It’s Time To Fix Low Pay in a Merciless Workforce

Too many people are paid cents for dollars-worth of work. How can this change?

Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash

I live in Los Angeles, the film Mecca of the world. It’s also the home base for some of the richest and cheapest individuals in America.

If you’re an active Twitter user, you may have noticed the hashtag #PayUpHollywood circulating your newsfeed. Earlier this month, Hollywood Assistants started sharing candid accounts of their earnings from working 50, 60, and sometimes 70+ hours a week.

From a strictly financial point-of-view, the stories are disgusting. We’re talking about human beings making $14–16 per hour to do the jobs of three people, while also living in one of the most expensive cities in the country.

If a studio can lose $75 million dollars on a movie that probably shouldn’t have been made in the first place, it can certainly stand to pay its employees more.

But it doesn’t want to. And although the greedy pockets of bigwig Hollywood moguls have sparked outrage on social media, the fact is — this problem isn’t quarantined to La La Land.

All around the country, people face juvenile salaries for big league work. Companies ask employees to make diamonds out of popcorn kernels. Salaries are padded with empty promises of experience, networking opportunities, and advancement.

Fact №1: Networking is important.

Fact №2: The internet exists.

Fact №3: Any person with a laptop, fingers, minimal research capabilities, and a splash of motivation can figure out ways to network without succumbing to a lifeless salary.

Moreover, low paying jobs with non-quantifiable incentives don’t just burden employees day-to-day physical survival.

They are mentally crippling.

A meager-salaried job feeds off a person’s industry ambitions and, in turn, serves as a troubling adhesive for maintaining the status quo. On an individual level, it can destroy that person’s motivation, self-confidence, and ambition.

Finances are stressful. In a perfect world, money wouldn’t matter, but this world is far from perfect. Money matters a lot, and making little to none of it (while busting your butt in the process) is abhorrent.

I’m a listener of Craig Mazin and John August’s podcast, Scriptnotes. Recently (in response to the Hollywood assistant news), someone wrote in who told a story about once having an HR rep inform her that a low paying job motivated an employee to work harder.

What kind of reverse psychology did this HR “guru” study?

If anything, low paying jobs do the complete opposite. Why work hard when there’s no tangible benefit? Like it or not, we are a species that thrives off reward. In high school and college, that reward is good grades.

In the workforce, that reward is money.

“You are valued. Here’s $14 per hour and no benefits as you live in a city where you might be able to find a place with random roommates for $1200 per month.”

“You are valued. Here’s a starting salary of $50,000 with bi-annual performance reviews, benefits, and unlimited PTO. Welcome aboard.”

Which one of these sounds better?

As a Master’s degree recipient, I’ve written before about the merit of experience before a Master’s.

But as more and more companies deem expensive programs and degrees necessary in order to nab an entry-level position, we must forgo the “totem pole mentality” and the quasi-traditional belief that everyone must start from the ground up.

Not true.

In fact, it’s the reason that many people are converting to the lifestyles of freelancers and entrepreneurs. At least when self-employed, your pay is contingent upon your work. Your motivation and confidence comes from you.

You are the one and only breadwinner, and if you can handle the constant grind, it makes sense to give it a try and disallow others to devalue your skills and experiences.

So, for companies that do provide measly salaries for entry-level employees, what’s the fix?

The short (but complicated) answer? A complete mindset shift. This would require companies to:

1. Take an ax to the totem pole

No, the recent college graduate doesn’t need to be CEO of the company by the end of his probationary period. However, if he proves capable, efficient, and talented, why must he play bumper cars in the basement for the next five years?

2. Understand the tangible benefit of more pay

I said it before and I’ll say it again — we thrive off authentic benefits. One of those is money because we need money to survive in this country. In under-compensating its employees, a company is basically saying “We don’t value your work.”

In regards to my Hollywood example, it’s even worse because of the overwhelming supply of people looking for their “big break.” Big studios employ the easy (and heartless) response of: “Fine. Don’t want to work? Bye. We’ll grab the next person in line.”

3. Value soft skills

Too often, soft skills are discarded as elementary or too general. It’s understandable that anyone can throw a soft skill on their resume. However, not everyone can exemplify these skills on the job.

Not everyone is a good leader. Not everyone is capable of adapting to a chaotic environment. Not everyone is organized.

Companies should value people who can practice what they preach (or, what they put on their resume).

4. Care

The simplest and most difficult. A pillar of the human condition. There are thousands of companies that treat their employees with the respect they deserve, and then there are those that don’t.

Employees are human beings with lives outside of work. They’re people with goals and ambitions who deserve to be valued and appreciated unless their actions dictate otherwise.

And future leaders — future change agents — don’t come from spinning around in circles for years at $15.25 per hour.

We are on the cusp of an uprising here in Hollywood. People are angry.

It’s only a matter of time before this anger spreads across the workforce, permeating job sectors and forcing employers who routinely devalue employees to change their ways.

Thanks for reading! Learn more about me and my work at http://joewolffwrites.com.

Author. Former educator. Free short story collection giver: https://www.joewolffwrites.com/

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