Why You Should Always Be Underpaid

August 24, 2012

What are you worth?s-UNDERPAID-large

I want to wrap up this week of talking about jobs with that question.

What are you worth?

Most of us think we’re worth a lot more than our employers think we’re worth.

We don’t get paid enough to do our jobs, to put up with the boss’ nonsense, to put out the fires and deal with the stress.  We think we are worth more.  My wife and I were sitting around the house a couple of weeks ago, complaining about this.  I know I’m worth far more than I’m paid.  My employer is getting the bargain of the century with me.

You probably feel the same way.  If you had the stones, you’d march right into the boss’ office and tell him so.  Then you’d write down an astronomical salary on a piece of paper, slide it across his desk and say, “You have twenty-four hours.”

Most of us probably are worth more than we’re paid.  Essentially, we’re getting ripped off.

But that’s the way it should be.  Down with class warfare.

Culture of Complaining

Everyone likes to complain about their work.  I rather enjoy my work, and I still indulge in complaining from time to time.  Too much is expected of me, or there’s too much pressure on my time, or I’m not appreciated enough, and I’m most certainly not paid enough.

That doesn’t even touch all the complaining that can be done about the company we work for.  Why, if I was in charge, things would certainly be different!  All of these little problems would be solved, and everyone would be happy.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to build a culture of complaining in a workplace?  One person has a rather minor gripe, which she shares with a coworker.  The coworker sympathizes, and offers a similar complaint, to show her she’s not alone.  Pretty soon, everyone is joining in, pick, pick, picking at everything, validating one another in their gripe-fest.  Men and women complain differently, but they both take an equal share.  No organization is immune to it, even the Christian ones, and it can wreck the best workplaces.

And don’t get anyone started on how underpaid they are.  Everyone has half a mind to just walk out the door!

Magical Workplace Utopia

Here’s the problem.

All of this complaining is based on comparison.

We compare our “terrible” jobs, our “incompetent” bosses,” our “inadequate” salaries to what someone else has.

It usually isn’t a fair comparison either.  It’s usually all in our heads!  We imagine that there’s another workplace where all the employees are happy, all the bosses are fair, all the problems are solved, and all the paychecks are fat.

Such a magical utopia of work doesn’t exist.

If you weren’t dealing with the ten problems at your job, you’d be dealing with ten other problems at another job.

And as for your salary…

There will always be someone who worked half as hard for twice as much as you have.  And yes, they might be awful pricks and deserve nothing.  But just because someone else doesn’t deserve what they have doesn’t mean you do deserve what they have.  You don’t deserve to covet your neighbor, even when your neighbor is a rich, lazy dolt.  It doesn’t mean you deserve anything at all!  You and I chose the jobs we have with all of their flaws and frustrations.

Underpaid or Overpaid?

Would you rather be underpaid, or overpaid?

Think carefully about that.  You probably chose the latter.

But it’s the overpaid “fat” that’s always cut when times are tough.  If you are overpaid, it means you have a number that you have to live up to.  If you are overpaid, it means you aren’t adding value to your workplace, you’re stealing value.  Are you a thief?  I didn’t think so.

Being overpaid is wrong, isn’t it?  Wouldn’t that mean you aren’t doing your best, or you’re not giving your employer what they deserve?

If you are not underpaid, then you aren’t working hard enough.  Your effort you give should always outstrip the value you take.

If you aren’t do that, what reason does the boss have to give you a raise?

And if you aren’t putting in more effort than is required or paid for, then you’re never going to create your dream job.  Remember that from Monday?

I know, that sounds harsh and wrong in an age of class warfare and milking the system of all its worth.  So prove me wrong!

18 responses to Why You Should Always Be Underpaid

  1. I work for the state of Maryland. That should be, enough said, but since we’re complaining… I haven’t had a raise in 5 years. They’ve cut two positions, but the workload had increased, so I’m doing more work. So, yeah, I’m underpaid. But, I’m still there. I’ve still got a job, and I know a lot of people that cannot say those words, in these “tough economic times.” My evaluation is coming up in a couple weeks. So what? There will be no raises this year, either. And, they can fire people at any time for any reason. Just ask the 37 year Financial Aid secretary they fired last month. (morale is at an all-time low, just sayin’) I see both sides of this argument at my job. They sent out an email last year saying 16 ESSENTIAL employees were getting raises and they already know who they are, so don’t get your hopes up. They were all top administrators and 8 of them took those raises and used them as bargaining chips for better jobs at other colleges. I still have the email pinned over my computer. It’s great to know I am not only underpaid, but non-essential. Yet all this being said, no one has a gun to my head and is forcing me to work there. But in these tough economic times, I’m glad I have a job.

  2. No problem there.

    I definitely am underpaid. I don’t even make 12,000 a year at my lousy job in a grocery store.

    But, I too am thankful to have a job. It’s my own fault for neglecting my education years ago.

