Career Talk

/ 3 years ago /

 Article by Brenda Wong

If you hate your job, a pay rise isn’t going to make it any better

Nobody’s ever going to say no to a little bit more money in the bank. We’re only human, after all. However, if you’re using a pay rise as a reason to stay even if you hate your job – think again.

Any employers reading this, take heed: a recent study of executive pay in the UK by the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute (CFAI) found the relationship between someone’s pay and someone’s performance is “negligible at best”. In plain English, this means paying someone more to make them work harder just ain’t going to work.

There is very little or no causal relationship at all between pay and performance

hate your job

The CFAI study isn’t the only piece of research on the topic. Unfortunately, this has been reaffirmed in quite a few studies. The earliest of them, undertaken by psychologist Edward Deci in the 1970s, was the first to draw this conclusion.

Deci got students to volunteer as headline writers for their university’s student paper, with one group working on a Tuesday and the other on a Friday. During a brainstorm session, a supervisor covertly recorded the time it took for the group to come up with each one. After a few weeks, the ‘Tuesday’ group were told that they would be paid 50 cents a headline, but not to tell the Friday group. The excuse given was that there wasn’t enough money in the budget for both groups.

Interestingly, the prospect of money (or lack thereof), affected both groups in different ways. The initial average time for both groups to write a headline was 22 minutes. The volunteers in the Friday group became faster and faster at writing headlines, and actually cut the time of 22 minutes in half by the end of the experiment. As for the paid group on Tuesdays? They saw no improvement whatsoever. In fact, most of them stopped coming to meetings over the course of the experiment.

Seriously. The paid group became lazier and lazier, whereas the unpaid group kept turning up, and in fact, got better at the job.

This is called the over-justification effect

hate your job

A baffling result at first, the Deci study’s strange findings were defined as ‘the over-justification effect’. It’s the idea that an external reward is actually detrimental to a person’s inner drive to do a job well.

Over the years, there have been many more experiments attempting to get to the bottom of the over-justification effect. In 2010, a Japanese study made a breakthrough. Researchers Kou Murayama, Madoka Matsumoto, Keise Izuma, and Kenji Matsumoto figured out it’s actually to do with whether the job requires a skill.

Getting paid for something that doesn’t require a skill may actually decrease your motivation

hate your job

So, the Japanese experiment. The researchers came up with a game requiring volunteers to stop a stopwatch at exactly five seconds. The volunteers were observed during the game through an fMRI scanner.

As the game progressed, the scientists observed the reward networks in the volunteers’ brains light up when they won a round. During the first round of the experiment, some of the students were paid only if they stopped the clock on time and others were paid simply for taking part. In the second round, no one was paid at all.

Here’s what they found out. In the second round, the participants who had previously been rewarded for their performance played the game far less. Not only that, the activity in their brain’s reward centres fell dramatically. This goes to show that the game stopped being fun when they stopped getting paid to win.

What does this have to do with how much I hate my job?

hate your job

The thing is, this experiment seems pretty obvious. However, a follow-up study published by researcher Murayama shows that this may not be so obvious after all. The study revealed the results of the ‘game’ experiment to new participants. Most actually thought that being paid for your performance would actually increase your motivation to keep playing the game after they stopped being paid. This… this is not what happened in the experiment.

Employers will continue to ply employees with more money in order to retain them at their job. However, as we now know, getting paid, or getting paid more to do a job is not an effective way to motivate a workforce.

In fact, a 2010 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences proves this. Information from half a million U.S. residents showed that once an employee starts to earn more than $75,000 a year, no amount of bonus money will significantly change their happiness or productivity in the long run.

Which brings us back to our very first point. If you are dissatisfied in your job and you get a sudden pay rise, the money will not make you happy. Trust us on this one.


Download the Debut app and get Talent-Spotted by amazing graduate employers!

Connect with Debut on Facebook and Twitter

More from this category


Career Talk

/1 year ago

Your guide to surviving an assessment centre

If you've secured a place at an assessment centre, you may not know what to expect. So here's everything you need to know.

Read more


Career Talk

/3 years ago

Tim Campbell, first ever winner of The Apprentice, joins the #FightForFeedback

Debut's fight for compulsory post-interview feedback is stepping up, and Apprentice winner Tim Campbell has now joined the campaign.

Read more

For the full Insight section, Download Debut today

Debut is available to download in the iOS App Store & Google Play Store