For me it’s simple – people thrive in their career because they achieve the mix of extrinsic and intrinsic reward that is right for them.
Extrinsic reward is easy to define; it’s the monetary value of your compensation (salary, bonus, pension, healthcare etc…). Extrinsic reward is what drove people for generations and continues to drive many. The ability to fund a lifestyle, to live at the right address and to have the right reg on the right car. Extrinsic reward was, and is still, heavily linked to social status. The more you are paid, the more you can afford, the better you appear to be doing. High extrinsic reward is all some people need to thrive in their career.
Intrinsic reward is a whole lot more complicated. It’s how you feel on a Sunday night, how fulfilled you are by what you do, how you feel your work makes a difference, how respected and acknowledged you are by your peers/leaders, your opportunity for learning and personal/professional development and so much more. It is a complex cocktail that contains everything you can’t put a monetary value on. Intrinsic reward was previously a tertiary consideration – it does not after all put food on the table. Over time, as society has become more affluent, it has become a more important part of the conversation. High intrinsic reward is all some people need to thrive in their career.
To thrive in your career you need to get the mix (not balance!) of extrinsic and intrinsic reward right for you. Sounds easy. It’s not.
Only the lucky few ever find a career that maximises extrinsic and intrinsic reward – the unicorns. They are energised by what they do, feel fulfilled by what they do and get paid handsomely for the privilege. They most certainly thrive.
Many people get trapped in careers that provide extrinsic reward at the cost of intrinsic reward – the high fliers. Getting paid well affords a certain lifestyle. It takes a brave (or independently wealthy!) person to abandon their lifestyle in pursuit of a different type of reward in their career. Most dream of it but can never act on it – you are never going to be paid the same teaching as you are in investment banking…. Many high fliers thrive in their careers (because the mix is right for them) but equally many don’t.
Some people also find themselves in careers that provide intrinsic reward at the cost of extrinsic reward – the enlightened. They are energised and fulfilled by what they do, but the system does not financially reward them for it. Teaching can be much more fulfilling than investment banking…for some. Many of the enlightened thrive in their careers but few are recognised by society as thriving.
The people that are neither extrinsically nor intrinsically rewarded in their careers have it tough – the grafters. They get poorly rewarded financially and would much rather be doing something else. For many this is not a choice it is a product of circumstance. Few grafters thrive in their career but many compensate for this by thriving outside of work. It is just a job after all…
People are complicated. People can thrive in different ways in their career. How you spend your Monday to Friday and the people you spend it with, has a huge impact on how you spend your time on this planet. Thriving in your career is synonymous with thriving in your life – get the reward mix right for you and you will most certainly thrive.
The guest author of this post, Ed Heffernan, is Managing Partner at Barden Ireland.
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