What Is An Employee Worth To You?

Today’s Lesson: Salary is about more than the lowest common denominator.


Tension was high while we hashed out a salary for a new position. The executives discussed the responsibilities of the position, what other positions in the company were making, whether the work was harder than the work of those being paid potentially less, whether there was enough work to sustain the position, whether this was contract work, whether we should buffer for possible raises, what other people in the same industry (working for other companies) were making, etc…

It was a long meeting and we were balancing somebody’s living wage against what the company could afford. We did not take it lightly. The numbers being thrown out were initially quite low (in my opinion). Some of the team felt the best strategy for pay is to offer the lowest amount the person would be willing to accept (I briefly wondered if they assumed that was how their pay was decided and if they were okay with that).

Then, two things happened.

First, the owner asked me if we had enough work to keep the new people in this new role busy. I said, “Yes, but initially some weeks will be slower than others. They may have considerable downtime once in a while.”

He said, “Well… wait a second. I don’t want to pay someone for not working! If they are not going to be busy all the time, should we just make them part-time hourly employees? I mean, I don’t want them not doing work and still being paid. Do you think that’s okay?”

I said, “Honestly? I don’t care if they work 2 hours or 200 hours a week if they are delivering the results. Who cares if they work every day, if they are getting their work done and doing it well? Power to them if they are efficient and effective at the same time.”

He thought about that a second and said, “I don’t have anything to say to that. You’re right. Let’s move on.”

The second great moment in the meeting, I think, was prompted by that exchange. The owner’s mindset had shifted.

Each executive threw their final salary number on the table. The owner and I were about $20,000 over everyone else. Back and forth conversation continued until the owner paused the meeting and changed everything with a simple observation.

“Maybe we are asking the wrong question,” he said. “We have been asking, ‘What can we get away with paying them?’ But maybe we should be asking, ‘What is this position worth if they succeed?'”

If he was holding a mic, he could have dropped it right there, and walked off the stage. The conversation was over a few minutes later. We came to a number we were all happy with, felt confident was affordable for the company and showed the potential new hires they are valued and the position is important to us.

When we made the offer the next day, they accepted without hesitation and immediately started planning ideas for their first projects.


I have not always chased the salary I know I could enjoy with a big company (doing easier work) but I rarely regret the trade-off. I have the pleasure of working for smaller companies with big hearts that fight to do the right thing and somehow find success every day. They do not believe in low-balling or acting without integrity. They just do what they think is right and work to make everyone’s lives better. Moments like that make me happy to work for people who care about getting it right instead of people who care about getting away with it.


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