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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Overcoming Challenges in taking responsibility for our Emotional Salary

At work, everything is interconnected, and we are likely to face many different challenges at work that impact our Emotional Salary and our ability to take responsibility for it. In this blog, we explore why taking responsibility for our Emotional Salary and the Emotional Salary of others is so difficult, and share some ideas about what you can do to face those challenges in order to take control and take responsibility for your work. 

What is Emotional Salary?


10 Emotional Salary FactorsEmotional Salary is made up of those non-financial benefits that we get from work, which motivate us, change our perception of work and lead us to personal and professional development. It is made up of 10 factors: Autonomy, Belonging, Creativity, Direction, Enjoyment, Inspiration, Mastery, Personal Growth, Professional Growth and Purpose.

There are five key aspects to take into account when we talk about Emotional Salary:

  1. It is fluid. It changes constantly according to our role, our bosses, colleagues, job, culture, etc. That is why it is important to measure it continuously over time. This will give us key insights into a vision of what is affecting us and what is the cause.
  2. These factors manifest themselves at work in multiple ways and at different times in our work. Many times at a given moment there are several factors that materialize at the same time. Take a given moment in your work and think about what factors were manifesting themselves, how, and why?  Almost every morning I have a catch-up call with Clodagh and in this call, we have time to laugh a bit (Enjoyment), we communicate what we plan to do today (Professional Growth, Direction, Mastery), and almost always still in video call we celebrate each other (Belonging, Personal Growth).  It’s not always the same format but many times it is. Other times she inspires me or reminds me why we do what we do. What I mean by this example is that in a single moment several factors are present and this is important to keep in mind.
  3. It is different for each person. Even in the same department, the Emotional Salary of each individual team member will be different because their perceptions are different. Each person is unique, with unique values, expectations, talents, skills, etc.
  4. When each of these factors are present (or not) in our jobs it will result in an emotional response in us. This response can be positive or negative.
  5. And finally, our Emotional Salary is the result of:
  • the culture that we live in our work;
  • the strategies and policies for managing people in companies;
  • our leaders, bosses, or managers;
  • ourselves.

That is why Emotional Salary is a shared responsibility. Taking responsibility for our own Emotional Salary or that of others (if we are leaders or bosses) is something we generally try to avoid. What is the reason for this and what can we do about it?

The problem of lack of responsibility


“It’s not my fault”, “I can’t do anything about it”, “I wish things were different, but they are what they are”. At work, many of us struggle to accept responsibility. Especially when it comes to Emotional Salary.

It is easy to become trapped in cycles of victimhood and blame, constantly looking outside ourselves for reasons when things go wrong. And, although there are many things that are outside our sphere of responsibility, there is always something that we can do. We must do what we can to change the situation little by little and not give up and let ourselves be carried away by the current of the organizational culture, leadership styles, or negativism.

For this reason, I would like to give 10 compelling reasons why we find it hard to accept responsibility for our own Emotional Salary and the people we interact with, and how to turn it around.

10 reasons why we find it hard to take responsibility for Emotional Salary


1) It’s easier to look for a scapegoat

One of the main reasons why it is so difficult to take responsibility is simply that blaming everything and everyone is so much easier. If we can avoid creating more work for ourselves and rest easy at night by telling ourselves that it’s all out of our hands, this is the most obvious lazy solution we can find.

2) Dodging responsibility for our own Emotional Salary can be fun

Blaming other people – the boss, your peers, the company inflates our ego and makes us feel better about ourselves in the process. Because it excludes us from the complex system at work and because pointing out that someone else is wrong automatically makes us right.

Taking responsibility for our Emotional Salary leads to taking conscious actions that we know will have an impact. By assuming responsibility we assume an obligation and this requires proactivity. By deciding to take responsibility for how our behavior, our words, and our actions impact our Emotional Salary and those of others allows us to adapt and always be alert. This is an essential skill to survive the Future of Work.

3) It requires self-awareness

One of the biggest obstacles to change and growth in life is not being able to see the initial problem. If we are unable to identify a problem, how can we correct it? When we talk about Emotional Salary, self-awareness in relation to how we feel, and what we need, appreciate, value, desire and envision is key. But this self-awareness involves being aware of our strengths, behaviors and feelings and how they are affecting us and others. It requires us to analyze ourselves through constant reflection and introspection. In other words, taking responsibility for your own emotional salary will require you to look at yourself: the good, the bad, and the ugly. It can be an uncomfortable and even painful process. For this reason, it is important to ask for help if you need it, and to seek support from your close circles in order to cope.

4) It takes bravery and courage

Whenever you take on a responsibility, you have to be prepared for things not to be as easy as you thought they would be. Sometimes we are faced with fears, disappointments, disillusionments, etc. which will invite and pressure us to return to our initial state. That is why it is important to continue and stay with the process. We have to believe that the direction to improve our emotional salary in our work is the right one. Accepting responsibility means recognizing when you may have made a mistake or an oversight. This simple act that requires a lot of courage will likely have a positive and wide-ranging impact. You will inspire others to do the same and so will do your bit to start creating a psychologically safe culture.

