Just Pay People for Their Work

There’s been much talk about the new department of labor rule that will require overtime pay for salaried employees making less than $47,476 (the current threshold is $23,660) starting December 1, 2016.  This threshold will now update every three years.  This has led to some typical hand-wringing about whether this will help these employees (it’s a big raise since this ceiling hasn’t been raised in 12 years and no one thought of putting in a cost of living increase) or hinder them (employers will cut out the positions).

Others are really concerned that this will hurt opportunities for younger professionals.  The logic is that if new salaried employees aren’t working 12-14 hour days that they can’t show the boss how much work drive they have.  Or, they’ll miss out on those only-in-the-movies serendipitous meetings with the El Jefe that will put their careers on the fast track.  One executive is quoted as saying, “You wan to bump into the boss at 8 o’clock at night.”

I’ve got an idea. Why doesn’t everyone just leave the office by, oh, 7 o’clock?  OK, this idea is somewhat outdated since even if everyone was at home, they would still be doing work on their phones.  But, at least they are at home.

Another school of thought says that with fewer unpaid hours, “…they will not receive sufficient career development or see timely advancement and/or promotions.”  This is hogwash.  Career development benefits the company and the employee and if everyone is working under the same rules employers will make the time.

Let’s be clear: The employers that work professional people this much and don’t pay overtime are no different than sweatshop operators, even if they think people are putting in the extra hours “of their own volition” (read: they had better or they will get fired)..  They want free labor and are upset that they are going to lose it.

I do get the “this is how we build a hard working culture” argument to a point.  Those that put in the extra hours (and, presumably, the highest results) get rewarded.  This is tied into, “Well, this is how I got to where I am” logic.  Where the problem lies is that it perpetuates promoting a homogeneous group of people (those with a poor worklife balance), which limits you ability to grow the best talent.  Not everyone who puts in a lot of hours is a high performer (don’t confuse activity with results).

If we are to value work in a capitalist economy we have to pay for it.  Convincing people to work overtime for nothing is coercion, plain and simple.  That breeds a culture of fear and taking advantage of others.  Are those your company’s values?

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