Getting Real About Salary

Getting Real About Salary

Just because you made a certain wage before doesn’t mean you’ll get it now.

One of the problems that keeps cropping up with why employers don’t want to hire older workers is salary expectations–or so they say.  Taking the time to look at where you are on this issue is important whether you are in the hunt for a new position or not.

All too often, salary is a matter of ego.  “I am a success because I make a six figure income.”   I’m convinced that’s why CEO’s get the ridiculous salaries they do.  (And let’s not get me going on their appearances in front of Congress to explain their company’s bad decisions where they claim they knew nothing about what was going on.  A leader who’s out of the loop isn’t worth $1 a year.)  So let’s get rid of this baloney right now.  We are not ranked by salary in terms of our worth as human beings.

Some people think that just because they “need” a certain amount to live, they should be paid that, too.  That might work in a communist state (which have been pretty much proven not to work well overall).  But it’s completely at odds with how capitalism works.    A fair wage, yes,  but not more than that just because it makes your life work better.

Capitalism revolves around supply and demand.  If you want to make better money, you do the things that are in short supply.  At the same time, whatever you do you need to do well, so you also need to be working toward doing what you love.   When you have it right, you will find yourself saying “I can’t believe they pay me to do this!”

Here are a few dead ends you want to avoid:

  • I should be making what everyone else is making at this job.   This is true to a point, but only if you are doing the same amount of work, of the same complexity, with the same amount of supervision to get it done in the same amount of time.  If you are being paid less, find out why.  Don’t assume it’s just because your boss–or HR or “the Company”–wants to be unfair.  One of the first people I supervised thought she was ready to move into my job and that she should be paid accordingly.  She was an entry level stenographer.  I was finishing my PhD and using that knowledge in the work I was doing.  We weren’t anywhere close to equivalent. Her expectations were totally unrealistic.
  • I should be making at least as much as I made at my last job.  What’s going on in this job has no relation to what you did before.  Plus in a down economy, even if you are a superstar, there may be salary cuts.  The job you are in now pays what it’s worth in that company to do that work now.  Period.  If that isn’t what you want, then it’s time to start a job search.
  • I should make more because I’ve been here longer.  Nope…not if you are doing the same work as everyone else.  But you probably do because seniority has been a union issue for at least half a century.   In a nasty economic climate, that higher salary is like painting a bull’s eye on yourself.  Pay attention to the context you are operating in as you consider asking for a raise.

The “Great Recession” pushed the reset button on salary growth.  It’s also given us the chance to use other things as elements of a compensation package.  Free time is often more valuable than the cut in pay to go to a four day (8 hour ) week.  The chance to cross train may be worth more to you than the raise you are suppposed to get.

With cities and states cutting budgets to make ends meet, it’s obvious we aren’t out of the weeds yet.  One of the ways to keep your own path clear is to be willing to flex on salary when needed.  You’re worth as a human doesn’t rest on what you make.


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