What is Your Work Worth?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Work makes up such a large part of our identity. Our work determines how we spend most of our days, the people we spend our time with, the kind of lifestyle we can afford, and it influences our fundamental sense of who we are. 

A lot of that definition, of course, also has to do with how much we're paid. We asked listeners: Putting aside your salary, how do you measure the value of your job? Now, based on that value, are you compensated fairly?

Bruce from Tallahassee, FL had this response: "As a judge, I make momentous decisions that affect peoples' lives and livelihoods. I protect people from improper behavior from others. My job really has significant value. I'm compensated at a lower rate because I am a state employee, but I suppose it's fair enough."

What is "fair enough"—and how does it shape our feelings about our work and our worth?  

Al Gini, a professor of Business Ethics at Loyola University’s School of Business Administration and resident philosopher at WBEZ, has dedicated much of his career to understanding the value of work. He’s also the author of “My Job My Self." He joins The Takeaway to discuss how we determine the value of our jobs and what it really means to be "well-compensated."


Al Gini

Produced by:

Mythili Rao


T.J. Raphael

Comments [16]

Ed from Larchmont

As St. Jose-Maria Escriva taught us, work is our way to sanctification. That's how we need to approach it, and we are blessed if we have meaningful work.

Dec. 13 2013 08:21 AM
tom LI

Personally- its been a long time since I felt valued, or was told I was valued (that I actually believed) in/at my work. Just over 50 I am underemployed - due to of course some life events that threw me off the road - and now work regretfully for a Big Box retailer. What an eye-opener!

Talk about an environment bereft of any sort of Good Feelings, wow! Its few and far between the managers who have ever been trained - outside of processing paperwork - in any real way that truly teaches new skills, and then is followed up to reinforce. Too young managers with no real life experiences, let alone a real work record, running around setting fires, pis$ing on the ones set by others, who in no way can mentor let alone nurture talent from the ranks.

And now in the US retail is one of the largest employers - but is notoriously horrific in its wages and adherence to most employment laws. HR managers - again too young - hired because "they're people persons", who are often too cozy with the upper management, and have no sense of impartiality when it comes to the rank and file.

I'm not saying there are not good and qualified people in the Big Box retailer environment - just that they are few and far between - and its all due to Corporate not actually paying attention to that very important bottom line! Staff below the Executive and District/Area management levels are still numbers on the budget to be trimmed...

Dec. 12 2013 04:03 PM
Cathy from Hoboken, NJ

What? DId I just really hear it said that "Most" Americans will have at least one year when they make $250,000? Are you kidding

Dec. 12 2013 03:56 PM
tom LI

Dorian - yes, you could be right...but having worked on Wall St (right after college) I can tell you from experience that the enthusiasm you met is a construct of the environment. Those men (mostly men then and still) created a Cult like atmosphere wherein it was anathema to express dislike - and certainly not unhappiness - when in many cases individuals are taking down more money than they ever imagined (with little prior education) more than their fathers could have imagined, and once immersed in the Cult/Frat and LIFESTYLE its like an addiction one says they willingly indulge, and have control over.

Men in general have yet to come to grips with the very real effects that stress has - not only on their bodies/organs, but on their brain too! Most men and a few of the women I knew then and know now, went into the Biz not out of a childhood passion for numbers and stock selling, etc - but to make money - fast and with little oversight! More crash and burn than succeed for a full term career.

Dec. 12 2013 03:47 PM
Mike K. from NYC

I couldn't agree more that you can easily be exploited for loving your work. I've worked in city government for 27 years and have repeated these phrases many times, "A job well done is its own reward." and "Dedication and Competence is repeatedly rewarded with more work and responsibility!"

Dec. 12 2013 03:18 PM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

What ever the current value of work is today, for the average earner it is less than less than it was fifty years ago.

Easy formula,


In words, unless you are earning $105,000 per year in 2013 dollars you are commanding less goods and services out of the economy than the average 1963 worker. That is a result of trickle-down economics, tax policy, anti-unionism, illegal immigration and a dozen other factors that I can't name. What I do know? If this trend - CPI (and therefore wages) growing at two points below the growth of the economy, we will be living in a country full of poor folk.

Dec. 12 2013 03:16 PM
Cal North from Utah

I am so tired of the continuing discussions of the "Middle Clas" who make 250K even once. I worked for 40+ years and managed to make 1/10 of that for 5 of those years. My 2 income household totaled 60K at best. Doesn't ANYONE care about those of us who struggle to pay Cheap mortgages? One of my states senators abandoned a 1M+ plus house to his mortgage holder/contributor because he couldn't afford it on a US Senator's pay! BooHoo.

