September 1, 2014

Lessons I Learned Working for Others

Today in the United States it is Labor Day. Labor Day is a day dedicated to celebrating the social and economic achievement and impact of American workers. For some it is a day of gratitude an quiet reflection. A chance to thank those who came before and fought for the rights and working conditions workers enjoy today. For others it's a day to spend with family and friends. A chance to hang out in the back yard or a park and grill up some hot dogs and hamburgers.

Before I published my first book and started Gary Karp Coaching I had a slew of jobs working for someone else and trading hours for dollars. Some of those jobs were with major corporations life Time/Life and AT&T, and others jobs were with small, mom and pop establishments. Some jobs were fun and others were a pain in the ass. I managed to learn something from all of them. Here is a list of five things I learned from working for somebody else.

1. Unless your name is on the door marked "BOSS" you are not earning your full income potential. It doesn't matter if you are a commission salesperson, an IT guy/gal, or a phone jockey in a call center you are always making money for your bosses. And they are making money for their bosses. Even a commission sales person is making money for their immediate manager. They may be able to decide how much they are going to make by choosing how many leads they will run down and how many prospects they are going to call, but their manager or supervisor will always get a percentage from the blood, sweat, and tears of others.

For years I held my Florida 2-15 License. I was able sell health and life insurance, as well as variable annuities. I made a decent living by selling these policies but a percentage of my sales always went back to the office. I could make $50,000 or $100,000 for the year and my boss always got 10 to 20% on top of what I made. In an office of 20 agents, the boss could earn a quarter of a million dollars or more from the efforts of the sales agents.

2. Even freelance work means you have a BOSS. I worked as freelance IT guy for over a year. I travelled all over the country updating and upgrading computer systems for major financial centers. I loved it. I would work from Friday close of business (usually 4 or 5pm) until midnight, and return early morning on Saturday if the upgrades needed to be completed. Monday was the "dog and pony show" day as I walked the employees through their new computers and systems. The job had a lot of upside - free travel, low stress, no office politics, and the illusion of freedom.

I say illusion of freedom because while I could say no to any assignment, I was not in control of my destiny. If I said "no" to often I would get the reputation of a troublesome, inconsistent tech and would not be offered the prime gigs, or any gig for that matter. My work was completely dependent on the agencies having trust in my skill set, experience, and consistency. The agencies, in turn, were dependent on getting those contract from the banking houses. When those contracts expired and were not renewed or promised work never materialized, I was shit out of luck. This happened on a number of occasions. I was promised a two year gig by the agency, who was promised the contract by the company. Then the contract was delayed. Then the company decided to pull all work from the agency and "go in another direction." This put myself, several other techs and my contacts at the agency on the streets looking for work.

3. Working for someone else means playing in their sandbox and by there rules. Every company, large or small, I have worked for has had their own agenda and their own corporate culture. As careful as I was in ensuring that my own values and beliefs were not compromised, I was not always in a position to pass on opportunities that did not align themselves with me. The best corporate cultures have transparency, and allow every employee a voice. They value their employees. The worst corporate cultures are dens of rumors and uncertainty. They do not encourage employee participation and are usually micromanaged. Far from feeling valued and appreciated employees often feel taken advantage of and "worked to death." If you are working for someone else office politics and water cooler fodder is the norm for the day.

In addition, the agenda of the company may not align with you. In recent months we have seen companies like Hobby Lobby sue for the right not to carrie certain forms of contraception. If your health or personal choice makes these, and other forms, of health care and medicines necessary you may find yourself having to go without. 

4. You have security (sort of). Working for another person or company gives you a sense of security and certainty. You know that every two weeks you will receive a paycheck. You know that you have health care. These are important. Some people need the consistency of a regular paycheck. It makes it easier to plan and budget your time and money. Put in your 40 hours a week and every other Friday get rewarded with a check for $800 or so.

5. You are replaceable. This is the opposite of number four. In my professional career I have been fired or downsized from almost every company I have worked for. Sometimes it was for not meeting expectations and making my numbers. Sometimes, most times, it was because the company was sold or was merging and cuts needed to be made.

I worked for a major telecom for five years, moving through the ranks and being promoted to be part of a new fraud prevention/quality control department they created. This department not only was responsible for it's own location but the sales and orders of four other locations around the United States. One day a upper level executive came in to the office and told us that our location was closing.  After five years of loyalty and consistent upward movement, I was out of work. And it's not only if there is downsizing or merging going on. While corporations ask for two weeks notice if your are leaving, they can, and regularly do, terminate you with no cause at any time.

Working for someone else vs working for yourself is an individual and personal decision. It took me over 30 years to decide to strike out on my own, which has provided it's own challenges and lessons learned. Which career tract is for you? I'd love to hear you thoughts.

"If you don't build your dream someone will hire you to help build theirs." 
~ Tony Gaskins

No comments:

Post a Comment