Boss, SMB, Work Ethic

Over the years my company has managed to keep it’s most gifted, albeit at times difficult, talent while most of the bad hires fell off the bus rather easily without too much pushing. I firmly believe that it’s employees that choose their path, not their bosses – though bosses are easy to blame for it.


Which brings me to the topic of investments that you’re never going to read on a self-help career site. Also something your boss is unlikely to ever say to you because.. well.. if you need to hear the following from your boss it’s probably time to move your career elsewhere.

The Beginning

In the beginning you go through the typical hiring process. If the employer chooses to hire you and you choose to take the job you agree on a set rate and benefits and start what is a mutually beneficial relationship together.

Employee is thrilled for the first few days because they have a new job, new opportunity, new money.

Employer is happy as well. However, this is the investment stage for the employer: Unless you’re at McDonalds, you are not worth the salary yet. You need to be trained, you need to be oriented, you need to learn how to do your job.

The Honeymoon

Once the employee has learned how to do their job their supervisors are happy because their workload can be spread over more people now.

Employees tend to be happy as well because they have the confidence that this will work and they can build their career here.

Then it all kind of goes to shit. Or you get a remarkable employee.

The Standoff Ladder

Over time the employee will start to feel like the salary they initially agreed to isn’t enough to make the ends meet. Something that was amazing at the beginning is suddenly unfair. The job is more difficult than it seems, the boss is a much bigger ass than he was before, the hours are longer and there are other people who make more money than you do even though without you the whole company will collapse.

This is true if your name is Shaquile O’Neal and it’s the late 90’s or early 2000’s. If that’s not your name and the calendar says otherwise, you’re out of luck. Time to start climbing the ladder.

Here is what you need to know as an employee: You are not as valuable or as irreplaceable as you think you are. In the eyes of the employer your replacement tradeoff isn’t in the job tasks (that someone else can be trained to do) but in the likelyhood that they can easilly replace you with someone that is willing to work just as hard as you do. And if you barely string together 40 hours a week in an economy with more than 10% unemployment things just are not in your favor.

This is where the standoff begins.

The employee is unwilling to do any more work than 40 hours a week.

The employer is not willing to promote or train the employee because it makes no sense to invest in something that will not produce more than has been put into it. When you consider the overhead of perks/benefits, the initial underutilization of the employee and the typical shrinkage of work appreciation (longer lunches, late to work early to leave, spending time dealing with personal items) the employer has no incentive to further invest in the employee.

The Balance

This is where you as an employee get to choose which way you are going.

For most (and in my experience, just about all) employees there is really little perceived incentive to do anything beyond what they are paid for. This is the entrepreneur trap that bewilders business owners who are on the eternal quest to find someone as stupid as they are and is willing to believe in the dream of the possibilities instead of the reality of the present. Hard working business owners dream of finding people that are just like them but the problem is that those people own companies of their own. The stalemate is that employee-employer relationship always goes between the honeymoon-standoff stages as employees progress through their careers.

Employees want more money.

Employers want employees to do more work.

When everyone has a job and economy is doing really well, employees have the advantage. Otherwise, employees have a choice: work hard and get promoted or just work and hopefully not get fired.

Almost all the employees out there live in this balance where their role is constantly threatened by the economy, marketplace or office politics. They aren’t thrilled with their job or their pay but it beats unemployment. Employers aren’t thrilled with their employee utilization or performance but it beats training new people. Hence the service you get at the DMV and virtually every other branch of government.

The Invested (crazy)

There is a very minor chunk of the employment base that is willing to work harder than they should but not stupid enough to undertake the task of running their own business and living in poverty while the new business takes off. Yes, indeed, there is a group of people who are stupid enough to put in long hours but not quite stupid enough to do it for $5/hour. Every employer wants these.

Unfortunately, due to their insanity, these are typically not the most pleasant folks to work with but there are no shortcuts in life.

Your star employees put in long hours and actually invest in themselves. Yes, these folks go home and don’t stop working. They invest in themselves and don’t wait for you to push them in the direction, they map it on their own. They don’t sit around and bitch about how nobody is training them – they go out and learn on their own. They see the problems and work on the solutions without being asked to do so. They see an opportunity in solving the problem instead of treating problems they haven’t caused like they aren’t theirs.

They are damn near impossible to manage because they have their own agenda but if we are to be honest, the whole concept of management is the impossible task of getting a full time employee to do close to 40 hours worth of actual work. Here is a quick summary

Ideal Employee

– You consistently work over 50 hours a week.
– You do projects that benefit the company without being asked to.
– You aren’t constantly asking for the 1:1 compensation for your time.
– You don’t bitch and complain about work. (you actually like it)
– You aren’t destructive (trying to get other employees, projects fired)
– You aren’t difficult to work with

Now, if you’ve read that and thought it was unfair you’re right! Sadly, you’ll never make more than teens per hour because business isn’t a fair game. Only the hungriest and most competitive folks win.

There is no shame in not being an ideal employee. Almost none are. But those that are make a significantly higher amount of money than the ones that work the bare minimum. Unless you work in the government, I can’t understand why you wouldn’t want to work 20-30% harder for a 50% higher salary but that’s why I’m not an employee.


If you’re an employer and have star employees, overcompensate them. Stop trying to find someone to replace you because you will not find someone that is exactly like you yet dumb enough to make less than you and doesn’t have your personality (which would make you want to kill them)

If you’re an employee, understand that it is not the employers role to turn you into an ideal employee. In most places it’s actively discouraged: imagine ordering a Big Mac and getting two cheeseburgers stacked between a Fish Filet (sorry, it’s 4:30am and I’m hungry). Don’t pay attention to politicians that are trying to appeal to the masses of idiots – “We need to modernize and train our workforce for the new jobs” – no, we won’t. We’ll just outsource that job to someone that can do it. Welcome to the new economy in which you only have a job if you know how to do it and unless you are willing to earn the next one you likely won’t get it.

This takes most people a long time to figure out but you really can’t push people – they are either wired to overdeliver or they just do the bare minimum. All the management books I’ve ever read embrace this idea of incentives that are basically the carrot for the stupid sales people pulling a truck of manure – all you are doing is trying to shape the 1:1 compensation model that is constantly unfair to one party. I outright refuse to do it. You can’t incentivize selflessness. Most small business owners refuse to do it too because of the mindset:

“If you want something, prove it to me.” Otherwise there is a whole office worth of people that are in the exact same position and millions of people that would love to have your job.

You cannot incentivize people to be selfless and do more than their job asks of them. But you can over-compensate them when they demonstrate that trait.

Over time you will get to the nirvana of a crappy situation that is unfair to both the employer and the employee: The employee will be getting paid more than they could make anywhere else and the employer will be paying the employee more than they are worth but won’t fire them because the replacement cost would be high. So the employee is unhappy about some aspects of the job and the employer is unhappy about the cost – but everyone is making money and at the end of the day that’s why we all go to work.

Remember: work is not about fairness, it’s about performance and results. If you can’t deal with that, I hope you can dunk! And even that’s not too bright because the NBA is in a contract dispute (the ladder stage) – so really you only have one option.

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