I run a business and I feel exhausted and exploited by employees

A reader writes:

I currently lead a manufacturing business that I co-founded. Because a previous related business failed in the recession, we have been in the trenches, at the coal face, behind the plough — whatever metaphor you prefer — for over a decade now. The current venture turned its first profit recently, but all this time, the owners have taken care of everyone by taking colossal personal debt and making incredible sacrifices, including working ourselves an average of 60 hours a week.

Still, we have always managed to pay our staff on time and to increase wages and benefits gradually even when the business was faring pretty badly, insulating them from our woes. We try to personally support employees and to make sure they feel secure, keep growing and that the culture stays safe, healthy, and dynamic.

We also make a deliberate effort to observe the unwritten rules of “bosshood.” We stayed silent when a crazy ex-employee was badmouthing us around town. We ignore the occasional unfair online review, take on the feedback, and hope that the other reviews will balance out the story. We settle final pay cheerfully and promptly for employees who have delivered no value we can detect. We bend over backwards to place star employees we cannot keep. In short, the company aims to keep the moral high ground, no matter what.

But frankly, we feel exhausted and exploited. We know that employees far outnumber employers in the world, so our side of the story is seldom told. So we don’t expect kudos. But how about mere professionalism and reciprocal human decency?

It seems to us that the culture fails to acknowledge employees can be psychotic bullies who victimize employers. Who decided that the employee is always right? Don’t both sides have responsibility to be fair, sane, and cordial? Where does my responsibility as a “good” employer start and end? Please help us make sense of this.

Of course both sides have a responsibility to be fair, sane, and cordial. And I’d bet that you’re getting that from a majority of your employees, and it’s only a small number who don’t hold up their side of the bargain. If that’s not the case, then there’s something you need to correct in your hiring practices, or there are problems in your workplace that you’re not seeing.

Ultimately, though, you’re treating people well not out of pure altruism but because it’s the right thing to do and because it’s better for your business in the long-term.

The things you name like staying silent when a former employee is badmouthing you, ignoring the occasional unfair online review, and settling up on pay promptly for employees who haven’t contributed much — those things are in your best interest. You don’t just do them to be nice. You do them because it makes business sense. You don’t (usually) strike back when a former employee is badmouthing you because that would make you look petty and less credible. You ignore an occasional bad review because responding looks defensive and weird. And you settle up quickly on pay because you’re legally required to, no matter what you think of a person’s work product. These are all things that benefit you; they’re not favors to anyone.

The same thing goes for things like increasing wages (keeps you competitive and lets you attract and retain good employees, which your business needs) and treating people well (same).

It is frustrating that sometimes as the employer you have to take the high road. Sometimes you will feel tempted to explain to your employee that their coworker who’s complaining she was treated unfairly did horrible work, was warned repeatedly, and was given 10 different chances before you finally let her go. I’ve been there — I get it. But again, it’s in your best interests in the long run not to be an employer who airs people’s private work situations. Whatever you gain in momentary satisfaction from telling your side of the story, you’ll lose in long-term trust and respect from the people you tell it to, and that in term will impact your ability to manage people effectively, hire and retain good people, and generally get the results you need.

But the most important thing is this: as an employer, power is stacked heavily in your favor. You control people’s paychecks. You influence their professional advancement. You even have influence over what jobs they can get when they leave you because you control their references. The amount of power you have versus the amount of power an individual employee has is huge. So even if you feel an employee is treating you poorly, you are not being exploited. You can’t be exploited when you have most of the power.

That power advantage also comes with different responsibilities. Because of the power differential, it makes sense that you’re held to a different and higher bar.

It sounds like you’re exhausted — who wouldn’t be after a decade of sacrificing yourself to keep a business running? That’s tremendously hard work, and it’s legitimately exhausting. But it also sounds like your exhaustion is coming out as frustration at things that are realities of running a business and employing humans.

It sounds, too, like you feel unappreciated, and I get that — but you own the business. Your rewards are supposed to be greater than appreciation, and if they’re not, it could be time to rethink what you’re doing. Meanwhile, though, if lack of appreciation is mixing with exhaustion … well, that’s going to magnify the exhaustion tenfold. I’m tired just thinking about it.

So you’re exhausted, feeling unappreciated, emotionally drained, maybe financially drained too. You’re at very high risk of burn-out, if you’re not burned out already. Normally I’d tell someone in that position to take a real vacation — ideally at least two weeks where you truly disconnect — but that might not even feel like an option for you if you have to be there to run things. Still, though, I’d try hard to make it happen. You need time where you can step back from the day-to-day pressures of your work and get to be the non-work version of you for a sustained period of time. This might all feel very different if you can do that.

{ 572 comments… read them below }

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’ve made a bunch of replies to this their own stand-alone comments below since I didn’t want the first 10 comments on this post to be discussion of rules.

  1. Mary*

    I also had the words BURN OUT! running through my head as I read your letter, OP. Maybe running a business isn’t the right place for you right now? Can you make space to step back and honestly assess where you are and what you’re getting out of it?

    1. Pilcrow*

      Yeah, when everything bothers you (like meeting legal requirements on last pay owed), that’s a time to take a step back.

      Funny related example: When listening to Pandora, I thumbed down 4 songs in a row.* Pandora pops up with a message along the lines of “You seem annoyed. Maybe you should take a break from this channel.” I laughed… and changed the channel.

      * I really didn’t like those 4 songs, btw, it wasn’t all annoyance. :)

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Wow, that’s kind of brilliant of Pandora though. I have recently started trying to be aware of the fact that sometimes my not enjoying entertainment is more to do with my mood than with the quality of the entertainment, it’s kind of cool that they would point that out to people (even if it wasn’t really accurate in your case!).

        1. Ella*

          It stands for “bitch eating crackers” and it’s essentially when you get so fed up/angry/annoyed with a person that everything they do seems annoying to you, even something as innocuous as eating crackers.

          1. Short Time Lurker Komo*

            Thank you for explaining that! I know the feeling, just not quite like that!

          2. boo bot*

            I originally saw this as: “She thinks she’s so great, look at that bitch, eating crackers over there like she owns the place!”

            Which shortens to, Bitch Eating Crackers. /etymology

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              I first heard it as “look st that bitch over there all eating crackers and shit…!”

        2. Ms. Guacamole*

          I definitely thought “bacon, egg, and cheese” and was confused as to why that would have a negative connotation.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            LOL that was my breakfast this morning. I was out doing stuff and suddenly starving… oh look Mc Donalds!

          2. Eillah*

            I don’t want to live in a world where bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches EVER have a negative connotation.

      1. LetterWriter*

        I appreciate the feedback on burnout and balance. I will also keep an eye out for when I have a BEC reaction in the future to understand where my own expectations may be unreasonable.

        1. OnceUponATime*

          Negative reviews, verbal or written, give you legitimacy. Manipulating customers and astroturfing will both give you consistent stellar reviews, but smart people won’t do business with you, because they KNOW – there’s always someone who doesn’t like what you do or have, no matter how good you or your product are. If no one says anything, it’s because you’re working hard to suppress their opinions, and that’s not a good sign. It means you’re putting your time in image management and dishonesty, and not into your product. You are putting your time into your product.

          Also, when your kudos say that your product worked well in X situation, or has been in use for 14 years without a problem, and your criticisms say that everyone in your office is horrible and you don’t like furry animals, readers also know that smart people like you, and stupid people don’t. The criticisms actually amplify the praise. When someone crazy bad-mouths you, and you act sane, everyone knows you’re sane. They probably assumed it before, but now they KNOW.

          So keep up the good work!

          1. selena81*

            There is nothing in itself wrong with the urge to want to explain your side of the story when you feel falsely accused. No part of the good-employer-experience calls for you to be a doormat and the customer is /not/ always right.

            But unfortunately in the long run that runs a high risk of coming across as someone who suppresses criticism with all their capitalistic powers, regardless of your actual lack of Big Money.
            You need to trust that other customers/employees will step up for you instead: drowning the negative reviews between positive ones (you can nudge this a bit by trying to get everyone to leave reviews instead of just those whose have an ax to grind), telling good stories of the time they worked with you, etc.
            And as OneUponAtime says: the occasional bad review really just adds to the legitimacy of your business, once you’re past a certain number of customers a 100% rating starts looking suspicious.

    1. Emily K*

      I raised an eyebrow at, “Who decided the employee is always right?”

      As Alison points out, the employer is holding nearly all the cards in an employment arrangement. I’ve never encountered the idea that employees are always right – far more commonly, it’s the employer who is always “right” because the employer makes the rules, so right is what they say it is.

      1. Le Sigh*

        Yeah, I’m not quite sure what the OP was referring to with that line, but if it’s in reference to people badmouthing them, I think they misunderstand something here. Not responding isn’t about the employee being right or people assuming they’re right — it’s that engaging in (real or perceived) petty squabbles, esp. when there’s a clear power differential, doesn’t do the business any favors. Most of the time, barring something really serious like a libelous claim, businesses comes out looking better if they just stay above the fray.

        When I look at online reviews for an airbnb or hotel, a few bad or mixed reviews might not turn me off (depending on what the reviewers says). And if the host responds reasonably and esp. if the claims seem a little extra, I take that into account. But I’ve seen hosts/management pick fights with every person who reviews them or respond in such an over-the-top manner I just move on.

        1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          “engaging in (real or perceived) petty squabbles, esp. when there’s a clear power differential, doesn’t do the business any favors”

          This is very well stated.

        2. MOAS*

          Slightly OT but I saw one review for a business, and the owner said “if you have a problem with our rules, take it up with the mayor and the city…perhaps this ist he last place you should be visiting.”

          Yeah I don’t think taht biz will last long lol,

          1. Traffic_Spiral*

            Well, if it’s a regulation (all weed sold in sealed bags in WA so you can’t smell it first, IDs at the liquor store, waiting periods at the gun store…) I can see them being like “look, we really can’t do anything about that.”

          2. TPS Cover Sheet*

            Yeah, well I was looking at some cheap digs to stay at near my head office in London. Found an old pub that had a hostel. Tripadvisor had a lot of one star ratings – people complaining the pub didn’t serve alcohol after 11. Yes, like there is a licencing certificate on the wall which reads certain things you kind of need to follow if you want to stay in business…

            1. MsSolo*

              One of my OH’s favourite hobbies is reading the negative reviews for objectively good things. You know, the people who complain the 3 michelin star restaurant didn’t have a children’s menu, that the short-hop ferry didn’t have a swimming pool or jazz bar like a cruise liner they once went on for a two week trip around the Med did, or that the dragon in Eragon “is naked throughout” (that was genuinely in the user-submitted parents’ guide on IMDb, but appears to have been removed now, which makes me sad).

        3. Gatomon*

          Exactly, responding, especially if it’s an argument or dispute of the review, just looks bad. I think most people understand that negative reviewers are more motivated to post a review than positive reviewers, so I usually don’t get concerned unless the reviews are very detailed or there’s an overwhelming number of them.

          Slight tangent, but there’s a local property management company in my town that is involved in a review battle online. At first they were responding and arguing with all the negative reviews. Now they seem to have switched tactics to posting/buying false reviews – most reviews are 1 or 2 stars, but after 2 or 3 of those there’s always a 5 star glowing review listed that mentions some employee by name.

        4. Mookie*

          Right. It’s good that the OP doesn’t literally take such bait, but it sounds like psychologically they’re still wasting mental and emotional energy on that bait. When you’re already overworked, it’s not personally or professionally healthy to do so. You need to reserve that fire for the things that will substantively improve your business, rather than stage manage very comparatively unimportant stuff like this. It’s a disservice all round.

      2. Jerk Store*

        Definitely. A good example of this is that a lot of people quit their jobs because they don’t like their boss. Most of us have been there at some point. But you can’t really say “I quit that job because the boss was horrible” in a job interview because the interviewer has no way of knowing from the outside if that’s objective or not.

      3. General Ginger*

        I have never in my life encountered the idea of “the employee is always right”; in fact, it’s always been the exact opposite.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Right?

          I think I might be doing the running my own business thing incorrectly…

          Sixty hours a week is a lot and bad mouthing, incompetent, etc etc employees are kinda par for the course from time to time. I just accept that those things are part and parcel of not having to put up with corporate crap.

          Oh and to my own benefit, especially the part about having the power and being “right” because I said so, even if objectively I’m not.

          IDK about OP’s staff but if she does as she says she does with pay and so on I’m sure they appreciate her. But…like Alison said, OP’s not doing them a favor.

          Decent pay, benefits, PTO et al. should be standard and do not, nor should they require thanks or special recognition. They are compensation for work. Employee trades their labor for money. Employer pays money for labor. Full stop.

          OP treat people they way you would like an employer to treat you. They will appreciate it even if they don’t say it. The outliers? That’s just it…they are outliers and beneath notice (caveat: safety issues excepted). Stop reading online reviews. Take a SM break. Figure out a way to get a vacation. Take said vacation…unplugged.

          1. sam*

            This isn’t directed at OP (or you, RU) specifically, but as a more general comment regarding the cost of doing business. I’ve seen it pop up in a few places particularly since the minimum wage here in NY went up – employers complaining that they can no longer afford to run their businesses because they can’t pay workers and the like.

            I have said this before (on here and elsewhere), that if your business plan doesn’t include a plan to pay your workers a living wage, you don’t have a business plan, you have a pipe dream.

            Again – this isn’t directed at the OP, because it sounds like they really are trying to make the right moves, and often a startup business will operate in the red for a while before it gets to black, but things like wages and benefits need to be seen as a fundamental cost of doing business, not an afterthought, and for TOO MANY employers, they are seen as burdensome afterthoughts.

            1. MM*

              I was feeling something similar, but a little more directed at OP–the part about making huge personal sacrifices. If I were OP’s friend to whom she was venting, I would really want to ask her, “On whose altar?” I understand that the business employs people and in that sense they benefit from its existence, but presumably the owners have their own business because they wanted to go into business for themselves; I’m not saying it’s not hard, but I doubt the community drew lots and said “well someone has to [start and run Manufacturing Business] and it turns out it’s you.” You don’t have to have your own business if you don’t want to! Being your own boss is a privilege in many respects (I specifically am not using privilege in the SJ sense here–not that it can’t apply, I just want to be clear I’m not going in that direction). Like RUKiddingMe said, the difficulties are part of a trade-off made for the opportunity to have autonomy, control, and profits as distinct from wages (eventually). I wonder if OP is really more frustrated with how long it’s taken to turn a profit and a sense of being trapped by sunk costs than she is by employees. I can imagine how year after year of hard graft and accumulating debt–which presumably was not the initial plan or expectation–could start to make every raise, severance payout, and so forth feel like an affront. (“Insulating them from our woes,” and all.) A vacation is definitely in order, but maybe OP should think hard about whether she wants to keep doing this or just accept the sunk costs and call it. If not, maybe it would help to recontextualize the sacrifices made as having been made to her own goals, not to her employees.

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                The “insulating from our woes” thing.

                There is zero reason to dump that on the employees … and it could backfire if they think their jobs are going to disappear.

                I mean if closing down is going to happen, tell people as sion as you can. Give them as much time as possible to find something else.

                But if it’s just the normal business growing pains…do not whine to your staff. They *should* be insulated. These are not their problems to think about, at all.

              2. selena81*

                the phrase ‘you are running a business not a charity’ comes to mind

                i’m neither a communist nor a capitalist and my thoughts about business-owners are mixed:
                It’s good that someone is willing to take on those risks and this entitles them to possible rewards while also paying taxes to the society that provides basic accommodations (roads, education, medical care, etc) that made their enterprise possible.
                As a society we should not put /unnecessary/ obstacles (such as messy and unclear rules) in their way, but we should enforce a level playing field where they all need to jump through /necessary/ hoops (minimum wage, safety, etc)

            2. Gatomon*

              I agree wholeheartedly. If the business isn’t profitable paying a competitive, liveable wage to its employees, it should technically be closed. I know that’s not an easy thought for the owners or the employees of any business, but… that is how capitalism is supposed to work.

              In this case it seems like the owners may have fallen victim to the sunk cost fallacy, or even escalation of commitment to keep things rolling. These things can have costs beyond money.

            3. RUKiddingMe*

              And plan that wages will go up. I’m in Washington where the min wage goes up every January, do it’s always just been default that we’re going to raise wages every year even though we psy well o er minimum anyway. Employers should never think of pay/benefits as a fixed cost that will never change.

          2. General Ginger*

            I feel like at the very least, OP is really emotionally invested, which is understandable, it’s OP’s business — but they cannot expect their employees to be anywhere near as emotionally invested, because, again, it’s OP’s business.

      4. I Need Coffee*

        I understand. The employer is not always holding all of the cards any longer. Many of the laws instituted by government to protect those in need have had the side effect of allowing the more unscrupulous to “play the game” when an employer might otherwise terminate the employee. That is where the employer can start to feel exploited.

        1. Snark*

          That’s still a minority of cases, and there still needs to be some emotional distance from it.

        2. Natalie*

          Can you be more specific? I’m not aware of any laws that prevent people from terminating crappy employees.

        3. Anonymeece*

          I think I get where they were coming from too. At my job, HR is so afraid of lawsuits, that even when we have pretty clear-cut cases of the employee not doing their job, HR just puts the onus on the manager to coach them. I’m not against coaching employees who can turn themselves around, but a lot of them are repeat offenders and not likely to change – especially since they know they can get away with it and HR will just continue to tell managers to “coach” them more.

          (As an example: we had an employee repeatedly not showing up to work and not calling in. When asked why they didn’t show up, they said they had unreliable transportation – the bus. When asked why they couldn’t call in, they didn’t really have a good answer. HR told us they were afraid it was a discrimination lawsuit because the person couldn’t afford a car (?!?) and told us to coach them more.)

          1. Kathryn T.*

            That had nothing to do with the employees having power, though. That’s the employer using their power unwisely.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              This. It’s corporate fear not the law. No one wants to be sued. Even if it’s a frivolous suit with no teeth. Because it will involve time and expense hence the overreaction by corp. HRs.

              Employees really have no power save actual discrimination, sexual harassment <—not always— situations. Employers can still terminate, on the spot because they don't like the way you styled your hair this morning and the employee has no real recourse.

              1. Anonymeece*

                I mean, I agree. But I’m thinking that maybe that’s where this thought process comes from? Because it can get frustrating as a manager when you’re trying to do a good job, and you’re in this bind that it feels like the employees get the benefit of the doubt (“Just coach them more!”) while the manager, who may feel like the employer, could get canned because of bad performance… based on the employee who you can’t fire.

                That said, if this person is the founder of the business, they’re presumably making the rules, so … I guess I can understand the sentiment in general, but it does feel a bit odd to hear it from someone not in middle management land.

                1. Dust Bunny*

                  That’s not employees holding too many cards, though: That’s you (the manager) having lousy superiors.

            1. Anonymeece*

              Right, except that when the employee realizes that the manager doesn’t have any real power and that HR will basically let them slide on everything but sexual harassment/running naked through the halls, they can feel empowered to not do their job.

              Like I said, I understand the sentiment. I don’t agree with it, because the employer does still hold the cards – you can bet HR wouldn’t be coaching anyone if lay-offs were on the table – but I do sort of understand how frustrating it can be.

            2. Jedi Squirrel*

              And this is also a failure of management from the top level that hires (and is supposed to manage) HR.

          2. Holly*

            That’s actually HR screwing over the *employer* because a) reeaaally bad advice, and b) keeping on a poor employee harms OTHER employees and the employer, since it hurts employee morale all around and they are losing money by losing productivity for this person. How is this in the benefit of employees as a whole??

            1. NW Mossy*

              THIS.

              There’s always a risk that a terminated employee will sue and/or invoke a regulatory body to investigate their claims. Dealing with those situations often consumes more time and expense than employers want to put in, especially when they know that they acted ethically and that the claims are without merit.

              But you know what else is time-consuming and expensive? Trying to get work done through the efforts of an employee that’s underperforming. It’s less obvious because it doesn’t show up as an explicit expense in the way legal fees and settlements do, but it’s there and it’s real. And over time, the cumulative effect of carrying an underperforming employee can vastly outstrip the cost of a fast-but-fair termination accompanied by a small severance.

              My husband articulated it well to me the other day – “the settlement is cheaper than a year’s worth of mistakes.”

        4. Holly*

          I’m interested to hear where you’re coming from on this, since it doesn’t sound like OP’s employees are unionized (and any such contract would be collectively bargained with the employer side), so I’m not sure what laws would restrict an employer from terminating a poor employee.

        5. MOAS*

          I Need Coffee —
          While I’m glad there are laws, there’s always a few who take advantage and are unscrupulous.

          We had 2 such employees that we weren’t able to fire until months and months of write ups and documentation. Even though we had every reason and right to let them go ASAP. Sadly, a lot of it was dirty politics…upper mgmt undermining and undercutting middle mgmt who had to deal with the bad employees.

          Employee 1 screamed at his manager & supervisor on a regular basis. Alienated 90% of the office, his clients hated him and frequently demanded to not work with him. Yet we had to keep him on, and have conversations and document him. He was eventually let go after 7 months of his behavior.

          We had another employee who wanted a promotion, was told clearly what was needed for the promotion, didn’t obtain what was needed, and when their direct manager denied htem the promotion, went above their head to their boss. E2 frequently called out, screamed at their manager/supervisor on teh floor. After they were let go, they wrote a glassdoor review accusing all managers of being discriminatory, having sad pathetic lives, joking too much, and insinuating someone earned their position the “wrong” way.

          So, my point is that it was a huge shock to me that it could be THIS hard to fire someone. but a lot of it was “we don’t want to get sued.” which was maddening.

          With all that, I know these were just 2 people, out of dozens and dozens. I don’t blame the laws as they’re there to protect us

          1. kt*

            This sounds like some of the other comments above, though — the company/HR didn’t want to fire them not because of any particular law but because of their perception that they might get sued. But then the reality is that there aren’t any laws that allow that, it’s just a perception, and what E2 actually could do is write something mean on the internet.

            It’s hard when HR/companies don’t know the actual stats about how many companies are sued for wrongful termination or discrimination, and so make bad judgements based on their feelings instead…

          2. Holly*

            This doesn’t sound like an employee taking advantage of laws, it sounds like an employee being an unprofessional jerk, which happens from time to time. I can’t pinpoint any law that allowed that employee to behave that way. It’s in the employer’s interest to have rock solid documentation before firing someone, but at the end of the day, people can sue for all sorts of reasons and it’s part of the cost of doing business to defend against frivolous lawsuits.

            1. MOAS*

              I totally agree with your last sentence. I wish the fear of lawsuit wasn’t so pervasive that it would involve letting these two people stay way longer than they should have

        6. Mookie*

          It’s not exploitative or illegal for former employees to gripe about their old employers and labor law was never meant to serve to protect anyone’s reputation. The cost of hiring is that you won’t match employee expectations every hire and the cost of doing business is that some people won’t like what you do or how you do it. The law isn’t the cudgel here at all, unless the OP is leaving something out. People who are shit at their jobs have a right to seek employment; you’re never going to avoid them altogether and you don’t get to skirt the rules because the employee is bad at what you hired them for or has a lousy personality. The rules are the same for everyone, except the employee always has more power and money.

      5. Sloan Kittering*

        I think the issue is that owning a business is high risk high reward, and if you’re not getting any money it really *is* a losing proposition. Maybe this business isn’t working out. Because if you *were* making money hand over fist, you’d be the one making all that profit, not the employees who traded that for security in the form of steady but lower paychecks.

        1. boo bot*

          Yeah, I think this is important, along with the corollary (inverse? converse?) that, while the employees are not taking the risk (and are getting the security of a paycheck while the owner doesn’t) the employees are also not going to benefit if/when the business takes off.

          I’ve seen sometimes with small or new businesses (I’m not saying this necessarily applies to the OP) a frustration from the owner that the employees don’t show a deep investment in the overall success in the business, and just seem to be showing up to do a job and get a paycheck. The thing is, the employees don’t show deep investment because they’re *literally* not invested – they don’t get a payoff when the business succeeds, and the paycheck they get for doing their job is all they’re ever going to get. If they’re doing their job well, they’re fulfilling their responsibility as an employee.

          1. Snark*

            Yeah, unless you’re open to employee ownership or a dividend system or something – if you sold the business tomorrow, and your employees would not realize a personal gain from that sale – then you reaaaalllly don’t get to bitch that they’re just in it for the steady paycheck and want raises.

            1. Gatomon*

              Precisely! At most places, if the company is sold or bought out the employees are lucky if they get to keep their jobs.

