The Atlas

Needs at work: the starting point

In last week's email, I talked about Gallup's 12 Elements of Employee Engagement when it comes to answer the question, "What do you need at work?" A few weeks earlier, I did a video on using Maslow's Hierarchy. Today, I'm going to start working my way through those questions and needs, in order.

The most basic start, of course, is the very bottom of Maslow: physiological need.

In this context, this most frequently means one important thing: money. All of our most essential physiological needs -- food, clothing and shelter -- require money. And without this need met, not much else matters.

But is it really that simple?


One of the things that comes up very frequently for professionals -- particularly successful ones over the age of about 40 -- is what happens when they find themselves in need of a change (for either external or internal reasons), only to realize that all of their options are going to require a material pay cut.

This is a difficult conversation I have with clients and colleagues all the time. And while no one's situation is the same, there are some common themes that I see a lot -- and which I had to deal with myself in the exact same circumstances: learning to make the distinction about what you really need (and why) versus what you want.

This sounds so easy, but while the expensive luxuries that come with a high income are one thing, at the end of the day, the real pill that I see people struggle to swallow is much deeper than that: it's our culturally-indoctrinated tendency to base our own self-worth on the amount of income we bring home.

If you have historically fallen into the trap of deriving your value from your paycheck (or, more subtly, from being the provider for your family), then making the distinction between what you need and what you want is fraught with some difficult questions.

So I always recommend starting this way: build out your current budget. And then look at it, and start playing a hypothetical game: "What would I do if my income was 70% of what it's been? 60%? 50%?" And while that might be tough exercise and the final numbers might make you cringe a bit, the truth is that simply by defining it, you are helping provide some important clarity to yourself and beginning the process of writing a new narrative.

The human brain is often very flawed at predicting what we really want, but money is a particularly tricky issue that comes with a lot of baggage for many of us. And without really digging into it, it's one that has a lot of power to hold us hostage in situations that are, at best, uncomfortable and unhealthy, or at worst, toxic and outright dangerous.

But it doesn't have to stay that way. Separating your ego from your income is a tough thing to do, especially if you've historically relied on it as a source of validation. It's impossible to get to your true financial need without that first step, though. And while your true financial obligations may still present you with some big hurdles, until you know what you truly need, you have no idea what your options really look like.

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