The Great Pay Debate: Hours vs. Productivity

an empty office
Would you rather be paid by the hour, or strictly for how productive you are?

It may seem like a simple question (whichever side you may lean), but there are many factors involved in deciding what makes sense for you personally. And, who knows, you may change your mind by the time you’re done reading this article, or in the future as life and priorities inevitably change.


Clocks & Projects

So where do you land now in your career? Do you punch a clock? Are you a warm body who completes all the work in five hours, yet has to stay at the office (or active on Zoom) all eight or nine just for formality’s sake? Many companies are getting back to “business as usual” and forcing workers into an office simply to keep an eye on them. Everything is fine as long as they’re in a seat from 9-5… or later, right? Actually, wrong. Being monitored in the flesh does not guarantee greater productivity. 

Perhaps you are paid for your productivity or per project. If you’re something of a contractor or freelancer, or you own your own business, this is likely how you’re already operating. Some are comfortable with the security of working for a proven company that provides healthcare, structure, and the like. They want a safety net protecting them from the fall of a bad month or more when there’s a market slump or they just can’t seem to produce. But if you create meaningful, extraordinary work, that shouldn’t be a problem. 


The Standard of Work

There are many professional standards that have been around for quite some time and have become fixtures – standards that are difficult to innovate. Many of these “status quo” professional rules are there for good reason and should of course be difficult to change. Education and experience requirements are needed. The idea of office attire, although we are currently seeing an evolution from the business suit, has been around since the 18th century. Compensation for the average white-collar worker and work hours are also two of the most tenured of professional standards.

Another standard? The 40-hour work week. How did this become a thing? You can thank labor unions for passing more “humane” hours in 1938 as the industrial age fought to push endless hours on workers even as young as six years old. As work has become more heady, involving critical thinking – and as the internet has crept into every crevice of life – we’ve moved further away from fighting for 40 hours and wellbeing breaks, and toward prioritizing productivity and outsourcing automated or baseline tasks. Conversations are circling around whether keeping the business status quo is relevant or if we’d all be better off reinventing the corporate wheel. 

Thought leaders like Adam Grant, Seth Godin, and Tim Ferris have been normalizing the notion of bucking tradition instead of merely keeping it for tradition’s sake. Whether it’s a four-hour work week, six-hour workday, or whatever-it-takes-to-get-your-work-done work week, these ideas aren’t going away any time soon. Instead, they’re slowly but surely gaining traction.


Per Productivity

Of course, there’s a catch to paying for productivity for all involved. Leadership can’t micromanage or force busy work on their employees. And it may take someone twice as long to complete a project or make a sale than another. Perhaps it evens itself out. Let’s say workers go home when they hit their daily goals. They may not “be around” for meetings at all hours of the “workday.” Instead, they may be – gasp – picking up their child from daycare or taking them to a doctor’s appointment. They may even take that time to do something for themselves. But at the end of the day (figuratively and literally), the same goals are met. And workers will also appreciate the trust and flexibility that comes with this type of freedom.

Per Hour

The same Fair Labor Standards Act that helped establish humane work hours enacted a minimum hourly wage for those working for large, established companies, including the government. The minimum wage has been updated accordingly by many presidents. It has acted as a system of checks and balances between the government, large corporations, and the people they employ. The goal is to create an equitable system. One where those who work hard are given the chance to provide for themselves and their loved ones. The act specifically was meant to cover the type of easily replicable work, not specifically “knowledge work.” There’s been much talk around raising the hourly wage even in the last few months.


Post Pandemic Priorities

Working through a pandemic has spurred more of these notions on. Will offices ever be the same post-pandemic? We’re seeing some large companies demand to have workers back in their physical office by a certain date. Others willingly acknowledge the cost-saving, productive nature WFH life brought. There’s also a hybrid in-office, work from home solution offered by some, hoping to coax employees back without the backlash. 

Perhaps this is the perfect time to look not only at more remote and flexible work schedules, but also the entirety of how we compensate. This can and should look different for different industries. After all, the common goals should be productive work and a happy life for all, right?  


There are certainly life circumstances that call for different types of working hours. Providing stellar work at a steady, hourly rate makes sense for some. And when you’re the boss, you are paid proportionately to your productivity. No clocking in hours or reporting to higher-ups, but instead just enjoying the fruits of your labor. That is why we created the N2 Area Director role. Uncapped commission and flexibility at the core, and a very lucrative opportunity… as long as you put in the work. If you’re looking to get paid on your terms, check it out


We were inspired by Seth Godin’s recent blog post, Selling Hours. We appreciate his insight into this timely topic. Give it a read!