It’s no secret – money is one of the top sources of interpersonal conflict –  in the workplace and outside of it. Our position is that much of the time it’s not about the money at all. Money is often a stand-in for something else that isn’t being talked about.

When it is about the money itself

First, for a flash of the obvious.  Bills need to be paid, groceries bought, health care provided. There are necessities of life that fulfill the most basic of needs – food, shelter, warmth, clothing, safety and the ability to get out and function in the world. There is a certain baseline amount of money that is necessary to get this job done, and if that amount is not available all bets are off about anything else.

Understanding that no company budget is unlimited, your business has a role in making sure that your employees are undistracted by outside concerns about whether they can maintain a household on the wage you are paying. Your business also has competitive concerns that impact the amount of dollars you should budget for certain roles. The money – in and of itself – can attract better candidates for your positions. Proceed with caution, though, if you think it is an always winning strategy to “buy” talent. If your culture is toxic, no amount of money will convince your best performers to stay.

If it’s not about the money, what is it about?

Money is symbolic. It and the things that it can buy represent security, power, accomplishment, social status, belonging, individuality. The person who possesses the money possesses these things. In the workplace, the person who holds the purse strings is holding the power, both literally and figuratively. Because of the connection between money and power, the business budgeting process can devolve into an internal battlefield, where functional silos compete over dollars. Everybody wants the cushy budget’s integral autonomy and prestige.

Let’s take it down to the individual level and look at Joe Associate in the business for a moment. The size of his paycheck represents your perception of his value to the organization. The size of the budget under his management indicates the amount of trust you place in Joe’s decision making. The compensation decisions about whether he earns paid vacation, or whether he is eligible for bonuses or commissions, help Joe to understand how important it is for him to reach a certain level of performance. The company can choose to reward certain types of behavior.

The money available for marketing, R&D, employee training and development, and bricks and mortar demonstrate the business’s values and priorities. Why is this important? If it’s not really about the money, you won’t improve the situation until you identify the underlying thing. Money problems are only symptoms that bring the real issues to the forefront.

  • Feel powerless? What would make you feel like you have more influence or standing in the company? More money and/or richer benefits? (This is how unions got started!)
  • How have you communicated with your employees? How much information have you given them about your strategy, or about the budget and profitability? Is your management behavior causing them to feel like partners or property? If you think they are being unrealistic about money, have you given them foundation information on what IS the company’s financial reality?
  • Feel underpaid? What would you have to do to be paid more? Get more education? Work longer hours? Accept more responsibility? Change employers or relocate with your current one? Are you operating under assumptions about what is and isn’t possible for you in your career based upon your work history with money?

The worst thing you can do when you have money issues is to neglect discussing them, or to wait until you are faced with a money-related crisis. Money issues won’t go away while they are being ignored. Money problems accumulate like loose change on the dresser, and at some point, the pile of coins becomes too big to resolve without taking drastic action.

How is money impacting your business right now?

Alternative HR can help your company do a compensation survey to determine whether you are competitive as an employer in your market. We can also partner with owners who want to address the culture issues in their companies – the ones that are acted out in monetary terms. Contact us for a free introductory consultation.