Tipping: To Whom and For What?

Tipping

As New York begins to reconsider its position on minimum wage for service workers and the influence that the tipping culture which prevails has on the levels of poverty among these workers, I thought it might be interesting to open the debate on this very controversial topic.

In America the tipping culture dominates – go to a restaurant and not leave a tip is the equivalent to clicking your fingers and calling the waiter garcon in a horribly fake French accent, it’s rude and obnoxious. In Japan – tipping is considered insulting – the price is the price, why would you be paying more? In Europe, the issue is a little more clouded and many petit faux-pas lie in wait for the innocent traveller who could easily follow the Will-o’-the-wisp and stray from the safe path.

What’s the problem?

On the face of it, it seems quite straight-forward, who could be possibly be insulted by handing them money? We would all love if somebody wandered through our offices sprinkling €5 notes like fairy dust. However if you scratch beneath the surface some of the issues begin to surface.

In America, and increasingly in other countries, it is being argued that service industry employees are paid a slightly lower wage than other workers ($5 rather than $9 min wage) to encourage them to work for tips and provide a better service. Fair enough, one might think, but actually it implies that if service workers were not penalised by being paid lower wages they would provide a rubbish service, which is simply not true. In fact, it has been shown time and again that the prospect of tipping does not increase the level of service. I am sure everyone has been to a restaurant where the service was terrible, and similarly, has received good service from other workers, such as those in call-centres, offices and so on, without any tipping involved. Tipping has little influence on the outcome of the service as it occurs after that service has been provided and ‘good’ service remains a subjective opinion on behalf of both parties involved.

Insidious insinuations

There are status implications in tipping. The first is that the client has more money than the person they are tipping, which is why the proprietor of an establishment is never tipped. But how the hell do you know how much a head-waiter in a high-end restaurant makes? A pretty packet I assume. And unless you can compare wage slips at the end of the meal, who knows who gets paid more? And similarly, if the proprietor is not to be tipped, how do you ensure you avoid this? How do you know who technically owns the place, or who is simply a hired manager?

There is also a power play at work within the tipping culture, that somehow the tipper has control over the server’s actions because they have control over the tip; as though somebody will jump through hoops over the prospect of a ten quid tip, when they have the potential to make upwards of €100 an hour at the base price.

You must also decide who to tip. In Ireland, because we are always oh-so-polite, particularly in restaurants, unless the service was really incredibly terrible (as in the waiter cursed at a small child at the table and everyone’s food was cold or gone off) we tip. But do you tip all waiters or just the waiters in some establishments? Do you tip at McDonalds? Why not, they are waiters – you order food from them, they go get it and bring it to you to eat.

This becomes more complicated if more than one person provides a service. In a Hair Salon for instance, it is usually the most junior member of staff who is tipped. But how are you supposed to know the pecking order in that industry. If one person washes your hair and does a treatment, another cuts, another does the colour and another dries – who do you decide is the most junior? You could decide that it must be between the person who either washed or dried the hair, although you have no way of knowing that the boss was not just helping out on either task, to speed up the process. And at what level of professionalism do you stop tipping? I mean it might be alright to tip the girl that cuts your hair in the local salon, but do you need to slip Dylan Bradshaw a little something after he finishes the styling, or would that seem a little awkward?

There is a lovely local restaurant here where the waiters are all part owners of the restaurant in which they work, they are certainly not junior staff, so tipping them feels a bit funny because they are the proprietors of a very profitable business and it feels very presumptuous to assume you make more than somebody who owns and runs their own restaurant, and yet to not tip implies there was something wrong.

And herein lies the problem; tipping is no longer evidence of a good service, but rather the lack of tip is evidence of bad service. It has become part of the assumed price. This makes it difficult if you go somewhere regularly, build up a rapport with the owner, refer business to them and thus get ‘mates rates’ or a free coffee with your breakfast or some other little bonus which is their way of rewarding your loyalty – if you then tip are you actually throwing that back in their face, as though you are too good to accept their gesture?

Reality

The reality of the situation in Ireland is that the level of tip does not reflect how happy a customer was with the service, their repeat custom does. Here we vote with our feet. An establishment with rude staff providing a poor service won’t see a reduction in the tip jar, they will see the takings of the business as a whole reduce.

This is what highlights the flaw in the initial argument from New York that service industry employees are paid a slightly lower wage than other workers to encourage them to work for tips and provide a better service. This is not what happens in practice. Instead it is an argument which merely allows very profitable organisations pay workers less than the minimum wage. It’s a dangerous precedent, and one I would not like Ireland to follow. A lot of emotion, insinuation and social queues are tied up in the tipping culture, but underneath this, it is imperative that workers receive at minimum a wage which is enough to live on and they should not have to prostitute themselves for tips to make ends meet.

