Act your wage
What is a job worth?
We’ve gotten a lot of new, fun terms for work over the past few years. First there was The Great Resignation, then quiet quitting, and now Act Your Wage (I also recently tripped across “quiet promoting” but that will be a topic for another day).
The Bosses are alarmed, yet again, that employees are not engaged and they might have to (checks notes) pay employees a salary or wages that are commensurate with the amount of work being done.
From this article (“Why ‘Act Your Wage’ Is Scary):
Some leaders fear they’re facing one of two serious problems. Either they’ll have to pay significantly more money to prod scores of employees into taking on new assignments or—perhaps worse—a legion of unambitious workers is unwilling to put in efforts to advance themselves and, by extension, their organizations.
It’s “scary” that asking employees to take on more work should result in… more compensation?
Or the idea that effort is tied to money overall?
Lean into money
Sheryl Sandberg told me to “Lean In” to money with her 2013 book by the same name. Women needed to show up! Demand a seat at the table! Negotiate their way to higher salaries!
The problem? Putting the burden on the employee doesn’t acknowledge the power disparity in the relationship.
Some employers may respond appropriately — acknowledging that the employee feels undervalued and offer the raise. Others, and an equally likely scenario, will view the employee as “ungrateful” and it changes the dynamic of work. The employer begrudgingly offers the raise, but labels the employee as problematic. Or the employee is denied the raise, further compounding the feelings that they’re not being compensated fairly.
One of my employers asked me to take on a fairly large project — one that was far outside of my job description. I asked for a bonus: not even a raise, because I knew that the project was temporary. I didn’t even ask for a specific dollar amount, just something in recognition that I was taking on more work.
The company’s CEO was offended and sent me a blistering response. How dare I ask for more money. Wasn’t my salary enough? He pointed out that a colleague had taken on many additional responsibilities in her tenure, and never asked for more money.
In my head, I thought, “That was her mistake. It’s not going to be mine.”
I held my ground, but the situation was very uncomfortable. And it had never crossed the CEO’s mind that I should be offered more money to take on more responsibility. I was expected to give up my time for the good of the company.
What is a job worth?
An employee’s “value” to a company is further complicated by the lack of salary transparency. Even with new laws that require states to post a salary range in the job description (which companies are already abusing by publishing outlandish ranges), nothing yet guarantees salary transparency once an employee is hired.
Lack of transparency isn’t the sole reason that women are paid less than men (with even higher disparities by race), but it’s a factor. If we don’t know how much our colleagues are making, we don’t know if we’re being paid less for comparable work.
“Act your wage” has the right idea. Sit back. Don’t do work that’s above your pay grade. Show employers that additional effort needs to come with additional reward (and not a pat on the back).
I worked for a company that had salary transparency, but the salaries were far below market value. At first, the company culture was alluring (“We’re a great place to work! Nice people! Other perks!”)
Sure, but no one can pay bills with “nice people.” And yes, while money isn’t everything and sometimes taking a job that pays less is better for one’s mental health, it doesn’t mean that a new job shouldn’t compensate appropriately for the amount of work.
No surprise, I found my motivation lacking. I knew I was worth more, far more. When my responsibilities changed and I was expected to do new (more) work, I thought, “No thanks.”
A younger version of myself would have gladly taken on more work, with the hopes that money would follow. I know better now.
Instead, I left.
Layoffs have people scared
Of course, the current economic environment has altered many employees’ approaches to work. The leverage gained during The Great Resignation has diminished. Asking for more money might seem like a risk that many aren’t willing to take.
Normally, I shun presenteeism. People should be able to keep their heads down and do their jobs without feeling like they need to “show up” in Slack or reply immediately to emails.
But I also say: look out for yourself. You can maintain the boundaries of Act Your Wage with a base level of participation without going overboard.
And mentally know that the economy will rebound. It always does. You can find work at some point that pays you what you’re worth.
In the meantime, continue to build your portfolio of skills. Network. Focus your energy on your next move.
That’s where you hold the power.
A roundup of stuff from around The Interwebs. Some to make you smile, some to make you roll your eyes. And some stuff that I wrote on other platforms.
Workplace Toxicity Is Not Just a Mental Health Issue | MIT Sloan Technology Review
Layoff Brain | Anne Helen Peterson
An Unexpected Path in Life | me, blog
You can also follow me on LinkedIn for more insights about work, or on Twitter for spicier takes, and Medium where I write about fun stuff like productivity and creativity. Or catch up on the personal side of my life on my blog.
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