My third grader is anxious about entering the workplace. His biggest concern? Finding his way there. Fortunately, he has a 8-10 years to learn how to navigate. (And by then, his car might drive itself.)
Lately, he’s been brainstorming ways to work at or near home. So far he’s come up with a housekeeper, a painter, and a roofer. I don’t want to discourage him from any potential career paths, but I pointed out that all jobs have different pay scales, and he might want to consider that when weighing his options.
“It’s okay,” he told me. “Working on a roof in the sun is very hard, so they must get a lot of money for doing it.”
Solid point. So I felt like a real jerk when I explained that people who work very hard aren’t necessarily compensated for how hard they work. It’s a tough concept for a third grader to grasp, and a tough concept to explain in general. It got me thinking about what we value as a society.
When I began ruminating, he interrupted my thoughts: “You just sit at your computer all day. That isn’t hard. So why would you get paid more than someone who paints houses?”
I mean, I do sit at my computer all day. My increasingly achy back is a testament to that. But it’s not like I sit around playing Candy Crush. Yet I found the value of my work difficult to articulate to my child. Maybe it was difficulty tooting my own horn, or maybe it was a symptom of a bigger issue looming over me.
Why do we value some work over others?
Spiraling into an existential crisis, I changed the subject but continued thinking about what I do—and what anyone does, really.
To an 8-year-old, the harder you work, the more you’ll be compensated. He views hard work as physical labor and uncomfortable conditions, yet we live in a society that devalues that kind of labor. Just as we live in a society that devalues the labor associated with running a household and caretaking. If pressed to offer career advice, my son would surely advise that you find a job close to home (easy to get to) that involves lifting things or moving things (big money, huge).
That’s not how it works.
I was one of the first women in my family to go to college. I value higher education, the doors it unlocks, and career paths that involve a high level of specialty. At the same time, I strongly value vocations that follow a path of hands-on learning and apprenticeship. I’m fascinated by true trades. Hell, I value any job that someone approaches earnestly.
And we all should.
As a marketer, I’m not just marketing my clients’ law schools, construction firms, aromatherapy schools, physical therapy offices, bowling centers, dentist offices, or retail stores. I’m marketing their business cultures—what they have to offer to job seekers. That job seeker might be my kid in ten years, whether he wants to be a veterinarian or a commercial painter.
I tell my clients I can’t succeed at marketing them unless they’re remarkable. This goes not only for their products and services, but for what they have to offer to talent. Every company should have recruitment and retention in mind when marketing. When crafting a mission. When developing core values. When living them.
Our society will always value some jobs over others in terms of compensation, and for logical reasons in many cases. Too often, trade industries not only involve more physical labor for less money, but have toxic work cultures.
But there’s hope. We can help to change that. So that when your kid wants to be a commercial landscaper or mechanic, you know they’ll be happy and fulfilled. Because some kids really do want to grow up and trim trees, or fix cars. And that should be okay. It should not only pay enough, it should be a positive workplace environment.
Take concrete steps to value everyone in your organization equally regardless of the role they play. You can show appreciation in ways that don’t cost your company a dime, and you can invest in meaningful benefits that emphasize quality of life.
This is a blog for people. This is a blog about people. Because regardless of who you work for or who works for you, you share the experience of being human with the people around you.
We can (and should) strive to do our best work and appreciate the work that helps us live our best lives.