fruit juiceDespite Japan’s famously strong work ethic, even offices here have some employees who coast through the day, oblivious to their more industrious coworkers who exasperatedly wonder how their paychecks remain so similar when their levels of dedication are anything but.

Economist Taiichi Kogure touches on some of these points in his latest work, The Mindset of People Who Will Always Have Low Salaries, which hit bookshelves in Japan last month. Inspired by the book, Livedoor News posted the following editorial analogy based on Kogure’s concepts, titled “Your Salary Isn’t Determined by Your Efforts or Value.”

Imagine two young salarymen employed in a mid-sized company. Tanaka worked all month without a singe day off, doing overtime until the wee hours of the morning, selflessly working like a man possessed for his company. On the other hand, his coworker Yamada, who started working at the company at the same time, spent the month preoccupied with juggling his three girlfriends, using his work computer to send them private emails, and dashing out of the office as soon as the second hand on the clock hit quitting time.

A few years pass, during which Tanaka makes a name for himself as someone management can trust and depend on. At this point, we could go so far as to say the amount of profit Tanaka has brought to the company, as well as the number of hours he has put in working, are several times those of Yamada.

So how has this affected their salaries? Since Tanaka’s contributions to the company are several times Yamada’s, is Tanaka’s salary several times bigger as well? If Yamada is drawing 300,000 yen (US$3,060) a month, is Tanaka raking in 600,000 or 900,000?

Right now anyone who’s worked in an office is saying, “Of course not.”

And they’re right. Actually, the difference between Tanaka’s and Yamada’s salaries is just a little over 10,000 yen (US$102) a month.

This isn’t a rarely seen tragedy, either. We see it all the time in the business world. Even still, there’s no shortage of people who this ordinary occurrence doesn’t sit well with.

Shifting gears, let’s think about two beverage manufacturers. One of them release a fruit juice that’s incredibly delicious. At the same time, the other puts out an ordinary-tasting vegetable juice. A few months later, the tasty fruit juice has become a big hit. It flies off store shelves as fast as the company can stock them. On the other hand, the vegetable juice’s mediocre taste results in nothing more than mediocre sales.

The ostensible purpose of producing these beverages is to satisfy the people who drink them, and it now seems safe to say that the fruit juice has earned much more of that satisfaction than the vegetable juice has.

So how does this disparity affect their sale prices? The fruit juice made people far more people satisfied, so does it cost far more than the plain old vegetable juice?

And now, anyone who’s ever bought a carton of juice is saying, “Of course not.” And indeed, both varieties of juice have the same price of 150 yen (US$1.53).

So why doesn’t this rub anyone the wrong way? Regardless of how great or terrible the product tastes, we accept that it’s not going to move too far away from the market price for juice of 150 yen.

The key point in comparing these stories of salary and juice is to see which of their respective factors correlate to each other. It’s easy to see that Tanaka is the delicious fruit juice, and Yamada is the ordinary vegetable juice. There’s also no fallacy in thinking of their salaries as the prices of the two varieties of juice. But what do our salarymen’s amount of effort, and also the amount of profit they bring to the company match up with in our juice analogy?

The proper perspective is that their labor corresponds to the juices’ flavors, and the profits correspond to the pleasure experienced by the juice drinkers. By examining the situation this way, we can grasp the logic that dictates that their salaries are not determined by how hard they work or how much they earn for the company. In short, the answer to the question of what determines their salaries is their market value as workers.

Once we understand this, the indignation we feel by looking at a lazy coworker and seething, “I work harder than he does, so why are our salaries the same?” can be seen for what it really is: misdirected.

Of course, this isn’t to say that effort is meaningless, nor that you’re better off slacking off. The title of this editorial may be “Your Salary Isn’t Determined by Your Efforts or Value,” but we could just as accurately say that your value as a worker isn’t determined by your salary.

Source: Livedoor News
Top image: Shaddy