Are You Being Treated Fairly?


Chris Shaw posted a question on his blog and tagged me:

Do you feel like you are being treated fairly at your current or past employers? The question stems from the fact that very few people today stay at a company 20 to 30 years like they did when I was growing up. Do you feel like the company feels a loyalty toward the employee or do you think that they look at you just as head count? No reason to get yourself in trouble, so you can refer back to past employers.

I’m glad you asked.  I’m being treated like garbage and I hate these bozos who pay my salary.

Oh, wait, is this microphone on?

Alright, seriously, time for a rant.  Sorry, Chris, but you pushed one of my hot buttons here.

The Life of a Hotel Housekeeper

Did you know that many housekeepers make below minimum wage? They often make $3/hour because they’re considered to be tipped employees.

Hotels have to clean occupied rooms every day whether the guest is checking out or not.  Sometimes they get lucky: the guest might be exceptionally considerate, use only one trash can, use only one bed, and not leave Cheetos crumbs all over the nightstand.  Sometimes, they’re not so lucky, and they get a room where a family with kids has done what a family with kids does on vacation: leave stuff everywhere.  Overall, housekeepers average around two rooms per hour, or about 15 rooms during an 8-hour shift.  The numbers vary depending on whether it’s a corporate hotel (businesspeople are pretty clean) or a vacation hotel (families are filthy.)

A $3/hour housekeeper who cleans two rooms per hour needs to get $1 tip per room just to make it up to minimum wage.

Sadly, many hotel guests don’t leave tips.  And the ones who do, often leave tips only on the day they check out, thinking that that’s the only day the maid really works.  Not so much – my 2 rooms/hour number includes stayovers.  Next time you stay in a hotel, tip the maid $2 minimum every single day, and start noticing how much she does. I’m super-anal about reducing their workload: I only use one trash can, I clean the coffee pot myself after I use it, and I try not to use the glassware when I just want a sip of water before bed.

Why I Know About Housekeeping

I got my start in the hospitality industry working in hotels and restaurants, and I worked my way up from front desk clerk to managing hotels.  No matter how high up you go at a 100-200 room hotel, there’s still going to be days when you have to make beds or clean toilets or cook omelettes because somebody didn’t show up.  You’re relying on a pyramid of people, and a great deal of them make near minimum wage or below.  Dozens of them have to show up every day in order for your business to run successfully, but you can probably understand why some of them will choose not to make that commute into work in the morning, or why they’d want to work their way up to a better job (and out of your hotel) as fast as possible.

Succeeding in the hospitality business means a never-ending cycle of training replacement staff.  When a new hotel opened up, they’d offer $.10-$.25 more per hour in order to lure experienced housekeepers or laundresses over.  For a $3/hour employee, that’s a big incentive, and they’ll take that offer.  Hotel managers are handcuffed by budgets, and they can’t simply give everybody raises every time a new hotel comes into town.  Managers try to keep employees happy, build a positive work environment that people will enjoy, but it’s tough, and sooner or later every employee is going to leave.

Employees Are Replaceable

I can almost hear the protest comments rolling in now.  “But you have to train people and promote from within,” they’ll say.  “You have to make sure there’s opportunities for everybody as they grow!”

That’s naive.  If you’re running a kitchen, somebody’s gotta wash the dishes, and nobody wants to be a career-long dishwasher.  You can’t have an entire kitchen made up of head chefs, and furthermore, when somebody makes it to head chef, they aren’t itching to leave.  You can’t expand your restaurant to more locations simply because you’ve got a few good chefs – there has to be a market demand for your food, ample room for expansion, and a lack of competition.

Business owners and managers have a tough job: they have to make employees feel welcome and needed, yet at the same time make sure that every employee can be replaced.  An irreplaceable employee is a business risk.

I know I’m completely replaceable.  If I quit Quest tomorrow, there’d be a line of people begging for my job, and there’s a bunch of people who could do it just as well or much better than I’m doing it.  Heck, I’ve even pointed a couple out to my managers and said, “This is the next person who should have my job, and they’d be great at it.”

So how do I sleep at night?

Companies Are Replaceable Too

Both parties in the negotiation process have to benefit in order for the deal to work.  Your job has to be a win for the company, and it has to be a win for you.  It sounds so BS-life-coach-y, but it’s true: it’s gotta be a win/win scenario.

