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During previous salary negotiations, I've heard that my employers will often use the following argument:

We want our employees to work here because they love the work, and not because they love the paycheck.

With my negotiations coming up, I feel pretty prepared, but not for this.

In my mind, this sounds too much like a demand for one-way loyalty. I do love the work here, but it wouldn't be impossible for me to find a job where I love the work and get paid more. My only concern here is that I wouldn't know beforehand if a job is one I'd love. I'd risk taking a higher-paying job, but not liking it as much.

Since loyalty, proverbially, is a two-way street, my initial thoughts go to using that as a counter-argument.

How do I respond to this in a negotiation?

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    "I love the work. Unfortunately, my mortgage lender (or landlord) insists on cash". – Laconic Droid Aug 6 '15 at 11:17
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    @Alec - right, but in the context of the "not love the paycheck" comment the employer is attempting to deflect from the salary aspect. The landlord was just a quick example, but if an employer is trying to avoid discussions about money during a salary negotiation, I don't think it's unreasonable to remind them that money is a factor! – Laconic Droid Aug 6 '15 at 11:25
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    One thing you should point out is that this is a wrong dichotomy. It is perfectly possible to love one's work while getting a decent paycheck (plus saying "we are doing you such a big favour by letting you do our lovable work that you should not demand raises" is an insane argument, but you probably knew that). – Eike Pierstorff Aug 6 '15 at 12:38
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    "I love the work. But I love my family a lot more than I love the work, and me being here with you is not me being there with them." – deworde Aug 6 '15 at 12:57
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    Obligatory corporate comic. – Vandermonde Aug 7 '15 at 20:02

10 Answers 10

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I am an employer; I own and operate a software company. I completely understand the sentiment behind your company's statement (though I would express it differently than you have summarized it here).

One thing companies see from this side of the negotiation is that a surprisingly large number of people see companies as a commodity resource. This is summarized by statements like this, "I can earn $75K here or $80K at company X. I guess I'm leaving!" In this case, the company is being viewed as having nothing unique or valuable in itself; it is a means for trading some labor for some money.

Depending on the company, this can be profoundly off-putting. I realize that when I get a new employee, they didn't suffer through the years of skipped paychecks, foreclosure notices, 120-hour work weeks (yes, really), hardship on my wife, and the years of my childrens' childhoods spent wanting rather than having. I get that, for sure. But all of that was done in service to a dream. At some point in the past, your employers have poured their hearts and souls into building their companies, and risked marriages, health, and (much more importantly) years or decades of their lives to try to build something-- generally to be demonized for it ("greedy owners", "the 1%", etc).

The statement you gave can alternately be translated as something like, "We really, really want to make this a fantastic place to work for people, and we don't mind paying you well... but we have to take precautions against the employees who are not willing to labor alongside us; we can't always tell which is which until a few years of service (usually around 4-6).

On the other hand, my goal is to try to pay new employees a base starting salary that puts them in the 85th percentile of their job-peers. If I find someone good who's really into it, the way I have been, and after we establish trust that we're both all-in on this team, I'll generally pay them whatever they want, even if it's a 10%, 25%, or 100% raise. If they are great, they are worth it (not just to the company, but to me personally--who wants to waste his life working with terrible people?).

All that said, here's my advice: Go in and treat them like the people they are. Tell your boss or whoever, "Hey man, I really like working here. You all have made this a great work environment with a product/service I feel like I can really be proud to be a part of and I plan to be here a long time. You've seen me take time off, and you've seen me work 80 hour weeks for a deadline. You know I'm all-in on this and I just wanted to tell you that I really love it here. In my personal life, I'm working on a few dreams that my family and I have and one of the keys to getting that is for me to be able to work at $xxxK/year, which is a goal of mine. I would love to be at that pay rate now, or even reach it over the next 3 years. Does that seem do-able?" Don't be arbitrary about that number; don't base it on the market rate for your job. Base it on your real, live dreams. Want to travel? Want to take six months to work remotely from Nepal? Want to buy a boat? Want to take your family on a mission trip to Sudan? Base it on those goals, and how you can achieve them. You don't have to tell what the dreams are, but be a real, live person with a real heart and soul -- and talk to your boss like he's a real, live person with a real heart and soul.

