What If The Boss Won’t Pay?
At a recent workshop at the IAHIP offices, a group of newly and nearly qualified therapists brainstormed their associations with the word “Business.” After the course, I was reflecting further on our discussion and, in particular, on the question of cancellation fees (always a good topic for an animated discussion among therapists). I was thinking about the differences between a therapy scenario and a workplace one.
Imagine the scene. You go for an interview and are accepted for a job. A contract is discussed and agreed, including details about hours and pay. However, when payday comes around, your boss refuses to pay you on the basis agreed. Would you accept that? Probably not.
You’d be pretty miffed, I imagine. You might point to the contract of employment and say, “But we had an agreement.” You would probably be slow to commit yourself fully to continue working for that employer. I can’t imagine an employee feeling empathy for the employer, and pointing to the difficult circumstances they were experiencing as a reason not to expect their day’s pay.
It seems ridiculous to even suggest it, doesn’t it? So, what’s different?
In business, a contract is a contract. The price of a litre of milk is the price charged by the shop. If you don’t like it, you go elsewhere or you go without. As an employee, you will expect your employer to reward a fair day’s work with a fair day’s pay on the basis agreed in your contract. Why is it different as a therapist?
What other unseen value is being challenged by a contract we have asked for and put in place?
Of course, as therapists we are aware that other issues are going on under the surface and that very awareness can muddy our thinking a little. I wonder if we are afraid of being rejected in some way by the client if we hold the fee boundary? Perhaps we over identify with the vulnerable parts of our client (Value: I mustn’t hurt anyone because I know what it’s like to feel hurt)? Perhaps we are concerned with what the client will think of us, and want them to think kindly (Value: I must be seen as a good person)? Perhaps we are concerned about what we will think of ourselves (Value: I must see myself as a good person)? Perhaps we are afraid the client will leave us, or will sue us, or speak badly of us (Value: I must be on good terms with all clients at all costs)?
The value “earn enough at my work” can become eclipsed in one of these other values.
Getting more comfortable with rejection as an inevitable part of life is a key skill in being self-employed. It involves being okay with being rejected by others and in our turn, being able to reject values, situations and options. If we get more comfortable with it, we allow others to do the same.
Some clients will use the fee level as a reason to reject us. (They may also use any number of other criteria as well!) We have no control over the criteria they may use to accept or reject us, but if we set as our value that we will never be rejected, we are going to make life very difficult for ourselves.
Making choices involves rejecting those choices we have not made. Even when we avoid making a choice, we are making a choice. And in making a choice, we may have to make a priority of one value over another. In setting our fee level and our terms we are supporting the value of “My time and energy is worth something.” In setting those terms we automatically make a choice to reject as possible clients those people who are unwilling or unable to pay our fees at that level or on those terms. By holding the agreement, we are choosing to honour our value and our time. When we choose to override the contract, we are making a choice to prioritise something else over the agreement and commitment we have made to our clients and to ourselves.
What is it that we are prioritising?