OK then. First one to leave a comment about Mike Ashley/Sports Direct wins a prize!
But seriously, I’m not writing this for people who are in an unfortunate economic position. This article is for the professionals out there.
You guys work in offices, you probably have degrees and I’d imagine you put the hours in. You are the engineers, the solicitors, the accountants and the consultants. You are the people who feel that ‘life is not great’ but you would not dare to utter those words in front of a group of young men who earn minimum wage for fear that you would be beaten to death for being such an ungrateful wealthy person.
As you’re on my website which is about getting rid of your job in order to live intentionally, I bet there’s a good chance that you’re currently thinking about ways of breaking free from your employer’s clutches.
A battle plan
If you are looking for a way out of the 9-5, you might have been brainstorming a plan for pulling it off for some time.
I can imagine the mental model you might be using to visualise your escape. I’m picturing one of those operations rooms you see on war films where plotters are pushing little tanks around a map with whatever those little slidy prodder things are called.
[Image taken from http://www.subbrit.org.uk/rsg/sites/b/boulmer/index22.html – Credit: Nick Catford]
Everybody who is trying to pull off a job-free existence will have a different plan. However, I’m willing to bet that there’s a common thread that runs through most of them.
You are trying to defeat the enemy: The Man. You are trying to subvert The System. You are trying to escape from The Prison Camp. You want to get the hell out of Dodge and they won’t see you for dust.
I accept that, in some circumstances, that might well seem like the only way you could possibly see it, and, let’s be honest, I don’t know all of the unique details of your situation.
However, Employer as Enemy, is probably not the most constructive way of framing the situation you find yourself in. In fact, later in the article, I’m going to argue that your current job could be a rich untapped seam of resources which could really help you with your quest for freedom.
But first, let’s start with a minor detour into some human condition mumbo jumbo. I promise to stick it all back together again shortly.
Here is a universal fact of life: everybody acts in (what they perceive to be) their own best interests. Every stolen office biro, donation to Cancer Research or remembering of a wedding anniversary can be explained by this fact.
When somebody is a ‘giving person’, it’s because behaving in this way makes their life a happier experience than if they behaved differently.
Repeat after me:
There is no such thing as selflessness.
That doesn’t mean that people aren’t ‘genuine’ or that they necessarily lack integrity but they will look out for themselves (and by extension, their close genetic relatives and child rearing partners) first.
This is the lense that you need to use to examine your relationship with your employer.
I’ll show you what I mean.
It may be true that, despite having a written contract which states that you are expected to work 40 hours every week, you are in fact pressured to work 55 hours instead.
Maybe you think
How can they do this to me? This just isn’t decent. It’s not cricket.
But you’ve made the classic mistake. You think you have a ‘right’ (whatever that means) to be respected.
Now, if you worked for me, I guarantee that you would be treated with respect and I would abide by whatever written contract we had signed.
I can state this with confidence because, on the odd occasions in my life where I’ve not abided by the Golden Rule (don’t even dream of bullshitting me and saying you’ve never made such a slip) I have felt extreme guilt and remorse.
That is, failing to treat another human being in a way which I expect to be treated made my life worse and so it was definitively an action against my self-interest.
The problem is, there are plenty of people in the world who don’t have such guilt reactions. In the extreme case, there are many sociopaths out there. The mere existence of such people renders the ‘I have a right to X’ approach to getting what you want out of working relationships ineffective at best.
So, what is a good way of characterising your relationship with The Man?
A Venn diagram
Obviously, as a nerd, it is my duty to resort to drawing Venn diagrams to explain my next point!
If you are currently in a situation where the requirements of your job determine the shape of your life and you can’t escape because you have kids, need the money, have no other income sources and no savings, this is the degree to which your interests align with those of your boss/employer (the green bit in the middle represents your mutual self-interest):
As we can see from the expertly-drawn diagram, the reason that you are not treated in a manner which you think is appropriate is that your employer/boss has no reason to do so.
Let’s go back to my previous statement:
There is no such thing as selflessness.
If your boss/line manager/employer is somewhat rational, they will act in a manner which they perceive as providing the most benefits to them. In some cases, they might be people who experience things like compassion, guilt and remorse so it will be against their interests to treat you too harshly. On the other hand, maybe not!
So, if you want to be treated differently, relying on your counterparty’s benevolence or decency is not exactly a surefire way of achieving it.
Instead, you need to work out how to move those circles so that they overlap more.
Reduce your dependency
First of all, it would help if the statement ‘you need £3000 on the 25th of every month’ wasn’t true any more. There are a few ways of achieving this. I’d suggest you do all of them, but making a start on any one of them will help.
- Learn to lower your ‘burn rate’ so that you need less than £3000 every month.
- Accumulate enough cash savings to cover your arse for a long period of not having any income.
- Establish another stream of income outside your job.
The fact of reality that you’re addressing by doing these things is that your boss treats you the way she does because she can (as it’s in her interests and you have no alternatives).
As soon as this fact isn’t true any more, you can start to push back. You can start to say ‘no’.
At this point, to gently encourage you to reduce your dependency on your employer in order to help you feel less inclined to unquestioningly do as you’re told, I’m going to throw in a little bit of a tough love rant:
You are NOT being bent over. You bent over voluntarily by making the choices that you made.
You bent over when you bought an iPhone or went on holiday despite not having a few tens of thousands of pounds saved up. You bent over when you decided to rely on your employer as a single source of income. You bend over every time you just say ‘yes boss’ even if she’s being unreasonable.
If you don’t like what happens when you bend over, then (wo)man the fuck up and stop bending over!
Aaahhhh. Now I feel better.
It’s really important to take this step. However, this is only the ‘defending yourself from the bad things’ half of the story. In my opinion, there’s a far more exciting piece to this jigsaw: learning to use the situation to make more good things happen in the long run.
