So what should really be in our pay packets?

Virtue, it’s often said, is its own reward. But who coined that particular – and, if you ask me, infuriating – phrase? Step forward 19th century clergyman John Henry Newman. Now, given how olden times were tough, we mustn’t be too hard on Johnny but chances are that he wasn’t overly familiar with working 12-hour shifts in a factory or turning up to an office every day to ensure its efficient running or indeed visiting websites like this one to find a job. Because when you are working or looking for work, it’s not really virtue that you’re after as a reward – it’s wages. As that great philosopher Madonna once noted: we are living in a material world.

It’s true that wages are the most obvious reward for working. Salaries should rise with length of service as testament to skills and wisdom acquired. Bonuses are paid to those who have made an exemplary contribution to their company (unless you’re a high-flying banker, in which case they’re reward for being, at best, idiotic, and, at worst, venal). And perhaps the most recognisable version of this transaction between employee and employer is overtime.  Workers go above and beyond the call of duty and employers duly reward with double-time.

But – and it’s a big but, because I like big buts and I cannot lie – financial recompense isn’t the only way to be rewarded in the workplace. It pays to ask yourself before you accept a job if maximising your wages your holy grail.

If it is, there’s nothing wrong with that if it’s important to you. But I believe that pay is only half the story when it comes to being rewarded for doing good work. Of course we’d all like a bit of extra cash coming in – even with inflation down at an historic low of 0.3 per cent and wages going further, too many households struggle to make ends meet.  But then so do some businesses who simply can’t afford to raise wages in these austere times. Unless both parties are willing to compromise, ill-will will ensure.

So the wages you want aren’t on the table, suggest alternatives that work for you – solutions rather than problems. Any employer worth their salt should, if you’re diligent and committed to your job, take you seriously and do their best to accommodate your aspirations. And if they don’t, I’d encourage you think about finding another employer who isn’t afraid of modern ways of working and modern methods of reward.

So I ask you this: what to you constitutes reward for working hard? Flexible hours? In-work benefits such as subsided childcare? A stake in the company in lieu of the salary you wanted? Or how about heartfelt praise from the boss?

You may scoff at this last suggestion but a brain no less than BBC Economics Editor Robert Peston (@peston on Twitter) discussed rewards at work recently in his excellent two-part series for Radio 4, The Price of Inequality (which you can listen to here: In it, Peston relayed research done at an Intel factory in the US. As part of that research, shiftworkers were, on one day, rewarded with either money, pizza vouchers or a note of congratulations from the boss. The research found that everyone worked equally hard for whatever incentive was on offer to them and didn’t differentiate between money, pizza and praise.  But on the day after the rewards were given, the workers awarded money became less productive than their colleagues rewarded in other ways.

So the headline we could take from this research? Money can be the least effective way to reward workers while feeling genuinely valued by your boss can boosts your determination to do well and so your self-esteem. And what’s not to like about that?

For too long – and it’s likely Thatcher’s fault – I believe that we’ve been brainwashed into believing our self-worth derives solely from our monetary worth in the marketplace. A cold, cash transaction. But all of us are worth more than that – and I will bet my back teeth than even those with the heftiest paycheques will never think on their death bed, “I am so pleased that I held out for an extra £2000 a year, even if it did mean that I barely saw my family.”

Unless, of course, they really hated their family.

Craig Burton – The Works Recruitment