If You Love Your Job, Does It Mean You’re Overpaid?

A thought on my way to work this morning.


18 thoughts on “If You Love Your Job, Does It Mean You’re Overpaid?

      • Does the employer receive no benefit from this emotional surplus? I would imagine someone who loves their job would have more energy, more drive, greater ability to help others, etc…? That may not be captured in their compensation, which may offset some or all of the emotional surplus the individual has.

      • Good point. I think this can answer the topic question negatively in some circumstances where job productivity heavily varies with satisfaction, although there would still be some equilibrium point where the gains would no longer outweigh the added cost. I think loving one’s job can be a flag for overcompensation, but it will also depend on the nature of the job.

      • Then the answer is no. Your job satisfaction has nothing to do with job market equilibrium.

      • Assuming that the employer pays the employee based on the value of that employee’s work, efforts, or production, then no.

        In other words, if I find it is worth $20/wk not to ever have to mow my own yard, then it wouldn’t matter to me how much or how little the kid I’m paying enjoys the job. It’s still worth $20/wk for me to have him do it.

        Similarly, I can tell you that as a musician who loves performing, I wouldn’t do it for free or for any less than what I feel my efforts are worth. Not unless there was something in it for me, such as the opportunity to perform with one of my musical heroes, or maybe the chance to play at a venue I’ve always dreamed of playing at. Otherwise, they can find someone else.

      • You’re only describing willingness to pay, which is the demand side of the equation. This still leaves open the supply side, which also affects market price. Even if you’re willing to pay $20 for the yard work, if people are willing to do it for $10, then they are enjoying surplus wages at your expense, i.e., you are overpaying.

      • I specifically addressed the supply side.

        “Similarly, I can tell you that as a musician who loves performing, I wouldn’t do it for free or for any less than what I feel my efforts are worth. Not unless there was something in it for me, such as the opportunity to perform with one of my musical heroes, or maybe the chance to play at a venue I’ve always dreamed of playing at. Otherwise, they can find someone else.”

      • Ermm, there’s a lot there to unpack. My first question is why, if you “love” performing, would you not do it for free or at a reduced price compared to what you would require if you did not love it?

  1. The same reason any professional who loves what he or she does won’t do it for free. Would you really expect a professional athlete to work for free? A professional musician? A professional actor? A professional writer? Speaker? Astronaut? A chess professional?

    I find this line of question to be a bit bizarre, to be honest. You live in a society that has no shortage of people who love what they do, whether it’s because it’s fun, or fulfilling, or for whatever reason – they have simply managed to turn their passion into a profession. They’re so good at what they enjoy that they get paid lots of money to do it.

    I’m trying to envision what you’re suggesting, and how it would work out even in theory. Let’s assume for a moment that somehow people’s enthusiasm for their profession was quantifiable, and able to be measured based on objective criteria. You’d have a situation where the more someone made for what they do, the more they clearly disliked their profession. Teachers who love their jobs wouldn’t be able to put food on the table. Actors who hate acting would make bank, while those who grew up passionate about theater would be making minimum wage – and this would be the case regardless of how much talent they had.

    I would not perform at a reduced price unless there was sufficient compensation, as I’ve indicated. As much time and effort as I’ve put into learning how to play, as much effort as it takes to lug gear around, as much as the gear costs, as much hassle as it is to set it all up, as much risk as there is to screwing up and embarrassing myself… hell no I ain’t doing it for free (or reduced).

    But that doesn’t mean that if I were gigging, I wouldn’t be enjoying the hell out of it.

    In fact, I love my current profession. But I wouldn’t do that for free either. I have a family to support, and I know what my services are worth.

    • I’m raising a slightly different issue, which is that loving a job implies you are extremely happy with its circumstances in totality (workload, pay, hours, etc.). Since wages in the typical salaried position are affected by what each side of the table would accept, if one party is extremely happy about the outcome of the arrangement (loves it), then that could imply that the other party overpaid. Usually the equilibrium in economics occurs where both parties are minimally satisfied, otherwise somebody else would enter and do the job for less.

      • Yesterday I bought a leaf blower from a guy on Craigslist. I paid $150 for a $280 blower which was still in the box and had never been opened. The guy was moving to NC and had no use for it. For him, a quick $150 was worth much more than a blower he didn’t need.

        I was ecstatic to have found it, because I’m been waiting months to find a good bargain on a quality blower. Had it been more than $150, I wouldn’t have probably bought it, because it wasn’t the bargain I sought.

        He was clearly happy to have the money. The blower was useless to him.

        Both parties were very happy. I don’t think anyone was under-compensated, overcompensated, taken advantage of, etc… I think both parties traded something they had for something they wanted more, and both walked away happy.

        I don’t see how one party being happy with the deal means the other party is overcompensating. It’s a non-sequitur. Not to mention, your question provides no information as the the satisfaction level of the employer, so there’s not enough information to determine any sort of inequity in the transaction.

      • I like that example because it clarified something for me. Loving a job does imply a surplus (willingness to accept less), but there could be an employer surplus also (willingness to pay more). Theoretically, new employers or employees would enter the field in response to this inefficiency in a competitive market with low barriers to entry. But when competition is lacking, for example, with a government employer or when few :applicants are able to do the job (rock stars, sports stars, etc.), the surplus can persist.

        In your example, the question is why somebody else didn’t offer him more. The answer, I think, is either the price was right (in which case neither side has reason to be ecstatic about it) or there was a lack of competition for some reason (transaction costs, geography, etc.).

      • “Loving a job does imply a surplus (willingness to accept less),”

        I see no implication there. I’ve already described how many people who love their professions would not perform for less than what they do right now. I used myself as an example, bu there is no shortage of examples. I don’t know why you won’t accept this as a simple truth.

        People know what they’re worth – particularly professionals. It doesn’t mean they aren’t living the life they dreamed of, it just means they know their value, and won’t accept anything less.

        Do you think Rand loved writing? Do you think that her love of writing was compensation enough that she would’ve accepted less compensation?

  2. I’ve considered the comments and I believe that the answer to question I raised is “maybe.” It’s clear to me that in some circumstances, “love” of the job can be an indication that the employee is free riding and should be paid less (when fire department jobs open in Boston, for example, the line wraps around the block – there is no reason firefighters should be paid as much as they are for such a cool-factor job they would do for less). But it’s also undeniable that there are situations in which a person’s feelings toward the job don’t particularly matter to the employer or customers (professional athletes, etc.). So it’s best presented as one factor of many that serve as a flag of overcompensation for certain positions, but it isn’t necessarily so.

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