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Saturday, 24 January 2015

What’s your price

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It’s a cynical old saying that we all have our price. It is not one we care to use about ourselves though. Yet we do have our price because that’s partly why millions of crap jobs exist. The industrial revolution was built on some exceedingly crap jobs, on people with a price low enough for dark satanic mills to be profitable.

Perhaps there is also a variant of the Peter Principle where people aim to rise through an organisation until they reach their perceived value to the great wide world. The incompetence arises when a chap’s notion of personal value is rather higher than it should be.

In the public sector a decent salary, good working conditions and an index-linked pension have bought a significant degree of mildly cantankerous but essentially solid loyalty from millions. I saw it and was part of it.

A complicating factor is that people seem to have widely different notions of how much is enough for a satisfactory lifestyle. These notions do not seem to be strongly correlated with ability either. During my career I came across and heard about a number of able people who appeared to be quite happy with less than I’d be happy with, or less than I’d be happy with if I’d had their ability.

A good example of this was a guy my father told me about. He worked for Rolls Royce in the sixties, a heavily-bearded computer whizz who came to work on an old motorcycle and sidecar and ambled around the corporate corridors wearing sandals and no socks. All he did was solve computer problems but that was enough.

Rolls Royce was smart enough to make him into a one man department but never paid him anywhere what they would have given if he’d ever demanded it. Sublimely content with what he had, he just solved problems and took his family for jaunts in the motorbike and sidecar.

Modern bureaucracies seem to prefer a kind of grudging loyalty to unconventional talents. They buy it with money and security and certainly don’t want talented beardies with no socks wandering around the place. The closest they come to innovation is through their PR people – who also have their price.

5 comments:

Sam Vega said...

Most big organisations are haunted by the memory of mavericks and irreverent oddballs who were tolerated because they were superb at what they did. Now, though, people get on by being grey and one-dimensional, and everyone has to pay lip-service to understood codes, or else remain silent.

This might be because our overall decline and frequent recessions means that people play safe. A bit like those penguins that push to get to the centre of the group in the antarctic blizzards. Nobody wants to be an outlier when the cold winds are blowing. But I think the bosses and HR Departments like it that way. If you admit that there are differences, then you have to pay people differently. And that costs more, and makes work for them. Far easier to treat your workforce like a homogeneous grey mass.

Roger said...

When I was small I saw an old ploughman plus horses. A really horrible cold hard and mucky job, anything better than that and no surprise many left the land for a nice warm satanic mill. He didn't reckon much to it either.

A factory owner I knew told me that of his workforce the less bright men earned the most - lots of overtime whilst the brighter ones preferred to knock off and presumably enjoy something else.

Demetrius said...

My father in law was working for Rolls Royce at Crewe in the first half of the 1940's, but then left to run his own business. I suspect your IT chap would have got short shrift then.

Demetrius said...

Bonsall etc. If the T'owd man was one of the Bagshaw family then the answer is yes.

A K Haart said...

Sam - I agree and in the end the workforce will become a homogeneous grey mass. In many areas that won't matter until things go awry and nobody knows why, or rather those who do know have departed for more rewarding pastures.

Roger - my example beardie was a 9 to 5 bod. It's surprising how often they are although many go the other way too, working long hours because they must solve the latest problem.

Demetrius - this was Rolls Royce in Derby - the aero engine business which became insolvent in 1971.

Nobody knows who T'owd man was, which is a pity.