lolly pop

I had dinner with some friends at my house last Friday. We had the usual fun, and a couple glasses of wine into the night, we’re all rather chatty. At one point, we hit on work related topics – a different kind of fun, which I usually try not to get drawn into at friendly dinner parties. As you know from my last post (you have read everything at this blog already, right?), I’m giving my opinion more and more on these topics because I’m getting more and more tired of hearing similar stories and letting certain beliefs stand. We hit on the topic of paying dues specifically, and my view is much along the line of Penelope Trunk’s, “Paying dues is so old school.” I’d actually go a step further, though, and say that paying your dues is you getting the wrong end of the stick.

There are a number of cultural and environmental reasons why this change is happening, and is inevitable for most industries. Inevitable or not, though, it’s an insincere power structure that provides no real long term benefit to organizations that facilitate such social structures. The concept of paying your dues is a waste of resources that establishes unfriendly, boring, and corrosive interactions between workers.

As I realize now after Friday night’s discussion, paying your dues can mean a few different things to different people, so any productive debate should probably define what it means to pay your dues. It can range from the small, doing some dull work while you get broken into a job, to doing a lifetime of dirty work to get that one job you really want like head of a department or CEO for you big thinkers. Let me be clear that: I’m not talking about the first with my complaints. When you come out of school, move to a new company, or just face any kind of change, there are things you may just have to do in order to grasp enough of the business to be productive. That’s fine, inevitable in most cases, and most importantly for both the individual and the business, short term, and so hopefully less of a pain because of all the other exciting changes going on.

What I’m really against is the perception of paying dues for two or three years at a new place. Sometimes this can strike along greek fraternity like lines of simple institutionalized abuse of power of those below you, but that’s more of the extreme case. The more common situation is a hiring manager assuming that you won’t be worth your salt until you’ve done two years of grunt work. Only then will you have proven yourself, showing that you’re ready for some of the responsibility discussed in the first interview. This is very common, and if you already think I’m off on the wrong foot, then you’re not alone.

The problem is two fold from the manager’s point of view, poor valuation skills of what you’re getting and poor valuation skills of what you’re giving. Now, I will admit that you’ll find plenty of brats that expect more than they deserve, especially after the dot com bubble years, but that’s more the extreme now that the bubble has burst. With the growth of the internet and a growing openness on work related topics in our culture, we’re getting workers who are better educated on their options in the workforce and their own value within the workforce. Additionally, work has become more flexible and mobile, and in the US the shrinking workforce gives those left more leverage than years before.

This leads to the clash of opinions that were thrown around at dinner on Friday. From the company’s position, they’re used to greater leverage and new demands from workers seem abrupt and uncalled for. The change that has been on the horizon, coming closer each day, came slow enough that many are only noticing it now. This natural change is causing a new lack in valuation skills by managers, and with more empowered workers, new demands and work requirements can easily feel like absurd requests. “Where do people get off expecting four to five weeks of vacation from day one?”

However, even with this natural change in environment where you can’t expect employees to stick around for 10 years, if even a full two years now, hiring managers need better and more creative offerings to attract the right employees. The goal isn’t to get an apprentice that you can bring up to speed after years of hard labor, but instead putting a new hire to use as quickly as possible. It’s like going from elementary school class work to college class work. You get assignments, big ones in some cases, from day one. There’s little or no refresher work, nor easing back into school after months of summer. The reality of a ticking clock and required course work isn’t waiting for you to catch up. The same is true for any competitive, well run company, and you probably needed the person last year anyway.

Your goal after getting a person onto the job is giving them as much responsibility as possible in the shortest amount of time. You can’t wait two or three years to see if they’re good enough, and people of any age don’t want to come in and just sit around doing dull work or the work no one else wants to do. So, if you’re getting some uncommon job requests during an interview, don’t be put off. Both parties want a fair value, which is always changing, and new workers want their fair value from day 1, not the promise of fair value on day 730.

Paying dues is the wrong end of the stick for both parties. If you feel like you have to pay due, then maybe you need to go someplace else. If you feel like you need others to pay their dues, then maybe you need to re-educate and pay your own dues. What’s best for both parties is quick productivity that helps each grow. Companies are losing their long held safety net of under appreciating employees by making them pay dues for more reasons than bratty gen X and gen Y employees. Upcoming generations are products of those before them, and their independent, educated, and sure sense of themselves comes from those before them. And much the same as those before, we thirst for the satisfaction of proving our worth. However, that means starting at day 1, not day 730.