Alasdair Thompson

So Alasdair Thompson put his foot in it. According to the NZ Herald, he said:

In a debate on gender pay equity, Mr Thompson said women deserved to be paid according to their productivity, just like men, and backed equal opportunity.But he said that among many factors affecting work, women could be more likely to put their careers on hold while having children and take more sick leave. He suggested once-a-month “sick problems” could be behind the days off.

The comments about the “once-a-month sick problems” seemed to have created the most outrage. A multitude of comments, from both sexes, generally decrying the comments seem to be the outcome. Which is understandable. I haven’t seen any evidence in my dealings with working with women, and even if there were, they would be impossible to separate from my “take time off to watch the football” days, which I doubt many women do.

But the problem is much worse in my opinion. It goes much further than a simple gender debate about pay equity.

Here’s a quick quiz to illustrate (try and answer honestly based on  your gut feeling):

  1. Person A works 40 hours a week at job XYZ. Person B works 35 hours a week at job XYZ. Should Person A get paid more?
  2. Person A works 40 hours a week at job XYZ. Person B also works 40 hours a week at job XYZ. Should they get paid the same?

Ah, the ol’ trick question survey!

Did you answer yes to both? Or did you go “this has got to be a trick”!

Ok, heres the same questions, with a twist:

  1. Person A works 40 hours a week at job XYZ. Person B works 35 hours a week at job XYZ. Person B has been the top producer at the company for several years. Should Person A get paid more?
  2. Person A works 40 hours a week at job XYZ. Person B also works 40 hours a week at job XYZ. Person A is a stand-out employee, highly productive and crucial to the companies success. Should they get paid the same?

The only difference is that the second survey actually includes a concept of productivity. The real problem, is that Alasdair Thompson and, judging by the comments I’ve seen, and my own experience, still equate productivity with hours spent at work. In my opinion, this is the attitude that needs to be tossed out. We should be outraged that people who are differently productive are treated the same.

But measuring productivity is hard, and probably even more controversial than gender pay differences. And so NZ continues to meander down the productivity stakes…

Alasdair Thompson

3 thoughts on “Alasdair Thompson

  1. One of the things that grinds my gears about this is that the government is moving *away* from performance based pay. As a civil servant it doesn’t much matter whether I perform or not – I know my salary has a ceiling, I know my chances of a raise are based mostly on how nice a dude I am, and there’s no performance incentives like bonus payments.

    This has got to change.

    Part of the problem is measuring performance – civil service job descriptions are so wishy washy and include “other duties as required” even if you’re the CIO. It would be hard to nail down something to actually measure your average person against these days – and my time in private enterprise was no different. The main difference in private enterprise is my bonus was roughly equated to my billable rate, which is … hours worked. There’s actually a perverse incentive there to work more hours less efficiently as it’s better for your bonus – but longer term, it’s worse for the company as the word gets around that their staff are nothing but lushes on a fat retainer.

    Many places have this clocked nicely. I don’t notice the top IT companies – the Googles, Apples, and Microsofts – complaining too much about how their remunerated and how it’s measured. I’d *love* to be measured, objectively. I just don’t think it’ll happen.

    1. Yes, the lack of performance incentives does permeate government, but the corporate sector also bathes in this miasma of apathy. The issue I believe is simply the structures in place that separate your work function from the actual value proposition of the company. Why does this company exist? What does it do that makes life better for the people who use its services?

      But when sufficient structure exists, like in big corporates and government (government has a special “what does this department do again?” problem!), avoidance of risk becomes a primary motivator…

      So, your performance review might go something like this:

      A) Mr Parry, how has your work contributed to us not being mentioned in the paper?
      B) Have you performed any task that may have a possibility of failure?
      C) How has your work performance reduced the risk for our organisation?

      so you’re being ‘measured’ on ‘performance’ but if the organisations goalposts are made of wet noodles, its going to be a somewhat disheartening process!

  2. Richard Parry says:

    I wonder if it’s something to do with age, or size. If we consider youths: they take all kinds of silly risks, skydiving, and wrestling bears, and going to Courtenay Place in the evening. But as you get older, you don’t want to take those same risks – you swaddle yourself, to a greater or lesser degree, citing “experience” and “wisdom” as motivators.

    So is it the same for Big Corporates? Do they get to an age, lose their willingness to accept risk, drop their agility for a pair of Crocs and a comfy robe?

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