Go ahead and answer first. It’s a pretty straightforward question; 5 short words strung together: “Who do you work for?” Your answer is: ____________.
Did you put the name of your boss in the blank space? Possibly you chose the name of the organization or the company itself. Fewer of you might have even put your own name in the blank space.. Well that’s not where I’m going.
Suppose you have a wonderful boss; one who supports you, praises your accomplishments and gives you constructive feedback which accelerates your learning. You love working as a member of their team and you certainly are motivated to do your best because the boss does right by you. All this is wonderful and good, but do you work for them?
What happens when the boss is promoted, goes on extended sick leave, retires or leaves the organization? The purpose you had if you work for them is gone and you’re left wondering who you are working for now even though your job description hasn’t changed whatsoever. So is working for a boss or supervisor the best answer?
Let’s look at the organization as a possibly answer to the same question, “Who do you work for?” “I work for (company name).” The person or people at the top would love nothing better than their employees see themselves as working for the company. So if you gave this as your answer those owners are feeling good that you’ve come around to thinking the way they’d like best.
Yet think about it. To some a company is a building or collection of buildings. If a virtual company I’ll concede it’s not got bricks and mortar; but it is an entity which produces goods and / or services. The company may have a culture, values and principles, an attractive logo and a code of conduct; all of which you may find personally appealing and want to uphold as you go about your work. But seriously, do you want to spend years, possibly decades feeling you work ‘for’ a company? Do so if you wish of course.
Those who said they work for themselves don’t have to be self-employed people to feel this way. Every organization has people who are in it for themselves. They take their salary and benefits and seize moments of pride in the work they do, always getting the most out of the company they can to advance themselves and get more for themselves. When they no longer feel there’s anything to ‘get’ from the company they work for they stop being as productive and leave (a good thing for the company) or become complacent (not good for the individual or the company).
The answer I personally prefer is none of the above. I hope you don’t think it smug of me to differ from you if you answered any one of the above. I’m not some mystical guru who has a never-heard-before-now answer but I do think it could be a better choice and provide lasting motivation benefitting both you and the organization you work for. So who do I work for? I work for the people who use the goods and services I produce.
So as an Employment Counsellor working in a large municipal government organization in the Greater Toronto Area here in Ontario Canada, I work for the unemployed or underemployed social assistance recipients who walk in our doors. In the past I sold clothing and shoes but I never worked for the name on the front of the store but for the people who walked in. These I assisted and knowledgeably advised which in turn led them to make educated decisions with respect to their purchases.
This isn’t semantics and hardly a big deal. In my mind it’s a critical shift in thinking that puts the consumers wants and needs paramount in my own mind and therefore affects how I go about my work on a daily basis. Anytime I am faced with a decision to make, I am guided by the principle thought, “what is in the best interest of the person before me?” That working principle based on a philosophy of knowing who I work for makes it easy to never lose focus.
Look, I love my current boss, but I’ve had others that I didn’t admire as much and I’ve worked for a company that was all about how much money they could extract from their customers and they paid their staff the bare minimum they had to. I still thrived in those environments because I never lost sight of the fact that I didn’t work for them but rather for the consumers of those services; people.
Now you don’t have to share this working philosophy to be successful and it’s not a one-size-fits-all ideal to uphold. It works for me and it might just work for you too. Imagine yourself at a future job interview and the interviewer says, “I see you worked for (name of a company)” only to hear you reply…
“Actually I never worked for (name of the company)” pause for effect… “I certainly was employed by (name of the company) but I actually worked for the people who purchased their products and services.” Will you stand out from every other applicant? Yes, and in a meaningful way that will impress upon them your priorities and your motivation.
Aside from a great interview tactic, it’s just a philosophy of service; one that works for me.