If you’re the only one winning, the company will let you go. If you’re making too much money, if you’re not putting in enough hours, if you’re not delivering the results they want, they are gonna drop you like a temp table.

If the company is the only one winning, you need to let go of them. Nobody else is going to do it for you.  Nobody else is looking out for your career.  (If you think headhunters are looking out for you, think again – they’re paid by the company, not by you.)

Sounds inconceivable in this economy, but there are always jobs for the right people.  Even since the stock crash started, I’ve been contacted by companies who are hiring top notch DBAs, and they’re not paying housekeeper wages either.  I’ve passed that info on to my friends who are looking for work, and I know two great database guys who might make great career moves in the next couple of weeks due to info I’ve passed along.

If you don’t believe me, and if your experience indicates that you can’t get another job right now, then stop to think about that phrase again for a second, and look at it closely.  Other people are getting better jobs right now, as we speak.  Maybe – just maybe – the problem is you, and you need to re-evaluate the way you think about careers.

It’s Not Just About Your Skills

Talent Is Never Enough
I'm Talking To You, @ReaderName

Every time I write something like this, I get a chorus of private emails saying:

“You don’t realize how bad the market in @MyCityName sucks.  Nobody’s ever hiring @MyCareerName, and I’m a rock star genius mad scientist with amazing talent.  You’re a jerkwad who doesn’t know @MyFavoriteExpletive.”

You’re partially right: I am a jerkwad, and you probably have amazing talent.  But like the book says, Talent is Never Enough.

Your manager reads books to figure out how to get more out of you: maybe you should be reading books to figure out how to get more out of your managers too.

I won’t deny it: the first few times I picked up books like this years ago, I thought they were flakey inspirational crap.  But my career has changed when I started applying geek techniques: I stopped trying to overclock my desktop’s CPU, and started focusing on overclocking my career.

So before you blog about how your company doesn’t respect you, doesn’t love you deeply and truly, doesn’t take you for long walks on moonlit beaches and never wants to let you go, stop to think about whether you feel the same about your company.  I like the company I work for, but only because we’ve come to agreements that are win/win for both of us.  When it’s not – either when I stop delivering for them, or they stop delivering for me – I expect us to both start making plans to replace the other.

Who I’m Tagging

Got scared there, didn’t you?  Thought I was going to tag you by name and make you tap dance around this question.  No, I’ll refrain from tagging anybody on this particular meme.  When I first read my name on Chris’s blog about this, my first reaction was, “There’s no way in hell I’m answering that one,” so I don’t want to put anybody else on the spot.  If you’d like to answer it on your blog, go right ahead though!

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22 Comments. Leave new

  • Some good points. It's always important to look for a new role if you feel you have out grown it. A friend of mine has also started to read motivation / self-help books, I've always considered them to be nonsense too.. Mmmmmmmmm.

  • GilaMonster
    March 5, 2009 2:20 pm

    My former manager told me something once that's stuck with me for quite a while. He said "Never accept a position unless you know where you want to go afterwards"

    So, don't just think about the current position that you're in, know where you want to be next and when an opportunity comes up for that and you get it, have an idea what comes after that.

    • I like that advice! I never thought of it quite that way. I know my career planning has been really haphazard – it's like I've been stumbling into my next job by happenstance – but when I took the Quest gig, I really thought, "I have no idea what I want to do next. I just want to do this as long as I can." For my next job, I'm screwed, hahaha – I'm spoiled.

  • On being replaceable (or not).
    When someone who is seen as irreplaceable (either by themselves or by the company), when they leave that company, that's always a great opportunity to step up. It's the most common way that I've seen for Junior DBAs to become Senior DBAs.

    <life-coachiness>When life closes a door for a company somewhere a window is opened. Be the window</life-coachiness>

    BTW, ever notice how the middle 'e' in the word 'replaceable' seems a bit out of place?

  • One of my goals is to read one professional development book a month. I have come to find that when I started making an effort in this area I better understood the business and I better understood how I might be inhibiting myself. Not only in interpersonal skills, but also in how I approached problems and looked at my technical skills. So I put a lot of weight now on finding and reading and applying the right professional development/business acumen books. They can make a huge difference.

