and therefore allows them to shine and do their best? It is a combination of things, many of which do not cost a whole lot extra:

  • It is having management – bosses – who are good to work for and with. People who are fair and smart and friendly and who lead.
  • It is a culture that is enjoyable.
  • It is the possibility of moving up.
  • It is being rewarded and recognized for a job well done, whether that’s a raise, a bonus, a thank you, or a great parking spot for a month.
  • It is giving people work that is interesting and challenging.
  • It is ongoing training.
  • It is giving people the tools they need to do their job right. That could be new laptops, or iPads, smartphones, software that saves time, an assistant, or any number of other things.

Sure money is a mighty motivator. But money alone is a paper tiger. You probably don’t want the sorts of employees who are solely motivated by money, and by the same token, you don’t want to be the office whose main calling card is that you pay people a decent wage.


That would be the real crime.

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