“When you’re here, you’re family!”
That’s the line that companies the world over want their customers to believe. The problem occurs when companies expect their customers and employees to buy into the concept.
They would like to embed this thinking in the minds of their employees so that they’d rely on it like a mantra.
On its face, as it relates to customers, anyone can quickly see that beyond the heartwarming facade is nothing more than a slogan designed to ring more sales at the register. But what about the people who work there?
When they are being trained in the company ways and fed the company lines, are they supposed to believe that earning a living at this place of business is akin to being in a family?
The Modern Workplace “Family” Myth
Let’s start to answer that question by reviewing some policies common to the typical employee handbook.
- Taking advantage of salaried employees by requiring off-hours meetings or take-home projects with no stipend for their time.
- Requiring employees to get administrative approval for their PTO or doctor’s notes for sick leave.
- Draconian dress codes punishing employees for piercings, facial hair, visible tattoos, or “unnatural” hair colors.
- Rigid late arrival or early leave policies outside of shift work.
- Monitoring employees via webcam, online icons, or minute-by-minute time tracking documents.
- Limiting bathroom breaks or the number of times people are allowed to leave their desks daily.
The examples above don’t sound anything like how I relate to my family.
Extreme Workplace Policies Oppose Family Dynamics
If those aren’t clear enough examples that your job is not home and your coworkers are not family, consider these terrible company policies that make these “families” seem more like prisons than workplaces.
- In 2013, news broke that cabin crew at Ryanair are required to pay nearly $2k out of pocket for a 6-week training course before they’re hired on a probationary basis. Those who don’t make the cut after probation are still liable for the money, and employees are warned that the airline will use debt collection agencies to get the fees.
- A 2014 class action lawsuit against Apple alleged that employees were required to clock out before standing in line for up to two hours to get searched by security.
- Coffee giant Starbucks outlines in its handbook that employees are subject to termination if they or their family members invest in other coffee chains.
- Abercrombie and Fitch’s dress code features strict guidelines dictating how wide hair highlights can be, that nails can only extend ¼-inch past the tip of the finger and that earrings–which only women can wear– can be no bigger than the size of a dime.
A Personal Perspective
Finally, a personal anecdote to underline the point — the relationship between an employer and its employee, and the relationships between employees as employees of an organization, is not familial.
I once worked for a small mechanic shop for 17 days. The owner didn’t issue paychecks when he said he would, so when he got tired of me asking for my check, he went into a rage one day and fired me.
I know that I worked there for exactly 17 days because when I finally got my one and only paycheck from him, he had deducted $85 from my check without my approval or foreknowledge. Why would he do that?
The amount he deducted was precisely $5 for each day I worked there, and he labeled it something like “Lunch.”
From the day I started working there, he would provide lunch for the small staff. I thought this was great. I wasn’t aware of the benefit when I started, so the first few days, I either brought lunch with me or planned to get my own lunch, but after a few days, I settled into receiving the apparent generosity of this new boss of mine.
That act of providing food and sitting at a table to eat with someone has an almost unparalleled ability to settle its warmth into a person’s heart and make him truly feel like family. And it was all good until it wasn’t.
I found out in a most unkind manner that despite outward appearances during the business week at lunchtime, I was indeed not family to this man.
The Employer’s Relationship to the Employee
Ok, so I’ve made my point. The relationship between a business and its staff is not the stuff of family. This naturally begs the question: What sort of relationship is it, then?
The answer is simple: It’s a business relationship. Nothing more. Anyone who tries to make it more than that is probably trying to gain undeserved loyalty. Why else would an organization that aims to earn profit style its relationship to its profit-earners as a family?
With this context in mind, I want to review what we at NATIV3 think the relationship should be between an organization and its team members.
The Goal of Businesses Should Be to “Provide a Suitable Place to Earn a Decent Living”
I’ve searched my mind (and the internet) to find a more fitting description of the employer’s primary duty to its staff.
