Unreasonable Expectations (Fribble) July 25, 2000

Fribble Unreasonable Expectations

By K. Offer (
July 25, 2000

I work in a startup software development firm where about half of the staff are actual software engineers. Almost everyone who works at this company is a professional. Last week, I overheard the VP of Development exclaim to a dedicated coworker that it was "so hard to find quality workers."

But is it, really?

High-tech employers typically have very high personal expectations. They routinely push themselves to the limit, foregoing family, friends, sleep, and other activities to grow their businesses. They work long hours slavishly for the cause. That is the choice they make, and they reap both the positive and negative benefits of that decision.

But employers have a nasty habit: They tend to apply the same expectations they have for themselves to the employees who work for them. This is what I term an "unreasonable expectation."

Why is it unreasonable? Well, not all employees value work above family. Nor should they. High-tech employers are attempting to create something greater than themselves. This often takes the form of powerful companies that will generate great wealth for them. Employees, on the other hand, while assisting in generating that wealth, do not participate equally — neither in the risks, nor in the rewards. Even if stock options are granted, they are typically small and there is no guarantee that the options will ever be worth anything.

This means employees don't have the same equity stake in the business that employers do. Therefore it is reasonable to assume they will not have the same level of motivation.

Employees, like employers, also have selfish needs and desires. Most of us who work for others want to strike a balance between work and time off to enjoy family and friends, and to do those nagging household chores. We don't simply exist to benefit our employers. We work because we are trying to support our families.

In short, we work to live, not live to work.

So I am suggesting that employers and employees come down to earth and stop wishing for that perfect worker or perfect job. High-tech employers should stop whining about not being able to find people who will cheerfully work hundred-hour weeks for cheap. They should allow their staff to have time off on weekends and for vacations, even if the business is a startup. And they shouldn't expect their staff to wrap their entire existence around the companies for which they work.

Conversely, employees should realize that employers are not Santa Claus and cannot provide every benefit in the world to them. Employers are not in business to provide people with jobs. They are in business to create wealth and power for themselves.

Capitalism is, at its roots, a selfish endeavor. But it is the best mechanism humanity has come up with so far for advancing the level of prosperity in our society. So both sides, employers and employees, need to work together and learn to give and take in reasonable measure.

That starts by having reasonable expectations.