Can my employer give me a stagnant salary?

Enduring a bad job: when a good salary turns into compensation for pain and suffering

“Why do you still do all this to yourself?” I ask many clients who complain about their lousy job, in which they have stubbornly endured for years. They complain loudly about incompetent bosses or nasty colleagues and get upset about sick management decisions. At the same time, they are annoyed with themselves that they have endured their no longer fulfilling job day after day for so long. Why you, too, should decide today never to earn compensation for pain and suffering at work again.

Yes, why do so many employees do that to themselves, change nothing and endure the pain of sick jobs? The answers to these questions often sound remarkably similar in coaching: Either it is the beloved colleagues in the team who they believe will not be able to let them down in the misery, or it is their above-average salary that prevents them from changing. When in doubt, it is a mixture of several such supposedly good reasons that make her painfully endure her chronic dissatisfaction.

Unbelievable! When doing nothing is paid high

If you feel like it, then read through some of the now more than 100 comments under my post "Boredom at work: What to do when there's nothing to do?" The main reason why chronically bored people persist despite high levels of frustration is either an above-average or very secure salary.

Incidentally, a particularly explosive combination, because making a lot of money by doing nothing appears to be a stroke of luck for outsiders, but for those affected it is daily agony. The physical symptoms of a boreout are similar to those of burnout, but there are also the supposedly smart sayings of family and friends who don't understand how stressful boredom can be in everyday working life.

The higher the salary or the more secure the job - for example in the public service, the more difficult it is for those affected to speak to their managers or colleagues about the situation, let alone make a clear decision to switch. Embedded in this security, they develop into perfect masters at constantly finding new arguments for murder that simply make a job change impossible.

Job satisfaction: money is not important

I talk intensively with all clients about their values ​​at work and what is really important and should be fulfilled so that they are well and motivated. Money rarely makes it into the top scores, especially for employees with professional experience. Instead, freedom of decision-making and design, experiencing meaning, challenges for personal and professional development, achieving goals and feeling recognition are the far more important values ​​for them, as my evaluation of the professional values ​​of 100 clients (2018) shows:

Everyone, and especially those with a high income, tell me that money is of course important in order to cover a certain standard of living or to be able to meet financial obligations, but it is even more important that the job is enjoyable. If all of this is no longer fulfilled and the emotional pressure of suffering increases, then a good salary becomes compensation for pain and suffering.

Compensation for pain and suffering: satisfaction of frustrated high earners

The lawyer says that compensation for pain and suffering is the right to compensation as compensation or compensation for non-pecuniary damage. At work it is the consolation that many of the frustrated high earners stick on themselves and gloss over such a stressful situation: "If I hate my job, then I want to be able to at least buy expensive clothes out of frustration," a client told me the other day . "And if they want to get rid of me, then they really have to bleed!" She continued angrily.

If salary turns into compensation for pain and suffering, then I think it is high time to change something. Because what is permanently painful is unhealthy. Those who gloss over their sick job with compensation for pain and suffering run the risk of doing their job according to regulations and slipping into a victim attitude of resignation and passivity. Anyone who gives up more and more personal responsibility will find it increasingly difficult to master positive changes and, ultimately, a job change.

"I will never earn compensation for pain and suffering again!"

A few years ago I made a conscious decision never to earn compensation for pain and suffering again. There was a time at the beginning of my self-employment when I accepted jobs for good money knowing that they would not give me pleasure and would rob me of strength. And so it often happened. The only energy I drew from such assignments was writing the bill.

I don't want to miss out on this time and experience, because they were valuable to help me understand what is important to me in my job, what is good for me personally and what this meant for my positioning and visibility in the market. And of course, every euro is welcome, especially at the beginning of self-employment.

Today I consciously decide which assignments I want to accept and which companies and clients I want to work with in coaching. I reject assignments for which I am sure in advance that they do not match my personal values ​​or my attitude as a coach - and that in the end it will be compensation for pain and suffering that I will deserve.

Perhaps some of you are now thinking that I can choose to be self-employed and consider myself lucky to be so picky in such a luxury situation today - after all, as an employee, you have no choice. Yes, you are certainly right to a certain extent that I can make decisions and work more independently, but let's be honest, the form of work and its framework conditions are really a reason for an employed employee to become a helpless victim of the circumstances of an unfulfilling job or an unsuitable environment do?

Your decision: how much pain can you still endure?

We are all the boss of our life. It is entirely up to you to decide whether you can take on a lousy job and celebrate your good salary month after month as compensation for pain and suffering, or whether you work independently to change something in the stressful situation.

In my work, especially with clients who have been earning very well in their positions for a long time, I see that the emotional and sometimes also physical pain must first become very great in order for them to act. Sometimes it is almost masochistic for me through the neutral coach glasses, although I also know very well from my own experience how much pain I used to endure for far too long for good money.

You won't be surprised, but our body signals us early and very clearly when we are doing or enduring something that is not good for us. When we regularly overexploit our bodies due to excessively high working hours and insufficient recovery times, constantly acting against our personal needs and individual values ​​or unconditionally sacrificing ourselves for other people and forgetting ourselves in the process.

