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The question

I work for a small company which has been in perpetual start-up mode for 10 years. There are three senior employees, all in our 50s, who are the core knowledge and management base of the company. Four years ago, the company went through a funding crisis which required all employees to lose a day of work (we were working 3-4 days/week then). After a year, more funding was found and all the lower-level production employees saw their work week restored. The upper level were left at the reduced work week. However, the time continues to be contributed without remuneration – because the work needs to be done. Recently, the CEO scheduled an overseas trip and required us to leave on Sunday evening and travel for four days. We asked for pay for the Sunday travel and were grudgingly paid for 4 hours. Recently we were asked to travel again on a similar schedule. This time, the Sunday time was denied. If we were working full-time, we wouldn't mind the extra time, but being part-time it's abusing our goodwill. (No bonuses either … sigh). If this were a once-off, I'd let it slide. But given the continual history of entitlement to our time for free, this feels like it's crossed the line. It could be argued that if we're not happy we could leave; however, being in our 50s, the job prospects are not that plentiful. And we've contributed substantially to this company. Leaving now (to me, at least) would feel like abandoning one of my children.

The answer

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I hope I am the right person to ask. I am but a humble scribbler. The few times I've been paid to travel somewhere, I was so grateful, I was (metaphorically: we scribblers like to use metaphors) in tears the whole time I was in that country.

Also, I tell people I am descended from Vikings, but it's a lie. The truth, I will now reveal, is I am descended from Norwegian serfs and somewhere in my DNA is the perpetual urge to lick the boots of the master.

What I'm trying to say is, I've always been bad at standing up to bosses and saying "Hey, I deserve more than this."

But here's what I'll do for you. I will attempt to channel the spirit of my wife who, as with everyone else, is insecure, but will actually stand up to bosses for her rights, because she has a sense of her worth.

As should you. I get that it's tough to be in your 50s. It's an awkward time to be out looking for work, especially these days, when everything is so tech-oriented and, no offence, you are perhaps a bit behind the curve on that.

But I also think people in their 50s – and I'm going to go ahead and say sixties and seventies and even eighties – have a way of being in the prime of their lives and a lot to offer.

They tend to have their Gladwellian 10,000 hours under their belt (if you don't know it, I'm referring to great Canadian writer Malcolm Gladwell's excellent theory that it takes about 10,000 hours or about 10 years to get good at anything) yet also plenty of vim and vigour and piss and vinegar, if I may put it that way.

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Moreover: Wisdom. Maturity. Experience. But at the same time, the humility to remember that no matter how talented and integral one seems to any given situation, one is always (basically) expendable and instantly replaceable.

(Although of course that may be my serf DNA talking.)


What I'd do: Begin with a soliloquy to your boss (which sounds like it'd be both true and heartfelt) about how much time and energy and emotion you've invested in the company. How you care about it. Even, as you've said (I don't know how this could hurt you), say what you said to me about how leaving it would be like leaving one of your children.

I think your boss will enjoy that.

Then, and only then, perhaps, a discussion about compensation. It sounds as though you've definitely been helping build the company. You never know where these things will lead.

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Why not suggest you'll become more rather than less of a "stakeholder" in this company, even ask to be paid in shares – roll the dice like that?

Have less of an employee/what-am-I-getting-paid-for-my-time, more of a let's-all-get-rich mindset.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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