Why You Should Develop Empathy For Your Employer
When Does A Group Of People Become Evil?
First, a child is born. Then, it grows, develops, and eventually, it becomes a grown-up. Whenever the kid is small, we can forgive them almost any disobedience or mistake. But once they grow up, we expect them to exhibit more and more responsibility. Finally, once they reach the magic age of 18, they reach the legal responsibility for their actions. And, misbehavior can result in public ostracism and have legal consequences.
We often develop a similar attitude to businesses. Whenever we see a fresh sole proprietor sweating around their little infant business, we use to cheer and support them — even when they make mistakes and shame themselves by poor planning and customer service, they apologize for the lack of experience in business and operations, and we rush to say, “No problem, brother. Keep on going!”
But when it comes to growing a business, namely hiring first employees, increasing the revenue, and building the structure inside the company, we start looking at the same person in a much more demanding and critical way. Once they slowly increase their revenue and become tycoons, they are no longer perceived as humans. All of a sudden, we lose all the trust and sympathy in the very person whom we use to cheer so dearly just a few years before.
Mark Zuckerberg’s Case
One prominent example of such as a once-loved now-hated individual is the one and only Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook (recently rebranded into Meta). Just 15 years ago, he used to be a talented teen working hard on his innovative platform. In 2011, at a time the award-winning movie “ The Social Network “ was released, Zuckerberg was still a pop-culture icon, as a nerdy, insecure teen who outwitted and outsmarted his competitors, and grew into a successful entrepreneur and a tough businessman.
Today, just a decade later, he is a subject of public hate more than ever before. Partially, it is due to the mistakes he made in the past, including multiple counts of trading his users’ data, the famous Cambridge Analytica scandal in the presidential elections 2016, and manipulative PR decisions such as “ donating “ part of his wealth which was, in fact, a strategic move to reduce his family’s tax burden.
And partially, it is due to the general sentiment. On the one hand, young people today dream about financial independence. But on the other hand, the wealthy are constantly put in a bad light in the mass media, ostracized for the bare fact of being wealthy, turned into memes (with special attention to Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk), and laughed at on a regular basis.
When Facebook’s stock price has recently dropped by 26% during one day, the whole internet celebrated. What happened over the past decade? From a role model, Zuckerberg slowly sleds into a massive joke.
How Companies and Employers Are Perceived
Similar to a sole proprietor, whenever a group of young people starts a startup, they are just a bunch of dreamers whom we would like to see succeed. But just a decade or two decades later, once they become shareholders and board members of a corporation, they turn into evil in the eyes of public opinion. Why does this happen?
In the eyes of the public opinion, every growing organization sooner or later becomes evil. This is partially due to the fact that organizations, or faceless groups of people, are harder to identify with than individuals. Anonymity always decreases the sense of responsibility, and provokes more aggressive behaviors towards the other party (which also causes lots of trouble in online communication today). Hence, since the board of the company is no longer perceived as humans, but rather, as anonymous “them,” it is easier to throw stones at them — or rather, as we should say, at “ it.”
What The Media Won’t Tell You: Most Entrepreneurs Are Good, Hard-Working People
As a matter of fact, most startups fail at the first go (about a 90% failure rate, according to research). To make it as an entrepreneur in the long-term, you need to put your basic human sense of security at risk and grind for many, many years before you can eventually reach life stability. This is a long and painful process — and many people never make it, eventually, despite multiple attempts. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the sense of safety is the second most fundamental human need after physiological needs. And, entrepreneurs need to give that one up.
This is not possible without proper motivation. Therefore, most company founders have high goals, not just material goals. The mission-driven approach is the only way to get through the years of grind without burnout. Besides, there are better — safer and more comfortable — ways to get wealthy. As recent research has demonstrated, the majority of the American millionaires are employees who understand the concept of compound interest rather than entrepreneurs or high-paid executives (the study was described in detail in the blog post “ Will Your Boss Ever Make You Happy? On Salary Versus Wealth “).
