Over the past few decades, employers have been getting increasingly powerful. Wages are depressed. Unions are weak. Layoffs have been massive. Employees feel like they are expendable pawns in the pursuit of profit merely at the whim of these large organizations. If Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” punches The Economy, then powerless employees get cut from the team and the heartless employer never looks back. This is the narrative, but I don’t believe it is accurate.
I don’t believe that employers have taken power. I believe we have given it to them. Instead of focusing on creating value, we got complacent and started to feel entitled to a job because a “good job” is part of the American Dream. Creating jobs is not easy. I respect companies that have been able to create 1,000s of jobs. If creating jobs was easy, we would all just create them for ourselves through self-employment and entrepreneurship.
Options = Security, Not Your Loyalty
Employers have a profit motive—not a people motive. In all honesty, if a founder could make the same amount of money without hiring a single person, that would be in their best interest. Job creation isn’t the goal of most companies. On top of that, technology has also helped employers automate and outsource tasks which eventually leads to reducing employee headcount.
An individual’s value and self-worth isn’t based on what they currently get paid. Our security is based on our perceived options if something doesn’t go as planned. Instead of tracking our own results, value created, and contributions, we bought into this idea of career tracks which tend to be based on tenure and not actual performance. An individual’s value is based on what they feel they could command elsewhere. There a lot of people who get paid a lot, but don’t feel confident they could command that anywhere else on their own, and as a result, they feel stuck where they are.
You & Your Employer Aren’t Married
It is as if the moment we accept a job offer, we consider ourselves married and commit to the employer for life. Because someone valued us in real dollars, we became more loyal to employers than they actually are to us. When times are good, the relationship is good. But when times get tough, many employers showed their true face. If you can find the employee contract that you signed, you will be hard-pressed to find a clause where any employer guarantees you lifetime employment. In fact, there are only a few companies that guarantee lifetime employment and they are mostly based in Japan.
Careers and couples are two different things. You are not married, therefore you do not have to stay monogamous. Testing the waters to see what other opportunities exists and what your value is outside of your current job is fair game. There is not such thing as cheating on your job. Cheating can only occur in a 100% committed relationship.
So here is the number one way to keep your employer in check even though they are giving you a paycheck…
DO THIS: Interview with several companies at least once a year.
Since you aren’t married to your employer, you can still date and see what’s out there and interviewing is the best way to do that. I’m not even suggesting that you should interview to actually change jobs. The primary reason you should interview is to explore and see what else is possible in terms of career paths, companies, and compensation. Do it for your own awareness.
This way of checking your employer has nothing to do with punking your boss or getting over on your company. This is all about knowing your self-worth in today’s terms. People who feel powerless feel like they don’t have options. They feel stuck. Even if they hate their job, they don’t feel they can leave because the money is decent, their family is rooted, or they don’t want to have to start all over somewhere else.
That way of living sucks. Nobody is holding a gun to our heads and saying stay. And I can say that because I’ve actually had a gun held to my head. In that moment, I felt absolutely powerless. The guys stole my car and I couldn’t do anything about it. That’s not the case for anyone with a job. You always have a choice.
Our insecurities aren’t caused by the employer. They come from within us—that’s why they are called “in”-securities. Our employers may externally trigger our own lack of self-worth, self-confidence, and self-esteem, but they aren’t the reason. As a recovering workaholic, I know that many workaholics are people who are afraid to get fired. We say “Yes” to everything our employer wants because we are grateful just to have a job in this tough economy. That’s fear. But that fear subsides if you know—not just believe—that there are other options out there because you’ve been interviewing.
What do you have to lose?
1. Apply For Anything That Interest You
Update your resume and send it out to companies and for positions that interest you. Who knows what might happen. You may get a call back, interview, and offer. See what other people think you’re worth. If nothing comes of it, at the very least you are staying in touch with the economy. From that awareness, unemployment statistics and the stock market won’t dictate how you navigate your career.
2. Create Personal Business Cards
Interviewing doesn’t have to be direct. Networking is a passive form of interviewing. However, I suggest that you get personal business cards that don’t have your company title or logo. This communicates that you’re available and valuable. A personal business card forces you to think about your value beyond your title. What do you really do for your company? What skills are you actually developing and applying daily? If you give someone your current company’s card, then they don’t see you as available and therefore, they don’t consider you for an opportunity they may have. You’re taken in their eyes.
3. Think Like A Free Agent
Think of yourself as a free agent. Free agents don’t wear their team jerseys all around town until their team commits to them. I think if employment contracts worked like sports contracts where they had a specific timeframe to revisit and renegotiate employers and employees would both be better off. Rather than being an indefinite contract until you’re fired, retire, or are inspired to leave, we would all approach our careers differently. We would source our power from within ourselves rather than our big titles or big companies.
Regardless, once you are aware of your self-worth, your career will take on an entirely different trajectory whether you stay at your current company or go somewhere else.
Wishing you more happy hours,