Maslow and Money

This post originally appeared on September 24, 2010 on

About six months prior to my promotion from tech support agent to business analyst, I remember looking around myself at all the other very smart techs in my department, all who had CS or business degrees, and thinking to myself, I don’t stand a chance. It wasn’t that I was actually less intelligent or educated than everyone else there (I like to think I’m a smart guy who worked with a lot of smart people), but when you’ve got that much quality surrounding you, its often difficult to be noticed amongst all the others. This realization led me to return to school during the evenings and weekends in search of an MBA; something that almost no one else around me at that time had.

That decision to further my education was, next to marrying my wife, the best one I have thus far made in my adult life. Six months later, I was out of tech support, a newly minted junior analyst and on my way to a career without a headset. The downside was, despite having a vastly different job role than the one that had defined my life for the prior three years, I was still being paid like a tech support agent. I didn’t get a bump to analyst pay bands until nearly 11 months later.

As knowledge work goes, analysts, developers and project managers are generally paid fairly well, at least compared with your average ditch digger. Even as much as I at times despise my cubicle, I’d much rather spend 8 (ok, 10) hours in it every day than 8 hours digging a hole in the ground.

Last year, I once again decided to increase my knowledge (and the number of acronyms included after my last name) and studied for the CBAP. As I slogged through the material, I found it odd that items such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs were listed as secondary reference material for the exam. While I understand at a cognitive level how this impacts stakeholder relations, it seemed an odd inclusion when the topic is business analysis. Sure enough, there was a question on the exam about the hierarchy so I was glad to have spent an hour or two reviewing material I hadn’t thought about since college.

Despite my concerns about Maslow’s inclusion in the study material, when I run across articles such as this one regarding pay and happiness, I realize that my initial inclination to discount the material’s inclusion was incorrect. You don’t have to look far online to find that when it comes to non-management jobs, business analysts are paid fairly well. Developers and project managers are doing equally as well themselves. True, it is usually only the most senior analysts who reach the ‘magic’ $75k/year that leads to 'happiness’, but if you’re around long enough, you’ll likely get there.

I think back to Maslow’s hierarchy and mesh it up with the article about pay and happiness and realize that there is some truth to it. As my career has progressed and I’ve inched towards that 'magic threshold’, my life has generally become happier. I didn’t go out and buy a new car or a newer house with my increasing wealth (although I have consistently increased my savings for retirement), but its the realization that I am paid enough to not worry about bills month to month that has relieved a great deal of stress and anxiety from my life. When I was laid off four years ago, I had enough of a nest egg stashed away that I could have easily been unemployed for six months without going into debt, so I spent the time finding the right job, not worrying about just getting a job.

This 'threshold’ has a lot to say about project team dynamics and relationships with business areas as well. During my career, I’ve run into more than a few project team members who were dissatisfied with their pay, but usually only in relation to other team members who they felt were paid in great excess of their value to the team. The business areas I’ve represented, especially in the service industries, often see project team members as intruders who don’t really know what’s really happening and can only repeat what the subject matter experts tell them to say. They don’t see the value we provide, only the larger salary we often command.

What about you? I won’t ask if the $75k threshold has made you happy (or at the least minimized your unhappiness) as that would out your salary to the world, but do you agree that such a limit exists?