Are workers doing well this year?

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.

My sense is that a lot of companies are using the current work-from-home moment to push through a stealth pay cut. The thing is, many people got very small pay increases in 2020, so if they now make anything above their 2019 level, they feel like they’ve moved forward. But most of my clients are handing out large increases to get software developers who show up at the office. If the folks at home get a 10% pay increase they feel like everything is going great. Meanwhile the folks showing up in the office are getting 30% increases.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with taking less pay for more flexibility. I know a lot of women with kids who have been asking for this for a long time. They’d be happy to trade away 25k to get to stay home and run some errands during the day when the kids are at school. There is nothing wrong with this on either side: some workers see the increased flexibility as a big perk, and some corporations are happy to offer that flexibility in exchange for slightly lower pay.

Still, I’ve been reading articles that try to paint the current moment as a kind of revolution for workers, and I don’t think that is accurate. A lot of workers have some leverage this year thanks to several trillion dollars of stimulus money that the government has handed out. But I don’t think there has been any kind of long-term change in the balance of power between labor and capital. I’d need to see several years of big pay increases for work-from-home workers before I think any of the current “revolutionary” rhetoric would be justified.

In particular, there is the open question of who will get the big promotions. Who will be in leadership positions in 5 years? Everything I’ve seen so far convinces me that the leadership in 5 years will be the people who show up at the office.

Of course, not everyone wants to go into management, and that is fine. If people would rather work-from-home and be happy, rather than running after promotions, that is fine. Everyone should do whatever is going to make them happy. Life is short, so don’t waste your time doing something that is going to make you miserable. But none of the rhetoric about some kind of revolution is justified if the promotions go to the folks who show up at the office.

Also, keep in mind, my experience is limited to clients in New York City. I’ve no idea what is happening elsewhere.

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