Last week I had a pretty eye-opening talk with one of my employees. He’d been whining about his low pay for a while, and just needed some cry time to air all his gripes. Now I’ll be the first to admit it, my jobs don’t pay my skilled employees nearly as much as I’d like. It’s hard for anyone to live off of fifteen bucks an hour, especially when the budget for overtime and shift differentials dries up.
So anyway, me and this guy sat down for a couple minutes to go over how his income compared to his monthly bills. I noticed that he didn’t have any expenses for rent or utilities because he was shacking up with his girlfriend. No car note either, since his Lexus had been repossessed a couple months ago and he’d been carpooling to work ever since. It turns out that the only thing this guy actually had to pay for was his groceries and cigarettes, and he couldn’t even cover those bills because his take home pay was less than $100 a week!
See, this guy’s home state was one where they authorize child support payments to be taken directly out of the paycheck, which explains the big gap between what my company was paying him and what he actually took home each week. Since even I can’t override state law, there was absolutely nothing I could do for him at that point, although we did spend a couple minutes talking about financial planning and how he could settle his debts and get back on his feet again.
Contrast this dude with another one of my employees, a 20-year Army retiree, working in the same position at another work site. This guy’s got enough money coming in from his military pension to meet his monthly bills, so the salary has never been a huge issue for him. In fact, he’s only working at all right now because he got tired of sitting around at home during the day and my job gives him some extra spending cash in return for playing around with guns. He doesn’t need to work, he chooses to work, and both of us understand that real well. In my opinion, it makes for a much better working relationship when a manager is perfectly clear than an employee could pack his trash and leave at any time! Although I try to never act like a jerk to any of my employees, I’m extra careful to do what I can to retain the most experienced ones.
Outside of the eight or ten or twelve hours a day that I direct someone’s work, I have absolutely no control over what my employees do with their lives. Likewise, I can’t control any of the decisions that they made before getting hired on with my program. I mean, it’s not my fault that my first employee cheated on his old lady years ago and he’s still paying for it. All I can do at this point is share my observations with you guys, and testify that a person’s past financial choices directly impact how satisfied they are with their current job.
But to be honest, I’ve never really lost any sleep when any employee gripes about their low pay. One of the fundamental laws of economics is that the more money a person makes, the more money they’re going to spend. Usually as soon as a person gets a pay raise, they go out and blow the money on something like a nicer car (with a higher monthly payment). Likewise, no matter how much money an employee earns, they’re always going to want more. Don’t believe it? Ask yourself this question: If your company offered you a pay raise today, is there any reason why you would turn it down?
Bear with me, because I swear all this really does relate to overseas security contracting. During my first few weeks working in Iraq, all of my buddies were thrilled to be making more than ten grand a month. It was the first time most of them (myself included) had ever dealt with that kind of money before, and it was almost too good to be true! As we went our separate ways and deployed out to our work locations in country, most of us didn’t see each other until about three months later when the first groups were rotating out on vacation. And can you believe it, the biggest gripe that these contractors seemed to have was with the low pay? Only a couple of months out of training and some of these guys thought they deserved as much as fifteen thousand a month!
There’s a lot of downtime during a deployment so for contractors, comparing salaries between different jobs and companies becomes almost like a kind of hobby. I’ve got no problems at all with networking for future career opportunities, but if you get caught up in snooping on other peoples’ paychecks then you’re going to get burned out real quickly. It’s a losing battle because no matter how much you make, some guy’s out there earning much more by working on an easier job with a lot better living conditions. Keep in mind too that a lot of the things (okay, everything) you hear by word of mouth isn’t necessarily true, especially when it comes to how much your company is earning from each person they’ve hired!
That being said, here’s my thoughts on the subject. Try to pay a little less attention to how much other people are making, and focus a little more on where your own money is going. Money, or the lack of it, is one of the biggest stressors for most people, and you can’t afford any distractions when you’re working in a war zone. You should be more concerned with not getting blown up than with worrying about if you’re going to make your car note this month. When it comes to major decisions that will affect your finances, whether it’s running around on your wife or sticking out those last few years on active duty until retirement, remember to keep your career goals in mind. Think long term, and you’ll probably make the best choices.
Oh, and my paycheck to paycheck employee? The last thing he told me before I left for the airport was that he might be resigning in the next few months. See, he’s been thinking about signing on with one of those overseas security contracts so that he can get all of his financial problems cleared up once and for all…