Last month, we comparatively explored the components of entrepreneurship versus employment by delving into the advantages and disadvantages of each. We don’t hold either option in higher regard than the other—we just think it’s important to consider every aspect in order to decide which is the right fit for you. Since we like to focus on solutions instead of dwelling on problems, we thought the logical next step is to propose ways in which you can combat any of the mentioned disadvantages to make your employment experience the best it can be.
In this post, we’ll zone in on the disadvantages of employment. We’ll give a brief synopsis of the points from our previous post, but feel free to refresh your memory by re-reading it before moving on with this post.
How to combat the disadvantages of employment
If you recall, we defined employment as working for someone else and having a specific role within an organization. As there are numerous types (and exceptions to anything), we looked at employment through the lens of comparing it to entrepreneurship. The advantages of employment included: having colleagues/camaraderie, better work-life balance, fewer responsibilities, steadier pay and benefits, and more resources and opportunities for development and learning. We’ll re-outline the disadvantages (as they were explained in our previous post) and propose ways to flip them into positive (or better) experiences.
Combating dependency by managing up
As an employee, you are dependent upon the rules and regulations set up by HR and have to follow the instructions of your boss. Even if you disagree with instructions, management methods, strategies, etc., you have to be careful with how you voice it and don’t have the freedom to make your own decisions. You also have to wait for approval on your ideas and are often stalled by red tape or have to go through multiple channels to have someone sign off on your work.
Too much dependency in a workplace can reduce productivity; thwart performance, motivation, and morale; and stifle creativity and development. Now usually, we look to management and department heads to make sure this doesn’t happen. But if you’re an employee reporting to others, have no fear—there are things you can do to maintain trust and get your leaders to delegate more in order to keep things moving.
One of the most useful skills an employee can do is learn how to “manage up.” Managing up essentially means managing your manager—it sounds political, but we don’t mean it in a manipulative way. It’s not to be done as self-promotion or “sucking up”—this would be counterproductive. Basically, it means consciously doing your best effort to work with your manager (or superior) to achieve the best possible results for all parties (the company included).
Now, managing up takes diligent effort, but figuring out how to do it effectively will make all the difference in your career. You can start by understanding how your boss works (i.e. what makes them tick) and figure out how to anticipate their needs. Do they prefer informal face-to-face communication, or do they like communicating via email? The key is to add value—don’t wait to be asked for reports and the like. Instead, be proactive in your communication and look for ways in which you can optimize communication and productivity within your team. Perhaps you see a problem or a void you can fill? Outline a strategy to fix it and propose it to your boss. Remember to stay positive—don’t throw anyone under the bus, and remember you’re doing this for the collective good. By doing this, you will build trust which in turn will make your manager feel more comfortable with delegating tasks and projects.
Combating limited scope by organizing cross-functional workshops
As stated previously, working for a company generally means you have a specific role or function within that organization. Typically, you are siloed into one category and may have limited options for development or career progression outside of your specific trajectory or industry.
As with most of these, the way to negate a limited scope is by being proactive. No one wants a stagnant life, and certainly not a stagnant work life. You can use the presence of colleagues to your advantage by working with HR or management (or just by yourself) to organize cross-functional workshops for all interested employees.
Each department or designated employee(s) can share their skills with anyone interested in learning. Perhaps you’re a marketer but want to learn more about design? An ‘intro to design” workshop could be led by your company’s designers. Perhaps you’re extremely organized and good at time/project management—share your tips and tricks with colleagues in a workshop tailored to helping them improve their workflows. If developed ahead of time, you can allow prospective attendees to submit questions prior to the workshop—this will allow for more efficiency and focus (and the best use of everyone’s time). Each employee has strengths and weaknesses—why not help each other (and yourself) further develop your skills by bridging those gaps between them?
Combating limited income by sharing your skills externally
As an employee, your income is limited to the agreed-upon salary and is fixed. Even if the company does well that year or if you perform well, your salary will not increase (unless you have prior agreed-upon incentives or a bonus structure). To increase your salary, you have to request a raise, try for a promotion, or change jobs.
In a similar vein to the previous point, be proactive and utilize your skill set to benefit others (which—in turn—will benefit you). The most obvious thing to do would be to freelance or develop a side gig to earn extra income. Definitely do that if you’re looking to make more dough. You can also think outside the box by writing for industry publications, organizing seminars/webinars, or creating classes/workshops for others outside of your organization. Talk to industry organizations, publications, etc. and present your ideas as to how you can add value.
Combating competition and office politics by being neutralizing the negative
Although we listed colleagues as an advantage above, they also can be a nightmare depending on the organization (and the people). Working with a lot of other people means you may have to compete with others to get recognition or have your ideas implemented. You generally don’t get to choose your colleagues, and who is hired, so you more often than not have to put up with them regardless of their behavior. An organization will have shifting structures of power and authority, so you will have to learn to navigate the waters of workplace politics. There may be different formulas for getting ahead that aren’t always based on performance and merit, and you often have to carefully nurture relationships with people with power and influence over your career.
The best way to navigate the waters of office politics is by remaining positive and neutralizing the negativity—ultimately, don’t “fuel the fire” by joining in on negative politics. Don’t take part in gossip or spread rumors, don’t get sucked into arguments, and maintain a professional demeanor at all times. It’s okay to voice concerns and be honest, but always remain tactful (honesty without tact is cruelty). It’s not necessary to avoid conflict, as conflict fuels growth, but it’s important to handle it in a thoughtful, collective, and professional manner.
Combating less control over job security by networking
Although a semblance of security and stability was included with the advantages of employment, it can also be a disadvantage depending on certain circumstances. As an employee, you can negotiate a contract but—ultimately— your job is in the hands of your employer. Going from the previous disadvantage, if you’re not inline or willing to play the game of office politics, this could threaten your job security regardless of your performance. The company is also in the hands of someone else, and even if a company is doing well, it could fold at any time (it happens) and be out of your hands.
The best thing you can do—not only for combating lack of control over your job security, but for your career—is to build a personal brand and network. Even if you work for someone else, you can still distinguish yourself as an expert in your field. Sign up for speaking events, attend industry events and tradeshows, and further develop your skills by attending workshops. Really hone in on who you are—and how you can add value to your industry—as a professional in your field. This way, if you are unfortunate enough to lose your job, you’ll have a head start on your “elevator pitch” for future interviews.
While you’re building your personal brand (and throughout your career), it’s extremely important to build and increase your professional (and personal) network. Meet as many people as you can, and be proactive about connecting with people. Maybe you’ve seen someone or heard of someone you find intriguing—reach out on LinkedIn and ask them to grab a cup of coffee. Be honest about your purpose, in that you think you could both mutually benefit by exchanging ideas, picking each other’s brains, etc. Traveling for work? Organize a meetup in the area with locals or that friend of a friend who lives there. Attend industry networking events, and just be open to meeting new people. Having a vast network can make all the difference if you lose your job, as you never know who might have an opportunity (or know of an opportunity) with your name on it.
There’s almost always a flipside to every negative in the workplace—even if you don’t lead a team, you can lead by example by maintaining a positive approach to your work and interaction with colleagues. Sure, toxic environments exist and sometimes the best thing to do is to remove yourself. But don’t ever think that you can’t shape your own future just because you are an employee versus an entrepreneur.
Stay tuned for a post on how to comb the disadvantages to entrepreneurship!