Warning: Disgruntled Employee at Work

When I wrote of what an entrepreneur wants in an employee, I overlooked what the worker has a right to expect in return

By David E. Gumpert

If there's one thing most entrepreneurs want more than anything except for higher sales, it's employees who care, really care. But what happens when an entrepreneur has that rare animal on the payroll, and abuse it, whether through inattention, unreasonable demands, or just plain ignorance?

That was the question thrown back at me repeatedly over the last several weeks, following my column about what entrepreneurs really want from their employees (see BW Online, 7/29/03, "Warning: Entrepreneurs at Work"). I suggested that entrepreneurs be blunt with prospective employees in articulating their real desires -- for example, to arrive early and leave late, to be available evenings and weekends for e-mail, to bring in new customers, and to come up with ideas to improve the business.

One particularly aggrieved reader poured out her story: "For years I came in two hours early and stayed late. I even came in on weekends…I obtained business and customers. I saved this company thousands of dollars and I never made a move without thinking of the company or of how it would help the owner's family." There was just one problem, the woman wrote: "He had no appreciation. No thank-you notes, no pats on the back. Frankly, I'm pissed."


  I think she has a right to be angry. In retrospect, I overlooked a key point in my original column -- that an entrepreneur lucky enough to have employees willing to view the business from the owner's vantage point shouldn't just sit back and enjoy the fruits of those dedicated employees. They need to figure out ways to reinforce what these special people are doing.

I know, there are some entrepreneurs whose attitude is this simple: If that employee doesn't feel she's appreciated, let her go find a job with a more enlightened entrepreneur. See what she comes up with in this economy! That should teach her to appreciate just having a job. In my view, that attitude is too glib.

There are others -- both entrepreneurs and employees -- who wrote to tell me that my attitude about what entrepreneurs really want from employees is totally unrealistic. In this view, entrepreneurs will always be exploiting employees, so employees need to stand up for their rights and be certain they are paid for each extra minute beyond official working hours.

My feeling is that entrepreneurs can't expect owner-like behavior from employees unless they are given a taste of the carrot to be earned by all that heavy lifting. The entrepreneur's reward is obvious -- he or she works like a dog in the hope and expectation that there will be long-term positive cash flow and high-value equity somewhere down the line.


  Sure, those individuals who are working their butts off alongside the owner don't have their savings and debts tied up in the business. So the value of what they receive likely won't be as great. But they do need to receive rewards beyond their basic salaries.

In the early days of any business, the carrot may be lots of praise and an occasional gift certificate to a fancy restaurant or weekend trip to a resort hotel. But as time goes on and the business grows, entrepreneurs need to figure out what turns these special people on. Cash bonuses, profit-sharing, perhaps even stock. Whatever the turnon, find ways to make it available. Equally important, make these individuals feel good. Let them know they are much more than a cog in a wheel.

And for those entrepreneurs who don't "get it," the woman who wrote me about her unappreciative entrepreneur-boss may have figured out the best revenge: "I'm starting my own business," she wrote. "If I'm not adult enough to realize that this will be my business and other people will have different aspirations than me, then I have no business running a company. It all comes back to you in the end."

David E. Gumpert is the author of Burn Your Business Plan: What Investors Really Want from Entrepreneurs and How to Really Start Your Own Business. Readers can e-mail him at david@davidgumpert.com

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