Reestablishing the employer/employee relationship

DISCLAIMER: Nothing said in this post should be taken as a reflection of my relationship with any of my employers or clients, current or in the past. Thankfully the ones I’ve had have been pretty good.

How do you view your relationship with your employer? More specifically, what is your response to your employer’s requests and demands?

I feel that many people view the relationship with their employer like a sort of indentured servitude where you also collect a paycheck. When I say that, I don’t mean that in a negative way, because most people don’t think of their manager or employer in a bad light. But I feel that most employees feel like they should do whatever their employer asks them do without raising a fuss (unless something they are asked to do is unethical). Again, I’ve thought this way in the past, and I never really thought of my employers negatively (in fact, I really liked them).

The Business Of You

Today I would argue that this is not the correct way for you as an employee to view this relationship in most cases. (Yes, I am an independent consultant, so I don’t really have an employer, but I still work for and report to clients.)

Business have all kinds of relationships without outside vendors. For example, a business may have preferred hardware vendors, vendors that provide hosting services, vendors that provide janitorial services, and so on. These relationships are all mutually beneficial partnerships, where each side of the partnership has something to gain from the relationship. Businesses also have partnerships with software developers like you.

Whether you think of it this way or not, you are running a business. Your business sells your software development services. You have a business plan, goals, a balance sheet, and things that you value (you might not have these things written out, but you still have them). Your values for your business might be to make a certain amount of money, to work using a technology you enjoy, to feel like you’re making an impact on the company you work for, have time for whatever hobbies you like to do, and have ample time to spend with your family. Your family is also a part of your business because they are something that you value, and what happens at your place of work affects them too (either directly because you’re gone at work or indirectly because you’re stressed out when you get home).

I think you might view your relationship with your employer differently when you view it as a partnership between businesses. Businesses and vendors negotiate all the time on any number of issues (and not always related to money). If you think of it this way, instead of your employer unilaterally deciding the path for your business, it should be something that you both agree upon that is mutually beneficial for both sides.

Protect Your Business Interests

Like I said, I’ve had the good fortune of working for good people throughout my career, but unfortunately there are employers and managers out there who will try to coerce you into do things that are not in your best interest. For example, maybe you’re heard things like these from your manager:

  • “We have a lot to get done this release and we can’t afford to hire anyone else right now, so you all are going to have to work a little extra to get this done.”
  • “I know that I told you to build the feature that way, but actually it needs to work this way… but I still need it done by the same date.”
  • (a few days before a release) “This feature just came up and we really need to get this in, I’m going to need you all to stay late to get this done.”

Overtime, while not ideal, is a part of what we do. There are going to be deadlines, server outages, and things like that. But there’s a difference between normal overtime (server outages happen and someone needs to fix them) and someone taking advantage of you either for their own benefit or because they don’t have the guts to say no to their superiors.

Every situation is different, and maybe you’re OK with these sorts of requests. Maybe you get paid overtime and you like the extra money. Maybe you are willing to go the extra mile to get ahead or get a promotion, or maybe you don’t have many other job opportunities out there so you have to stay and deal with it. Maybe you’re in a job where overtime is expected and you knew that going in.

The important thing is to think of your career like a business. If you’re employer is trying to get you do something that isn’t good for you, don’t just sit there and let their decisions drive your business. This also applies if you want to work with a certain technology or skill set and your company doesn’t have that kind of work for you. Be willing to say no, or even be willing to go find another job. Your career should be something that benefits you and benefits the people that you work for, and as soon as one side isn’t getting any benefit, then something needs to be done.