There’s no doubt that running a company is a tough job. Holding the fate of hundreds or thousands of employees and the weight of success or failure of a business on your shoulders is definitely a big source of stress.
But how much more valuable is one person’s stress than another?
That’s the question Dr. David Morgan, former CEO of Australia’s Westpac Banking Corporation, inadvertently addressed in an interview for a new biography. According to The Age, Morgan told the book’s author, Oliver Brown, that the reality of CEO life is “seldom openly discussed.”
“Most people don’t talk about it honestly,” Morgan said. “Yes, CEO life is very glamorous. You’re recognized, you’re given the best seats in restaurants, and you’re ridiculously overpaid. But you need stamina. As the leader, you rarely play the grand final, but more an endless succession of semi-finals.”
“You can hardly ever relax, and that creates intense strain,” he added. “Behind closed doors, some CEOs literally weep.”
And that was the straw that broke Twitter’s back.
Dr. Morgan was the CEO of Westpac from 1999 to 2008. In 2007, his annual pay topped $10 million. That’s $833,000 a month, $192,000+ a week, or assuming a 7-day work week, $27,000+ per day. If he worked 16-hour days every single day (which is surely not the norm, but let’s go with it for the sake of the stressful argument), that’s $1,700+ per hour.
But sometimes they weep in private, right?
At least Morgan admitted that CEOs can be “ridiculously overpaid.” But trying to justify that with multimillionaire tears totally falls flat for the multimillions of people who work in stressful, underpaid jobs every day.
Twitter user Frankie Zelnick illustrated this point with a simple tweet in response to The Age’s article share.
“Raise your hand if you’ve ‘literally wept’ from stress at a job that paid you less than 40 grand a year,” she wrote.
The responses rolled in like thunder.
I make $13.50/hour. It’s retail, so I stand all day, and also have to coddle the emotions of abusive people. The walk-in is a good place to cry because it’s cold and people can’t see you through the peephole. I’ve had office jobs ($30k, $28k) where I cried outside on the street.
— Katherine M. Hill (@KatherineInBK) March 2, 2019
I spent a year working in animal rescue for $10/hr. My building was near a trailhead, and I often used my half-hour lunch break to walk 15 minutes into the woods, scream at the top of my lungs, and then walk 15 minutes back.
— Glen “Deport the Nazis to Antarctica” Dower (@lEtoileduWord) March 2, 2019
For my last six months at a previous job I spent half an hour in my car having an anxiety attack six mornings a week for $34,000/year Canadian. In terms of hours I was expected to put in, I was working for less than half of minimum wage.
— Darryl Ballegeer (@darrylballegeer) March 3, 2019
Funeral Arranger. Had to deal with grieving families. Childrens funerals. BABIES. Dressed and groomed bodies as well as admin. Facilitated viewings. When I demanded to be paid a living wage, CEO was outraged and told me to claim WFTC. For real. Spot the benefit scrounger.
— Sandra Brown-Springer (@SerialSingleMum) March 2, 2019
I’ve slept on my office floor or a storage cupboard because I had too much work to do at my non-profit to justify actually going home.
— Sasky Stewart (@Sasky) March 2, 2019
Wept. Chronic panic attacks. Feelings of intense dread just at the thought of waking up in the morning knowing I’d have to go to work. Once I had a panic attack so bad at work, I literally passed out and had to go to the hospital.
But, sure, millionaires weeping makes me sad.
— John Lam (@AnxiousPenman) March 2, 2019
I work in children services in the UK, we joke that you haven’t really made it as a social worker unless you have a breakdown in the kitchen/bathroom. Make less than £40,000, have huge case loads and we’re cutting the work force by 50%, and closing all our children centres.
— Sarah (@Scissormonkay) March 2, 2019
There is zero evidence that the more stress you have in a job, the more you get paid. In fact, as several people pointed out, the less they got paid at a job, the more they cried.
I would even say the jobs where I’ve been paid the least are the jobs I would cry at the most
— worst schrute cousin (@cosmipolitik) March 2, 2019
🙋🏻♀️The lower the salary the harder the sobs.