So next time you are handing over a tip for an as-expected service or you are popping €5 in the hand of someone you think is a struggling college student, ask yourself if you are really doing them a favour, or are you actually enabling their employer pay them less money to do a physically tying job, just so you can get a self-satisfied feeling of generosity?

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What to Wear When…

Going to a Job Interview

It’s the new year! A time for change, and for many people that can mean re-evaluating your job, and maybe looking for a new one (If any of my bosses are reading this, I am not one of these people. I’m very happy! And writing this in my own time!)

I have, thankfully, not had to go on TOO many interviews in my life (so far…) but I have been on my fair share. I’ve also been on the other end of the table, interviewing potential candidates. There are probably a million sites (actually, Google says 55,300,000 results for this title) that talk about this topic. I’ve visited a lot of them in my day. Most are good, but some miss some key things, which we’ll touch on below.

Many will emphasise the need to look professional. They’ll urge you to buy a suit, not to wear anything to flashy or revealing or distracting (or fun…). It’s not that this advice is bad, per se. It just doesn’t take into account certain conditions.

Do some sleuthing and find out what the other people in the office (and in your desired role or similar) wear, and then up it a notch. If it’s a jeans and t-shirt kind of place, maybe go for nice jeans with a sweater or plain t-shirt with a blazer or the like. If it’s a business casual sort of place, look a touch more elegant than your average work wear. Show that you’ve done your research, and put some thought into your apparel. If everyone in the office is wearing jeans and you show up in heels, stockings, and a suit, they might wonder how you’re going to fit in. It’s a cliche for a reason – first impressions matter.

Along those lines, know your profession. If you’re interviewing for a charity working to prevent the exploitation of workers, maybe make sure your clothes are ethically sourced (which we should do anyway, but I don’t always practice that so I won’t preach). Maybe they won’t notice – but if they do, it’s another easy point for you. If you’re interviewing to be a bartender in a heavy metal bar you should dress differently than if you were interviewing to be a bartender in five star hotel bar. If you’re trying to get a job in a clothing shop, wear their items.

Another thing to consider – wear your glasses. We may not want to admit it, but apparently most of us think that people who wear glasses are smarter. I can’t bring myself to suggest getting fake ones (unless you like the look, then go for it, I guess) but if you, like me, alternate between glasses and contacts, make your interview day a glasses day.

Smarter? Maybe?
Smarter? Maybe?

Don’t wear something brand new. Maybe that dress looks smart and sophisticated in the changing room – but then you realise when you sit in it it rides all the way up. Maybe those shoes are just the perfect height and colour, but they have a horrible squeak once you start walking in them. Give the outfit a test run (this is actually something you should do when travelling as well).

Finally, when in doubt, go neutral. I don’t necessarily mean black and grey – colour is good (though I would argue against neon or anything too loud, unless of course, that’s the sort of place you’re trying to work in). I mean neutral cuts – shift dress, well cut trousers, blazer and shirt, etc. Again, a lot of places advise against anything too flashy, but I think one statement piece is worth doing. Conversation starter, etc.

The most important thing is too look well put-together and to be comfortable and happy with how you look. Let your clothes give you confidence, and let that confidence exude in your interview. If you never wear a suit, and will never have to wear a suit in the job, why wear one in the interview? You won’t be comfortable. They won’t be comfortable. It’ll be a disaster. But find the perfect balance of looking your best AND feeling comfortable, and you’ll be that much closer to nailing it.

*Bonus, non-sartorial advice –

  • Don’t show up too early, unless you’re specifically asked to (for filling out forms, etc.). 5 minutes is a good rule of thumb. Not every place has a reception area, and if you show up 20 minutes early they have to figure out what to do with you, taking time out of their day. This is especially true if you’re interviewing with someone senior – as someone who worked as a PA for many years, I can tell you that their schedules tend to be VERY regimented.
  • Ask questions. Just search “What questions to ask” at an interview if you’re stuck. Even if you think they’ve told you everything you want to know, show your interest by asking more. Always ask why the last person left.
  • Research, research research. Know the company, their competitors, their reputation.
  • If it’s not within walking distance, and you don’t drive, take a cab. It’s worth the extra money. Even if you think you’re too broke, figure out a way. It takes the stress of public transportation and allows you to keep your composure. And even though you shouldn’t show up to the actual interview too early, make sure you allow plenty of time and go to a nearby cafe or just take a stroll.