            2. UKDancer*

              Agreed. If you want real investment you need to give your employees a stake in the company. So following the model used by John Lewis of a partnership model gives its employees a strong incentive to make the company a success (although it doesn’t guarantee it). Likewise a small cheese company in Yorkshire was bought out by its workers who now own the company and are apparently doing very well.

              Otherwise you have to give people significant incentives and support to get loyalty and not just do the minimum legally required. If you look at some of the old Quaker chocolate companies in the UK (Cadbury, Rowntree etc) you’ll see a strong record of incentives (worker housing, educational offerings etc), generating a lot of employee loyalty and pride. My mother briefly worked for Rowntree and said the level of employee pride in working for them was off the charts.

              Nowadays the incentives tend more to be around things like flexible working, good annual leave and employee pension contributions etc.

            3. selena81*

              Exactly: their income won’t double if the company doubles in size, so they don’t have any reason to care beyond ‘not going bankrupt’.
              If you want them more involved you should offer stocks/bonuses (but some will flat-out refuse and ask for a raise instead, either because they don’t trust your business-sense specifically or because they’ve been burned by start-ups before)

          2. Emily K*

            I really think more businesses should offer performance-based incentives to even their front-line, minimum wage staff. They probably are imagining these incentives coming out of/eating into their profit, but done properly, they should grow the profit enough to pay for itself.

            I worked at a Pizza PrimitiveStructure in high school that had a stack of vouchers for a free 2-liter that we could give to disgruntled customers whose order had been messed up, to use on a future order. In practice, on the night and weekend shifts we also used them to give free 2-liters on the spot to any customer who was becoming too difficult for us to want to deal with by ringing it up with a voucher. We all made minimum wage; our primary interest was in getting through the shift with as little stress and effort on our own parts as possible, not to maximize the profit during the shift. The incentives in place meant we would give away product in order to make our shifts easier instead of looking for the most cost-effective resolution to a customer complaint. But if there had been some kind of like, extra 50 cents an hour bonus for working a shift that exceeded profit targets, that would have changed everything.

            1. selena81*

              pay peanuts -> get monkeys

              it baffles me when people seem to honestly believe that ‘feeling respected and appreciated by means of higher pay when you go above and beyond’ is a secret super-power only bestowed to the mega-rich.

        2. Mookie*

          Agreed. It’s not “exploitative” just because you’re failing at it (not suggesting the OP is) or not enjoying it. People the world over also don’t like what they do. It really sounds like the OP is having a tough go of it, but that doesn’t make them a victim and I think it would be mentally fortifying for the OP and her colleagues to remember that they, too, can always leave. Sometimes, whether you’re working for you or somebody else, that’s enough to get you through one of these bad patches.

      6. designbot*

        When I heard that, my first thought was that the OP does not know where their power lies or understand how to wield it effectively. You’re taking losses to give all employees raises every year even when your business is on really hard times, but at the same time feel taken advantage of by employees not pulling their weight? Well maybe only go the extra mile for those who do pull their weight, or those who go the extra mile for you. Also you have the power to fire them! If it is not working for you, you can terminate the relationship and it sounds like maybe you should be a little quicker to. You set the ground rules at your shop, and you can change them if they’re not working. You control their references, and you should be very honest with regards to those. Remind yourself where *your* power is and figure out ways you can wield it to get what you need out of this.

      7. CatMom*

        I mean I do get it, though my reaction to the sentiment is the same as Allison’s. My parents run a small business and they’ve had some REALLY malicious reactions to reasonable firings (including genuinely unfounded accusations of discrimination) and each one was very demoralizing for them because they do work hard to treat their employees well, not only because it’s in the business’ best interest but also because they care. And to be called names and stereotypes and to have assertions spread that can really damage your reputation is very hurtful in general, and especially more so when you kind of *are* your business, and you have personal relationships with all your employees. So the frustration is understandable, to me.

        However, I’ve said more or less the same thing to them that Allison says to the OP. You’re a human and you have feelings but part of being The Boss is keeping the personal out of business – something that’s way harder to do than most people realize!

      8. LetterWriter*

        This is a helpful wake-up call, the idea that I may have more power than I perceive, even when I am battling wars others may not see. But conversely, employees, especially these days, have lots of power, Twitter being the first, that they sometimes misuse. Also, there’s something off when people refer to every business as if it’s a huge multinational, billion-dollar company ….

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          You’re being very receptive and thoughtful here which is very good, but I think you’re still off base on some key things. Employees definitely don’t have “lots” of power. I don’t know where that line of thought is coming from.

          Twitter is not power. There are some powerful people on twitter sure and a famous person with millions of followers came out and criticized your business then I guess sure that could be bad. But a random ex-employee ranting about you on Twitter is not likely to gain traction. Most people complaining about things on Twitter are basically just shouting into the void.

        2. Observer*

          Sure, you’re not a mega-firm with gazillions of dollars and squads of lawyers. But you still have waaaay more power than your employees.

          Also, as noted, Twitter is nowhere near as powerful as they would like you to think. Everything people have been telling you about the way reviews pan out when people give you unfair bad reviews is also true about twitter.

        3. Mookie*

          If you’re based in the US, “small business” is definitely perceived as a category distinct from corporate. It’s a code phrase with a lot of baggage, politically and socially, and its reason for being is because people who talk and think for a living needed the language to distinguish businesses like yours from larger outfits. Nobody conflates the two, and this is especially true of federal labor laws. You are recognized, de facto and de jure, everywhere as a special category.

          1. selena81*

            True that the law makes a lot of distinctions wrt stuff like taxes and regulations and such. Which has f.e. spawned initiatives where small business owners demanded the same kind of tax-breaks as Google and Starbucks.

            But i also don’t want to discount LW’s experiences (perceived or real) about being chucked in with ‘big unfeeling greedy corporations’ by anyone who has a score to settle.
            My view is that yes, some people honestly believe in ‘boss is always wrong’ and may find a willing echo-chamber in places like twitter.

    2. smoke tree*

      It sounds to me like this LW just feels like all their hard work is not noticed or appreciated by anyone, which is kind of the natural consequence of being the boss. You can’t expect that kind of emotional reassurance from people working for you. Maybe it would help to find other indicators that the business is doing well.

      1. DerJungerLudendorff*

        It doesn’t sound like the business is doing well though. They’ve been operating at a loss or barely breaking even for an entire decade now, and the OP is apparently pretty deep in debt.

        Which is almost certainly a big part of why they seem so burned out now.

  2. ArtK*

    I’d like to understand what behaviors the LW wants to see in their employees so that the LW doesn’t feel exploited. What are the behaviors that are making them feel exploited? They cite some bad behavior but I don’t think that should rise to the level of exploitation.

    Probably unfair to the LW, but without specifics, I get whiffs of the other side of a lot of posts/comments that we get: “My boss wants me to grovel in gratitude because I have a job.”

    1. ArtK*

      It may simply be that the LW and the other founders haven’t internalized the idea that nobody is going to be as dedicated to the company as they are.

      1. londonedit*

        This is what I was thinking. Of course if you own the business or you’re very high up in the organisation and you’re extremely invested in the company – with time or money or sacrifice or whatever – then you’re going to give it your all, all the time. Most of your employees are going to have different priorities – their own lives, their own work/life balance, their own career goals. You can’t force them to care as much about the business as you do, and that doesn’t mean they’re ‘not adding value’ or that they don’t care at all. It’s just that their main focus isn’t on keeping the business going, it’s about doing their job and earning a wage and going home and living their lives.

        1. Natalie*

          Nor, really, does it make any sense for them to be as invested. If the business is successful and earns a significant amount, or is sold to a competitor, the LW is entitled to some of those profits as an owner. The employees aren’t.

          A couple of jobs ago, our founder controlled the majority of the stock, and also served as the CEO for a very respectable salary. Shortly after I started, he sold the business to a competitor. Since they had just bought it for the IP and the accounts, and were located halfway across the country, the buyer shuttered it and everyone (myself included) was laid off. Through the entire interminable wind-down/layoff process, he seemed truly confused that the employees weren’t as excited about this amazing deal. The fact that none of them had received five million dollars somehow never occurred to him.

          1. Alexander Graham Yell*

            Ooof. My old CEO announced that my current company bought us on LinkedIn and said something about how this acquisition is great news for everybody at both companies, completely ignoring that half the staff was left without a job. Like, no. No, it’s *not* great for everybody.

            1. Mary*

              I worked at a university which did that—which means the message had been through multiple professional comma people and committees! “We’re sorry some of you are going to lose your job but the upside is that it’ll leabe the institution in much better shape” is not a good message that demonstrates you recognise the impact of this change on the staff who’ll be leaving OR their colleagues who’re left behind.

                1. KayEss*

                  Having been a professional comms person in a university setting, we were very frequently relegated to being comma people. Upper administration enforced us sending out the messages exactly as they composed them, lies and all, and then wondered why morale was in the toilet and no one trusted them.

      2. Grace*

        Mmhm. This reminds me (albeit not as extreme) of the LW who offered all sorts of unasked-for benefits to employees and then felt betrayed when they didn’t seem as grateful as LW had hoped. (Search for “am I too generous” for original and update.)

        OP certainly isn’t that bad, but I can see how a slippery slope could lead from one to the other, in terms of the mindset of “I do my best, why isn’t it reciprocated?” Employees just don’t care as much as employers. Sometimes that manifests in prioritising themselves over the company, and sometimes that manifests in behaviour that is actually pretty bad, like the badmouthing.

        There’s a paragraph in the update that I referenced – “Despite my good intentions, employees just don’t care about me or the business I worked so hard to establish. I guess it’s only natural for humans to think of themselves and do only what is in their own best interests. I’m sick of being nice to people then have the same individuals back stab me or complain about me unfairly. It’s not worth the stress.” Don’t let yourself get to that level of bitterness, OP, no matter how unappreciated you feel. Alison’s advice to that LW might resonate with you as well.

        1. fposte*

          I was thinking of that one. I think the point of that OP’s first sentence, without the bitterness, is a fair one: employees are not going to feel attached to the business the way an owner does and may not be that attached to their boss. What’s important is to accept that and not consider it a flaw in your employees, because that’s going to set you up for disappointment.

          I get that it’s tough, and that when you’ve made personal sacrifices for people who work for you you can long for some appreciation above the standard. But we’re not donating kidneys here; we’re providing our workers with reasonable pay and work hours, and the fact that we’re in a position where that’s hard on us to do doesn’t change those things being reasonable for staff to expect. They really shouldn’t have to fulsomely thank their bosses for raises or time off, no matter what had to happen to get them.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            “…fulsomely …”

            You know when you want a specific word and it just won’t come to you? Yup this is the word I was looking for earlier. Thank you!

          2. boo bot*

            I agree with you, fposte, and I think there’s even another layer, which is, your employees may well care about you! And care about your business! And appreciate you for being a great boss! And, they’re still going to think of themselves and do what’s in their own best interest. And they *should.*

            Like so many things in life, this is only a zero-sum game if you make it one.

        2. Public Sector Manager*

          Definitely agree with this!

          I think the OP is looking at this from the perspective of “had we been a terrible company with terrible bosses, we would have withheld raises, we would have dumped on our employees, and we would have turned a profit a couple of years ago. But rather than do that, we treated people fairly and they aren’t appreciative enough.”

          There should be zero expectation of gratitude for paying people an agreed upon salary with agreed upon benefits on an agreed upon recurring basis.

          OP can be a terrible owner or a great owner, but shouldn’t anticipate any thank you’s for paying people what they are worth.

          1. Manon*

            Agreed. OP said in the letter that they aren’t expecting kudos, but everything they said makes it sound like they want praise for not being terrible and for doing basic things like paying people on time.

          2. Parenthetically*

            This is SPOT ON.

            I was just having a conversation with a friend yesterday about how it can feel extra tough being a business owner with ethical standards who has to compete against businesses run by profit-obsessed sadists. You’re trying to do the right thing and take care of your employees, knowing you could make WAY more profit by cutting corners and being a jerk to people, but hemmed in by your own sense of decency. It CAN feel really unfair that some dickhead with no moral compass whatsoever is taking his third vacation of the year and you haven’t had a proper day off in years because you’re trying to do the right thing.

            I’ll just add to the chorus of “BURNOUT” that’s happening. Please, OP, do whatever you can to get a real vacation.

            1. Alexander Graham Yell*

              And unfortunately, it seems like when people hit burnout level, instead of realizing that they should be angry that they’re benchmarking themselves against people who don’t hold themselves to higher ethical standards, the frustration moves to the employees as the barrier to profit. But the thing is, the employer themselves is the barrier, by deciding to operate the way they were.

              OP, you could have made different choices, but you set your business up the way you wanted to. It sounds like you’re stressed and I’m just gonna echo the comments suggesting a vacation because I think you want to go back to being the boss who set things up fairly for their employees and held themselves to a standard higher than “profit at all costs”.

              1. Parenthetically*

                instead of realizing that they should be angry that they’re benchmarking themselves against people who don’t hold themselves to higher ethical standards, the frustration moves to the employees as the barrier to profit.

                Hell yes! Quoted for truth!

        3. Pilcrow*

          On a similar vein, there was a letter from a boss that really went to bat for an employee’s maternity leave and new mother benefits and was put out when the employee didn’t use them.

          1. Pilcrow*

            Found it. Search for “I’m frustrated that my employee didn’t want the post-baby flexibility I arranged for her” from April 2018.

            An excerpt: “I’m disappointed I stuck my neck out and went to bat for her, only for her to turn around and not use any of the help and perks I got for her.”

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              Yes. OP set things up the way she would have wanted them but the employee didn’t ask for any of it. OP never discussed the employees needs/desires beforehand AIR.

      3. BRR*

        That’s a tough question the owners are going to have to answer. I get they had to sacrifice more but they also are likely reaping more reward if the business is successful. This is why I have zero desire to be self-employed or own my own business.

        1. MK*

          I think this might this issue, though: it doesn’t sound as if the business isn’t very successful, if they only after ten years made a profit, perhaps not substantial. But that’s really not their employees’ fault.

      4. ragazza*

        THIS. Most people work because they have to, not because they feel passion for the business.

        1. EPLawyer*

          It’s not a “family.” They don’t owe you anything for their jobs except showing up and doing the work they were hired to do in a reasonably professional way. If you expecting huge thanks because you raised their wages, you are going to be waiting a long time. They are exploiting you. They are behaving as employees should. They do their job, you do yours, everyone benefits.

          You show your gratitude by paying them a competitive wage. They show theirs by showing up for work. Nothing more.

          1. Jamie*

            Due to previous toxic situations the word the scariest word in the workplace for me is “family.”

            1. Grace*

              There was a grad scheme I was looking at (I’m graduating in a few weeks) that said something about being a family. Red flag #1. In the chat at a virtual job fair, the recruiter said that they work hard and play hard. Red flag #2.

              After a bit of extra research, looking into people who were accepted onto the graduate scheme, I discovered that they offer very little management training, despite advertising their scheme as allowing you to enter the workforce at management level, and expect you to regularly work 60-80 hours per week. One review said that for several days in a row he didn’t get home from work until the early hours of the morning, for no particular reason – this isn’t the sort of job where you’ll have a huge influx of work that has to be completed ASAP – and was criticised for seeming tired the next morning.

              All hail Ask A Manager for teaching this new grad that workplaces advertising themselves as families will have a dark side…

              1. KRM*

                Having the ‘family’ thing isn’t *always* a red flag, though. At my old job, we called ourselves a family. It mainly manifested with the CEO and the rest of the C-suite knowing everyone’s names (under 150 people in the company) and having food events on Friday AM. Nobody was expected to work insane hours or do insane things. I realize this is rarely the case, but worth keeping in mind!

                1. Jamie*

                  It can absolutely be used innocuously…but the scarring some of us bear from the more malicious uses of “family” make it a trigger to flee fast and far.

                  Yes, I was called and berated at 1:49 PM on Christmas day for not answering my email because the owner of the company needed me to remote in and set up her new printer by someone who insisted on that we were all a family. I suspect I will shudder whenever my phone rings on Christmas Day for a few more years.

                  It is just so often code for unrealistic demands of loyalty and expectations.

                2. Jadelyn*

                  I was once asked about workplace culture by someone I was phone screening for a moderately senior role. And…yeah, my workplace is “family” in the healthy sense, that management knows everyone and makes themselves accessible to folks, there’s a strong drive to take care of each other when employees face hardships – I can think of at least two or three times where we’ve kept someone on payroll on extended medical leave, well past their 12 weeks of FMLA, simply because they’d worked here a long time and we weren’t about to cut someone loose during one of the worst periods of their life just for our own convenience. When someone tragically lost their very young child in an accident, most of the staff from the two or three local branches plus a handful of folks who drove in from other locations attended the funeral and supported the employee and their family by bringing meals and such for the first little while.

                  And all that flashed thru my head in half a second and then the other half of my brain kicked in and went “DON’T SAY FAMILY…DON’T SAY FAMILY…DON’T SCARE THEM OFF”

                  So I disclaimered it by saying “I know this kind of phrase gets used in pretty toxic ways sometimes, so I hope you’ll forgive my saying it, but…family really is the word that first comes to mind.” and then went on to explain *why*. We ended up not hiring her, but it didn’t scare her off at least, lol.

                3. zora*

                  I’m not saying this to be pedantic, but this is a common misconception I see here about what “red flags” are.

                  The word *family* is always a red flag, but the thing about red flags is they don’t immediately mean “don’t take this job” . The idea is that red flags indicate you should look more closely. But you can have one or two red flags that turn out to be nothing, and the job is actually great. Or you can have red flags, and then when you look at the evidence, yes, there is an underlying problem and this is a terrible workplace.

                  So, the use of “we’re a family” is a red flag, you should look closer and ask more questions when that is used in a job description or an interview. But it might not be indicative of anything deeper, and you might find that it’s actually a fantastic workplace that uses the word “Family” even though they are a healthy, positive workplace.

                4. selena81*

                  @jadelyn
                  Kinda sounds like a case of euphemism treadmill (but for good words): good employers were referred to as ‘family’ by happy (ex-)employees so all the terrible employers started using that word to sound good.
                  And whenever something new catches on to describe that feeling of togetherness (‘like a farm’, ‘like a tv-show’, ‘like a classroom’) they will steal that as well.

          2. TravelJunkie*

            OP It sounds like you expect them to fall over themselves with gratitude every time you hand them a pay check.

            It’s not realistic to expect to have an employee who cares as much about your business than you do. What exactly are you expecting from your employees other than showing up and putting in an honest day’s work?

          3. LetterWriter*

            This is accepted. Both sides are certainly less entitled and confused under this frame…..But what to make then of all the emphasis on being a ‘good’ employer…. sharing profits, nurturing passion, supporting balance, and all that? Do we need to go back to a bare-bones commercial exchange?

            1. Mayati*

              You increase morale and productivity, decrease turnover, and boost your reputation in the job market and beyond. You also get the benefit of working with and around happy people and of feeling like you’re doing right by folks over whom you have significant power. That benefits your company and you personally. Being a good employer is good business. It’s a commercial exchange, a business arrangement, but not “bare-bones.” It doesn’t mean you have to stop caring about your employees; it means you have to let go of the expectation that your employees care about their employer beyond basic professionalism. If some of them do, great, but that can’t be the source of your motivation. As a person in a position of power, you might feel underappreciated, but that comes with the territory, and you need to deal with that internally instead of making your feelings your employees’ problem.

            2. CmdrShepard4ever*

              But as Alison said being a “good” employer is not all altruistic, it can have tangible benefits as well. If I hear of a business that treats their employees above and beyond legal minimums (pay, profit sharing, benefits) I am more likely to patronize that business, and you are more likely to keep your rock-star employees for a longer period of time and they are likely to be more invested. Being a “good” employer is like being a good person, you should do it because in general it makes the world a better place. But that does not mean you have to completely bend over backwards and sacrifice solely for an employees benefit. As an owner/co-founder no one will ever be as invested as you are.

              I don’t think you need to scale all the way back to a bare-bones commercial exchange, but I do think you should scale back your expectations a little bit.

            3. Mookie*

              What you’re describing can make or break a business, but, yeah, doing so beyond your legal obligations is optional and up to you, the boss.

      5. Elbe*

        Exactly. And, more than that, it would actually be unhealthy for the employees to be an invested as the owners. These people can be let go at any time (depending on where the LW is), don’t have insight into most company functions, and have no say in business decisions. Being invested in something you have very little or no control over is a recipe for disaster.

        1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          This! You sometimes run into people at super small business who are at a fairly low level but really, really, really invested in the company and the owners. I knew a lady at a three-person firm who was running front and back office and doing the lion’s share of the client work, only just getting $10 an hour after four years in that job. She would clock out at five and stay working another three or four hours – every day. Her pay would get docked $15 for every. single. mistake. Yet she fully identified with the owner and his family and thought of them as close – nearly family. She bought the owner birthday and Christmas gifts and ran errands for him for free. She talked about him incessantly. She was completely invested in the success of that firm. It was like she was wearing a kick-me sign.

          And no, there was nothing sexual there, because that would have been my first thought too.

          1. Elbe*

            That’s really sad! I get the psychological appeal of feeling like you’re “one of the family” but everyone has to be realistic about what their role is and the extent that that role is being compensated.

            The docking of the pay is particularly horrible here when the owner is more than happy to let her run errands for free. I hope she eventually gets out of that place.

      6. Mel (Cow Whisperer)*

        I married into a family-run farm. I spent a lot of time trying to explain to my in-laws that the employees were not loyal to the farm – and they shouldn’t be. The family gained huge advantages from being able to pass massive amounts of wealth from one generation to the next through the farm. The family also had never allowed any non-family members into the farm partnership and looked at me as if I was insane when I brought up the idea of outsiders buying in. Duly noted – but that’s a great reason for workers on the farm to NOT be loyal to the farm since they knew there was an upper limit of how far they could go in the business. The employees may or may not be on the farm in 5 or 10 or 20 years – so expecting the employees to make sacrifices for the long-term good of the farm made no sense to the employees…but that inability to reverse their viewpoint caused a ton of unneeded stress for my inlaws about their ‘ungrateful’ employees.

        For the LW, when the co-founders sell the business, is the profits of the sale going to be split among the employees or between the co-founders only? I assume the answer is “between the co-founders only” and that’s why the employees need to weigh far more heavily what is good for the employees right now and in the near future over what makes life easier for the business.

        1. Wing Leader*

          Eesh, yeah. This is something that I feel like a lot of business owners don’t understand. I’ve worked a few jobs and, though I liked most of them and loved the people, I wouldn’t say I was particularly loyal to the company. If someone else offered me better pay or stronger benefits or something, I’d move on. That’s what most employees would do.

          I think it’s because there is so much emotion in it for the people who start and run the business. There is blood, sweat, tears, hardships, hours away from family, and figuring out all of the moving parts to actually make it a sustainable business. So it becomes a very visceral thing for them. And they just can’t wrap their head around it when the employees don’t show the same passion and gusto.

          Look, I work here for a paycheck. That’s pretty much the only reason. If I didn’t need to work, I wouldn’t. Yes, there are people out there who are financially well-off and only take a job because they want to do something meaningful with their time. But those people are not the norm by any stretch of the imagination.

        2. Teal*

          Absolutely agree. And then there’s that rare employee who doesn’t “get it” and thinks they’ll become part of the family. My old boss was like that- giving everything to a small business that couldn’t care less about her. She got injured and they were so awful about it that she finally woke up. But not before losing her home etc.

      7. RUKiddingMe*

        I read it as if OP wants actual thanks for being a decent employer. But the dedication/investment thing might be it, or part of it too.

      8. sofar*

        Thinking the same thing. My husband’s family runs a small business (that my husband has decided to get the heck out of, due to burnout — I am sharing this letter with him). I am the ONLY *outsider* they talk to regularly who knows what it’s like to have a corporate job.

        I constantly hear my in-laws complain about things that essentially boil down to “our employees don’t care as much as we do, and they should.” Like the internet/the computer/the order system will go down, and the employee will call them, and they’ll go on about how the employee should try to fix that stuff, or take the initiative to call the Internet provider before calling them. Once, there was a literal electric fire, and they had the same reaction! And I’ll say, “If the power/internet/system goes down at my office, or something is dangerous, we all stop working. It’s not our jobs to fix the tools we need to do our job. It’s our employer’s responsibility to provide that.”

        And they look at me like me like I’ve sprouted another head.

        1. Double A*

          Well, did they get this email?

