Are you what you earn?

48 thoughts on “Are you what you earn?”

  1. Ben, you are SO right about this. Cliche’d as it may sound, all the $$ in the world won’t matter if you’re unhappy and a grouch. I left a highly-paid engineering job in high-tech because it was making me miserable to go to work every day, and it affected every facet of my life for the worse. I quit, with DH’s blessing, to teach knitting — a lifelong passion. I make a lot less $$ but we do all right — and I’ve never been happier, nor has DH for that matter. (If I were in Seattle, I’d apply to be your office admin! :)

  2. I totally don’t understand the “your job description sucks, now hire me” response.

    Either one can make sense on its own, but together? That doesn’t make any sense.

  3. I am going to have to politefully disagree Ben. Also, Tess your point isnt even the premise of the article. You missed it big time!

    Clearly Ben doesnt get it. Of course its not all about money, but it sure is important. Remember, “water seeks its own level” so if you want to hire gungo-ho 23 year old kids for 9 bucks an hour, then that what you will get. If you want to hire talent with leaderships skills, management experience, knowledge, the ability to influence and to take the company to the next level then you are going to have to pay them a decent wage. People like that have families, real life responsibilities, etc..the day’s of the 23 year old sleeping on moms couch, making 9 bucks hour are over…or in your case…thats the kind of talent you want and are use too. In the meantime, just get a job at mcdonalds or starbucks and your good to go! :)


  4. I have to agree with Matt on this one. It lowers the bar on who would apply for you. You may luck out, get a starving artist who just graduated and they may or may not have talent. Hiring employees is like shopping for a new car, you get what you pay for. You can buy a Pinto fully equipped for practically nothing but it’s still a firebomb roadkill. Not saying that anyone should complain about pay when they are applying for a job, but you set the caliber of professionals who will apply by setting your standards low in the first place.

  5. Also-hate to be a nit picker, but with contract, no benefits, and entry level there is no growth/vision. You are just contradicting yourself and its no surpise you got the “wouldnt wipe my ass” replies. :)

  6. @Matt and @Amanda. LOL. The “wouldn’t wipe my ass” replies are pretty funny. But to be honest, employees aren’t like cars… cars just decay, but good employees get much better and end up with higher pay because they deserve it. Kinda like fine wine.

  7. You aren’t mentioning in your job ads that it’s short term and no benefits. So right there, if people are hearing during the interview that it’s a contract position, yeah, they may want to know what it pays.

    You’re being a bit disingenuous. Stop trying to justify lowballing people if that’s what you want to do.

  8. I’m sorry, you didn’t mention contract in your first job ad, but after reading the post yet again, you. just. don’t get. it. In a global sense: about wages, jobs, and the intangibles/tangibles therein.

  9. @K. Can you explain to me what part of “Contract Designer / Production Artist” is unclear about being a contract position?

    The admin position has been offered to a candidate, so that’s no longer listed.

  10. Well, I don’t know what kind of employees you’re looking for, but I can tell you that as an experienced and highly productive professional, I expect to be well compensated for the value I add to your business. You’d have to be some sort of schmuck to accept a low rate in the hope that one day, if you’re lucky, the business owner will realise you’re worth more.

    Basically you just sound like a business owner who’s trying to talk potential employees into accepting intangibles in place of pay. Well, that might attract some types of people, but in most cases I think you’ll find that the talent goes where the money is.

  11. Hi Sho,

    I think that’s where we fundamentally disagree. We are not animals of the market. You won’t find a perfect alignment between pay and talent. Of course, the other extreme doesn’t work either (and we’re not offering $10/hr to experienced professionals).

    Talent goes where it makes them the happiest — and money is just a component.

  12. Hi Ben

    I don’t agree at all with that old idea of keep your head down and work hard and you will be compensated by your superiors. It is crap. I’ve been working at a place for 15 years, starting at a job every one admitted I was overqualified for, and have risen very very slowly. Each time I have it was because I asked for it. If not, I think employers are more than happy to have you work your ass for less than you are worth because it saves them money.

    So Ben, I think you are talking about the employers of the 1940s not 2010.

