Career and the mysterious power difference in workplaces

You are probably puzzled how did I find these workplace rules about sexual harassment stuff as it’s far from my original idea (meritocracy, observed in gaming). The interest came from the “power dynamic” thingie.

I mean, I’ve heard all my life how employees have less power than employers or higher ranking employees. I heard it from everyone. I’ve read about extreme issues where someone “in power” could force illegal things on those “at his mercy”. Yet I’ve never seen this in my own life. I’ve never felt powerless front of a boss. I saw my employment as a consensual trade: “work for money”. If he makes further demands (exercises power), I can just say no and if he fires me, I find another job in no time, since my earlier job was at market value. “That’s not my job” was something I often said to bosses, much less often nowadays as they’ve learned that it’s pointless to push me to do stuff not in my field or to do overwork when I don’t like it. Once when I was told that “we need you to come in Saturday because we’re behind schedule and we must meet schedule or face serious losses”, my answer was literally “not my problem, I’m not a stockholder” and I wasn’t fired because – go figure – if they need someone on Saturday, they surely won’t fire him to not have him Monday-Friday.

My thought was that these people who fear their bosses are simple irrational cowards who were taught to just obey “authority figures” and they are giving up a game where they are sure winners. I should have known better: when lots of people tell something, they are right in some way. Not surely the way they believe it, but some way.

The solution is “career”. The women in these articles went to Harvey to “network” and Harvey had different idea about proper networking. But their purpose was to build a positive (not that positive) relationship with him to advance them in their career. Same thing for the junior employees going out with the senior partners. Or the epic “guildmaster’s girlfriend” who gets loot for horrible performance. The infamous “not what you know but who you know”.

“Building career” means accepting a job-conditions-salary that you would never accept without the assumed chance of promotion. No one would accept the offer: work 60 hours a week and spend 10 more socializing with colleagues for average salary. Everyone would say “I’d rather take an average job with 40 hours and no social demands for the same salary”. Yet people do the first because it’s hinted and assumed that if they do this job for some time, they’ll be promoted and they’ll get more money and/or better conditions and/or more fun job. Being a plumber for $40K/year is maybe better than being a horribly overworked and sexually harassed assistant for $35K, but the plumber will retire as a plumber, but the assistant will climb to a $500K senior partner who will do the harassing.

Except it’s an obvious lie. From the fact that there are more entry-level jobs than management, it should be obvious that most assistants will not climb to management. They will just be overworked, underpaid and harassed assistants forever (or until they get the picture and quit). There are no formal promotion schedules, no objective performance evaluations, no nothing. They promote you if they feel like.

How does this connects to power? If the plumber is fired, he has no reason to care. He accepted the salary for the work, so the ending of the contract doesn’t leave him at loss. On the other hand the assistant wasn’t working for $35K, he was working for $35K + option for promotion. In his mind, he was collecting “promotion points” in the heads of bosses, “network points” within the industry that he’ll once chip in for the promotion. If he quits or get fired, he loses all his points. By closing the trade, he accepts that he spent the last N years working overtime and being harassed for lousy $35K. Losing a career-job is like being fired from a DKP guild: you did the work for the DKP and now it’s gone. On the other hand, losing a “normal” job is like leaving a /roll guild: you just join another and roll.

Go figure, I didn’t get the big promotion. But neither did 95% of my coworkers and they all worked on Saturday and they all put in the time drinking with the management and they all spent their own money on “proper” gifts for them. The promoted one is better off than me. His overworking and smooching paid off well. But the average guy (him + everyone overworking and smooching but getting nothing) got much worse deal than I do. I make similar as them for much less work and zero smooching.

I suggest you the same: accept jobs-conditions-salaries only if you’d accept these for the rest of your life. If you’d be happy to work until retirement doing this thing, in this setting for this money, go for it. If you only accept it “for a few years”, you’ll have a pretty sad moment few years down the road.

Author: Gevlon

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19 thoughts on “Career and the mysterious power difference in workplaces”

  1. You’re making a LOT of assumptions that simply are not true here in the US. The Weinstein scandal doesn’t provide a springboard attack of every profession in existence, it’s merely indicative of how things go inside the very liberal culture that exists in the entertainment industry. Weinstein is a low life movie mogul who bought his own position with his own money. He’s not a plumber, programmer or WoW guild leader. Nothing he did implies correlation with any of the jobs, careers or activities you mention. As a manager myself, I have never seen these issues in my profession. My department head(boss) is female, and any function we’ve ever attended together was always work sponsored and occurred during business hours.

    This whole thing about “networking” just boggles the mind, because if an employee is protecting their own witness, they will engage in the important things that management looks for: good attendance, above average performance, ethical behavior…etc.

    It’s as if the liberals are taking the Harvey thing and adjusting the narrative so the dog continues to chase its own tail.


  2. @Noguff: so just because you and your boss didn’t hang out after hours, you claim that people don’t do that. You never saw coworkers in a bar? You never heard of office parties where excessive amount of alcohol was consumed?


