I see many people working a normal job with the idea that if they work hard they will be rewarded for their good service. That isn’t the way it works. Your employer owes you nothing. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve worked at the job or how loyal you’ve been. In the end, your years of service aren’t going to turn into some valuable investment that you can cash in.
Just the other day, a friend of mine was let go (along with all the other employees) at a business where he had been working for the past several years. The sad part is that, he had several offers over the past few months for jobs that he really wanted to take, but he decided to stay out of loyalty to his current company. His commitment to his employer turned out to be detrimental.
I have seen people invest their best work years at a company that suddenly decided to shut down. I’ve seen others invest 10 years helping a non-profit grow through very tough times while taking a very low salary only to be ousted by management once their 10 years of hard work were starting to pay off.
My point is this. You need to invest in something that you control if you want to benefit from the cumulative benefit of your years of work. Many people think that starting their own business is risky. It is true that many businesses fail. However, working for someone else’s business as an employee isn’t any safer. It just means you have less control over your future.
Originally published July 26, 2007.
I totally agree. The employer doesn’t really owe you anything but that paycheck at the end of the week. Thats it. That’s why, if you’re employed, its best to have something you’re building for yourself on the side. Invest in something for yourself, that you control. Right on Mark.
Quint Jensen says
Amen Brother – Preach that truth.
I am currently back in employee status at a company I think is great. I get to work with some excellent people, and I am paid fairly for now. I don’t have any delusions, though, that this company won’t lay me off tomorrow if it supports the “bottom line”.
Always treat every work engagement like you are self employed. Then you won’t have any blinders onto detract you from the truth everyone must face. Whether you like it or not, you are self-employed every day.
Exactly! Whenever I hear someone stressing about whether or not to leave a company for another job, and how they “feel bad” for leaving I remind them that this same company wouldn’t hesitate for one second to let them go if they were doing layoffs. Your employer doesn’t owe you anything, and you don’t owe them anything. Do your work, get a paycheck, find a better opportunity, move on, repeat.
How saddly true!
I spent 3 years killing myself and ignoring my family for a company where the MD (who is the owner) expects every employee tospend at least 60 hours at work and pays for 40. On average my days were 12 hours, some stints which lasted over 3 months were 6 days, 20 hours a day. From one day to the next I was worthless and to add insult to injury, he made my life hell rather than pay me out – his attitude shows in the 56% turnover rate in the company’s IT department.
I stayed out of some delusional sense of loyalty – never again.
Eric S. Mueller says
Very true. I spent 6 years in the Navy, and that was a job where I owed a contract. For some reason the mentality stayed with me for a while after I got out. I got a decent job but for some reason I was convinced that I needed more money, so I took a part time job working in a liquor store. I worked there a year and I was absolutely miserable. I was 25 at the time and most of the other employees were teenagers (In New Jersey, teens can work in liquor stores). I found that I didn’t need the money but I stuck around for several months out of some twisted sense of “I owe them something”. I finally woke up one morning and realized that I owed them nothing and walked away.
When I got my current job, they wanted me to put my two week’s notice in immediately and start as soon as possible. My manager on my previous job actually told me to tell the new job that I have to stick around until they could hire somebody for me to train as a replacement. Considering that hiring cycles in that job can run six months or more, I told him I wasn’t on an enlistment contract and my two weeks notice was official as of that moment. I was polite about it, but it sure didn’t go over well… By that moment I had learned that I didn’t owe my employer anything.
Great post. I came here through Passionate America.
People tend not to understand that when they are an employee, they are nothing but a means to an end, and that end is profit.
A business exists for one purpose – To make money. If that business hires people it is for the sole reason of helping the employer make money. If you do not make money for the business, you’re gone. If you’re not needed, you’re gone.
Period. You are nothing but a tax id # and a paycheck. If that paycheck outweighs it’s necessity, you need a new job.
I’m reading all these comments about owe and not owe. I agree with alot them. I ran across this website because I’m filling out an app. and one of the ?’s is “what do you owe your employer? Second what does your empolyer owe you?” I’m stumped, actually todays mentality of hiring is astounding. I feel it is ver much a give and take you show up do yuor job accordingly and your employer owe you you for services rendered. But I want this job so what do I say not to sound cockey? Any suggestions??
Mark Shead says
@Flora – I would say you owe your employer your best effort to help the business achieve its mission. This doesn’t mean you stay working for someone for your entire life, but it does mean that while you are there, you do your very best–just like you would if it were your own business.