How to ask for a raise

1950s Raise

There is nothing worse than opening your online banking account and realising that you are over-drawn, again. Until you realise that the bank is going to start fining you so that you become deeper in debt, and even when you finally do get paid and clear it, this whole cycle is going to restart three days after payday. It is at those moments you think… do you know what  … I could really do with a raise.. but like most of us, you have probably never been told how to go about getting one?

If your organisation does not have a regular performance and salary review process, or your contract does not include an annual appraisal (or even better, guaranteed increase) then you will have to bite the bullet and ask for a raise – if you don’t ask you won’t get.

Here are some tips to make the process as successful as it can be.

1. Plan in advance.

Unfortunately it’s no good opening your horrendously overdrawn credit card bill one evening, and then marching into the boss’s office the next morning looking for a raise. You need time to plan your strategy, and get yourself prepared.

Start planning six months to a year before having that meeting.

Also give your boss time to prepare – don’t march into their office Friday afternoon when they are trying to get out the door or Monday morning when they are tackling a hundred emails; schedule a time for the meeting that is good for both of you and let them know the topic/agenda in advance.

2. Layout all the reasons why you are a more valuable asset now than you were when you last negotiated your salary.

Have several concrete examples where you either generated income or saved costs for the company. Make sure your contribution is clear, and how, if some else less experienced had been in your role then the outcome would have been different.

3. Prepare for negotiation

At the end of the day, you are basically asking your boss to pay themselves a little less so that they can pay you a little more, expect them to argue against the proposal. Know all the things that went wrong in the past year (there is always something) and think about the things you did to lessen the impact or even make it better.

Even if your boss does not bring up the particular examples you think of, the process of having prepared answers will better prepare you to be able to think on your feet in response to anything that they bring up.

4. Save up your bargaining chips.

If you traipse into your bosses office everyday making a series of financial demands (like you want a new chair cause you don’t like the colour of yours, or a new desk because Jayne in Accounting has a nicer one than you, or a new computer because yours is, like, so last year) then they are less likely to take this demand for a pay increase seriously and are already very used to refusing your demands without consequence. Save up the things you want and make a concise list – prioritise what you need verses what you want, and be prepared to be told that with the cost of the new chair, desk and computer there is simply no budget left to give you a raise.

5. Be specific. Have a figure or percentage in mind.

Do not ask for a general raise – be specific about what you want and have a reason for that figure. Also know that your boss will try to negotiate this down, so go in with a slightly higher figure and know where your bottom line is.

6. Compare yourself to the current market place – know the worth of your skillset.

This will allow you to make a more reasonable proposal, and help you provide a reason for the raise you are requesting. However, be clear on what it is that you are benchmarking yourself against – be sure to read the full job description and not just the job title.

7. Be prepared to give and take.

Your boss might agree to a raise, but it may come with extra responsibilities. Remain open-minded about these, and remember you can always end the conversation without conclusion so you can consider the options on the table and then resume the conversation again a few days later.

8. Have alternatives in mind.

If your boss says no, unfortunately the company cannot afford raises right now, have some alternatives ready that they might be able to consider instead:

  • Could you stay on the same salary but work reduced hours? Possibly get a half day on a Friday, start later or finish earlier? This is a raise, just in a different disguise; and it might make a greater contribution to your quality of life than a bit more cash.
  • Would they pay for you to go on a course or attend a conference? This will not only benefit them because it will improve your skills while you are with their organisation, but it will also benefit you as it prepares you for future roles. Plus some of these can be tax deductible.
  • Would they allow you accompany them to an industry event and introduce you to some of their network or contacts? This allows you to piggy back on their already established network – something that is worth its weight in gold.

9. If they refuse all your proposals, that’s ok, remain calm, all is not lost.

The simple reality is that some organisations allot a certain level of resources to a role, and they cannot assign any more to it. They accept candidates that will grow into the role (rather than being full prepared for the role) because the organisation have the ability to offer a good training or mentoring programme, thereby allowing them to pay that candidate a little less. It is wonderful that you as an employee have now grown and flourished in the role and are now worth more, but they still cannot afford to increase resources in that area.

All is not lost. By opening the conversation you are least opening their eyes to the fact that you have matured in the role that you are in, and that you are looking to progress. You have laid the groundwork for this conversation, and should you have it again, you will not be starting from scratch.

You might also have revealed to yourself that you have outgrown this role in this company, and perhaps it is time for a change, rather than just a raise. By comparing yourself to the market you might have realised that there are actually other jobs out there that you are now eligible for, which you may not have had the experience or skills for last time you looked. You can take all the skills you have learned in this role and bring them to an organisation that is willing to pay for them rather than grow them.

