Life’s Like That …

So, Miri over a “Brute Reason” has recently made a post talking about how employers love advocating for self-care because it means that they don’t have to pay their employees fairly and don’t have to give them reasonable paid time off.

Every professional training I go to includes a section on burnout and self-care. My thought is always the same: just pay me what I’m worth. Pay me what I’m worth. Pay me what I’m worth. And give me enough paid time off.

That’s it. I don’t need bubble baths and chocolate and massages and silly TV. I need more money. And I need more rest.

I hope to get three posts out of this one single post, and first up I’m going to talk specifically about the idea that Miri’s problems here are because her employer isn’t giving her enough money and enough paid time off.

Now, in doing this, I’m exceptionally likely to trigger Miri’s “condescending” detector, which always irritates her. So, she can see this as me being condescending and even “mansplaining” … or she can see this as someone who has 20 years experience working full-time and balancing work and life giving advice to someone who has been working, based on her own account, for about a year or so.

So here’s where I start being potentially condescending, by outlining two very basic principles that I’m sure she already knows, but it’s important to state them outright. The first is that, in life, as the Rolling Stones said, you can’t always get what you want. To put this more philosophically/academically, what this means is that everyone has goals that they are trying to achieve, but that there are always constraints that limit how one can achieve those goals. So you can’t always achieve your goals by the most efficient method or in the manner that you’d prefer, and sometimes you can’t even achieve all your goals given the constraints you have to deal with. If you’re in the latter case, either you have to remove some of those constraints, or change your goals.

The second thing is that it is no one’s job to help you achieve your goals. In particular, it is not your employer’s job to help you achieve your goals. The agreement between you and your employer is that they pay you to do the work they need you to do, and you use that money to achieve your goals. But what your labour is “worth” doesn’t depend on what your goals are, but instead on what your labour does to achieve the goals of the company and what return the company gets on that labour. Miri’s comments here imply that her employer isn’t paying her fairly because she can’t get the things she wants or needs, and no where does she consider analyzing her pay in terms of what it would be reasonable to expect given what she provides to the company.

Thus, it behooves us to examine her list of the things she needs and consider two questions wrt each entry. First, can Miri achieve her goal — or at least her main goal — in a different manner than she considers here? And second, should we expect her employer to provide enough pay/free time to be able to do the things she wants to do? Remembering that she’s only been working for about a year.

So let’s start with the top of the list:

enough money and time off for an occasional, non-fancy vacation

I suspect that “vacation” doesn’t mean “I’m taking time off to do things and get caught up”, but instead she means something like a trip … somewhere. But Miri has been only working there, at least, for about a year, and I think that she’s recently out of school. Sure, it might be nice for her to be able to take a trip, but she really shouldn’t expect to be able to do that in a year, given that she has other expenses to deal with and obviously isn’t at the top pay and vacation scale for her profession (lacking experience). But a trip away — presumably for more than a week — is definitely a want here; it’s something that she wanted to do, not had to do. I’d like to take another university degree, but right now I simply don’t have the time. When I first graduated, I didn’t have the spare money. Life’s like that.

But if she just wants the relaxation, she can take some time off and take day trips on weekends to places that are interesting and nearby, or a weekend trip somewhere close, which would be both cheaper and fit into her weekends. Without knowing why this is something that Miri assert she “needs”, I can’t really say anything more, other than that for most people, this is not a need, and that in my opinion if you consider this an actual need then the problem is with what you consider to be a need. Few people really “need” a trip vacation.

time to prepare healthy meals every day

Later, Miri says that she is home from 5 – 11 every day and has free time to do “self-care”. That’s enough time to prepare a health meal every day, even if it means that you end up eating at 8 pm. But, on top of that, what Miri really needs is not the time to prepare a healthy meal every day, but to be able to eat healthy meals every day. That doesn’t mean that you have to cook them from mostly scratch every day. There are a number of options, if Miri can afford it, to provide quick and yet still healthy meals that some people seem to like, but if that’s a problem then she can do what I eventually had to do: take a day on the weekend and cook healthy meals ahead for the week that she can freeze and then thaw/microwave. If she doesn’t have a freezer other than the one in her fridge, that would be something that it would be worth investing in, so that she can do this and so that she can buy a number of things on special and then use them over the next few months or so. Doing this will give her healthy meals without having to do it every single day and find the time to do that.

enough sick leave to actually stay home when I’m sick (I had to go back to work with a raging flu, fever included, after just two days because that’s all the sick days I’d accumulated after 7 months of work)