Thank you, Mark. I think this was one of the toughest questions posed. I was raised old school and I have been loyal and obedient in every job I’ve ever had. Even the jobs I took on knowing they were temporary positions. Sorry I just had to throw that in there. Thinking aloud I guess. All the expectations come as second nature to me that I’m shocked employers ask such questions.
Guy Fawkes says
Whoever wrote this article is an arrogant jack*ss!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
You get what you pay for, and if an employer is willing to treat his workers like garbage, then that is the productivity he is going to get.
If an Employer treats his workers like human beings, then rest assures he will get alot farther with what he wants.
Dmitri Eroshenko, Relenta says
@Guy Fawkes you totally missed the point…
Ironically, I felt bad for leaving my last company to go on disability. I didn’t leave because I wanted to. At the same time, I know they would do what they can to keep their business alive including laying off a few of its staff. I’ve been though it several times in my life.
Terre Roche says
…and this is precisely why I stopped ‘working for the man’ about seven years ago. Since then, I’ve had plenty of ups and downs – and a sometimes terrifying lack of financial stability, issues with health insurance, etc. BUT at no point did I feel like I was getting the shaft the way that I used to when I was part of the traditional workforce. People seem to think that in this economy, it makes no sense to start something new. The reality is quite the contrary, though – this is a great time to revamp and redirect your career, put your entrepreneurial ideas to work and carve your own self-employment niche. That’s *not* to infer that it’s going to be easy or that there won’t be missteps and hardships along the way. But there are plenty of resources available now that small business start-ups can tap into, derive support and advice from – it just requires a leap of faith… admittedly difficult, though worth it in the end. Anyone looking for a sounding board, a place to start, to devise a plan might want to check out a group called the Wild Women Entrepreneurs (http://www.thewildwe.com), spearheaded by Ja-Nae Duane – a gal with an encouraging backstory and a new book coming out called “How to Start Your Business with $100,” which is exactly what she did. The Wild WE is useful regardless of gender, btw. Online start-up resources like that one (and there are others, too) are infinitely helpful in steering you away from yet another job where loyalty will not be properly rewarded. Be loyal to yourself first…
I agree, also read Rich Dad Poor Dad, and Napoleon Hill’s Law of Success. I’m 90% financially independent and hope to be 110% in a year, all well before 40.
It’s easy to get attached to your job: you have friends there, you’ve invested a lot of effort into it, you’ve done stuff that’s got results for the company and you feel you are helping it succeed.
But in reality they only thing that ties an employee to a company is the contract that says either party will give a month’s notice of termination in writing.
It’s a cold fact, but many forget it and they expect a job for life – they think their company is a friend and there to support them. The bigger a company gets the less this is true.
It’s horrible when someone get laid off but the reality is that they were bound with a contract with a termination clause and they shouldn’t expect anything more than that.
It is true that an employer does not OWE the employee anything but a paycheck at the end of the week, but this article and most of the comments below it seem to be written by people who believe all business owners are just greedy bastards who will screw the workers if it suits the bottom line. This is the furthest thing from the truth. I own a child care center; my family has owed this business for over 30 years. So I am the employer. Our employees are VERY important to us, and while we don’t OWE them anything extra for the time they work, their efforts are rewarded in other ways – special gifts, lunches or other things that make them feel appreciated. We will not let them go just to make an extra buck for our pockets, we care deeply about them and the families they support. And I know we are not alone – at least in this industry (which is all I can speak to). Employers are not always the Big Evil Money Hungry Monsters we see on television getting billion dollar bailouts, then going on expensive executive trips while the poor workers slave away for menial compensation. Some of us do care. A company doesn’t “suddenly decide” to shut down just for shits and giggles; something must have happened to make the owner need to take that step. We are human beings too.
Mark Shead says
While there are employers like you (particularly in smaller companies) in many businesses decisions are made several layers away from the actual employees. My goal isn’t to say that employers are bad people who are just trying to take advantage of everyone who works for them. However, I’ve seen people make decisions that are bad career decisions simply because they want to be loyal to their employer and then turn around and get let go when financial times get tough.
Harvey Golomb says
A smart employee will make himself or herself indispensible. Rather than being a person who takes orders and follows accepted procedures, you must be pro-active, and take a leadership role. If you merely take orders, and follow accepted procedures, then anyone can take your place. Unions have been a primary source of complacency, seeking job protection by legal means rather than productivity. You produce more than you are being paid. That is job security. Otherwise, eventually, a downturn will occur and the employer will give up being a charitable institution.
Unfortunately, there is no real thing as job security. It makes sense that if you make yourself indispensable you would have security, but I’ve seen time and again companies cut off their nose to spite their face and let go people that they can’t replace and create problems for themselves by letting them go.
