Does It Make Sense to Expect an Employee to Work as Hard as an Owner?

It’s an eternal question on the minds of both techs and the business owners who are still on the glass: Is it appropriate for an employee to be expected to work as hard as their employer? The answer you get will depend on who you ask. The employer will typically say something to the effect of “I don’t ask my employees to do anything that I don’t do. I’m paying for a window cleaner and I should get a window cleaner.” An employee, on the other hand, might say, “I get paid just a percentage of what the owner makes. I don’t intend on staying with this company for the long term. Why should I be expected give my all when I don’t have as much to gain or anything invested?” All valid questions to have and exactly all the wrong ones to ask.

Before we get into what is at the root of the difference in opinions, let’s first establish what is inappropriate. As an employer, it is inappropriate to expect your employee to put themselves in harm’s way in order to complete a job. It is inappropriate to expect them to work mandatory overtime repeatedly due to your poor management skills or desire to avoid hiring another tech. We all know that overtime will happen on occasion, but if that is the status quo, you are going to burn them out and it may become physically impossible for them to give their best to the job.  As an employee, it is inappropriate to accept pay and not give your full attention and energy toward your assignment. For instance, checking your phone repeatedly on the job for personal reasons is stealing from your employer and you should not be surprised if you are called out, or worse, for doing it. It is also inappropriate to intentionally slow down, stall, or take excessive breaks in order to let your fellow techs handle the bulk of the work. You are not only stealing from your employer, you are also disrespecting your coworkers.

Now, let talk about unrealistic expectations. It is unrealistic for an employer to expect their crew to be their clone. They aren’t you, they will never be you, so get over it. Don’t keep the bar so high it discourages even your hardest workers. It is also unrealistic for an employee to expect their employer to be ok with low quality, low energy work. They are selling a product that includes promises of a certain level of service. If you don’t deliver, you should expect them to let you know.


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Are you with me so far? Good! Now let’s get to the question at hand: It is often thought that since the employee is not an owner, there is not much to gain from working hard. I hear this a lot. The idea is that the smaller paycheck equates to a lesser effort. Those who feel this way often think, “One day when I run my own company, I’ll make the big bucks and then I’ll have the motivation to work as hard as I can.” This reasoning is short-sighted, to say the least. First of all, guess what most of being a business owner involves, especially at the start of the company? Lots of work for little pay. Being a business owner is brutal to start and it often takes enduring years of inconsistent income before settling in and finally having a profitable company. Guess where most business owners learn how to have a solid work ethic even if the paychecks are not yet reflecting that effort? That’s right, at that job you were just complaining about. The fact is that if you are working for a company now, you have access to something far more valuable than a weekly paycheck: an education. If you are just willing to put forth the effort to pay attention, you can gain a priceless insight on how to run a business, both the right and the wrong ways. Granted, each boss is different, and some may not be too keen on helping you learn how to become their competitor. It is certainly understandable if they keep some aspects of the business close to their chest. However, I personally owe a debt of gratitude to each of the bosses that I have worked for in the past, regardless of the type of work. I have integrated much of the successful business styles that I was privileged to observe from them into my own company, and I attribute my success to following their examples. So, stop viewing your paycheck as the only commodity to be gained at your job. The education available to you is far more valuable and worth your effort.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not address the ethical aspect of this discussion. As quaint as it may seem these days to talk about putting forth “an honest day’s work,”, you can’t downplay how developing character in this area helps you in every aspect of business, regardless of the field you end up in, and in life in general. When you are sent out on a job, you represent the company. The owner has entrusted you with the protection of one of their most valuable, if not the most valuable asset they have. This company may be what pays for their child’s medical bills, for the care of their elderly parents, or toward a non-profit that they may sponsor. Regardless of the financial state of the business, if you can accept and understand this responsibility, care for your assignment diligently and professionally, and put forth every effort to honor your end of that bargain, that quality will serve you well in all aspects of business and life. My Dad taught us kids that our word was only as good as our actions. He taught us to not simply do our job, but to work at it as if we owned the company. Now, as a father myself, I support my own family with the wisdom found in those words.

The bottom line is this: Yes, your boss might be a jerk. No, you may not be making what you deserve. No, this job may not be your life’s passion. Work hard at it. Learn from it. Your hard work is not an investment in your employer’s company, it’s an investment in you.

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