I just received a text. It said:
“Just letting u know that I got job offer and accepted it.. Same pay.. Lot less benefits but work from home part of the week so it works…”
It was a simple little text but it said so much.
It wasn’t just about news from my buddy, it was about the world today. I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at it, and see what the text really said. Let’s start with:
“Just letting u know that i got job offer and accepted it..”
This very first part of the text reinforces the truth about the world we live in. looking for a job is not a once or twice in a lifetime thing as it was in generations past. We live in a dynamic economy where Workforce flexibility is hugely valued by wallstreet and employers. We live in the age of the just-in-time workforce and of truly limited commitment on the part of the employer, and consequently the employee. I’ll get back to the limited commitment part later in this analysis of the text. Unfortunately this type of text, one sent from a friend to their social support group sharing some bit of good news, has become another ping in the stream of digital consciousness that we all have access to through the thin slabs of plastic, glass and metal we all keep in our pockets. It’s worthy of a smile, a happy thought for the friend who posted it, but it is not the huge celebration it was in generations past. Que Sera Sera.
“Same pay.. Lot less benefits but work from home part of the week so it works…”
“Same pay”. That says so much. My buddy is a highly accomplished professional who was already underpaid compared to the skills that they had brought to the table for their specific position. This isn’t a commentary about negotiation but more so about the broad expectations of job seekers. The new norm is just keeping what you have and the best way to do that is to keep the pay the same. There’s limited expectation that your income or quality of life will go up over the course of your career. To do that you have to jump to higher levels. As an analogy, a mechanic with 3 years experience after getting their certifications is worth the same as a mechanic with 30 years because, from a practical standpoint, everybody’s always job seeking. All the employer wants is someone with somewhat proven mechanic skills and credentials. In many cases the employer knows the mechanic will only be around for a few years so all that experience isn’t really worth more than the ability to turn a wrench. Loyalty and institutional / customer knowledge and reputation figures into the salary very little.
Jumping to higher levels isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds. Typically this would mean you would have to make great sacrifices, like investing in yourself vis-à-vis education, or physically relocating to where the opportunities present themselves. Physical relocations can create chaos when it comes to social connections especially for children. It’s really hard for kids to develop lifelong friendships when they’re uprooted every three or four years for mommy and daddy’s career.
“Lot less benefits”. Benefits have existed for two Reasons. They have always, from their Inception, been structured to 1) offer an incentive to attract new talent and, 2) retain talent for as long as possible. The quintessential example of this is a pension plan. Pensions become useless if you leave before you are vested, and much less impactful if you do not stick it out for the long haul. Even if you jump from pension to pension the numbers don’t work out unless you stick around in one plan for the majority of your career because of the way they are structured. Today they are all but extinct in the private sector and replaced with the theoretically better 401k. The 401K has a lot in common with political ideologies like communism or socialism in that on paper it’s a great idea, especially for those in power, but in practice it just doesn’t work well, at least not for average worker dealing with life issues.
The hidden truth about “Lot less benefits” is that it’s a huge net loss to my buddy. Those benefits cost money for the organization. I know this first hand as I’m on a non-profit board where I have to review benefit payments for things like cost for vacation time and health care premiums paid by the employer. There is another whole conversation we can have about those, but for this one, the similarity between my buddy and the people who work for the non-profit is this: they may intellectually know what they are missing, but they don’t feel it. All they feel is what is in the take home direct deposit. Healthcare, time banks, and related benefits all have a very real and quantifiable cost. Employers play a shell game with them. They require vesting periods for retirement accounts. They institute use it or lose it methodology on personal time off. I’m not entirely critical about this practice because employers are doing what they always have done. They are trying to limit risk and liability but for various competitive reasons try and make the benefits package sound better than it actually is.
The problem for my friend, and the vast majority of the workforce who needs a job, is that it’s difficult to negotiate something like “I’m losing two weeks off a year coming to you, so I need you to put in writing that I can take off those extra two weeks without pay, and to increase my take home pay by 6% so when I take the time off without pay, i’ll still be able to meet my bills.” Remember, all that is just to keep getting what they had from the last job, let alone increasing their income based upon an increased value to the workforce from all the skills they bring. Yes, I admit there are some very savvy negotiators who work in positions where they are in high demand and can have that conversation but that is not the norm for your average professional.
“but work from home part of the week” Telecommuting is the modern version of a win-win. I’m honestly surprised why more organizations don’t jump into this work structure with greater aplomb. Fortunately the trend for this type of work structure is growing in acceptance. The world today is highly complex and in most cases you have dual parent workers. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of social fabric as it relates to the ups and downs of raising a family like when the kid gets sick and the school or daycare calls up and says “get ‘em out of here and they can’t come back for 48 hours”. There’s not really a parent who can stay away from work every time their kid gets sick. That being said, the parent who can put the kid on the couch with a movie, and then jump back to their computer can make caring for the sick kid and getting the job done a simultaneous exercise.
The benefits for the business are well-known. They have to invest less in infrastructure for a workspace for their employees. I’m not just talking about office space although that is the biggest expense. I’m talking about the computer systems and the internet connection required today for professional to do their job. It can be expected that the telecommuting worker is a going to have their own internet. Most computers that are given to employees are laptops and highly portable. They work just as well from home as they do plugged into the Monitor and keyboard at the office. Employers also have higher retention rates and measure greater satisfaction amongst workers who telecommute. The satisfaction comes from being able to have the flexibility to take care of the problems like using the lunch hour to pick up the aforementioned sick kid or get the car fixed. Stressed and overworked people really appreciate being able to take their 10 minute break by doing laundry versus hanging out at the office lunch room talking to friends. In effect the employees are able to do more with less just like the employers are able to do more with less.
The bottom line is that telecommuting is a benefit offered by the employer that helps the employer as much as it does the employee. Similar to the 401K, there’s also no really long-term commitment to the program. The employer can change their mind any time and with any employee if that’s how they want to structure their business. When the employee leaves the organization it’s not like the employer is on the hook to manage a ‘telecommuting’ account.
“so it works…” I think these last three words sum up the professional world as it exists today as well as this article. My friend did not enjoy the benefits of accelerating their career with the new job. They just got something that worked for them which was all they could expect for and honestly, they were very happy with. There were some pros and some cons but in the end it almost equaled out. They did lose out a little but in a way that they didn’t immediately feel it.
Looking on the bright side my friend did get a job that works for them. I guess that’s much better than having to accept something that was a bad fit but that they still had to do just to keep the lights on and food on the table. I know many people who are in the latter situation and I always am hoping to get a more positive update text or tweet from them. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll get a text that says “I got my dream job, It doubled my pay, has better flexibility, and comes with fantastic benefits including a pension!!”. Now that would be a message worth retweeting.
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