— Lin (@figandolove) March 2, 2019
Oh yeah. It’s like, why am I dealing with this for such low pay? And then you feel worse about it.
— B (@brig517) March 2, 2019
I have literally calculated how much I got paid to cry in the employee toilet
— Bralyn (@joubertbralyn) March 2, 2019
Unless you have tried to educate a classroom full of kids, it’s hard to understand the amount of stress that goes along with the job. I started out as a teacher and while it’s a rewarding career in many ways, it’s also the hardest job I’ve ever had—and one of the worst paid per actual working hour. Every teacher I know has “literally wept” over their jobs, many while working other jobs to make ends meet.
I’m a teacher. Need I say more? The stress mostly comes from everything other than the actual teaching! Definite tears.
— NatsMusicTeacher (@NatsMusicTeachr) March 2, 2019
God. This. So much. I never became a teacher because just the student teaching experience had me in tears so often. Can’t imagine how actual teachers manage to deal with it.
— Adain (@WingedxOne) March 2, 2019
^ This. Quit shortly after one older student continued to verbally berate me & upper staff did nothing. Then, had to go to school for weeks in a panic b/c another of my students was dismissed for threating to shoot up the school.
— 🌙⭐Nyght⭐🌙 (@Wolfofthenyght) March 2, 2019
Abusive students & admin are why I finally threw in the towel, too. It got so bad at one school that I cried every morning getting ready & started taking unpaid sick days when I ran out of PTO. I got out 4 years ago and still have issues from the stress and poor treatment.
— Cora Lee 📚 (@Cora_Lee49) March 3, 2019
I have a master’s degree, and breaking 24k is a good year. Yes, I have literally cried. (Be nice to your college profs. Adjuncts make literally nothing, are not guaranteed work, and don’t get any benefits.)
— Ace (@BlueEarOtter) March 2, 2019
Some users shared stories of how they couldn’t afford to take time off work, even for medical reasons.
I was having a miscarriage & my biannual class observation by the dept chair had been scheduled for months (I was an adjunct at the time making roughly 20K). I was afraid to cancel class & reschedule – I knew how easily I could be replaced. So I taught a 3 hour class in a diaper.
— Rachel McShane (@McshaneRachel) March 3, 2019
Had a miscarriage when making 8.00/hr at Barnes & Noble, took one (unpaid) day off the day after I was at the hospital til 4 am, had to go back the day after that or we couldn’t pay the light bill.
I cried a lot that day.
— Katie (@sothenkatiesays) March 3, 2019
Others pointed out the ocean of difference between crying over a stressful job when you have more than enough money and crying over a stressful job when you’re poor. There’s just no comparison.
There’s a huge difference btw weeping at a job & then going home to a house you dont have to worry abt losing & kids you dont have to worry abt being able to feed, and weeping at a job & then going home to a place where nothing, not even food, is guaranteed bc you make min wage.
— ☄️❄sarah❄☄️ (@alannalionheart) March 2, 2019
Worked a few min/wage and now 200k. Stress exists in both, but to compare is ignorant at best. Food is on the table, lights stay on, housing is paid, and bank accounts are fine. Garbage for CEOs to ask for sympathy here. Not the same stress, not even close.
— Steve Collins (@MaurosSoulpatch) March 3, 2019
When your work includes business meetings over rounds of golf and tables at 5-star restaurants, followed up by going home to a luxurious house that you can afford to pay someone to clean, and a retirement account worth more than most of us will make in our whole lifetimes, it’s hard to feel sorry for you, no matter how hard your job is.
Running a company is stressful, but so are millions of other people’s jobs that pay a tiny fraction of what most CEOs make—and without the perks. Dr. Morgan easily could have retired in comfort after his 9-year stint as Westpac’s CEO. Most of us have to work our butts off for our entire adult life to be able to stop working and still have food on the table.
So yeah. We know CEOs have tough jobs, but the teachers, social workers, non-profit employees, retail associates, and other underpaid, overstressed workers aren’t going to lose any sleep over anyone’s $1,000+/hr tears.