  13. I think Amanda, Matt, K., Sho, etc. all make valid points – you should pay people what they are worth, talent goes where the money is, employers shouldn’t lowball to save a buck, etc.

    On the other hand, Ben is right to assert that hard work pays off, and, as he said in his post, advertised pay doesn’t necessarily equate to actual pay – he’s at liberty to offer more.

    As I see it, and I think Ben sees it this way, there is definitely a lot of wisdom in quoting the lower pay rates in order to yield more passionate, qualified candidates. I believe shrewd is the operative word, here. That shrewdness, I believe, was the gist of his post – that he wants to hire people who are not attempting to define themselves by their paycheck, but by their work, giving him leverage to define the “compensation culture” of his work force.

    But, as I said, I also understand where the majority of the comments above are coming from.

    I think if I were in Ben’s position, I would stop advertising pay rates altogether – from what I’ve seen, most tech employers just post “D.O.E.” rather than actual figures. I would imagine that serves to attract candidates with a wide range of salary requirements, giving the employer maximum flexibility for selecting the optimal candidate for their business’ needs (which may be that starving artist fresh out of school, or that experienced manager with a qualified track record to bring to the table – it could be anything).

    One of the great things about an emerging market is that CEOs like Ben are effectually defining pay scales for the kind of work they offer. Now, again, not that I’m in a position to solicit any advice, but if it were me, as I said, I’d leave pay rates off the job listings and behind those three little letters. Then, you can still weed out the candidates who ask about money right off the bat.

  14. Hah. I just finished applying for the contract production artist position and someone linked me to this article.

    To be honest my private statement was “Well, the offered pay isn’t so great but …hey lolcats!”.

    As a freelancer and a former business owner I actually agree with the assessment. I’ve seen people in a variety of positions from sales to design and art production fall into the “I’m worth twice what you’re offering!” category and then prove to be incredibly underwhelming.

    It’s not always about the wages. I’ll take job satisfaction over wages any day. Stress and hating your job tend to be very expensive in the long run.

  15. @ben that is funny that he had the balls to say that. I mean if you are applying it’s because you most likely need a job and in this market you do have to take what you get sometimes.

    I’ve been in graphic design for about 13 years and now there are so many cookie cutter, overnight, schools out there who give people a semester of photoshop and make them think they are designers. So with that said there’s a saturation of mediocre would be designers driving down wadges for those who are real artists. I’ve see so may portfolios out there that have some nice work in it but when they get into a job you find they have absolutely No imagination and probably not a original thought in their heads and turns out their work is more of a copy of their professors work. No only do you waste time trying to train these people you’ll probably have to refill the position and re-train.

    I agree with Matthew that maybe pay should just be left off. Then you’d get a mixture of levels and probably some more interesting resumés. Sounds like another tab for your site. Resumé Fail.

    You can has cheap cheeseburger or expensive cheeseburger but both can give you heartburn.

  16. I’m surprised that you think it’s a faux pas to discuss compensation at the first interview. Some people can’t work for minimum wage, not because of “inability to control their personal expenses,” but because they have families to support (although I suppose some might consider having dependents to be a sign of an inability etc.).

    Having an applicant make it to the second round before they know it’s a minimum wage job might mean that they then have to decline it, regardless of how qualified they are or how much they’d like to work for you. Everything past the first interview has been a waste of both of your time.

  17. WOW I don’t even know where to begin…

    Studies have shown that compensation typically increases more from JOB to JOB rather than staying in the same job. So much for paying them later.

    On top of this, you exclusively state that there are NO benefits for the jobs you are hiring for. No benefits and no pay, but you have those GREAT intangibles to make them want to work 80 hours weeks. Get REAL.

    Secondly, this sounds partly illegal. You are asking for an administrative assistant/jr. designer but I assume that means he/she will have their working terms dictated to them. When/where they are required to work, how they do things with YOUR business. It sounds like you are opening yourself up to a good case of tax fraud from the IRS. That is, if your employee is not scared enough of losing their jobs…

    If you want to hire below prevailing wages go ahead and do it!! Just don’t wrap yourself in the banner of doing something WONDERFUL for your “contractors”.

