“You Better Listen to Me Because I Pay Your Salary!”


If you’ve been employed by a government entity, the odds are that you have been assaulted by hurtful or simply ridiculous remarks. Especially when someone at a party or gathering learns for the first time that you are ‘one of them’: ‘the lazy drains on society and their personal pocketbook’.

Well, I’m about to give you some advice as to how you might wish to respond.

But first, you need to bear in mind that some of these individuals are truly mean-spirited people. Others are simply frustrated by what they see as a government where the employees are either incompetent or have no power to achieve results. And, some folks are simply hurting financially or otherwise and feel the need to strike out at someone.

This said, allow me to offer some comebacks for when you are hit by these verbal missiles.

#1 “You better listen to me! I pay your salary.”

Well, I’m going to borrow from a Florida legislator’s speech during a national software conference. He had a constituent who was beyond annoying. So, finally, he asked the treasurer’s office how much of the average resident’s yearly taxes went toward his salary. The answer was an astounding, ‘quarter’. Armed with this info, the representative sent the constituent a dollar bill with a note saying, ‘I’m enclosing 4 years of what your taxes goes toward my salary. So for the next 4 years, don’t bother me!’

Another response based upon this scenario could be: “Yes, you pay about one-hundredth of 1% of my salary. So that buys approximately 3 minutes of time. On your mark, get set, go!’

Or, a less antagonistic approach could be: “Do you mind my asking where you work?” And for whatever company they mention, explain that since you (in some way) patronize them, you should likewise be able to dictate their salary and working conditions. (For example if they work as a department store salesperson, since you buy clothing there, you should be able to speak directly to the top management regarding changes that you would like to see implemented.) Point out that all work is interrelated and that teamwork, along with compromise is what makes for great government.

#2 “Government workers are a bunch of lazy, ‘do-nothings’!”
I would ask whether or not there was anyone where they worked who was lazy and did the bare minimum work. Someone whom they couldn’t stand. Odds are that you would open a floodgate with that last part. Let them vent about their coworker, then point out that every organization has its share of lazy employees. That it was an unfortunate part of life.

#3 “You must work in government because you’re not qualified to work elsewhere. And this is easy money for you!”
Get past the stinging of those remarks, quickly. Then point out that government positions have fairly rigid qualifications. As for the pay, when you compare similar jobs in the public and private sectors, government employees typically earn less than those in private business.

#4 “You probably got your job because you knew someone or was related to someone.”
Here, you have multiple replies based upon the facts. – You might point out that you do not have any special connections. That you were hired based upon your qualifications. Or, you might say that you did have someone ‘put in a good word’ for you. But, that you were recommended for the job because of that very reason: They knew just how qualified you were and that you had a strong work ethic. Why not hire someone who was a ‘sure thing’ as opposed to taking a chance on an ‘unknown’ individual. Additionally, I would ask this constituent whether or not they would want a friend or relative to give them a boost-up, if possible.

#5 “You’re all crooks! Every day another one of you is arrested for some ‘funny business!”
Agree with them that there should be zero-tolerance for such behavior. Then point out that ‘every day’ is an obvious exaggeration. Also remind them that even if 1 person a day for a year was arrested for corruption, that would be an extremely low percentage of the workforce. (For example, if there were 20,000 government employees and 1 per day was caught doing something wrong, that would be less than 2% of the workers. How many ‘regular folks’ are arrested, daily?)

#6 “I don’t have a retirement pension, but here I am paying for your big fat check!”
Let them know that you contributed X-amount, weekly, to your retirement fund. That for the average employee, the amount is nowhere as much as they imagine that it is. That part of working for the government’s lower yearly salary, was that the government would help fund the retirement.

#7 “I don’t get the vacation, sick days, and healthcare benefits that you do! And, I pay for my health insurance, to boot!”
Ask whether or not they would have taken a job with these benefits, if they had the chance to do so. (Who wouldn’t?) Then remind them that by patronizing their employer or by buying something tied to what they do for a living, that you pay toward their benefits.

Bottom-line, there will always be those taxpayer s who will never truly listen to or believe what you say. Yet, there will be others who will. Those are the people to win over to your point of view. (Which is the truth.)

So, go get them! (But, nicely… )

‘Nuff said.

Russell A. Irving is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Thanks for the examples that will help new government employees! Older gov employees have heard those gripes so many times that it becomes ‘background noise’ to us. Like a crying baby, I realize that they are hurting, but that it has nothing to do with me. So I let them vent, all the while fantasizing about the great recipe I’m going to try tonight for dinner…..

Russell Irving

Good advice eon your end. By the way what are you making for dinner? Perhaps the wife and I could stop by? (Along with the 150,000 other GovLoop fans!)


It’s true.. especially for us in IT – “government employees typically earn less than those in private business”. We also have a difficult time hiring because we hear that working in gov is not as ‘sexy’ as some private industry.

Rachel Niebeling

Interesting post Russell.

I don’t work in government, but I come from 6 generations of civil servants. I think some of your responses are great (I like the more positive ones).

I wonder, does patronizing people who are frustrated help or create more animosity? Maybe trying to find out what they’re really upset about could help create a more positive feeling towards government itself and help get all of you great workers the respect you deserve.