I’m not sure of the circumstances of her workplace, but in general most places give about a week a year, which is pro-rated based on how long you worked in that year. If you start in January, you get the full week … and usually can use it ahead of time. If you start in May, you’d only get half of that. This isn’t great, but it does seem “fair”. The issue is with sick leave as a whole; employers really shouldn’t want employees coming in when they’re sick, because it risks making other employees or the customers sick, the sick person won’t be at their physical and mental peak anyway, and it risks making the recovery time longer and so the employee works at less than peak for longer. The issue here is that if you give people more time off that they ought to use when they are sick, then a number of employees will “cheat”, and use it to take time off in general. Some of them might even rationalize it as a “mental health” day, even when all of that “mental health” is that it’s a nice day and they don’t want to stuck inside. So giving a lot of extra days off risks people using them not because they’re sick, but essentially as extra vacation days. So, ideally, an employer wants to give enough sick days to cover at least how often the average employee gets sick in a year, but not so much that they use it as extra vacation. And the last thing they want to do is demand that everyone who gets a cold prove that they were really sick.

What some companies are doing is remove formal sick days completely, and let people call in sick, but if they do that too often or too suspiciously let the managers deal with that as if they are trying to take advantage. This might be the better solution. At any rate, I’d agree that sick time needs to be dealt with by businesses, but not necessarily that she should be, in general, be given more of it.

enough money to not have to worry almost constantly about money.

You’ve been working for a year now. Yes, you’re going to have to watch your money until you build up your savings. If you are really constantly worrying about it even when you aren’t spending money, that’s probably a problem with you.

enough money to have enough savings to not worry about being financially ruined by a medical or other type of crisis

You’ve been working for a year. It is not possible for an employer to pay you fairly in such a way that you’d have that much savings yet. Let’s imagine that to cover a crisis, you need at least $50000 to be really secure. So your starting base salary would have to be $50000 to get that in a year. But that doesn’t include taxes and deductions, and that being 40% of base seems not unreasonable, so that puts you at $70000 a year. And let’s assume that basic, every day costs work out to about $30000 a year. So, to do that, you’d need a starting salary of $100000, fresh out of school. Do you really think you’re worth that much, Miri? Do you think most people are?

enough time off work to go get my fatigue diagnosed and properly treated, let alone to get regular physicals and screenings like you’re supposed to

Have you considered using some of your vacation time to do that? One of the things that I most hate is that professionals only work during, well, regular working hours. If this is that important, then maybe you need to use your vacation time to attend the appointments … or even take unpaid leave to do it.

Again, you’ve been working a year. You’ve just managed to get to the point where you’ll get full accrual. You aren’t going to be able to get everything yet, and this is a condition that even you have to admit is beyond the norm.

enough time off work to go to therapy

As is this. How regular will this be? How often do you need it? Is it possible to get a therapist that will offer you an appointment after 5 (the same thing applies to the doctor above)? If you wanted/needed this twice a week and it took a half a day each time, that would require you to have 52 sick/vacation days to do that, which is over ten weeks. That’s likely not going to happen, especially since it would leave you no time for everything else. Even a half day a month is a week just for that. How long do you think an employer can function if they have to give two weeks for regular therapy/check-ups, and then two weeks for people being unexpectedly sick, and then two to three weeks so that people can take vacations and time off when they want it?

a schedule that allows me to sleep from 2 AM to 10 AM rather than from 11 PM to 7 AM

So, if right now you end at 5, this means that you’d have to end work at 8 PM instead. What are you doing from 5 PM to 8 PM? And what about your fellow employees? Are they to work the same hours as you, or do they get to choose their own hours as well? So how would you handle someone like me, whose current preferred work time is 5 AM until 2 PM? And what about someone who wants to sleep until noon and work after that? They’d get in pretty much when I’m leaving. Hope we never actually have to work together. And there are also issues around when your customers and clients get in, and when the work needs to be done. Yes, it’s not good that you can’t get your preferred sleep schedule, but if everyone got that nothing could function. So, life’s like that.

a work schedule that allows for an adequate lunch break during which I can consume real, healthy food

What’s stopping you now? Likely, it’s that you’d have to go out somewhere to get it (or cook it yourself) and don’t have time in the half hour – an hour that you likely get. But if you work in an office, then you can do that whole “cook it ahead on the weekend thing” and have real, healthy food. Failing that, you can fall back on the traditional “brown bag” sandwiches which are, in fact, real and even healthy food. How much time do you need, and what are you doing in exchange? And what impact would the amount of time you need have on your job and your customers/clients?

