The fallacious "equality" argument

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A little backstory: I’m off on another recruitment implementation project. Basically, I’m helping a long term care/hospice facility build a best practice recruiting process. Part of this implementation involves restructuring (or, in this case, resuscitating, ’cause it’s dead) existing programs. I suggested we start with the Employee Referral Program, because thriving business get at least 40% of their best employees through referrals.

In laying the groundwork for the new Employee Referral Program, I mentioned the reward structure, which we had used at another facility in the same company and which works thus:

  • 5% x FTE of the position’s annual base salary is paid to the employee

For instance, if I refer a full-time RN and the base salary for that position is $65k, then I make $3,250. If I refer a full-time CNA and the base is $26k, I make $1,300.

I got immediate pushback on two fronts:

  1. “We need CNAs more than RNs right now”
  2. “I think this goes against our core value of equity—we are all equally important”

The first objection is reasonable and solvable: let’s create a promotional period where we double the CNA referral reward.

The second argument I call bullshit on. When it comes to compensation, we are not all equal, and for very good reasons. Think about it, if we were then the logical inference we can make is that we should all be paid equally, that a housekeeper should make the same as a unit manager. Right?

Of course not, because the jobs simply aren’t the same. One is far more important to the success of the business than the other. The unit manager who was making the argument said, “We all know how difficult it can be with a housekeeper missing.” Difficult, yes, but the unit stays open when the housekeeper is missing; everyone else still works; the residents can remain. Without an RN, however, the unit closes. No other employees work and no residents get care. And the facility loses buckets of money. This is why RN staffing agencies exist in such numbers; it costs far less to staff a unit with an agency RN than to shut it down altogether. Housekeeping not so much.

Further, this kind of equivocating devalues higher-level staff, who had to actively pursue higher education to attain their current competencies, and on who the facility places a much greater weight of responsibility.

I’m not arguing that support positions are not important, because they are, or that we don’t underpay support staff, because we do. Issues surrounding fair compensation need to be addressed. But it’s a red herring to argue that a program which offers differing rewards based on the level of the position creates inequality. Inequality does not follow from differences in compensation for different levels of skill, competence, and responsibility.

Bottom line: we have to provide incentives that are comensurate with the level of the position. Some positions, and the people who staff them, are simply more important.

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