    The true intangibles of working some place great come out of a mutual place of respect and not from an employer who wants to skimp out on a few bucks to increase his bottom line.

    Sure google pays terribly comparatively, but this does not mean you can.

  18. Hi Joe,

    We make sure that all our compensation for contractors are legally sound. We don’t hire unpaid interns or outsource our jobs. We don’t force people to work overtime and we offer flexible hours.

  19. Wow Joe

    That’s somewhere out in left field. As long as he’s paying minimum wage he can dictate whatever pay he wants. He’s contracting and though I don’t quite agree with the amount he still has every right to do so, it’s his company.

    You can’t assume he’s a slave driver just because he pays 9-10$/hr or assume he’s working them 80 hours a week. L The job clearly states 40 hours a week. Benefits are a privilege, not a state or federal law requirement, oh and there’s not one tax issue anywhere in sight here.

    We’re a democracy. Free Market, all that jazz. Everyone who’s posted here has the same right to do exactly what Ben is doing, we all may do it differently but but that’s our right and it’s Ben’s right to tell the “Wipe ass guy” to take a hike.

    @Ben Your point in your original statement is much clearer. There seems to be a lot of “wipe ass guys” around here then I thought.


  20. Look, there are good points on all sides but bottom line this is a deceptive practice. And calling it shrewd is spin. If a potential employer is deceptive about advertising pay, what else are they being deceptive about? Knowing your worth works both ways. As much as being a valuable contributor is the end game, I refuse to “put myself on sale”, per Suze Orman.

  21. Hi

    While you were willing long hours for low pay, you did it because you had ownership of the final product. Do you offer these “entry level jobs” any sort of ownership stake?

    I’ve worked in Silicon Valley where low pay was fine because we received stock options. It meant that our fortunes rose and fell with the company.

    If you offer these, then that’s fine. Otherwise you’re no different than the late night TV folks selling us on how to get rich quick

    1. Hi Bill,

      When I did work those long hours, I didn’t do it because there was options or shares, or whatever. When I was making minimum wage, there were no options. In fact, I believe much of the Valley’s options model is broken… most of the options go to employees who are already highly paid.

  22. @Amanda

    “oh and there’s not one tax issue anywhere in sight here. ”

    There is a tax issue. You don’t pay payroll tax for contractors. The IRS has a very specific definition for “Contractor”. If your contractors are doing work that the IRS thinks falls outside of that definition, you can be hit with an assessment for all the payroll tax you avoided, and the IRS is really cracking down on misclassified contractors these days.

    It is particularly difficult to classify entry-level positions as contract. But it’s not impossible, and I have no opinion on whether or not these specific positions would pass muster with the IRS.

  23. Ben’s “entry-level employee who never complained and eventually rose to become the team lead or an executive” is non-existent. I know of no HR department who will promote or give an above-average raise to someone who didn’t ask for it (at least in the software industry.)

    HR’s role is typically to keep compensation down. If they think you’re happy with low pay, you’ll continue to get low pay.

    I’m a manager at a fairly large tech company, so I know what my company’s official policies on pay are. I can tell you for a fact that this is how they work. I also know that they are no different than other companies.

    How else would upper-management and CEOs get the ridiculous compensation they get? Surely it wasn’t without them asking for it.

    Be clever about how you ask, but make no mistake: if you want better pay, you must negotiate.

    1. Hi Mike, My experience has been different. I have seen comp increases without people asking and I’ve been given raises without asking. If the role of HR is to keep compensation down, that’s not a good HR department.

      Hi Vaporware, Thanks for the very kind words.

  24. Ben, your attitude smacks of privilege. You may have been working a minimum wage job at some point, but you have your upper middle class background and private school education to fall back on. So much for pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. For some people a job isn’t about doing something fun and interesting. It’s about making enough money to pay the bills and support themselves/their families. Which is damn near impossible to do on $8.50 an hour with no benefits. All this talk about personal responsibility and choices means nothing if you aren’t in the social or economic position to HAVE choices in the first place!

