Lessons learned from a salary job

I took a salary job in 2020. Huge mistake. Up to that point in my life I had always been an hourly employee (with the exception of a graduate teaching assistant and paperboy, the latter of which was pay-per-house). Working salary for one year taught me a valuable lesson: I want to know what my time is worth. 

Having now worked both management as both an hourly and salaried rate, I am in a position to analyze them. Someday, perhaps, I might maybe consider re-entering the traditional workforce. In the future, I would seek out hourly pay. Here are some reasons: 

Hourly pay disincentivizes employer abuse. Yes, I know we usually frame it the other way around: what about the employee who is gabbing at the watercooler—or more, timely, what about the employee whiling away their shift by scrolling through Facebook? Companies have termed it “time theft.” Well, that misdirected employee is not the one driving up the cost of goods, not really, not actually. Bad management is doing that and the employee is being scapegoated. 

Here’s a not-far-fetched scenario: An employee is allotted 40 hours per week and then given overtime after 40 hours. Reaching overtime costs the company money. The overtime system also forces the manager to manage them. None of this “we hire people to direct themselves” bullshit. If that is the company model, cut out middle management and just have a bunch of go-getters. A good manager will fill 40 hours of work per week and know there is an economic consequence for overburdening an employee. Or, worse yet, it avoids the not-giving-an-employee-any-work-and-then-dumping-it-on-them-at-the-end-of-the-week/month model. (Take note, if a manager does this, they do not know how to manage their time and should not be expected to manage others’ time.) In short, not only does salary allow employee abuse, it leaves a lot of leeway for bad time management by upper management without a clear way to trace accountability. 

You earn more when you do less in a salary job. This point isn’t up for debate. It’s math: If I am paid $10,000 per month salary and I only work 100 hours that month, I make $100/hour. If I work a standard work month of 170 hours, then I have lowered my hourly pay to $58/hour. Salary, coupled with the capitalist ideals of increasing profit margins for one’s self, incentivizes cutting corners, laziness, and maximizing personal gains. 

Salary draws a porous boundary between your personal and professional life. I’ve blogged about this topic before, namely the expectations on social media. As a salaried employee I had to carry a company phone, receive calls on the weekend (mostly inane shit too), and respond to emails at all hours of the day. While at work, the expectation is that I not receive personal calls or take care of personal matters. It’s a time creep that invades your personal life and again cuts down on what you make per hour. In other words, salary means that you don’t have a private life anymore. Your company owns your time. Ironically, the more time they take, the less that time is worth to them. (See previous point.) 

At this point I can already hear the blowback from my statements: Ryan, do you really think that hourly is so great? No, I don’t. There’s a lot of issues with hourly too. But at least I know what my time is worth. There’s a boundary. Contract work with clear terms might be closer to ideal, though negotiating a contract is also time consuming (and sometimes a loss of revenue as well). What I am advocating for is clear expectations, for employers to respect an employee’s time off. 

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