- “The employer-employee relationship should be one of mutual reliance. The employer is relying upon the employee to perform her job and, in doing so, keep the business running smoothly. Conversely, the employee is relying upon the employer to pay her and enable her to support herself, and potentially her family, financially.” source
- “Mutually accept the temporary and professional nature of this relationship. We have to be realistic about the relationships employees build with their employers and remember that it is transactional.” source
- “In simple terms, the responsibilities of employees and employers may mean to pay employees in exchange for their work and make sure that workers and others are protected from anything that may cause harm.” source
- “The worker-employer relationship is PROFESSIONAL: Each depends on the other to fulfill work-related needs, but both expect that workers will find meaning and purpose largely outside of work.” source
While those definitions are fine, I think I can come up with an even more simplified description of our duty as a modern employer:
Our job is to provide a suitable place to earn a decent living.
This may not be the core reason the company exists as a business, but the organization won’t survive long without tending to this most critical need.
I owned and operated NATIV3 full-time for less than three weeks before I needed to pay someone to do something for me and less than three months before we needed to hire our first full-time employee.
From the start, I’ve known that for this business to be successful, it would necessarily involve the assistance of many other people. I also learned very quickly that if you want to surround yourself with talented people who want to be there and help the organization succeed, you have to create an environment they want to be in. It should be an environment without false pretenses about why we’re here.
They are here to earn a living for now. NATIV3 is here to provide a suitable place to do so.
That’s my understanding of the core agreement between employer and employee.
I believe that three things top the list of qualifications for a suitable work environment:
“Mo money, mo problems” is what Biggie said.
“The love of money is the root of all evils,” is how the Bible puts it.
In every case, earning a living involves compensation and is a prime target for penny-pinching swindlers to take advantage of the people who keep them in business.
For Pay to be Fair, Build a Conversation Into Your Hiring Practices
I have told countless freelancers and contractors — people I knew would likely send me a bill soon — that they should double their rates. Companies of every size seek to minimize cost and maximize profit by any means necessary for many. It’s usually in their best interest to keep costs as low as possible.
I agree with that to an extent, but it should not come at the expense of paying people fairly for the time and experience that sharpened their talent before they came knocking on our door.
I try to put myself in the shoes of the new star of our company, so my conversation around compensation with new contractors always starts with the question: What is your going rate?
As with many things in this company, I always like to provide an opportunity for people to determine their own fate a bit.
In response to that question, there have been times that I’ve offered more than the going rate, as well as times that I’ve asked for less for certain reasons. In every case, I aim to use fair and balanced scales in compensating people for the precious time and experience they devote to NATIV3.
As for employees, we always aim to combine all the available factors to make an offer worthwhile to the team member and affordable for the company.
Our success should never depend on our ability to scrape a few bucks off of an offer to someone who will ultimately provide more than enough ROI, even if their offer is a couple of grand more than I may have been hoping for initially.
Mutual Respect – Guidelines Over Rules
We don’t and never will have a document called an “Employee Handbook” at NATIV3. The corresponding document we are currently writing and using is what we call “Team Member Guidelines.”
Ultimately, our Team Guidelines document exists for two purposes:
- To ensure that we cover all of our legal bases regarding our relationship with our Team Members
- To provide insight and guidance for questions related to their employment here and our expectations for them.
The underlying assumption of this document is that when we hire people, we hire adults who are professionals and don’t need to have everything spelled out in a rulebook for them. They’ve already been to Kindergarten, and we don’t need to treat them like they are in grade school at NATIV3.
As an employer, I don’t think it’s my job to go any further in dictating the dress, behavior, ethics, appearance, or anything else about our staff than is absolutely necessary to run my business successfully. On all of these things and more, I tend to take Nordstrom’s one simple rule approach: “Use good judgment in all situations.”
I’ll provide a couple of examples from one area of our guidelines that directly affects the company and that many companies have gone to great lengths to define and hold their people accountable: time management.
Flexible Employees Means Better Work-Life Balance and Better Results
In our industry, we have the luxury of not being confined to only being able to be productive working during standard business hours. The benefits of flexible schedules, combined with self-management, focus, and a forward-thinking mindset, can be a powerful catalyst for improved productivity.