    1. Sue, I didn’t come from a “upper middle class background”.

      My parents and I immigrated to the US when I was 14. We lived in a 1 bedroom apartment, I’d come home from school and the whole family would go clean offices and collect empty soda cans for recycling cash after dinner. The entire family only made $2,500 a month since we were “contractors”. During the summers, I’d haul 50 lbs of concrete mix after commuting 3-hours a day in San Fran to help my dad with his construction projects. I went to Northwestern on scholarship money and grants.

      I know that it’s easy to jump to conclusions, but I do know what it’s like to pull myself up by my bootstraps.

  25. I have been a devoted follower of the Cheezburger Network for about 2 years now, and I must commend you Mr. Huh on the progress you have been able to accomplish within this current economy in such a short amount of time.(This is the best run-on sentence I could create on such short notice)

    I have worked in IT for over 15 years and I learned extremely early to find a happy balance of my needs and my wants.

    Back in the early 90s, I was lucky enough to work for the @Home Network-considering what this company represented to residential broadband(this was the company that made and broke the stock market around the year 2000). It was a privilege to work for the @Home Network, along with some other companies throughout my career, and I would have gladly accepted minimum wage in exchange for the experience. The problem, if you could call it that, was this was also a time when IT wages were exploding everywhere and came crashing to the ground overnight-suddenly there were 1000s of IT folk out of jobs, for whatever reason, and the jobs they were finding were paying pennies on the dollar compared to what the jobs were paying, I believe was 3 months prior.

    I have rambled in trying to make a point here-If Mr. Huh wishes to hire you at a rate that is less than what you feel you are worth, I suggest reflecting on this…..are you that important to the Cheezburger Network, or is the Cheezburger Network that important to you? If you can budget yourself in life with what Mr. Huh is willing to pay, look beyond the money at what you get to experience…..funny pics, funny texts, funny vids. What is most important about seeking employment at the Cheezburger Network is that you get to work at the Cheezburger Network!

    If all you focus on is the money, you will miss the bigger picture-you will show experience from the Cheezburger Network on your Resume. After working for the Cheezburger Network and you go on your next interview, I guarantee you that the Cheezburger Network will be all you talk about in that interview-and I guarantee you will be hired. Oh yes, the man(or woman) who will interview you-they had to take positions that didn’t offer much pay either…..but they got the experience to put on their resume so they could be there interviewing you.

    Mr. Huh, if you ever decide you need some assistance from over here in Palm Springs, CA-then I shall be at your beck and call…..I’ll be the lolcat in the corner-with bells on :)

  26. suggests a graphic design specialist with only a high school diploma in a company of 100-500 people based in Washington is making at least 45k a year.

    Your justifications for paying people below the poverty line, simply because they should “love what they are doing” is horseshit, Ben, and you ought to know that.

    You’re obviously not dumb, just shortsighted, and you obviously have a huge chip on your shoulder. Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is one thing, but expecting that you will get good employees by paying them half of what they are worth will never attract the type of people you really want. I’m curious, Ben, how many contractors have you gone through?

    Anyone with a skill will refuse to work for less than it would take to put a roof over their head, and to expect them to simply take intangibles without a stake in the company is simply horrendous business practices.

    The only people willing to do this work for you, with no benefits and little to no compensation are probably starving college kids, and/or dropouts who are still living rent free with mommy. IE, not talent, just warm bodies.

    You won’t find many married people who are able to work for you at those wages. If they have a family to feed, even less likely. Ben, if you had paid attention last year, you would have seen studies that show that the happily married tend to be the best employee’s you can get.

    Your employees are your greatest resource, Ben. Period, whether you like that fact, or hate it, you still have to live with it.

    Married people are healthier… Happily married men, for example, are absent fewer days and stay in their jobs longer. People in good marriages tend to practice healthier lifestyles so they avoid being out sick, too. That means they are less likely to tap expensive health care services. (which you are not offering anyway, from the sound of it). I’ve contracted before, and I never expected benefits. However, I was paid enough so that I could afford to purchase insurance, and still pay my rent, keep the lights on, and food in my mouth. That’s generally the tradeoff when working with contractors. You pay them market value, and you research that very closely for your area, and the specific job skill you are seeking, based on their experience, the quality of their portfolio of work, and any references that might improve their standing.

