WTF #13: Show Me the Money

WTF #13: Show Me the Money
Chairman Mao adorns all banknotes in China.

In my last installment of WTF, I briefly discussed the career aspirations of my Chinese engineering team and how they wish they are no longer viewed by multinationals as second class engineers. In the comments section, “Bill” opined that:

Hopefully as time goes on they demand increasingly higher salaries as well…

I can only surmise the thinking behind this comment is that Chinese wages are horribly depressed and workers are powerless to do anything about it. Perhaps this stems from the well publicized stories regarding alleged helpless workers at Foxconn being paid a pittance to produce iPhones and iPads. Or perhaps it was simply tongue-in-cheek. But whatever…I’ll go with the former because it ties in nicely into what I’m about to write.

I’ve been in China for three full weeks now. On my very first day at the company, I already had to deal with my very first major issue — salaries. The general consensus is that FluxCorp pays poorly relative to other companies in town. Futhermore, the fairly generous retention benefits, they complained, also has a vesting period which they thought was unreasonably long. My engineering team not only let their feelings on this well known, I also got the feeling that if action was not taken in short order, some would leave the company in order to put more Maos in their pockets.

When I visited this office four years ago, the salary ratio between an engineer’s wages and a comparative one in the US is 1:6. Now, it’s something between 1:4 to 1:3. That’s quite the rise and it continues to increase rapidly. Compare this to the wages for jobs advertised below (I snapped this outside a mall targeted at foreign patrons):

A busboy or dishwasher makes 1700 Chinese dollars per month. That’s about US$270/month. And these are wages in the most prosperous city in China where the cost of living, in many aspects, is on-par with North America. If you think those wages suck, yes, they truly do suck. On the other hand, my team makes a heck of a lot more than that; yet, they’re still unhappy. This speaks to a common theme that cuts across all cultures. Those without skills and education have little chance at upward mobility. Those with the right skills and education will be well compensated, have a variety of career choices, and will be better off financially for it (in fact, I think at least a few of my engineers have higher net worths the me, but that’s another story). Those at the bottom are just trying to get by. Those doing well have the luxury to seek self-actualization (e.g. doing more meaningful engineering work).

Another common theme? No matter how much money one has, it is rare to find that someone that says they don’t want more. No matter how it’s said and in what language, it can be summed up nicely in this little pithy phrase: Show me the money!


* Cell phones with pull-out antennas. Classic.
** I finally visited McDonald’s. I enjoyed myself.

What The Flux is a semi-regular weekendish feature on that follows the follies and jollies of an engineer in industry, yours truly.