A couple months ago, the private company I work for was acquired by a larger public company. So far there haven't been many changes, but the ones that have been made have all been for the worse. This includes:
- Reduction in benefits
- More stringent time reporting
- Canceled projects and expenses
Most of these I can live with (at least for the time being), but there was one in particular that really bothered me: the pay system.
January 1st, 2014 marked the official switchover from the old compensation system to the new one. We went from a semi-monthly schedule (24 paychecks per year) to a bi-weekly schedule (26 paychecks per year).
Most people would probably think, "We're getting paid more often, which is better", and I would have agreed with them. The difference was innocuous to me at first. It wasn't until I received an email from my manager yesterday that the difference began to sink in.
Hey guys, just for clarity on the pay check coming next Friday (1/10). The pay period range will be from 1/1-1/10; Which is 56 REG hours and 8 HOL. The next check on 1/24 will be more of the ‘norm’ with 80 hrs per pay period.
Just wanted you to be prepared with your first check to know that it won’t seem as bountiful as normal with the switching of pay frequencies.
Wait, what? For some reason, this struck a nerve with me, so I replied with the following:
So our pay will now be calculated on a per-hour basis? I thought the idea of a salary was that you get paid an annual target divided into equal amounts per pay interval.
Unless we’re no longer salaried, I would expect all 26 paychecks of 2014 to be the same amount (assuming no increase or decrease in pay). Is this not the case?
Before I could receive an answer in email form, our team had a daily sync meeting and my manager discussed this with the team, where I was the only one who didn't seem to "get it".
But it's not that I don't get it. I understand what they're doing and why they're doing it - they don't want to pay for "unearned" work/time, so they pro-rate the first paycheck down to the number of hours you have worked so far - but the thing that bugs me is the principle behind it.
Salaried workers are not paid for their time; they are paid for their work.
This means that, as a salaried employee, I am given a job to do, and I get paid to do that job regardless of how many hours it takes. Sometimes the job requires more than 40 hours a week; sometimes it requires less. But the pay doesn't change. Pay is irrespective of "time worked". This fits well with a semi-monthly payment system, since not all pay periods cover the same amount of time.
Conversely, the implications of the bi-weekly payment system mean that I'm no longer paid to do a job, I'm paid to put in my hours. And I only get paid for the number of hours I put in.
There's nothing wrong with that, but it's not the same thing as getting a salary. When I started here in 2007, I accepted an offer of employment that included a certain dollar amount per calendar year for doing a certain job. Now, in 2014, that has changed to a certain dollar amount per hour, regardless of the job.
Goodbye salary, hello hourly
So, in actuality, I'm no longer a salaried employee. If I was salaried, my first paycheck would equal every other paycheck, assuming the salary doesn't change. If I'm just going to get paid for the number of hours I work, then I'm not salaried, I'm hourly.
Ask a salaried employee what she made in 2013, and she'd tell you right away - whatever is her salary. Ask an hourly employee what she made in 2013, and she'd say "depends on the number of hours I worked". To a salaried employee, one year means one calendar year. To an hourly employee, one year means 52 weeks (or 2080 hours), regardless of the calendar.
Maybe I'm just picking nits here, and maybe an hourly/weekly pay system is a more "fair" one, but no one cared how many hours I put in before - it simply didn't matter. Now it's the only thing that matters. That's what bothers me.
The reason this bothers me so much is that it means, consciously or not, my employer now views me differently.
Before, when I was salaried, I was viewed as a person uniquely talented and fitted for a role that is valuable and necessary to the company - something qualitative - and I was paid for fulfilling that role to the best of my abilities. The amount of my paycheck didn't vary because the value I brought to the company didn't vary.
Now, I must be viewed more as a machine that produces a certain amount of work based on the number of hours that I put in - something quantitative. It no longer matters how well I do my job, it only matters that I do something for a certain amount of time.
My compensation used to be measured by the quality of my work; now it's measured by the quantity of my hours.
So if my employer now views me differently and only cares about the number of hours I work, perhaps I should be hired as a consultant rather than an employee. If it's all business and quality doesn't factor in, then quote me an offer by the hour, and I'll tell you if it's worth my time. Heck, I could probably make 3-4 times as much doing my job as a consultant.
Otherwise, pay me a salary and forget about the hours. If I'm not bringing the value you expect, or if I don't deliver on the quality you desire, then reduce my pay or fire me. That's what it means to be salaried.
So forget the Happy New Year part - 2014 doesn't start for us weekly-paid workers until Monday 1/6 or Monday 1/13. That's when the 52-week countdown begins.
P.S. It occurs to me that employers who only pay per-hour may do so because they have no idea how to measure quality of work (which, granted, is largely subjective) or just don't want to bother with it. After all, it's easier just to track hours worked and pay accordingly, right? But this should probably be a red flag for a tech company that supposedly employs "thought-workers". Hmm...