    A little more on married people… Researchers have shown that employees who have good relationship skills… like what is REQUIRED of them to sustain a fulfilling marriage… are among the most productive employees you can have, even when they are exposed to significant stress at work. (and it sounds like there’s a lot of stress about the lolcats offices)

    Single people with lots of disposable income tend to be slack-asses. I know. They go out, party and throw their money into the bottle, or even drugs. That means their performance suffers. Studies have shown that happily married peoples performance tends to improve with each year of marriage.

    You mentioned in a comment that employees are not like cars, because cars “deteriorate”. Trust me, nothing “deteriorates” faster than an employee who feels as though he isn’t getting paid properly for his work. A person like this is dangerous, because they know enough about your operation to pose a problem for you, if they become disgruntled. They may hold valuable trade secrets and begin leaking bad information about you, or your company, as is happening right now, and which you are feeling the weight of as you attempt to do damage control here.

    Something to think about, Ben.

  27. all that being said, I love lolcats. It’s just a shame that my laughter is literally coming at the expense of people living on poverty wages.

    1. Luther,

      I’m not sure how to convince you that the environment in the office and the culture isn’t what Gawker is painting it out to be. It’s hard to debate anonymous sources. We don’t force anyone to take this pay, and there are higher paying jobs available in Seattle. But they work here because the culture’s great, we have a good time and they are very talented people who share our goals. We also have a great track record of promoting 25% of our entry-level employees within a year.

      We’ve had to fire a couple of people, and that can lead to disgruntled people who feel like they weren’t given a fair shake. Our turnover is very low, with only 1 voluntary departure. The business of online publishing is a tough one (I like to say that it’s like collecting shavings of pennies) and that’s just the economics (just ask Gawker). I wish I could pay more, but between not creating opportunity and creating some, I know what I’d chose.

  28. Let’s think about it this way.

    40 hrs a week X 4 weeks X 8.55 (state minimum wage) = $1,368 (right at the $1,400 cut off for food stamps state assistance). Of course you’ll lose a chunk of that to taxes. So let’s say your take home pay is $1,200.

    Let’s be forgiving and assume you can find a studio apartment for $650 in the city (most likely a tiny hole in the wall, but bearable if you’re really doing your “dream job”).

    Let’s assume you take public transit. If you live in the city you buy a Zone 1 bus pass for $72 a month.

    You have no health benefits, but fortunately you’re most likely young and healthy, so you can probably get very basic coverage for around $160 a month.

    That leaves you $318 for food. You spend $200 a month on food. Let’s assume that you have no other additional expenses. You never go out or spend money on things you don’t really “need”. You have $118 left over at the end of every month. In a year if your costs don’t change you can save $1,416. Of course if anything at all happens (you’re forced to move, you have a medical emergency, you get laid off), things come crashing down.

    So yeah, I think it’s great that you pay your employees minimum wage and don’t give them benefits even if they work full time. I’m sure it warms the cockles of your heart to know that they’re doing a job they love.

  29. I once told a friend that I was surprised how much it cost just to live, to which he responded, “No, it just costs that much to live the way YOU live.” That was a bit sobering.

    The real question is a societal question… why does it cost so much just to live in the US? If inflation is so low (relatively, over the last couple decades), why have prices for so many things (e.g. electricity, gas, healthcare) gone up so much? I believe that if you track it down far enough, the answer is our greedy, commercialized, wasteful and self-entitled living.

    Some of this can be blamed on corruption and a flawed system, but a lot of it comes down to spoiled people that feel like they deserve more than they can afford. We didn’t lose any wealth in the last couple years because we never owned it, it was all borrowed on credit we couldn’t afford. Until we realize that we’re all living beyond our means (at the expense of the unfortunate) things are only going to get worse.

    So whose fault is it, the company that only pays minimum wage, or a wasteful society that drives the cost of living up?

