Monday, June 6, 2016
How's That Working for Ya?
Given my less-than-stellar experiences in the work force, I’ve come to a number of negative conclusions regarding jobs in America. Last week, I found an article on Forbes.com that echoed my personal sentiments. The writer postulated a theory I’ve held for a while now: hard work doesn’t automatically lead to success. It won’t get you raises, riches or respect. In fact, depending on the circumstances, hard work won’t do you a damn bit of good. Put that in your cig and vape it.
The article even dared to speak a truth I’ve known for some time: if you’re on a fixed salary or, worse yet, paid hourly like most of America, and you’re counting on hard work at the job to lift you into the One Percent, man, are you deluded. If you’re hourly, the only thing hard work will get you is more work. Expecting praise and raises from the boss? Forget it. You’re more likely to hear, “Do even more. And if you don’t, you’re fired.”
I’ve worked secretarial jobs, and I’ve seen this happen. Any office managers out there reading this? Wondering why you just hired a new girl and still can’t get any extra work out of the clerical pool? It’s because after their first job review they looked at their paycheck and saw the minimal cost-of-living raise and realized the truth: all their hard work isn’t going to get them squat. At the end of the year all they’re going to see is a 2% raise, if that, whether they bust their butts or sit on them. So why bust your butt? There’s no incentive. Production falls off, volunteering for extra credit stops. When a new girl comes in, the old-timers slow down accordingly, leaving her to pick up the slack. Depending on how long it takes her to catch on, she soon slows down too. And that’s how you can add a new person to the clerical department and still not get the work out any faster. Why should they knock themselves out? What’s the point?
When I worked at a newspaper, back in the day, the daily paper’s typist asked for a raise. She’d been working there for a couple of years, I believe, was fast and accurate and a—here it comes—hard worker. The company told her sorry, no raise, we don’t have enough in the budget. She might have swallowed that excuse if one of the sales people hadn’t threatened to quit at roughly the same time. The company scrounged up a hefty pay hike to get the ad rep to stay. The typist ended up quitting. I don’t imagine the company even looked for more money to tempt her into sticking around. They just hired another typist, presumably at a lower pay rate.
Because it’s not how hard you work, it’s what you work hard at. Most of us probably work or worked at hourly positions. The “work hard and you’ll get ahead” party line is a scam. If you’re hourly, you’re overhead. Having you there costs the company money. They’re going to pay you as little as they can get away with, keep the raises to a minimum, and squeeze as much production out of you as they can. If your job can be done by somebody cheaper, or by a machine, or in a foreign country, sooner or later it will be.
The road to success is not in hourly jobs. It’s in management or sales, the departments that put money into the company’s pockets. Work hard at making the company money, or making your boss’s life easier, and pretty soon there will be more money in your pockets too.
It worked for my brother. He worked for Campbell’s Soup as a negotiator with labor unions. He decided which branch plants could be closed or culled of hard-working hourly employees. His hard work put money back into the company’s pockets, and he was paid handsomely for it. The ad rep brought revenue to the newspaper, and got a pay hike to keep her there so she could go on doing so. The typist had a vital job, one the paper couldn’t exist without, but it was more a necessary evil. No profit to the company, so no raise for the typist. So much for her hard work.
So what’s the answer? If you’re stuck at an hourly job, what are you supposed to work hard at? The Forbes article wasn’t much help. The writer’s point was, you have to take control of your career. Work for yourself, not a company. That doesn’t mean start your own business, although you can. It means you need to be the captain of your career. You decide what you want to get out of your job, money or knowledge or satisfaction or whatever. That’s what you work hard toward.
The article lost me when the writer cited as its main example a fellow who had it all. He worked where he wanted, when he wanted, for as long as he wanted, at a handsome salary. When he decided he’d gained as much as he was going to from a particular employer, he moved on. And what, pray tell, did this man do to land any job he wanted and to earn those big bucks? I have no idea. The article writer never got that specific. I gathered he had some kind of specialized knowledge that saved corporations money, much like my brother. I’m betting he worked hard to acquire that knowledge, too. It clearly put him in demand with companies willing to throw gobs of money at him for what was, to him, a temp job. Those of us with common hourly-job skills are pretty much shit out of luck.
It doesn’t have to stay that way, though. The hardest work will come with you deciding what you want to do and how much you want to be paid for it. Then you have to figure out how to achieve that. Work hard toward that goal. Maybe it’ll pay off, maybe it won’t.
I recommend you stay out of secretarial work. That’s hell on earth. I still haven’t decided if becoming a writer was a step down or not. I’d better work harder at figuring that out, before I waste any more time.