Worried some of my previous blog post titles have been a little “click bait’y”, a friend informed me it’s only click bait if the headline isn’t reflective of the actual content. Looking again at this headline, it might end up giving the wrong impression. In my experience, your employer actually does give a f*ck about you, they give enough f*cks that you will show up to work every day on time, not complain, and give them the optimal level of performance. Does your employer truly care much about you past these requirements? Probably not. Read on and you can be the judge if the headline is clickbait or not.
For my entire adult life, I have wanted to run a business. The dream probably started when I was a kid trading baseball cards at card shows. I loved negotiating with adults and the thrill of opening packs (a surprise every time). Trading cards was a great primer for the business world (buy low, sell high) and taught me a lot about how to interact with adults in a professional setting. (It’s debatable if the adults who were trading cards with 10 year old kids were professional). Later, as a 15-year-old selling cds and software at Best Buy, I can remember daydreaming about how I could run the business better (my ideas were probably garbage). The thought of being the guy overseeing the entire company sounded so exciting, and if I’m being honest, powerful.
I don’t know where this dream came from, but I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to realize it. However, just like any dream, you don’t know if actualizing the dream was worth it until you’ve reached it. Being the leader of a company was an awesome responsibility and one I took seriously. There were things I enjoyed about the job such as; the satisfaction of giving people a rewarding place to work, helping others in their careers, working with a team to get goals achieved, and putting a smile on customers faces to name just a few. Of course, there was plenty not to like about the position as well. Rather than go through a list of grievances and run the risk of sounding like a huge complainer (overall, I loved what I did and would like to be in the position of leadership again one day), there is one area that bears further mention – honesty.
In my experience, when running a startup, and later, a rapidly growing business, it is extremely difficult to be 100% honest at all times. I compare being a CEO to that of a performer. You are always on stage…
- Meeting with a prospective client for the first time? You better instill confidence even when your business is going through a shaky period or you won’t win the project!
- Trying to hire a top-notch person to run your marketing team? Don’t even think about telling them your doubts about hitting this year’s numbers or they won’t want to work for you!
- Asking the bank for a loan? Do everything in your power to convince them your previous year’s slower than expected growth was all part of the plan!
This goes on and on, to the point you forget if you’re running a company or a Broadway production.
A personal mission of mine was to “correct” all I hadn’t liked from working for previous bosses and employers and create a company that was honest and treated people as real people. Reflecting on my time as a CEO, I question whether or not any leader can ever be 100% honest with their staff, customers, or partners.
In my opinion, Freedom of Speech in the workplace is a myth. Sure, we are legally protected by the Constitution to say what we want, but if you have an employer, employees, partners, or customers, your speech is not always your own. Whether you like it or not, your speech is governed by the people around you in the workplace, and this is especially true if you are running the business.
Bordering on the gray areas of honesty took a toll on me. There is a burden I don’t feel any more and I’m thankful to be released from it. In its place, there remains a feeling of wanting to make amends for the times I bent the truth, skipped over facts, or simply wasn’t honest with myself. In a way, I see this blog as a vehicle for that.
I’ve been excited to write this post for some time and provide first hand introspection towards the thoughts and motivations of one CEO (me), to help guide those who find themselves in a subordinate position. Without employees to manage or customers to please, I thought the gloves were off to say what I wished. However, I’ve come to realize there is still something governing my words – namely, the desire to protect my family and the need for future opportunities.
Keep this in mind as you read on. While the gloves are off, my knuckles aren’t bare. As an additional disclaimer – please know I always did my best to act in the best of interests of those around me and act in an ethical manner. Frankly, it’s one of the things I am most proud about my time as CEO. Those who find themselves in a position of leadership will know that many decisions do not hold a right or wrong answer. The following is an attempt to provide context to the many decisions your boss faces on a daily basis.
With that said, here’s why your employer doesn’t give a f*ck about you.
You Are NEVER First
We are all human (your boss included). Everyone needs something, unless you are enlightened (not many of us work for the Dalai Lama). Your boss may need money, fame, power, acceptance or something else. It’s impossible to know what he/she needs, but when push comes to shove, your boss’s needs will always supersede your own. Always.
As an example, I needed to satisfy my business partners, I needed to make money to take care of my family, and I needed to feed my ego (don’t be a failure). I wanted to achieve a dream. At times, I found myself facing options that ran counter to the needs and wants of my people (those who worked for me) and those of myself. While I truly cared for and loved those who worked for the company, I would never put anyone in front of my wife and two children. These are the facts and I was honest with my people on this point.
You Are Always Just a Number
Our society is predicated on capitalistic values. Here’s the definition of capitalism (bold is mine): “an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.”
This definition does not say, “for people”, it says “for profit”. In order to gain profits, your boss is making an exchange with you. You give them your labor (output) and in return, he/she gives you a job. However, your labor is only as good as the profit you provide.
Some companies will say, “we treat our people as people,” which may be true. However, there is always a spreadsheet lurking somewhere with your salary and financial burden listed. If that company finds themselves in a tough spot financially or the shareholders demand more profit, you are no longer a person. You’re a number that can be subtracted.
You Are Controlled, Even When You’re Not
Remember, you are always in a trade (your job in return for your output) and that job doesn’t come with freedom to do whatever you please. Your boss wants to ensure you do as they wish. Morning meetings, quarterly reviews, company provided smartphones, these are all tools to control your actions. Even unlimited vacation days are a form of control as it has been found that employees actually use LESS vacation when you have unlimited days off.
