It is axiomatic that the employer-employee relationship is exploitive. Employers will do everything within their power, occasionally whether those measures are legal or not, to squeeze as much work out of out of employees as possible. Sometimes they do this by constructing benefits packages that create classes of employees usually rewarding those in management with more vacation, holidays, or other valuable but non-monetary compensation than what’s offered to grunts outside the offices and conference rooms. Sometimes they do it by low-balling salary offers knowing full well that getting any sort of decent raise after being hired is nigh on impossible.
I know all this so it shouldn’t surprise me that I continually run up against variations of techniques designed to get the most possible out of me as an employee. What is unusual is that it’s not often that I get the opportunity to witness such policy being born.
Last week BigBoss was in the office for his regular visit and after spending about 30 minutes asking me for details about a long-term project that has been stalled for about 8 months for want of the funds to push it forward he finally asked if there was anything else I wanted to discuss. Since it’s been about two weeks since snowmaggedon and the great “let’s send canvassers out into a blizzard while we make people who can’t work from home take 4 days of vacation” debacle, I asked “Have you given any more thought to the inclement weather policy changes we discussed?”
Turns out that BigBoss had given the matter some thought and he wanted my “frank opinion” about his decision to make SeniorCampaignsWoman in charge of making the inclement weather decisions. We both agreed that it would be better than having him or having our ManagingDirector, the one who lives in Miami, in charge because SeniorCampaignsWoman would at least be able to adequately able to judge local weather conditions. Unfortunately, I said, it still left staff in the same position of not knowing whether or not the office was open or closed because SeniorCampaignsWoman isn’t the best at communicating.
BigBoss replied that ManagingDirector had this fixed idea about never closing the office because it meant closing down the canvass which meant no money coming in the door. His thinking is that the exempt employees who can work at home should and non-exempt employees who can’t work at home would just get paid days off in the case of weather emergencies.
Let me turn that around, I said, and ask the question from the other side: how is it fair that those folks get paid days off and the rest of us wouldn’t?
Well, he says, exempt employees like me, ChickCoworker, and DataBaseAdmin get paid more, have more responsibility and flexibility in our schedules than non-exempt employees, and are expected to do more than our lower paid, non-exempt colleagues.
True, I said, but most non-profits recognize that they pay under market and offer better benefits to compensate for that to keep quality employees, and, quite frankly, we pay under market even for non-profit and our benefits are shit.
And after we went around with this for a while, I pointed out to him that one of the things that bothered me about the whole situation was that SeniorCampaignsWoman had told her direct supervisee, basically, I recognize in the emergency you might have other responsibilities, use your best judgement and get the vital things done, and that the message I got was “you’re expected to do 8 hours” without any recognition that in a massive weather emergency I might have other responsibilities. Essentially, I told him, if you’re going to treat me like a thief you’ve given me no reason not to steal from you.
That is a valid point, and, he admitted, ManagingDirector didn’t really have a good grasp of what was actually going on during snowmaggedon, but he still believes that those of us who get paid more and have more flexibility in our schedules should be expected to do more than others.
Now at this point, I withdrew from the conversation with a fair amount of artistry I think but let’s unpack this for a second.
Essentially what he told me was: Your skills are worth more on the open market so we made your position exempt and higher paid but because we made your position exempt and higher paid we’re going to ask you to do more than we’re really paying you for in salary without compensating you for that in any other way. In fact, we’re going to compensate your lower paid coworkers with the one most valuable thing that no one can ever get more of while you work using your own equipment and your own access that we’re not in any way defraying the cost of or compensating you for the usage of.
And remember, this is the same organization that doesn’t give raises based on merit performance but instead gives everyone in the same “pay band” a baseline increase thereby providing no incentive for anyone to work harder than doing just enough to not get fired (after all, if I bust my ass I get the same raise as my coworker who just barely shows up).
What amazes me even more than his audacity to say to my face that he recognized that they didn’t pay me what I was worth but that he was still going to require me to do more than I am being compensated for is that he doesn’t see the moral and ethical loophole he created.
See, if I am expected to use my judgement and manage my workplan as I see fit, and if I have more flexibility in my schedule, it sounds to me like my judgement is saying that some days, based on what I have going, that maybe, just maybe there isn’t going to be a great need to work particularly hard.
* The proverb goes: As good be hang’d for an old sheep as a young lamb.