  3. Sometimes, there is no choice but to accept lower conditions in order to advance.
    For example, you are often caught in a situation where you don’t have the skills to confidently go for the market price, but the only real way to acquire these skills is to get the job and simply try your best. This happens pretty often, and not just on entry level positions.
    I’d augment your advice with this:
    “Should you find there is no other way but to accept subpar work conditions, make it clear for exactly how long you are accepting them and what part of the benefits you will absolutely not give up, even if the boss starts pushing you to give them up. Then you have a chance to come out of the other side of these few months (a year, maximum) with the skills and resume required to either negotiate proper conditions within the company, or find them elsewhere”.


  4. @Maxim: wrong reason, right conclusion. If you don’t have the skills, your market price is low. An illiterate can’t ask for more than minimal wage for flipping burgers. An intern, who is there to get basic experience often has zero market value due to supply and demand. Students have negative value, that’s why they (or the taxpayers) have to pay for college.

    Indeed, you should take a whatever best job you can get, even if it’s a zero salary internship. But as you grow and your options grow, you should shop around.


  5. @Gevlon

    “so just because you and your boss didn’t hang out after hours, you claim that people don’t do that. ”

    Here you go with assumptions again. I made no claim about what “other people” do. I simply stated the level of interaction that me and my superior had. In my profession, after hours fraternization is shunned and frowned upon. Of course my organization cannot control what happens between employees when they are off the clock, but our company ethics policies, which prohibits supervisor/subordinate fraternization, are signed by everyone upon hiring. I’m more than certain that other industries/companies have these same kind of ethics rules.

    Maybe this whole “networking” thing is generational in its definition? What is the difference between an afternoon round of golf between co-workers who are sharing information and chasing deals and contracts, versus an evening of drinking and socializing at some bar/restaurant, where fake people put on fake faces and use alcohol as a means of influencing/controlling/blackmailing someone? Why would any sensible person take the risk of taking part in the latter?


  6. @Noguff: while golfing is indeed less likely to turn into drunken hookups and subsequent harassment lawsuits, I don’t see how is it not fraternization and done only for advancing one’s career.


  7. It’s not about whether or not it’s fraternization, we both know it is. Why isn’t the question instead about why any company would allow or promote the latter?


  8. “In my profession, after hours fraternization is shunned and frowned upon.”

    In my job that never stopped (married) managers and subordinates hooking up. And it’s not always the manager initiating the relationship.

    “What is the difference between an afternoon round of golf between co-workers who are sharing information and chasing deals and contracts, versus an evening of drinking and socializing at some bar/restaurant, where fake people put on fake faces and use alcohol as a means of influencing/controlling/blackmailing someone? Why would any sensible person take the risk of taking part in the latter?”

    The difference is that for my boss to be able to invite me to golf, I need to know how to play golf. And if I do, it must be a hobby of mine, so playing with him is a win-win situation; I get to have fun and the networking bit is just an added bonus.

    Nothing is stopping my boss from inviting me to a bar, simply because everyone has the capacity to go and have a drink (even a non-alcoholic one), regardless if I enjoy the activity or not. The fact that I hate going to bars is irrelevant at that point, I either go to “network” and pretend to have “fun”, or I don’t and face the social impact of my refusal in my relationship with my boss. This is why people “take the risk”, as you put it.


  9. @tithian: if you know that your boss plays golf, you go and take golf lessons to be ready when he invites you. You also learn to let him win without him noticing. I don’t really see difference between company golfing and responsible drinking (which doesn’t end up in drunken assault)


  10. @Tithian

    “.The fact that I hate going to bars is irrelevant at that point, I either go to “network” and pretend to have “fun”, or I don’t and face the social impact of my refusal in my relationship with my boss.”

    Why isn’t there another option of not going to a bar simply because of the risk, instead of the selfish benefit one “might” get from it socially? You might not drink, but someone else invited may drink…and drink alot…and do or say things that could jeopardize everyone there. I simply don’t see that same kind of risk with a simple round of golf.


  11. maybe this whole “networking” thing is generational in its definition?
    pretty much this. with every generation workspace and workatmosphere tends to be more like school. “you play with school friend why wouldn’t you play with co-workers?”.

    I am facing mobbing now since nearly 2 decades. That is a consequence of my a-normal behaviour. I don’t care about the others I’m only doing my job for the money (shame on me?). sure I’m courteous and professional in my work but I’m not there to make friends, find love, get drunk or drama-attention. In several jobs this lead to superiors questioning my engagement and performance … where I do my work without mistakes and perfect attendance, also only positive feedback from my customers. But ever since co-workers and superiors will shun and mob me.
    So I can understand that people cave and fake social stuff and pretend to have fun, just to have at least management “on ones side” so they at least ignore or not partake in the alienation and mobbing.
    As long as we are humans we will treat each other like trash. the only way to deal with this is building thick skin and keep up performance as negotiated in the contract.


