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Content Marketing & SEO Blog

Blog about startup growth strategies revolving around content marketing, SEO, CRO, and social media marketing.

The hedonic treadmill

Sean Smith

The hedonic treadmill is a serious problem in the modern-day workplace. This is (as I believe) one of the main reasons why (what would seem like most) people don't like their jobs. There is only so much one can give before there are diminishing returns and people stop being grateful for what they are given and instead take it for granted. Then you can't very well take it right back away because that would be the 'stick that breaks the camels back' as it were. A very tricky situation.

This post was originally (and still is) a comment response to Rand Fishkin's post "Generosity & Entitlement" on his personal blog about how Moz is battling the hedonic treadmill right now, trying to combat entitlement whilst also maintaining their generosity during a very crucial point in this company's life. 

Rand's level of humility (especially at the level he's at) is astounding and honestly refreshing to me. It gives me every bit of faith that he will solve this problem, and if I were a VC I would have thrown money at him just based off of this post alone. He shows so much compassion and true love for his team, things that I think are highly undervalued.

I encourage you to read his post, and here are my two-cents towards the subject. My solution to solving the hedonic treadmill. 

Incredible post Rand. Perhaps I can give you some scope on the situation from a different angle.
The battle with entitlement and hedonic adaption is something that I am actually having an honest brush with currently. Reading this and seeing the perspective from the other side of the fence gives me so much hope in this sort of time. I have more than I could have ever dreamed of 2 years prior, but as I've grown accustom to this lifestyle I see and feel as though there is more, and the happiness that I had about where I was in my career seems to be slowly dwindling. I feel like I'm looking for something greater, but feel guilty because I should be focusing on what I have (which is what would ultimately propel me to something greater).
I grew up in a very modest family, two of the largest principles I've been taught in my life are humility and acceptance. Humility is the main driving factor behind the guilt that is felt by me upon reaching this level of hedonic adaption. I don't want it. I don't want to want more, I want to be happy by being re-invigorated in what brought me happiness before. The honest truth is that I'm grateful for everything I have, and I don't need any more than I have to be happy (seeing as happiness is not measured through material wealth, or the perks I receive).
What I truly want, and I believe I essentially need (in order to circumvent this emotional state) is something to be truly passionate about, and people to share that with.
I was hired on as "THE" SEO at the agency I work at about a year and a half ago, and at the time they had no one doing true SEO. I was somewhat wet-behind-the-ears with SEO, though I had done a lot of contract work (some for the company that hired me actually). I was extremely excited about SEO, I wanted to do SEO, I wanted to learn every facet of SEO and to seriously improve the agency I was hired on to. So when I got hired I was ecstatic, and I worked my ass off while loving every second of it. I'm not doing much different now, I'm still working my ass off, I know SEO in and out, and have moved on to learn far more, I learned every form of inbound marketing inside and out and found out that SEO is not specifically what intrigues me anymore. Essentially I'm still doing SEO, but I want to be touching on different points, to test my own mettle and improve my skill-set, but also just to do something that truly intrigues me.
I believe this is where the true answer of the hedonic treadmill lies. The effects of perks, payroll and material have diminishing returns, they start to taper off. If you become such an expert at what you're doing, and you want to do something else to really test yourself, you start to get jittery, you start to get anxious, and in that you aren't now focusing on what your direct responsibilities are anymore, you are focusing on what you want to do. If you are focusing on what you want to do, and not on what you are doing, but you are extremely good at what you do you will naturally feel that you should be better compensated for doing what you don't want to do. This would feel like the epitome of entitlement. If a college graduate got out of school for say psychology, but found out they wanted to do marine biology, just because they are very well qualified as a psychologist they would feel as though they should be damn-well compensated for being a qualified psychologist, and they try to surpress their desire with the material gain that comes from doing what you know.
I believe you are spot-on with what you said about getting in front of your faculty and spouting off how "you should feel grateful" that would be a horrible idea. I respect you so much for the stance you take on that matter. I also respect the owner and CEO of my agency so much for what he did for me to ease this problem. We are a pretty small agency, ~15 employees, ~3 or so contractors. My CEO's schedule isn't quite as crammed as yours probably is so having a 90 minute window of talks is not really a big deal to him, he makes sure people can just come talk to him whenever they need, or they can call him if they really need to. So one day I went into his office, shut the door, sat down and asked "what can I do here to be of more value, because I feel I'm not doing what I should be doing, or there could be more." This started a wonderful discussion about teamwork, educating the rest of the office, etc. But what really came out of it is what I had really hoped would come out of it. I love products, I love tinkering with products and making them better. From the tiny details of minut design pieces to the absolute over-arching structure. We have a product, a hyper-niche CMS, that we have done pretty much nothing to promote. We don't have a very good channel of learning for the CMS, and most of our marketing clients are on that CMS (at least, that's where the bulk of our cash is). I basically asked if I could draw out the architecture for a new site specifically for the CMS, with a learning center and the works, specifically based on the product, and teaching about the product and it's use features. Cohesively putting it together in my mind as an inbound marketing effort for the CMS while also educating the users of the CMS.
He agreed that I should definitely map that out, he believed in me and let me chase that passion, even though it is not my direct responsibility (as an SEO, not the marketing director, not the site or design architect). He let me act on what I was interested and inspired to do, and it's happening, parts are moving and things are getting done. What I wanted to happen is happening, and not only will it make my job easier as an SEO of this system, it will make me extraordinarily happy to work on something that inspires me again. Not to mention I have belief that it will result in a huge benefit for the agency.
I know this is a very long response, but honestly I believe that the answer to your hedonic dilema is not in better perks, it's not in telling people to get back to work, it's in motivating your team to do what they are inspired to do. Part of it is the communication, actually most of it is. Communicate that you want to know what people truly want to do, what they are inspired to do, and what ideas they have behind that inspiration. To facilitate that change is a very different thing, but one that I feel could be of great benefit to any company or organization. Google has their famous 20% to yourself time, which I'm not saying is what should be adopted, but it does foster somewhat of the same ideal. If you communicate that you want people to chase what they're interested in, and then give them the freedom to do that, and then actually help them bring their visions to life, that's worthy of recognition on any scale.
You have 130 brains that are some of the very best in their categories. I don't even feel like I'm being modest when I say they are probably 5x more capable than I am, and I have a list of ideas that I would die to see come to fruition.
I hope this helps in some way, sorry for the blog-post response to your own blog post ;D
Keep it #TAGFEE, Seattle.

I have every faith that Moz will make it through this crucial time in their history, and one day that's all it will be, history. 


PS: this is my favorite part from Rand's post, literally loled as I read it

I feel like a total asshole if I stood up in front of 130 people who work at a company where I own nearly 25% of the stock, and asked them to “feel more happiness” at the benefits we provide and to “stop being entitled” about massages or snacks or retina-display monitors. I don’t think I could do it. I don’t think it would be right. - Rand