If they say yes, then great. If they say no, then ask them how that could become a reality. Take on new responsibilities? Done. Mentor some of the newer employees? Done. Do I need to transfer to a different role (that still fits)? Done. If none of that works... well, you've gotten clarity about your dreams and you should go find a company that's a good fit =) Not a commodity paycheck mill, mind you. A company that's a good fit with your life and dreams.

I hope that helps.

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    @Air Agreed; there are definitely employers that treat workers as commodities. The issue is that people treat each other as human beings or as tools to accomplish ends. Those people can be employees or employers. I strongly encourage OP (and everyone) to be one of the human beings, not one of the users of others, in all of their relationships, including their work relationships. – Sir Robert Aug 6 '15 at 19:21
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    Your advice is excellent, but for larger companies where the founders are long gone the dynamic is different. Just to echo what Air said, if an employer treats their workforce as a commodity, then they will get employees that are interested in trading labor for money. The company can look longingly at other businesses and wonder how they can get that willingness to work for soft benefits into their workforce so they can pay people less, but they miss the point. A company that is still run by its founder or someone hand picked by its founder is usually more attractive to me. – ColleenV parted ways Aug 6 '15 at 20:00
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    Also, it's worth noting that the owners of a company are getting long-term monetary rewards in exchange for the increased risk. Employees are literally working paycheck to paycheck, so asking them to sacrifice for the owner's dream is a bit rich. – Allen Gould Aug 6 '15 at 20:17
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    @AllenGould Just a small correction, the owners of a company may be getting long-term monetary rewards in exchange for the risk. Economic collapse and corporate failure can and do scuttle those rewards (that's the risk part). Also, it is not asking them to sacrifice for the owner's dream. That's the paycheck part: the employee doesn't want the risk (that's why he's not an entrepreneur); he wants stability. He's not sacrificing for the owner's dream, he's earning his wage/salary, insulated from the majority of the risk by the owner who is taking a longer term risk-reward perspective. – Sir Robert Aug 6 '15 at 21:17
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    Isn't it a bit hypocritical to criticize employees for "treating employment as a commodity", when employers do the same thing themselves? Anyway, if you mean that "love of work" is supposed to justify paying an employee 75k when they are worth 80k, all this fancy talk of dreams comes down to begging a 75k employee to do 5k worth of free labor. Hence why employees are leery of such talk - too often this reaches the extreme of getting paid 50k and being asked for 60k of free work, or even getting paid nothing (paycheck indefinitely postponed) and being asked for 70k of free work. – Superbest Aug 8 '15 at 17:08
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When it comes to being paid, there are usually two important things the money needs to be in order to give you optimal enjoyment from your work:

  1. You need to be paid enough to not have to worry about money. That means comfortably hitting rent, car, loans, food, savings and whatever you consider a baseline life. If you go under that, you will spend time worrying about not having enough money and that will detract from your work, which is bad for you and your employer.

  2. You need to be paid enough to not feel like you're being undervalued. Even if you can get by with $1,500 a month, if the normal market value for what you're doing is $4,000, you'll start to feel undervalued after a while. That saps your motivation, which again is bad for you and your employer.

Once you have these two things out of your salary, money stops becoming as much of a concern and you can focus on doing things you love doing. If the company is interested in two-way loyalty, they will either already know this or understand it if you explain it.

If the company is interested in shafting you, they will not understand and you should not work there. You cannot enjoy your job if you are constantly worried about not making your rent this month, no matter how much fun it is. Good employers understand that.

Alternatively; if you can get a job you would enjoy more and that pays more, go for it. This company has nothing to offer you at that point.

What this kind of statement seems to be related to is people who would be willing to get a less fun job for a (slightly) bigger pay. These people tend to be less attached to their work and even if they say the money motivates them to work hard, research shows that this is usually not actually true.

