Why “Paying Your Dues” Is An Outdated Work Model

Cassondra Dolan -unless-

Common experiences often unite people, and in professional contexts, they can strengthen teams by making it easier to relate to one another. Commonalities like shared language, personal interests and level of investment in a company remind us how easy it can be to find compatibility if we look beyond the surface. Most importantly, identifying our shared experiences creates a great foundation for successful collaboration and a supportive work environment. 

However, there’s a certain type of experience we all have –regardless of who we are or where we come from - that’s rarely given the respect that a shared struggle deserves. It often starts in childhood with attempts to excel on sports teams or gain status in clubs, and it reoccurs in adolescence when we attempt to climb social hierarchies. It happens again and again in college or university, and most commonly, as we enter the workforce. 

I’m talking about paying your dues. 

Throughout our entire lives, nearly everyone has been able to identify with the experience of paying your dues, or in other words, earning status or significance within a select group of people. When we take a look at this concept through the lens of professional work environments, it seems unfair and outdated at best. Despite the fact that so many of us face the shame and adversity that this outlook presents, it’s rare that colleagues sympathize with new and junior employees as they struggle to emerge from this phase unscathed. Many senior team members - even those who are recently graduated from their status as newcomers - easily forget the struggles and frustration that come with being new to a team. It’s about time that we scrap this juvenile outlook on workplace integration and take more progressive and fair approaches to gaining work experience.

No one should be made to feel under appreciated or to suffer in order to be appreciated at work. Despite the fact that new employees may be ‘at the bottom of the food chain’, a series of well-informed decisions were made that led to them becoming part of your team. Though they may have a ways to go in becoming an invaluable asset, the initial phase of working for your company should be a pleasant and well rounded experience that leaves them enthusiastic and eager to take on more.

This being said, the tough parts of attempting to get through the introductory phase and emerge as an essential member of the team are all part of the journey. Learning the ropes by performing mundane tasks and observing rather than playing a large contributing role are crucial aspects of integrating well into a company. However, if this process isn’t well managed, employees can easily end up feeling like the process is less about gaining experience and more about feeding the egos of managers.

team dynamics

According to a recent study, the vast majority of millennials believed they have a strong work ethic. However, the same study found that a staggering three-quarters of older generations believe they lack the same work ethic as their elders. Seeing as most entry-level employees are millennials at this point in time, these stats indicate an unbalanced outlook on the ways in which many, if not most organizations handle incoming junior employees. If younger people on your team believe they’re giving it their all, yet more senior employees believe that these people are not working hard enough, it’s clear that a communication breakdown exists between the groups of people.

The concept of “paying your dues” certainly has its place in this equation: treating employees like they must suffer in order to perform the tasks they were hired to do is an outdated attitude towards work that needs to be switched out in favor of more communication-based and transparent styles of leadership. Though employees certainly need to prove their value to the company, an open-minded and balanced approach needs to be taken in order to retain great talent and banish antiquated attitudes that result in unfair treatment.

Here are some tips that will help improve how your organization integrates junior employees into the workflow while ensuring they acquire the experience required to succeed:

Transparency is key when delegating tasks.

The menial tasks that often fall to entry-level employees can leave them feeling discouraged and longing to get more involved with the company that they’ve invested themselves in. However, it’s quite common (and often necessary) that new recruits engage in these basic tasks for multiple reasons: to get a better understanding of how the company operates and to be as productive as possible during their onboarding and initial training phases. However, it’s important to make sure that your more senior staff explain to employees why they are given certain tasks over others. For example, reorganizing the department’s digital filing system might seem like a dull and somewhat degrading task, but it gives a new employee a hands-on opportunity to get to know what materials, formats and which clients they’ll be working with.

Balance and rebalance junior employees’ workloads.

Ensure that managers are taking a balanced approach to delegating workloads for entry-level members of their teams. Prioritize the work that will help them gain the skills required to progress within their role, but be sure to include them on projects that hold significance within their teams, even if it’s to take notes or provide admin assistance. This will give them the necessary training in processes and procedures while ensuring they are integrating well into the team. Their professional interests should also be taken into consideration in order to keep them intrigued and engaged with the work their doing. Most importantly, ensure that leaders check in regularly with all new staff to rebalance workloads as needed in an effort to maintain productivity and interest levels. 

Offer team-based or group reward structures.

Instead of focusing only on the traditional model of individual employee rewards like pay rises and promotions (though these remain of utmost importance!), consider also implementing reward structures that focus on interdepartmental and collaborative work efforts. Monetary bonuses and opportunities for advancement or added stakes in the company can be offered to groups of employees as recognition for their achievements. This promotes working towards goals as an individual and as part of a collective goal, which will encourage junior employees to see the value in the supportive work they are doing at the beginning of their careers.

Learn more about setting up a sustainable language learning cultureWant to integrate language learning in your company? Download our free e-book on setting up a sustainable language learning culture here.

Cassondra Dolan, Language Specialist

Cassondra is a writer, translator and language enthusiast with a passion for exploring the ways culture influences learning. Through her work with Babbel, she aims to promote language learning best practices that focus on inclusivity and diversity.

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