It’s Christmas time, and I’m feeling a little thin. No, silly, not in the gut—in the wallet. It looks like we won’t be able to afford that new car (radio-controlled) after all.

It’s times like this that make the typical wage earner or self-employed person stop and think about money, specifically, such questions as “How much am I really worth?,” “How can I make more money next year?,” and “Wonder if the kid’ll be satisfied with a Matchbox car?”

Well, your erstwhile columnist is considering these same questions and thought it might be good for all of us to work through some of these issues. My next few columns will look at employee worth—what you’re worth now, how you can compare that figure to what the market thinks, and how you can maximize that worth.

The existential question
The first task when considering any issue is to frame the question correctly. If you ask me, “What am I worth?,” I will throw my arms around you and say, “You are infinitely worth-full.” Our worth as a person cannot be calculated in puny dollars and cents. On the other hand, if you ask me, “What am I worth as a marketable commodity?,” I will move from the existential to the calculating, grab a pen and a piece of paper, and start throwing dollar signs all over the page.

This is what we will find out in today’s column—how to figure out your true present worth so that you can begin to plan how to increase—yea, maximize—that worth.

Get out your calculator
If you are an employee, your answer to the “what am I worth?” question might be. “That’s easy. I make $42,000 a year.” If you equate your salary with your worth to your employer, however, you’ve got a lot to learn. Let’s begin your education.

Grab your calculator and your last paycheck. The top figure—the gross salary—is your starting point. Write it down. Then, underneath it, write the following numbers, which may or may not be on your check:

  • Employer’s portion of Social Security (gross X 7.5%)
  • Employer’s contributions to retirement, if any
  • Employer’s subsidy of medical and dental insurance, if any
  • Employer-provided life insurance, if any
  • Mileage payments
  • Expense payments
  • Bonuses
  • Training subsidies
  • Parking subsidies
  • Books and magazines
  • Employer’s payments to workman’s comp and liability insurance.

Those figures should give you a fairly firm figure of your direct costs to your employer. Now let’s add in some of the ones that are harder to calculate but just as real:

  • Equipment costs (computers, phone systems, copiers)
  • Cost of supplies (letterhead, plain paper, stamps)
  • Support labor costs (secretary, receptionist)
  • Communications (telephone bill, Internet access)
  • General overhead (rent, lights, heat).

The grand total? Whoa! Never thought about those, did you? Well, I guarantee your employer did. When your company looks at you, it doesn’t see $42,000; it sees something like $50,000 or $54,000 or maybe even $60,000.

If you have diligently worked through this little exercise, you should have a fairly accurate picture of what you’re worth to your current employer in dollars and cents. Remember, you may bring lots of other qualities to the table at your workplace—loyalty, competence, and a good disposition—but our goal today was simply to calculate your worth as a marketable commodity. Your worth to your employer in dollars is our starting point.

Caveats to consider
Two final thoughts: If you are not delivering value to your employer equal to or greater than your costs, you either need to start doing so or polish your resume. Tough words, but true. And second, your worth to your current employer may or may not be a good indicator of your worth out in the marketplace. To find out how to figure that one out, you’ll have to come back next week.
If you have suggestions you’d like to share about determining your worth or figuring out the worth of your trainers, please post your comments at the bottom of this page.

Bruce Maples is a writer, trainer, and consultant living in Louisville and writing at his local coffee shop, where his belief that everyone is infinitely worth-full is lived out every day.