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How Dishonesty Builds Employer-Employee Relationships

LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman has analyzed inherent contentions between workers and their bosses. His conclusion is that both sides operate under dishonest guises. An honest assessment of work roles could go a long way toward improving the professional relationship.

Ezra Klein has an interesting piece over at Vox about topics discussed in Reid Hoffman’s book, The Alliance. If you’re not familiar with Hoffman, you probably know his hugely successful website, LinkedIn. You might even have your own LinkedIn page. Perhaps it’s even helped you get a job. Hoffman, who is also a Big Think expert, has made a career (and, not to mention, a fortune) analyzing and optimizing the way people build personal brands and secure employment. 

One of Hoffman’s observations, further explored by Klein, is that employers and employees tend to build relationships with each other based on common lies. Hoffman explains the number one untruth out of employers’ mouths is, “The employment relationship is like family.” For employees, variations of, “I plan on working here for the rest of my career,” form the crux of their deception. Klein notes that these lies are not always uttered with ill-intent; self-deception is key here as well. Both sides delude themselves into thinking the employment relationship is one thing when it’s a whole other. Further, everyone would feel a lot better and be more productive if the reality of the situation were to be realized and accepted.

Klein explains:

“This is core to Hoffman’s idea that both employers and employees should look at a particular job less as a lifetime contract and more as a ‘tour of duty’ — a limited-time engagement meant to achieve specific ends on both sides. But until employers stop pretending employees are family and employees stop pretending their aim is a job they’ll never leave, neither side can have that conversation.”

It’s a pretty sharp idea. Here are my thoughts:

1. Hoffman tries to be fair by assigning blame to both sides, but I’m not buying that this current state of affairs isn’t mostly the employers’ faults. While it’s just as important for employees to quit deluding themselves, it falls on employers (who possesses most of the power in a professional relationship) to set reasonable expectations. An honest assessment and agreement of work roles, initialized by management, would go a long way toward improving the professional relationship.

2. A misreading of Hoffman’s words could lead one to believe he’s advocating for a mercenary system, which would be foolish and myopic and bad. It’s vital for many employers to invest in their workers — to give them reasons not to leave. This varies from position-to-position, but an employer who treats all her workers as renewable resources runs the risk of being buried beneath mountains of turnover, not to mention the collective animosity of those who have not yet left for greener pastures. Employers: Even if you don’t think an employee will be around in five years, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t offer professional development. This needs to be a both-backs-scratched situation.

3. Hoffman explains that this sort of deception is related to trust and loyalty. Employers want assurance their workers are loyal to the company. Employees want their bosses to feel assured. Thus they enter into this silly and antiquated dance that should have died out last century. We live in a much more pragmatic world today. Instead, be honest; be frank. Loyalty and respect manifest themselves through action. An employee will be loyal if she is paid fairly, treated well, and given the necessary support for success. An employer should feel assured an employee is dedicated through the quality of their work. It’s that hard, folks.

Think on your own current employer-employee relationship. Do you delude yourself into thinking it’s one thing when it’s not. What sort of solution is there to the current state of affairs?

For more from Klein about Hoffman’s book, check out the full piece on Vox.

Photo credit: Borja Andreu / Shutterstock


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