When I first started working an office job, I honestly wasn’t sure if I was being treated unfairly or not. I’d been handed down a huge amount of my work from my boss, with very little direction, and didn’t realize that working long hours trying to do work I didn’t understand was not the norm. I finally opened up to a few coworkers and was flatly told that I was doing work several levels above my rank and pay grade.
This is not a surprising entry-level story. In fact, it’s a typical one. When you’re starting out, whether at your very first job, or simply a new job, the last thing you want to do is stop to consider whether the job is actually good for you. You finally got a job and all you want to do is not screw it up. You’re never sure if you’re justified to say something, or whether your situation is typical, and you don’t want to be caught overreacting. There’s no college course that legitimately preps you for your first job out of school, which, as it happens, is exactly nothing like that capstone group project you did your senior year.
What ends up happening is this: We’re so floored that someone’s paying us more than $10/hour that we don’t bother to question our salary. We’re so thankful to be on the working grind, and are impressed by the perks, that we don’t stop to gauge whether the workload is actually what was promised. We’re too hesitant to bring up something that seems like it’s a problem, because what if we’re mistaken?
We don’t even turn to friends and bring up our concerns because we want to prove that we too are part of the full-time employment club and are LoViNG iT. We’re too busying proving that our opportunity is better, that we are excelling faster, that we have a 401(k) that kicks in immediately instead of after being with the company for a year, to even mention the shortcomings of our job.
I’m not opposed to paying your dues. I’m not opposed to pulling extra weight and there are very, very few tasks that I’ve ever claimed to be “above.” (And that includes cleaning up trash after a concert held at a former workspace.) But I’m opposed to seeing employees get completely taken advantage of.
So if you’re wondering whether your situation is acceptable, or whether you’re actually being treated unfairly, here’s how you deserve to be treated as a new or entry-level employee:
1. You deserve to actually get to do the job you were hired for. And to get to complete that job without someone hovering over your shoulder as you complete the most straightforward task. It’s, of course, expected that your work will need to be checked, especially at a new job. But a good manager will check your work and make changes, as opposed to tearing your work apart and doing it themselves.
2. You deserve to not have to do your boss’ job. It’s a great opportunity when your superiors let you take on a little extra work because it gives you the chance to prove you can handle it. But there’s a huge difference between taking on a few extra tasks and your boss leaving you with all their work and no road map.
3. You deserve to not have your boss subtly remind you how little you make or by how much they outrank you. There will always be the entry-level bro that just doesn’t get that he doesn’t run the office. But for the most part, I’d really like to think that he (or she) is the exception, not the rule. The rule is typically someone who is all too aware that they’re at the bottom of the food chain and of how little their starting salary shakes out to after taxes. It’s not something you should be constantly reminded of at the office. You deserve to be treated like a respected member of your team.
4. You deserve to have someone clearly tell you what your job actually is, and what’s expected of you. After a while, you shouldn’t expect someone to keep holding your hand, but you should have a job description, and ideally, you should’ve seen it before you interviewed.
5. If you work 40 hours/week every week for a big company, you deserve to be a full-time employee. Or you should at least be compensated competitively as a freelancer to make up for the fact that they don’t pay social security for you, or give you a benefits package.
There are things you don’t deserve, of course. When you’ve been coddled by a cushy job you got comfortable in, or a college work study, it’s hard to adjust to a new, more rigid environment. You can’t expect constant praise or immediate rewards. You cannot expect someone to hold your hand through every challenge, a raise right away, an inordinate amount of attention or premature recognition. However, as long as you can do what you were hired for, and in an environment and situation that will allow you to carry your job out well, you should be set. If that isn’t the case, what’s getting in the way?