Having People Work For You Is the Ultimate Privilege – It’s Time To Realize that
Just over a year ago, I moved into a new role at my 9-5 and began managing people. This is different from my previous experiences, both in the corporate world and in the field with the trades. I’ve worked closely with others and even been responsible for a team’s day-to-day work, but never the official manager. Now that I have multiple direct reports, I’ve come to realize how much of a privilege that is.
I manage blue-collar, hourly employees in a trade that helps build large commercial and industrial construction projects. 99% of these employees are male, which is the national industry average. These jobs are 70% individual projects that are made public and bid competitively. The rest are returning customers that have new projects or service work. My job is to read plans, create a bid, negotiate that bid, and then manage the project to completion. That includes putting the right people on the right work and supplying them with everything they need to do their job successfully.
Honestly, I don’t view these employees as working FOR me. We’re working together to reach a common goal. That can be true in any setting, we just happen to be building construction projects.
I can already hear people saying “of course, they work for you. You’re paying them.” I hear what you’re saying but that is only partially true.
It’s a two-way street. The company I work for provides employees with a living wage, insurance, retirement, education, and other benefits. The employees then provide me and my company with the skilled labor it takes to complete jobs, make money, and build a reputation in the community. A healthy work environment is mutually beneficial. No matter if the employee is your direct report or 10 steps down the corporate ladder, businesses need employees to grow and employees need businesses to provide for their families.
It’s my personal opinion that the work world is starting to change for the better. The U.S. currently has an unemployment rate of 3.5%, and we’re coming off a 12-year stock market bull run and 2 years of covid. I’m not an economist but you can tell from scrolling social media, and reading an article from any news source that this generation of workers is changing the office hierarchy. The relationship between superior and direct reports is becoming more horizontal. Employers are being held to higher standards and employees are holding strict boundaries, reminding companies that they’re humans and not robots to be driven into the ground.
I would like to interrupt myself here and acknowledge that not all employers are bad guys. And sometimes, there really are employees who are lazy, abuse the system, and feel like they’re entitled to bigger and better things simply for existing. Let’s get it straight I don’t think anyone deserves the world just because they woke up and showed up. Here’s your PSA if the economy slows down the way they expect it to, these types of employees will be the first to be laid off. Don’t be this guy!
Back to the point. This change in the work environment is good for the employee in the long run. There’s also a potential for it to be rough on companies and consumers in the short term. If the employees are no longer willing to work for the current pay or amount of time, does productivity decrease? Will it take more employees to achieve the same amount of work? Again, I’m not an economist but all that leads to the potential of increased prices of goods and services.
Even if we end up with some higher prices (inevitable), that doesn’t change the fact that society is prioritizing the worker’s experience. There are more work options today than ever before, so employees have some leverage to expect more from their employers. This is when that viewpoint of working as a team comes in handy. My employees are equals and I have to understand that if it takes a little extra from me to get the job done successfully, that’s a cost that’s well worth it.
If you’re treating your employees like disposable garbage, you’re missing the point. There’s always another job out there and people will leave. No employees mean no business.
Sure, you can do the bare minimum and sometimes that’s enough. They give you their time and labor and you give them a paycheck with no emphasis on the relationship. There’s so much more you can do though that costs you nothing and returns on your investment significantly. They’re people (just like you) and simple things can make a big difference. Put their birthdays in your calendar. If an employee is expecting a baby, learn and write down the due date. Send flowers when a loved one passes away. This respect and effort show employees that you care and will create a more positive work environment. It’s the personal, human interactions that create a loyal employee who will have your back when you need it.
I also want to highlight that as an employer, you’re doing a great service for individuals, your community, and your country. You’ve taken risks that no one else will and that benefits people in so many ways, not just in the goods and services you provide.
One of my favorite things, and one of the more terrifying things, about having people work for me is that I’m responsible for ensuring they get paid. That paycheck doesn’t only support my employee. Depending on the situation, that paycheck may be supporting their spouse, kids, parents, and any other number of people. I did a rough calculation and at my company, each person’s paycheck goes towards supporting 3.5 people (including the employee). That’s significant.
To increase the weight of that stress, the majority of our employee’s spouses don’t work. They are stay-at-home moms which is an important, difficult job all by itself. Factor in that statistically most employees in the U.S. live paycheck to paycheck, and there’s a lot of pressure on employers to ensure there’s always another job or opportunity for your employees to make money.
It’s a big pile of stress but I love it. It makes me feel proud to know that these humans are trusting me to find the work they need to provide for their families. It is truly a privilege and I never want to take that for granted. It is so rewarding to create positive opportunities for my employees so they can enjoy their lives outside of work. That’s the most important part anyway.