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    Honestly, +1 because you covered the most important thing especially at the end: The OP does care more about money than enjoying his job apparently. -1 however for missing out on giving him tactics on how to trick his employer to not realize this during the negotiation which this question is essentially all about. (So I didn't vote) – David Mulder Aug 6 '15 at 16:17
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    Not everyone equates "paid less" with "undervalued." Then there are those people who will go through whatever contortions necessary to convince themselves that they are worth more money than they are making, ignoring any evidence to the contrary—such as cost of living, seniority, negotiating power, variation across industries, etc. I daresay the former group tends to be the happier one. – Air Aug 6 '15 at 18:44
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    @DavidMulder - You're wrong about my priorities. I'd rather stay at my current job even if it means somewhat lower pay. But there is a false dichotomy in saying you can have one OR the other. Why can't I get paid market average while also loving the work? – Alec Aug 6 '15 at 20:54
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    @Alec statistics and simple market. If a job is overall considered "nicer", more people will want to do that, hence its market value decreases (because more people will accept doing that "instead of something else more boring" for a lower pay). Of course, if what you love is something odd, you might be paid more instead. – o0'. Aug 7 '15 at 9:50
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    If you truly desire a lifestyle that you can't afford, you should simply pick whichever job earns you the most money and get as close as possible. If you're willing to make the concessions, you probably don't care about the lifestyle all that much. – Erik Aug 7 '15 at 12:38
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Here's what I'm finding interesting about the whole situation...

You specified in the OP that you are going into a salary negotiation, not a general interview, shadowing, follow-up interview, anything of that nature.

If you were going into any other type of interview then "We want our employees to work here because they love the work, and not because they love the paycheck." or a statement/comment of that nature would be understandable, because passion is an important part of a suitable employee/employer relationship.

However, your passion and interest should already have been established if you are going into a salary negotiation. So a statement of that nature would be an inconsistent comparison fallacy.

If something like that comes up in the negotiations, remind them that you do enjoy doing this job, and nothing has changed from previous inquiries about your interest in the employment. Then remind them that this is a negotiation on salary and that everyone is here to find a solid and mutually beneficial compensation package for your upcoming assignment that is in line with the position, your responsibilities, industry trends, and calculating a balance between your retention plus your well-being and the company's interest.

Steer them back on track from that and any other fallacies and the negotiation should go well. Best wishes with your negotiations!

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    +1. You make a good point and the suggestions you make are an excellent way to stay on topic and emphasize the mutual respect that should be involved in what is at its core a business negotiation. Thanks for your input and welcome to the site Douglas. – Lilienthal Aug 6 '15 at 14:08
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    Thank you Lilienthal for your welcoming and kind words. I have read quite a few posts in here and found this to be an interesting site with a lot of great professional advice and I am glad I could contribute to this excellent pool of information. – salad_bar_breath Aug 6 '15 at 14:53
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    Well said, Douglas. I guess it would be easy to make someone forget why they're actually in the meeting, by diverting their attention to all the pretty flowers. Casually shifting the conversation back to salary, which is compensation for work, and nothing else, seems like an excellent strategy to keep in mind whenever there are digressions. – Alec Aug 7 '15 at 7:36
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    Exactly Alec. We are all human and therefore we all use fallacies (especially red herrings) because we hear them all the time. That's why it is good to stay on the course at hand. It's really bad if you are communicating with someone on a business level and they stick with their fallacy even when it gets pointed out. At that point it is probably good to just assume that your boss is stubborn and has poor communication skills and that you should consider other employment. – salad_bar_breath Aug 7 '15 at 12:51
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Do you have any advice for this situation?

You have to determine in your own mind if your employer is saying this in order to deny fair compensation, or if it's just a ham-handed way of saying that "we like our people to like their job". While some employers are certainly in the former category, in my opinion more are in the latter.

If you think they are just being nefarious, then you need to be prepared to insist on getting whatever you conclude you deserve, and be prepared to move on if you don't get it.

