Who do you work for?

How many times have you been asked, “Who do you work for?”

Unless you haven’t graduated from high school yet, my guess is that you have heard that question at least once in your lifetime. It is a common question that people use to engage in small talk and it is an easy way to start to know someone.

If you are like most people, you probably answered by giving the name of your employer. That’s not a bad answer since it is the truth, but it isn’t the whole truth.

In reality, you work for yourself. You may have decided to sell your own personal services to one employer in exchange for a certain degree of comfort, experience, benefits, money, position, time off and other things, but you still are selling your services. Someone who is self-employed may sell their own personal services to many buyers, whereas you sell your personal services to one buyer. In effect, both the self-employed and the employee work for themselves. Each sells their own services.

While you may be employed by someone else, you should consider the work that you do as a service that you sell to your employer.

… but, why should you care?

You should care because when you think of your employment as “selling your services” instead of “being employed” you can look at all of the gains that your employer offers in exchange for your services. When you “sell your services,” you find a way to make work profitable for you. When you are “employed” you get only what the employer tells you that you can have. That small distinction creates a vastly different outcome.

I find that most people who work as employees will judge their success by their title or by their compensation. These are good things, but there is more to the equation.

How does a business sell their services profitably? They do two primary things. They try to reduce the cost of selling their product or service and they try to increase the price and quantity of services sold. In other words, the business wants more total money coming in and less of anything that goes out (time, labor, capital, etc.)

You should do what the employer does, not what most employees do. You want to work towards situations where you spend less time and effort in a position AND are paid better. Being paid more is good, but working a lot more for it is not that good. Working less is good, but not when you lose most of your income.

Why is the phrase “to work towards” in the last paragraph? Well, you cannot make changes to your employment instantly. In some cases you might, such as finding a better job, but if you are with one employer, it may take a while to position yourself for a promotion or apply for a better paying position. It may take time to create a work environment that benefits the employer but isn’t so stressful or time consuming. It may take time to become a person at work who everyone looks up to.

Some things do take time, but there may also be opportunities available now that you are passing up. You might have an opportunity to configure a desk, office or cube to be more private and comfortable. You might have the opportunity to get your employer to pay for education that you are not taking advantage of. You might pay for additional education on your own, so that you can sell higher quality services to your current employer. You might have the opportunity to take on a new project that will result in comparably less stress and less demands on your time. You might have the opportunity to take on new work that positions you for an increase in compensation. You might be able to change your start time and shave 20 minutes from your daily commute.

When you understand that you work for yourself, your success becomes a function of you. When you believe you work for the employer, your success is largely controlled by the employer and what the employer tells you you can have. So, look for ways to improve your knowledge and experience, increase your comfort, decrease your time and effort AND increase your compensation. That is gainful employment.