5) It requires effort

When we recognize that we have the power to create our own results when it comes to our Emotional Salary, there are no more excuses. It just so happens that excuses are very useful to allow us to continue in our status quo. For example, we may tell ourselves that we didn’t get that promotion because the boss doesn’t like us, instead of recognizing that it may be that our work needs to improve. Or we complain that we don’t have time and that we are too busy to do new things instead of accepting that we are prioritizing other things.

6) You have to swallow your pride

Avoiding responsibility by blaming external factors (whether circumstances or other people) lifts us up in many ways. For example, when we stop blaming circumstances or other people, it means that we have to put our pride aside and admit that we are not as great as we thought we were. It may be for this reason that when we talk about Emotional Salary, it is initially perceived with caution, cynicism or even aggression (Article that criticizes the SE). In other words, accepting that our perceived experience is not reality shakes our self-image and our status in the world and invites us to rethink our experience at work.

7) Being defensive is instinctive

When we hear that we have responsibility for our own Emotional Salary one of the first reactions we may have is that we feel attacked. “How?” “Me?” “But my boss has got my hands tied!”. We are not saying that ALL the responsibility falls on oneself, but some responsibility does need to be assumed. And this will cause us to have a defensive reaction or to flee or avoid the issue instead of accepting it. Why? Because we feel threatened and we want to protect ourselves and avoid being hurt. Both professionally and emotionally. This may explain why we find ourselves in petty arguments where we refuse to give up the blame game, and instead seek retaliation or excuses for inaction (even when it only exacerbates the problem). While this may seem like an automatic response of which we are unaware, self-awareness of this habit can become the antidote to ending the cycle. 

8) We want to avoid shame

It may be that recognizing that we are responsible for our Emotional Salary and especially that of others (if we manage a team) can generate feelings of guilt and shame. Feeling shame can stir up a whole host of negative emotions that cause us to worry about being rejected, flawed or inadequate in some way. However, taking responsibility for our impact on our Emotional Salary and that of others can only have positive consequences because by doing so, we set in motion an upward spiral that can only improve our work environment.

9) We have been taught to avoid taking responsibility

From an early age, we all learn what is right and what is wrong, what is fair and what is unfair. Our parents, our teachers and society instill this in us. And so we also learn that shirking our responsibility allows us to avoid uncomfortable emotions. So, if this is our case, by slowly starting to assume responsibility for our own Emotional Salary and that of others we will start to break work paradigms that we have been taught (“work is only to earn money”, “at work we are only exploited”, everything that comes from work, can only be negative”) and start to create work spaces where we can all grow in all aspects of our lives.

10) Denial

“No, no and no. I refuse to accept this.” Denial is a coping mechanism that gives us time to adapt to distressing situations. When we are in denial, we are trying to protect ourselves from something that is happening by refusing to accept the real truth about it. This denial keeps us stuck because we cannot see through the biased veil of perception that we are placing over our jobs and that we perceive to be immovable and that we cannot change in any way. When we are in denial, we tend to:

  • Refuse to acknowledge a difficult situation so we don’t act;
  • Not face the facts of a problem so we stay the same;  
  • Downplay the possible consequences of the problem so we tell ourselves that it has always been this way;

In other words, this denial allows us to hide from the responsibility we must take if we want to change things.

Five Ways to Take More Responsibility


Infographic 5 Ways to Take Responsibility for Your Emotional SalaryWe’ve explored the many reasons why taking responsibility for our Emotional Salary and that of others can be challenging. If we want to take back control of our work, here are five ways to take more responsibility for yourself:

1) Ditch the excuses

Write down all the excuses that come to your mind for not taking responsibility for your Emotional Salary and that of the people in your team in case you have people under your responsibility.  After each excuse, write down alternative options that may be real. Remember that making excuses prevents you from growing from the multiple learning opportunities that are presented to you daily.

2) Stop blaming other people

Remember that even when others make mistakes that affect you, you ultimately decide how you are going to feel about it.

3) Improve your habits

Creating better habits is a practical way to lay the foundation for greater self-responsibility. It’s those small choices and decisions you make that help you positively shape your own life and work. 

4) Stop looking outside for answers

Accepting that no one is coming to save you is the first step in taking responsibility. The ball is in your court, and you won’t find the answers you’re looking for to improve your own life anywhere but in your own experience.

5) Be true to your word

It’s one thing to intend it, and quite another to keep it. Keeping the commitments you make to yourself and to others is a powerful way to put responsibility into practice.

Why taking responsibility is so important

Taking responsibility for yourself and your actions when it comes to your work and your Emotional Salary is very important because it moves you from being a victim to being in control. Taking responsibility certainly doesn’t mean taking the blame for every little thing that can go wrong. Rather, it is about facing whatever life throws at you and knowing that what happens next is to some extent up to you. Only when you face your own power and the influence you have over the direction of your own professional life will you be able to steer your ship in the right direction. Sometimes that will involve accepting your mistakes, correcting your behavior and making amends, but the rewards will be worth the effort.


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