“In every work a reward added makes the pleasure twice as great.” – Euripides (Rhesus, circa 455-441 B.C.)

A guy I know just got fired after seven years on the job. There were different theories about why he was let go — insubordination, sub-par performance, his attitude, a suspicion of disloyalty, etc.

No one disputed his work ethic or his reliability. But one day he was handed a pink slip and sent down to the personnel office, where he received a “goodbye” package that was considerably less than he expected. He thought he’d get the full measure of his unpaid vacation plus a week for every year he devoted to the job. He got significantly less.

His mistake was in assuming that all his accumulated vacation time would be credited to some account somewhere in somebody’s mind. But it didn’t turn out that way. Whatever good faith he had earned was gone by the time he really needed it. The loyalty bank was empty just when he needed it most.

There’s an important lesson here.

You put in extra time not to create a credit for yourself but to do better work. In the realpolitik of business, you get rewarded for what you do, and can do, not for how hard you work doing it.

Yes, you should come in early. And, yes, you should outwork your competition. But you do those things to improve your skills and then use those skills to improve business.

When you are capable of improving business, you automatically and unmistakably become more valuable — and that’s what you get paid for.

If you are or ever have been an employer, you already understand this. When it comes time to give financial rewards, you want to give the most to those people who can make the most for you.

Not that you don’t appreciate hard work and long hours. You do. I’ve had to fire some very hardworking people in my time, and I can tell you it was very difficult to do so. But when it came down to deciding who would stay and who would go, the only thing I cared about was capability — who would give me the most bang for my buck.

Think of it this way. John stuffs 5,000 envelopes in eight hours. Mary also stuffs 5,000 a day, but she gets only 4,000 done at work and finishes the rest at home after the kids are in bed. You have to admire Mary’s dedication, but are you going to pay her more than John? Not if your budget is squeezed.

So what should you do?

1. Work hard and long and intelligently to master a valuable skill. Don’t expect to get paid extra for the extra time you take to master the skill.

2. Once you have a mastery of a skill, make sure you are properly paid for it.

3. Take your paid holidays because you can. Don’t pass them up because you want to impress.

The bottom line is this: Your work is valuable, and it is paid for with your salary as well as monetary and non-monetary perks. Take them because you deserve them.

Work hard. Focus on making the business better. And make sure your business takes care of you.