Emotional Salary is the non-financial or emotional gains we obtain from working that motivate us, change our perception of work and lead to personal and professional development.

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Emotional Salary in times of crisis and uncertainty

What happens in times of crisis?

Emotional Salary, the emotional benefits we get from working, plays a huge role in helping us get through crisis situations – both on an individual and organisational level. As individuals, these kinds of situations tend to bring out the best and worst in us. At work, we are often expected to be flexible, adaptable and go the extra mile. It is often a time when we also have significant new challenges to cope with, both personal and professional. That might include keeping focus in a stressful situation, adapting to a new way of working, having to juggle personal or family responsibilities/concerns, and worrying about the future. 

At the same time, organisations are having to adapt rapidly to cope with the new situation, sometimes in extremely difficult circumstances where effective communication can be challenging and their financial future uncertain. Often, if they are to survive, they need their employees to pull together and step up to the challenge. In addition, crisis situations provide organisations with an opportunity to recognise what their value is as an organisation and identify what is important for their leaders and employees.

So, what is it that can help us to motivate us to go the extra mile and put in the discretionary effort that is often required in times of crisis? Some organisations (particularly those in the supermarket and food production sector) are paying bonuses to reward their employees who have higher demands on them as a result of the current situation. However, research has consistently shown that money is rarely a motivator (it goes without saying that organisations should be paying a fair salary for the work being done). The intention behind these bonus payments is to demonstrate to the employees that their hard work is being recognised and appreciated by the organisation. The problem is that many organisations are already losing money due to the current situation and will simply not be able to afford to offer financial rewards to employees. In fact, many organisations will probably end up having to reduce employee numbers over the next six months as a result of the pandemic. So how can they demonstrate to their employees that their work is recognised and appreciated? 

Our Research 

Our research shows that people gain far more from working than just the financial aspect. We have identified 10 emotional benefits that have a direct relationship with our perception of work. We believe that focusing on maintaining and even increasing these 10 factors (our Emotional Salary) can have a huge positive impact in times of crisis and uncertainty – both for individuals and for organisations. There are actually many opportunities to both maintain and increase Emotional Salary during times of crisis and uncertainty and the key is generating an awareness of the importance and benefits of doing so for everyone.

Our work plays a huge role in our lives. We spend more than one-third of our lives working, so it makes sense that we gain something positive from that time. Our attitude to our work is vital here. Due to the psychological principle of negativity bias, we are more likely to focus on the negative aspects of a situation. This is particularly challenging in times of uncertainty and crisis when we may have to force ourselves to focus on the positive. But it is absolutely critical that we do so. Research has demonstrated in a range of different contexts that a positive attitude towards situations is more likely to lead to us thriving in that situation. So, if we can focus on the positive emotional benefits that we are getting from our work, despite the difficulties and uncertainty we are facing, we are much more likely to thrive.

Why is gaining awareness of our Emotional Salary so important in times of crisis?

One of the most valuable benefits of gaining an awareness of our Emotional Salary is the possibility it gives us to change our perception of work. Once we recognise the range of emotional benefits we get from our work, we are empowered to take responsibility and look for ways we can get more of what we value. 

Specifically, awareness of our Emotional Salary enables us to:

  • start to recognise which elements are most important to us;
  • manage our energy more effectively:
  • choose our attitude/response towards certain situations;
  • focus our attention on those aspects that are most important and most helpful to us.  

The challenge for us, and what we must recognise, is that whilst there may be many things that are important to us in relation to our work, we may not have control over all of them. There is absolutely no point in spending our time and energy on things that we have no control over. The key here is to concentrate on those areas we have control over. The good news here is, when it comes to our Emotional Salary, it is something that we have control over. There is always some action that we can take, no matter how small, that will have a positive impact on our Emotional Salary. 

What does high Emotional Salary in an organisation mean and how can it help in times of crisis?

When an organisation encourages its people to focus on their Emotional Salary and supports them to do so, they can become “true stakeholders of their own future and the company’s future”, which is exactly how Gallup describes employee engagement. 

According to research by Gallup, this type of employee engagement has a dramatic impact on business results: 

  • Profits increase by 21%
  • Productivity increases by 17%
  • Sales increase by 20%
  • Absenteeism decreases by 41%


Results are always important, but when we take into account the challenges which the majority of businesses are currently facing and will continue to face in the next 12-24 months, these numbers could be the difference between an organisation collapsing, surviving or thriving. Emotional Salary has never been more important. 