          Subject: Fire. Dear Sir/Madam, I am writing to inform you of a fire that has broken out on the premises of 123 Cavendon Road… no, that’s too formal. [deletes text, starts again] Fire – exclamation mark – fire – exclamation mark – help me – exclamation mark. 123 Cavendon Road. Looking forward to hearing from you. Yours truly, Maurice Moss. [sigh of relief]

            1. Rodrigo*

              The “backstory” is that it’s a quote from The IT Crowd, a British sitcom.

              I laughed out loud when I read that just now.

            2. Jules the 3rd*

              British sitcom _The IT Crowd_; Maurice Moss is a character. Season 1 ep 2, he sends that email. During a fire.

            3. Gatomon*

              It’s a reference to The IT Crowd, an absolutely hilarious show! Last I checked it was available on Netflix. If not you might be able to find this segment on YouTube anyway.

        2. Dusty Bunny*

          “our employees don’t care as much as we do, and they should”

          Business owner, you want them to care as much as if they are co-owners? Make them into co-owners. Give them a stake in the business. Even just a little one. It’s kind of like having my name on the lease or mortgage. I suddenly cared a lot more about turning off lights, securing doors, and taking care of the premises. Every time my father bellowed “… and close that door! I’m not air conditioning the great outdoors!” made a lot more sense to me once my name was on the utility bill.

      9. Kathlynn (Canada)*

        And from personal experience, becoming invested in something at a job generally bites you in the butt. I’m supposed to be in charge of the largest section in my store. I’d spent the last year trying to reduce write-offs and get rid of products that don’t sell. New set of managers and 100% of my work is undone. Because “the product sells well at other stores” (in bigger cities, at busier stores). At the same time my new boss had me change how things were 3 times in one week, with no consideration of my other duties or those of my coworkers. So not invested in it right now, because doing so pisses me off too much.

    2. BRR*

      Good idea! I use the “identify what results you’re hoping for” approach a lot and its really helpful for me to know if I’m being realistic. The lw should hopefully stay clear of “the employees should be incredibly to thankful to have a job” and there is going to be a lot of “it would be nice for this to stop but it’s just the way things are (like employees badmouthing them if they’re undeserving of it)” but maybe they can identify some other outcomes to aim for.

    3. Sleepytime Tea*

      Yeah, I was starting to get the whole “you should be appreciative that I do so much for you” vibe here. And while yes, running a business is hard and yes, I appreciate a boss for being a good boss, my employer is not doing ME a favor by employing me. They’re not doing me a favor by paying me fairly. They’re not doing me a favor by not making their personal, high level stresses about company financials my stresses (unless I’m also a high level person with personal stakes in all of that).

      LW, I actually work for a company that provides a variety of services for small businesses and everything you’re saying is a really common theme with the business owners we work with. IT’S HARD. The risks you take on a personal level are huge. But it’s also not appropriate to pass that off on your employees even if only in the form of “why don’t they recognize it’s so hard for us.”

      As Alison mentioned, everything that you are describing are things that are in your or the company’s best interest, and as an owner that’s also one in the same. Not to say your employees don’t benefit from raises, but you benefit from them not leaving and going elsewhere because they’re not compensated at market rates. You’re right that you doing a great job benefits your employees too, and I commend you for making sure they are properly paid and so forth, but the relationship that you have with them is work for pay, and that’s it. The pay off for you when they do great work is of significantly higher potential value than the pay off for them, and they know that.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’ve seen a lot of equipment theft [we found it on Craigslist afterwards as well, bless their hearts] and people showing up on the property on The Drugs looking for trouble before. Terminations have turned physical and police are involved.

      Then there are the people you work with, you keep the guy on who has to go through DUI courses, despite it being a lot of strain on the scheduling/other staff. They get some front loaded vacation pay that they wouldn’t have necessarily gotten. You give out loans to help those who are struggling. You give them rides, you may even pick them up because their license gets suspended for some reason [uninsured, unregistered, etc]

      I had to go pick someone up 30+ miles away who got pulled over and his car impounded because no insurance.

      However the thing is we do these things for two reasons. We do it because we care about the individual as a human and also because we need them to work. It’s always two fold. So that’s why my bosses just went “Ah Billy needs another ride, take my truck.” they never seethed and cared in the end because oh well, you gave a dude $500 and he took off with your hand trucks and a couple staple guns. It stinks, it’s stressful in the moment but you know, that’s just life of being the Boss.

    5. hbc*

      I’m not the OP but am somewhat sympathetic to the position that they’re in. A few behaviors that I’ve seen that show less reciprocity and good faith in employees who’ve been treated pretty well:

      -Constantly pushing later and later in arrival times because management doesn’t want a strict strike or write-up policy since we all occasionally have issues. Someone literally said, “I wanted to see how long it would take for you to call me out.”
      -Lying about personal situations to get a changed schedule while doing seasonal side jobs.
      -Quit with no notice after getting an advance to cover an expense
      -Trying to get reimbursed for a bunch of new work gear two days before putting in notice
      -Getting special exceptions for extra leave because of legitimate personal issues but not even following through with a promised text or phone call about when to expect them back.
      -Conveniently forgetting raises, meetings, and agreements that took place, or misrepresenting them to others. “Okay, you’ve requested to work part time, we just need you to sign this form about your schedule.” “They totally forced me to work part time!!”

      These are all people I’ve cut loose in the past or currently have to deal with while I sort out the mess I’ve inherited.

      1. Le Sigh*

        Right, but I could make an equally long list about the ways employers have screwed me, my friends, and my family over.

        Problem employees happen at any company. If it’s all of your employees, you’ve got a systemic issue that needs addressing. A lot of the stuff the OP listed is frankly what any good employer should be doing (and in some cases, have to legally). And employees aren’t owners of the company — they don’t reap any rewards when it does well and they aren’t supposed to be as invested as owners. The deal is for X dollars they do X job — they’re not obligated to be “grateful” for getting the pay they’re legally owed.

        But this list is besides the point–ultimately, OP sounds like they’re suffering burnout and have lost some perspective.

        1. Kella*

          Yes this, and having the responsibility that comes with management includes cleaning up other people’s messes and dealing with the problem employees. If you’re consistently feeling resentment that you have to deal with the consequences of a bad employee here and there, you probably shouldn’t be in management.

          The thing is, increased responsibility goes both ways. In a management position, in addition to having to clean up more messes, you have a lot more choices in how you handle problem employees than employees have in handling bad bosses: You can enforce consequences like a write-up or demotion, you can change the scope of people’s job descriptions, you can fire them, you can give them bad references. Employees with bad bosses can ask nicely for a change, leave their job, or maybe if they are very lucky to have the financial resources to afford a lawyer, pursue legal action if the problem falls in that category.

    6. Whatever'sClever*

      My absolutely first thought was that this was my micro-managing tyrant of an old boss, who expected us all to grateful he “gave us the opportunity” to work in his badly managed store, and genuinely saw people moving on as betrayal, and we should be thankful for unpaid overtime and the chance to be patronised and criticised 24/7 if we didn’t do things to his over-achieving, 100% unhealthy level.

      He sent a cease and desist after someone for speaking negatively about her experience working at the place!!!!
      Myself and two other people left after mental-health related sign-offs tied to workplace stress!!!!!
      Two people’s fiances left the relationship because of the lack of worktime balance and misery

      Hint: if your turnover is insane, esp among management, and people regularly leave via medical intervention, it’s you, not us.

      1. Whatever'sClever*

        Whoops! Should have added – he could literally have written the letter above. And has gone on tirades to this end regularly, even 20 hours into a workday. Yes, 20 hours.

    7. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

      Right, I kept waiting to hear about a trend of really bad employees taking advantage of them…but mostly the letter was about the LW doing decent employer things and one employee badmouthing them. Maybe the LW got so caught up in the “the good that I’ve done” part that they forget we needed to hear about the employees…but also it seems the conclusion of “burnout” is very likely.

  3. staceyizme*

    If you’re exhausted, stretched too thin and feel at odds with your employees, odds are that you’re dealing with an internal issue. Who decided to work 60 hours a week, or more? Who decided not to contest negative reviews? Who decided to take on personal debt in order to keep the company afloat? None of these decisions were taken by the employees. You sound way overdue for some self care and some serious introspection. The quality of leadership that you are able to provide Is bounded by the edge of your own emotional intelligence. Stress and anxiety diminish the capacity for both rational and creative engagement. You need less focus on externals and engage in a solid, comprehensive and systematic survey that will define your situation and its resolution. It’s the classic coaching conversation of “here’s the current circumstance and context” followed by “given that, now what?”. (“Now what?” is defined as what YOU can do/ control/ influence. Anytime your crisis is externally define/ externally centered, you are restraining your own agency. You don’t want to do that.)

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I was coming here to say this, as well.

      OP, many of the things you’ve described are legally required of employers, or they represent the baseline for how competent employers should behave. Not engaging with someone badmouthing the company, not responding to online reviews with knee-jerk pettiness, helping ensure folks without upward mobility are well-placed, compensating people fairly, timely paying out a last paycheck—these are all business decisions, and in some cases, are legally mandated. Although it’s true that many employers fail to do these things, they’re the default rules that employers should play by, and it would be odd for employees to express gratitude for their employer behaving competently.

      It sounds like you and the other owners are exhausted, burned out, financially tapped/stressed, and feeling under-appreciated. As a result, it sounds like your baseline expectations have run amok. If things are finally reaching financial stability, then this is a great time to take a step back and take stock of what’s working and not working. Can you pull back on hours? Can you specialize the decision-making so that you don’t feel on the hook for each of the issues you described? Can you take a vacation where you truly disconnect and unplug for a few days? Are there methods of self-care you can intersperse, like body work, meditation, or counseling? Assuming you do have some poor employees (it’s almost impossible not to), are they representative of the majority of your staff, or do they simply suck more energy?

      Studies indicate you need to hear 10 good things to counteract 1 bad thing. It sounds like you may have 5 bad things, but you’re not hearing the 50 good things you want to hear from your employees. But maybe that’s the wrong audience, anyway. Maybe the 50 good things have to come from within your ownership/management team, or from non-employee sounding boards.

      I’m sorry you’re going through this—you sound incredibly burned out, like you’re running on fumes. I hope you’re able to get the support you need to refill your tank.

      1. Snark*

        My feeling, however, is that while it’s nice to get positive feedback from your employees, the power differential makes demanding it of them a losing proposition. You need to get your affirmation elsewhere.

        There’s a chapter of the Tao Te Ching that says something about how the unwise king is resented and feared, the typical king’s subjects discuss him often, and the wise king rules without his subjects thinking of him at all.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Agreed! I think OP looking for affirmation from the employees is a dangerous and self-defeating approach.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Yup. I mean no one owes you a garden party for doing the minimum you should do.

    2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      I’ve worked for two separate companies where the owners went into dept to keep the business afloat, and both times the owners acted like we should be so, so grateful to them. From their end they were going into dept to pay us – we should be thankful! From our end, we just wanted to do a job and get paid. We didn’t make the decision that they should keep the business running even though it wasn’t successful. I would much rather work for a successful business, the raises and bonuses are much better and the atmosphere is usually way less toxic. Be honest with yourself, you are not going into dept for the good of your employees, you are doing it because you think you will eventually earn a ton of money if you keep going. Don’t put this on them.

      1. sunny-dee*

        This isn’t universally true. While, yeah, most business owners hope they make money, many feel a huge amount of responsibility toward their employees, because they know entire families are depending on them. That’s not true of big corporations, but most of the small businesses? Yeah.

        1. LetterWriter*

          This has certainly been my sense…. that I have to take care of everyone, especially during hard economic times. I think most business owners feel this burden. So staying afloat is for both me and them, not one or the other.

      2. Sarah*

        I also think it’s important to realize employees in essence go into debt to our employer every pay period, because we commit our labor to them with the expectation of receiving pay at the end of the pay period. We aren’t paid up front. The employer has already received the benefits (employee time) and is simply repaying that loan of time with the money that corresponds to it. If they don’t think they’ve gotten the value out of the arrangement they should have that’s another issue, but the exchange of money for time has already happened and they need to pay up.

    3. Whatever'sClever*

      I truly believe some people are not emotionally cut out to run businesses. If you can’t let go of control and need to micro-manage everyone and everything, getting increasingly irate that people have feelings, lives and burn out points, then please don’t start a business.

      I’ve worked for two bosses now who are incapable of taking holiday, or if they do, they have to check in several times a day with multiple people. Who always worked a minimum of 18 hours a day. One of my jobs gave me four years of weird, almost worthless experience because I was never, ever allowed to manage my dept.

      Sorry for all the rants this is v close to my heart lol

      1. Mel*

        I totally agree some people aren’t emotionally suited to run businesses. I could never run my own business. I can easily see myself falling into the control freak, micro-managing trap you describe. I have friends who have started their own small businesses, and I could not emotionally handle the risk intrinsic in entrepreneurship.

        1. Whatever'sClever*

          Same, I am not cut out for it. It’s important to understand that about yourself.

  4. Jamie*

    I have worked for people who consider “always managing to pay staff ontime” as a testament to their quality as an employer.

    There is no bigger reg flag to me than seeing meeting basic legal requirements as noteworthy.

    I hope Alison is right and that it’s exhaustion speaking, but as someone who has worked in manufacturing for my entire career I got actual goosebumps from the red flags jumping out at me.

    1. Snark*

      I am choosing to give OP the benefit of the doubt, but if settling final pay for departing employees promptly and not shit-talking snotty Yelp reviews is an exhausting strain….well, either it’s severe burnout, or yeah.

      1. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

        I really want it to be burnout – because if it isn’t, and this is actually what the OP thinks….

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I’m hoping it’s a sign of severe burnout. Because as you and Jamie note, bragging about timely paying people is a huge red flag.

        1. Whatever'sClever*

          ^This

          THIS is the letter that got me to do my first comment after 2 odd years of reading. It actually triggered me tbh.

      3. Rainy*

        I just, after 3 years, left a deservedly-terrible review for the property management company that managed my last apartment. I did it on google (so they can’t pay to remove it) with an established but pseudonymous email account, and the first thing the owner did when it went live was search his records for the name listed on that email account so he could read my file and respond with venom, as he has to every other bad review. He hasn’t quite doxxed anyone, but he comes pretty freaking close. When he couldn’t find my file, he responded to my review by saying that I must have meant some other company and reviewed in error, since he couldn’t find any of my information in his files.

        And that is why it is better to not reply to bad reviews. Don’t be that effing dude, LW.

    2. KHB*

      Agreed – that stood out to me, too.

      And it really reinforces a fundamental difference between employers and employees. When times are tough, the employer might have to take on immense personal risk. When times are good, the employer rakes in millions. Either way, the employees get paid their wages earned for time worked. That’s how it’s supposed to work: Risk balances reward.

      I see a lot of employers these days (reserving judgement on whether OP is one of them) who think they should get the best of both worlds: Pass off all the risk onto their employees (or “independent contractors”), reap all the profits for themselves, and get credit for having done all the hard work.

      1. Elbe*

        THIS x1000!!!

        It may not seem like it right now, while the business is barely profitable, but the LW is in a position to reap enormous financial benefits down the road, while the average employee is not. They really can’t compare the two situations. Their struggle is ultimately intended to benefit themselves the most, not their employees.

    3. Antilles*

      Yeah, the part where he talks about settling pay cheerfully made me blink too.
      It’s certainly true that not every employer does this. But it’s so standard and normal that it’s only noteworthy if you *don’t* do it. The idea that you’d praise your employer like this is like praising your boss for wearing pants – I mean, it’s a good thing for everyone that he does, but there’s no praise for clearing such a low bar.

      1. an infinite number of monkeys*

        “but there’s no praise for clearing such a low bar.”

        That really depends on how tight the pants are.

      2. Sarah N*

        This. I guess the cheerful part is not a legal matter, but making payroll and paying departing employees in a timely manner are both legal requirements. This is sort of like saying “Hey, I never sexually harass my employees by playing porn in the office all day! Why aren’t they saying thank you?” Keep in mind that your employees never asked you to work 60 hours a week or take out a personal loan in order to meet your legal obligations — those are things you chose to do instead of closing the business and seeking out another line of work. This doesn’t make them “always right,” it just means you need to own your choices and evaluate whether owning your own business is really worth it to you going forward.

      3. fposte*

        Yes, I agree.

        I think sometimes business owners or people moving up in management struggle with appreciation and start looking in the wrong places for it. The fact is that much of upper management and ownership is a pretty appreciation-free zone–you get the occasional congrats for a big score or thanks from a client, but it’s not a regular feedback situation. That can be a big transition for people if they were stars at a lower level and had a lot of boss praise, because it feels like recognition should still be coming from *somewhere*. But the fact is it becomes largely internal (or in your private life), and that’s the adjustment that needs to be made rather than looking to staff for it.

        1. BenAdminGeek*

          I think this is perfect- I know that if I moved to owning a business that would be a huge shift. I’m spoiled working for others in that way- I like the kudos, and I know for me it would be very hard to not get that.

          1. LawBee*

            One of the many reasons why I have zero interest in the partner-track. I like having a boss, I like getting kudos, I don’t want to be the person at the top who has to find all of that within herself.

    4. Sara*

      As the family member of a small business owner, I am responsible for getting enough money in the door for every payroll. I sympathize with the OP. It is hard. We have been in business 30 years, pay our employees extremely well and enjoy very little turnover. But I am constantly stressed about cash flow which is something that very few people at AAM seem to comprehend. It is draining. Does cash flow difficulties mean we shouldn’t be in business? I suspect many of you might say yes (this site seems to be populated by people who only believe the most solvent of companies deserve workers.) But I doubt any of our employees would agree – some of whom have been with us for over 20 years and have raised entire families on the income they have earned. So while I doubt any of my employees consider the fact that we scrape together enough money for every payroll no matter the financial condition of our semi-seasonal business, it does sometimes feel like a monumental accomplishment.

      1. Kathryn T.*

        Oh, it’s definitely an accomplishment, and you should definitely feel proud that you pulled it off! But it’s not something you are doing for the employees, it’s something you’re doing for the *business.*

      2. Shirley Keeldar*

        I’m not quite seeing the comments this way…I see a lot of people acknowledging that running a small business (including making payroll) is hard and stressful and exhausting. But it’s not the employees’ fault that it is hard and stressful and exhausting. That’s the disconnect I think the OP is running into.

        (And, well, I want to say this nicely, but, yes, I do think that companies only deserve the employees they can pay.)

      3. MK*

        If cash flow difficulties means you cannot afford to pay your workers, then it means not that you don’t deserve (what does that even mean?) but that you cannot afford workers.

        The point is, being a business owner and not an employee is your decision. It has the potential to be very lucrative, but it also has the risk that you will fail, or that you will have lean years, or that you will barely make ends meet. But its one major advantage is that you are in control: you chose to start a business, you chose to grow it so that you need employees, you choose how to run it, you can choose to take financial risks or close down and go work for someone else and see how you like that.

      4. Le Sigh*

        You should be proud of that. It’s hard work. But that’s also part of your job, it sounds like. Meeting payroll is a baseline for an employer, not a perk for employees, and the way OP’s letter is framed, it comes across as something that employees should be grateful for or more appreciative. When you run a job listing, no one ever puts “meets payroll” under the benefits section — that’s a given!

        I really, really appreciate how hard being a small business owner is. My dad closed his business when he realized it wasn’t viable any longer. But I also chose not to run my own company because I know what it requires — I don’t want the rewards enough to take on the risk. I want to go to work, do my job and get reasonable benefits and pay — that’s what OP’s and your employees want as well.

        It might not feel this way to OP, but in the US the deck is largely, largely stacked in employers’ favor, even with some of the gains we’ve made. I think a lot of people are balking at the idea that a) we should be grateful for baseline treatment at a job and b) that a lot of what OP cites is good business practice anyway, so there’s a real benefit for them to doing things that way, and c) that employees have the power and are exploiting employers, when it is frankly, the reverse.

      5. Observer*

        No one said it’s not hard. And no one is saying that if you have cash flow issues you should not be in business.

        What they ARE saying is:

        1. It’s hard, but you are the one in position to reap the profits.

        2. If you cannot afford to pay your staff, you should not be in business. If you don’t know the difference between cash flow and income, you should not be managing a business.

        3. Making sure your employees are paid timely IS YOUR JOB. Your employees should not have to give ddep thanks to you because YOU DID YOUR JOB.

      6. Rainy*

        You do realize that most people have experience worrying about cash flow, right? Yeah, it is draining. It is really draining and it takes up a little psychic space all the time. But you don’t “deserve” a thank you from the employees who did their work and now by law must be paid. Making payroll isn’t a gracious favour you confer on your workforce–it’s what you’re required to do by law if you employ people.

      7. General Ginger*

        Do you really think people who don’t own businesses never worry about cashflow?

        Cashflow issues don’t mean you don’t “deserve” workers — nobody “deserves” or “doesn’t deserve” workers — but workers who did work for you should be paid, otherwise you definitely can’t afford them.

    5. BenAdminGeek*

      I’ll give the LW the benefit of the doubt. It sounded to me like she and the other owner(s) were spending money at steady burn rate and so she’s more calling out that she wasn’t passing that along to the employees by paying them late.

      But I think her overall frustration might be spilling out into everything- her employees that are bad are causing her to have a negative view towards all of the employees.

      1. Natalie*

        Does that really change anything, though? Paying your employees on time is literally the bare minimum. When we received bankruptcy filings for tenants, any outstanding payroll was usually privileged above other debts, it’s that critical. If you’re not able to do it, than morally or legally you can’t afford to have employees.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          I think it changes my perception slightly, actually. If the point of the OP’s mentioning always paying people on time was intended to be “I’m not doing anything shady” rather than “I am doing something noteworthy” I feel rather differently about OP’s perspective. If it’s the latter I’m wondering why they think they need a pat on the back for doing bare minimum. If it’s the former, I’m thinking “this person is so burnt out and they’re being defensive”.

          1. Natalie*

            I completely agree that those two things read quite differently, but the comment I was replying to was suggesting “she’s more calling out that she wasn’t passing that along to the employees by paying them late.” You might as well call out that you’re not passing your cash flow issues onto your landlord by not paying your rent, or your supplier by not paying their bills.

            1. BenAdminGeek*

              Right, I assumed the best and that what she was trying to convey was that even though the owners had financial difficulties, they were shielding employees from that. So to me that’s what fhqwhgads said- “this person is so burnt out and they’re being defensive”.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Paying your employees late is illegal. My husband’s company struggled for a while, and they were scrupulous about how they must abide by the laws and not ask people to work and hope the money came through someday. It was very stressful–some reduced salary weeks, a lot of layoffs which he avoided–but he was never paid late.

        I worked for one company that promised its freelancers the money was coming at the end of the project. The project wrapped, the big client paid, and they promptly filed for bankruptcy. After not paying some of their employees for the past few weeks in the hundreds of dollars, and their freelancers in the thousands of dollars. The owner made some posts about how people were focusing on the money rather than on what a great place it had been to work, and, like, you owe me $7000! I submitted invoices and your employees promised the money was on its way! Why would I care that you had a nice office culture? (I did eventually get paid, as the writers were able to band together and alert the client that none of us had been paid a dime, and so all those contracts in which we gave up copyright to our work in exchange for money were not valid.)

      3. LetterWriter*

        We always paid on time and borrowed to ensure people got both pay and perks. We don’t regret it. But we are wondering (legal requirements aside as a given) whether we would do this again if we had to do it again.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Woaaaaah. This comment changes a lot. This comment is a problem. “Legal requirements aside” is definitely a problem. If you cannot afford to pay your employees, you cannot afford to be in business.

          1. LetterWriter*

            You misunderstand. I meant: of course we are following the law. That’s a given. I’m actually asking what makes sense to do beyond that and why. Lots of commenters have shed light on this latter question. Thanks!

        2. Observer*

          Keep your legal commitments? Or undertake the whole thing with all of it’s heartache and headache?

          Because if it’s the former, you’re out of line because making sure that you follow the law and keep your commitments is just the bare minimum.

          If you mean the latter, it sounds like you really are at burn out stage and need to take a break and then think seriously about whether you want to continue with this or sell out.

    6. Gazebo Slayer*

      Yeah, demanding cookies for settling people’s final paychecks as required by law is not a good look.

  5. Kim, No Longer Esq.*

    Yay, I love this answer. OP, you’re running a business, and you have the priviledge of running it however you want. You’ve chosen to be good bosses, but you’re still bosses. You still control pay rates, you’re still the people who make hiring and promotion decisions, you’re still the owners of capital. You’ve made sacrifices, yes, but you stand to gain the most; you’re looking to make a profit. Your employees make a wage, without regard for profit (assuming you do no profit-sharing or employee ownership); you can’t expect them to make the same sacrifices you’re making, and you can’t get mad at them for not “recognizing your sacrifice” when you, not they, have everything to gain from that sacrifice. It sounds like you’re resentful that it hasn’t paid off for you yet. Again, not your staff’s problem! If this isn’t the work life you want, rethink it and make some changes – you have that power, your staff, by and large, don’t!

