Face it; many (most?) employers have employees only because they have to in order to provide a product or service. Few employers will admit this in public. They make jokes about it — “Business would be fabulous if I didn’t have to deal with employees,” — and we know that jokes are at least half true. (By the way, sometimes, they say the same thing about customers, those pesky people that provide revenue and are so demanding.) Actions speak louder than words — we love implementing technological solutions to greatly enhance productivity, thereby reducing the need for employees. Even if the new technology doesn’t cause us to let people go, we depend on it obviating the need to hire additional people to do the added work required by growth.
Along the same lines, we claim that “employees are our greatest asset” yet keep them on the expense side of the ledger, chafe at having to provide expensive benefits, complain about states that make it hard to hire contractors instead of employees, make sure “frills” like education and personnel development get cut at the first whiff of cash-flow challenges and do everything we can to get the employees we have work harder rather than hire more of those little devils. Where are those robots that we’ve been promised? Robots don’t need coffee breaks, insurance or use drugs. Bring ’em on!
Here’s a definition of “employee” from Wikipedia:
An employee contributes labor and/or expertise to an endeavor of an employer and is usually hired to perform specific duties which are packaged into a job. An Employee is a person who is hired to provide services to a company on a regular basis in exchange for compensation and who does not provide these services as part of an independent business.
Additionally, it seems as though the term “employee” refers, in general, to someone who is not an “Executive.” That is, even though technically an executive may in fact meet the definition of an employee, we generally do not refer to them as such. We reserve the employee tag for what seems to be a more expendable commodity.
So it seems to me that many business owners have an uneasy relationship with employees, and employees have an uneasy relationship with the employer too.
On the flip side of this topic, I know that the business owners in my network genuinely care for the employees they hire. They work hard to only hire the right person for the position, do whatever they possibly can to make sure the employees have autonomy in their jobs, continue to gain mastery of their skills and know what the “Why” or “Purpose” of the company is and how it applies to them. This is a self-selecting sample though, because I generally would not want to work with a business owner or executive who didn’t treat their employees with dignity and respect. And owners who aren’t willing to grow, learn from their employees and peers aren’t likely to stay in my professional network.
I think this is an important topic and it will gain in significance as we move forward. Microsoft just let 18,000 people go. It’s true they are closing down the hardware and software side of Nokia. (I guess that’s the end of the Android based Microsoft phones!) But this could have just as easily happened because Microsoft decided to invest in a fully automated system and so no longer needed the people. Believe it or not, that’s getting much easier to do even on the software development side of things.