You are not where you work

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Send your questions about office, money, careers and work-life balance to workfriend@nytimes.com. Include your name and location, or a request to remain anonymous. Letters can be changed.

I work in an upscale grocery chain acquired by the world’s largest online retailer. I feel overwhelmed by my impact, in my career, on the planet and on humanity. A lot of the people I work with feel the same way.

Recently, I received a retention bonus. A raise of $ 1.50 per hour was given to five people in my store as determined by my store management in recognition of hard work and a positive attitude. I asked if I will ever know who the other four are and I was told no. As an unqualified high school graduate, my hourly rate of $ 21 plus health insurance (high deductible) is a better package than I could find elsewhere.

My family has always been low income and dependent on government programs. I am a hero to them, but I truly believe that my business is objectively making the planet worse. I do not know what to do. Please help. Am I stupid to stay? Is it fair to my colleagues who have not had a raise? What am I doing with myself? I want security, but I also want to do something right with my life.

– Anonymous

Your anxiety here is palpable and I understand the difficult decisions you are trying to make as a conscientious person. You are not stupid to stay in a job that pays you well and supports yourself and your family. You are not unfair by receiving a raise that you clearly deserve. Your company is unfair with its lack of pay transparency, only granting a raise to five people and hiding who received those raises for unclear reasons. There are a lot of problems with capitalism but above all, for a lot of people, are the ways in which we have to compromise ourselves in order to make a living.

When working for the world’s largest online retailer or its affiliates, you need to balance pay and benefits knowing that your underpaid job makes one of the world’s richest men get richer and richer. more, while launching himself and his friends into the void before Cosmos. But do you really allow such a thing? No, you are not. You’re just doing the best you can. This is one of those situations where you have to put the onus of responsibility where it belongs: squarely on your employer’s shoulders. The company chooses to pay people inadequately. They choose to monopolize the markets, driving down prices to gain more customers. And it’s the customers who buy from your store that make it all happen, not you and your coworkers. Sure, you can quit your job, but who will it benefit?

The question of wanting to do something good with your life is a powerful one. I urge you to separate your self-esteem and contributions to humanity from your job. You are not what you do for a living. So how can you feel like you have more of an impact in this world? This is not a question I can answer for you, but I will encourage you to sit down with this question and think about ways you can contribute to your community. Sure, you can live up to your civic responsibility by voting, but what more can you do? Is there any nonprofit work you believe in that you can volunteer for? Are there self-help groups you can work with? Start small and there you will at least find some of the answers to what you can do with yourself. You will do something right with your life. You are already.


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