Mark Shead says
If an employer thinks that you are making yourself indispensable, they will probably want to take their lumps now and get someone else in your position. At least that is what happens when they think you are trying to become indispensable by hoarding information.
I just ended 22 years loyal service to a company, i was always told that the company rewarded loyalty and i worked hard to produce more and save the company money. I was the longest serving person at the company as only the MD/ company owner had served longer than me. I even worked overtime and never booked it to get paid in the belief that it would somehow put me in good stead for the future. Truth was i spent 22 years doing the same job as when i was 17 years old and today at my leaving get together at the local pub i got bought 1 pint of beer (around £3.50) and as a reward for my undying loyalty over 22 years i was awarded a cheap tacky “medallion” with the company logo and the words “long service award : 22 years” printed on a made up sticker that was stuck in the middle of the medallion (worth about £2.50 from a joke shop).
I never did get paid for all the extra unbilled overtime, and now all other employees know that nothing will come from their efforts to make the company great. The boss has well and truly shot himself in the foot!
Milan Moravec says
The tyranny of workforce loyalty. Business and the public sector are into a phase of creative disassembly where reinvention and adjustments are constant. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are being shed by United Technologies, GE, Chevron, Sam’s Club, Wells Fargo Bank, HP, Starbucks etc. and the state, counties and cities. Even solid world class institutions like the University of California Berkeley under the leadership of Chancellor Birgeneau & Provost Breslauer are firing staff, faculty and part-time lecturers through “Operational Excellence”. Yet many employees, professionals and faculty cling to old assumptions about one of the most critical relationship of all: the implied, unwritten contract between employer and employee.
Until recently, loyalty was the cornerstone of that relationship. Employers promised job security and a steady progress up the hierarchy in return for employees fitting in, performing in prescribed ways and sticking around. Longevity was a sign of employer-employee relations; turnover was a sign of dysfunction. None of these assumptions apply today. Organizations can no longer guarantee employment and lifetime careers, even if they want to.
Organizations that paralyzed themselves with an attachment to “success brings success’ rather than “success brings failure’ are now forced to break the implied contract with employees – a contract nurtured by management that the future can be controlled.
Jettisoned employees are finding that the hard won knowledge, skills and capabilities earned while being loyal are no longer valuable in the employment market place.
What kind of a contract can employers and employees make with each other? The central idea is both simple and powerful: the job or position is a shared situation. Employers and employees face market and financial conditions together, and the longevity of the partnership depends on how well the for-profit or not-for-profit continues to meet the needs of customers and constituencies. Neither employer nor employee has a future obligation to the other. Organizations train people. Employees develop the kind of security they really need – skills, knowledge and capabilities that enhance future employability.
The partnership can be dissolved without either party considering the other a traitor
Milan Moravec says
A two way street Performance Appraisal to achieve business goals. It’s amazing that such dinosaurs (performance reviews, not the people) are still around. Yet despite the outcry against performance reviews, there’s nothing wrong with them that can’t be fixed by getting managers off of center stage. Top management can fix the basic problems the performance appraisal system faces.
Critics argue that performance reviews not only don’t accomplish what they’re supposed to do – that is, improve performance, enhance employee skills and achieve planned outcomes – they have unintended negative consequences. In many cases, unfortunately, that’s true. But it doesn’t have to be that way. What companies need to abolish is not performance review itself, but the idea that it’s a “management tool. Here are some practiced paradigms that must be discarded:
Performance Review is designed, as the name suggests, in support of managers. If you believe this, your management is one of the roadblocks to exceptional performance. The most useful performance review support work relationships between employees (managers too are employees). Both parties need to address the question of how to best serve the goals and outcomes and align their work efforts.
Performance review is a management tool. Managers are not necessarily the best qualified to assess their staff’s accomplishments. In fact, they may have a very limited or biased view. A more complete and accurate picture results when employees and managers seek feedback from a variety of customers, team leaders, professional peers, and others inside or from outside the unit.
Performance reviews include judgments from a “higher authority”. Judgments produce compliant workers – people who are told what to do – not innovative ones. People hate performance reviews because most of them are fault-finding. How much better to ask, “What did we learn from this? What can we each do different the next time?”
The manager is responsible for obtaining input from the employees. 21st century employees can’t assume a passive role in performance review, providing “tough-minded” self-assessments and valuable insights only on request. They must take the initiative, soliciting feedback from their managers and others. No risk taking to solicit the complete picture and no learning means no improvements.
Managers should be trained in performance reviews, then prepare their employees for the process. If performance review is to be a productive partnership with employees taking the active role and both parties committed to exchanging knowledge and ideas, managers and employee need to be trained together.