Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Salaries, Value and Welfare

There are many types of employees, but for the sake of argument let's bin all of us into three categories...hourly, salaried and commission. Without question, those of us who fall into the hourly employee category recognize that in the most simplistic of terms, we are compensated for our time irrespective of the value we provide. Clearly, we must add some potential value, otherwise our employer would not have asked us to come to work and agreed to pay us for our time. Regardless of how many customers we serve, items we sell or widgets we build, we are compensated for our time. Those of us working for pure commission are motivated a bit differently because we are compensated based solely on the results we deliver. It matters not how much time we spend or the means we use, we are paid for results. Two very different, but easy to understand models, where the metric is either our time or our result, but not necessarily a combination of both. The challenge comes in putting a value on the salaried employee.

As salaried employees, we are usually expected to spend 40 hours of our week "working", but may exceed twice that. Most tend to pour our heart and soul into the job, while others coast until supervisors are looking. In the military, we all earn the same base wage with our peer group. Sure there are special pays that subsidize the base salaries of those with a specific skill set (language proficiency pay, flight pay, retention bonus, etc) or those asked to make additional sacrifices (sea pay, hazardous duty pay, family separation pay, etc), but again no direct assessment of value. We use these monetary levers to incentivize behavior and grow/sustain capabilities of perceived importance, but again no true measurement of value.

I am currently serving as a staff officer where I work with a team of professionals writing point papers, building PowerPoint briefs and analyzing spreadsheets all to inform strategic decisions that will not be measurable for 5-15 years. It is sometimes challenging to generate "The Good Idea Machine" and feel good about the effort and time investment at the end of a given day, knowing meaningful feedback will not come for years. In the absence of tangible evidence of contributions, I often times ask myself if I am being compensated merely for my time.

Whether we are an hourly employee, work for commission or are salaried, we must all heed Jim Rohn's words...“You don't get paid for the hour. You get paid for the value you bring to the hour.” In some cases, it may be up to us to define the measure of value for ourselves, but it is always up to us to define the measurement of value for those under our charge. Likewise, we all need to understand that we are compensated for the value we provide in many different ways. Most believe wages serve as the sole compensation and motivation for our time invested, level of effort and/or personal contributions. Some are motivated by promotions, some are motivated by helping others and still others are motivated by the expressions of gratitude they enjoy throughout the journey from customers and coworkers. For those of us in the military, I hope we can all agree that being promoted or achieving a certain rank in no way validates us as people (many deserving people are not promoted, while more than a few lesser contributors are promoted in their place each year), and neither does the number of ribbons we wear on our chest. The value we provide is measured in the person we become, the help we give others and the legacy we leave after each phase of the journey. Being monetarily compensated without providing value is nothing more than a form of welfare. I don't know about you, but I know more than a few people who are cashing their welfare check after a week of "work" and it is painful to watch (especially when it is our tax dollars enabling such behavior).


  1. I like this. RADM J.D. Burns simply insisted on "value added". If you were going to 'touch' something, then you had to add value to it. He detested 'chops' for chops sake. If you can't add value to it - then, don't touch it. I always think about how I might add value: to a meeting, to an idea, to a friendship, to a proposal, to a community, to a relationship. I NEVER want to take away value from anything.

  2. Just read your post- you make many good points. Working at a job where the tangible rewards are intermittent or far off in the future can be challenging. I think the key is to find a job that "internally interesting" rather than just "externally rewarding" (although having both would be perfect!). I wake up in the morning and 9 times out of 10 I am excited about getting to work - and its because I find my work interesting. I can get lost in it for hours at a time. If you find your work interesting and motivating, the value-added takes care of itself.

  3. Let me first say that I love my job and I can't believe how much I get paid to do it. With that being said, at my current duty station (a fine Navy warship) I am finding that there are a lot of Sailors that are just cashing their "welfare" checks. There is one department in particular that is viewed by everyone on the ship as a very lazy organization. We all sit in the Wardroom and complain about the lack of productivity from said department but no one ever takes action. The Leadership within that department spends most of their time defending the inaction of their Sailors than actually holding them accountable for their actions. Overall I am learning valuable lessons and I will always strive to ensure that my Sailors (now and in the future) are not standing in line to cash their welfare checks.

  4. Mike - Your blog and distro list clearly add value to the professional development and situational awareness of thousands. Thanks for MAKING the time!

    Chris - Thanks for the comment. You, my friend, are a shining example of someone with a passion for life well beyond your job. I feel like a slug in your presence (virtual or otherwise)

    Steven - Glad to hear you love what you do and I am sure your division shares your enthusiasm (otherwise, you would change that in short order). Sounds like an opportunity for your CTs to lead the other divisions and department from the side. I look forward to hearing how your division changed the culture of an external department through their (your) example over the course of deployment. Be safe, have fun and add value!!