Tuesday, June 20, 2017


I read recently that it's uncommon to be authentically invested in your career unless you're making around $96,000 a year.

I don't know if that's the actual figure or if that's true in all cases, and I'm sure it moves around a bit based on where you live and what your needs are, but the basic premise of what I read seems sound: that you need to be making enough money to cover your basic needs, to have some disposable income, and to have some security for the future before you have the resources to be a "company person," and that therefore when upper management claims they don't want to hire new people who "only care about a paycheck," they're being unrealistic.

Sure, it's easy for someone who's very secure and not in survival mode to look down their nose and want their worker bees to give themselves to the company without expecting to be paid handsomely for it. What's weird is that if their company stopped paying THEM handsomely for it, they wouldn't "give 110%" or whatever they think they're doing. They are loyal to their employer because their employer has been good to them--has treated them with respect, has given them appropriate bonuses and promotions, has provided benefits, and has created incentives to keep good people at those desks. These people can still sometimes turn around and expect good work out of unpaid interns, or very low-paid entry-level workers, and can sometimes judge them as selfish or money-grubbing if they expect livable pay in exchange for their work.

It's not a hard concept that if you treat your workers like they're worth something, they will be more likely to produce quality work. And if you do the reverse, people who still go above and beyond aren't displaying a "good work ethic"; they're being abused and taken advantage of. When you manipulate people into believing they're selfish or undeserving if they won't work hard for pay that barely (or doesn't quite) meets their needs, you're abusing them.

We've got this cultural narrative that tells us you're a good person fighting the good fight if you kill yourself for your career. Praise is heaped upon people who sacrifice long hours for low pay, but if what they're doing is so good, WHY NOT PAY THEM BETTER AND INCREASE THEIR BENEFITS? Is their job necessary or not? Is it fair to take up all of a person's available working hours and still not pay them a living wage? Is it good to build society with a dependency on low-paid workers and then limit their opportunities to earn more or refuse to reward them for performing the job well? Weird that slaving away and not asking for much in return is spun as noble, so people will feel like they have to do it. After all, changing the conversation so moneyed employers feel obligated to reward their employees for loyalty and hard work--that just won't work.

The hardest work I ever did, for six years of my life, was a low-paid retail position. I had pride in my work because I felt responsible for it and wanted my customers to have a good experience shopping in my section, and I loved books and I loved readers. But my management sometimes made it tough to want to do a good job. At different times during those years, they made rules and quotas that made the job unpleasant, abused the management, accused employees of theft if our inventories didn't meet expectations, saddled department heads with everyday customer service on top of their main duties, and wouldn't provide even basic everyday benefits (like we had a café but we were not allowed to have complimentary coffee from it; we had to buy our coffees AND keep the receipts rubber-banded to our cups to prove we hadn't stolen them). I eventually had to leave the position because they just wanted too much for too little, and I couldn't keep letting them have it.

The next job I got paid twice as much, was much lower stress, included significant benefits, and treated me like my work had value. I felt like part of a team, so I was willing to work hard for my team. I sometimes had to make sacrifices, but I really didn't even have to be asked--I knew it was my part. At the retail job, having to come to meetings or participate in work outside my assigned hours felt like punishment. At the better job, it was just something we had to do to keep the machine oiled. I still wouldn't have gone to the job or performed my duties without the pay, but that didn't mean I was a disloyal employee. It's just that when a business makes your lifestyle possible and the management treats you like they want you to be content with your life, you understand the transaction's mechanics and you offer up your part of it without issue.

But you cannot expect someone who works for you to magically become invested in the company if you believe that loyalty should be automatic, or treat them like they should be grateful to be abused by poor conditions and underpaid labor. THE EMPLOYER has to be invested in THEIR EMPLOYEES before they can expect said employees to offer their own investment.

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