Who is working for whom?

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, Dan Pink‘s new book Drive touches on something that I’ve been thinking about for many years: the role – or lack thereof – of mastery in the workplace. I’ve been going through my archives pulling together my thoughts on the subject over the years and found the following, originally posted in April 2004 under the title “Employee-Employer Relations in a Knowledge Based Economy”.

I’ve long believed that the prevelance of knowledge work in organizations today will (eventually) fundamentally shift the employee – employer relationship. In many ways, knowledge workers will come to be “self-employed” in the sense that they are working to improve themselves and to make an impact on the world at large and not just within the company they happen to be “working for” at the time.

With 401k plans allowing for retirement planning independent of a specific job or pension plan, and for various other reasons that are well documented elsewhere, knowledge workers don’t seem to be staying in the same place for their entire careers anymore. With retirement taken care of, other things today’s employees need to consider include health/life insurance, etc. A truly self-employed knowledge worker also has to worry about the business end of things, such as billing’invoicing, taxes, payroll, etc. etc.

By working “for” a company, knowledge workers are in many ways simply out-sourcing the business end of being self-employed so they can focus on the job itself.

This obviously raises some interesting questions for organizations….

And interesting questions for individuals. Many entrepreneurs have trouble with their fledgling business because they started the business to do what they love to do, not to “run a business”. Finding a company that supports your desire to learn and grow and do what you love while taking care of the business side for you is a good deal.

I don’t think it was a very practical option back in 2004, at least not a widespread one. And it may still not be a practical option for everyone. But I have hope that it is spreading more and more and that companies, as well as individuals, are recognizing the value in this kind of relationship.

How do you see your relationship with your company? With your employees? In your organization, who is working for whom?