For as long as there have been companies and businesses, there have been employees.
Workers, who show up day after day, doing what they're told in exchange for a dollar. The employee paradigm, over its time, has evolved into something that is not ideal - the concept that "You do as you are told, because I pay you, and I can fire you". But before this concept became the rule, we had a different form of employment. We were all, in fact, independent owners. And during that time, nobody had the ability to fire anyone, because nobody had the power or leverage to. We see too many examples of people who do their work in fear of losing their jobs. Today we are all expendable, and it really needs to change.
The idea behind when we were independent owners goes back to the days of bartering - the simple exchange of one value commodity for another. If I had chickens, and you baked bread, I could exchange my chickens for your bread. It was even-Steven, all in, and mutual. If there were any negotiations, it was meant only to ensure fairness, not to break the other guy's back. Because the method was fair and upfront, there was always trust involved. When everything gets put on the table, nothing is hidden or inferred.
Fast forward to today.
We interview for a job. The employer, who now holds the job in front of us, says "We might give you this job if we think we will get value from you". We are now bartering our skills and abilities in exchange for money. In fact, we are offering our skills (chickens) for the company's job opening (bread). But in today's world, if the employer decides to accept our offering of skills, they extend an offer. We then look at the offer and decide if we want to accept it. The problem here is that there is a myriad of hidden things that don't get exposed until after the deal is done. One of those hidden things is that the company can basically back out of the deal and fire any of us at virtually any time they wish.
Imagine if you were exchanging your precious chickens that you raised from eggs for some bread, but after the deal, the baker eats half of the chickens then throws the rest of the carcasses back at you, demanding his bread back. The problem with today's work paradigm is that we are supposed to be okay with the company using our jobs and our paychecks as leverage to make us agree to what they want. Companies today see us as assets that can be pushed to the limits, and dumped if we no longer serve their needs. The fairness that used to be part of basic bartering has been replaced with indentured service.
The reality that we are no longer human beings to most companies is a sad truth that is most evident in parts of the country where jobs are scarce. If you live in a rural part of the state, and the only jobs are ones that aren't very desirable, then you take what you can get, knowing that you will probably get pushed and shoved by the company, because they know they can and because they know you need the job.
It's not to say that there are no jobs out there that still treat people with respect and trust, but the norm in business is sadly becoming one where it is deemed "okay" to treat people like tools.
I remember growing up, my parents worked for large corporations; my mom worked for an electronics firm, and my dad was a machinist. On certain days they would have to work overtime, or sometimes even come in on weekends, at the demand of their employers. When I asked why, the standard response was "You never question the company, because they provide us with jobs, so we can pay our bills". To this day, that memory bugs the hell out of me, because we are not slaves, and we should not have to "bow" to any employer in exchange for anything.
I have worked with more than 30 companies (all full time jobs), in large corporations and two-person startups, and even started and sold my own business. Never did I think to myself, "Boy I'd better be a good worker so that I can keep my precious job", because I hate the idea. We should never feel like we are indebted to our employer. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't appreciate a good employer who treats us fairly, but that doesn't mean that we should bend over for anyone either.
A friend of mine who works for a large company in a big city, recently watched as four of her coworkers up and quit their jobs, because management was so bad that they couldn't take it anymore. The manager's response? "Ah, screw 'em, there's plenty more where they came from". The fact that this particular city had a lack of great jobs meant that this manager knew he could find plenty of applicants who needed a job. But that's no excuse to treat people like garbage.
What we could use as a society is a history lesson - one in which we are reminded of how we used to treat each other; in business, in our politics, and in our neighborhoods. people need to respect people again, and those people who don't respect anyone need to leave. I don't want you people at my company, nor in my neighborhood. Period. We need to remember that we survived and grew as a country by respecting each other, and that in business it means treating each employee as an individual business that deserves respect, fairness and equity.
This article exists because I saw way too much unfairness this week, and frankly it bugged me. Anyone who is here on LinkedIn, whether you're a CEO or a small business owner, has to understand that work is as much a necessity of survival as it is a desire to be a productive human being. Have the fortitude to trust people, and give them the respect they give you...
... Because at the end of the day, all of us are expendable, including the companies we work for...