Deadly wage slave thoughts and how to overcome them

I’ll just put the bitter truth upfront:  As salarymen, I’d go as far as to say that having a stable salary makes it incredibly easy for one to slip into a state of complacency. 

Now, don’t get me wrong and start raging. I’m not saying salarymen are lazy. Nor is this article about why ‘thinking like an employee’ is bad. 

What I’m saying is that the comfy white-collar, stable-income you take on has risks that you might not even be aware of. 

One of them is becoming less driven, less enterprising, and less relentless because you have outsourced your survival to your corporate overlords – I speak from experience. 

The real game changer for me? Challenging my preconceived notions on what was an ‘employee’ was, and seeing myself as a business instead. 

Here are the most common thoughts that plagued me as a salaryman, and how I got over them by changing how I think. 

Here we go: 


“I refuse to ask for a pay raise. ”

Many are unwilling to ask for a pay raise, yet expect one to be handed to us on a silver platter every year.

But here’s a question: Do you concern yourself with whether or not your favourite Nasi Padang store raises their ridiculously low prices? 

Of course not.

And here lies the lesson – no one has naturally more motivation than you in getting  better remuneration. You should be the most influential force driving this, not your boss, not your colleague, your grandpa, etc. 

Businesses get that. That’s why they consistently raise their prices to keep up with market rates. And they don’t ask for your permission before they do so. 

It’s possible two people get paid differently for the same job, simply because they asked for it. You never ask, people usually won’t give. It’s that simple.

“I’m underpaid but don’t want to side hustle” 

This is another mental hurdle I used to have.

I knew my salary was below that of my peers, but for some reason, I had this thought that my only form of income should be my day job. That it was ‘the right and only way to earn money’. 

From what I know, this affliction also affects many Singaporeans who think that side hustles or moonlighting are for people who ‘can’t have a proper job’ – there’s a negative stigma attached. 

Now, I want you to imagine yourself as a business owner of say, a law-firm. 

You have one major client, but for some reason, this client pays you way below the market rate. What’s the logical thing to do? 

It’s not to sit around and sulk – It’s to go out and look for more clients. 

“My job has a lot of politics/I am an introvert,I just want to do my job and get by”

I hate politics too, but unfortunately, anything that involves more than one human being will have at least some politics. Cliques form, you get treated unfairly etc – we get it, it sucks and it’s unhealthy for your mental health. 

What’s next though? Most business people, faced with your circumstances, will do one of the following:

  • Build good relationships with new clients
  • Repair existing ones
  • Have business alliances 

If you think politics in the office is bad, wait till you see politics outside the office. People go all out to network, get close to clients, and build relationships. 

Playing politics is a legitimate (if much despised) way of getting ahead in business, and life. Many people use it to make up for the lack of value they can bring to the table. 

Once you see it that way, it becomes a lot clearer what you have to do.

We’re not asking you to become a backstabber, we’re telling you that you need to be aware of power dynamics in any company you are in. 

If you’re saying: “Oh but I don’t like networking or pretending to like people” – well, all fine and good, we’re just saying that there’s a cost to that. 

And it often means lower pay. You either learn the skill, accept lower pay, or be damn undeniably good at your job, so that people will have to rely on you no matter what.

“This job is not stable, prospects not good”

This is something I struggled with in the past as well.

I used to think that a stable job is a good job. As I grow older, I’ve realised it’s far more complex than that. 

Stability is not the be-all and end-all of jobs. Self-employed people understand that sometimes to land a big deal, you have to go for months and months without income. 

High risks produce high rewards. And the same goes for regular employment – the higher you go up the food chain, the higher your stakes are – and yes, pay is generally higher as well. 

So here’s the thing more of us need to know: ‘Stability’ is only one factor in whether or not a job is great. 

Other important factors include benefits, remuneration, learning/networking opportunities. Putting too much focus on stability can lead to stagnation, which in the long run is far more damaging. 

