In the year 2000, the first full year of my working career, I found myself trying to choose between two employment options: a contract editor position for a website, and a full-time role with an investment firm in Toronto. The contract looked pretty exciting to me, but I was months away from getting married, I was moving to Toronto for the first time and needed stable cash flow. The investment firm made the explicit pitch for stability amongst their other benefits. So I chose the investment firm.
The day after Labour Day that year, having just moved into my Toronto apartment and three weeks in advance of my wedding, I was laid off in a corporate civil war. They weren’t cutting me because of money. It was because I was hired by a team that was now unpopular with the CEO.
I ultimately got a new job with Compaq, helping manage their Canadian website. Then, during the mid-2000s, performance declined, layoffs happened, and HP bought the company. Then performance declined, layoffs happened, and I finally got caught.
I haven’t worked full-time for a company since.
To my mind, a full-time job is a commitment between a company and a worker. It’s a relationship that comes with benefits, like health care (in the broken US), stock options, retirement contributions… but mostly it’s about stability. It’s the promise that you won’t lose your job.
And there’s a culture about working for a company. It becomes your identity. They want you to be excited and enthusiastic about their values. To believe in their mission. In its most perfect form, your employment would be cash-free, because you’re passionate about achieving those goals.
My experiences have ripped the mask away from that illusion. I know that it’s not just me, either: this is the story of work in the Twenty-First Century. Companies expect loyalty, but put their revenues first. It’s happening at Mozilla, and even more grotesquely, at WeWork, and at companies less famous.
How do you come out of those places with your sense of loyalty intact? How can you not view employment for what it is: a purely transactional relationship between nerd-who-needs-money and money-dude-who-needs-work?
Maybe I’m totally jaded. I still think there are companies that have missions I can believe in. Conversely, there are absolutely companies that have beliefs that ensure I will never work for them.
The vast majority of companies fall somewhere in between. They’re money-making ventures. And they need my help. And I’m happy to help them. I enjoy the work. I like making things out of programmy-words. And I need to make money, to support my family.
This is an ideal transactional relationship. A company doesn’t need my loyalty; they need my professionalism and my skill. I need their money. And confusing the two makes no sense in the year 2020.
I can’t help but think that more work should be like that.