A good salary often lets us subconsciously overlook these very signals from the body. It is all the more important not to officially declare the high salary as compensation for pain and suffering, but rather to make conscious decisions in good time.

XING Talk: "Quitting without a new job?"

A really good salary is only the reward for healthy work

You can choose to talk to your boss or colleagues and talk about everything that is currently bothering you, as well as looking for solutions together to make a healthy salary out of the compensation for pain and suffering.

But you can also decide to look for alternative positions and employers in peace and quiet. Because who knows if there aren't much healthier jobs waiting for you out there with the same or even higher salary.

And you can probably even decide to quit your well-paid, lousy job first thing tomorrow, to bridge a dry spell with your savings and to look for new positions in which you may earn a little less, but all that is largely fulfilled, which really is is important to you.

Even if I personally don't like this alternative at all, you can make a conscious decision to keep the lousy job for a defined period of time and keep collecting your high salary because it is important for your life situation. But then there is no longer any whining! ;-)

However you decide for your future, you too decide today that your salary will never again be compensation for pain and suffering, but only wages and recognition for healthy work.

(Cover picture:, # 65146128, Marian Vejcik)

Dr. Bernd Slaghuis

I work as a career and business coach in Cologne and have specialized in topics related to career planning and professional reorientation. I work with applicants on their application strategy, the optimization of their documents and the preparation for interviews. I support managers in finding a healthy attitude. I am a SPIEGEL columnist, XING Insider (honored as "XING Top-Mind") and co-author of the book "Work Better".

  1. Hello Dr. Slaghuis,

    wonderful article. That’s how I felt back then. As a highly paid expert, I didn't find my way out of the golden cage - until I ended up in the acute psychosomatic clinic.

    In the meantime I have learned a lot on the subject and passed it on to other people. From this the modified saying arose:

    Love it. Change. Or leave it.

    Because “Change it” can typically take a long time - in large organizations - if it succeeds at all.

    In the meantime, the following has emerged in my therapy and my coaching: The search outside - be it for meaning, appreciation, status, etc. - often remains unsatisfactory. I compare it to vacuuming a piece of wood. The consequences are often dysfunctional or even constructive compensation mechanisms.

    What really helps: reduce stress. The stress that arises when I want to be somewhere other than where I am right now. Like the stress in traffic jams or on a long journey, crowned with the childlike question “When are we finally there?”.

    With active relaxation I see rationally that I cannot change the situation much at the moment, but that I can endure it much more easily through acceptance.

    Best regards,

    Mario Hauff
    Anxiety guide * growth companion

  2. Although the article describes a common situation, you as a coach only come to people who cannot come to terms with it. That is also possible. Important parameters are a self-esteem that does not depend on the job and other interests outside of the job with which you can fill your life with meaning. I had both when, after 25 years of dream job, I got supervisors who put me on the sidelines pushed and bullied to get rid of me. In view of my high salary and my low chances on the job market shortly before retirement, I not only held out until retirement, but also tried to improve the behavior of the bosses in the interests of my colleagues (see link). They went before me (see the neighboring pages of the link), while in the end I seamlessly retired.

  3. I know some people who have worked for the same company for many years and who often complain verbally about their shoddy job and the company. When asked why they aren't looking for another job, the following excuses are often used:
    - There are no other jobs around here, I don't want to commute or move
    - I'll get a good company pension later that I don't want to lose
    - I'm afraid I will be fired from my new job during the probationary period.
    - I haven't applied for 20 years and don't know how to do it
    - I'm afraid that word might get around in my current company that I am applying elsewhere (in my industry everyone knows everyone, that would become known immediately if I applied to the competitor).

    For me it was and is unimaginable to endure in a job that I hate. I don't understand why you don't at least try to find another job. Sending off a few applications and trying out what your chances are, costs next to nothing and can be a valuable experience. Namely how high your own market value is.

  4. Yes. It is exactly like that. Or was it - with me. Thanks for the contribution. For a long time I thought that I was alone with my story.
    Great golden cage. But the cage walls moved closer and closer to me and began to take my breath away. In retrospect, the summary could be: Bullying an experienced, successful older manager with the aim of replacing her with a young, cheap person. The first health consequences arose one and two years later I am grateful that I followed my inner voice and left the toxic environment.

  5. Thank you for the post!
    The point of "masochism" should be examined more closely. My hypothesis is that an unbelievably large number of people, no matter where you sit them, complain, scold, partially serve their time and a large part of their working time is unproductive. They need that!

  6. I can understand a lot of people who don't want to change: Either they have children and cannot afford a loss of earnings or a reduction (not everyone in shitty jobs earns a lot of money!), Others have already been to other employers where it wasn't better . In more rural regions there are often few other employers and one is bound by house and children. You then have to prioritize what is more important to you, but often you try to minimize the suffering of the children and you may appreciate your familiar surroundings and house too much to sell and move away. It's always not that simple!
    For this reason I don't want any children or a home of my own, only brings trouble and obligations ...

