Saturday, 2 May 2015

How much do you earn? #talkpay

Hmmm...

If you're on Twitter, you've probably noticed the #talkpay hashtag floating round today. Lauren Voswinkel's blog post (I believe it started there) seems to have kickstarted a flood of techies (and it is primarily techies) announcing their salaries to the world, as well as exchanging interview and job search anecdotes.

Why?

The purpose of the original article was to try and highlight the terrible pay gap evident between genders and yes, ethnic backgrounds. This is obviously not a good thing. However, the subsequent postings seem (and I have no hard metrics for this, and it is likely highly biased by my Twitter network) to be largely from white, ambitious types who have generally appear to be relatively successful.

But...

Oddly, there's no bragging. People aren't saying 'look how well I've done'. As much as you can pick up from 140 character messages, people seem to be saying a rather muted 'well, here you go - I'm probably proud of this? Is it good?' Perhaps this highlights a big problem. People, even successful ones, have no idea how much they're really worth.

It's odd that in this world of continuous improvement and metrics, even using something as absolute as measurable as money, we're unable to mentally quantify 'value' and 'self-worth' properly. Perhaps it's because money is actually quite a long way down the ageing, but still interesting, 'Hierarchy of needs' (unless, of course, you measure your 'self-actualisation' by the number of zeroes on your bank balance).

How much do I earn then?

I don't know why, but I'm just not comfortable sharing. Maybe it's because I'm stereotypically English? Maybe it's because I'm reasonably comfortable and possibly a little ashamed of how much I earn compared to many hard workers, and those in true poverty in troubled places? After all, I am playing life on the 'easy' setting...

I don't know. Part of me has a problem knowing what other people earn. Ignorance is bliss, and all that - what if the cretin next to me is earning more for the same job? Which, I guess, is the point of this debate. However, perspective is slightly different from a position of relative comfort to one at the bottom. Subjectivity, perception, individual weighting on money as reward, etc. make this a difficult one to call. I have actually been in the position of finding out my comparative worth in a role and ultimately ended up massively disillusioned by exactly that situation, leading to a prolonged period of severe mental anguish.

Ultimately, I'm not sure I believe in 'equal' pay. I worked at a large corporate firm that, for various historical reasons, had people at different sites doing the same job although some were members of a union (that did not really suit the modern industry) whilst others were treated as individuals. Being shortly out of university, I was brimming with pride when I got a top performance rating at annual review time. However, the following week, when the corresponding pay rises were announced, I got the top 3% hike, whilst the union members got 6% across the board, regardless of performance.

While I say I don't believe in equal pay, I do believe in merit-based reward. And I absolutely, emphatically, believe that everyone should have the same opportunity to be rewarded the same. If you are a gay, black guy I want you to earn what I earn. But only if you're as good as me. Otherwise I'll end up feeling bitter and demoralised and will end up, either subconsciously or otherwise, adjusting my effort to balance things as I see it. This is a natural reaction I think. From 10+ years at big corporates I've seen it time and time again - the malaise that sets in when reward models are wrong and people start to self-compensate for perceived injustice in the system. It helps no-one. Individuals become depressed, productivity drops, recruitment and retention become difficult.

So what is the right reward model?

Simple answer: Who knows? There isn't one probably. Otherwise it would be the same everywhere. The fact is, it has to reflect the size of the company, the profitability of the industry sector, the culture of the company, the economic climate and a million other factors. Not an easy job. I would hate to work in HR, who become the target for the vitriol of a million disgruntled employees.

Reward, as far as the individual is concerned, is more than just money. For me, I place a great value on flexibility, and have sacrificed salary for extra annual leave, childcare days (I currently work a '9-day fortnight'), ability to work 8-5 one day, then midday until 10pm the next without having to jump through hoops to do it, homeworking, and other similar arrangements. I've turned down firm job offers at £20k more than I'm on because they sounded, to simplify somewhat, like hard work. I've constrained my career in the past to support my other half in allowing her to flourish and succeed in her chosen profession which has benefited us both in the long run. Likewise, she has slowed her career to spend time with our daughter - not because she's had to, but because she wants to. What you consider you're worth in financial terms is ultimately down to you - perhaps, as a cancer sufferer say, you place great value in the blanket health cover you get in a low-paid job at a big firm over big bucks as a contractor where your insurance premiums are unaffordable?

I'm not even sure where my arguments are headed. As with many others commenting on this, the discussion has become one about individuals justifying their worth, while losing sight of the original goal of improving the lives of 'minority' groups and women. I don't know how to fix it. I don't feel comfortable asking for pay rises and I'm sure people who are made to feel insecure by society in general find it even harder. In a market-driven economy, employers will ultimately have to try and keep wages low (with a few niche exceptions), and it really is a case of the old cliché 'the squeakiest wheel gets oiled'. I want to live in a society where women, Asians, Africans, homosexuals, people from unprivileged backgrounds, and everyone else feel secure and comfortable enough to squeak equally loudly.

But don't have to.

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