#104 Per diem, Latin for Passion

So I was having a conversation with a few colleagues the other day about per diem rates and what we can do to make retention higher.  The short answer, of course, is to give people more money.  That is followed by give them a guarantee of work that will last longer than a couple of sessions.  

Do you disagree?  Well, let’s look at the situation and ask ourselves some questions.  Have you ever worked most of a season with a company, or at least a few months on the end, and gone with someone else in the spring because they offered you more money, more per diem, or a promotion?  Of course.  We all have.  Have you ever left a company during a field season for more money or per diem? We did.  Once.  Couldn’t afford to live on what they were paying us.  Had to go.  Have you ever left in the middle of a field session for a job that pays more?  Haven’t done that one yet.

Hard working Field Techs in MiamiSo, did you answer “yes” to any of those questions?  I’d be surprised if you didn’t.  We like to think of ourselves as passionate individuals with idealized outlooks on life.  I even heard someone say not too long ago that CRM archaeology is a place for people to gather that don’t fit in anywhere else.  She said that everyone in the field is different, unique, and likely a social misfit.  Not sure I quite agree with that.  I certainly don’t fit in with a number of crews that I’ve been on.  Until a few months ago I had my wife to work with and hang out with.  Don’t have that anymore since she got out of the business.  So, are we different?  Are we individuals that don’t fit in?  For some the answer is probably yes.  For most, the answer is likely no.

When you break us down into our constituent parts we are just like everyone else.  We have the same motivations, the same desires, and the same bills to pay.  I’ve seen the most frugal, flannel-wearing, roll-your-own-cigarette smoking, vegetarian, hippie wannabe complain about pay and per diem.  Some of us don’t want or need as much money as others but we still need it.  

Ask yourself: would you still do this job if someone handed you enough money (insert whatever figure suits you) so that you wouldn’t have to work for the rest of your life?  If your answer is “yes” then congratulations! You’ve found your passion.  My Division Chief in the Navy told me that almost two decades ago and I’ve lived my life by that principle.  If I wasn’t doing something I’d do for free because money wasn’t a problem then I got out.  I quite being an electronics technician on small corporate jets.  I quite my commercial aviation program in college.  I quite the Navy.  I’ve now been an archaeologist longer than I’ve ever been anything else and I don’t plan on turning back now.

I’m not saying I’d stay a crew chief in the Great Basin if someone handed me $10 billion (that’s my figure ;)  ).  I certainly wouldn’t stop doing CRM, though.  Maybe I’d go in the field occaisionally but most of my time would be spent trying to improve the tech we use.  I’d be prototyping ideas I’ve had and designing apps to use in the field.  I’d have an archaeo-think tank who’s sole purpose would be to think up new ways to increase efficiency and scientific data gathering for CRM.  I love this job and I believe in its purpose and goals.  I think what we do is helping catalog, and sometimes preserve, the rich heritage in this country.  This is really the only job in the country that does that with some of the really old sites.

In think the point of this post is that people still need money to realize their dreams.  We need money to go places and do things.  Sure, you can do things without money but it’s much more relaxing to do it with a few bucks in your pocket.  Field techs are the lifeblood of CRM archaeology and Arch Firms need to realize that someday.  Sure, cut corners where you have to but stand firm when it comes to paying your techs.  If your session is 10 days long then pay them per diem for 10 days for FSM’s sake.  If they come back in the spring then give them a raise.  Even 50 cents will go a long way to building loyalty.  If they’re still there mid-summer, give them another raise.  You wouldn’t be able to fulfill your contracts if they weren’t there.  Say thank you once in a while.

CRM is a notoriously cheap field.  How many of you have ridden in a company truck that rattled so loud you could’t think, was dusty enough to have noticeable stratigraphy on the dash, and had not had the air conditioner charged in 100,000 miles?  All of us.  Fine.  Be cheap with the trucks.  But gods damn pay us well because we deserve it.  We put up with all of that crap because we LOVE our jobs and we have passion for what we do.  That kind of loyalty does not come cheap.

I didn’t mean for this to turn into a rant and I understand that budgets are tight.  Instead of creating reams of paperwork in the field recording sites, use a tablet to record your sites.  Teach your people how to write well the first time, in the field, so there can be MINIMAL editing in the office.  One company I know of bills in three hours to type up each site record.  Some will take longer and some will take less time.  However, if you spend just a fraction more time in the field making it right and typing on a tablet, you can reduce office time by at least 75%.  Bill the client the same amount, or a little less to stay competitive, and pass the savings on to your techs and crew chiefs.  It can be done.  I really believe that.  Nearly every other industry is advancing by leaps and bounds while archaeology companies won’t even use double-sided forms because they might not get copied properly back in the office.  Astounding.  Work smarter, not harder.  

That’s it.  I guess this did turn into a rant.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field.