While many Americans have been fortunate to see their financial situation improve over time, that’s not the case for most workers. In fact, real income (value of money with inflation subtracted) has remained stagnant and even fallen for the last 50 years. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, the apex for worker purchasing power peaked more than 40 years ago. If you’re an employee, this data suggests that unless your financial situation changes dramatically for some reason, your fiscal outlook will be no better in the future. It’s a sobering thought and one that every employee should keenly understand.

If you want to improve your economic status, you need to obtain pay increases that beat inflation. But if employers can’t give pay raises due to their economic situation or are reluctant to give raises above the cost of living, the question is: How can you earn more money and beat inflation? The answer is: Make yourself more valuable.

This is a lesson that every American worker needs to learn-employers pay for value, not for work. Sure, you have to work a number of hours performing a job but that’s not really what your employer is paying you for-it’s because you bring some value to their business. If you work with five other people and they all deliver the same value, it’s logical that your employer would want to pay you all the same salary. The way to set yourself apart is to provide services that add value or perform a different task that has more value.

In the dispensing world, added value is usually recognized through commission. The opticians who sell better than others receive more pay. Let’s assume you find a way to attract a large account for your office that brings in 300 new patients. It’s logical that you should share in the profits made from this new business. Taking on an added role is another way to make yourself more valuable. Learning a new skill that makes you unique to the office is another good approach. For example, you might become the social media guru and/or website manager.

While it can be painful, it’s vital that employees look at what they bring to the table. If they want real wage growth, they need to answer the question, how valuable am I? The answer to this can be life-changing.

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