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Work vs Value: Pt. 1


Let’s just cut to the chase: you get paid for the amount of value you add, not the amount of work you do.

(Erm… almost. Check part 2 of this series for a few caveats!)

Okay, now let’s take it a few steps back.

I like to think that I work fairly hard. I mean, I often work more than the required 8 hours per day, and I’m usually juggling several large projects at once. At the same time, my job isn’t exactly physically demanding. Since I’m a remote employee, I really only need to walk back and forth between the kitchen and bedroom office a few times each day. So, by that measure, I’m hardly working at all.

Yet, my colleagues and I have architected and delivered a collection of technologies that is currently generating well over $50,000 in gross revenue per day for our employer. These technologies operate fairly autonomously and require very little maintenance. Hence, they will continue generating gross revenue for our employer even without continual work from the engineering teams. So, I think it’s safe to say that my colleagues and I have provided a lot of value for our employer, even if we haven’t done a lot of physical work.

Alright — now let’s get slightly political.

In the United States, most people are currently fixated on work rather than value. That is, there is a prevailing notion that a person’s income should somehow be proportional to the amount of work that they do. Hence, they become incredulous when they learn that somebody like LeBron James is earning over $35,000,000 per year. “Sure!” they say, “Playing basketball at a professional level might be hard work; but, it certainly isn’t 500 times as much work as I’m doing! He should only be earning around $120,000 — tops!”

Wrong. LeBron James is worth $35,000,000 because of the amount of value that he generates. His stellar performance bolsters ticket sales, sports network viewership, advertising, merchandise sales, and many other things. These secondary and tertiary effects yield jobs and thus employment for thousands of individuals.

Can the same really be said for the hard-working cashier at Walmart? Nope.

Ouch. That sounded harsh, but it’s true. Being a cashier at a Walmart simply isn’t a high-value job. Likewise, the wage for this job is a reflection of its value to the employer. It has very little to do with the amount of work done by the employee. As the business and related technologies continue to evolve, the value of the job continues to decline, and it eventually dips below the cost of living. At this point, it is no longer sustainable for an employer to continue hiring for this role. Therefore, the job is eliminated.

In short, clamoring for politicians to “bring back jobs” is asinine. The jobs disappeared from this country because they simply did not yield enough value anymore. Rather than clinging to the low-value jobs of the past, we need to navigate towards the high-value jobs of the future.

Of course, these high-value jobs won’t materialize out of thin air. At a cultural level, we need to begin pursuing value instead of work. What does that mean, exactly?

It means that I have a topic for a future blog post. Boom!