Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Everyone should be a consultant

…at least for a little while.

Today’s national news features lots of coverage of the city workers’ strike in Toronto – and specifically, the contentious issue of sick-leave banking.

Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (“CUPE”) who work for the City of Toronto are (currently, at least) able to “bank” a certain number of unused sick days every year, which they can then “cash out” on retirement. According to a CBC story today, that can add up to six months’ pay – a nice little retirement gift.

The City of Toronto isn’t the only employer to offer this, though by all accounts, the ranks of employers offering sick leave banking – or vesting, as it’s sometimes called – are thinning. The idea behind this practice is that employees who know they’ll get paid out for unused sick time won’t take sick days when they’re not sick.


My first job in PR was in a small consulting firm in Ottawa. It was an excellent firm led by excellent communicators, and I learned a tremendous amount about PR working there. But I only came to really appreciate one of the most important lessons of that early consulting role later in life: I learned the real value of my work.

In the years since, I’ve had the opportunity to work in a range of different environments – as an employee and as a contractor, as a union employee and as a non-union employee – and have been interested by how differently people perceive their relationship with their employer.

In my little Ottawa consulting firm, I couldn’t help but notice that every penny I was paid came directly out of the pockets of the firm’s two partners. What they paid me, they didn’t have to spend on things they enjoyed, like traveling abroad. Or concerts. Or even house renovations. I realized that every day, I had to put in a performance that they felt was worth what they were paying me – otherwise, why would they spend the money?

As a consultant in recent years, I’ve seen this even more acutely. My clients have to like my work enough to want to pay me – and then, even more importantly, to pay me to do something else for them down the line. In the consulting world, every day’s performance counts. You always have to be “on”, and you always have to deliver quality. There’s no “entitlement” – and you certainly aren’t paid for not not coming to work. If you don’t deliver – sick or not – you aren’t paid. Period.

I’ve heard employees of many different organizations grouse about being expected to work a full day every day in exchange for their regular paycheque. They don’t put it in those terms, of course; sometimes it sounds like a complaint about a boss being too “nosy” about how much time they spend on eBay at work (and by this, I'm not talking about people who do a great job, but do some personal things on work time and lots of work things on personal time), sometimes it sounds like outrage at being expected only to take sick days when they’re sick.

What I think these employees really need is to spend some time actually having to produce something that someone else wants to buy – that is, to pay them for – every single day. Then, they might begin to see what their employer “owes” them a little differently.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. It would make a refreshing change in attitudes.