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Yeah, I once worked at a small startup where the owner was mad that I wanted to leave work around 5 or 6pm, while he worked until 8 or 9 in the evening (but came into the office at 10am). I don’t doubt he worked many hours, but it was HIS business, not mine. I did not get a stake in the profit or even a bonus. Yet somehow he just couldn’t get why I wanted a 40 hour work week. Sigh.

      1. Roy G. Biv*

        I worked for that guy as well. “You’re never here when I’m looking for you.”

        Well, Steve, we don’t all get to roll in a 11 am and finally get started working at 2:00.

      1. Mike C.*

        These jobs aren’t charity. It’s a business agreement between two parties where money is exchanged for time and labor.

        1. valentine*

          These jobs aren’t charity.
          Yeah. OP sounds like the owner of a company town who wants gratitude for their efforts to keep the unsustainable business going, when, as sam says above: if your business plan doesn’t include a plan to pay your workers a living wage, you don’t have a business plan, you have a pipe dream.

          How big are these raises and are good performers losing out by receiving the same raise as poor performers or by the latter receiving any raise? Is the product necessary? If the business closes, does that create more opportunities?

  6. Snark*

    OP, I say this with as much kindness as I can – which is plenty, because my parents owned a small business for 30 years, and I got to see what it cost them on a daily basis. I saw their exhaustion and burnout, I saw their frustration with their employees and customers, I saw them fight like wolverines to save it, I saw the recession kill it.

    But, my friend…real talk? The last ten years have been even worse for employees than they have been for employers. A lot of us have watched our wages stagnate and raises and bonuses disappear, the quality and security of our employment decline, our overtime burgeon, our jobs and those of our friends and family cease to exist, multiple vacated positions consolidated onto one burned-out survivor of the purges, formerly secure work farmed out to the cutthroat jungle of the gig economy. I’m frankly astonished that relations between capital and management and employees is still as cordial as it is. We’ve all been through a whole lot. It’s a mean economy to be employed, or to employ, in. If it helps, consider the psychotic bullies you deal with to be emotional casualties of late capitalism, and maybe extend to them a little compassion, hard as it may be.

    The fact that sometimes, people fail to reciprocate, does not elevate your adherence to basic ethical and moral business practices to the status of self-abegnating heroic sacrifice. Yeah, some employees are dicks. No question! I seen it! But as Alison says, what you’re doing is not a kindness, not a principled moral stand, nothing extraoridinary. What you’re doing is best practices for a well-run business that can attract top talent. Keep doing it, not for them or for the moral standing, but because it’s the reasonable and time-tested way to run a business. And if you run into someone who seems to think you, their boss, is their enemy? Maybe they have reasons to have gotten into that toxic mindset.

    1. Linzava*

      This a million times! As an employee who was an adult before, during and after the recession, we don’t trust employers anymore!

      I lucked out big time and found an amazing small business who pays me fairly, covers my medical 100% with a part time schedule so I can go to school. I’m treated with professional respect, get hand-written Christmas cards telling me how much my hard work is appreciated with my bonus! This is how you gain employee trust. As an employee who spent the last 10 years following the paycheck and hating work, I’m now loyal to a company again, and plan to stay a long time.

      1. londonedit*

        Yes! From an employee’s point of view, as someone who suffered through the 2008 crash (I was made redundant because the owners of the company overstretched themselves and then couldn’t pay us all when the economy tanked) and has then suffered through the ‘You should be grateful to even HAVE a job in this economy’ attitude that some employers carried after the recession (and which some employers probably still carry) I’m sorry but I’m not going to give my heart and soul to an employer. Even being in the UK where you can’t just ‘get fired’ on a whim, companies can still decide to implement redundancies, businesses can shut their doors, you can suddenly discover that your employer can’t pay its bills and is going into administration. My priority has to be paying my bills and surviving. Of course, if a company shows some loyalty to me then I will go above and beyond when necessary, but I’m not going to bust my arse for an employer that thinks paying me on time means they’re doing me a huge favour.

        1. LetterWriter*

          This comment is getting at the question that puzzles me….many commenters have asked what a loyal employer looks like to me. I’ll reverse the question…. what does an employer have to do to be seen as loyal? If they lay off, it’s often because the business has failed and they are probably have lost everything and may take much longer to recover than an employee who can typically get another job. So a business failing is not a personal betrayal! If mine had failed, it would have been after really sticking by my team. So, what does loyalty or even fairness look like?

          1. Observer*

            Loyalty and fairness are two different things. Fairness means that you hire honestly, pay reasonably, give people the tools they need to succeed, treat people respectfully, manage honestly, give people the information they need to do good work, maintain a reasonable workplace, and when it’s necessary to cut people loose to do so in a respectful and honest way.

            Loyalty goes well beyond that. It’s the “extras”. Like hiring from within even if the candidate is not the absolute best possible candidate. Not that I think that you should allow loyalty to cause you to make bad decisions – For instance, it’s one thing to hire someone who is good but not the ABSOLUTE best. It’s another thing to hire someone who just can’t do the job – and even a loyal employer should not do that.

    2. Snark*

      Oh, and the more I think about it? If settling pay for departing employees and making payroll on time feels like a Big Deal to you? Those are legally mandated minimal requirements for all employers. If that feels like too much, you can’t be running a business, because they’re nonnegotiable legal obligations you have no choice but to meet. If you treat them as Big Deals, are you quite sure your employees do not see that? And are you under the impression that if they see that, they will look favorably on it? Because I’ve had a boss who treated paying me on time like a favor, and I did not think it was one.

        1. Rainy*

          My first husband worked for a consulting startup where payday was on Friday. But he wrote the checks by hand and handed them out at 5pm, so no one had time to make it to the bank…because he kept only a float in the payroll account until Monday at 8am, when he actually moved payroll into it. The business was in such terrible shape that he needed the extra weekend of interest on payroll, it turned out.

          He definitely acted like paying his employees was a favor.

          1. Rainy*

            (He being the boss, not my husband, whose grandfather had been a wobbly and definitely took after him ideologically.)

      1. LetterWriter*

        This is a case where there was a list of say 10 things to be done in exchange for pay, and not one was done. The person claimed we needed to pay for their time.

        1. Observer*

          If the person was an employee, you did need to pay them for their time, which I know is galling. I just hope that you cut them loose as soon as it became clear that they were not doing their job so that you were not out too much pay (and also because keeping dead weight on is demoralizing to your good staff.)

        2. Curlz*

          LW, it might be worth reflecting on why that law exists. Think about it: What would happen if employers were allowed to deny final wages to fired employees on the grounds that the employee hadn’t done the work? There’s no law against hiring someone to do nothing, and the government lets employers decide how much they expect from each employee in exchange for their wage. By keeping someone on payroll who doesn’t do enough (or any) work, you’re basically saying you’re willing to pay them even if they’re not producing. Now imagine you decided to fire them for their lack of performance and it was legal to refuse to pay that person for their last few weeks or even months of labor – labor under the impression that, while they may not have been up to snuff, you were still willing to keep them on payroll. Think how that kind of law would be abused. Ignoring the impact on employees, how hard would it become for honest employers to compete with other businesses who took full advantage of that law? Remember, this whole thing about employees no longer being loyal came about because some unscrupulous companies started firing people to keep from paying their pensions/retirements/other benefits and they saved so much money doing so that tons of other businesses had to do the same to remain competitive. Labor laws aren’t just there for employees’ benefit – they prevent shady businesses from getting too much of an edge over honest ones.

          Also, if employee loyalty is really important to you, you need to know what your employees want from you. That varies from industry to industry and employee to employee, so after you get some vacation and figure things out for yourself, if you decide to stick with this business, maybe it’s time you touch base with your workforce and see what they want from you. I know at my job, they present everything as a perk, even if it’s blatantly in their best interest. (Cut your hours? They’re doing you a favor by letting you go home early! Double your hours? They’re doing you a favor by letting you earn more money! Etc.) I would be much happier if they asked us what we wanted even if they couldn’t do it rather than this fake “we’re such thoughtful employers, we do you so many favors!” nonsense.

    3. Le Sigh*

      I remember even before the crash (2005? 06?) Suze Orman was on TV lamenting how “kids today” have no loyalty to employers. Well, maybe if I hadn’t seen my parents get laid off a bunch in the early 90s and struggle to regain a foothold, I wouldn’t have gotten the message that I’m disposable and I need to look out for myself.

      1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        Same experience. Same lessons learned. None of us are getting a pension and a gold watch, and we would be fools to act like it.

      2. MissDisplaced*

        Thousand times yes!
        After working for several companies that merged or went out of business (usually due to the owner’s poor decisions about spending or running the business) I definitely look out for myself first. Employers have no loyalty to employees. Shit, we don’t even get healthcare or pensions anymore and we’re still supposed to feel “loyal” and “give our all.” Good luck with that.

        Not saying this is the case with OP’s business, but I’ve worked at businesses both small and large that spend so much on things NOT related to the actual business of making something. Such as expensive “branded” motorcycles or cars they think is marketing, fancy offices, big splashy events, and lots of customer perks and trips. So, basically companies foot the bill to take other rich people (their customers) on expensive fishing, golf or hunting trips in the hope they’ll get business out of it. It’s all such a waste! And they wonder why they end up bankrupt?

    4. boo bot*

      #EmotionalCasualtiesOfLateCapitalism

      Yes. I appreciate this comment. I wrote and deleted a response to something above that basically came down to, whatever it is that employees have done to frustrate, anger, and exhaust you, it doesn’t compare to your ability to take away their livelihood, without warning.

      Even if you, the hypothetical employer I am addressing, would never fire anyone without due process, that power differential is never going to disappear: you hold something necessary to their survival, and they have no reciprocal leverage.

      No reciprocal leverage, that is, apart from collective action.

      1. Ico*

        Holding power doesn’t give people a free pass to treat you however they want because they are somehow worse off in your estimation. “Doesn’t compare” is such an odd phrase here since you are trying to compare two things that aren’t measured on the same axis.

    5. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      Hmm. This thread reminds me that there are certain words that I don’t generally use in the context of an employment arrangement, since I view them as not applicable… Loyalty. Family. Gratitude. Betrayal. Favor.

  7. Snubble*

    “psychotic bullies who victimize employers”
    My friend, this is not a general complaint. This is a really specific complaint that you have to try not to conflate with regular ingratitude from your workforce.

    1. Snark*

      And my guess is, we’re talking about a few people – five, ten, maybe, over the history of the business. There needs to be a distinction drawn between a few outliers and a generalizable problem.

      1. Minocho*

        I agree, that’s why I think Alison’s answer is so perfect – I’m thinking this is exhaustion speaking, turning the current crummy situation of the day into a eternal and never ending morass of awfulness.

        I hope the profitable year can give the LW a little boost and a chance to take some time, reflect, and jump back into the business fray with a positive attitude.

    2. Washi*

      Or if it is a general complaint, you need to take a look at your hiring practices! I mean, there are awful people everywhere, but it’s usually not in an employee’s self-interest to pick fights with their employer because it jeopardizes their own reference and reputation.

      My guess is that exhaustion and burnout are the main culprits here (I know when I’m tired and anxious, my brain quickly starts making sweeping generalizations like EVERYONE hates me and NOTHING ever goes right, etc.) But if you feel like you’re attracting low-caliber employees, you probably have the power to change that!

    3. Heidi*

      It can be really easy to let one or two dramatically bad experiences poison your perception of everything. It’s worth putting the mental effort into compartmentalizing these experiences. It might help the OP to systematically examine the entire employee list and count the ones who are bullies who are exploiting the company. If there are many, maybe revisit the hiring practices. If there’s only a handful, OP can start building the case towards termination. The boss does not need to put up with them. But if some of employees are hardworking and do good work, then it might help to take note of them for awhile. The tone of the letter makes me worry that OP is at risk for lashing out at the good apples over what the bad apples have done.

  8. MuseumChick*

    OP, I get it. Many moons ago I worked at a museum for an AMAZING boss. She was awesome. I worked in the office with her while most everyone else worked out on the floor as first person interpreters. One day I over heard two of these employees making comments saying that my boss was lazy/didn’t do anything/she always online shopping, etc. I was floored. A much longer story later I find out that because they didn’t see all that she did like I did because I was in the office with her all day, it was like they though she just sat back there doing her nails.

    This happens. When your employees don’t have all the facts they will fill in the blanks, usually incorrectly. The thing is you have to keep in mind what Alison says, “But the most important thing is this: as an employer, power is stacked heavily in your favor.” For example, you can fire someone without notice and face little to no repercussion aside from a possible bad online review. An employee is expected to give you at least two weeks notice, and if they didn’t you would be well within your right to mention it if they ever used you as a reference.

    As Alison says it is in your best interest to always behave professionally even if not ever single person who works fo you does. Otherwise its like a 6″ 4″ guy picking on a 5″ 6″ guy. Or at least that is how it would be viewed from the outside.

    1. Snark*

      Yeah, the power differential seems flatter when you’re the top dog. My mom would always take conflicts with her employees really personally and strongly, and I will never forget when my dad was like, FFS, Julie, you can fire her ass tomorrow morning, so do it or work with her!

    2. Emily K*

      And if it’s some comfort, know that the general public can often recognize the psychotic disgruntled employees for what they are. I’ve read plenty of Yelp or Glassdoor reviews that even as an outsider with no knowledge of what really happened, I can tell the complainer is just entitled/whiny/has an ax to grind. (My hobby: marking reviews from whiny complainers as “Funny” on Yelp.)

      It does suck if your overall review volume is low enough that it’s hurting your quantitative aggregate review score, but most people will read the content of reviews and can recognize a nightmare customer when they see one, even if nightmare customer doesn’t recognize themselves for what they are.

      1. General Ginger*

        I have your same hobby, though I’ve narrowed it down to “absolutely bananacrackers negative reviews of several local spots I absolutely love”. The things people will pick to complain about are astounding, but they are clearly identifiable as nightmare customers in their reviews, and the worst thing the business can do is respond in a combative tone right back.

        1. animaniactoo*

          You mean the ones like “This is completely flimsy. I was somehow expecting this $10 plastic contraption to hold my 100 lb television, but it almost collapsed as soon as I put it on.”?

          (No, I never look at the reviews and go “Uh, what exactly were you expecting for your money?”. Nope. Not me.)

          1. Not Gary, Gareth*

            I love the ones that are like “Great product, but my cat ran away the day I got it. One star.”

          2. Emily K*

            Ah, yes, that review has a cousin in hotel and apartment reviews. “The walls are paper thin! I can hear people walking above my head all day long!” Some people don’t seem to understand the realities of apartment living and expect a detached home level of auditory privacy when they share two walls, a floor, and a ceiling with other people.

            1. animaniactoo*

              My downstairs neighbor! Who actually called the police because we had company over and were in the living room at 11 pm… playing Scrabble. I kid you not.

          3. Jaybeetee*

            I bought a suuuper cheap projector off Amazon awhile back. Like less than $100. Bottom-end. I got a real kick out of the negative reviews about how crap it was. Most reviews were more realistic “it’s not bad for the price” types, but others were like… you’re complaining about pixelation and a kinda crummy speaker on literally the cheapest version of this product you can buy?

            (My take after buying it: not bad for the price. The thing works.)

          4. General Ginger*

            “I ordered this $9 used thing that said it was heavily used, and it came heavily used, how dare!” are one of my favorite Amazon reviews (partly because those don’t even belong in product reviews, and should go into seller feedback, if at all)

          5. Snark*

            My absolute faves are the ones that just totally missed the memo on what the hell it was they were actually buying. Cookbooks like “Oaxaca Al Gusto” or “Yucatan” and here’s Chad from Des Moines going “Ingredient lists are too long, can’t find avocado leaves at my local Piggly Wiggly, too many steps in recipes! Wanted simple go-to Mexican recipes for my on the go family and totally disappointed! Can’t even return it now that I’ve owned it for six years” and you’re like CHAD WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOUR MIND SON

            1. animaniactoo*

              Lol. Those definitely sound like fun.

              For some other fun… read some of the reviews on bidet seats. Don’t filter for the 1 star ones, some of the 4 star ones are gold. My godmother asked me to research for her, and I had her laughing hysterically at some of the reviews.

            2. General Ginger*

              At a customer service job I had once upon a time, a customer lamented that our policies were nothing like Zappos’ policies, and it really was a shame we weren’t Zappos, and ended up leaving us this feedback on our storefront. Not something reasonable like, “could learn a lot from Zappos’ customer service”, but literally “these guys are not Zappos”.

              She was right, I guess, in that we weren’t, in fact, Zappos.

              She was also trying to return something she bought somewhere else entirely, and would not take a “we don’t sell shoes, we are not a shoe store, and we really, truly, did not sell you these shoes” for an answer.

            3. whingedrinking*

              I remember reading a review once for smoothie book that was geared toward kids, and the customer had complained that “these aren’t *real* recipes, the first two pages explain the general smoothie process and then all the other pages are just lists of ingredients with measurements!”
              …Karen, two pages is more info than most people usually need to put fruit, juice and yogurt in a blender and turn it on. What else were you looking for here?

          6. pentamom*

            The one they sent me didn’t work when I plugged it in. I reported it and they sent me a new one within two days that works great. One star.

          7. Le Sigh*

            My all-time favorite: “Was using this as my bed. Air mattress lost air after seven days.”

            I think you misunderstand air mattresses, sir.

        2. Lord Gouldian Finch*

          Hah. Don’t forget the “I bought this china vase to use as a hammer. It broke when I used it for that. One star.” Or “This product is clearly labeled as working only with model X. I bought it for model Y and it doesn’t fit. 1 star.”

      2. CatMom*

        Yes! I reassure my parents about this re: Yelp reviews all the time. We pick one type to reply to (complaining about how expensive we are), and otherwise we let them go because people can tell which ones are just being jerks.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        Seconding Ginger. Just because a negative review exists, that doesn’t mean people set store by it. A lot of the time it’s clear the person is bananacrackers.

        1. Pommette!*

          Yes! Bad reviews often say more about the reviewer than the thing they review. Replies say more about the business owner.

          I’ve actually stopped going to a local restaurant that I used to love because I’ve been so creeped out by the owner’s online presence. Reviews for the place are 80-90% positive, with the occasional “the young lady serving us wasn’t attentive and friendly enough; I’m never coming back!” complaint. Which isn’t a critique that anyone will take too seriously, because we all know that some people expect an unreasonable level of friendliness and attention from the “young ladies” serving them. Anyways, the owners respond to each of these posts aggressively. “Please write back with more details about this employee an her behaviour! Was this the skinny one with long hair? Or the one with the short hair and braces? We’ll also arrange for a free meal on the house for you.” Just, no. Don’t talk about your employees’ bodies like that; supervise your employees yourself, instead of penalizing the employees for vague complaints by entitled reviewers.

          Anyways, long story to say: I’m sure that the Letter Writer’s replies would not be inappropriate like these. Still, engaging bad reviews in generally not productive, and not a good look – especially when you are speaking across a power differential. Not replying is something you do to help yourself and for your business.

    3. Pommette!*

      Yeah. Bad reviews often say more about the reviewer than the thing they review. Replies say more about the business owner. That could be good, but sometimes it’s pretty awful. Saying nothing is generally just a good business practice.

      I’ve actually stopped going to a local restaurant that I used to love because I’ve been so creeped out by the owner’s online presence. Reviews for the place are 80-90% positive, with the occasional “the young lady serving us wasn’t attentive and friendly enough; I’m never coming back!” complaint. Which isn’t a critique that anyone will take too seriously, because we all know that some people expect an unreasonable level of friendliness and attention from the “young ladies” serving them.

      Anyways, the owners respond to each of these posts aggressively. “Please write back with more details about this employee an her behaviour! Was this the skinny one with long hair? Or the one with the short hair and braces? We’ll also arrange for a free meal on the house for you.” Just, no. Don’t talk about your employees’ bodies like that; supervise your employees yourself, instead of penalizing the employees for vague complaints by entitled reviewers.

      Anyways, long story to say: I’m sure that the Letter Writer’s replies would not be inappropriate like these. Still, engaging bad reviews in generally not productive, and not a good look. Not replying is something you do for yourself and for your business.

  9. Celeste*

    That was a long time to go without making a profit, and taking on huge debt and working insane hours to stay in business? I think there needs to be an examination of what is really happening here. Maybe an accounting audit to see just how viable this company really is. What I’m saying is, maybe there is something better for the LW out there. I think hope has kept him/her afloat all this time, but there comes a point where if you’re unhappy, you have to ask yourself how you would feel if it never got any better. That is certainly something that can happen; how long would you be willing to put up with those 60 hour work weeks? You are in a very rough spot–you’re not the owner, either making the decisions or reaping the biggest rewards. But as a member of management, you stand with the owners but without the control or rewards. Maybe it’s time to think of yourself as a worker, and decide if this is really the work experience you want to keep having.

    1. Celeste*

      I meant to say that you’re not the full owner. I question the relationship with the other co-founder. Are you in total agreement with the way things are being done? Is the other person as unhappy as you are? I think there is so much examination to be done here.

    2. Double A*

      I don’t know if this is the OP’s situation, but my husband’s business doesn’t really make “a profit,” but he is paid a regular salary with raises from their revenue. I think sometimes people think “not profitable” means the owners get no paycheck, but that is not necessarily the case.

    3. LetterWriter*

      Some clarification: the business is strongly profitable now and all debt paid off including from past businesses. The hard work is definitely worth it. Other than financial dividends, we have happy customers and have created an exceptional workplace, rewarding those who have stuck with us. We are proud of that. Just wondering if I would do this again, given the choice., and why. Thanks for your input.

        1. LetterWriter*

          I meant: I closed the first business and then went into this one. Would I start another business in the future? If so, would I keep going through lean years? How long? Would I borrow more or lay off? Would I continue raising salaries and benefits beyond what the law requires? All food for thought….

  10. That Girl From Quinn's House*

    If your business is just turning a profit after a decade, perhaps it’s not a viable business.

    1. T. Boone Pickens*

      Hard to speculate on this without more context. OP’s company might have a deep pool of investors, or have the means to keep the company afloat while the company grinds towards profitability. Company might also have reinvested money into a litany of things which is possible with manufacturing.

    2. Parenthetically*

      Whoa. Come on. You can’t possibly say this without knowing WAY MORE about the business.

      1. DerJungerLudendorff*

        “Being able to pay your operating costs” is a pretty common standard to measure business success in my experience.

    3. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

      I picked up on “a previous related business failed in the recession” and wondered the same thing. Not every business failed in the recession, but the ones with less robust business plans certainly were the ones to suffer more.
      If it’s then taken a decade to turn a profit, even as the economy has had a steady (but slow) recovery, perhaps the new business plan needs to be even more robust (although there’s no mention of how long the previous business was operational prior to 2008).

      I believe there are a number of factors at play here – top of the list being extreme exhaustion leading to cloudy thinking. OP needs a break, a change of perspective (hopefully brought on by the vacation), and a review of everything that is going on with the business, good AND bad.

    4. Jules the 3rd*

      Took Tesla 13 years, and they’re still not consistently profitable. Manufacturing takes a very long time.

      1. ArtK*

        Not clear that they’re really profitable even now. A lot of their “profit” was made by selling electric vehicle credits to other manufacturers.

  11. Marillenbaum*

    You can’t be exploited when you have most of the power.

    THIS. OP, as the employer, you hold so much power. If exercising it ethically feels a bridge too far, perhaps it’s time for a change.

    1. General Ginger*

      Yeah, the “exhausted and exploited” bit really stood out to me. Exploited by who? The folks you can fire at will?

    2. LCL*

      I’m being as polite as I possibly can in this response, so it took me a while to write it.
      Exploitation can go both ways. The entity with the most power or with the least to lose will do the most exploiting, and be the most successful at it. And power dynamics aren’t usually a straight zero sum situation. More like, entitity A has the most power in one area, and entity B has power in a different area. The basic idea that the person with the most power can’t be the exploiter is just wrong.

      1. LawBee*

        but in this specific situation, where Entity A is an employer who controls paychecks, working hours, benefits, etc. and Entity B is the employee whose impact is much less limited, it would be very hard for Entity B to have any real power in the relationship.