10. Do not ever issue an ultimatum you don’t mean. “If you don’t give me a raise, I will …”

The worst outcome from this conversation is not being refused a raise, it is being forced to resign because you lost your cool, issued an ultimatum, the company called your bluff and you were forced to follow through. Your current salary, no matter how insignificant it is to you now, will look monstrous from the dole queue. Do not get yourself into this situation.

11. Remember the implications of accepting a raise.

Although it is rarely explicitly said, the implication of taking a raise is that the company is buying your loyalty for another six months to a year. Not that there is anything that they can do if you do decide to hand in your notice and leave three months later, but it might leave a very bad taste in this employer’s mouth, which might come back to haunt you if you want to work with them in the future, particularly in a small industry. Bear this in mind as you accept your raise.

12. Regardless of the outcome, leave the meeting on good terms.

Nothing is ever final, there is really no end to any discussion, so even if you are bitterly disappointed and incredibly frustrated, remember to smile and thank the other person for their time at the end of the meeting. This is not a time to throw a temper tantrum or storm off in a huff (not that I really know when the time for those actions is). Not only does it look petty and unprofessional, you still have to work in this office for the foreseeable future, and you do not want to turn that working atmosphere hostile.

So they are our top tips – is there anything that you would add from your experience?

How to get that promotion

1950s Promotion

Any of this sound familiar …… You have been in your job a few years now, it‘s fine, but you could do it in your sleep. You find that you are spending a greater and greater amount of your time surfing the net and you spend so long getting coffee, people are beginning to think you work in the canteen. You think it is time to consider a new challenge – but how do you go about that?

These days the quickest way up the corporate ladder is to change roles at a reasonable speed. Stay in a job long enough to learn everything you can (usually two or three years), but not so long that you become institutionalised and your skills are no longer relevant to a wider market. Although the management team can come to you and offer you a promotion for doing an outstanding job, this usually takes much longer than if you are an active agent in your career progression.

So what can you do to jump start it?

1. Let people know in a subtle way that while you are happy where you are for the moment, you would always be open to discussing your next role, or future career plans.

2. Build on your network, and make it as far reaching as you can.

Do not be cynical or false about this network; include junior as well as senior people, look inside and outside your organisation, or your direct industry. The point of this network is for you to hear about opportunities before the information becomes wide spread – you would be very surprised at the source of that information sometimes.

3. Do up your CV and make sure your online profiles are up-to-date.

4. If you are not on LinkedIn, join it. Potential employers use this to check-up on a person’s credentials before approaching them, to make sure the person has the skills they think they have. Connect with everyone you have worked for and with.  It is seen to add some validation to your CV if you have a host of contacts standing ready to verify it.

5. Ask past colleagues and employers for references – not only does this add further weight to your expertise, it makes people aware that you might be looking for a change.

6. Be visible.

Attend conferences, industry talks, speak up at internal meetings, be visible on a project. Do whatever you can to remind people that you are there and you are valuable.

7. Actively apply for new roles.

There is no point in wishing you could have a better job, you have to go out there and find it. Do more than just read Jobs.ie, apply for at least three roles a week. This will get you out there in the market place, and even if you are not shortlisted for the role you apply to, your CV gets to a recruitment agent’s table and they might have another role that would suit you.

8. Consider all roles applicable.

If you have a particular career path in mind, that’s fine, but consider all roads to it. Apply for a job similar to the one you want, but maybe in a different industry – you can learn the skills and move back to your industry of choice bringing a wealth of valuable outsider information and new view-point. Apply for a job that is perhaps a stepping stone to the job that you want (while bearing in mind you will be expected to remain in this stepping stone role for a year or two) – it might be easier to get a step up from here.

9a. Be great at your current role.

High achievers are always the first considered, so aim for the stars. While you are doing this you are also building a solid reputation for being good at what you do and you are building your confidence in your abilities and their worth. This will make you a stronger candidate for promotion.

9b. Don’t be so great that you become irreplaceable.

Build or identify a successor who, if you were to move on, could complete your tasks (albeit without the added sparkle that you bring to the role). A company will not promote you to another unit or department if your current department would fold like a house of cards without you.

10. Don’t be discouraged.

One of the hardest things about looking for the next step is the level of rejection. If it were easy to do people would be promoted every week. It a hard thankless task, that often feels like a second job, until one day that wonderful break comes along – and it’s all looking up from thereon in.

These are our top tips, is there anything that you would add from your experiences?