The 10 elements of Emotional Salary

So, let’s look at each of the ten elements that comprise Emotional Salary and determine how they are affected by the current situation and what are some practical things that we can do as individuals.

Purpose: Feeling that you are contributing to a greater purpose

Having a clear purpose in times of crisis and uncertainty is essential. It can be the glue that holds everything together. In a situation like the current global pandemic, it is important for us to feel that the organisation we work for is contributing positively to the situation on a personal, organisational and societal level. Why? Because it helps us to feel that we are contributing positively through our work and increases our sense of purpose. A great little exercise we can undertake as individuals is to think about how our role in the organisation contributes to the organisation’s greater purpose during this time and appreciate just how many people and organisations we are impacting and how, both directly and indirectly, through our work.

Direction: Being able to co-create a fulfilling career path 

In times of crisis and uncertainty, we often think about the detrimental impact on our future careers. As a result of the current situation, we may have to think more flexibly about our career development and be open to moving to different roles, departments or even locations. The reality is that it can also present us with so many opportunities. A recent article I read had a great quote from psychotherapist Lisa Marchiano, “a crisis can heighten the opportunity to find meaning, to get clear about what matters most”. It helps us focus on what is important for us in terms of our future career. It also provides us with the chance to learn valuable new skills, to come up with creative solutions, to stretch us out of our comfort zones and to try out new ways of working we might not have been exposed to before; all of which will contribute positively to our future career. From an organisational perspective, crisis situations are a great opportunity to identify potential future leaders or identify where the organisation needs to provide further support and development. 

Autonomy:  Freedom to manage your working style, projects and time

What often happens in times of crisis or uncertainty, regardless of the actual situation, is that we are more likely to perceive one of two extremes: to feel we are not getting enough guidance and leadership in relation to the situation, or to consider all our autonomy has been stripped away and we are not trusted. It can be difficult for organisations and managers to get the balance right, particularly when the situation can change so rapidly and frequently, as it has with the current global pandemic. As individuals, we can also be paralysed by the lack of structure that a change in work environment or a sudden increase in autonomy can bring, and we must draw heavily on our self-discipline to get through a working day. Whichever end of the scale you might find yourself on, whether it’s not getting enough guidance from your manager, or the feeling that you’re being micromanaged – try to step into your manager’s shoes – maybe they’re doing the best they can in difficult circumstances. Perhaps they don’t even realise how you feel. 


One of the aspects to be aware with Autonomy is that, in a “normal” work environment it is a very desirable factor, but when we have an excess of it and we haven’t been prepared to handle it, it requires loads of discipline and self regulation to function well. So if you’re struggling with self-discipline, put some clear structure that works for you in place and minimise your distractions wherever possible (all I’ll say is parents, we get it!). 

Enjoyment: Having fun and authentic social interactions at work

 If there is one thing that can keep us going in difficult times it’s humour! You only have to look at the explosion of memes and video clips that fill up our social media feeds in times of crisis. When we are working under extreme pressure or in difficult or uncertain situations, we often feel like we shouldn’t enjoy ourselves at work or we don’t have time for enjoyment or to talk about non work-related things. However, the reality is that it is absolutely essential to do so, and by doing so, we are much more likely to become more energised and return to our work refreshed and with more motivation to continue. Research has shown that when we experience positive emotions at work, we’re more likely to thrive. So, make sure you take time out of your working day to enjoy small things – it could be listening to a song you love, having a video call with a friend, sharing funny stories with your team, treating yourself to a delicious snack or anything that brings you joy! Make sure at the end of the day you recount all the small enjoyable moments you had throughout the day. If you do that every day, you will start to become more aware of those moments and you will notice that you will have more of them.

Creativity: Exploration, development and expression of original ideas

Humans naturally thrive under pressure and it can bring out the creative side in many of us. In difficult times, the organisation that is quickest to innovate is more likely to survive. It can be hard to take risks during crisis situations, but there is much value in balancing those risks and encouraging new and creative ideas and solutions. As individuals, when we have the opportunity to use our creative muscle it can have huge benefits for ourselves, our teams and for the good of the organisation. It is essential that we all think about how we can adapt to the situation and how we can change systems and processes that are not working and come up with new and creative solutions.