    3. Cows go moo*

      “Exploited” may not be the right word given the power dynamics, but I think it’s worth acknowledging sometimes employees do behave in horrible, crappy ways towards their employers that affect the latter.

  12. MoneyBeets*

    I’m just amazed by this letter. Granted, OP, you sound like an employer who tries really hard to do right by your employees, and that’s great. But this idea that employees are just running roughshod all over employers, writ large, is ridiculous to the point of insulting. My work group works so hard to keep our noses above water, but our group has been cut and and cut and cut to the point that we can barely keep up. Does anyone care? They do not. Same where my spouse works. He’s been baited-and-switched repeatedly with promises of promotions, better shift hours, bumps in pay, new titles, and all that ever happens is he gets more work piled on him. The promises never come true and no one gives a rip. The general consensus in this country is HEY, BE GLAD YOU HAVE A JOB AT ALL, OK? And if you’re in an area without many other options – like mine – you stay, knowing you’re not seen as a human being who brings value to the organization.

    If you are surrounded by angry employees, either you’re hiring the wrong people or you are treating them poorly in some way that you’re dismissing.

    1. Snark*

      That last sentence is terribly important. Not saying it’s necessarily the case! I am personally assuming that this is a few outliers who are looming disproportionately.

      But….if all one’s employees are resentful and trying to get theirs in their interactions with their employer? If they all seem disgruntled and there’s a lot of bad feeling among your former staff? What’s the common denominator, there, my guy?

    2. Rebecca*

      “And if you’re in an area without many other options – like mine – you stay, knowing you’re not seen as a human being who brings value to the organization.”

      Yes, this! I live in rural PA, and jobs that pay a real living wage with decent benefits are not all that easy to come by. Sure, there are jobs, part time retail mostly, or 12 hour factory swing shifts, and you’re right, the general attitude toward many of us here is “be glad you have a job” with the “you should be groveling at our feet” left out. I know I don’t feel like I bring value to the organization when I’m reminded that my ADP punch was 1 minute too early or I punched back in from lunch break 2 minutes too late…without keeping in mind I actually show up each day early and reliably and do my job. I don’t feel valued when yearly evaluations aren’t done because then the company feels obligated to increase wages, but I’m told I’m already at the highest end of the scale, so I shouldn’t expect more. I don’t feel valued when I see a coworker with a sick child be forced to invoke FMLA because she’s out of sick time to take her child to the doctor, and is asked when she’s going to make up those 3 hours during a non busy time (office job, not customer facing, and many tasks can wait until the next day), but basically felt like her job was threatened anyway, so she left…

      My long rant is there are many reasons OP’s employees might be feeling this way. Just because you pay people on time, which is the law, doesn’t mean you should think they should fall at your feet in gratitude and adoration.

  13. LQ*

    Part of this is some of the stuff you note is do you want a cookie stuff. It’s just the stuff that every single ordinary business has to do to stay afloat. (Like paying people on time.) If you were an employee and your boss was making you fill out a thing every week that said you wanted to get paid (whatever your payroll thing at your company is) and you were griping about that being horrible everyone would say, that’s just part of doing business. You check a box and make sure you accounted for vacation time in a payroll system and move on, spend the 5 minutes (I assume they all take 4 minutes to get into). You don’t get a cookie or kudos or anything positive for showing up. It’s the literal bare minimum. That’s what paying people on time is. The literal bare minimum of being an employer. If you don’t do that you’re not an employer anymore.

    What I’m trying to say here is it sounds like you’ve hit BEC with some of this so you’re conflating things. Many of which are really ordinary things, with things that are “good” employer things.

    Bare minimum employer (less than this and you aren’t a business, you are exploiting humans and breaking laws): Paying people on time, paying people for the time they worked in a timely manner even when it’s their final paycheck
    Not bad employer: Keeping up with inflation, not lashing out online at reviews, taking in some feedback
    Good employer:
    Great employer:

    I don’t know where some of these others may fall because it depends on definition, helping rock stars can be a great employer, but you’re doing that so that the rock star recommends other rock stars, it’s not purely altruistic. A safe environment is a bare minimum, but I’m not sure what you mean by that, there are definitely grades of it that go into good. Great employers don’t get graded on “safe” because you wouldn’t get to great if you weren’t. A great employer has to do everything all the lesser employers to and then some.

    1. LQ*

      This is to say that you have to set aside the BEC stuff, the do you want a cookie basic stuff as just “business” and shrug and focus on the actually good and great stuff. (For both employees and as an employer.)

    2. Psyche*

      I agree that a lot of it was bare minimum things an employer needs to do. I think the problem is that the business simply cannot support all the employees. Maybe it is time to think of downsizing if you cannot easily make payroll and have to take out personal loans. Your employees are not exploiting you by wanting to be paid and wanting to make market rate. If you cannot afford it, you need to be honest with yourself and them and find a sustainable way to deal with it. If you simply take more and more on yourself, you will crack.

  14. blackcat*

    Bad stuff often jumps out at us and sticks in our mind more than the neutral or good.

    I’ve been teaching for a decade, first at the high school level and now at the university level. It’s SO EASY to get bogged down or angry at complaining parents or students. So, so easy. 5% of the parents/students cause 90% of the frustration.

    I keep a “Good emails” folder. It’s filled with the positive notes from students, past and present, and parents. It’s where I go when I get angry that yet another pre-med is insisting they know more about science than I do and trying to get a grade changed. I read a note from the kid who says I helped them at a critical time. Or the note from a parent that just said, “If you had been my chemistry teacher, I might have actually tried to be a doctor like I dreamed of being as a child.” It helps so much! I encourage you to keep a list of the good stuff–the really enjoyable interactions with your employees or customers–and read it when things get frustrating.

    1. Sled dog mama*

      This is so true! My students overall were fantastic, I had one set of parents that drove me out of teaching. 1 out of 50 (very small rural high school). I could not cope with these parents, 12 years later I’m posting about them in an Internet forum not about the one who came to the school to thank me for believing her daughter the one time she lost her homework, or the ones who sent me birthday cards. The bad ones stick out.

    2. Double A*

      I’m a teacher too, and one reason it’s sustainable is that I don’t look to my students for validation and appreciation! At least, not their direct words or actions. I get validation knowing that I’m doing a good job, knowing that I’m helping them, knowing that even if they don’t understand or appreciate the concept now that I’m laying a foundation for future knowledge and development. Their appreciation is engaging with the content. My reward is watching them learn and grow and master new skills. Sometimes kids say thanks, and that’s gravy. Sometimes kids cuss me out and say I’m incompetent (I work with tough kids), and I don’t take it personally. I do consider their feedback, and try to be transparent with them about why we’re doing what we’re doing, but that’s not going to convince every kid.

      OP, when you’re the boss, you can’t look to the people you have power over for appreciation. Their appreciation looks like doing their jobs, showing up on time, behaving professionally, giving you two weeks notice when they leave, and generally following workplace norms. There are going to be some stinkers who don’t do that. If EVERYONE is not following workplace norms, then you have a culture problem, and the culture comes from the top.

  15. hbc*

    “But frankly, we feel exhausted and exploited.” Exhausted is understandable–you’ve been working really hard for a really long time. Of course, part of your motivation to work hard is that if the business gets going, you directly reap the rewards. But it’s still hard to grind through those long days no matter what the potential payout.

    Exploited? No. You only have to give as much as you want to give. If an employee isn’t reciprocating basic human decency, then they need to go, or you need to accept that something else is more important right now than them being decent to you. It doesn’t make them nice human beings, but they can only exploit you as much as you let them.

  16. Elbe*

    The LW needs to keep in mind that the things they’ve been doing (taking on debt, retaining good employees, etc.) aren’t being done solely for the benefit of the employees. They’re being done with the hopes that one day the LW will have a successful, highly profitable business. When the business IS turning high profits, the workers aren’t going to share in that, just like the don’t share in any of the current struggles the owners have. At the end of the day, the LW has a business, and their employees only have a job.

    I agree that it sounds like the LW is suffering from burnout, but they should be careful not to project their decisions onto their employees. They can’t blame their employees for situations and decisions that they employees had no knowledge of, no control over, and won’t share the eventual profits from.

  17. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox*

    I’m kind of confused as to how OP feels exploited when the vast majority of the actions listed are things widely expected (and sometimes legally required) of employers. Paying employees on time isn’t a favor; it’s a necessity. Increasing salaries definitely isn’t REQUIRED, but it is if you want to avoid constant turnover (a bare minimum cost of living increase is generally expected for companies that want to actually keep employees long-term). Paying final paychecks quickly is, as Alison pointed out, a legal requirement.

    OP, it does sound like you’re burning out. I’m not sure what sort of expectations you and the owners have for your employees to show their gratitude, but…I mean, I work for a company that offers way more than what you’ve listed (which, again, sounds like the bare minimum for any company that wants to retain employees) and it’s not like I’m telling my boss constantly how much I appreciate having a job. Even with the great benefits and pay, I still get frustrated at work and even with the higher ups in the business. It’s not because I’m exploiting anybody; it’s because life is life and can be frustrating and offering good healthcare doesn’t make one immune to making crap decisions elsewhere at times.

    I’m also very curious about the use of the word “exploited”. Making the most of the benefits your employer offers isn’t exploitation. Heck, working at a company purely for the benefits isn’t exploitation. I understand that you probably have a few frustrating employees that are rubbing you the wrong way, but that’s a behavior problem, not an exploitation problem.

    1. mf*

      “I mean, I work for a company that offers way more than what you’ve listed (which, again, sounds like the bare minimum for any company that wants to retain employees) and it’s not like I’m telling my boss constantly how much I appreciate having a job. ”

      Agreed. I express my gratitude by showing up every day and trying to do a good job to help the business thrive.

      OP, your employees owe you their labor in exchange for their paycheck. They do not owe you their gratitude.

  18. atalanta0jess*

    Psychotic is a medical term for a symptom that people experience as a result of illness. Could we please not use it to describe bullies? Unless you literally mean psychotic, which doesn’t seem to fit, given the context, it’s stigmatizing and dismissive of people who do experience psychosis. (I think here it is maybe intended to imply something similar to “sociopath” which is different in really important ways.)

    OP, I have this thing that happens when I feel overloaded…I get in this “no one ever helps me!!” mode, and blame other people for my stress. I get resentful. It sounds to me like you’ve just been doing too much for too long, and those feelings of overload are coming out sort of indiscriminately here, landing on targets who don’t deserve them…your employees. Instead of taking those feelings as real information about other people or society or whatever, I usually try to interpret them essentially as a warning sign about myself. “I’m feeling resentful…I must not be doing great. What can I do to increase my wellness?”

  19. Ella*

    The other thing you have that your employees don’t is a financial stake in the business. That both means they are less emotionally and financially attached to its survival and (and this is the important part) they don’t get any of the benefits of ownership. If you decided you wanted to quit today you could sell the business and keep the profits of it. If your employees quit today they’d get whatever back pay they’re owed and then that’s it. Hypothetically, if you want your employees to be just as invested in your businesses success as you, you could give them a share of the company, but without that you are naturally going to shoulder the costs (investment of time and money, stress of managing employees, etc.) and the benefits (capital, potential profit, control over business decisions) of business ownership.

  20. Stephanie*

    Yeah, this sounds like burnout. Is there a shutdown period your industry has? Is it possible to implement one? This may help with some of the burnout.

  21. Angelinha*

    “We settle final pay cheerfully and promptly for employees who have delivered no value we can detect.”

    This is not an unwritten rule of bosshood, this is just…the law.

    1. Mazzy*

      I was curious what this meant, I’m actually feeling the OP here, they’re situation sounds hard, but IdK what this means. I mean, paying someone even though they weren’t productive every second is normal? If not it sound alike some people should have been fired sooner?

      1. DerJungerLudendorff*

        I read it as “we pay people who never did anything whatsoever”.

        In which case: That’s what you’re supposed and required to do, and fix your hiring problem.

      2. MissDisplaced*

        When I read that I was almost thinking “sales” because there is such pressure to deliver value by brining in new accounts. Sometimes with marketing too: as in you’re supposed to deliver XX leads per month that equal $X amount of revenue.

    2. LCL*

      It is the law. And some small and medium size businesses have perfected the fine art of cheating their employees of their last pay due. No, OP doesn’t deserve a medal or a gold star for being professional and complying with the law. But being publicly recognized for your ethical behavior and standards, when other businesses are routinely gaming the system, is a not unreasonable thing to ask.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Highly disagree. People flouting the system and cheating their employees deserved to be publicly shamed, but people meeting the bare minimum requirements do not deserve to be publicly recognized.

    3. Sacred Ground*

      And if these employees have truly “delivered no value that we can detect” why are you employing them at all? The whole point of having employees is that the value of their work is MORE than what you pay them, otherwise, yeah, your business will fail. I mean, that’s just how capitalism works. If their work isnt actually worth what you’re paying them, either demand better/more from them, or train them up to the level you need, or let them go. Those are your choices and its your responsibility to make a choice. But don’t keep paying for valueless employees and then complain about being exploited.

      1. pancakes*

        Exactly — an employee delivering nothing can be fired, and a vendor or tradesperson or whatnot can be taken to small claims court or regular civil court.

  22. Cascadian*

    I have worked for people with this mindset and have relatives with this mindset who own businesses. Somehow they seem to lose sight of the basic truth that most of us work for money, and that we can’t care more about a person’s business endeavor than they do (or at least not without commensurate pay & benefits).
    Maybe the OP should look for a coach or advisor who can address their resentment of the people powering their business as well as burn out and related issues. Employees aren’t serfs or family retainers or enemies. We are business owners ourselves, renting out our time, labor & expertise to people who need help.

    1. Mazzy*

      “We can’t care more than they do” – I think that’s what it comes down to

  23. Eillah*

    Most people work to survive and will never be as invested in your business as you are. Sucks, but so does being on the receiving end of this cruddy attitude (which I guarantee your employees can sense).

  24. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Dude. This is outrageous and you’re possibly just not cut out for ownership in the end, this downside will never change.

    I’ve been the right hand person to people who are small manufacturing business owners my entire career. I have incredible stories about the former and current employees who have done outrageous things. It’s the reality of being a business owner. It angers me some of the things we’ve gone through because of how much I respect and deeply appreciate everything my bosses and former bosses. However in the end, they took it on the chin and just reminded me that people are going to lash out at whomever is the one in charge and the one who is viewed as the deepest pockets [even when their pockets are more empty in the end due to the recession and slumps].

    You’re the top of the pile, you’re the one taking on risks because you chose to own/co-own a company. If it takes off and booms, your piece of the pie is much bigger than anyone else. That’s the risk you take, with the reward that you’re aiming for. It’s business. It’s literally what you signed up for when you decided to hire someone to help you out. It’s a power game and you’re the powerful player in the end. If you cannot get over the personal feelings you’re now feeling damaged, you are not cut out for this world.

    I’m not going to congratulate you for paying your employees on time [dude, wtf, if you can’t pay them on time, roll it up or the state will do it for you]. I’m not going to tell you this will get easier. It never will. You will have bad reviews. You’ll have people who’s side of the story is incredibly unfair to you and you’ll be the bad-guy, the worst-guy ever in some people’s minds because you’re the boss and the world doesn’t like being under your thumb, despite you being kind and going out of your way. You’re still holding the crown, you’re still the one who they begrudgingly work for because they have bills to pay and don’t want to or simply cannot open their own business, since it takes a lot more than just wanting to be a business owner and your own boss.

  25. RC Rascal*

    This letter could be written by a friend of mine who owns a small business. She is chronically burned out and exhausted because of how she runs the place. Firstly, she is overly accommodating to both clients and employees. There isn’t a set schedule; clients essentially get service on demand. Secondly, no employee’s work is good enough for her. She constantly re-does work ; employees quickly become frustrated and leaves. OP, please take a look at your actual management practices and hire a consultant for feedback if need be.

  26. Anonymous Poster*

    OP, you sound entirely exhausted. Given how much you’ve worked, the dynamics, and the economy of your particular market, it’s completely understandable. You totally need some time to recharge however you can, because it sounds like you’ve simply been too nose-to-the-grindstone for too long.

    I suspect that there are a few employees that really are nightmares – many places have them. Let’s not kid ourselves; there are reasons that sites like notalwaysworking.com exist. While some may say “yes you’re just following the law” when you do settle final paychecks and pay on time despite financial difficulties, and yes you are, you always could dicker with folks that are less than helpful to your business if you really wanted. And you don’t! I’d argue that’s ethical as well as lawfully required. You’re also trying to retain staff through downturns and really putting yourselves on the line, which is admirable. But in these situations with nightmare staff, it reminds me of nightmare parents I’ve seen teachers work with. Most students are great and their parents are reasonable, but just 1 or 2 can make the entire year a disaster. You’re probably suffering through that.

    If you have multiple staff that are nightmares like this, it may be time to reassess your hiring practices. What do your good staff do that makes them good for y’all? What about your awful staff? And then how can you try and screen that out? Do you need to hire a consultant to help you figure out how to screen those people out?

    Also note that happy or simply satisfied people generally don’t leave online reviews or run around spreading the good word about a business. If people ask they’ll tell that they were happy there, but they won’t spend nearly as much effort as someone that feels slighted will. Most people pick up on this too – so take that whole deal with a giant grain of salt.

    It really sounds like you need a break if you can get one. Really try to prioritize that, so that you can reset your mind, mood, and body some and come back to this with a rested set of eyes. You hopefully will see things aren’t quite as bad as they seem, and there are solutions so some of the problems you’re seeing out there.

    Best of luck!

  27. The Cardinal*

    I was self-employed for 3.5 years and have worked for others roughly 40 years and with regard to the latter, my philosophy is this: I do the job that for which I’ve been hired to the best of my ability – I show up on time and make sure I’m where I’m supposed to be, I meet the deadlines that have been set and perform quality work, I’m respectful of other people (fellow employees, bosses, customers, and the general public), and I don’t publicly bad mouth my employer. As to what I expect from my employer: a pay check that is on time and that doesn’t bounce. I consider anything employee-friendly beyond what is legally required as simply a nicety in the plus column but nothing to really overly praise my employer for because believe you me, there are an equal number of less-than-friendly employer behaviors that easily offsets the niceties!

  28. atalanta0jess*

    Alison, would you consider, in the future, not including words like “psychotic” used out of their medical context? It’s really stigmatizing, and now the commenters are repeating it over and over.

    I’ve linked an article about why it’s hurtful to my gravatar.

    1. CmdrShepard4ever*

      I agree with your point about the miss use of certain words and how it leads to stigmatization. But I also think that the words that certain LW’s use are helpful context in the framing their letter and what the appropriate response should be. The words people use tell us a lot about their frame of mind and how we should or shouldn’t respond to them.
      If Alison got a letter from someone complaining about a coworker that was full of homophobic and/or racist slurs, a letter with the slurs edited out would receive much different advice from a letter that included the slurs.

      1. Washi*

        I think this is a good point. I remember there was that letter about the employee who called his boss’s daughter a whore, and without that word, it would have been difficult to really evaluate what was going on. That one was a little more cut and dry, but I think in this case as well, the word choice gives some insight into the letter writer’s state of mind. What we get from letters isn’t just cold hard facts, but the emotions and attitudes as well.

      2. atalanta0jess*

        Right, but then look at all the comments that also use it, *in the same stigmatizing way.* So the harm is done by the writer, which yes, gives information about them but also is hurtful, and then is perpetuated over and over by the commenters. The OP using a slur or committing a micro-aggression shouldn’t give all the rest of us permission to do the same.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          Yes other people in the comments using the same word is an issue. But in that case I think what RUKIDDINGME said “FWIW you/us using specific wording is one thing, but (even though there are words I actively try to get people to stop using in the real world) I dont think you should edit out what the OP says in their letters.” is the correct way to go about it.

          Alison could include the original language from the letter while adding a request/comment in the response for people commenting not to use the problematic language. I don’t think it is one of the rules already, but it could be added as a rule not to use words (bipolar, psychopath, sociopath etc…) describing mental health issues outside of the medical context in a casual way. There is already a rule not to armchair diagnose others, using words that have a definitive diagnosis/definition, seems to be an extension of that.

          I’m with you it really bothers me when people use words like bipolar to describe people.
          But I still think:
          a LW saying I have an annoying coworker what can I do? Will get response 1, do abc.
          While a LW saying I have an annoying SLUR coworker what can I do? Will get response 2, your bias against xyz is very likely to be clouding your judgement/interactions with this coworker, you should work on that.

      1. Toaster Strudel heiress*

        You wouldn’t let them choose the N-word for example, would you? This is like that. So yes please do think about it in future.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I don’t agree it’s the same as the N-word, actually, based on things like the fact that it continues to be used in this kind of context in mainstream publications and that the N-word is used deliberately to slur people. I agree norms are changing, though, and I hear you that people find it hurtful. I ask that we not derail on language debates so let’s leave this here, but I will indeed think on it.

        2. BenAdminGeek*

          To paraphrase John Mulaney: If there’s two words and you won’t even say one of the words, that’s the worse word.

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        FWIW you/us using specific wording is one thing, but (even though there are words I actively try to get people to stop using in the real world) I dont think you should edit out what the OP says in their letters.

        Even words like the those I particularly hate (see: C, B, W, etc words) because that wayers down the OPs message and doesn’t give us a realistic view if the OPs thinking.

        It’s like trying to hammer a nail with a stick. It can be done, but it’s a pain in the ass and not very accurate.

        1. atalanta0jess*

          I also want to call attention to how commenters are using it though. So it’s not just the OP speaking for themselves, it’s then also the commenters repeating the microaggression again and again.

    2. LetterWriter*

      Dear atalantaojess, Thank you for this feedback. Sorry I was insensitive. Forgive me. I promise to do better in the future.

  29. Lisa*

    Unless you’ve owned a business, you can’t grasp the stress of making payroll, just to have to do it again in the next week or 2. It’s a huge responsibility to have people dependent on you for the means to pay their bills. I empathize with OP! It’s a thankless 24/7 job. I had someone tell me I must be rich since I owned a business, and tried to shame me into donating a bigger gift certificate for their (nonprofit) fundraiser. You have to find a way to get what you need from it. I got out and everybody cried because they missed their job.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Of course they missed their job. Change is hard for people, they also like shelter and food. Most people don’t work for the good feelings it gives them. If you are stretched so thin that payroll is stressful, then your business isn’t profitable and therefore shouldn’t employ people.

    2. Snark*

      Here’s the thing, and like I said above, I watched my parents do this for 30 years…..nobody else cares. Nor should they. Is it stressful and thankless? Granted! Understood! But your employees don’t give a damn if it’s stressful. They sold you their labor, they want you to hold up your end of the transaction.

      Part of the blessing, and the curse, of owning your own business is the fact that you’re on top. It’s all on you, good and bad. And you’re getting yours, so don’t expect thanks.

    3. Washi*

      It is a huge responsibility, but it’s one that you sign up for when you start your own business. And it’s understandable to be stressed, but you can’t make your employees responsible for giving you praise and emotional satisfaction to make up for that stress. It’s like getting a house with a yard and complaining that you have to keep mowing the yard and that your neighbors never thank you for not letting it turn into a jungle.

      1. Not Me*

        +100. It’s a responsibility the business owner signed up for, so you can’t be upset at others for it.

    4. fposte*

      Sure, but you say “thankless” like it’s significant there’s no thanks. Not hitting people in traffic is also thankless.

      It can be a hard thing to take on and still not be something anybody owes gratitude for.

      1. Snark*

        And sometimes, you get a nice bonus! A lady told me the other day I was a good dad for making my kid laugh with a goofy llama hand-puppet. Someone told me my dog was really well-trained the other day. And I have given positive feedback to my boss for things like not letting her boss’ whargarbl hit us. But that’s all it is: a bonus little bit of affirmation for things that you really should be doing anyway.

    5. Natalie*

      Unless you’re operating some kind of job-providing-charity, sounds like you’re equally dependent on their labor.

    6. Manon*

      As others have said, that stress is something you sign up for when you start a business. You CHOSE that responsibility. Why should your employees thank you for not stealing their labor?

    7. Phoenix Programmer*

      Also everyone with dependents know exactly what if feels like to have others depending on you financially.

    8. RUKiddingMe*

      I own a business. I understand making oayroll every dingle werk. I dont expect thanks for it though.

      As an aside, its a good idea to start trying to put at least three months’ worth of payroll into an account. Even if you have to start at $100.00 at a time. This de-stresses things significantly.

