The true value of societal impact on reward
‘Heroes don’t wear capes’ - I love this phrase and for me it sums up the phenomenal work being done by all these people regarded as key or essential workers.
But why has it taken a crisis of these proportions to see the true value of these roles? Why is it for decades these roles, whether they are nurses, care workers, or supermarket check out staff have all been underappreciated and underpaid?
I saw a petition yesterday on the government website to increase pay for NHS workers and recognise their work. To date it has over 115,000 signatures – enough to get it into Parliament to debate.
But will it change anything? Once this crisis has abated, will we go back to undervaluing these roles or will there be a movement that is strong enough to demand a permanent change in the levels of pay and conditions for these roles?
Going back to why they have been traditionally undervalued – part of the reason I believe is that for many of these roles we’ve taken advantage of the compassion required. For many people, being a nurse or a care worker is a calling, the need to help others. This empathy is something that traditional job evaluation frameworks, the very processes we use to value roles internally and the basis of our pay frameworks, don’t typically value. Compassion or impact on society is not treated as a fundamental component part of a role.
Many systems value the skills and experience needed or the number of people you might manage, but these are typically seen as more important than the social value a role plays. We often work with our clients to write bespoke job evaluation frameworks and we encourage our clients to think about the unique DNA of their organisation. In doing this we are able to recognise customer service or impact as a key component part of a role, but it’s is missing in so many.
Taking advantage of this empathy and compassion enables businesses to keep wages low – in the same way that some organisations take advantage of the passion premium (ie in sporting businesses, if employees have a real passion for the sport, they will take a reduced salary just to be part of the sport that they love).
Another reason why these roles have traditionally been undervalued I feel is partly down to the legacy impact of gender inequality and cultural conditioning.
So many of these key roles have been conducted by women – shop workers for example are typically female. Arguably this is because the roles are flexible in nature and can be done on a part time basis, enabling women to both work and be child carers at the same time. Likewise nurses – whilst there are male nurses, the vast majority are women.
Of course there is something to be said for attraction to a profession when there is a stereotype / stigma attached that relates to gender (eg. my son loves dancing and isn’t bothered being the only boy in the room, but it puts many others off as they don’t want to stand out), but this cultural peer pressure simply perpetuates the results of the previous century’s more traditional gender based roles in society.
For a variety of reasons, men are traditionally more successful than women at securing pay rises; so where you have professions that are predominantly populated by women, there is a strong chance that the push for pay equity has been either less pronounced or simply not heard. And whilst it may not be the nurses or care workers shouting aloud now, society in general seems to have finally woken up to the value of these roles.
They are saving our lives – the clap for the NHS showed that the country cares and truly appreciates these workers putting their lives on the line as part of their job.
Perhaps now roles will reverse and those who play the biggest part in making our lives safer will be the ones who get paid more? Only time will tell if our heroes get the recognition they truly deserve.
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