  7. Thank you for the contribution and for the comments so far!

    I know the “argument” that “everything is not so easy” and that you have “obligations” all too well. In my opinion, however, it is precisely this (unfortunately very common) persistence in the familiar leads to such a bad working atmosphere in many companies. Those "colleagues" who, by their own admission (and often for many years), receive a monthly "compensation for pain and suffering" (no matter whether high or low ;-) and then "wait for retirement" for the last 20 (!) Years of their professional life, are doing themselves no favors - because: you only live once :-) Unfortunately, those concerned have other “habits”: to ignore other employees, discredit new employees from their superiors and often openly bully them. Greetings from the German Dismissal Protection Act - this makes it all too easy to “stick” to an unpopular job even with blatant misconduct. I've also had a few such “colleagues”. Those who have such colleagues don't need enemies: - /

    I cannot imagine (also from my own experience) that relatives would really benefit from it. In my environment I made the observation that the negative attitude towards life also and especially has an impact in private life. IMHO, no child benefits from having a constantly stressed and annoyed parent who lets out his displeasure on others with every little thing (because in the company "you are not allowed to do it"). Children who receive too much money (and too little attention) also often become “frustrated buyers”.

    The other side of the coin: courage has obviously never been one of the desired personal qualities in German HR departments. “Enduring” unpleasant and unhealthy working conditions is accepted (and thus rewarded), positive willingness to change in every respect is (still ;-) viewed with great suspicion. The lack of (or lack of) error culture in this country does the rest. As long as HR managers and executives, who are themselves completely “streamlined”, have a decisive influence on the decisions about new hires, not much will change.

    The joy of life cannot be bought with high “pain and suffering”. A good way to “acquire” this is the one suggested in the article: Dare to do something new without making use of the usual excuses.

  8. The labor market researcher Stefan Sell from the Koblenz University of Applied Sciences has researched the issue of pay in more detail. Quotes from him:

    “Only around 60 percent of full-time jobs are created in areas where the wage level is reasonably decent.On the other hand, 40 percent of these jobs are paid significantly less than before. "

    “Among the 40 percent of employees who earn less today than they did 20 years ago, there are many top performers in our society. For example, craftsmen or other workers with solid professional training. "

    Pay in Germany is moderate to poor in many industries, even with a good education.

  9. Very interesting to read what employees rate most about their job. Amazing to learn that money isn't in the top 5 digits. I agree that freedom is one of the most important factors. I also find personal and professional challenges very relevant and motivating.

  10. Many should ask themselves why everyone is talking about “jobs” today? There used to be professions where you felt “called” to something. Jobs are only a means to an end. The entities that carry out these “jobs” are all replaceable. Most of the "jobs" are also useless and pointless. Others earn more than you from the wages of a “job”. The cheek is even that the entity that “carries out” the “job” has to bear all the costs so that the “job” can be done at all (travel to the place of work, further training, health care). I also ask you the question: why are there no “HR offices” today and why is this activity now (literally translated) called “manager for human resources”? The human being seems to be the only resource that recharges itself with energy (sleep and food), transports itself to the place of work (commute), maintains its integrity and structure (health care) and whose price does not rise when needed / demanded (shortage of skilled workers ).

    I guess this post will not be published because of the truth. It's a shame.

    1. Hi Peter,
      it's your point of view and why shouldn't I publish it? That's what the comments are for here on the blog.
      Best wishes
      Bernd Slaghuis

  11. Dear Mr. Slaghius,
    I've been reading your blog for years, which for me clearly stands out from the multitude of coaching blogs. What I observe, however, not only with you, but actually applies to the entire coaching scene: It is always and exclusively about the highly paid managers, who in the vast majority of cases also have the necessary change for coaching or possible drop-out scenarios . The little secretary, who feels absolutely out of place in her job, but as a single parent has to spend every penny, has little chance of reorientation, a sabbatical in a Buddhist monastery in Thailand or expensive coaching. The part-time “relearning” through studies, further training or advanced training is usually unaffordable, and funding is often difficult or even impossible to get. I know what I'm talking about. I assume that only the highly paid managers represent an attractive target group for a coach, as they are able to make use of the valuable advisory services of a coach. Most of the articles only speak of those managers and their needs, almost all of whom are academics. The problem of "internal dismissal" is by no means confined to the representatives from the management level.
    Best wishes

    1. Hello Maria,
      thank you for your comment and great that you have been following me for so long. If it is your impression that I focus primarily on highly paid managers in my texts, then this is deceptive - and I should pay more attention to it. On the contrary, in career coaching I work more often with non-managerial employees than with managers. Yes, for many the fee is a lot of money, some only afford 1-2 hours a month or ask me to pay in installments. None of this is a problem for me, because it is important to me and I enjoy working with non-academics and “simple” employees as well as with executives and managers. In this respect, your impression of my target group - that may be different with other coaches - is wrong.
      Best wishes
      Bernd Slaghuis