    9. Curiouser and Curiouser*

      What is thankless about it? You hired me because you needed an employee, and are paying me not to “thank me” for what I’ve done, but because that’s what it takes to keep me as your employee. I’ve been thankful to get a paycheck…but not thankful to my employer. It’s a requirement if they want me to work here.

      1. Mediamaven*

        But how often does your boss thank you for a job well done? Hopefully it’s often. It’s a term that shows appreciation. A good boss isn’t expecting a thank you for your paycheck, but it feels good to get a thank you and some appreciation for extra perks.

        1. DerJungerLudendorff*

          Yeah, but they’re not asking for appreciation for extra perks. They’re asking it for paying their employees for the work they profited off.

          1. SarahTheEntwife*

            Yeah, I thank my boss for opportunities to explore areas I’m interested in, going to bat for me in sticky customer situations, that kind of thing. Thanking them for paying me on time feels almost insulting, like them thanking me for doing basic job tasks that I’ve been doing for years.

        2. Curiouser and Curiouser*

          I mean…I thank my boss all the time when they say something about my work or they give me an opportunity or if they do something that goes above and beyond for me (sticking up in a meeting, giving me credit somewhere that it wouldn’t be necessary, including me in a meeting I wouldn’t usually be included in). But I don’t thank them for paying me on time or for just being my boss…that’s really not the same thing.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            Yeah, it would be most comparable to if your boss thanked you just for literally showing up.

        3. Ace in the Hole*

          My boss thanking me for a job well done is a rare occurrence… which is fine by me. I much prefer the positive feedback I do get to thanks. It’s a subtle distinction, but basically I’d rather my boss say “good job on X” than “thanks for doing X,” unless X was really above and beyond the expectations of the job, or very much outside my regular duties.

          I extend the same reasoning to my employer. I absolutely thank my boss when she does something way above baseline decency for employers. For example when she pays out of pocket to host a work party for the whole company, when she bends over backwards to accommodate my class schedule, gives me a ride home when I have car trouble, etc.

    10. Observer*

      Oh, some of us grasp this all too well. There are plenty of people who do not own businesses NOT because they didn’t have the wherewithal, but because they were not able / willing to take up that burden.

      The thing is, though, that your EMPLOYEES don’t owe you thanks. They upheld their part of the bargain – and you don’t do a lot of thanking unless they go beyond that. Why would anyone expect people to be so grateful for their employer keeping their part of the bargain.

      And, if it’s just too much? There’s no shame in getting out. Just don’t blame everyone else.

    11. Batman*

      It doesn’t matter. It’s legally required. It’s not the employees’ responsibility to congratulate their employer for making payroll on time.

    12. Kella*

      I have never been responsible for someone’s payroll but I have plenty of experience being responsible for dozens of people and how frustrating and thankless that job is. I’ve also had employers that saddled me with the job of figuring out how we were going to pay our bills because they couldn’t handle it. It’s a huge amount of stress and work that is largely invisible to those around you.

      But I wanted to point out this sentence: “I got out and everybody cried because they missed their job.”

      I’m curious, if they had been thankful and appreciative, would you have continued in that line of work? Because this makes it sound like, “if they loved their job so much they should’ve appreciated me for giving it to them while they had it.” Appreciation is not part of their contracted responsibilities to you and if you are finding the work not sufficiently rewarding to continue doing it, the fault for that does not rely on the employees.

      But as difficult as it is to make the decision to close a business, which impacts dozens if not hundreds of people, you still have the better side of the deal. If the news of the closure of sudden, employees have their lives turned upside down in a day, whereas you had time to decide whether or not to close, and what you would do once you did close. If the news of the closure comes a few weeks or months before it happens, you get the advantage of having all the work you need from your employees to tie up the lose ends up until that closure, whereas the employees don’t get to extend their end date til they find a new job. As hard a job as it is, you still have benefits that your employees don’t, and the benefits you lack are not caused by your employees, they are caused by the nature of the job.

    13. LetterWriter*

      It is hard for non-business owners to relate. But my take-home from the comments is that we should look for support from other entrepreneurs who understand and relate to the ups and downs.

  30. LKW*

    My dad ran a small business, one that he could never turn into a big business likely due to his management style. So I get the frustration of being a small business owner, at least I can be somewhat empathetic.

    If you could list the top 5 things that you’d like to see from your employees, to reduce feeling exploited (perceived or real), what would that be? Would it be less attrition? Greater contributions to solutions? More outward appreciation? And then based on those things, are there any behaviors that could be triggering the negative effects you’re feeling? Higher attrition may be result of benefits, work hours, shitty manager that no one is discussing? Not contributing to solutions could be an environment in which people are held accountable (fair or unfair) for decisions, or their ideas are dismissed. Or a shitty manager. And then lastly – have you talked to your employees about the outcomes you want and the expected relationship? Or is this a case of “Shouldn’t they know?” ESP?

    1. Jamie*

      This is a really helpful comment. I hope the OP is reading and even if they don’t feel like sharing the specifics of their employee issues, I hope they take the time to sort them like this – this approach can make things much more manageable.

  31. Booksalot*

    It sounds like you need a more robust process for firing people. You wouldn’t be struggling with so much damage from difficult employees if they were being removed quickly and efficiently.

    Do you have different procedures for different types of performance issues? You should. For example, I’ve worked in places that did long-term PIPs for foundry workers who weren’t meeting their numbers, short-term PIPs for any employee who had an attitude problem, and instant firing for anyone who broke a safety rule.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The issues don’t go away when you fire someone. That’s why they have bad reviews and ugly things said around town about them. It’s also why they probably have a hard time finding other people to slide into the positions they constantly have vacant.

      You really don’t know that the OP isn’t firing people regularly enough or that it’s not what’s leading to their ultimate problems. They may be viewing PIPs/warning systems as the part where they’re “being too nice” as well.

      Ive fired so many people. Termination is great to give you at least some space between you and the person immediately-ish. Then the OSHA inspections start rolling out and the complaints to the other governing bodies. Even though you’re totally compliant, it takes you down a long papertrail and talks with the officials.

  32. agnes*

    Former business owner here. I understand and sympathize with your stress and fatigue. I learned an important lesson when I owned my business–I could not get my validation from my employees. I had mostly good employees. I respected and liked them. They respected and liked me.

    But my business was my LIFE –and my business was their JOB. Big difference. If they got a better offer, they were gone. If they wanted more money, they asked for it. If they didn’t like a policy, they complained. They didn’t thank me when they got paid on time–they expected it. (as they should).

    They weren’t grateful when I took out a loan to keep the business floating–because they had no idea. I imagine if they had known they probably would have reacted by jumping ship because they would be scared that my business was closing and they wouldn’t get paid. I can’t say that I would blame them either.

    A group of employees is just like any group of people you might be with on a regular basis (church, school, other groups). Many of them you enjoy being around, you like each other and all is well. A few act out and behave poorly. Big difference is that you and they are not peers. You are the owner. A lot of the acting out will be focused on you or the workplace.

    I suggest you find more ways to get out and hang out with business peers or with people who have nothing to do with your business. Detach some. It won’t hurt your business and it will help you. You’ll get refreshed and have emotional resources outside of the workplace. Best wishes to you.

    1. Elbe*

      “I could not get my validation from my employees.”
      This is a great point. Everyone likes praise and recognition for their hard work, but it’s not reasonable to expect that to go up the chain. Not being able to have the praise of a supervisor is part of the deal when you’re at the top.

    2. Southern Yankee*

      “find more ways to…hang out with business peers”
      One thing that I hope is clear from the comments is that an employee is never going to be invested in your business or appreciate you as you may wish. Besides the excellent advice to take some true vacation time to stop the burnout train that is bearing down on you, please consider finding support from others that will understand your stress and may provide the simpathetic ear you need. I mean other business owners. My brother-in-law spent years in the weeds struggling to make a go with his small business, always in the red, always sweating making payroll. About ten years in, he started going to a local small business owner’s group that met monthly. The benefits were great: networking, advice, brainstorming, problem solving, picking the brain of more experienced peers, and VENTING frustration to an audience that truly understood. My brother-in-law is in a much more stable, sucessful place now (another 10-15 years on), and I think having the support was a big part of it. I also think he’s a better boss although the change was subtle so he may not be that aware of it.

      I encourage you to take the time to develop these kind of resources that can help you navigate this frustration. It may seem like you can’t take the time, but it might be the thing that keeps you mentally prepared to do the next ten years.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes this, definitely. If your local area has something like a chamber of commerce or a small business owners’ association then it’s worth approaching them for support and contacts. In the UK a couple of my friends really rate the Federation of Small Businesses as providing a great package of support including networking groups and shared learning opportunities. If there’s a trade body for your area they can also be a source of support.

  33. animaniactoo*

    OP, reading through your letter, I was reminded of one of Chris Rock’s routines where he talks about fathers bragging about how they handle their parental responsibilities “I take CARE of MY KIDS” – and his response “That’s not something you’re supposed to brag about. That’s just some basic shit you’re supposed to do.”

    Genuinely, I do not mean that in a bad way. It’s the reflection that I see – when so many people *don’t* do the basic baseline stuff, just doing it feels like it deserves something more. It does sound like you do some stuff that’s above and beyond, but maybe not nearly as above and beyond as your perspective has skewed you to see it as.

    That you’ve made it to the point of turning a profit is amazing. However, you also didn’t list anything that was particularly remarkable in terms of employee behavior so I’m left wondering if you’re headed for burnout OR if you have a real issue and basically thought it was so obvious that you forgot to detail it?

    I don’t want to downplay the idea that perhaps you have managed to end up with an employee/workplace culture issue in terms of negativity/professionalism. That maybe it flourishes there more than average. But I do want to encourage you to take a step back and see where you think that’s coming from. Because honestly, there will always be somebody trying to get over, so yes, as an employer, you’re always going to be up against that. Is it possible that in your quest for profit and professionalism on your end, you have extended too much benefit of the doubt and accepted behavior/employees that you should not have? Too many from that end of the spectrum? Or that you did because you were busy putting out the fires left right and center in triage mode as you worked towards making a profit? If so, then there is still work to be done in terms of keeping the company growing and sustainable. It should not be done all in one fell swoop. But it should be done carefully and purposely, and you should plan that it’s going to take awhile.

    Examine the possibilities and figure out where that sense you’re being taken advantage of is coming from – and while you’re doing it, make sure you total up on the other side all the people who are NOT taking advantage (from your view) and weigh both sides of the scale so that you have a better sense of whether you have an issue of perspective or culture.

  34. 867-5309*

    OP, I was recruited to a job by a professional contact. Initially I was a freelance marketing director and six months into the assignment, they were ready for me to come on board as a FTE. I relocated out-of-state. Less than six months later, I was laid off. It turned out, the CEO and COO had been floating payroll on and off for months. If I had that information, I would have stayed freelance and been fine doing so. This was a start-up that had been around for several years at this point. Realizing after the fact – when I was unemployed with no back-up plan – was frustrating.

    My suggestion would be to look at your organizational structure and see if there are meaningful changes you can make to help the profitability and operations of the business. Covering payroll once or twice is one thing, but doing so regularly does not help anyone.

    1. Jamie*

      I’ve been there as well. The solvency of the company without needing to dip into personal funds or loans to meet payroll is huge.

      Before I lost my job to a restructure I was getting very nervous about how many vendors weren’t being paid, how little cash on hand, and owners being particularly worried and cranky the days before payroll. I should have jumped when I’d first gotten nervous but I waited until my position was the next economic cut-back.

  35. Princess prissypants*

    Where’s the line between “be kind” and “it’s a kindness to point out to people how out of touch they are” ?

    1. NerdyKris*

      You can do the latter without insulting the person. She’s not saying “Don’t tell people they’re looking at it wrong”, she’s saying “Don’t be insulting”.

    2. Environmental Compliance*

      I think that line rests in tone, tbh. There’s a difference between “omg what is wrong with you how dare you think that” and “okay, that’s not accurate/appropriate, here’s why”.

    3. Lucette Kensack*

      I don’t think it’s especially difficult to walk this line.

      Unkind = “Uh, you’re the kind of boss that gives bosses a bad name. No wonder your employees treat you badly!”

      Kindly pointing out how “out of touch” they are = Allison’s response.

      Unkindly pointing out how “out of touch” they are = 17 people reiterating how out of touch they are, even though others have already made the same point.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Imagine you’re saying it to a fellow guest in my home who you want to be warm and kind to. And imagine you don’t want me kicking you out of my home for alienating my guests.

    5. Holly*

      Word choices and tone. How would you explain something if your job was to advise a difficult client? “Wow, this is very out of touch.” vs. “I think it would actually be more in line with professional norms that I’ve experienced to think of it this way.” The aim of commenting on this site is to actually advise the OP without shutting down discourse or discouraging people to be open with their true feelings.

      1. Antilles*

        Agreed. I also think the explanation matters – “This is bad” is a different and harsher message than “This is bad, because…(reasons)”.

    6. LetterWriter*

      Tough love – and tell it like it is – is more helpful to people like me who don’t get out much. And it’s good to get the range of reactions from compassion to ‘have you lost your mind?’ That’s why we come here!

      1. Princess prissypants*

        In that case, I will, since you asked.

        Dude.

        You have a former employee who you didn’t get along with, you found no value in, who said something nasty about you or your business on twitter? You expect your employees to fawn over you for paying them on time? Those appear to be your two chief complaints.

        I’m going to pretend I’m an (average) employee of yours. My priority is to do a good job and earn a paycheck. Your priority is to make your business succeed at all costs. You’re the guy who took a huge risk to create a business, put all your into it. Not me. You’re the guy who wants to do whatever it takes – go personally bankrupt, scrape by for years, put in 70-hour weeks – to make your business successful. Not me. You’re the guy who’ll profit BIG if your business goes that way. Not me.

        All I want from you is a paycheck and to be treated like a human being – those aren’t exactly praise-worthy things. As many have already said, that’s the basal expectation. What exactly is it that you want from me? You already have a majority of my time, my labor, and my future in your hands. What else is it that you want?

  36. Sharikacat*

    There LW appears to have fallen into the disconnect between owner and employee. Of course the owner is exponentially more invested in their work than an employee- the owner can’t as easily quit and go to another job. I can imagine a certain difficulty in trying to operate a business that treats it’s employees very well because it feels like the overall system tends to reward crappy behavior to a degree. A sense of personal ethics seems to be the only incentive to taking the high road.

  37. WorkInProgress*

    Being a manager – and even more so a business owner – is a thankless job. If you’re in it expecting to receive validation/gratitude from your employees you may need to reconsider your professional situation.

    I’ve seen many managers and entrepreneurs fall into this trap of resentment that their employees don’t care as much about the business as they do, that they don’t value all that they do for them (like pay them, offer attractive perks, generally not be an a-hole to them). They want “cookies” for the standard of being a decent boss/employer. They want employees to fawn over how awesome they are and all the hard work they do to keep things afloat. It’s just not going to happen. Your reward and “gratitude” comes in the form of retaining an engaged staff that does the work they’re required to do (and does it well). Your employees will never care about your business as much as you do – and expecting them to is unrealistic. I know I could never be an entrepreneur because I don’t want to be at work 24/7, I want the flexibility to leave something if I’m burnt out, and I know I could never handle the “thanklessness” of the role.

    The successful entrepreneurs I’ve encountered derive their job satisfaction from factors not related to their employees (creative freedom, building something, new mental challenges, social standing/influence, business awards, etc). Not everyone is cut out for the lifestyle. It may be time to reexamine, as others have stated, why you’re still in it. If the joys of business ownership no longer outweigh the depressing lows, you need to be honest with yourself and cut your losses. The worse thing you could do is stay in the role and continue being resentful of your employees or other standard factors that come with the territory of being a business owner. Guarantee your team will pick up on that vibe, morale will suffer even more, and the negativity will just feed off of itself in a vicious cycle. I’ve seen this happen first hand and it is not pretty.

    1. Double A*

      It seems like if you want to be a manager/owner (or a teacher… or a parent, for that matter), it would be helpful to think about what will be giving you a sense of validation in your job, and it CANNOT be the people over whom you have power. If you are sometimes explicitly appreciated by your employees/charges/students/children, that’s a nice perk. But the way they will show their appreciation will not generally be overt, it will be doing things like showing up on time and doing their job well; engaging with the work; asking questions appropriately; cooperation; appropriate collaboration; providing feedback and suggestions as appropriate; giving two weeks notice when they quite; asking you for a reference, etc.

      Someone mentioned that owning a business is “thankless” but… the money is the thanks! Or at least the potential for money And if there’s no money, or the money is erratic sometimes, then either it’s not a good business, or there’s some other kind of thanks, which can include making an excellent product; treating ones employees well (which includes having appropriate boundaries and expectations); providing a great service, etc.

      The upshot is, expecting people over whom you have power to validate what you’re doing is what leads to actual exploitation, because you’re creating an environment where it’s unlikely people are going to be able to honest with you or be able to appropriate fulfill the employee role.

  38. Malarkey01*

    I can empathize with you LW. Owning a business, and in a lot of ways being a manager, is a thankless job in the literal sense that people don’t often say “thanks for being a great owner” and everyone would occasionally like a little acknowledgement that people know and appreciate the little extra (before anyone jumps on how employees shouldn’t have to be grateful I’d compare it to how I thank people who work for me when they’ve done a particularly great job or recognize that someone went out of their way even though they are paid to do that thing). It’s nice to know that people recognize it when you go a little above and beyond and are more accommodating or understanding or whatever….

    But that’s the nature of ownership/management and you need to find ways to validate yourself instead of expecting it from employees and be very careful not to conflate things you must do (like paying people) with the things that you do that are above and beyond. Otherwise built up resentment snowballs.

    1. Mediamaven*

      This is exactly it. Business ownership is very lonely. I think those of us who run businesses feel some sympathy to the LW.

      1. Observer*

        Actually, I think a lot of people are sympathetic to the burnout. What they are saying is that the OP is simply blaming the wrong people.

  39. Jadelyn*

    OP, there’s this dynamic that I’ve seen play out a number of times in the past – a deeply toxic one – and I’m seeing shades of that in your letter. It goes like this:

    Person A decides, unprompted, to do something “nice” (something they think is “nice” anyway) for Person B.
    Person B, having not asked Person A to do the thing, says a polite thanks but isn’t super effusive about it.
    Person A gets angry because Person B didn’t grovel and “appreciate” the “favor” enough for Person A.

    If someone asks for a favor, then is ungrateful or lukewarm in their gratitude for the favor, then it’s reasonable to be upset. What makes the above toxic as hell is that by independently choosing to do what they think is a favor for Person B, Person A now feels entitled to a specific reaction from Person B, and feels entitled to be hurt/upset/angry/whatever if they don’t get the reaction they wanted. It sets up an imagined debt Person B now owes, without having agreed to take on any such debt.

    You’re Person A in this scenario, and your employees are collectively Person B. You chose to do things for them (and I’m glossing over the fact that many of those things are, like, basic legal requirements for employing people, since plenty of other folks have already addressed that part), without anyone actually asking you to, and now you’re upset because you felt entitled to a specific kind of reaction and didn’t get it.

    If you choose to freely do someone a favor, make sure it’s really that: a favor, done freely and without expectation of reciprocation. If you’re going to be upset if the recipient of the favor doesn’t respond the way you want, then don’t do the favor, because it’s not really a favor that that point – it’s a down payment on a debt the recipient didn’t want to take on, which you’re forcing them into.

    (Again, this only applies to things that are actually optional, like paying your employees on time(!) and paying out their final pay promptly (!!) and other basic legal requirements of employers. Those, you have to do, and abiding by the law in how you deal with your employees isn’t a “favor”.)

    1. fposte*

      This is known in some psych circles as the “covert contract”: the expectation that if I do A, you are obliged to do B, without that expectation ever being shared.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      If you choose to freely do someone a favor, make sure it’s really that: a favor, done freely and without expectation of reciprocation. If you’re going to be upset if the recipient of the favor doesn’t respond the way you want, then don’t do the favor, because it’s not really a favor that that point – it’s a down payment on a debt the recipient didn’t want to take on, which you’re forcing them into.

      Hear hear.

      My best bosses long ago taught me that they’re the ones in charge of their generosity. They got bit a few times and nursed those wounds in the company of those who understood the situation [friends, family and me because I was also usually grouchy about it too.]. Then we dusted each other off and was all “oh well, some people’s children, man.” and on to the next day. It also never soured us completely on doing “nice” things in general, it just made us have a very short tolerance for when the favors would dry up. I’ll come pick you up and get your butt to the shop but you better be ready. I have left people behind because they weren’t ready and my boss was like “We tried, we’re not going to go in and pull them out of bed like their parents, we tread the line too closely enough.”

  40. FactoryTour*

    I am also a small business owner, and facing a lot of the same stresses- sacrificing my own payroll to make sure everyone gets paid, worrying about the money constantly, and stressing about the interpersonal dynamics. But I’ve also had years where I did very well from the business, and I have the privilege of creating something meaningful to our customers and our employees.

    OP, I highly recommend reading The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack. It’s about open-books management, but its really about rethinking the relationship between employer and employee. It untangles the suspicion and ignorance from each side. When you give everyone the information they need to know about how their role fits into the company as a whole, and how they directly benefit from not just doing their job but improving the business, the stronger your company will grow and the more employee attitudes will improve. We’re starting to implement it at my company, and I already feel so inspired by how smart, capable, and interested by staff is. I feel a little of the burden of figuring it all out slowly dissolving. I feel more and more like my company is becoming a team working together, and not a huge puzzle that I am left to solve by myself.

    1. Mediamaven*

      I own a business and I’m going to order this book you’ve recommended. Thanks for the suggestion. As a business owner you are in a constant state of paranoia. I’d love to alleviate some of that!

    2. FactoryTour*

      I also try to have the philosophy of “care, but don’t worry.” I mean, I still worry A LOT but I also work hard to not make my business my whole life. I have a business partner and we make each other take time off, we more or less leave work at work and set 40 hour/week limits on our work unless there is a pressing need, and realize that most things can wait until the next day. I have other things in my life that bring me joy and fulfillment, and when I am feeling most trapped I just think through the actual worst case scenario- I lose my business, I maybe have some debt to work off, but I have skills and talents and I can get another job. My staff loses their job but they are likewise talented and I hopefully have given them a place to further develop their skills, and I would use my network to help them find other jobs. And we are lucky to be in a city with very low unemployment, where it is often a worker’s market. I have an ice cream shop, and have created an internal company motto to keep everything in perspective: It’s just ice cream. No one lives or dies by our work. And for probably 75% of jobs, that is true as well. Being able to cultivate a culture where people CARE but don’t WORRY is essential- the extreme stress and worry can actually keep you from doing the best job, because few people make the best decisions and do their best work in crisis. Even those who are “great in a crisis” can’t sustain that long term.
      OP I hope you get to take a breath, have a break, and come back to the business in a few days with a little more breathing room. Good Luck!

  41. Maya Elena*

    I’d like to offer a counterpoint to all the “evil/entitled employer” comments.
    Money is not infinite, “just a cost of doing business” is still a cost; and I think it warrants acknowledgement that someone is out there bearing those costs to enable people to have jobs. And if your business closes down, then all those people will *not* have jobs.

    Also, your “power” is much more answerable to reality, and risk, than – say – a middle management executive in Citibank or a government official, and in some ways more so than your employees.

    Finally, the moment your business turns a significant profit, a subset of your employers and onlookers – who built no businesses – will turn around and call you greedy if you keep too much of that profit – but I don’t think everyone thinks so, even if that sort is the loudest.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      And if your business closes down, depending on your actual bank account, you get to creep back into that workforce that you’re unable to get the respect of. I saw this happen recently, a business tanked, the owner had to sell the scraps and go back to work for another employer.

      So it’s great that there is always someone out there that’s willing to try their hand at business no matter what. So from one money pile to the next.

    2. fposte*

      I think it warrants acknowledgment, sure; it just doesn’t entitle anybody to it from their employees.

    3. Jamie*

      Money is not infinite, “just a cost of doing business” is still a cost; and I think it warrants acknowledgement that someone is out there bearing those costs to enable people to have jobs. And if your business closes down, then all those people will *not* have jobs.

      Tbf no one has been calling business owners evil, just pointing out that meeting payroll isn’t optional no matter how hard it may be at times.

      To the above…you aren’t bearing those costs to enable people to have jobs. You are bearing those costs to run your business, your employees a necessary resource to meet that end.

      Unless you’re running a charity whereby you are giving people busy work just so you can pay them a salary they are selling and you are purchasing their labor because it has a benefit to you.

      Some business owners do care a lot about their employees, but it’s completely disingenuous to imply that the reason you employ people is for their benefit alone.

