Commentary > Everyday Money
Feeling underpaid? Try this.
Measure your psychic income. Sounds flaky. But it's not, unless all you value about a job is money.
July 18, 2003: 1:23 PM EDT
By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN/Money Senior Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Pay increases are down, your expected contribution to job benefits like health insurance is up -- and maybe your workload is, too, if you've survived layoffs at the office.

If you're looking for a silver lining (or a reason to start looking for a new job), consider another component to your compensation: psychic income.

Put simply, it's whatever rewards you derive from your job that can't be neatly quantified by a dollar sign. And those rewards can be just as important as a paycheck, although one without the other is like Abbott without Costello.

Don't buy it? Then why aren't you in a profession that pays 10 times what you earn? It may be, in part, because the jobs that offer higher salaries don't offer you the psychic income you need.

Any number of factors can be considered psychic income. For traditionally lower-paying work such as human rights advocacy, there's the altruistic payoff: you get to do good in the world and enjoy experiences you'd never have in other jobs.

Running a humanitarian nonprofit will earn you many multiples less than what even the most incompetent boob of a CEO can pull in. But the mission's the thing for those who devote their careers to helping others.

Then there's the "human recognition" factor. "People need to feel like their contribution is being valued and they have some input," said Joe Robinson, author of "Work to Live." "If they don't feel that, stress can develop."

Besides pay and benefits, what's most important to you in a job?
  Being respected and treated fairly
  Knowing your work will help others
  A great boss
  Control over your work
  Engaging assignments

   View results

Compensation specialists, such as those from WorldatWork and Aon Consulting, recognize psychic income as one way for employers to boost retention.

That is, there may be plenty of other jobs like yours -- some even higher paying -- but you're more inclined to stay with your employer if the company provides some of the factors one Aon study identified as important to employees. They include: internal pay equity, clear explanations of how performance is evaluated, effective supervisors (no small gift if you've ever worked for a dolt or a demon), and a culture that recognizes the importance of a personal and family life.

I would add to the list engaging assignments, sane hours, and intelligent, cooperative coworkers (light on prima donnas, heavy on humorists, please).

For those who don't thrive on crises 24/7, a manageable stress level at work and a tangible sense of accomplishment and project completion is important.

For the power-hungry, being able to run your own fiefdom may be just the thing. Or maybe you haven't drunk the corporate Kool-Aid, and will never profess to "love working with people." Being able to work independently on projects may be critical.

Vacation: Don't be a chump

If you're a creative sort, the psychic income that may be most valuable is the opportunity to be promoted professionally and financially along a creative track rather than a managerial one.

Unfortunately, promotion to management -- even if it means abandoning work you like -- is still the path to advancement at many companies, said human resources expert Lee Miller. Writers become editors, teachers become administrators, and so forth.

Lastly, don't underestimate the value of your tenure. If you've put in five years or more on a job, you've accrued a track record and perhaps an area of expertise for which you're known and trusted not to mention a lot more vacation time than you'd get at a new job.

When psychic income isn't enough

So, let's say you're one of the lucky ones. Your boss is great, you know you're valued and you have a lot of input. Even though you'd rather earn more, you feel fairly paid relative to your co-workers, who are a smart, caring bunch.

It still may be time to move on.

"[Psychic income] can become a trap," said Miller, co-author of "A Woman's Guide to Successful Negotiation." "It's easy to get comfortable."

Women, in particular, he noted, often stay at jobs because they like their bosses, even if they've outgrown their positions.

His advice: Don't assume you can't find psychic income (and a bigger paycheck) elsewhere. It just may take some looking.

Jeanne Sahadi writes about personal finance for CNN/Money. She also appears regularly on CNNfn's "Your Money," which airs weeknights at 5 p.m. ET. For comments on this column or suggestions for future ones, please e-mail her at  Top of page

Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus rally
Thanks for nothing, Corporate America
It's not just the economy, stupid
Tesla sues ex-employee for hacking and theft. But he says he's a whistleblower
'Stranger Things' caused an Eggo boom. Now sales are waffling
Gun sales plunge for Smith & Wesson

graphic graphic