Doing great work…

A few years ago, my employer adopted a new pay system. Say what you want about the old General Schedule, but it was nothing If not predictable. Stay alive and employed for X number of years and you knew precisely where your salary would fall. This new system, riddled with administrative complexity and ostensibly based on the “pay for performance” concept, makes any such projection somewhere between impossible and useless.

The cornerstone of our new pay system is our individual written narrative – an annual self-assessment of what we’ve done and why it theoretically matters. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that kind of introspection… although by definition, the better you are at writing and telling your own story, the better you’re apt to do in the face of the committees charged with reviewing these self-assessments. Fortunately, in this system, as in NSPS before it, I do a reasonably good job of detailing why I’m absolutely wonderful. It’s not a system you’d want to work under if you’re in any way self-deprecating.

The theory here is that if pay is somehow tied to the value of individual contributions, people will be more engaged and work harder. I suppose it’s true up to a point. Once you’ve crashed into the upper limit of your designated “pay band,” the remunerative reward for working harder is pretty limited. Sure, you can qualify for a year-end bonus calculated using one of the more Byzantine formulas devised by the mind of man, but in raw percentage terms it’s not much… and 40% of not much is going to be immediately taxed back to the Treasury.

I’m only pondering the system at all, because I recently received the annual notice from the boss that it was time to send in my self-assessment. With so little at stake, it’s hard to imagine sweating too long or hard over the words than end up on the page. It’ll get done and I’m sure the writing will be lovely. I’ll assess myself as the ideal employee doing great work for God and country… and then the various committees and formulas will drive my scores towards the median and an appropriately middle of the road bonus will be awarded.

I’ll be forgiven, I hope, if I don’t find the process particularly motivational or apt to improve my performance in any meaningful way.

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