We’ve had many employees working remotely who have opted to conduct most of their duties during the midnight hours when everyone else is sleeping and would save an hour or two each day for meetings.
As far as I’m concerned, if they function best at night and can provide a pleasant experience to our clients despite working at night, I have no issues with that.
We do not dictate when our people must or must not work because workplace flexibility allows them to explore who they are in and out of their jobs. They have the ability to use critical thinking and problem solving to get their duties done without us breathing down their necks, an undeniable benefit of remote working in the digital age.
We expect them to understand when their presence will be required, either in person or virtually, and to be there. We also expect them to maintain productivity while practicing excellent communication and collaboration.
If they can do those things, the full 24 hours of the day are available to complete their commitment to NATIV3.
Measure Performance by the Quality of the Work Done, Not What Time the Work is Done
Speaking of fulfilling that commitment and illustrating more clearly how I approach the whole idea of time as it relates to our people, I like to say it like this: We’re timely but not bound by the clock.
In my opinion, a full-time employee is someone who puts in a solid 35-50 hours a week. I don’t expect and would hope that they do not put in any more time than the higher limit, and I don’t believe they could do their job at the level of excellence we require by spending less than the lower limit. The fruits of their labor will be apparent and will bubble to the top eventually, regardless of whether they work extra hours.
I have known 50-hour people who do 20 hours of work and 35-hour people who seem able to produce twice that amount of work.
In all cases, I have one question: Are they conducting all of their work with excellence? If the answer is yes, I am not interested in their timesheets except as they relate to what we need to invoice the client.
Options for Growth
The final component of a suitable work environment that I think belongs on this list is that of trajectory. Everyone who spends time on our payroll records is at a different point in their career, and I want their time here to be a valuable and worthwhile investment, regardless of how long they stay with us.
When looking for new recruits, I am looking for people with what I like to think of as an “entrepreneurial spirit.”
My ultimate goal as an employer in the marketplace is to be an entrepreneur machine. If I could look into the future of the next decade, I’d like to see NATIV3 churn out endless entrepreneurs ready to take the business world by storm.
When I say entrepreneur, I don’t mean I am looking to hire only people who want to own a business one day. I mean that they should possess the essence of what makes a successful entrepreneur. There are two types of entrepreneurs I want to incubate and cultivate here.
The Sent Entrepreneur
I don’t want anyone ever to get hired here and feel they need to hide their entrepreneurial aspirations from leadership. We can handle it if you tell us there’s an expiration date on your employment here, even if you don’t know when it is.
If you have the desire to start your own thing one day, we want to be a part of that. We losses like this as an opportunity and making of space for new growth. A bit of pruning is necessary in every garden.
We want to invest in you as you gain valuable experience in this industry. We want to nurture good entrepreneurial habits and business practices in you. We want to send you off like a flower ready to blossom in season and to watch you go out and do bigger and better things. We want to help you write your business story.
The In-House Entrepreneur
This person takes the owner’s mindset to everything they do but doesn’t necessarily want to run their own business for whatever reason.
Every company is something like a fellowship of smaller companies that all work towards the goals and vision of the whole.
We want to give you leadership and ownership in those things. We want your fiery spirit that asks for apologies more than permission.
We want to provide you with room to fail, learn from your mistakes, and then do it again on our dime.
We want to see you go through the struggles of becoming a trusted leader in your areas of expertise.
We want you to stick around at NATIV3 for as long as there is mutual benefit for both of us in this business relationship.
We want to treat you as a partner in this endeavor.
Final Thoughts: Empathy, Trust, and Technology Grants Us the Opportunity to Build a Productivity, Fulfilled Workforce
It’s hard to say why many employers think that micromanaging their employees’ time and tasks will help them hone their skills and pledge loyalty to a business that doesn’t respect them as the professionals they are.
As someone who has suffered under more than one intolerable workplace regime, I know from experience that it stifles innovation and creates tension that, in turn, affects focus, communication, and performance.
I propose turning from foolish family culture metaphors and instead embracing the true nature of the relationship between businesses and their workers: Working together to accomplish a task in exchange for a decent living.
We’ll continue exploring these concepts in future articles. Stay tuned!