The Career Woes of Your Early 20's: Overworked and Underpaid
Updated: Jan 9
Overworked and Underpaid, make it F A $ H U N tho ?
An article published in 2019 by Courtney Sharp
Ah here lads.
What a faux pah to talk about work, wage, and all that but I'm here now after a long day of work with a glass of wine in my hand and I can't not.
I've actually been bloody dying to write a topical blog post the last few weeks as so much is going on in my life around juggling a solid professional, social, and (barely) romantic life. I popped up on my Instagram stories the other day a few ideas I had to get you guys' feedback and this was for sure a winner among my followers. So here I am, knowing full well my coworkers will read this (hi Una and Hannah) but also hoping they can find a bit of universal relief to their work/professional anxiety.
Obviously this is a super touchy subject and I'm going to try and cover it thoroughly with grace and discretion, but not too much. I honestly don't want to bore you all and say the exact same shite everyone else is. I find this all too often happening with influencers these days, them offering loads of content that falls short of being unique or valuable. And although I am far from an influencer, I still value the content I produce and want it to be high quality, valuable shite that is worth the however many minutes you spend reading it. So bare with me as I tip toe the line of this subject almost all of us can relate to and keeping my professional reputation.
First off, we almost all can relate to this topic (excluding fancy lawyers and trust-fund kids). I know personally this is something I've experienced first hand in the last year of my life, but honestly not too much before then. I obviously paid my dues handling one too many angry mums while working in retail at a young age, but in regards to my professional career, I've always worked in roles and industries that wage and such was never necessarily a concern.
Most of you all know I work in fashion in Dublin, but my undergrad degree is in Digital Marketing and my Master's in Computer Science. I'm highly qualified to be making a shiny salary and have worked in roles previously that would've easily progressed to that. With my recent transition to the fashion industry though, the landscape has changed drastically and my expectations with it. Back in the states I would've expected to be making at least $32,000 coming straight out of my undergrad. With a Master's I would've expected no less than $50,000. That's just the way the salaries are back where I'm from in Tennessee - substantial - probably because you have to pay someone that much to stay in a bloody boring place like that (kidding) (kind of). But European salaries are significantly lower and the expectations of Ireland's youth right after university is shocking. I think the average salary after university is around 22,000, which honestly is barely a livable wage in Dublin. But not only did my expectations have to change due to moving countries, but also due to moving industries. I now work in probably the most notoriously underpaid and overworked industry in the world. Sound. But it's my passion right? Right. But does that entirely justify the concept that I am consistently overworked and underpaid? By absolutely no means pals, so here we go.
I think first off, wage is such a touchy and personal subject because it is literally someone telling you what financially they see you worth. It's literally someone putting a number on a year of your life, saying your time and your efforts are worth this amount to them. If that's not a sensitive subject, then I don't know what is. With this in mind though, wage also obviously is influenced by a business's background. That is, a large company is obviously going to have more money to invest in its talent than a small start-up company. Trust me, I understand fully the restrictions of small businesses as I've spent years working in startups, but it doesn't make it sting any less when you're offered a laughable salary.
Bear in mind, this is not always the case. I've worked for numerous start up businesses that although they are financially restricted, they pay me what I'm worth. They see the value in me and quite literally invest in keeping me on their team. And even when a company can't financially invest in you, they go out of their way to communicate to you how valuable they view you through other outlets rather than wage. Honestly, you can really tell when your company, manager, boss or whatever actually values you. It's that simple.
We all can understand the financial restrictions of certain companies but at the end of the day, quite literally, you get what you pay for. This is a huge reason recently that I feel quite exhausted from the whole overworked and underpaid mentality. Businesses need to understand that investing on the front end in good, talented people who care about the success of the business will pay off substantially in the long run. Because at the end of the day, good talent will only stick around for so long being overworked and underpaid because there are people out there that will value them.
At this point I have lost all my notions about how much I "feel" I should get paid. I have no kind of stuck up mentality in which I deserve to be paid a certain amount, but I do know time and time again, people get what they pay for. Pay someone shite and only the ones who actually are shite will stick around. Treat someone like shite and only the person who feels they deserve that will stick around. I'm tired of making excuses for businessmen and women who disregard this concept in order to save an extra penny in their checkbook.
Also, I see this trend more often in certain industries in particular. These employers expect their employees to accept a laughable wage due to the "benefits" of the job. This is a huge concept in the fashion industry and one that makes me increasingly uncomfortable. It's as if you're supposed to be okay with not making a liveable wage because you get to have a fun job or go to all these events. As if the excitement of the job diminishes my basic human needs like food, shelter, and wine. As if the hundreds of lipsticks I have lying around from events will help me when it comes to paying my rent this month (if only).
As if the excitement of the job diminishes my basic human needs like food, shelter, and wine. As if the hundreds of lipsticks I have lying around from events will help me when it comes to paying my rent this month (if only).
I just don't understand justifying this concept when it comes to compensating for poorly treating employees. It's not compensation, it's disrespect. Obviously these kind of benefits are great when it comes to accepting a lower paying job that you love vs. a higher paying one you find dull. I totally get this concept and I will always choose the first, but I shouldn't have to struggle to pay my bills in order to work in a job that I deem enjoyable. This is not an acceptable standard of employment and I just want to clear the air that we do not have to be okay with this.
Another uncomfortable day in the life situation of the overworked and underpaid is the dreading asking for a raise. My recommendation on this? Handle it with grace but do not be afraid to ask. Obviously of course, only do so if you feel you deserve it and it's a reasonable request. The women and men out there being boss-ass-bitches know their worth and aren't afraid to say it. I mean it's statistically proven that the people who receive raises aren't necessarily the best performing individuals in a company, but the ones who ask for it. In return, be humble and empathetic, keeping your requests reasonable, knowing full well your strengths and weaknesses.
I've dealt with this first hand recently, the dreaded asking for a raise. I'm not going to go into too much detail here as it's bad form, but the good thing is I've learned from the experience. I've learned to be strict about what I need, because dammit, I deserve a life where I'm not always stressing about being able to pay my bills. We all deserve to be able to buy ourselves wine when we want it and our room mate flowers on a Wednesday because she's lovely. I'm not saying be excessive here, but know full well what you need and what you feel is justified for yourself and the business you work for then be bloody confident in it.
And here's my final plug about mental health. Feeling disrespected, overworked, and undervalued in your job is mentally exhausting. I've even felt sometimes physically sick due to the stress and anxiety from work. This kind of knot in your stomach and an overall effect on your general mood are signs that you shouldn't ignore. I swear, as I get older and more independent I realize that prioritizing your mental health is so feckin' important because at the end of the day, if you don't take care of yourself, no one will. That's just what adulthood is. So be nice to yourself and take these signs really seriously. Know when to step back and know when it's too much for you. Take that day off, take that week off, or quit the job and find another. You are valuable and strong and don't let even a job you really, really love change you into a shell of a human being you don't recognize. Obviously be a badass bitch in the face of difficult situations, but also know when to move on.
So that's really my take on it all, the GLAM nature of being overworked and underpaid in your 20's. This is kind of where my head has been at recently with all this. I know I don't really provide insanely practical solutions above like "Step 1: Wake up 20 minutes earlier than normal" (sidenote GAS as if) but I hope you all can find a bit of humanity you relate to in this. I hope that maybe through it you can know you're not alone and some of that unruly anxiety of your 20's can be lifted even if just momentarily.
All my love,
photos by the insanely talented and lovely Lisa Chronier