enough money for a gym membership that includes a pool (swimming is my preferred indoor exercise)

So, if you really want to swim, maybe you should just register at a local pool or YM/YWCA and just swim. There may be other things that you need to do, but how many of them can you do outside of a gym … even if you invest in some cheap weights or exercise equipment? Do you really need a gym membership to stay in shape, and if you do can you get a gym membership for a place without a pool and then get into a pool for free/cheap? If you can’t, then maybe you need to go to an exercise that isn’t your preferred if you can’t afford it yet. There’s no reason to think that wanting a gym membership with a pool is something that indicates that your employer is not paying you what you’re worth, and a gym membership period is not — and need not be — a basic employee right. It’s an extra… and you seem to be treating it like a need. You need to get exercise; you don’t need to get that in a gym or a pool.

enough time off work for an occasional mental health day, like the day after I got into a horrible car crash and was too scared to drive to work but had to anyway

Once you get full accruals of sick and vacation time, you probably will, if you are willing to use your vacation time for those occasional issues. You don’t seem willing to do that, and so likely have even less time off than you really do if you limit vacation to only, well, vacation.

I used vacation once upon a time to take half days off so that I could take classes and finish another degree. I take vacation to get things done, and on my vacation always schedule the things that it’s hard to do during the work day done. Since you can’t take trips anyway, this really might reduce your stress level.

enough money to not have a six-figure student loan debt

Student loans are potentially a problem, yes. But an employer is not going to pay you enough in a year to eliminate that much debt, as that would require them to tack on $100,000 to your salary which, to get the other things, is already over $100,000. All you can do is work out a plan so that you can pay it off at a reasonable rate given the salary you have, and building a budget that lets you life comfortably within your means is generally hard work. But your employer didn’t really ask you to take on that much of a loan, and they aren’t obligated to pay it off … and they’ve already factored the worth of your education into your salary.

Ultimately, life’s like that. I obviously don’t think that everything is perfect, but a big part of getting out into “the real world” is understanding what you need, what you want, and working out plans so that you get everything you really need and as much of your wants as you can. As you work longer, in general you ought to be able to achieve more and more of these wants, as your salary increases and you build up some savings. If you aren’t saving right now, maybe you need to look to see if you are spending too much money. If you still can’t, then maybe you aren’t making enough. Is that because your employer pays unfairly, or because your work isn’t worth more than that? Settling this question is important to determine what your next step should be, if you are in that situation. But no, it’s not just that employers are treating you badly. You need to adjust, too.

Life’s like that.

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3 Responses to “Life’s Like That …”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see her answer the most important question: “What am I worth to my employer?”.

    Once upon a time (say early-mid C20), it was not uncommon for employees (mostly male) to join a company straight out of school and continue working there until they retired or died. The company would train them and take a level of responsibility for their well-being and for the family (because it was assumed that they would marry and support a wife and children).

    Things changed.

    For the last several decades, it’s more accurate to model work as a limited-duration contract: they given you money to obtain labour, until someone makes a better offer.

    Pick one or the other. Either the company mostly “owns” you, and therefore has a vested interest in your well-being, or it’s a contract of convenience, in which case you need to ask what you’re worth. In my experience, smart companies are very flexible towards valuable employees, because a perk here or there is way less expensive than replacing the employee. But giving some of your time to a company on your terms in order to fund your lifestyle isn’t a strong sell from their perspective.

    If you want good benefits, make yourself valuable, and find someone who needs that value.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      She doesn’t. I noted that here all of the reasons she gives for saying that she’s not being paid what she’s worth are all about what she wants and needs, and have nothing to do with what she’s actually worth to her employer.

      Truthfully, though, it’s a too way street when it comes to loyalty; employees would be more loyal to employers if they treated them more like part of the company rather than as people on contract, but employers are discouraged from doing that because they might invest a lot of resources in an employee only to have them jump to another company as soon as they offer them a little more money. For me, my plan is to stay at my current company until I either retire or they pay me to go away [grin].

      Yeah, and little perks can be incredibly cost effective in keeping employees, as people may well value them out of proportion to how much they actually cost you. So being flexible in order to accommodate different lifestyles can indeed go a long way towards retaining good employees. But it still has to fit in with what the employer needs from you, and so if you want some flexibility you need to ask what the impact on the employer would be before you ask for it … and before you complain that your employer doesn’t give it to you.

  2. Adversarial Negotiation | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] at Brute Reason inspired is about negotiation, and follows on from the idea that I talked about last time, which is that she wants more money and different hours, but makes no attempt to discuss or point […]

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