      And they would have jobs, just elsewhere.

  42. Koey*

    I expected a lot of scolding in Allison’s response and these comments and I was not disappointed. Those of you quick to jump on the bandwagon could benefit from a step back. OP wants people to treat him and his management ream like adults and with respect the same way they treat them. That’s not too much to ask given that there’s a paycheck involved. I’d also be willing to bet that there are many many times OP has let things slide and would love a little reciprocity. I was in a family business for many years and I’ve been exactly where he is. And for those of you offended by the word “psychotic”, calm down. It’s a figure of speech. Maybe have some compassion for the spot OP is in.

    1. Dan*

      OP owns up to his side of things — he admits he’s exhausted. When I’m exhausted, as a salaried employee with a benefits package, I take a paid vacation.

      If one has sucky employees, one needs to cut them loose. Odds are that most of his staff are showing up and doing the job he’s paying them to do, and a small handful are the headaches.

      If I wanted OP’s headaches, I’d start a business. But I don’t, so I remain a working stiff… who works 40 hour work weeks and gets 4 weeks of paid vacation every year.

    2. fposte*

      I sympathize because I struggle with some similar impulses. But 1) this isn’t an equal relationship and the OP isn’t entitled to being treated as if it were and 2) the OP doesn’t just want to be respected as an adult, she wants gratitude. Which isn’t appropriate.

      The OP sounds like she’s in a standard position as the owner of a struggling business. All of this is pretty much part of the game. It’s a hard game, which is why a lot of us wouldn’t do it, but it’s what you sign on for.

    3. Peacock*

      “Psychotic”, when used in the context that OP used it, is not just a figure of speech and it’s certainly not harmless. It’s ableist and I wouldn’t use it in this context or want to see it used just as I wouldn’t use or want to see the R word or any other ableist language. It’s totally stigmatising and telling people to calm down over it is rude and dismissive.

    4. atalanta0jess*

      I have compassion for people with mental health symptoms that are discriminated against and stigmatized.

      I also have compassion for the OP.

      I can have both.

    5. Double A*

      If the OP’s employees are truly treating the OP and management with a lack of respect, then there is a culture problem in the business, and culture is ALWAYS the responsibility of management.

      But the OP is exhausted and needs a break– if there is a culture problem, there is no way they’re going to be able to even spot it, much less address it, when they are this tired. I have great compassion for people who are courting burn out– but the only thing to do at that point is to take a break.

      1. Koey*

        I agree. The presence of disrespect/exploitation/whatever is really a cultural thing which is entirely in management’s hands. It’s within management’s rights to expect to be treated well by their employees as much as it is to expect the reverse, so if that’s not happening then management needs to send the message that that behavior isn’t tolerated. Often that means frank conversations, real performance management, terminations, etc. which isn’t easy. And if employees are doing it to management, they’re probably doing it to each other and managers are probably doing it to employees. None of it is OK.

    6. ArtK*

      The OP never explains what the employees are doing that make him/her feel “exploited.” Specific behaviors would make it a lot easier to digest this. The lack of detail opens the door to a great deal of speculation.

    7. LetterWriter*

      What I am hearing here is that there is a general perception that as an employer, that kind of fairness is not reasonable to expect. Because you will always be seen as the one with the power, you will be expected to be the bigger person and just roll with the punches. Sometimes you will be a target, just because. Compassion and reciprocity will be hard to get because of this idea that as a business owner, you already have the advantage, even as a small business owner or start-up. This is the realization I termed as the ’employee is always right’ … It’s actually been confirmed here in the sense that the culture does not tolerate (too much) humanizing of business owners. Instead, we need, for some reason, to see them as faceless entities with ill intent and no chips in their armor. I still think the reality is more grey than that, but it is very helpful to see where everyone is coming from…

      1. Observer*

        I think that you are misreading this. It’s true that people here keeps saying that as the employer, you have more power. Because it’s factually true. No ifs, ands or buts.

        That doesn’t mean that everyone thinks that employers must be seen as “faceless entities with ill intent and no chips in their armor.” Or that the employee will always be seen as right, no matter what. Far from that, in fact.

        What it DOES mean is that you need to understand that to a large extent you ARE acting from a position of power and that DOES change the dynamic and what you can expect as a reasonable, realistic and good human being. And it means that if you DO have a en employee who is a bully or slacker, YOU have the power to fire them. You may need to document what happened, but you CAN fire them. Not so any of the employees in your business. Also, because you not only hold the power advantage but also the advantage in reaping the rewards of your work, there is a limit to what you can expect from your staff, especially in terms of emotional satisfaction.

        Conflating the two sets of concepts does you no good. It will be MUCH healthier for you (and your business) to get some distance and clarity.

        1. LetterWriter*

          I get where you’re coming from on this, mostly. The only place I see the disconnect is this. Workers *can* quit any time and get another job. If so, then both are equally free and work together out of choice and as long as it serves each. Do you agree?

      2. pancakes*

        What reciprocity are you seeking? Surely you’re not expecting your employees to pay you. Did you mean something else?

        Your language around culture not “tolerating” business owners being “humanized” is similarly imprecise and hard to understand. Not one person here has recommended or advised you to be something other than human. And some of us have been small business owners ourselves. What exactly is it that you want out of this discussion and feel you’re being denied?

        1. LetterWriter*

          To the contrary, it’s very encouraging and comforting feedback throughout. I don’t mean the stuff about the double standard as a complaint, more as an explanation that helps everything make sense. I don’t have to agree with it all, as some positions clearly reflect our diverse political biases, but it’s very illuminating and freeing to have several alternative ways of seeing this.

          1. pancakes*

            I still don’t have any idea what reciprocity you have or had in mind.

            No one said or suggested you have to agree with all the comments. That would be a very silly thing to say!

  43. Dan*

    OP,

    It’s time for a break. A vacation. Something. If you’re busting your ass and it’s not showing up in your profit and loss statements (er, if it’s showing up on the “loss” side) then you’re just in for a world of hurt and it’s going to continue to drain you. As an employee, you’re providing what I would consider the minimum to retain “good” employees. And you’re not going to get a pat on the back from me, instead, I’m just going to keep showing up and not quit on you.

    In the USA, “owning a business” is held up high on a pedestal, and “working for the man” is looked down on. Let me tell you what my life is like working for the man, and why it’s unlikely I’ll give this up to “own my own business”.

    1. I work 80 hours every two weeks. In theory, this is a 9-5 M-F job, but realistically, as long as I get my hours in nobody cares.
    2. I rarely work more than 80 hour pay periods.
    3. I set my own hours. In theory (again), this a 9-5 job. I don’t come in at 9 and I don’t leave a 5. Nobody cares.
    4. I make a six figure salary. Other than the cost of living where I live, I’m not complaining too loudly.
    5. I get 160 hours of paid leave every year (on top of holidays) that I get to take at my discretion. Vacations planned in advance? Check, no problems. Last minute sick time? Check, no problems.
    6. I get a 401k match that is way over industry standard.
    7. I do technical work, and don’t have any exposure to company financials.

    Most days, I don’t hate life. Hell, it’s Monday, and I’m not m0aning and groaning about dragging my ass out of bed this morning.

    So when I consider business ownership, I ask myself “what for”. I mean, I know what for, but I know what I’m giving up to do it, and that’s a hell of a lot of risk for questionable return.

    You bust your ass because you expect the potential profits to pay off in the long haul. Either that, or you really hate being someone else’s employee. Fine. But as you’re well aware, “business owner” isn’t necessarily a walk in the park.

    You definitely need a break, and if you can’t get one, then it’s probably time to rethink your long term career plans — you’re on a path that doesn’t have a happy ending.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      LW, it’s worth noting that the situation Dan described above is an unusual and incredibly fortunate one for employees. I’m a regular working stiff who often does 60-hour weeks, has no paid vacation and only the amount of sick leave required by the state, and earns about $35k a year in a high cost of living area – and there are a lot more non-owners like me around than non-owners like Dan. I often get burned out and resentful too… but I’m not reaping the benefits of a profitable business.

  44. Mickey Q*

    It’s evident from the comments that most of you have never owned or operated a business. The OP is overworked and underpaid or possibly not paid at all. They have taken on great personal debt and perhaps their very own homes are on the line. When you are in this situation it feels like you are operating a business for the sole purpose of the employees to get a paycheck. Yet they continue to complain and badmouth you even though they are getting paid on time a decent wage when you aren’t even getting a paycheck. Their raises technically come out of your personal funds when the company isn’t generating a profit.

    Then there’s the badmouthing. You provide this person a job, train them, treat them right. They don’t show up, refuse to do their work, even steal from you. They get fired for poor work and still manage to receive unemployment because the system does favor the employee. This comes at great cost to the employer via the increased rates that will cost them $3000-7000 over the next 2 years.

    There’s the emotional toll you take from these people who don’t understand what it means to run a business. As an owner you can never do anything right in their eyes. Nobody ever thanks you for giving them a job and keeping them on even though business is slow, keeping your doors open even though you and your family are suffering. However, they feel like they should receive constant thanks for showing up and doing the bare minimum. They don’t think about where the funds are coming from to cover their checks which are always on time. They don’t appreciate the hours of work you are putting in and not being compensated for, and you are doing this so that the company doesn’t have to shell out even more funds for more employees which could possibly lead it to fail. No, all the employee does is bitch that they you don’t give them even more.

    The commenters insult you telling you that you don’t know what you’re doing and maybe shouldn’t be in this business. Yet if you decide to scale back or close they will excoriate you for doing that. And if you ever are in the position to make a profit your employees will get envious that you finally bought a new car and start bitching that they aren’t getting more – totally overlooking what personal and financial sacrifices it took for you to get to the position you’re in. Sometimes they even use this to justify stealing.

    The economy is good and if you don’t like your job you can find another one. The employer doesn’t have that luxury. They have 2 choices: soldier on or close down. If they’re lucky maybe they can sell the business, but usually not. Most often all these choices come at great personal expense. Some of the suggestions are for the OP to reduce their stress or take a vacation. Don’t you think if they could do this they would have already. Realize that they don’t have that option. They only have choices 1 and 2 above.

    And yes, paying your staff on time is a testament when you have to take out loans or use personal funds. This is a privately-owned business owner, not Wal-Mart. The OP could use choice #2, close down and then everyone would be out of a job. I can imagine the complaints if that happened. Employees do need to see the other side. If you’re getting compensated as agreed upon nobody really owes you anything else. But yet you still expect more.

    OP, I’m with you. I doubt any of these people have been in your shoes so they have no right to comment.

    1. Princess prissypants*

      As right as you may be, none of these things are the employees’ responsibility.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      A lot of us have owned or operated businesses, we just know that this is what you deal with. We don’t cry about it and wallow around asking for sympathy for it from strangers.

      Every business owner I know personally would never act like this, they’re not pitiful creatures who think they’re owed anything. They started out with a truck, a case of tools and their hate for punching someone else’s clock. Some of them even migrated to get away from impoverished conditions to find a better life and now they own mansions due to their work ethic and broken backs. So you keep acting like you know everything and the commenters are just lowly squibs who just don’t understand the heavy crosses you carry on your backs every day as a business owner.

      You don’t know that this person treats anyone right. You’re just jumping up to be a White Knight of This Poor Berated Badly Treated Business Owner, who is Oh So Righteous and Awesome. But you’re taking them for their word for it. Despite the countless stories of bad business owners, who treat people like dirt under their shoes. The ones who are the reason why employment laws are so strict and constantly getting even more strict.

      Yeah the life of business owners is hard, a hard that you choose and a hard that pays off well when you’re good at it. Boohoo people hate you for it, go cry into your new leather car seats.

    3. Venus*

      And yet, absolutely NONE of that is the employees fault.

      OP chose this life. If they can’t hack it, they need to get out and stop demonising their employees.

    4. Kathryn T.*

      I don’t think anyone’s arguing that running a business is easy or stressless, or that OP doesn’t deserve to feel anxiety or even anguish about those stresses. It is hard. And yes, the fact that labor laws mean that your financial obligations have a lot less elasticity than your revenue is a huge contributor to that stress.

      But the fact is that you *are* getting something from these employees: you’re getting their labor, which presumably is necessary to operate your business as much as your supplies and equipment are. If you’re keeping employees who don’t do good work, I’d argue that any kindness to them is heavily outweighed by the drag it is on your other employees to have dead weight around, and you should probably let them go. If you’re intentionally staying slightly overstaffed, keeping reasonably good employees around even though there isn’t really totally enough work for them, you may need to reconsider that policy in order to avoid burning yourself out. And if you’re in that difficult place of having wildly variable staffing needs on an unpredictable schedule — which means that you either have to maintain a staff that’s sometimes underworked, maintain a staff that’s sometimes desperately OVERworked, or try to get by with hiring temporary or contract labor — then that is a very difficult aspect of your business, just like it’s hard when the price of supplies or commodities fluctuates a lot. But it is an aspect *of the business,* and asking the employees to buy into the emotional aspects of your business plan isn’t a thing unless they’re going to get some kind of actual ownership.

    5. Jamie*

      Yet if you decide to scale back or close they will excoriate you for doing that.

      I’ve been reading here for many years and I’ve never seen this as any kind of universal sentiment, or even a common one.

      I think what both owners and employees want is a mutually respectful professional relationship. The business owner has plans for their business and the employees have plans for their careers…while those goals align both win from the relationship. If at some point those goals diverge a professional and civil parting of ways is good for both sides.

      I think the trouble lies in when anyone wants more from the exchange than the boundaries of the business relationship can provide.

      1. Natalie*

        The opposite, in fact, when we’ve discussed layoffs and firings here I think the overwhelming understanding is that these are frequently necessary parts of keeping the organization running.

      2. Batgirl*

        Yeah I was very puzzled by this ‘shutting up shop is not an option’ idea. Why… not? You’re not indentured to be their employer for moral reasons! Stay at the helm if you think it is going to pay off for YOU. If not, of course you have the right to fold up. Employees will be sad to lose their jobs, of course, but if you’re already considering yourself their charitable patron, and you’re not seeing the benefit of their labour, then it’s time to start winding the company down and to warn them to go find something more sustainable.

        1. Lana Kane*

          Because closing down means people are out of jobs, and some business owners have that outcome weigh on their shoulders. It’s not that it’s not technically an option – it is – but it’s a very tough decision to make, one that affects others to that degree.

    6. Snark*

      First off, you don’t get to tell us whether we’ve a right to comment. If you’re not prepared to hear this from the perspective of outsiders – outsiders who have said some things more perceptive than I suspect you’d like to admit, and more self-honesty than you or OP are apparently willing to be – then you’re not prepared for this comment section.

      And as for the rest? I sure wouldn’t want you to be my boss, if you generalize your negativity, stress, and towering entitlement to the experience of owning a business to the extent apparent here. Yes, my dude, you do get to work lots of hours. No, nobody thanks you. Yes, you personally and financially sacrifice. Yes, if you buy a car, optics dictate you also be generous with raises and bonuses. No, they will never be anywhere close to as invested in your business as you are, and many will not do more than their job requirements. Yes, you will pay unemployment insurance, and some employees will try to burn “the boss,” and many will regard it as a simple pay-for-labor employment transaction and don’t particularly get invested in what it takes for you to make that happen.

      Because it’s your business. You take the risk, you reap the rewards, you get to see your vision and your leadership bear fruit. If you can’t handle exposure to risk and unfairness and the realities of dealing with humans, you can’t handle owning a business. And that’s okay! Some people lack the boundaries, perspective, and distance to run a business without taking its difficulties personally and cultivating resentment. I sure couldn’t do it. But if you’re gonna do it? Then you need to put on the adult pants and cut out this resentful self-pity garbage.

      1. LetterWriter*

        Thanks, Snark. My letter came out of a sense I am getting here in the trenches that there is a fair exchange in theory but the reality is that there still lurks a mutual suspicion between employer and employee suggesting both still feel they are not getting a fair deal for what they put in. Of course, this varies case by case but the passion of responses – and tales of woe – on both sides suggests there are still some contradictions to resolve. BUT… many commenters have rightly pointed out that most employees and employers generally have accepted trade-offs and work side by side without daily strife. Also, most of us have the choice to walk away (even if it means moving states, retooling or whatever) and should avoid pity parties. Perhaps that’s all we can hope for.

        1. Mookie*

          Straight up, since you’re recognize the adversarial position the prevailing laws and culture cultivate between employers and employees, the single best thing you can do outside of your own obligations to your business is to support strengthening labor and tax laws that govern small businesses like yours, especially the policies that provide you tangible and useful incentives for guaranteeing your employees and your peers’s employees greater protections in exchange for subsidized federal and state money and support. You are in a better position to do that than any one of your individual employees. Your voice counts more than theirs.

    7. Natalie*

      And yes, paying your staff on time is a testament when you have to take out loans or use personal funds.

      Your desire to own your own business doesn’t entitle you to anyone’s free labor.

      1. Snark*

        This. You think I should care where you’re getting my paycheck from? You already got my labor for this pay period, my guy. I took that time out of my life to provide you my work and expertise, for which you’re damn right I expect prompt payment. I suspect you don’t trouble yourself overmuch that I would rather be playing with my kid or hiking with my dog than working for your business.

      2. Jamie*

        Exactly. Accrued payroll is a legal and financial liability – it’s going to get paid one way or the other. The business owner who pays it on time without incurring legal fees and fines is helping themselves as much as anyone else.

      3. Jadelyn*

        Amen to that. Workers are not obligated to care what the business had to do in order to pay them – if the business can’t afford to pay folks, then they can’t afford to stay in business, and it’s time to fold, not complain because they CHOSE to take out loans in order to keep the business going. You could’ve let it go under rather than take out loans, taking out loans was a CHOICE. Don’t make a choice, then get mad at other people because you made that choice and they don’t fawn over you for it.

    8. Trout 'Waver*

      You know the old saying that if everyone you meet is a jerk, you might be the jerk?

      Working for wages is a business transaction just like any other. Most people are professional about it. Some aren’t. Stop doing business with people that are unprofessional about it. On the flip side, don’t expect people to bow and scrape for doing business with them. It’s purely transactional.

    9. Sacred Ground*

      If you or any other business owner truly believes that the system really is stacked in favor of employees, I invite you to sell your business and get a freaking job.

    10. pancakes*

      Some of us have owned businesses. In my case, I purchased one along with 2 other former employees after our boss, a sole proprietor, died intestate. In order to obtain financing to buy the company we had to put together a business plan, which of course we hired someone knowledgeable to help us do. Reading these comments, I wonder how many people put one together before starting their own business. I’m thinking not many! It’s very much worth doing.

      I hope you’ll take a step back and look at the inconsistencies in your comment. You claim the economy is good—presumably you mean in the US?—but by many metrics it isn’t. Many people work multiple jobs, wages have been stagnant for a VERY long time, and many, many people do not have good healthcare. The US economy has not in fact been good for people who aren’t among the very top earners for a long time. You aren’t considering inflation at all.

      https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/07/for-most-us-workers-real-wages-have-barely-budged-for-decades/

      You simultaneously claim businesses “usually” can’t be sold, which is very strange. Businesses that are profit-generating are very desirable! Businesses that aren’t have always been hard to sell, and why wouldn’t they be?

      “As an owner you can never do anything right in their eyes.” What are you alluding to?

    11. Gazebo Slayer*

      Wow. There’s nothing I can say to THIS that follows Alison’s admonition to “be kind.”

  45. drpuma*

    I’d like to hear more from the OP (or any of the commenters who’ve run similar small businesses) about why they don’t feel they can share any information their company’s difficulties with employees. Your employees know something’s up. I know you don’t want to freak people out or trigger a mass defection, but letting them know “We’re struggling with A right now and are doing B to resolve it” would probably help your credibility. I bet your employees even have ideas about how to get the business back on track. And if you don’t trust your employees to have helpful suggestions or pitch in where they can… maybe that means on some level you realize you’re not the superior boss you like to think of yourself as, or you need to make improvements to your hiring and retention processes. The good news is that you’re in charge and you can figure out a way to make these changes. Treating people well is about more than only money.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It varies drastically from owner to owner but there are various reasons why owners decide to share limited information about the true financial state of the company, especially when it’s bad. Sometimes it’s seriously just shame of admitting that you’re struggling. Just like a parent doesn’t want to burden their kids with letting them know the reasons behind their tight budgets.

      It’s also additional stress that you don’t want to put on your workers, they stress themselves out enough. It doesn’t always ease their minds, it often can rock a boat that they didn’t know had a slow leak in it. Then you break them out of that blissful ignorance state. A stressed worker doesn’t produce as well and may actually get hurt more frequently because they’re thinking about how they may not have a job tomorrow and the saw blade comes out of nowhere.

      You are right, some people will have some great ideas to help save money or maybe even bring in more business but that should be achieved just by a always letting your employees give you feedback and encouraging less-waste and so on. We aren’t struggling at all and we still ask people where we can cut waste/costs if they notice them. That’s part of just being in tune with your workforce, you shouldn’t just tap into that when you’re struggling!

      However most people on the line aren’t just walking around with hundreds of thousands of untapped revenue generating ideas floating around their heads. If that were the case, they probably wouldn’t be working here.

    2. Anonymous Poster*

      Because advertising the business is struggling will concern your high performers, who will likely jump ship from the business. This, in turn, makes it more likely that the business will struggle because it lacks its highest performing employees who generally have other opportunities.

      It’s not guaranteed, but if a business encounters significant financial difficulties and the owners need to take personal loans to make payroll (!) I certainly would start looking for another job to ensure stability in my future paychecks.

    3. FD*

      I’ve often wondered about this too. Especially because while it’s unlikely any employee has a big-picture idea, many employees are close enough to see small areas of inefficiency where some money could be saved. Enough of those might be able to add up to some substantial improvements.

    4. LetterWriter*

      My sense of the financial transparency push – confirmed here by many commenters – is that nobody really wants to know, at least not everything. Most people choose employment because they don’t need all that drama. Some of the hard dilemmas will strike terror and panic through the team, especially the less experienced, and now, everyone is stressed and then soon, polishing up their resumes……

  46. Aspiring Cat Lady*

    the owners have taken care of everyone by taking colossal personal debt and making incredible sacrifices, including working ourselves an average of 60 hours a week

    I think this is the issue right here. It’s not just that you are burned out from running a company during a stressful time, its that you have make personal sacrifices that cannot be appreciated. I can imagine that it is very scary to have taken on personal debt for this business. I can imagine that knowledge always sits in the back of your mind – especially on hour 59 of the week after you just heard silly gossip that Ex-Employee Jane who never did anything is spreading around town.

    That’s rough. I just want to acknowledge that. It’s not your employees job to help you emotionally with that. You need a vacation. And, frankly, it would also benefit you to see a therapist. Working hard and bearing stress for so long is hard for us humans. A neutral third party could provide a place for you to work through that stress and attain some peace.

  47. Jedi Squirrel*

    OP, nobody has mentioned this yet, but have you seen your doctor for your annual checkup? You sound like the kind of person who may let that kind of thing slide, especially if you’re working such long hours. Burnout (and this sounds a lot like burnout) can often lead to health problems, both mental and physical. Your doctor may also be able to give you some perspective on this issue, as well. Don’t neglect your health.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I know this comes from a good place but honestly, they’re already neglecting their health because they have no other choice if they want to keep things afloat.

      You know what my doctor told me when I was burnt out, slipping into a crippling depression and on the verge of taking drastic personal measures? “Oh you need to cut back on work.” and the whole “You’re working yourself into an early grave, slow down.” Oh gee, I didn’t realize that! Is that why I keep thinking about how to get out of this y doing something that ends it forever…makes total sense, I’ll get right on it!

      I laughed. I couldn’t and they clearly can’t. So this advice really does nothing but compound their emotional downward spiral.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Yeah, I get the “reduce stress” advice a lot and it just makes me laugh. I’m in debt, my partner is unemployed for the second time in a year (multiple layoffs, his industry is in a rough spot right now), I’m in a very scary spot financially, so…how exactly am I supposed to reduce stress? It’s not like I’m financially precarious for funsies and could just stop if I wanted to.

        I wish more people understood that “cutting back on work/reducing stress” is literally not possible for everyone.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I hear therapy should help too but guess how many therapists are accepting new patients and my [actually good] insurance? They say to try one of those online therapist like chat groups and my response is usually along the lines of “So…pay for twitter because basically that’s what twitter has dissolved into for a lot of us!”

        2. Gazebo Slayer*

          My reaction to that useless advice at the more stressful times in my life has often been nastier than laughter.

