In 2014, a long time before people were debating the point of hard work on Twitter, a certain James Surowiecki published a piece in The New Yorker. Titled The Cult of Overwork, the article opened with a commentary on the work culture at Wall Street banks, where young analysts would work fifteen hours a day in exchange for reasonably high-paying jobs and a shot at obscene wealth.
It made me wonder about how we ascribe value to work, and the associated cost – to both company and individual. In most cases, our identity is closely tied to the work we do. So how do we ascribe value from it?
In this article, I’d like to address two conflicting concepts, often at odds against each other.
In the red corner – representing the employers’ interests, obscure and mysterious: The Cost to Company.
The CTC is often the best metric for our work. And yet, it is not determined by us. While some progressive companies have been simplifying it by disclosing salaries, it is undeniable that the market sets the range.
You, the employee, might know how much you’re worth, but it is nowhere as data-driven and defined as the number by the company. This asymmetry, coupled with the supply-demand gap in jobs and job seekers, creates a clear advantage for the company.
Warts and all, it is still the closest we have to an impartial fair-pay system. However, this isn’t about the CTC – it’s about whether it is truly worth it.
In the blue corner – representing the employee’s outlook towards work, mostly subjective: The Cost to Individual.
Consider Mr X and Ms Chief, two individuals of similar talent who’ve landed similar jobs with similar titles.
- Mr X’s proximity to the office allows them to walk, but Ms Chief takes an hour-long bus ride.
- The former works across time zones and stays late, whereas the latter works with the Indian team and can head back home by 5:00 p.m.
- Due to the erratic timings, X hasn’t been able to meet his friends in a while, but might travel abroad soon. Ms Chief has enrolled in a not-very-inexpensive weekend course that might fast-track her promotion at work.
Observe how the costs for both individuals at equitable positions are vastly different. Some are tangible and measurable, and some just aren’t.
And that’s our point – your measure is not limited to your cost to company. Humans, in the spirit of professional growth, often forego important things, like health, time with family, and holidays. Through a complex web of denial and justifications, they conclude that the sacrifice is worth it – for some likely greater good.
As we weather an employer’s market, employees need to start making more measured calculations to determine what job is worth it and by how much.
- Is the job that pays 1.25x the other worth losing time with friends? Would you take it if it paid 3x?
- Would you take a night shift if it came with the prospect of moving abroad in a few years?
- Is a job that gives you healthy food and gym benefits better than one that pays you a little more but expects you to work long hours?
Simply put, is the Cost to Company worth the Cost to Individual?
Ultimately, the best compromise is one where both parties are unhappy.
Typically the CTC would be lower than the CTI, which means the company is getting the better end of the bargain. When the imbalance is too high (or even perceived to be that way), it leads to non-ideal outcomes like general disgruntlement or attrition.
However, there are also cases where the CTI might be higher, resulting in employees concluding that they’re being paid more than fairly for the effort and cost they are bearing.
Companies could benefit from encouraging conversations around CTI. But of course, it’ll mean treating employees like individuals with unique needs, not resources that fit a specific role and profile. It also means employees have to take matters into their own hands and account for CTI, when they assess their CTC.