The Trouble with Employees

I hear frequently from other business owners the same refrain – “Whenever leave/sell/retire from my company, I’m never going to have employees again!!”

I regularly attend legal training on the dangers of employees. I know the myriad of ways in which employees can sue me, or steal from me, or abuse other employees, or do half a hundred horrible things to the good name in business I’ve spent more than a decade to build.

And yet, there is a topic I haven’t heard addressed before and I’ll address it here – employees can absolutely break my heart.

One thing about running an IT company is employing a lot of young people. I regularly hire folks who can remember what was on the radio the day they became legally allowed to drink. (And even saying radio dates me because they were probably listening to a podcast or something). As we all know, the human brain doesn’t even reach maturity until 25, so when I hire people who are 22, and 23 and 24, their brains have not yet even fully developed!

-> Also, note of science. There is a distinction between the brain physically developing and our ability to learn over time. When I say we fully develop at 25, I mean the brain stops physically growing. Obviously, people change the contents of their brains enormously after 25…or some don’t.

Working regularly with that population means watching a particular phase of growth repeatedly. In that age, often hired in their first or second real-world job, I am also watching them become adults. I watch them go through the same hardships. For the men, learning that the world contains multitudes and they are not at its center. For the women, learning that they deserve space in the world and that their voice matters. For both they learn how to be themselves, authentically and how to begin to tamp down that imposter voice that says “I’m not ready yet, I’m not an adult yet, I don’t know what I’m doing, but it looks like everyone else does, and I hope I get to feel like them someday!”

And in addition to watching them go through these steps, I also teach those who ask. I think the employer <-> employee relationship can be more than the exchange of time for money. It’s also the exchange of wisdom and excitement. The exchange of energy and temperament. I am old enough to know better, and still young enough to remember how it felt to be a 23-year-old lost and alone in the world. I remember the garbage not getting picked up from a house I rented and learning that garbage is a service I needed to pay someone else to do!

And for those who spend years in my company, who grow from afraid to confident and from self-centered to other-centered, the moment of their departure punches me in the stomach. And I know, I’m not a parent to my employees, I’m not a guardian, and also I love my employees. I want to protect them and help them succeed, and especially for the younger ones I know that I provide a welcoming and accepting environment that they will likely not find elsewhere.

And so each time one of them leaves, because they discover this isn’t the right career because they want to travel the world with their new fiance, because at 25 working for the same company for 5 years feels like a lifetime…I feel very sad.

I also know, to feel such sadness I also felt a lot of joy along the way. In retrospect, I remember them fondly. In fact, I’ve gotten several emails and letters over the years from employees, sometimes years later, thanking me for the mentorship and guidance I provided and those are some of my most cherished thoughts.

but the day they leave is a brutal day.

Best,

-Zac

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