Date Published
24 March 2020
Adam Smith quote

Adam Smith first Father of economics theorised the division of labour and how it is human nature to “truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another”.  It is only a relatively recent phenomenon that the corporate world has held the reins and dominated the one sided conversation in what is required in the trade between labour and money. 

If you want money, you must do xyz job under the following conditions;

  • You must come into xyz office
  • Your role must be called xyz
  • You must earn between € and €
  • You must work from xyz to xyz daily, except…
  • You must have xyz holidays etc…

If you agree to adhere to all of the conditions set out by your potential employer, you will be paid a sum of money to purchase or do with what you wish.

When I started working in Ireland in the early 90’s if you compared the job market to a political system, you would describe it predominately as a “dictatorship”.  The barter system and the essence of supply and demand fell to the favour of the employer as jobs were scarce.  As the economy picked up and jobs became plentiful, the system of bartering became more evenly spread.  “If you want me to work for your company, you need to pay me more money”.  But typically the only thing being bartered was mainly money for labour. 

The Smorgasbord

However, as the economy and lifestyles have evolved and as salaries are at an all-time high, other elements have been used to barter with in addition to money with sundries like pension and annual leave.  There is now an increasing smorgasbord of options to choose from that most sensible employers will barter with when it comes to terms of employment;

food display
  • Alternative start and finish times
  • Life & Health Insurance, including Dental
  • Pension including additional contributions
  • Lessening probationary periods
  • Paid Maternity & Paternity leave
  • Paid Sabbaticals for long term employees
  • Laptop / Phone
  • Working remotely / from home option
  • Car / Car Allowance / Parking / Bike to work
  • Subsidised public transport / Gym
  • Option to buy additional annual leave
  • Equity / Company Shares / Bonuses / LTIPs
  • Onsite restaurants, paid for, or subsidised canteen
  • Extra annual leave days to participate in CSR events / activities

And many more…

All of these developments are seen as positive across economies.  According to a recent Mercer report, “evidence shows that a healthy and engaged workforce correlates with exceptional company financial performance. Three recent individual studies found that the stock value of companies with superior employee health and well-being programs outperformed the S&P 500 stock market index.  And research by Mercer | Sirota found that companies with high employee morale significantly outperformed their peers in both bear and bull markets”  Mercer Report . A company’s ability, large or small, to implement a suitable individualised benefits package for its’ workforce will have a positive impact on employees and in turn its’ performance.

An obvious economic evolution since Adam Smith’s time is the participation rates of females in the workforce.

CSO Summary 2016

Irish Times Women at Work - 40 Years of Change

Mars Versus Venus / Removing the Bias

Negotiating your package – whether that is in the form of remuneration, flexibility, other benefits, is an art form.  And the question that occurs to me is “are Women better or worse at bartering than Men?”  Is there actually a gender divide in learning to barter, is it instinctual? 

Anecdotally you hear about the old tradition of the man coming in with his wages on a Friday and handing it over to his wife to do with as she Women opening ovenneeded in order to buy meat, vegetables etc. and to keep the household running.  Therefore, surely women must have traditionally learned to negotiate to get the best price for their produce – they were the original CEO’s of their household.  Has this translated to the workplace?  Are females just as good as males at bartering for what they need in terms of career prospects, jobs, promotions, added benefits, flexible working etc.  Or, in my experience, is there an element of guilt in women and some men bartering because they don’t feel they have as much to barter with? 

According to Consumer-spending expert “Andrea Woroch believes that time is actually the most valuable asset when bartering. In other words, you don’t necessarily need to have a specific trade or skill or coveted item to barter—you just need to be willing to put in some hours.”* Forbes & Andrea Woroch. Herein, may lie the problem, women are typically juggling more caring duties with their time and in essence feel they have less to barter with in terms of allocated time in any 24-hour window.

I was at an interesting event in Ulster Bank on Georges Quay sponsored by CIPD around flexible working.  Interestingly, more men than women avail of flexible working in Ulster Bank.  But the take up for men does not relate predominately to childcare / caring duties, it relates to the fact that their employment is more suited to flexible working – they tend to work between locations or are on the road more than their female counterparts, perhaps in sales focused roles.  Reasons associated with flexible working for women related more to the need to care for children or sick or elderly. 

As an employee benefit, flexible working at a time in a woman’s life can lead to better engagement and the return on investment longer term.  A Harvard paper on gender equality, determined that in Japan higher female engagement in the workforce lead to higher birth rates at a time when the low birth rate was starting to seriously negatively impact the economy (Harvard Gender Inequality).   It seems that if women are given more flexibility at a time in their lives when they most need it, mainly during their years of having children, there is better engagement over a longer period of time.

Thankfully many employers in Ireland facilitate flexible and family-friendly working conditions particularly relating to remote working as evidenced by Twitter, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Dropbox, Fitbit, Ulster Bank etc.  The facility to work from home further enhances business continuity during high risk events, and currently brings to life the advantages in the face of the Coronavirus and its’ potential affects both on the economy and workforce.

Believe in yourself

It is important to remove the stereotypical issues around employing women and what women may or may not need above men at a certain time in their lives.  Neutralising these issues going forward will allow women to ask for what they want / need in order to operate efficiently in their working day and to get the best out of their career of choice.  All employees should be given the opportunity to barter based on their individual abilities and have confidence in their competency to deliver. 

Also it is important to note that the % of stay at home Father’s and men participating more in caring for children in terms of working hours in any given week is on the rise. 

Now let’s start musing our 4 day working week…. Nirvana?!

For further inspiration visit;

4 Day Working Week?

For information on how Signium Ireland can help you as an employer fulfil your needs and to find the best talent for your organisation, please contact us.

If you are looking for career advice, please do not hesitate to contact Consulting Partner Susan Kelly.

 Susan Kelly photo