So goes the line from Tyler Durden, the alter ego of the unnamed narrator of the cult movie Fight Club, which of course is based on the book of the same name by American author Chuck Palahniuk.
Now the vast majority of people don’t like to think of themselves as “unspecial”. It flies in the face of everything their mothers, school teachers and university professors have told them throughout their lives. But what if I told you that this is almost exactly what your boss – or at the very least their boss – thinks of you? To them you’re just another run-of-the-mill worker drone absorbing a chunk of the annual wage bill and whose productivity they probably feel doesn’t justify the expense.
Over the past nine years or so that I have worked as a financial journalist – during which I spent a lot of time believing that I too was a very beautiful and unique snowflake – I have often been struck by the number of times company CEOs have told me (off the record of course) that they wished they had more staff turnover.
I remember the first time I heard this sentiment. I was just finishing up a tour of a company’s premises with the CEO of a listed company when I casually asked what kept him up at night. Hoping to catch him off guard and get him to reveal some unknown risk facing the company, I was instead poleaxed when he calmly told me that he wished some of his long-serving staff would resign.
“Why on earth would you want that?” I asked incredulously, still clutching on to my treasured belief that hardworking employees such as myself were not only revered but treasured by our grateful employers.
“So that I can introduce some fresh blood,” he said, before adding with a conspiratorial smile: “And preferably cheaper fresh blood.”
Over the years I have heard other CEOs express very similar sentiments and I can confidently say that it no longer disturbs me. In fact, it actually makes perfect sense. You see, while most of us tend to look at the workplace almost exclusively in terms of our own performance, the CEO is regarding the company from the proverbial bird’s eye view. If your company can replace you with someone who will inject fresh energy for R500 less per month, the company will save at least R6 000 a year on their wage bill (even before taking into account pension contributions or productivity gains). If the company can replicate that saving with say 100 workers, the annual saving increases to R600 000. If your boss is the sole shareholder of the company that pretty little sum could wipe out a big chunk of the mortgage on his seaside holiday home. It’s when you factor in these cold hard facts that it becomes a little clearer why your boss might not think of you as being all that special. While company bosses like to state publically that their greatest assets are their people, the part they leave out is that they like their people hardworking but cheap.
Now I know that some people reading this will already be sharpening their knives, or readying their poison pens, for the evil capitalists who control their workplace destinies. But before you protest, take a moment and put yourself in their shoes. Or even better, put yourself in your own shoes and consider how you run your own mini-empire – your home.
If you’re a member of South Africa’s steadily growing middle class, there’s a better than even chance that you employ domestic help at least once or twice a week. Now imagine your domestic worker has been loyal to you for many years. She is hardworking, honest and you trust her enough to give her unrestricted access to your home on a weekly basis. Let’s assume you pay her at least R150 a day (incidentally more than twice the minimum wage) and even throw in lunch because you’re such a wonderful person. Now despite this benign treatment, let’s assume that your domestic worker asks for a pay rise to R200 per day. Assuming she works twice a week that will take your monthly domestic wage bill to R1 600 from R1 200 previously. Over the course of a year your wonderfully unique, honest and trusting domestic snowflake will now cost you R19 200 instead of the original R14 400. What’s more, that’s before you factor in the annual Christmas bonus and those free lunches you throw in out of the goodness of your heart.
Faced with these stark figures, I’d be prepared to venture that your first thought will be to find someone else who’s willing to work for a bit less. After all, what’s so special about a domestic worker anyway?