    And as Brent pointed out, one of the things I've also come to realize is that it is not my organization's responsibility to ensure my skills are up to date. It may be smart for them to do so, for the benefit of the organization, but if they don't and I get let go, pointing back at the company and saying, "They didn't train me!" doesn't cut it. Ultimately, I'm responsible for my own career. That's not to say that I won't seek advice and help from friends and acquaintances. I do. You need to. But they aren't responsible for ensuring I can stay gainfully employed, either. I am.

  • Yeah, I even copy/pasted replaceable into Google to spell check it, because I didn't believe Firefox's spell checker, hahaha!

  • You're absolutely right: you've got the technical skills nailed down, and the thing that takes it to the next level is the professional development stuff. I try to read one of those books a quarter, and it just totally rejuvenates me every time. It's so empowering, it's almost electric. It's also cheesy, but hey, it works.

    • Thanks for the post Brent!

      I wanted to add to the professional development stuff. I've subscribed to for years. They have a ton of professional development books. If you don't have time to read, the books are really easy to listen to during a commute. I also listen while working around the yard and doing housework. They don't have many SQL Server books though. 🙂

  • Good points all, particularly about finding a win/win situation between employer and employee. If either party is drawing a short straw, they're gonig to realize it eventually.

    By the way, I plan on borrowing "they are gonna drop you like a temp table". It should make a good dinner party comment.

  • I'm not in a position to comment about this topic, but I wanted to compliment you Brent. It looks like you've lost a ton of weight. God knows I need to.

    • Wow, thanks! Yeah, I've dropped 30 pounds in the last several months. My secret? Erika, hahaha. She does all the hard work by counting the calories of what she cooks and making the right portion sizes. She's found a lot of delicious recipes that are really low-cal. Mmmm.

  • Stephen Dyckes
    March 5, 2009 7:14 pm

    I also have the unique perspective resulting from 20+ years in the Restaraunt business. I have woked all positions in the business. I always considered it a house of cards, each one relying upon the next to be there. A good working environment was always like a big family, but I was always in control of where I was working and who I was working for/with, which was a balance of enjoying the work and/or making ends meet. Too often I would hear complaints about how bad someone had it. My simple response is, "You made your bed, you lie in it!"

    Now, I still believe it is a balance, but the equation has grown some. I now balance the money/environment, but the environment has been subdivided to include Respect/Knowledge Growth/Career Growth. If at any time the equation goes out of balance, the Happiness level decreases, at which time you have to evaluate how to best regain the balance. But you are firmly in control of your equation (though sometimes you have to weather an out of balance equation due to outside influences).

  • Brent, I salute you. This is the kind of finger-in-your-face tough love writing that I love! I've always believed that you should never trust a company – they exist to be profitable for the owners and the shareholders, and NOT to provide people with good employment opportunities. And….that's the way it should be! The owners/shareholders are the ones with the most at stake – the most skin in the game – and thus, should be the beneficiaries of the endeavor. That's not to say that employees should be treated poorly, but the sooner people realize that they need to look out for themselves and not rely on someone or something else to take care of their every need (slight political undertones here as well), the sooner they'll be happier in their everyday lives and not constantly claim the victim every time a decision is made that doesn't go the way they want it to. BRAVO!

    • Michael Berry
      June 13, 2012 3:09 pm

      I know the feeling.. you speak the truth. My dad was a union man. loves being taken care of. Meanwhile GM has done so well.. LOL You and I are of like mind

  • As a former waiter & big believer in the Golden Rule, I absolutely agree that it’s important to tip hotel staff. Don’t begrudge them that $1 or $2–even if it comes out-of-pocket. However, I expense such tips as a cost of doing business to my employer.

    The inimitable Marilyn Grant, High Priestess of the Consulting at Microsoft course, admonishes us to do so as well. It’s part of being a good corporate citizen. When I asked her how much she tips, she replied $5. Whoa–that’s a bit rich even for me. 😉

    Career-wise, it’s an inside job, baby. If I think I’m over-worked & underpaid, it’s up to me to change that.

  • Brent ,

    you are right…be focused on the career, we are the real owners for our career. I am from India, In India there is a common saying ” Dont love your company, love your job”


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