Mastery: Working towards achieving true excellence in your work

When we are working in new or difficult situations, we are sometimes so busy just trying to survive and do the basics, that any thoughts of excellence or mastery go out of the window. It’s important to remember that mastery does not mean that anything less than perfection is unacceptable. Mastery is a long-term game and what we should be focusing on is gaining a deeper understanding and striving towards excellence. What this means on a practical level is allowing ourselves enough time and space to do our best work, particularly when working in new or difficult situations, when it may take considerably longer. What we need to avoid is the situation where people feel that they do not have any opportunity to work towards mastery in what they do because of the pressure that they are under or, that when they are pursuing excellence, that this is not recognised or valued by the organisation. So don’t forget two things:  to recognise and celebrate those moments when you did an amazing job and to recognise and celebrate those moments when others did an amazing job.  

Belonging: Feeling connected, appreciated and valued at work

Belonging is a basic human need and it becomes even more important in times of uncertainty. These are often times when we are required to go above and beyond, sometimes without any idea of what the future may look like for us. What is essential in this situation is that we acknowledge the extra effort that is being made by others and show recognition and appreciation for our colleagues. Once we start to do that, others are much more likely to follow, and we start to build a culture of belonging. A great example of an organisation doing this was the recent public thank you message sent by Lidl Supermarkets in the UK where they included the name of every employee to acknowledge the additional work that they were doing to deal with the panic buying situation in the UK. Research shows that a sense of belonging increases commitment, loyalty and  happiness meaning people are more likely to put in more discretionary effort, which is needed in times of crisis, so everyone benefits. In addition, when things get tough, it is essential that we feel a sense of connection with our colleagues and don’t feel like we are on our own. 

Professional Growth: Developing your professional talents, skills and abilities 

One of the first things that usually happens in times of uncertainty or crisis is that training courses are cancelled, subscriptions to professional associations or publications are not renewed or utilised and there is no “time” for learning. This often leads to the perception that our opportunities for professional growth have disappeared. In fact, professional growth at these times is not only vital, but it usually accelerates rapidly. It does, however, necessitate a shift in focus. Individuals and organisations need to adapt their approach to learning and professional growth to fit the situation. We must ensure that the vital learning that takes place during the crisis situation is recognised and valued. It’s a good idea to do a couple of things: (1) record your learning from the situation and how it has contributed to your professional growth and (2) continuously share learning with colleagues, generating a culture of shared learning and support. The reality is that a crisis can facilitate a huge shift in professional growth opportunities if we take the right approach.

Inspiration: Having a sense of possibility and gaining new insights

In challenging times or times of uncertainty, it can be difficult for us to find inspiration. This is partly due to the psychological principle of negativity bias, which means that we put more of our attention on the bad things that are happening. In times of crisis, when there is a lot of negativity, we can struggle to see the possibilities or to see things through a positive lens. One of the things we can do to facilitate inspiration is to share positive and inspiring stories that give us a sense of possibility. We should also focus on what we might, in different circumstances, consider to be ordinary or mundane. An example of this in the current global pandemic when huge numbers of people are working at home might be celebrating an effective team meeting by teleconference, or by having a virtual coffee with a colleague. While we might not usually celebrate having a coffee with our colleagues in “normal” times, in uncertain times, it becomes something we can celebrate, enjoy, and gain inspiration and energy from.

Personal Growth: Gaining self-awareness and developing as a human being

Challenging times are often a great opportunity for personal growth because we tend to learn more about ourselves when we are thrust out of our comfort zones. However, this can also be stressful for many of us and it can take time for us to recognise the opportunities available for personal growth. Times of crisis and uncertainty can lead to fear and distrust, which obviously do not bring out the best in people. But it also leads to huge compassion and collaboration, which does bring out the best in people. When we are focusing on responding and adapting rapidly at work, there is a danger that reflection and learning from mistakes is lost. We must be aware of the importance and value of personal growth in times of uncertainty, give ourselves the opportunity to develop as human beings, and celebrate the positive examples we see all around of people pulling together and supporting each other.


There is no doubt that the current situation will lead to significant change for many individuals and organisations. There are difficult times ahead and we will be challenged in ways we might not have anticipated. If we can become more aware of our Emotional Salary and work on maintaining and increasing it despite the challenges we are facing, we are much more likely to not only survive, but to thrive. 

If you would like to learn more about your own Emotional Salary then the Emotional Salary Barometer will provide you with a comprehensive, individual report and action plan on what you can do to improve it. 

If you would like to understand how you can maintain and improve Emotional Salary in your team or organisation, we are offering a free 30-minute call in English, Spanish or German.  We have also developed a range of E-books to help individuals, managers and organisations maintain Emotional Salary during this time. All you need to do is contact us on [email protected] and we’ll be in touch to schedule a convenient time for a call or share our resources with you. 


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