“Senior page monkey” Schizohedron has written an excellent post called Tips for Fair Workplace Compensation. It’s not specific to the design industry at all, but I suspect this is something a lot of (so-called) creative workers are especially bad at, as we like to think that our jobs are more fun than other people’s. Dude, your job may be what you like to do, but it’s still a job. Get paid for it.
There are so many good points in there that it’s hard for me to quote anything without just copying and pasting the whole thing, but I’ll limit myself to the rousing finale:
They employ you. They do not own you. They don’t govern the course of your career. Only you can decide when your work and your interests no longer follow the same track. Identifying and accepting this sort of discrepancy is not a mark of failure. I define a failure as someone who neglects to collect every cent of compensation and every hour of time off he or she has earned, who instead works weekends and Federal holidays because they think this will impress their bosses. Don’t work for your boss. Work for your professional development, for the satisfaction of meeting your goals, and for the means to enjoy a comfortable, well-rounded life. Work for yourself.
I am a failure.
I’m pretty good about taking advantage of certain forms of compensation—I always pay into a 401K or similar fund, if there is one, especially if there’s an employer match (and I make monthly deposits into my own IRAs, regardless of whether I have an employer-sponsored retirement account). I’ve signed up for an FSA when it’s available, and spent the money gleefully, and I pounce on any kind of transportation benefits (TransitChek, I love you!). And I always take whatever vacation I get (mind you, two weeks per year is so not enough). These are obvious, clearly defined benefits, which I consider anyone an idiot for not taking advantage of.
What I’m terrible at is maxing out softer benefits, ones that require more discretion or negotiation or discipline. I am terrible about working extra time, for instance. I tend to roll in late, even though my workday starts at ten, and I tend to have hours or even days when I’m just not able to focus, and though I’m always sitting there clicking on something, I’m not getting anything done. It’s on those days—when obviously what I should be doing is saying, “Fuck it, my brain’s not working; I should leave on the dot of six and go to the gym or take a long walk to clear my cache” that I’m most likely to keep clicking away until seven, eight, nine. Sometimes I do finally get something done in those last hours, but then I get home late and fried, stay up even later than usual (I’m rarely in bed before one), wake up cross and unrested, and drag myself to the office fifteen minutes late to start this stupid process again.
It’s dumb, and I know it, but I’ve done it for years. In addition to just being stupid on its own terms, this vicious habit also makes it impossible to tell when I’m really being overworked, and when I should be demanding comp time. And on those rare occasions (like, three, in my lifetime?) when I actually have bothered to discuss comp time with an employer, I’ve never followed up and taken the time off when the crunch was over.
I nickel-and-dime about so many stupid things in my life, while I basically just give my employers hundreds or thousands of dollars a year.
Another thing I’ve never done in my life is negotiate a job offer. I’ve asked questions, asked for clarification, but I’ve never actually made demands—never said, “Sure, I’ll accept the job at this salary if you’ll give me another five days of paid vacation,” or even “I’ll accept the job at less than this salary if you’ll give me another five days of paid vacation,” despite time’s being totally more attractive to me than money. And it doesn’t matter how much I haven’t needed the new job. Even when I essentially have nothing to lose, I just don’t negotiate. I’ve read that this is a classic Girl Thing. We want to get along and be nice, so we don’t ask for stuff we want. Whatever. It’s dumb.
Similarly, I’ve never asked for a raise. I’ve always gotten raises, and because I (obviously) chronically undervalue my time and work, I’ve almost always been pleasantly surprised by those raises. But on the one glaring occasion when I was given what I considered an insulting raise—one so small as to not even cover inflation, on a starting salary that I should have refused in the first place—I didn’t behave any differently than I usually do: a squirmy “Gee, thanks,” and then back to my desk.
I think I’ve taken three sick days in the last ten years.
And then there are personal days, which I don’t think I’ve ever taken one of in my life. What’s a “personal day”? When my dad died last winter, I didn’t go to the office for a week. I did, however, sit at the kitchen table at my parents’ house, typesetting a book about breast cancer. Coworkers delivered stuff to me. I took phone calls. I FTP’d files. I certainly wasn’t working eight-hour days, but I wasn’t on leave, either; this was the week of the transit strike, so nobody was getting much done, anyway. At the time, I was kind of glad to have something to do other than drafting a notice for the paper and trying to help Mom make arrangements. Life stuff is messy and painful; typesetting is straightforward and discrete. Often it’s easier to just work.
But, you know, sometimes you should take a personal day.
Anyway, go read Schizohedron’s post. Print it out and tape it to the fridge. Then start planning your next vacation.