9 Career Currencies

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It’s easy to think of jobs in terms of dollars and cents, but here are eight more factors or “currencies” that make the difference between feeling blessed and feeling cheated on the job.


Let’s get the most obvious career currency out of the way first. Money is what allows us to feed, clothe and house ourselves, yet it also plays into other career currencies such as status and security, which I’ll turn to later. As obvious as money is, how it affects us is less clear. Money is a relative, not an absolute good. People have more positive feelings when they out-earn others with little regard to what the money will do for them objectively.


I can almost see some readers rolling their eyes, but some people actually do enjoy their jobs. Outside of sleeping, work is probably the single place we spend most of our time. What makes a job enjoyable varies greatly from person to person. To confuse matters even more, figuring out what makes a job enjoyable is no mean feat and could take years of experimentation. Fortunately, a good career counselor can speed up the process considerably.

Moral Good

While some people work their jobs for what it does for them, others work because of how their job helps others. Many people have found that knowing the good they do in the world makes up for low pay or bad conditions. While not everyone has the same need for contribution or sees the moral impact of what they do on the job, this career currency is not to be overlooked in the overall job satisfaction equation.


How do you know when you’ve “made it?” For some it’s the red convertible. For others it is the corner office. Some would simply be delighted to make assistant manager at the local fast food outlet. Status is usually closely aligned with money and, like money, is a relative good. There’s real truth in the expressions “getting ahead” and “keeping up with the Joneses.”


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Security is a job currency that seems to have been dwindling over the last few decades. There are some jobs and some employers where you can reasonably expect that as long as you show up and do a reasonably good job, you’ll be able to keep your job and move ahead in the pecking order in a predictable, structured way. But while it used to be that only unskilled workers had to worry about getting enough hours to make ends meet, now even the highly skilled are being laid off, put on furlough, or are put “on the bench” with no pay for weeks at a time. The recent lack of security makes this career currency all the more valuable.


Have you ever heard of an “office wife”? As people spend more time at work, they’re also socializing more around the proverbial water cooler. Office romance has been around for a long time, with mixed results and varying levels of resistance from management, but an “office wife” is often a platonic relationship that develops between workers of opposite sexes and which features emotional intimacy rivaling that of actual married couples. Whether office wives, happy-hour friends, or just friendly faces at lunch, people are meeting their emotional as well as financial needs at work.


So far all the career currencies I’ve described are benefits the job pays to the worker. However, career currencies are a two-way street. Time is one of the currencies you pay to your employer in varying degrees and amounts. Increasingly it becomes hard to track the amount of time we spend “at work” because our laptops and smart phones make it possible to work almost anywhere and any time. Often the first clue we have that we’re over-spent at the time bank is when our partners and children start to complain we’re never around.

Physical Wear and Tear

If you thought that only blue-collar jobs take a physical toll on your health, prepare to think again. Recent research has shown that desk-jockeys who spend hours at their seats are also at increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Worse yet, getting in some exercise at the gym doesn’t seem to offset the increased risk. These new results are driving some office workers to work standing up rather than in their chairs.

Mental Health

If you let it, work can tear down your body. It can also affect your mental health. Risks to our mental well-being come from many sources, including boredom, unrealistic work demands, as well as toxic co-workers and managers. In a hostile work environment, keeping up your mental resilience is a project unto itself.

While job satisfaction may begin at the financial “bottom line,” a deficiency in any of these currencies is enough to make people say “I wouldn’t do that job for all the money in the world!”

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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