  12. People succumb to boss’es pressure when they are employed beyond their abilities or paid beyond their value.
    The young actresses in Weinstein scandal were ready to put their ass on his couch because they knew perfectly well that they have no value in the acting market. None whatsoever. Hollywood is full of young, pretty girls aspiring to be stars. They are all the same, they all look the same, they all talk the same, they all went to the same acting classes and they all have the same work experience (serving coffees in Starbucks). In this article ( Jennifer Lawrence “shared her own story of sexual assault and abuse early in her career”. No. It wasn’t abuse nor sexual assault, it was dumb, greedy girls trying to one-up each other. They had no real business value to offer so they offered their bodies instead. What’s more, when they were young “aspiring actresses” (which is a euphemism for “prostitutes paid with Holywood career hopes”) they kept quiet. We can only guess how many of the “star actresses” of today started their career by making deals like this. Considering how wide-spread the accusations are we can probably assume they all have and not be very far off.
    We can argue the morality of Weinstein’s accusations but only in the context of a wider question about the morality of prostitution. The women were not forced to do anything. They willingly agreed to do whatever necessary to have their shot at fame. Some refused and sued for nice chunks of money. Some refused and didn’t get their jobs. And some agreed. We can guess which group is represented the most in the current crop of Hollywood stars.


  13. First: Actresses and Weinstein. Pretty young girls that want fame and attention are literally dime a dozen. You can’t be surprised when they agree to prostitute themselves for a shot at one of the few available careers. To be fair, The only reason young men don’t do this in the same numbers is one, there are far fewer takers, and two, young men aren’t obsessed about their looks as much as young women. Should producers be “saints” that are above all that? Sure! Good luck with that.

    Second: If you “need the job to get the job experience” then you’re in it over your pay grade and need to accept a lower market value. I did this during my entire early career as an engineer as I never went to college. My first jobs were as a “Mechanical assembler” which was the absolute lowest entry level job. But I’m smart, so I shined. If that worked at that company? Great! I moved up quick. If not? I quit and got a different job where I thought there might be more vertical movement. My “big break” came when I got a job as a “Final assembly technician” (After working at a chip producer that used their equipment.) in a company that had no in process test department. I was able to convince the boss to start one, with me as the only person in the department. I went through 6 other companies before getting to that one, always taking the job I was qualified for, not the one I ultimately wanted. I never “networked” with the boss for the sake of “networking with the boss.” Of course, during that entire process, I had no idea the job I really wanted was “Online Game developer.”

    I think part of the problem now is every young person is told “Get a college degree! You’ll be so employed!” which is bullshit. MOST people are stupid, and all a degree does for them is inflate their opinion of their own “market value.” Well, that and give them huge debt.


  14. @stawek you say that these women did what they did because they were unqualified. In the next breath you say that all qualified actresses probably made the same choice. Aren’t you in effect saying that sleeping with a producer is what qualifies you for a job as an actress in hollywood? And don’t you see a problem with that?


  15. @anon: I don’t see a problem with that. I believe that there are much more qualified actresses than jobs, so the only effective selection method is sleeping with Harvey.


  16. @Anon
    They are all unqualified until they get their first big role. Stars are stars because we know them. This is what gives the Harveys of Hollywood so much power: they can “qualify” any random girl by giving her a role in a high-budget movie. Who cares if she can “act” when her role is nothing but “smile and get fucked by the male co-star”. Any woman can do it.
    As Gevlon just noted, being sexually permissive is what makes the job, because when the pool of applicants is so flat the producers must pick SOME criterion to choose their stars.


  17. I don’t understand how sexual relations should be a valid job requirement … and I think prostitution should be legal so I’m not against consentual sex that also includes commerce.

    But I challenge you that if your stance is that it’s ok for actresses to have to pass the couch qualification that means you’re also willing to accept abuse of people in other industries where the supply of people wanting the career is greater than the demand. And that it’s therefore ok to abuse those people.

    That’s pretty far off from the original stop social outings because it leads to abuse of power. And that people engage in that for social dkp … the latter of which I agree with especially as far as the sunk cost of that social dkp.


  18. Lets move beyond the sexual and look at modern slavery. Lets say I want a better job, better pay but I have to wait 6 months for the insurance. Now lets say I have a condition which makes having insurance critical to my life (or go broke amazingly fast). What can I do? Without my current employer’s “group” rate there is no way I can afford insurance for 6 mo, and that means I really can afford to pay out of pocket for the care. Looks like I am stuck with my current employer no matter how much I hate my job. Employer based insurance is the real slavery in America IMO. Say my boss wants me to work weekends and I don’t want to (using goblins example) the mere threat of losing my insurance is enough to get me to comply with things I don’t want/like.


  19. I don’t know how many times management demanded that I take a company internet phone so that I could be contactable at all hours by email. I refused them every single time. No blowback, no consequences. I just didn’t get the “big promotion”. Like I care.


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