Knocking Down Doors

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The Employer-Employee Contract: An Open Letter to My Children About Their Future Work Life

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Like most parents, I want my children (I have four sons and my wife is pregnant with our 2nd daughter) to enjoy a fulfilling career regardless of what they choose to do. And if that means going to work for a company, then I want them to be very clear about both what their employers should expect from them and what they should expect from their employers. I have seen too many friends and peers work too many hours with little to no joy or fulfillment. Likewise, I have also seen too many people take their employers for granted and not give them their all. I subscribe to the belief that there is an implied contract, and if both employers and employees abided by it, then we would all be better off: people would find joy in their work and companies would thrive even more at accomplishing their missions.

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Here are seven expectations that everyone should have of their employers:

1. From day one, you should have clarity about your role, how it is connected to the company’s mission, and what your responsibilities are. Not understanding your company’s mission and how you are connected to it will deprive you of a greater purpose, which means it will quickly become just a job.

Employers: be clear about your mission and let your employees play a role in making sure you accomplish it.

2. You should expect transparency, particularly regarding feedback about your performance.

Employers: be proactive about coaching and giving positive and negative feedback, and don’t wait for an annual review. It should happen regularly.

3. You should be measured by the quality of your work – how well you perform your duties. This isn’t always easy, especially in today’s digital economy. But just because it isn’t easy does not mean it cannot be done.

Employers: if you don’t measure someone by performance then you are bound to fall in the trap of measuring them primarily by face time. And this will lead to mediocrity.

4. You should be provided plenty of opportunities to grow. We are born learners and learning is not supposed to end when we leave school. Growth means learning new skills, which can include both formal training as well as on-the-job training. It may even be built into your role.

Employers: by investing in the growth of your employees, you will be fueling the future growth of your business.

5. You should be allowed to have a life outside of work.

Employers: don’t force them to miss out on it; make longer hours optional. And if your employees choose to work the extended hours (and actually produce more results than those who works normal hours), reward them for it. If you require long hours all the time, then be very clear with employees in the interview that they will not have a life outside of work and should kiss their family, friends, and outside interests goodbye. Hopefully, your mission is worth it!

6. Shocker…you should be treated like an adult.

Employers: unless your customers are on a strict schedule (think schools or doctor’s offices), give your employees some flexibility in their schedule. Some people prefer to start and leave early while others prefer to start and end late. As long as they perform well, does it really matter? Also, recognize that people need breaks in order to remain highly productive. Help them get the most out of their breaks. A ping pong table has worked fairly well for us.

7. You should expect to be treated fairly and not harassed.

Employers: be kind. Let people have fun. And if an employee tells you they are being harassed for whatever reason, then immediately put an end to it. Do not tolerate it.

Just as important, here are five things that every employee should demand from themselves:

1. Really engage with your work. Approach every day knowing you will never get it back. Get stuff–important stuff–done. When you leave work at the end of the day, ideally you should be wiped.  You want a job you like so much that you have to fight the urge to think about it when you are away. If you’re wishing people “Happy Friday,” you don’t get it.

2. Focus on great results but recognize that you have to put in the hours. Get in at least 8 hours of actual work each work day. Breaks are necessary, but time spent eating lunch, making personal calls, sending personal emails and texts, going to the bathroom, checking Facebook, playing games, etc. do not count as actual work. If you have to put in 9-10 hours at the office to get in 8 hours of actual work, so be it.

3. Don’t judge others by the amount of breaks they appear to take, or when they arrive or depart from the office. Judge them by their results.

4. Be kind to others. Over time, befriend your coworkers. If you are quiet by nature, try to come out of your shell a little bit and at least greet people. This isn’t high school. No one is the “cool kid,” not even you.

5. Be transparent with your employer. Tell your supervisor what you are happy – and unhappy – about. Tell them how to improve. Leaving the company is fine—and even expected—at some point. But do your best to help your employer understand why and try to give them as much warning as possible. It should not be contentious.

In 15+ years of Capterra, I’ve tried hard to practice what I have preached here. I have not always succeeded and remain a work in progress. But I cannot imagine working in any other way. I did not start Capterra to be a babysitter, nor did I start it to settle for mediocrity. As much as I love being home with my family, I also love coming into work. I truly find joy and fulfillment in my work, and I wish that each Capterra employee — as well as each of my kids in their future jobs—is able to find the same.

Image by Rachel Wille

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About the Author

Michael Ortner

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Mike started Capterra in 1999 as the first website dedicated to helping people find the right software for their business. Today, Capterra lists over 30,000 software companies, displays more than 250,000 software reviews, and receives over 3,000,000 monthly visitors. He's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Fox News, and Inc. Magazine, among other publications, where he's spoken on topics ranging from the business software industry to running and growing a business in the 21st century. Mike received a business degree from Georgetown University and a philosophy degree from the University of London. He lives in McLean, VA with his wife and six children.


Well Said. I totally agree, you will get more out of creative types with some remote work options too and flexibility is a must.

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