Do you know what you are worth?

If you are like the majority of working people out there, you willingly exchange a significant portion of your labour and talents for the ongoing promise of some kind of stability, predictability, and financial remuneration. You know this as your employment contract. Do you ever wonder how much you are worth? Maybe you think that you should be paid more for your efforts?

The cold hard truth – at least in the private sector — is that you are worth more than you are making. And if that is not true over some reasonable length of time then you are not affordable and your current job is in serious jeopardy.  A business exists to make money, and if they can’t make more money utilizing your talents than they are paying you, then the equation doesn’t work, and so neither will you. At least not there.

Company managers often state that “people are our most important assets” and then go on to link that to statements about how much they care for and support and develop their employees. And of course, we want to believe we will be well treated, so we buy-in to this particular idea quite easily. However, it seems to me that they are only really sharing with us the first part of an entirely different statement: “People are our most important assets, until they become liabilities. When that occurs, we must reduce our liabilities as quickly as possible to help secure the financial position of the company.” And of course, since your employment contract is of an indeterminate length, it – like most other legal contracts – can be terminated by either party within a stated notice period.

How does one go from being an “asset” to a “liability”? There are any number of ways, including skills that are no longer current, being a part of a business we no longer wish to compete in, or the outsourcing of a previous inhouse function. It is really a long list, and it is the very nature of how businesses evolve.

Unfortunately, company managers don’t have much incentive to let you know in advance when you — and quite possibly a number of your coworkers — are being considered for the reclassification from “asset” to “liability”. They typically only share that information with you after the decisions have been made. It is delivered in a mostly one-way conversation that usually starts with “…due to financial challenges, we’ve had to make some very difficult decisions that unfortunately impact your future with this company…”.

Now, I’m not arguing that this treatment is wrong. Businesses must actively manage their costs and in many companies the employee base represents the biggest cost contributor. Unfortunately when managers continually articulate only the first part of the asset/liability phrase to their employee base, they do tend to misrepresent the reality of the “job security” that is actually on offer.

So, what can one do about it? The key is to know what you are worth.

To know what you are worth, you need to be able to translate your daily and weekly efforts into terms the business understands and can readily value. The more directly you are able to pin your efforts to activities that the company acknowledges as “value-adding activities” the more leverage you have in driving up your perceived value to the organization. And when the organization understands that value, you generally get to stay in the “asset” column when the shuffling starts.

However, the above “translation” is not always straightforward, and becomes a little more daunting when you discover that in many organizations, up to 70% of activities are in fact “non-value adding” activities. And if that is where your efforts are generally focused, you’ve most likely got a rocky road ahead of you…

Let’s say, for instance, that a large part of your job entails collecting data from various sources, consolidating and analyzing it, and packaging it up for downstream consumption. So far, so good. Now, here’s the kicker — do you know who actually reads your report? It’s not good enough to just know that the 12 people on the TO: list and the 43 people on the CC: list receive your report. Who actually reads it and makes decisions based on it? If your report didn’t come out for a week, would anything fall apart in the business? Would anyone notice? Would anyone (other than the manager making you publish the report) really care?

If the answer is that you don’t know the answer because you are so busy doing the work that you don’t know how it is being used, then that should put up a great big yellow “caution” flag — if you don’t really know how your work is being used, you can’t know if or how it contributes to the company’s wellbeing. And if you don’t know that, then it is pretty hard to figure out where in that “asset/liability” spectrum you are, and which way the tide is carrying you.

So — what was the project you were working on before you stopped to read this? Do you really know how that specific project fits into the current health of the company, and if and how your work is going to be used once you “throw it over the wall”? Your “job security” may just depending on knowing those answers.

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