Dec. 12 2013 03:01 PM
Sandy Mannel from Rochelle, Illinois

When I was working, I taught math at the K-5 level. As the math teacher, I organized the school store. In that light, I was able to start some very interesting conversations with the students, fifth-graders, who worked at the store. Your show today reminded me of one of those conversations. One day I asked the students to rank various occupations as to the salaries of those occupations. I chose occupations that the students would probably be aware of in their eleven-year-old lives. The part of the discussion that I still remember involves our town's firemen and policemen. In our town, these occupations do not receive the same salary. So, when I asked who received more money to do their job, the students simply could not make a decision. We decided they may be equally important and should receive equal salaries...a fifth-grade logic! If the job is important, you should receive more money! Again, a fifth-grade logic!

Dec. 12 2013 02:44 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

I have found a way to be happy at the jobs I do. I try to share that joy as much as I can, but I also understand that my joy makes other people nauseous and hate me.

Dec. 12 2013 02:27 PM
dedee shattuck from Dartmouth, Ma

In the early 1980's I was one of two at-home mothers. When I was at a dinner party, I would be asked "What do you do?" And when I answered, my dinner partner's eyes would inevitably glaze over. I had a design school friend who I confided my inner awkwardness amongst all the vice-president of marketing or associate distributors of blah blah blah. He said his mother proudly asserted that she was a "domestic engineer" and ever since I answered future dinner partners' queries with that title. If anyone asked for details, which hardly ever happened, I would list out all my duties, never mentioning of course that my clients were toddlers and an artist husband.

Dec. 12 2013 02:25 PM
BWMorlan from Northfield, MN

I was quite pleased to hear John add the qualifier "economic" to his question about worth. People who attempt to game the system by adjusting the economic worth of jobs to some ideal find that they get unintended consequences (unemployable workers, more automation). Like the judge, I have long valued the worth of my work far above how much I value the money I get for doing that work. Makes me cheap to the employer, I suppose, and if I were doing something less rewarding I would not be as satisfied. But the economic value of work should be very easily understood by everyone to be the limiting factor in what one can be paid to do that work.

Dec. 12 2013 02:23 PM

There is a difference between what one is paid verses value. Most people are paid according to supply and demand factors. If there is high supply of the illiterate with low demand, their wages will be low.

If supply-demand for an individual determines that their wage (actually total compensation plus overhead costs) is lower than the value of the individual to an employer, that person is usually employed.

The big exception is CEO's and other executives of publicly held companies. They get their compensation determined by their peers, by board members, the majority of which are themselves executives of other corporations. Take for example Mark Hurd, who got a huge payout to resign (and not sue) after fudging an expense report, or Steve Ballmer, who's net worth increased by $billions as microsoft stock jumped when Ballmer announced that he would resign.

Dec. 12 2013 02:00 PM
Farmer Mike from sheridan, Oregon

I was a very good soldier in Viet Nam. Yet after I came back, even though I have post grad degrees, I now live on a Social Security monthly amount of less than $600 a month. PTSD and anger. I measure my worth in my daughters (I was an at home dad) and the volunteer work I did. Other than a few plaques, I was never paid for what I did best. But I did make where I was a better place.

The hero's journey according to Campbell was to go, come back and tell of the adventure. This is no land for heroes, as no one wanted to listen to the tale...

Dec. 12 2013 12:19 PM

One senses that Hockenberry feels deeply that he is worth every penny of his (undisclosed) salary some portion of which I assume comes from people like me who aren't as uncritical. And one also senses that he feels certain that his salary is far far more deserved then any bankers inflated wage. After all, he talked to an undercover banker at a OWS protest who confided he was taking money under false pretenses. Who knows? maybe that guy was. Maybe he shouldn't be a banker. Maybe his employers have yet to discover a slacker in their midst. Or maybe he dosent fully grasp what good bankers like himself provide to the world at large. Again, 'who knows'? The anecdote exists not to actually convey any journalistic insight but only to illustrate Hockenberry's own sense of values which coincidentally
look just like the embodiment of a smug npr liberal.

Dec. 12 2013 09:45 AM
Poorna from Buckingham, va

My "job "as a stay-at-home mom is vital to our economy because I am raising two children and in order for oureconomy to grow we have to keep having children. For instance, Japan's Population is shrinking, and made up of more elderly people than young workers. Even though my job is very important I'm paid nothing for it. In fact, it's actually a sacrifice to be able to stay home and care for my children. In this country, Stay-at-home parents are not given the support that they need, Nor the skill recognition they deserve, given their crucial in growing our economy by raising future workers.

Dec. 12 2013 09:20 AM
Dorian from Manhattan

I disagree with the assertion John and some of his guests seemed to be making that meaningful work that one loves is work that won't pay well -- or at least not as much as the person is worth. I have met wealthy financiers -- hedge fund managers, tech entrepreneurs, venture capitalists -- who seem to love their work and believe in the value they are bringing to the world. To be sure, I've also known an investment banker spending $10,000 on a flat screen TV who hated his job.

But I would agree with the professor who said finding work one is suited to is the key to finding value. And, sometimes value as measured in monetary reward accrues to the person who happens to love the high-paying work he or she is doing.

Dec. 12 2013 09:19 AM

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