Over the labor day weekend, it seemed only appropriate to do some thinking about jobs and the job market. And if you caught my guest post over at Making Sense of Cents on Tuesday, you’ve seen some of my thoughts as to why we don’t always have to do what comes naturally in the workplace.
But a recent post by Katie Long over at Marketplace had an interesting insight in understanding your place in the job market that I think is worth exploring a little more. Her theory is that there are two extremes when you’re considering workers in today’s economy – pork bellies and sausages.
What Do Pork Bellies and Sausages Have To Do With Your Job?
Pork bellies are commodities. They are all basically the same and can easily be swapped out for one another. A good sausage on the other hand is individually crafted and unique. It’s harder to find a substitute for a good sausage (or so I’m told – I’m a vegetarian!). And Katie Long talks about this mostly in terms of salary…
“Commodity goods are viewed as all alike and thus the market rate is firmly established — a pork belly is a pork belly is a pork belly. Alternatively if your job is a bit more unique, you are priced more like a customized good, a sausage in this case, and while the market has some influence on your price, your distinct features are more important — are you spicy kielbasa or lean cut breakfast links?”
When I first skimmed over this piece and took the brief 6-question quiz she included – my answers showed that I was a “sausage” all the way. And I thought, “Well, I’m a white collar ‘knowledge-worker’, I guess that makes sense.” But the thought festered in the back of my brain, and I recalled seeing articles like this one this summer about skilled manufacturing jobs going remaining unfilled despite the high unemployment. The types of employees that these firms are looking for are highly sought after, and should be able to negotiate pretty successfully if they’ve got the right skills, but they’re hardly white collar or ‘knowledge-workers’. So there must be something else at play. But what?
To try and see if I could get to the bottom of it, I made a few people I know take Katie’s quiz. It’s 6 questions long:
1. Can you state your job in three words or less?
2. Where you work, are there three or more people that do a job very similar to yours?
3. [Did you receive weeks (yes) or months (no)] of training to prepare for your role?
4. Is there a college major or associates degree for your job?
5. Could your boss do your job if you got sick for two weeks?
6. Are you part of a union?
Yes answers show pork belly tendencies, and no answers indicate sausage.
And the (Very Biased*) Results
Mr. PoP leans sausage: 1-yes, 2-yes, 3-no, 4-no, 5-kindof but not well, 6-no
- His job (in HIS words!): ”I sell sh*t”
- Mrs PoP’s Comments: His paychecks are almost entirely commission based, and pretty much everyone works off the same commission schedule. So… even though he leans sausage, there’s not a whole lot of room to negotiate his pay. But (as his management team likes to stress) his income can be as high as he wants it to be – he just has to sell a lot to get there.
Friend #1 is almost entirely pork belly: 1-yes, 2-yes, 3-yes, 4-no, 5-yes, 6-yes
- His job: Economist at a US federal agency
- His comments: “I could have done this job as a 16-year-old, but they won’t hire you unless you have a masters.”
- Mrs. PoP’s comments: This guy is well paid, and has no stress when he wants to take extended vacations as his many colleagues who do pretty much the exact same job that he does can and do fill in. If that’s being a pork belly, sign me up. But, he’s had salary caps and no COL raises as of late, so there’s a bit of a downside there.
Friend #2 is leaning pork belly: 1-yes, 2-yes, 3-no, 4-yes, 5-only parts of it, 6-no
- Her job: Post Doc with teaching and research duties at a distinguished private university
- Her Comments: For question 5 – “My teaching duties could easily be covered by someone else, but if I were too sick to research, the research would stop.”
- Mrs. PoP’s comments: I was surprised that this friend wasn’t in a union, but she said benefits were so good for faculty that there’s no real need for them there.
Friend #3 considers herself solidly pork belly: 1-yes, 2-yes, 3-yes, 4-no, 5-yes, 6-yes
- Her job: University professor nearing retirement at a state university that focuses more on teaching than research
- Her comments: The only time she ever formally negotiated in her career was for additional step increases when she was hired. But she can increase her income without formal negotiations simply by taking on more responsibilities like : “summer work, overload, grants, or chairing dissertations”.
- Mrs. PoP’s Comments: Much like Friend #1, she’s got a lot of flexibility built into her position and her benefits have always been very strong, so negotiation has never been something she needed to do much of.
Mrs. PoP is solidly sausage: 1-no, 2-no, 3-no, 4-kindof?, 5-no, 6-no
- My job: Algorithm development
- My Comments: I think I’m even more heavily sausage because of where we live and the company that I work at. There are companies that do more of what I do in California or Washington, but not many in Florida. So I work for a small company and am literally the only person doing what I do. I actually tend to think this gives me less leverage in negotiations since if I really wanted to do the same thing and leave my job, I might have to consider moving. (Or have someone hire me to work remotely.)
None of us seem to feel like we have tons of room to negotiate our salaries, whether we’re pork bellies or sausage. So where does that leave us? Is being a pork belly or a sausage inherently better?
My pork belly friends have way more flexibility in their job schedules, whereas Mr. PoP and I being more sausage-like are often at the beck and call of work, even when we’re on vacation. But we don’t really aspire to be pork bellies – in reality, we’d love to have our own business someday, which would make us very sausage-like if we are self employed.
What’s your job and your answers Katie Long’s question? I’d love to hear them! Do you think that you’ve got power at the negotiating table? Have you recently negotiated wages or salary?
* My survey was definitely biased that it was based on who was signed on my g-chat at lunchtime. So sue me. Or better – make it less biased and include your answers below!