#4. Your Success Depends on How Much Work You'll Do for Free
Occasionally you'll see a news story about "wage theft," the extremely common practice among retailers and restaurants of finding sneaky ways to shave money off your paycheck -- adjusting hours down after the fact, fudging reporting to avoid paying overtime, that sort of thing. Those practices are illegal, and you might get the impression that fixing it is just a matter of complaining to the right person. Oh, you poor, naive child. The system is 12 steps ahead of you, and you've already fallen into its devious trap.
The first thing you're going to find out is that much of the wage theft that goes on isn't considered theft. This entire economic system is, in fact, based on how much free labor can be squeezed out of talented people before they rise high enough to demand payment. And if they never rise, they just keep getting squeezed. So write this down and stick it to your wall:
Success in this system is all about how much work you're willing to do for free.
Actually, you probably won't be making enough to afford walls.
They won't say this outright -- the way it will be phrased to you is that the really good employees "give 110 percent" or "go above and beyond." That is, a good employee is literally one who does work beyond what he or she is paid to do. Hell, how many of you have already seen this scenario:
Your fast food restaurant, which we'll refer to as TurdBurger*, closes at 9 p.m. You then have one hour to do all of the post-closing stuff (mop the floors, clean the grill, throw away all of the salads that are only on the menu for show). When the clock strikes 10, you clock out -- no matter what. You stop getting paid. Your boss, however, will give you more than one hour's worth of work to do in that span.
So when 10 arrives and you clock out, there are still tasks to be done. You now have two choices:
A) Be a good employee and keep working, unpaid, until everything is done.
B) Leave the tasks undone so that the morning crew will have to do them.
Now here's the trick: When your fellow TurdBurger workers come in the next morning and see that you didn't finish turning the partially eaten burgers into the next day's chili, they won't be angry at the company for failing to pay you overtime. They'll be angry at you for not getting your work done. You'll get a reputation as a bad employee. And if you don't eventually get fired, you will certainly never get that promotion.
Because you're so young when you get those jobs, you tend to take all that stuff for granted, like the fact that if the shift starts at 8 a.m., you're expected to be there, in uniform, ready to work when the clock strikes 8 ... which means you're required to arrive in advance so you can do all of the prep work off the clock. You'll also have situations where you have to supply your own work clothes, or use your personal vehicle, or outright pay for your own supplies. (Fun fact: The average public school teacher spends $500 a year out of pocket to do their job.)
Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images
"Then we had to sell our pockets to keep the history department alive."
Each time you'll feel like a good employee, like you're "giving 110 percent" or "going above and beyond," giving free labor to a company that would see heaven and Earth laid to waste before it ever gave you a free paycheck. If you do that enough, at some point you'll be tasked with doing work that's above your pay grade -- say, a supervisor is out, and as the most senior employee, you're asked to watch the floor. And you'll happily do supervisor work for cashier money, because you'll hope that will give you a leg up the next time a supervisor spot opens up. You won't be thinking in terms of the steep discount they're getting on your labor -- you'll be too thrilled that you've gotten the opportunity.
Of course, then you have the unpaid interns, people literally working for nothing, legally. There are about 2 million of those out there, people working purely for the experience, as if it's an act of charity for a corporation to allow you to do menial labor in their midst. And then there's this whole other tier of "sort of" paid interns that exist under the threat of unpaid ones. My first job was as a news producer for an ABC affiliate ... which sounds like a fancy job until you hear that it paid $5 an hour. They could get away with that, because they knew there were 50 more behind me willing to do it for nothing, knowing we were all using it as a stepping stone to a job in a larger market. Or to a career in writing about poop monsters, whatever.
"Well, that almost makes it sound like there's a huge advantage for people who can afford to work for nothing, due to rich parents or whatever." Bingo! Now you're getting it.
Andrejs Pidjass/iStock/Getty Images
"Hey, I'm starting from the bottom having to fetch people coffee. Sure, I just pay another guy to do it for me,
but our struggles are pretty much the same."
I bet those same people also have way more diverse job choices when they know they don't have six figures of education debt hanging over their heads and can afford to take a position with no pay but super valuable experience/networking opportunities. How about that.
Hey, speaking of which ...
#3. Someone Less Deserving WILL Get Hired/Promoted Ahead of You
Look, we're all counting down the days until technology allows us to live inside a video game. And by far the biggest improvement games make over real life (aside from the fact that you can get rich by smashing clay pots) is that in a game, advancement is based purely on merit. You get a certain number of experience points, and you level up. Real life is not like that.
Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images
"Hey, it's date number three, so I've unlocked 'sex,' right?"
Let's say you've shown up for a job interview, and you're sitting in a waiting room along with a half-dozen other people who've also made it to that stage. You're asking yourself, will your interview be the most eloquent? Is your resume the most impressive? Will they notice that your dress shoes are just sneakers you've spray painted black? But what you should be asking yourself is, "Do any of the other candidates know the interviewer personally?"
"There's got to be plenty of Carter Joseph IIIs and Carter Joseph IVs who haven't met."
Because that, friends, is the single biggest factor. More than 40 percent of workers got their job because they knew the right person (that is, by "networking"). For example, how did you do your job search? Did you look through public listings? Search a job portal website? Well, guess what -- 70 to 80 percent of jobs aren't even listed. The people who got them were either already in the company (see the aforementioned interns, who got in the door by being willing to work for nothing) or happened to hear about them on the golf course. What's that? You don't like golf? Oh well.
And once you've got the job, you'll find the same process repeating itself -- supervisors and managers are very big on promoting people they like. So in this world, attractive and tall people get promoted ahead of their shorter, uglier colleagues, regardless of qualifications. Managers and supervisors are going to promote people they're more comfortable around -- and if they're uncomfortable around weird people, or minorities, or gays, or anyone who's never gone out drinking with them, well, there are infinite ways to justify passing them over.
Top Photo Corporation/Top Photo Group/Getty Images
"She has fingernails exactly like my mother-in-law's."
"But some of that is discrimination! I'm sure of it!"
Maybe; it depends on where you are. But even then, good luck proving it. And once you get a reputation as a loud, complaining type, good luck keeping your job.
"Well then how in the hell am I supposed to get promoted when, say, the other candidates are a beautiful woman and the supervisor's golf buddy?"
It can be done. You just have to give 110 percent. Heh.
But also keep in mind ...