An Employee's Ideal Employer

A while back, Sam Larbi wrote a thoughtful post that identified a few non-monetary incentives he’d like from an employer. This is something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about so I added a stream of consciousness comment to his post. Just the other day, my comment was brought back to life by Thuy Copeland. Seeing it there prompted me to think on the topic a bit more and, while my thinking hasn’t changed, I thought I’d put my thoughts on the subject in my own space and try to clarify, elaborate and generally remove the clutter that is inherent to writing in a stream of consciousness manner.

Here, then, are my repackaged (hopefully for the better) thoughts in rough order of priority:

Interesting Work

Yeah, I know it looks like a blatant rip-off of what Sam said, but it’s worth parroting. I want and expect to enjoy my work. There will certainly be ebbs in that enjoyment, but those should be the exception rather than the rule. This one is non-negotiable. With a nod to Robert Frost, my vocation is also my avocation (read the last stanza of the poem for the reference) and I want it to continue as such. The day it’s simply something I do to earn a living is the day I’ll start looking for something else to do.

Focus on Productivity

You tell me what you need done, I’ll get it done. Deal? As long as I’m getting it done satisfactorily, don’t jerk me around about the fact that I left a little early last Thursday. Unless I’m doing work that is directly billable to a client, put down the abacus and the time sheet.

There are few things that will cripple my will to produce more than having to account for every minute of my day when there’s no reason to do so. Instead, allow me to come and go – within reason – as I please. Understand that when I’m working from home, I really am working from home; I’m not “working from home”.

I’m almost always available even if I’m not sitting in front of my keyboard. If something comes up, you can find me without having to look very hard. I answer my phone after 5pm. I respond to email after 5pm. I’m often on IM after 5pm. Because my vocation is also at least one of my avocations, I like doing this and don’t usually stop doing it just because I’ve left the confines of the office.


Again, another rip-off, but also another must. Trust me to administer my own machine. Trust that I’ll give the company more that I take from it. Trust me enough to provide the tools I need and give me the access I need to do my job. In other words, don’t invent ways to make it difficult for me to be productive and efficient. I shouldn’t need an Act of Congress to get email on my Blackberry or to get SSH access to a server.

Trust that the company will get (far) more than the 40 hours required by law from me when I’m not chained to my desk. Trust my management to spot abuse by me. Trust me to spot abuse by those who report to me.

Competent Management

I can live with incompetent co-workers because I can avoid them for the most part. I can’t live with incompetent management. My rules for managers follow:

  1. Know what you don’t know.
  2. Be okay with what you don’t know.
  3. Understand that I don’t need, want or expect you to know everything.
  4. Know who to ask when a question arises about one of those things you don’t know. Actually, that might be the most important thing you need to know.
  5. Trust my input when I’m asked about the things that I know.

It’s pretty simple, really.

Casual Atmosphere

I’m a developer. I spend most of every day at my desk engineering and coding solutions. The vast majority of my time is not in board meetings or ring-knocking with investors. Don’t ask me to dress to impress; there’s no one to impress. Don’t try to sell me that wearing slacks and a collared shirt makes me act/think/feel more professional. The fact that I am a professional makes me act professionally. The fact that I’m wearing jeans and a t-shirt in the office doesn’t confuse me into thinking I’m hanging with buddies at a bar. I’ve spent time at both – I recognize the scenery. Seriously.

Realize that I’m familiar with the concept of appropriateness. If I know I have a meeting with a client I won’t be in shorts and flip flops.

Making the Long Story Short

Treat me like an adult and like a professional unless I do something to indicate that I’m not one or the other.

I should mention that I’m very fortunate these days. I currently work for a large organization that employees many managers with, I have to assume, widely varying styles. At the risk of speaking for them, my own direct management seems to share these views (or at least indulge them) so my current work situation is nearly utopian in that sense. They also allow me to manage my own team members in this fashion.

Like everyone else, though, I’ve certainly worked in other environments where that was very much not the case.

Subscribe6 Comments on An Employee's Ideal Employer

  1. John Cummings said...

    This is right-on Rob, and sadly so hard to find

  2. Rob Wilkerson said...

    Thanks, John. Very few jobs are perfect, but if I can get most of these things in a gig, I’ll be pretty happy. This is my blue sky world.

  3. Sammy Larbi said...

    “You tell me what you need done, I’ll get it done. Deal? As long as I’m getting it done satisfactorily”

    I really like that one, but it occurred to me that employers may have a problem knowing how much you can do. So if they only give you 5 hours of work and tell you it should be done in a month…

    Not sure what I’m getting at exactly, except that while I certainly agree that lacking nitpickiness is a good feature of a job, there should be some way to let them know they could give us more work to do.

    Now, guys like you and I, we have something called pride, or ethics, or morals, or professionalism to let them know. But not everyone has that, so how can we be trusted?

    Nothing like a sun just came up ramble to start the day.

    It’s Friday – Cheers!

  4. Rob Wilkerson said...

    @Sammy –

    Yeah, that’s what I intended to cover with “As long as I’m getting it done satisfactorily”. I originally had a line in there specifically mentioning the need for the appropriate tools and resources (of which time is clearly one), but scrubbed it because I thought the same thing was being covered in Trust.

  5. Rob Wilkerson said...

    @Sammy –

    Oops, I misread your comment. I think the point you’re actually making (rather than the point I heard) falls into Trust. The truth is, I don’t want 5 hours of work for a month. That’s just boring.

    I should also state that none of this is meant to imply or encourage a lack of dialog. Dialog should be omnipresent in these (and all) things. What I’m espousing is keeping the dialog productive rather than, as you say, nitpicking. If and/or when I give you reason to think that I’m taking a month to do 5 hours of work, then your nitpicking is justified and I’ll understand.

    Employers have to have recourse to deal with abuse, of course. All I’m asking is that I not be treated like the lowest common denominator out of the box. Assume I’m trustworthy (and just plain worthy, for that matter) and work down from there if I give you any reason to do so.

  6. Chad Kieffer said...

    Well put Rob (and Sam). I’ll counter John’s remark about these types of jobs being “sadly so hard to find” with how hard are folks actually working or looking? Either you work to make your current work environment more ideal or you look for employers who get it.