on Pay Equity

Hello dear diary, it’s been quite a while since I last wrote on here. Social work on me has had the unintended consequence of not wanting to write anything. Writing up progress notes and service plans is draining enough… to have to write on my free time on top of that? Why is it that this used to feel so much easier when I was a college student, when all I was doing was basically reading and writing? Maybe it’s just my nostalgia distorting my perception of reality.

In any case, I’m up past midnight, feeling restless with a lot of cheap coffee still lingering in my system. There are a lot of thoughts and feelings and experiences colliding in my mind, which I suppose is rather normal for an introverted mind like mine daily witnessing the pains and struggles of others and trying my best to be their advocates.

A friend of mine has recently texted to me that he is libertarian. He was one of my closest friends when we were in high school. I’d go over to his place all the time, play video games, order fast food drive-thrus, and occasionally score some weed, find our secret spot in the backyard and get high. Back then I was politically conservative and he raved on and on about Michael Moore. Almost 20 years later, things sure have changed. He’s libertarian now. I still can’t get over that. He’s libertarian now!

We’re still very friendly, but oh boy we can end up debating for hours. Just today we were text-debating from like 6PM to 7PM, and then we took a break because he had to tend to his baby daughter and then around 9PM went back at it, arguing about government regulations, unions, objectivism, Atlas Shrugged, etc, and by the end it was a little past midnight. For me anyway. He lives in California so it’d be 9PM for him.

After all that, for whatever reason, my mind wandered to thinking about how my salary is the same amount as my coworkers with the same job title (unless they lack credentials, then it’s less). In the agency that I work in, for people who have the same job title, there is exact pay equity. Resident aides are all paid the same hourly wage amount, and social workers are paid the same salary. There is no pay difference between male or female, and it doesn’t differentiate no matter people’s expertise nor productivity.

Many economists – and definitely libertarians – would probably see this as being detrimental. It is the anti-thesis of merit-based pay system. No matter how well or how poorly I do at my job compared to other social workers at my site, I’m paid exactly the same. The question would then come up, what would give these workers incentive or motivation to work their best and to improve their performance?

It’s a really good question.

But here’s the thing. For me personally, I find this pay equity to be quite liberating. I’m not sure if I could explain it well but the fact that my performance as a social worker is not tied to how much more/less money I’ll make is absolutely liberating, and somehow on many days I still find myself working my best and trying my 110%. Maybe it’s the type of profession it is. My motivation isn’t to make profit as much as possible; it’s to counsel, support, and advocate for the people assigned to my caseload, to assist my coworkers in doing the same thing with their caseload, and to not get fired so that means I have to document my work to an online database system in a timely manner. I’m not worried about if I can make more money than someone, when I’ll be due for merit-based pay raise, or anything like that.

Some days I have to admit this pay equity thing is probably a detriment to the agency I work for. I don’t work as well as I should because I know in the back of my mind that it’s not like doing that will be more rewarding. In fact, the better I’m at my job, it’s more likely that I’ll be rewarded with more work and more responsibilities and no other actual reward.

It does make a lot of logical sense to me that a social worker who’s bilingual Spanish should get paid more than me. If my agency did hire a bilingual Spanish social worker and that person’s salary was higher than mine, I would have no qualms.

On the flip side, I kind of don’t have any qualms either if this pay equity thing stayed the same. That’s because as I’ve seen a good number of social workers who’ve come and gone at my work site, I’ve seen that almost every single person had their unique expertise, something unique to them that they contributed to the agency. If being bilingual Spanish is an expertise that could merit higher pay; then maybe so does being organized enough to be the point person for scheduling social workers’ times for when they’ll be onsite late and on weekends and enough to be the person the director refers to for sorting biyearly assessments and evaluations; then maybe so does having the technical expertise to train other workers of how to use the database system and troubleshoot any issues with the system; then maybe so does having years of substance abuse counseling experience and group facilitation skills for relapse support; then maybe so does being a marine veteran and knowing firsthand the trauma that war and combat can cause…. So in that sense, I’m not bothered at all that we’re all paid exactly the same.

I mean, technically that doesn’t necessarily mean actual pay equity though. What’s left to consider is that our deductions are different. Our health insurance plans are different. What we assign as percentages to go to our retirement/pension is different. Things of that sort. So we will end up with different paychecks. But essentially we share the same salary.

In a weird way I think it builds camaraderie too. My job doesn’t require much team work. I spend most of the time doing individual sessions, accompanying individual tenants offsite, doing data entry in my office alone… Still, there is a lot of positive and friendly cooperation that just happens so naturally at my work site. I might have rose-tinted glasses on but it really does feel like to me that we all have each others’ backs.

Recently a change in our personnel disrupted this flow though. There is now a position with the title “Senior Social Worker.” It’s technically a different job title and the person is paid more – though not that much more – than us regular social workers. Things are still friendly and cooperative at the site, but I have to admit that it does change the dynamic, or at least just the vibe quite a bit.

I don’t have a definite idea of whether the pay system at a work site should be equal like ours or “merit-based” (in quotes because that’s what it is described as on paper but it might not actually be like that on practice) like so many other sites, but I will say this much from my personal experience: I don’t have much problem at all with pay equity like this. Like I said, it’s liberating to me. Even if it’s not actually true, it does feel like everyone is held to the same standard, and that there’s an implicit trust that the worker will do their due diligence and work as hard as they want to.

I mean, could the pay be higher? Absolutely. But in this environment, if my pay rises, so should the pay of all other social workers on site. Because we’re paid equally. Many people might not like this at all, but at the time of this writing, I personally find it to be a source of relief. My libertarian friend is probably just going to have to disagree.

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