Your Boss Doesn’t Believe in Work/Life Balance
If you work for a company that talks a lot about work life balance, they probably do so for one of two reasons.
- They mention work/life balance nonstop in order to hypnotize you into thinking that you are getting work/life balance at their company when actually there is no such thing.
- They talk about work/life balance because they are concerned you are working too much and might have a nervous breakdown, causing you to burn out and not work at all.
In my experience, your boss might actually want you to have a life, but they don’t want that life to severely impact the work you are doing.
Your Boss Never Wants You To Leave, Until They Do
“Hey Ms. Boss Lady, I just got my dream job being a medicinal marijuana tester at Grow Grow Ganja Inc!” To which your Boss replies, “oh my goodness, I’m SOOOO happy for you!” To which I reply, “BULL FING SH*T!” The only time a Boss is happy about you leaving is when they were getting ready to fire your ass! You running off for your dream job, just left your supervisor in the nightmare position of having to prepare a job description, hire a recruiter and find your replacement in the middle of one of the toughest job markets for experienced people ever.
If You’re Not Being Lied To, You’re Probably Not Getting The Whole Story
See my diatribe on honesty above.
Your Boss Isn’t Really Happy You’re Getting Married or Having a Baby
They’re not. Cute Lil Kieran or Emma means you’ll be in the office less, your work will have to be covered while you’re out and ultimately, your boss will share in the morning sickness as you give him more work to do. Babies equal loss of productivity.
Just married!? Your boss doesn’t care about the love you now have in your life, he cares that this person is now stealing his time in the form of vacations, lunch dates, and during the day snapchatting. Marriage also leads to babies which leads to everything horrible mentioned above.
(I’m exaggerating of course, but if your boss doesn’t have one or two of these thoughts go through their head, they are probably a cybernetic organism without feeling and this should give you additional worries about your future with the company)
Your Benefits Are Not Benefits, They Are Chains To Your Desk
Healthcare, gym memberships, trainings, 401(k) match, dogs in the office, personalized bobbleheads, ping pong table in the break room – you think these are things your employer is providing to make you happy? Your employer wants to give you the illusion of happiness (if you actually gain happiness, that’s an unintended consequence), but really, they want you happy enough so you will work, work, work! Look at the most in-demand places to work in the country – Facebook, Google and Apple. Their campuses read like a holiday destination – buffets with world renowned chefs, sleep pods, and more games then a Chuck E. Cheese’s. Zuck, Sergey Brin, and Tim Cook didn’t setup their offices this way out of the goodness of their hearts, they do it to chain their people to their desk and get more out of them.
Your Boss Might Care About Values, But Do The Shareholders?
Those values you have on your wall that make you feel good about the work you do – they are meaningless unless your entire company follows them. Ultimately, the real decisions are made at the “executive level” and beyond. Google’s motto is now, “do the right thing.” I don’t have any reason to doubt the intentions of the good employees at Google and their belief in doing the right thing. But what about their shareholders? Do the shareholders (many of whom are employees) actually care about “doing the right thing?” No, they don’t. Shareholders want their shares to increase in value and make them money. In my opinion, these two functions are at odds with one another. The employees can be doing the right thing all day long, but if the shareholders demand profit, profit is what they’ll get.
“Wow Dan, thanks for depressing the hell out of me as I sit at my desk and work here at Initech.”
“Yeah, umm, sorry about that Peter.”
At this point, you might be thinking I’m a cold, heartless SOB and my view of the business world is merely one of exchange (your output, in return for a job). You might not be wrong. When you really boil it down, this is what working for a profit generating company leads to. With that said, there’s a reason my partners fired me as CEO and it wasn’t because I lacked heart.
Of course, much of what I have written is a generalization and there are some outstanding examples of companies who have been able to do “good” with their employees and customers alike, such as Southwest Airlines, Zappos and Patagonia. However, these examples are harder to come by then the norm.
If you find yourself working for a “for-profit” company, I would encourage you not to be disheartened by my depressing comments above. Just like GI Joe said, “knowing is half the battle,” and you have knowledge that can lead to greater happiness.
- Never forgetting there is only one person who is looking out for you (you!) can lead to greater personal responsibility and less disappointment
- Judging your company not by what they say, but what they do, can lead you to seeing things how they truly are – giving greater understanding of the truth
- Never forgetting you are always in the middle of an exchange, can provide you the confidence to extract the maximum value for your end of the bargain
- Not being afraid to leave for greener pastures can provide greater confidence to move to a company that more closely aligns with your values
- Seeing that capitalism isn’t perfect can allow for greater insight and desire to be a part of the solution, not the problem…
…the reason I was excited about this post is I’d like to be a part of the solution. I have not lost faith or the desire to develop a company that can be mission oriented, driven by values, and led by ethical people, all while providing an outstanding product or service. I’m still working on answers, but starting with a recognition of what went wrong with the past seems like a good place to start.
If you think the title of this post was click bait, you can leave a comment or contact me to voice your disdain. If I don’t get to your message right away, it’s because I’m in my sleep pod dreaming about creating a place where employees have power and autonomy to do the right thing. Someone has to give a f*ck about you and it might as well be me.
Sorry if I offended anyone with the use of the word f*ck. I know my parents are probably disappointed in me. It’s not my fault though. I learned the naughty words from watching Nightmare on Elm Street movies at a certain neighbor’s house when I was a kid. Complain to my mom – she let me go.