As quickly as it exploded forth with the rage of a thousand television anchors, the Starbucks “wages in India" scandal looks like it has blown over. For a brief moment there it looked like this outrage might lead to an interesting debate on the pros and cons of minimum wage legislation in a market like India. One that is, for most people, still a buyer’s market when it comes to labour.

Alas. Debate. Alas.

Still, I think we can safely approximate the moderate public position on the idea of wages. As far as companies are concerned we want them to pay an honest wage that is cognizant of the work involved and not exploitative. We may all have our own definitions of “honest", but I think we all agree that companies should reward employees justly and fairly and without seeking to exploit.

Employees, on the other hand, are largely expected to continuously maximize their earnings throughout their careers. This is one of the bedrock philosophies of salaried employment: you will always strive for more pay. Every new profile, new job, new sabbatical to go back to school, and relocation must be accompanied by a suitable hike in rewards, or the prospect of one.

Doing an MBA? Sound investment in an income multiplier.

Uprooting the family and moving to the US? Enjoy the dollars.

Fine, in some cases you may change profiles or employers with no material change in rewards. If it makes you happy. Go ahead. But don’t make a habit of it. Don’t keep short-circuiting the raise cycle. Or soon all your peers will be several lakh per annum ahead of you.

However, under no circumstance must you EVER, EVER, EVER take a pay cut. NEVER. EVER. EVER.


Which is a pity. Because sometimes I notice that the only thing standing between a friend or a relative, and a job or vocation he/she really likes, is a terrifying reluctance to take a pay cut. Somehow this terror gets hard-coded into us so quickly and so deeply that even graduates just months out of college baulk at the prospect of joining a smaller firm or a start-up if it means giving up a slightly larger package at an established employer. They’ve already settled on a risk-reward equation that rules out practically all risk-taking.

Unfortunately, this reluctance also makes us terribly hypocritical. We know that we are basing a particular career choice on nothing more than the income implications involved. But for some reason we couch it in other excuses. Partly to justify it to other people. And partly, perhaps, to justify it to ourselves.

So, a great new job vacancy we really want, and have dreamed of moving into for years, is no longer sexy. Not because it involves a pay cut, the real reason, but because the “company is too small" or the sector is “too unstable" or because “it adds no value to my CV".

On the other hand, we are moving into that shady job in that shady company not for the money, the real reason, but for the “enhanced job prospects" and “the ability it provides to plug holes in my experience before I move on to something really big".

Last week, I wrote here about how an MBA degree might be the one thing in your quiver of skills and qualifications that will condemn your start-up plans. After that column, I exchanged emails with a number of people who’ve been nurturing start-up dreams of their own. Most of them had business ideas in various stages of maturity. Holding many of them back were fear, uncertainty and, very often, a lack of reliable mentorship.

What was amusing, however, was the number of people who want to start businesses, but want to do so without harming their current income levels. I am no business magnate or start-up tycoon such as V-Guard Kochouseph. But I don’t think the risk-reward equations for jobs always extend to start-ups and other non-salaried pursuits.

Even more amusing was their reluctance to admit to this need.

All of us want great salaries and fantastic remuneration packages. We want as much as we can get and we want it now. Many of us get what we want. However, it helps to remember that while this income is empowering, it also gets in the way of trying new things. Or, to paraphrase an old Zen koan, what you earn owns you.

Then, rather than being hypocritical about our motives, why not be honest? Why don’t more people just admit to the fact that they go through eight or 10 hours of misery everyday at work because they like, or love, the financial rewards? Why say that you like the challenge of banking, or the moral imperatives of journalism or the intellectual stimulation of consulting when all you really admire is that comforting, whirring sound ATMs make before spitting out cash?

If someone paid me to sit at home and read all day, I’d drop this column in an instant. In fact why not try out this hypothesis? Email details below.

Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at pleasures and perils of corporate life.

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