And of course, the media — often sponsored by the government — don’t have any interest in inducing good feelings about other people, especially the wealthy and people with high social status. We are programmed to be poor. And of course, your manager or the founder of the company you are working for might not be a naturally gifted manager. They might be flawed and make a lot of mistakes at work. But most likely, they are not nearly as evil as they are pictured in the media.
On The Transactional Attitude To Work
One visit to LinkedIn or any other professional social media is enough to realize that today, the sentiment in the market is more or less explicit hate towards employers. Influencers who encourage their followers to quit their jobs and “don’t let others use you,” “follow their dream,” “pursue their passion,” and “get their own following” are fully aware that this advice is not sustainable. It’s just physically impossible for everyone to be an influencer. Ever! Yet, this kick-your-boss rhetoric sells, and speaking to the lowest emotions is the easiest way to score likes and follows.
The worst aspect of this trend is: it promotes the transactional approach to work, or in other words, working in terms of “action-reaction”: “every time I do something for you, you do something for me.” Namely, it reinforces the thinking that once you invest your time in your work, you should maximize the number of benefits — such as salary, bonuses, and all kinds of other physical perks — that your receive back for it. This approach doesn’t take into account that a professional career is a long-term game in which non-material benefits and personal growth are usually the winning investments long-term.
On Fostering Happiness
Also, if you choose to treat your employer as a cash machine, you make yourself unhappy in fact. With bosses, it’s a bit like with marriages. Of course, if you have a deeply unsatisfying relationship with your boss, and you are under an impasse for a long time, it is time for looking for some other job.
But, if there is a chance to improve and with a tiny bit of effort, work out a great collaboration, it is an effort worth taking. As Dan Gilbert, the author of “Stumbling on Happiness” famously said, people have a wonderful skill to synthesize happiness: to actively find reasons to be happy even in suboptimal circumstances (as also mentioned in our article “The Only Justice in the World”). That’s also why some people are much happier in marriage than others — they can just actively search for reasons to appreciate their partner despite their shortcomings.
If you want to have better results than others, you need to have a different approach than others. As a matter of fact, most people are, to some extent, unhappy about their work. As Thoreau famously called it, they live in quiet desperation. But those who do well in their professional lives, usually like their work. But what was first — the hen or the egg? Did they happen to find an ideal workplace by chance, or perhaps, they put some active effort into finding reasons to become happy employees as well?
Besides, people use to sense the sentiment towards them. If you have a transactional attitude at work, why would you expect your employer to develop any other attitude towards you? People tend to mirror the attitude of others. Once you are transactional, your boss will be transactional towards you as well.
How To Help Your Boss Become Better At Work
As mentioned before, few people were born natural managers — most people need to learn the art of becoming a good boss all by themselves. Help them!First, it is good to realize that nobody wants their employees to feel unwell at work. There are no psychopaths out there who would push the button “make your employee feel unwell” if they could.
So, show your boss some understanding. Your manager also has pressure for results from managers over them. You can mention once in a while that you understand the position they are in. They will be grateful! It is also good to find reasons to praise your boss sometimes. Most employees only expect to be praised and treat appreciating others as the manager’s job. They never look into their managers’ efforts and think to themselves, “damn, that was a lot of personal sacrifice from him/her.” Be that person sometimes!
Also, get some interest in their personal motivations. Ask them sometimes about what they appreciate in this job the most, and what were their biggest career bottlenecks. Ask them about their career story! Similarly as it is with parenting, most bosses want to be better bosses to their employees than their bosses were to them in the past. If you know your manager’s career story, you will know better why they are making certain mistakes or lacking certain skills.
Lastly, invest your time in the team. Remember about people’s birthdays, successes, and offer them some extra help from time to time. When your manager notices that you treat your team as your flock and that without any extra incentives you help build the team culture from the inside, they will be grateful and look at you differently. It is a long-term career development strategy that never fails.
Originally published at https://ontologyofvalue.com on February 16, 2022.
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