Believe it or not, I’ve heard people remark that they do not want to get paid higher simply because “I will be let go when hard times come.”

Reality check: In this new era, job stability is becoming a thing of the past. Your job can be more stable compared to someone else, but really it doesn’t matter. 

IMHO, your marginal ‘job stability’ isn’t worth it getting paid less. 

“My HR don’t let me _________” 

How many times have we been told we can’t do something because of the rules set up by HR? 

This is controversial and we are going to make a lot of HR folks angry when we say this – but your average HR personnel will usually be on your employer’s side. 

After all, they’re paid by your boss. So it’s completely understandable they aim to please their paymaster.

On the flip side, if you follow their rules, that means accepting stuff like no moonlighting, getting paid based on your last drawn salary, or even shit like discriminating against you because you are pregnant. 

With this knowledge, our suggestion is you should decide what sort of person you want to be. 

There’s nothing wrong with being a model employee who lives by the rules. 

And there’s nothing wrong with putting your needs first before your employer.

Chances are the sweet spot lies in the middle of those two.

But if I had to think about it this way, it’s this: your employer hired HR to enforce their rules for their benefit.

The real question is this: 

Where’s your HR?


Stay woke, salaryman.

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9 replies to “Deadly wage slave thoughts and how to overcome them

  1. Playing politics mean you need to choose sides, criticise others behind their back and backstab others – there is no clean politics. There is no way to justify one’s selfish desire to compromise integrity. Increasing your visibility, being aware of cliques/power dynamics and leveraging on network to get higher chances is not called politics

    In my opinion, politics outside of office is better, those are relationship building.

    1. Most commoners need the company more than the company needs you. No? You are really that special? Why aren’t you working for Google then? Why not Goldman Sachs then?

    2. Disagree. Self-defense is important, and that is the kind of politics we are talking about. Not so much to manipulate and backstab, but to prevent yourself from being manipulated and backstabbed.

      Politics is defined as “activities aimed at improving status/power within an organisation”. It is to your interest and your organization’s interests that promotions, credit, responsibility gets assigned to those who deserve it. What you mentioned, increasing visibility, being aware is power dynamics etc, all fall within that definition of politics.

  2. Spot on about politics in the office, and acknowledging that they exist. In my view, they certainly do, but it’s not some complex web of lies weaved by certain factions, it’s a few people having a beer after work and engaging in some minor gossip and shop talk. It should be looked at as part of building relationships with coworkers, rather than dismissing the notion of politics altogether.

  3. Look, I understand the utility of seeing the glass as half full sometimes, and, very often, all a person can do in a system like ours is “play the game”, but realism has its place too. Defeatism is pointless, but so is fooling oneself. The gross average of American businesses have increased their executive and CEO pay by like 200X since 1979, while the vast majority of US workers haven’t seen growth in real wages AT ALL. In some instances, inflation actually cancels out the few “raises” that do occur. We live in a time with record profits, and yet the salaries of regular Americans haven’t caught up.

    The truth is, the whole point of salaried work is to help the employer maximize profit. We intuitively understand this, but (think about it a little more clearly) the company is selling our goods or services (our labor) for a higher price on the market, and pocketing the profit. We aren’t really being paid for what we’re contributing (not really). No matter how you slice it (no matter how great you are at your job), if you’re not an executive, shareholder, or board member, you are ultimately expendable. You’re an externality to be dealt with, like a number on a chart. Smiles and compliments from leadership notwithstanding, if the company can figure out how to automate or outsource your job to cut costs, they WILL. They have to. That’s just a fact. So, in that sense, all blue collar workers, hourly workers, and — yes — even salaried workers are wage slaves. Thats the name of the game. That’s why organizing is so important and why we’re FINALLY seeing it explode again all over the country right now. Labor will be crushed without solidarity, as much as we may fool ourselves into thinking we’re getting a solid deal by ourselves. We’re not.

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