If you assume positive intent, then you would interpret their attitude as "We want our employees to work here because they love the work, and not just because they love the paycheck."

In that case, you fit the bill exactly, and you are precisely the kind of employee they value. Go into your discussions assuming that of course they want you around and of course they will reward you accordingly.

In general, the attitude you bring to any negotiation often tempers the discussions that occur. If you go in with distrust in mind, you'll read the other side's actions accordingly. If you go in with positive intent, you'll see things differently.

Only you can know how to correctly interpret this statement you have heard second hand, based on your knowledge of the company, your boss, and what has happened in the past.

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    +1 for " you fit the bill exactly", and I would reply them like that. – BЈовић Aug 6 '15 at 14:13
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    +1 plain and direct to the point, it's the just in "they love the work, and not just because they love the paycheck" that may differentiate a nefarious and a good-willing employer. – Armfoot Aug 6 '15 at 16:42
  • Would you recommend asking a clarifying question; i.e. do they want people that don't care about the paycheck or that's not the only factor? – Andy Aug 6 '15 at 16:48
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    +1 here. I think you're absolutely right in your advice to enter the meeting with an "of course they value my work" attitude. I will definitely keep this in mind! – Alec Aug 7 '15 at 7:37
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This may be the company's way of hinting that you can make more money elsewhere, but they have several "intangibles" that make the place better (in their opinion).

If they say this (or something like it) during negotiation, consider asking what they do to make people love to work there. If they don't have a good answer, then be careful, it means HR and management don't have a plan to keep employees happy.

  • +1, since companies that want to play the "we love it here" card do need to cough up those intangibles that they're offering in lieu of cash. (I will and have taken a paycut to get a job that had less stress or better hours or a boss I wanted to work with/for). But calling the bluff will show quickly if it's an actual Thing they offer or just corporate buzzword BS. – Allen Gould Aug 6 '15 at 20:14
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    As you have mentioned, always be weary of companies asking you to give up a larger paycheck. If the only thing they are offering is a chance to hang out with "cool people" then keep walking. That line sounds like a business consultant made it up. – sevensevens Aug 7 '15 at 17:56
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We want our employees to work here because they love the work, and not because they love the paycheck.

What are the reasons to work somewhere?

  • Money
  • Benefits (Insurance, 401k matching, company car, etc)
  • Hours (M-F, 9-5, nights and weekends free, etc)
  • Atmosphere
  • Location (move to be closer to beach, family, another country, etc... it's already near where I live and I don't want to move)
  • Travel options
  • People (previous co-workers, family, work with someone you respect)
  • Experience (Pays horrible, but I'm getting experience in my field)
  • Company (Amazon, Google, etc)
  • Networking opportunities
  • Possibilities (Silicon Valley)
  • Love (Teaching - horrible pay, but I love teaching the childrens)
  • Loyalty

I think it would be easy to add more "reasons" to work somewhere to this list. This is simply a list I've slapped together with some examples off the top of my head.

For each person, the list AND the ranking of the items in the list is going to be different. Money is only one item on that list... Love is simply another item.

I think I can agree that a company can make it important to weed out prospective employees who rank money high on their list.

On the other hand, how can ANY company or individual know that you will stay because you "love" working there? How can they know before you start that you will leave because of money? How can you know you will love it? How can the company know they will love you?

That's like saying "I only want to date people I'll fall in love with". "Looks" will get you on the date, but how can you know beforehand how the chemistry will go? Matches that are good on paper can be horrible in practice... and matches that look horrible from the outside can be two people who are soulmates.

Money is one part of what will get me in the door - and it may be the largest or smallest part. Love/Loyalty is one part of what might keep me in the door. I think it's impossible to say before I set foot in the door how much more important one is than the other.

And, as others have mentioned, I can value money low on my list - yet still need a minimum amount to stay. I could love the idea of working for Amazon, yet would balk at the idea of getting paid $75/k because of the "cost" of living in an area like Seattle or Silicon Valley.

