What are you worth? 

A few days ago I was reminiscing with my husband about a range of books we had both loved as children called “Choose your own adventure” (as in, Minecraft Story Mode is the new Choose Your Own Adventure). If you were a child in the 80s hopefully you will remember what I am talking about. The story was always an exciting adventure, but rather than reading about somebody else travelling to the bottom of the sea, fighting robbers or discovering hidden treasure, it gave the illusion that you were the central character. This was achieved by the device that when a certain pivotal point in the narrative was reached, the reader had to pick which path the story should take. Make one decision and you had to flick to a particular page to discover what happened next. Choose the alternative and you were sent to an entirely different page. It was my husband’s theory that no matter the decisions you made, the story was always guided to the same conclusion. James Bond always ended up falling off the waterfall. It was my theory that whichever route I took was an immediate dead end, resulting in imprisonment, or more likely, death. Thankfully I do not think this speaks regarding my decision making capacity. I feel both our theories are leaning towards the same central point – that such things provide the illusion of choice within what is actually a rather restrictive framework.

This week I’ve been talking about job evaluation (I know). It’s something I gained quite a bit of experience in during my time as a HR practitioner, although I thankfully managed to avoid being shoehorned into the job evaluation team during a particular restructure. However, I can’t be too scathing of the concept since it actually got me into Human Resources, being the first piece of HR related work I was involved in, right at the very start of my career. The two appointed job evaluators were moving on to more lucrative roles (it being a much sought after skill at the time). As a replacement the organisation brought in an expensive consultant with me as their support. If you think working in HR is bad for winning friends, try being a job evaluation consultant. His personality did not really help the matter, although you must have to be a tough cookie to make a living from every Employee Relations specialist’s worst nightmare. He bossed me around as much as anyone, asking in his most condescending voice whether I’d remembered to do my job. But I couldn’t help but like him. He knew his stuff and I’ll never forget his funny stories about squatting in mansions, sheep, and being trapped all day in a lift.

I’ve been trying to explain to my students what job evaluation is. I suppose in a nutshell it’s about determining the worth of a job – in itself and in relation to others. “No, it’s not about the person” is the common clarification required. Nor is it about their performance or their ambition. It’s just the job, and not what the person in that job can do, but what their supposed to do. So, you sit in a room with your line manager. Step by step the job evaluation expert takes you through a computer-based (or previously paper based) process. You must agree the choices and, depending on the route you take, your job is fully defined and is assigned a value. There’s the illusion that you have the opportunity to define your own role, but as with choose your own adventure, there’s a limited number of potential permutations.

If you know the history of job evaluation it’s easier to understand why such a bureaucratic, rigid process was used. The way the story was relayed to me was slightly skewed but the emphasis is essentially the same – women performing (traditionally female) manual jobs were being paid less than men performing (traditionally male) manual jobs. The “broadly comparable” requirement of the Equal Pay Act 1970 meant roles that would never traditionally be compared (e.g. A sewing machinist and a gardener) could be considered “equal value”. Following a deluge of legal cases all local authorities were required to complete a job evaluation.

On the face of it this all seems very “fair”, albeit an extremely mechanistic way of (hopefully) ensuring that women can exercise their right to have pay parity with men. It’s like the whole public sector approach to equality and diversity which declares itself compliant because they have used the words in a policy and somebody’s job title. Obviously allocating equality as the responsibility of one person allows a box to be ticked, but an equal and diverse company it does not make. In fact, it’s the opposite – a token gesture from an organisation that doesn’t want to engage or understand individual difference. There must surely be a middle ground where people can have the freedom to explore their potential, with respect for others. As two great blogs demonstrate, people are important for reasons which are not always immediately apparent (see “what exactly do we pay him for” by @teago_emplaw and “Facilities Managers: you didn’t notice us because we did such a great job” by @simonheath1) Here’s hoping that the rigid approach to equality goes the same way as the role of the unfortunate job analyst, and becomes defunct.

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