    And, BTW, I know a family of three that lives on $150/month for food. They’re not poor (not well off either), but that’s the budget they set for themselves.

  30. I’d like to know where in Seattle you can find a studio apartment for 650, or anywhere, for that matter. Certainly you’ll NEVER find that in the Bay Area, where I live. Also, I’d like to know what you are buying to eat for only 200 for an entire month (sounds like a lot of non-nutritious foods like Ramen, and Macaroni and Cheese, with the occasional can of catfood). Eventually, that sort of diet will catch up to you, and you’ll NEED the insurance benefits to maintain your failing body.

    Kelly, your estimates are absurd. No one can afford to live like that, except, as I mentioned, the single people / college kids / slack-off free renters.

  31. Not to mention, will the 118 “extra” money have to go toward paying your light bill? Your internet access and telephone? Will it go toward paying any other bills? Personally, my PG@E bill is 120 bucks a month, and I’m a stickler for keeping unneeded items off, and things not powered up that don’t need to be.

  32. Luther,

    I was intending to evoke the absurdity of calling minimum wage reasonable for living, although you can get incredibly crappy hole-in-the-wall studios in Chinatown/the International District for that price or cheaper. Yes, $200 is nothing a month for food, even if you’re extremely frugal. That’s the point. 40 hours a week at minimum wage and no benefits is an obscene way to treat people you supposedly value as employees.

  33. Kelly and Luther, you guys are ridiculous. I make minimum wage in Seattle, working a crappy job that I can’t wait to leave. From what I’ve read and heard about Cheeseburger, I would be more than happy to work there. Currently, at my job, even at minimum wage, it’s a hard living, but a living. The two of you sound like you’re slumming on our behalf. Not to mention that Luther’s continued diss of “college students” and “slackers”.

    It’s an effing recession. Did you not hear? Here’s a company creating jobs. Not laying off people, not offering stupid unpaid internships to grab coffee. Not every job is suitable for everyone. Gimme a break and get a life.


  34. ive applied for a job at this company twice. TWICE. i would actually quit my current job that pays twice as much to work there. no questions asked. i’ll cut back my spending.

    fact is, i’m pretty sure noone is holding a gun to the employees heads. if the environment there is so bad, as soon as they can find a better job, these employees will leave. that’s life, that’s business.

  35. Ben,

    If it wasn’t YOUR goal to make money, you wouldn’t be interested in hiring people at lower rates, without benefits, to contract positions for which you do not need to pay employer taxes. Why is it OK for you to implement a strategy in the interest of making money while you scoff at candidates who are interested in making money? If you want to pay minimum wage, and the market is such that it yields decent enough candidates, and you’re not actually breaking labor laws with this “contract” nonsense — which you likely are, but that’s another story — then fine, good for you. But don’t blog from up on high about how unimportant money is when paying low wages directly contributes to your personal wealth.

    You’ll respond of course by saying that you pay low wages BECAUSE they yield better candidates, but obviously those same great candidates would be happy to work for you for MORE money so it’s absurd to say they’re only in it for the lack of money. I think you probably view minimum wagers as better candidates because those at the poverty line have much more to lose and you can manipulate and control them more easily as a result.

  36. This entire article and discussion made me think of that old list of advice from an old man to a young man that has floated on the net for ages.
    One of the pieces of advice was:

    If something has a direct benefit to an individual or a class of people, and a theoretical, abstract, or amorphous benefit to everybody else, realize that the proponent’s intentions are to benefit the former, not the latter, no matter what bullshit they try to feed you.

    But hey, perhaps we are all way off base. This mostly likely won’t post, as I won’t add in a valid email.

    Best of luck to all


  37. Can’t you just pay the fair market rate for these positions and leave it at that. If you want to get the best work out of people then pay them enough so that they don’t need to think about money. If the work they are doing is purposeful and inspiring then motivation will not be an issue, at least for the designer position

  38. I’ve found that most companies do the opposite advertising a higher wage than they are willing to offer to attract high caliber candidates. They let this farce continue all the way to the offer stage wasting everyone’s time. In an ideal world we wouldn’t have to play any games at all.

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