Lastly, Money and Love aren't mutually exclusive. Just because I love one, doesn't mean I won't love the other. Just because I'm here for the money doesn't mean my #2 reason isn't that I love doing the job. Just because I love doing the job doesn't mean I won't leave for a better paycheck.

  • I'm surprised that on your list of reasons why someone should work somewhere... you didn't mention the 'work'? I do my job because it's the job I like to do, and I have great opportunities to do it. Of course, I do run my own company... :) – NPSF3000 Aug 7 '15 at 0:13
  • Well, that matches the love reason ....a teacher doing it, not because of money but love of the job. Just a difference of semantics. – WernerCD Aug 7 '15 at 0:16
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You have to decide if the company is being disingenuous about wanting people to love the work by failing to do the things to make it easier: salary, benefits, working conditions, treat by management, allowing for creativity, giving control, allow employees to have a voice, etc.

You can still love the job, but leave in order to address some higher-level needs like supporting yourself and your family along with some level of future financial security. You may also find that you love the work, but not the company.

It wouldn't be wise to tell your employers that, "I want a company that loves their employees." during a salary negotiation. Let them know you love your job. Get that out of the way. Don't make it part of the negotiation. Asking for more money is not an indication you don't like the job. Have evidence that demonstrates your work brings in revenue that you deserve a share of.

If the offer is still too low, you can temporarily accept it and go look for a better paying job that is hopefully as enjoyable to work at.

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"We want our employees to work here because they love the work, and not because they love the paycheck."

I do love my work. I go to work because I love it. And the company can motivate me by making sure that I do work that I can love.

However, I want to know that the company appreciates my good work, and the easiest and most persuasive demonstration of that appreciation is a nice paycheck a the end of the month. Without the demonstration of appreciation, I suspect that all this talk about "love the work" is just empty talk. And in that case, I will switch to a company that doesn't just talk the talk, but also walks the walk.

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A slightly different way to look at this is to identify the value you place on various things.

If you need more to live on then this is a very simple argument, however it is generally true that once above your 'living' level of pay, everything else is negotiable. If you really love a job you will be willing to accept a lower salary than for one you hate, so you should quantify what that 'happiness' means to you.

This could include feeling valued and cared for by the company, or it could be having sufficient spare time, etc.

Then work out what you feel you want for this role and what you are worth in industry. Are you paid much less, you know you could move to a better paid job if you don't get a pay rise. But does your employer know this?

If your current employer knows that most employees really enjoy their job they may not have any drive to pay more.

If they value you, though, they should be prepared to negotiate with you for your needs.

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I agree with the other posters money does buy some level of quality of life and that increases happiness. In more recent studies an employee feels happiest when their real life problems do not come into the work place - and often times it is correlated with money because it allows you the capability to take care of what you need to and the quality of life.

As an employer, I would absolutely love to have people love their jobs and their work, but, I have to be realistic and acknowledge the cost of living, that your job affects your personal life - you're here 5 days a week and depending on your role you may work 40 to 60+ hours a week. You may see your work colleagues more than your friends or family.

That being said, aside from asking for a monetary raise - are there items you could negotiate in lieu of a raise? eg., More training budget, more vacation time? I'm not saying you should, but just a thought.

Ultimately it is up to you to decide if your company culture is open and receptive enough to you asking about a payraise. You have to be aware of your circumstances. And, you have to be smart about how to negotiate for your raise. Some people go in with entitlement, but you need to show them why you shine here. Or, what the motivation for asking for a raise is.

I don't know your situation personally or your company, so it's hard on the basis of your experience and those statements alone to give you very detailed advice. If you fear losing your job because you're asking for a raise, well, as you said, loyalty is a two-way street.

If you enjoy your job, and you feel you're loyal - often times during performance reviews the core competencies and demonstrating the times you went above and beyond are important factors that you need to show or remind your employer that you have done. Highlight key projects you were a part of and how this impacted the level of satisfaction of stakeholders, or a time when you achieved a milestone that increased the company's productivity. eg., I created a software tool that reduced the turn around time from 60 days to 2 days.

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