Reduced hours not reduced value

When the lockdown started lots of organisations rapidly changed their working practices, and charities were no different. Charities recognised that the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic crash was going to drastically affect their ability to help people and to fundraise. The need for many charity’s services increased at the same time the money needed to pay for those services decreased. Charities responded to the massively reduced income by attempting to reduce one of their largest expenditures; salary. Some people were put on furlough, and others were offered reduced working hours along with the reduced salary to match.

Those who went to reduced working hours, of which I was one, accepted working four days a week for eighty percent of the original salary. And for a while I tried to stick to that. I’m not sure why, probably because that is what I was told to do and I hadn’t yet questioned the logic. And the logic is interesting, because at face value it makes perfect logical sense. You are going to be paid 20% less so you should work 20% fewer hours. But only makes sense if you are using an industrial mindset that associates value to time spent doing something. As if human beings are machines with a hours counter that clicks on as we are busy working and stops when we stop. This carries the underlying assumption that every hour has the same value as any other hour. But humans aren’t machines, and valuing human being by the time they spend doing something isn’t the only logic that can be applied here.

Instead of rewarding someone for the hours they spend at work, we could reward them because they bring value to the organisation. Not, and this is an important point, for the individual units of value they deliver, but more generally because them being a part of the organisation makes it better in all of the hard-to-define ways that people do. People bring ideas, and personalities, and jokes, and smiles, and a listening ear, and knowledge, and experience, and something they read in a book, and their ability to form relationships with other people that make it possible to communicate and collaborate. These are the things we actually value in people so these are the things our organisations should pay for. Divorcing units of work (be that hours spent or widgets made) from reward confines the industrial mindset to a previous point in history where perhaps it made sense for a little while, and elevates new thinking about rewarding people in ways that better fits the knowledge economy that we all increasingly operating in.

The charity I work for is a knowledge organisation. It takes the knowledge that one group of people hold and gives it to another group of people for them to utilise to improve their opportunities and make their lives better. We’re not a service organisation or a product organisation, they are just the means with which we deliver that knowledge. Tesco doesn’t call itself a van company just because that’s the means with which they deliver groceries. In the reward-by-hours-spent way, its easy to see why so few people spend time learning and developing their knowledge, because why would they if they are being paid for their time rather than their knowledge. But in the reward-by-value future, the knowledge worker is going to be measured by the all the characteristics that they hold as a person that are worth something to the organisation, and being able to learn new things will be an important one. Charities understanding that they are knowledge organisations might be the first step to creating a platform business model for charities, but that’s a thought for another time. For now, we’re talking about how we should break the connection between work and reward and instead establish a connection between reward and human characteristics like knowledge, ethics, personality, etc.

Personally, separating the reward I receive from the time I spend is easy, but that’s because I’m a bit weird. I am intrinsically motivated to achieve things, hopefully good things. I am not motivated by extrinsic things like pay or peer pressure. I take the pay because I need it to live, but if I didn’t I would do the work for free. I get to spend my time thinking about how to solve complex problems for people that need help. I think that is awesome.

So, if the reward I get from the organisation I work for is no longer tied to the time I spend doing that work, either because of my particular motivations or because in some alternate-reality organisations see sense in what I’m suggesting, then working reduced hours for reduced salary makes no sense. I should continue to contribute the value I can to the organisation, which will be different each day and will change over time as I learn more, and the organisation will continue to reward me based on the overall value I bring and with the monetary amount that equals being based on the realities of the situation we find ourselves in. I’m not suggesting I should be paid the full amount of my salary just because I am contributing my full value. I want my reduced salary to be part of the greater good, following from the many examples of solidarity we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, if we all take a hit we can all get through it together.