There Are No Five-Stars Allowed Here

A rant about day jobs and the myth of being paid your worth

Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

I was in middle-management a long time. At its peak I had eighty people working for me, which was too many, which led to why I’m no longer in middle-management. But part of that job was the budget forecasting and profitability of my department. I had to make sure my ship was tight. As no one wants a loose ship. Whatever that means.

Part of the financial tracking process was FTE, which means the hours worked by full time employees. The idea is that each person must bring in X-amount of dollars more than their wage, else the department is in trouble.

This was a game-changing moment for me. I felt like I discovered something most people don’t realize. And every day since, it’s made me sick to my stomach. That was twelve years ago.

Want the secret?

You won’t after I explain it.

This means that every person, in every day job, must be worth more to the company than they are paid in wages and benefits. Period. Otherwise the system doesn’t work.

Some of us get to see the billable hours. Maybe we shrug and roll our eyes, thinking how dumb the client is to pay one-hundred dollars and hour for our work when we’re paid twenty dollars an hour to do the work. We think, “stupid client, with the overpaying.” In reality, it’s us that got screwed.

It gets worse.

As you improve in knowledge, you’re worth more to your employer — a lot more. In my current position I now bring in $1.2-$1.5 million dollars per year for my direct efforts. I don’t even get paid ten-percent of that. My company keeps more than ninety-percent of the value I bring to them. And I am not alone.

We’re all working for less than we’re worth. If we got paid our worth the business couldn’t exist. Think of your nine-to-five employer as a middleman. It’s like the markup we pay when we buy toilet paper. It doesn’t cost a buck a roll to make. It costs ten cents. The factory keeps some. The middleman keeps a lot.

We’re the toilet paper.

The system makes us feel like it’s our fault

We had our annual reviews recently. Which is always a fun time. Management hates writing and giving them. Employees hate receiving them. It’s a real hoot all-around.

My company was recently acquired.

During that process we got a new rating scale for ourselves. Instead of the old, three-point system (three being the highest), we now have a five-point system.

My boss gave me a bunch of five-stars on the various behaviors we’re scored. He takes it to his boss (because they can’t just trust the person who wrote the review, it must be reviewed by someone who doesn’t know you — you know, for accuracy).

Across the company, the people who got five-stars had their reviews returned to their supervisors for correction. It was like a scene from 1984, I shit you not. Why? “We don’t give five stars.” We’re supposed to have something to strive for. To give that little extra. If we’re already at the top, we wouldn’t work any harder.


So, in addition to being paid only eight-percent of our worth, you want us to strive for five-star behavior? Now I know exactly how that donkey feels in the cartoons. You know, the one who pulls the cart, trying to reach a carrot, tied to a string, held over his head.

There’s light

It’s my own fault I’m still at my job. They golden-handcuffed me long-ago. But I’m almost there. I’m so close to leaving I can taste it. My publishing business is really taking off.

And I don’t want to sound like some entitled jackass. I’m fortunate to have my job. I’m paid well and I have great benefits. Some days I wish I didn’t know the secret. It would be so much easier to work in the day, like all my co-workers.

But I know there’s more.

There’s so much more.

We’ve got to do our own thing, so we keep all our worth. I realize it’s harder (a lot harder) than collecting a weekly check. I want the people in my tribe to give me the stars, not some douche I’ve never met, with his name on his parking space. I want the people I serve to tell me how I’m doing, not the one with the photocopied signature on the impersonal, annual Christmas card.

It’s time to put on our working pants.

It’s time to do our own thing.

We’ll make a ton of mistakes and it’s going to hurt a lot. Some days we’ll wonder if we can eat. Some days the cubicle walls will be missed. Some days that extra star won’t feel like a big deal. But it is. And we can do this.

It’s time to be paid our worth.

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August Birch (AKA the Book Mechanic) is both a fiction and non-fiction author from Michigan, USA. A self-proclaimed guardian of writers and creators, August teaches indie authors how to write books that sell and how to sell more of those books once they’re written. When he’s not writing or thinking about writing August carries a pocket knife and shaves his head with a safety razor.

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