What are they paying me for anyway?

Lately I’ve seen a lot of discussion on Hacker News about what companies should be receiving from their employees and why they are paid. There seems to be two schools of thought:

  1. Companies pay for the time of their employees.
  2. Companies pay their employees to create value for the company.

The first option seems more of a typical employee–employer relationship to me while the second seems like a contractor–customer relationship. I think employers typically believe they are paying for time and want to get as much value from that time as possible.

Employer-Employee Relationship 

I can relate this to my own career.


One of my first jobs out of college was on a help desk. I ended up being a supervisor of the level 1 team after a short time in a level 1 analyst position. I was good at it, but at the time I wasn’t able to articulate why or even what management’s role should truly be.

Management should be working to keep their employees focused and should run blocking on anything that may be causing distractions, while promoting an environment that enables cooperation and mutual respect.

I would take on the work that was beyond my team, help out when it got busy, and work on teaching some of the more complicated issues and their causes and solutions to my team so that they could understand the root of these issues in the future and pass that knowledge onto others on the team.

Here I was definitely being paid for my time. I did not work on many projects, mostly my job was just to increase the productivity of others by being there and doing what I did.

Second Level Support

Later I worked on a second level support desk at a different company. Previously I had been trained to work hard — non-stop work for 10 – 24 hours straight with no breaks — and at this company the work was more relaxed. In fact, it wasn’t unheard of to be told to slow down if you were making others look bad.

I ended up doing server rebuilds on a regular basis in addition to my usual work, where I ended up specializing in supply chain. I did these things in order to create value for the company since it seemed like I was not actually being paid for my time here, but by the work I did and value I created.

I was the only supply chain specialist on my team, taking the information over from my team lead, and ended up being the main staff member working on server rebuilds. These rebuilds took place remotely through the night and I was not expected to be at work the next day — but I was still paid for that day and for the overtime throughout the night. More than anything else, that strongly gave the impression that I was not being paid for my time but my results.


Currently I’m working in software development. This is my passion and easily the favourite position I’ve held. Here it seems clear that I am working on projects and I am paid for results and not time.

It doesn’t matter if I work early or late, I am expected to produce results that we are able to charge customers for while keeping the customers satisfied. It is very satisfying work and as long as there is no impending deadline that I have to struggle to meet, it’s not stressful either.

But should a deadline arise, then I am expected to bust my ass to get my work done and ready for release, because ultimately that’s what I’m being paid for. I am paid to ship, and if I can’t ship then I have no value.


To sum it all up, every company and role is different. If you are working on projects or user stories, then yes, you are likely being paid for results and value.

If you are not working on producing then it is your time that creates value for the company and is the main reason you are being paid.

Remember: your company wants to get the most out of you that it can, while paying you the least that it can. Your company is in business for itself and you need to be in business for yourself as well.


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