Increase your value
In the first diagram, you’ll notice that a couple of the blobs representing your boss/employer’s interests were related to making the business perform better or them getting recognition from their boss/shareholders. So, to further align your interests with those of your boss, you could always look for ways of helping them get what they want.
Allow me to illustrate what I mean by looking at how somebody in my professional situation could achieve this.
You might remember that I’m an engineer by profession. My contribution to a company then is usually as part of what you might call a ‘cost centre’. Research and development departments suck in a lot of money which is invested (often quite speculatively) in developing products which may, at some point in the future, make a profit.
As irrational as it sounds, when you’re in such a position, your boss/the directors/the shareholders will probably have a mental model of your role as a ‘pure cost’. If they were to zoom out and see the big picture, they would see that this is obviously nonsense (there would be no products without engineers), but they won’t!
You don’t win contracts. You don’t bring in prospects. You don’t promote the business.
You only cost money, you do not attract any money.
In order to increase your own value in the eyes of your employer, you could always try to visibly change this situation.
Here’s an example which might work for an engineer like me.
You could arrange to do some extra, uncompensated work with a sales rep by helping him out with a couple of sales meetings. You might have to give up a weekend day or work unpaid overtime in order to do this. This could be pitched to your boss as doubly beneficial for the company:
- You can learn more about what customers want first-hand to help you to design future products which really solve their problems
- You can provide much deeper technical insight than the sales rep is capable of providing which will help your customers to see the benefits of the product
If you can help the sales rep to improve upon their performance and make the company more profitable, you will be noticed. You will have an advocate (the sales rep) and you will have proved that you are not ‘just another engineer’.
You will have differentiated yourself. You will no longer be simply a ‘unit’ which can be replaced easily with another engineer (as most engineers hate sales guys and would do anything to never have to speak to a customer). This will elevate you above the rank of ‘mere engineer’ and into the lofty heights of ‘engineer with sales skills’.
Now your requests for remote working or a more flexible schedule are far less likely to be ignored. Imagine being in the position of ‘most profitable <insert job title>’ in the company and having a year’s living expenses in the bank and having a £1k per month side business. Would you still be taking any shit? I doubt it.
Surely you can see that increasing and diversifying the value you provide to your employer/boss also has a massive side-benefit…
You need them less, but they want you more
By going beyond your ‘job description’ you might have impressed people who directly benefitted. They now have a completely new reason to want to keep you around, above and beyond what they originally employed you for – it directly helps make the company more profitable and pay for their kids’ private school fees.
But beyond that, you had to acquire new skills to do it.
And this is where I’m going to come back to the article’s title:
Your employer is not the enemy
Let’s not forget that, (I imagine) you still want to ditch the job. But by giving you the opportunity to make yourself more valuable to them, your employer has also allowed you to increase your human capital. A fact which you can later capitalise upon in order to stop needing a job altogether.
In my engineering example above, the engineer would have learned more about the sales process and thus be in a much better position to be able to sell her self if she decided to go freelance later on.
Other examples of such win-win-win propositions include
- If your company has an awful website which gets no traffic and hence produces few sales, persuade the boss to let you figure out how to do something about it. You get to learn about how websites work. You might get to chat to some web designers/developers. You can learn a bit about SEO and content marketing. All of these skills/contacts can directly benefit your side-business/freelance career by enabling you to build/commission a good sales website.
- If your company is short of suitable staff but is struggling to recruit, use your network of old university friends and some imaginative marketing techniques to help them out. You get to go through the motions (and experience the pitfalls) of hiring somebody. Every CV you see can also be mined for the contact details of each of the candidate’s previous employers (who might be suitable targets when marketing your own freelance services in the future). If you ever need to scale your side-business up or delegate some freelance work later, you won’t be a ‘hiring virgin’. You may also have collected a vast database of potential freelance clients.
- If your company is wasting thousands of pounds per month on unnecessary electricity and cooling costs (because they have inefficient practices), come up with a way of making a quantifiable, provable dent in the problem. You get to learn about running a business efficiently. These skills can help you out with both your personal finances and making your side-business viable.
There are literally thousands of ways of using your current job situation to achieve these benefits:
(i) increasing your value to your employer and;
(ii) making yourself more able to fend for yourself later
I could sit here churning out examples all day, but I think you get the point.
So, instead of thinking of your current employer as a foe who will be defeated by your cunning plan, try to see them as a potential ally. Perhaps you’ll have to put in some up-front effort in order to make your interests align with theirs more completely before that is the case, but it should pay off in the long-term.
Oh, and don’t forget the elephant in the room: most people who go freelance later (me included) get a high proportion of their initial assignments from a previous employer.
Your employer is not an enemy who you want to defeat. Your boss/the company owner is acting according to his own self-interest, just like you, the Pope and I do.
To achieve a working relationship which is more satisfactory to you, you need to give the people in control some reasons to give you what you want (i.e. align their interests with your interests).
There are two main ways of achieving this:
- Put yourself in a position where you need them less and then learn to stand your ground
- Make them value you more by, wait for it… providing more value
In pictorial form, you need to turn this situation…
…into this situation
Lastly, as well as persuading your employer to treat you better in the near-term, learning how to add more value to their business is a useful experience in and of itself which can also help you to get what you want in the long run, such as a life of freedom and autonomy.
Let me know what you think. Have you ever thought ‘outside the box’ to increase the value you provide to your employer?
Perhaps the situation at your workplace is just too toxic to even consider doing something like this.
What about the entrepreneurs out there? Do you remember having a particular job just for the opportunity to learn whilst somebody else swallowed all the risk?
Don’t be shy – leave a comment!
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[Image “Cartoon Character Hamster Exercise” courtesy of saphatthachat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]