    It makes up for all those years when I was in a union, being grossly overpaid.

    • I wonder how many union people would actually say that…doesn’t seem like something people want to admit!

      • You’re right, Matt.

        That is a difficult thing to admit. But I do believe it is true. It certainly was true in the work that I did setting up trade shows. We probably were paid double, and sometimes triple what the markets rates for people with our same skill sets would have been.

        Could you imagine how much everything would cost if all jobs were unionized?

        California is basically broke, because of union contracts, when they used to have the strongest economy in the nation not all that long ago.

        Oh well.

  3. Ah, you’ve touched on a controversial subject in my line of work–if there’s one thing that every doctor has an opinion about, it’s how much money they should be making!

    I have to admit that I sometimes, usually after I’ve had a bad day, get kind of grumbly over the fact that the amount I make for spending an hour and a half talking to a patient, reviewing labwork, calling outside hospitals to get more labwork, reviewing films, and talking to other doctors before I render an opinion during a consult is substantially less than the amount that another guy makes doing a 20-minute colonoscopy.

    I then usually just remember what it was like to be a resident living paycheck to paycheck and going back to work just 4 weeks after giving birth because I couldn’t afford to be off any longer than that.

    I have what I need, and if a McMansion and a big black Mercedes were my goal in life I would’ve specialized in something else.

  4. Well-done, Matt. It is a moral issue, isn’t it? Covetousness, theft, respect. I needn’t write the essay: you already did that!

  5. Wow this is a good point- work really hard, and you’ll be so great that your salary won’t keep up.

  6. I work for myself, so I have no one else to blame. I could complain, but I don’t want to listen to a complainer.

    Pete has been an employee, a consultant, and now is in full-time ministry (as if the other jobs weren’t ministry). He only gets paid if the funds are there. Usually they aren’t. We’ve downwardly mobile. 😎

    Can’t complain, though. God has taught us so much we wouldn’t have learned any other way.

  7. First of all, this is an awesome article and an awesome perspective.

    I am a homeschool teacher, my husband is my boss (the principal) and God is the superintendent. The only thing I have to complain about is my class, but even then, a majority of the flaws they have they picked up from me or the principal. The only money I get is money to spend on curriculum–its a volunteer job. However, there are so many benefits I get apart from money–God has developed perseverance in me as this is the longest I have ever stayed at a job; He has developed a patience I never would have thought possible when I was in my 20’s; He has given me eternal perspective as I push through daily chores; I have become more organized out of necessity. Just today, I had the pleasure of reducing a surly teenager into a pool of laughter by being incredibly silly AND I had the pleasure of giving and receiving hugs and kisses from said teenager. I can’t ask for better pay.

    By the way, our Biblical focus for the next two weeks is on our attitude, because going from a three-week vacation with grandparents with no responsibilities to school is a tough transition to make, even for the teacher.

  8. “If you are not underpaid, then you aren’t working hard enough. Your effort you give should always outstrip the value you take.”

    This article is a good (poor!) example of either/or thinking. One is either overpaid or underpaid and, of course, it’s better, more noble, more morally excellent to be underpaid. Sorry but you will have to work a bit harder to actually explain why this is the case. Sounds like the old school protestant work ethic being used against the working man. No protesting allowed. That would be revealing your covetousness.

    Actually it’s pure baloney. I’m glad I don’t work for you. And, I would not want you to work for me because you would be satisfied with receiving less than you have earned which means you are at least a bit slow. Look, we can argue/discuss/whine or cry about what is just compensation but that is an discussion that needs to take place in a healthy work environment. When it does not happen workers are being oppressed. Now a worker may decide to accept less than what they are worth but that is their decision. In doing so; however, they actually undercut the ability of others to receive what is fairly theirs by depressing the cost of labor.

    It’s all a matter of justice. That’s a theological issue with which you should be conversant.

  9. Having money is neutral. Being underpaid can lead to big egos, just like being overpaid can. Alternatively,if one paid a lot, more money can be given away.

  10. We live month to month on goodwill donations to our mission work. We are independent and do not have a mission agency or church paying us a salary. We do our work whether there is $1000 deposit or $300 deposit this month. It makes it tough sometimes to expand.

    As far as over/under paid, we are thrilled at the chance to do His work in this capacity and the uncertainty breeds reliance on Him for sure.

  11. Ouch.

    Man, when you hit, you hit hard.

  12. Nice article. I agree – it is better to make sure you give more value than you are getting. I do not like the feeling of being in debt to somebody! But you gotta draw the line somewhere. I have a part time job and do freelance work on the side. I get 2 – 3 times as much for the freelance work and I feel like there was a job well done when I collect payment.

    So why don’t I just quit the part time job and focus on the better paying side stuff? Because there is a lot to be said for the fact that my small part-time paycheck is steady and will be there for me even when times get tough.

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