Are You Paying Your Employees to Think?
A manager once said to me that if you want anemployee to think, you have to pay him or her at least $20.00 an hour. It’s an interesting statement, because it presupposes that (a) bosses want employees who think and (b) there’s an “employee price point” at which thinking is probably not to be expected or perhaps is not even desired.
Let’s explore both of these presuppositions for a bit.
Not too long ago, I briefly toyed with the idea of accepting a part-time administrative job at a local nonprofit for the stunningly unattractive sum of $15.00 per hour.
Why? Well, I wanted to learn a new industry, the nonprofit benefits my neighborhood and a constituency I care about, and I could have found use for the extra cash. Besides, money isn’t everything, right?
So I asked a friend what he thought, and his answer kind of surprised me.
He said, “I think that within two weeks you’ll realize the job pays $15 an hour for a reason, and you’ll be disappointed with how little your opinion matters.”
“Sometimes the point of a low-paying job is to get someone who won’t think, who won’t challenge management,” he said.
And in a crazy kind of way, it occurred to me that my friend might be right.
“I Don’t Pay You to Think”
We’ve all heard this expression—some of us to our faces. What would cause a manager to say this, and what does it mean? It sounds kind of stupid. Why hire an employee not to think?
In “Five Things Only Weak Managers Say,” Liz Ryan writes: “I don’t pay you to think” is code for “Don’t tell me your ideas, because I get easily threatened, and when someone says something smart that I didn’t think of on my own, I feel bad about myself.”
Frankly, I’m of the opinion that any manager who’d say “I don’t pay you to think” probably has nowhere near the self-insight required to speak in code, but I agree that the leader will often dismiss the opinions of others. When a manager declares “thinking” as outside of an employee’s job description, he or she is making it clear that control is desired above all else, and that includes efficiency and productivity.
Money Talks in More Ways Than One
But back to my friend’s point. I’d assumed the nonprofit in question was paying only what it could afford and that if it were lucky enough to find steak at hamburger prices it would have the good sense to recognize it was getting steak and act accordingly.
But is it possible I’d read the situation all wrong? Could it be that what (little) someone is paid provides a kind of license to some managers to dismiss that employee’s ideas as credible or even worthy of attention? And further, is it possible that some positions are deliberately priced so as not to attract employees likely to put their thinking caps on before heading out to work?
It hardly makes sense, and I’d have to believe these decisions are being made on an unconscious level if at all, but I’ll say this—the first time I asked the manager of that nonprofit a question she apparently found challenging, she got all huffy, as though she were surprised I was addressing her as an intellectual equal. I took that as my cue to say “Thanks but no thanks” to her offer.
Does Low Wages Equal Low Expectations?
So what’s your take? Is there a minimum wage an employer should expect to pay if it wants engaged workers who actually think?
And more to the point—are you making the mistake of holding low expectations about workers earning low wages?
Put another way, if an employee on the modest end of the pay scale offers an idea, are you willing to listen? Or are you more likely to discount feedback from someone who “isn’t paid to think?”
Do you believe your team has something good to say? There are basic principles involved in leadership development and everyone plays a key role. The effects of team dynamics are often very complex, and the Omnia Team Dynamics Report or Consult can help you to understand and manage your team better by showing you exactly where their strengths and challenges lie.
Are You Paying Your Employees to Think?