      2. Jedi Squirrel*

        Note that I said “perspective” not “advice.” And your experience with your doctor will not be exactly OP’s experience with their doctor.

        Besides, this business will go nowhere if the owner drops dead from an undiagnosed heart condition, or a bleeding ulcer, or whatever else they may have but aren’t aware of. It literally takes one hour to see a doctor.

  48. Never Again*

    I was a crappy Manager/Owner, and that’s why I went from excited to burnt out in 4 years, owning and running a business. I had little to no idea how to hire properly (we were a yarn shop, so my employees needed a certain skill set) (and I also had no idea how much to pay them: it’s such a niche that the info is hard to get. So while I paid well above minimum wage, there were few applicants.) I also didn’t really understand that my style as an employee didn’t translate well into “how to manage others.” I thought that caring about my employees and paying them as well as I could would make things work. But it’s not enough to have good intentions.

    Everything the OP says is something I’ve stayed awake thinking about: The energy and money poured into people who seemed not to care beyond whether they could get another paid holiday (I say seemed, because many years later I spent time with a couple of my old employees and we talked about what they did care about. A real eye-opener. But they never communicated it to me and I had no idea how to ask them.) The amount of time I spent looking for solutions to hand them, rather than managing them to find their own solutions. And on and on. Of course I became resentful! I thought I was doing everything right, the business wasn’t making enough money and I had zero idea what or how to handle my staff. (Except to protect them from the public: THAT I did very well. They always knew I had their backs.) But the reality was that I needed more years learning how to manage, how to hire/fire (an underrated skill, IMO.) I forgot what it was like to be an employee and assumed that we could all just work together and everything would work itself out. (I had been very overbearing in a previous managerial position and was determined not to make the same mistake again. Whooops, too far the other way.)

    Feel free to AMA; we closed the store in 2007 so I’ve got plenty of emotional distance. :-)

    1. Jadelyn*

      This is a really helpful perspective, thank you for sharing it. Few of us have been on both sides. I don’t have any questions myself, but I just wanted to thank you for that perspective on things.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Thank you for this story, I’m glad you seemed to have healed from your experience!

      Communicating with your employees is probably the hardest thing in being an owner. Especially when you’re in the trenches elbow to elbow. It’s hard to remember why they don’t seem to communicate well with you and to initiate things with them and to really dig for their real input instead of the usual “everything is fine, boss”. You’re both breaking your necks but yours is carrying the most weight given all the risks associated with being an owner.

    3. Natalie*

      For what it’s worth, I think it was really wise of you to walk away when you realized it wasn’t working. I’ve witnessed the opposite tendency *so frequently*, in tenants, in clients, in businesses in my community. You’ve done something that is clearly hard, based on how many people struggle with it.

    4. Gazebo Slayer*

      Thank you so much for having your employees’ backs. Way too many managers and owners enable bad customers to treat their workers as punching bags in the name of making sales. This often isn’t even worth it financially – bad customers drive away good employees, tank morale, and often even scare off good customers who don’t want to be around yelling bullies.

  49. FD*

    Hey, OP.

    I definitely feel for you. I’m an employee working for a very small business. I’ve helped my boss launch this one, and also advised on a couple of others.

    I’ve definitely watched the same stressors play out. I’ve watched the owners work 60 hours without pay and without seeing any profit. I’ve seen them get frustrated as an employee genuinely did take advantage of their goodwill and trust (by literally sitting at home and playing video games when he was supposed to be ‘working remote’).

    But that said…

    I want to be really kind here, OP. You’ve been in the same business for ten years. You’ve only taken your first profit recently. You’re working 60 hours per week and I bet you’re not getting paid for it.

    Something is wrong with your business model.

    When people show this kind of anger it’s often, in my experience, because they feel helpless. It’s really, REALLY hard to walk away from something you’ve invested this much time and effort into. I’ve seen sunk cost weigh down so many business owners who just can’t bring themselves to walk away from an idea that’s just—never going to work.

    I can’t help but feel that’s what’s happening here.

    I would gently suggest you really do the numbers and figure out whether your business can ever be consistently profitable. Profitable on average over ups and downs in the economy. If it’s not now but it can be—can you make it profitable while also paying good enough wages/benefits to keep good employees? (If you can’t make it profitable while also paying good enough wages/benefits to keep good employees, it’s not going to be profitable.)

    Maybe you need to focus on the 10% of your business where 90% of the revenue comes from.

    Maybe you need to increase your prices.

    Or maybe it’s time to walk away.

    Don’t let the sunk cost fallacy leave you stuck doing something you’ve started to hate.

    1. fposte*

      I think this and Never Again’s comment above are really helpful in providing some needed perspective. If the result is worth it, then let the employee concerns go. If it’s not worth it, the problem isn’t the employees, and there are steps that could be taken to make things more viable, even if they don’t involve running the business of your dreams.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is a great comment. It hits all the marks.

      My kneejerk reactions have been pretty visceral due to how hard this one hit close to home and all the owners I have screaming in the back of my head right now, I’m glad you could lay it out so nicely. They are cantankerous goats and know it, that’s why they surround themselves with nicer people [usually me, go figure].

    3. Dan*

      “Something is wrong with your business model.”

      This is 100% true. The reality is that “markets” control a vast majority of a business’s $. The “market” determines the price at which a product can be sold. The “market” also determines production costs (labor, materials, other capital). If the market price for your goods and services provide more money than your cost to produce it, then you make a profit and life is good. If not, you’re screwed. It’s really that simple.

      From time to time, we see job ads and posts for “cheap labor wanted”, and the people offering to pay claim they’re a small business and money’s tight and yada yada. I work in tech; my skills are in demand, and established companies pay very nicely for it. You may be a startup without much capital. There’s no way I’m taking a 50% pay cut to come work for you just because you can’t pay much. What we *can* do is discuss some ownership equity in the business such that if it takes off, I get big $ down the road. I’d give up some salary in the short term if I thought the risk was worth it.

      1. FD*

        Yeah, definitely.

        I also think…I hate saying this, but manufacturing is tough in general from what I understand. My understanding is that the profit margins are very slim and that the end customer tends to be very sensitive to price.

        As a result, I have the impression that it’s likely a bit tough for an employer who wants to pay ethically to compete in the market, unless they have the ability to show strongly better quality, etc. If I’m correct in my sense of it, I can even understand the employer’s exhaustion–it’d be tiring to try to be ethical year after year, pour money into a business, and see people who pay much worse eating your business for lunch.

        I think there are structural issues there that I don’t know how to fix–I really hate that this system seems to strongly favor employers that do the bare minimum–but I do suspect that’s part of the equation.

    4. Jules the 3rd*

      Especially factor in that we’re probably heading for a recession in the next 8 – 18mo. If you don’t have cash reserves right now, it may be a good time to scale down and let some of your employees establish themselves at new positions before the crash.

      1. FD*

        Yeah, I debated whether to bring that up. My concern is that if the LW has only just made their first profit in the last 10 years…I have to suspect that the model doesn’t work.

    5. LetterWriter*

      Great input – and thread. The business is working really well now and has made up for a lot of the lean years. It’s just hard to tell in the early days when is the time to throw in the towel. Glad I stuck it out on this one, though. Thanks!

      1. FD*

        That’s fair! And sometimes that does happen–a business suddenly clicks and finds the formula that works for them, and then they see the profit. And if that’s happened for you, great! I truly hope that it continues to work out for you.

        In that scenario, I would hope that seeing your work pay off at long last lets you take some of that profit and enjoy a vacation or some time off to actually enjoy reaping what you’ve sowed.

  50. Anon4Life*

    For me – and I think it’s what I’m getting from the OP – it’s about the attitude we get from the employees.

    I know a lot of people are fixated on the OP saying “we made payroll” as the minimum legal requirement – of course it is – but sometimes it isn’t easy for the employer to do that. Sometimes is something they struggle towards and have to make big sacrifices to do so – which is, of course, what they’re supposed to do. But, the emotional (and sometimes physical) burden is there. Then, on top of that, it sounds like the OP tried to make the best possible situation for the employees – including raises, etc to keep up with the market. Not a lot of employers do that – particularly when they’re not making a profit.

    I will just say I have been on the receiving end of an entitled attitude from people who felt they were owed more than a company could give them after having provided a very generous employment package for a long time. It’s frustrating. It feels like all the generosity and good things you did don’t matter if you can’t do more more more more more.

    OP, try to remember that the people like this are a loud minority. Most people are reasonable and understand their employer is a business, not a charity. It really sounds like you need to take a break and get more help to avoid burn out. Good luck!

  51. Curiouser and Curiouser*

    I know previous comments have mentioned that the business owner can’t really be exploited – but I’m going to go with that word choice, and what I’m curious about is what behavior they’re labeling as ‘psychotic’ or ‘exploitative’. The one person who went around town bad mouthing them might fall into the over the top category…but there was no further explanation about what other employees have done that is so egregious. Expecting to be paid on time and not being thankful when it happens doesn’t seem like ‘exploitative’ behavior. Accepting a good reference to be placed elsewhere when the company can’t keep you seems like an appropriate response. What are the employees actually doing that’s warranting that reaction? I’m not saying it’s impossible for an employee to do something to make their employer feel underappreciated…but what are these employees doing other than doing their work and expecting paychecks in return?

    1. LCL*

      OP hasn’t posted a response yet. I hope they do. My best guess (sorry not sorry to those who are offended by guesses driven by experience) is attendance issues. Manufacturing isn’t a work from home job, it’s a be on premises at certain agreed upon times job. Scheduling for this kind of job is a nightmare. There has been a trend where I work the last few years of workers taking a lot of last minute leave to attend to personal business that isn’t sick leave. We have separate classes of vacation and sick leave so it is known what kind of leave is being requested.
      Last weekend, someone requested the 3 day weekend off after the schedule had been posted. He is a permanent employee, so his schedule for the whole year is known in advance. Why? Real estate transaction. Someone else asked for Sunday off, again the week of, schedule had been posted, he knows his hours in advance. But he had a flight to make. The person I had asked to cover the Friday and Saturday holes agreed to do it. Then he called and cancelled Saturday, on Friday afternoon. So, sure enough, late Saturday afternoon, the phone rings and it’s our frequent flier mumbling about not coming in because of things going on at home. I told him ‘you can’t flake out on us, we’re already short because of someone else’s short notice vac and the replacement cancelled, you have to come in tonight.’ So he agreed to come in a few hours late. All of this happened from Friday afternoon to Saturday afternoon. Our working hard to get people their vacations covered when requested it has turned into people blowing off work if they have business they deem more pressing. THESE ARE ALL PEOPLE THAT HAVE DAYS OFF IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WEEK. So yeah, I get OP. Myself, I retire in 10 weeks and am counting every hour, I would have gone another year but I can’t deal with the absenteeism and keep a decent attitude any longer.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Yeah, manufacturing is one of those industries that isn’t very flexible. It’s unfortunate, because much of the rest of the world needs to have things done during weekdays, and when the heck can employees do that?

        I don’t know how people back in the 50’s and 60’s ever used to go to the doctor or dentist?

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I’m very curious about that. The one thing I can think of is a lawsuit and/or worker’s comp case.
      I worked for a very small business (<10 employees) and when the owner let go of one employee they were unhappy with, the employee filed for unemployment. The State UI determined the employee was misclassified as being an independent contractor and they were not only owed unemployment, but some additional back wages to boot! The whole thing triggered an audit, and it came out the owner was not paying or withholding the proper amounts.

      Needless to say the owner felt exploited.

      1. jack*

        “needless to say” – ?? The owner was the one doing the exploiting in this case.

      2. MissDisplaced*

        Around the office you should’ve heard him crying the blues and complaining about how bad and rotten that employee was, and how they lied and exploited him when he was so nice and gave them a chance, etc., etc. Not sure how they exploited him when all they did was file for unemployment? And he was the one who denied the initial unemployment claim thus triggering the investigation. Hindsight, right? There are sides to everything.

          1. MissDisplaced*

            Owner was wrong about the contractor classification.
            Now, I cannot say for sure that this employee was actually doing their job well, or that owner wasn’t justified in cutting them. Perhaps they were terrible, or maybe they felt they weren’t being being paid fairly and thus didn’t do a good job because of it? Depends on what side you’re on I guess.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Not the OP but just as a story for what can happen out there…

      We let someone go. They were disruptive, always fighting with other employees [verbally, thankfully not physically in this case] and never really “doing” anything [their job was wrapping products, it took them forever to do it and they were always trying to get someone to help them out or to do it completely by themselves, etc]. They also broke 8 staplers in the process, no joke.

      So a couple days later,they showed up with these big bandages on their hands and I was not sure what was going on. I ran for the boss to have him talk to the person and figure it out.

      So they told this story about how during their “wrapping” of thing “things”, they had damaged their thumb nails so badly that they had to be removed. That they had turned black and fell off. They then shook a medicine bottle at the boss that had these finger nails inside of them. The bandages were covering up their now fingernail-less thumbs.

      We had to push it through workers comp of course because someone said that they were injured while working for us and we weren’t going to not do that. We weren’t going to be given all the details from WC because that’s not our business. But they did their investigation.

      The good news is that workers comp denied their issues for whatever reasons they were able to. It didn’t result in a lawsuit but it could have if they wanted to go that far [they didn’t have the money for a lawyer and it was so bizarre most wouldn’t have touched it even if they had the money].

      We had to ban that person from ever coming back to our property and were to call the cops if they ever came back.

      So stuff happens…I’ve seen other shady WC claims that were accepted because it was feasible enough in their stories and injuries that were collaborated [they had multiple jobs at times, sometimes doing weekend side gigs so it could have happened there easily but oh well, they were the most-hurt at our place, the one with the insurance policy of course!]

      We had another insurance claim from a guy who through out his back as he got to work. He bent down to tie his shoe, before he was on the clock even. Bang. Out of commission. It was on our property and the workers comp company wasn’t going to fight it. He was laid up for weeks, the rate increase was miserable.

      In the end it’s still not the owners being exploited all together, it’s often just insurance fraud in general but as the policy holder, you’re left with some scorched pockets as well.

      1. Curiouser and Curiouser*

        I am definitely not saying that employees can’t be wrong in their behavior. However, I would think if there were egregious examples of that, they would have been important enough to be in the original letter rather than what was included. But I could certainly be wrong.

      2. MissDisplaced*

        Oh yeah, fraud can definitely happen.
        I used to hear stories where people would kind of purposely lose a fingertip in the press because the AD&D insurance paid something like $25k for it. I mean, seriously, you’d be willing to do that? Yet I remember one older guy who was missing 2 fingertips.

        Maybe theft and such is rampant in the OP’s business, but they didn’t really give examples beyond the bad reviewer. If that is the case, it would’ve been worth noting and may have maid their issues a little more understandable.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          We were just looking up prices for body parts awhile back because someone didn’t believe me they all had a price *cringe*

          But yeah, I totally agree with you and Curiouser & Curiouser, there are no examples so we just don’t know what they’re doing. But oh boy, can I imagine them since these things happened in every single manufacturing company I’ve been in. It’s just par for course, up there with someone stealing money and getting away with it.

    4. LetterWriter*

      So, I get it. Managing my own expectations is half the battle. For the record: It went beyond references to lining up (better) jobs for the people only to get a tirade about how heartless we are to serious blindspots where someone gets a string of complaints from customers and, after several chances, still insists they are owed a job. That kind of entitlement. But as many commenters challenged me, these are really outliers and everyone else is more reasonable. Also, we don’t have to do all this. Or take people’s disgruntlement so much to heart.

      1. Curiouser and Curiouser*

        I definitely hope I didn’t come across harsh, I really do get that it can be taxing. I’ve owned a business too, and it can feel like I’m making impossible decisions. But it doesn’t mean my employees were ungrateful either. People definitely feel entitled to jobs, but as you have said, it’s important not to take that too personally! But you seem to be listening and hearing all of this, so I have a feeling you will be just fine!

  52. Smiling*

    OP, we’re all just speculating here, because we feel we don’t have all of the details. You say you’re working 60 hours a week. How many hours are your employees working?
    I work in an environment where, in the busiest of times, the situation is just like yours. Most of the employees work only the bare minimum 40 hours a week. Some will work a bit more, but only on rare occasions. A few of us work an average of 42 hours each week and don’t leave until the work is done.
    The owner, on the other hand, works an average of 50+ hours a week, plus night time phone calls with overseas customers and vendors. In that situation, yeah it seems like the owner puts in much more effort.
    The flip side is that this is the owner’s choice. The owner chooses to be the front facing person with the clients. When work is not done at the end of the day and there is a looming deadline, the owner does little (if anything) to make sure that employees who need to work later do so.
    Being on both sides of policy and decision making, I see both sides of the coin. Stellar employees are rewarded as much as possible. Those who are just here for the paycheck only get a paycheck and nothing else.
    Employees will complain. We’ve gotten some bad glass door reviews. Those who actually like there job aren’t bothered to spend the time leaving good reviews.
    There are some who think they are doing a good job and expect pats on the back all the time and will generally rant when they don’t get it. I actually had someone who got mad a me for not saying, “good job, employee,” when all they did was something that was in their day-to-day job description.
    Basically what I’m getting at is, look at how you’re running things. See if there is room for change in your management style and make the necessary changes. Recognize your employees who are great and also recognize that the dissenters are going to come with the territory of doing business.

  53. Koala dreams*

    I agree that people like to talk about the successful business venture, that started small and grow to become a big, successful company, but there is less talk about the many small companies that never get to grow, and in some cases, never turn a profit. It’s an inherent part of starting a business that most people hope to get to be of the first kind, and yet end up as the second one. You have to take the risk. And that’s very stressful.

    My advice to the OP:
    1. Working 60 hour weeks year round isn’t sustainable in the long run, but as the owner it can be different to take a long vacation. Instead, plan a short vacation for one week or multiple weekends where you relax. Sometimes it’s possible to close for a couple of weeks during the slow season, but that depends on the business of course.
    2. Don’t expect the employees to understand you, instead try to find like-minded people among other business owners. Sometimes there are gatherings or organizations for business owners where you can discuss things with others.
    3. Start thinking about your long-term plans for the business. Many people find the concept of an exit useful, that is, what’s your plan for getting out of this business. This also connects to your goal with running a business. Is your goal to sell the business and make money? To leave it to your children when you retire? To stay busy and keep doing the work you like? When you have your goal in mind, it gets easier to go forward with your plans.

  54. Lora*

    OP, have run a small business and got out because I hate marketing/sales and couldn’t find a good business partner in that regard. I may pick it up again in the future if I squirrel away enough savings to blue-ocean it, and find a good business partner to handle the sales and business development side, or I may not.

    Here is what the business, all businesses, should do. I did it because my business was tech and you have to do this stuff in order to get investors and SBIR grants and whatnot, but it’s a good practice: Know when to fold and have an exit strategy. What milestones and qualifications would the business meet that would tell you, it’s time to leave.

    I saw a commenter implying that it’s a personal insult to tell you that a struggling business should think about closing its doors – nothing could be further from the truth. Businesses close ALL THE TIME. You can manage a closing so that it’s actually a good reason!
    -Business is sold to a larger company in M&A
    -Business model is simply no longer viable, based on market analysis, automation investment requirements, etc
    -Business shifts focus to a subset or a related field that it happens to excel in, and finds a different niche
    -Business partners with another, complementary business and they change into something else together
    -Business is undercut by competition from overseas, government subsidies to competitors, etc.

    But sometimes you have to throw in the towel anyway. It happens. It’s just economics. It’s not about you. You can be the very very best buggy-whip manufacturer on earth, and you’re still going to face going out of business through no fault of your own. On the employee side, you can work really really hard and still never be an astronaut. You can try super hard and still fail, because determination, self-sacrifice and willpower are NOT ENOUGH.

    This is the hard truth of living by the numbers: What are the magic numbers, the P/L and EBITDA, that would convince you to get out – either by looking for a buyer for the business, or by shutting down? What is a tolerable quick ratio and D/E for you? What do you need in terms of NPV to make you decide to shut the doors or sell the business? How would those numbers look to make the business an attractive acquisition for a partner or takeover? What is the source of value for the company – is it revenue from products, is it intellectual property, is it the machinery and automation, is it the people working for you (don’t laugh – think of a tech startup headed by a bunch of famous MIT guys, where they have minimal IP filings early on, their value is only Famous People Who Work On Stuff)? Where do you compare against the rest of the market? You should know this very well, and re-calculate it frequently, and re-visit and re-visit the question, “does it make sense for me to try to grow this business, sell it, or shut the doors and cut my losses?”

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      If you save enough money, why not find someone who can do your sales/marketing as an employee? I ask because it’s rarely a good choice to join a partnership unless you trust that person with your life. It’s better to retain the entire risk factor and find the best person possible for that sales job, it does mean you have to have more capital and investments going in though!

      I’ve seen partnerships blow up so much that hearing someone talk about one gives me a knot in my stomach. So in usual fashion, my unsolicited advice is to don’t do it, ever. You’d think spreading out the risk is best but in reality, it only destroys you internally, it’s essentially marriage to this person in the end and we all know what financial strains, miscommunication or different visions do on a marriage!

      This is also my advice for anyone in business, to always just get the right core people/person from the very start. A lot of us are ride or die and are ready to hop on and help you with the ship, without needing a slice of the ownership. Just find that executive team!

    2. LetterWriter*

      Sage advice. The business is really strong now but everyone needs a clear sense of their motives and metrics. Thank you!

  55. Mediamaven*

    I wish people would stop telling the OP to go out of the business. That’s no more helpful than someone telling you to just go find another job if you don’t like yours. Many businesses do take time to turn a profit and the fact that theirs has means it’s not the right time to call it a day. If they’ve invested a lot into it, they may want to try to make it a success.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      I agree. I mean, ten years is a long time to wait to see a profit, but that is just one fact out of many others that we are not privy to. If you work sixty hours a week for ten years, you are obviously getting something out of it more than just money.

      The people making these comments are being terribly judgmental, based on how little they know about the situation as a whole.

      1. Mediamaven*

        Agreed Jedi Squirrel. People attack employers on here so easily. It may feel hard to believe but they have real feelings and real emotions that may or may not be reasonable and business ownership can be very lonely. I’m a good boss and I’m pretty confident that my team likes me a lot but I look very forward to the day that I don’t have to have a staff anymore. It’s hard!

    2. fposte*

      Sure, but then they accept that these are the employees they’re building that success on and they’ve apparently decided it’s worth it. So rejoice in the worth it and let the rest go.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah it’s not a pleasant thing to hear. It’s still an answer.

      I just saw someone sell their business and return to a standard job.

      We see people talk about giving up their freelance life or their small business adventures and return to work.

      I’ve interviewed people who had to close their failing or just stale businesses.

      It’s life. Businesses fail.

      They can want to make it a success all the way. Want isn’t enough.

      1. Mediamaven*

        But if it’s now turned a profit which means it’s headed in the right direction. And the OP didn’t come here hoping for business advice no one has enough information to provide.

    4. FD*

      We tell people that they should start job searching all the time on this site though!

      A lot of times, the answer is in fact, “The conditions you’re experiencing aren’t likely to change, so you are probably better off being the one to make the change.”

      One of the things you see a lot is sunk cost fallacy. You see it in relationships, in people sticking out jobs too long, in people staying in businesses too long. When someone has invested a time or money into a thing, they often feel reluctant to leave because they’d be ‘losing’ all that. The reality is often that the money and time is already gone, and it makes most sense to assess the situation as it is now.

      This often leads people to keep trying to make something work that just–isn’t going to work when they’d actually be happier walking away.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yep. How many times have we heard some variant on “your manager sucks and isn’t going to change”?

    5. MCMonkeyBean*

      Telling someone to go find another job if they don’t like the one they have *is* a somewhat common answer on here though. It’s obviously not an easy answer, but sometimes it’s really the only thing that will solve the core problem.

      Lots of people fall for the sunk cost fallacy, but just because you’ve already invested a lot into something doesn’t mean seeing it through is always the right decision. I’m not saying OP should definitely close up shop, but digging through their letter and their comments it seems like one of their core issues is the big sacrifices they feel they have made in order to meet payroll. If that is continuing to be an issue then maybe they should at least take a second to consider whether closing down is a viable solution. It’s not unreasonable for people to suggest that.

  56. MissDisplaced*

    A couple of things stand out to me in this letter.

    “It seems to us that the culture fails to acknowledge employees can be psychotic bullies who victimize employers. Who decided that the employee is always right?”
    >>Unfortunately, that can happen sometimes-bad people are bad people, and no the employee is NOT always right. I think we’ve seen that on this site. But employers still hold the power dynamic. If an employee is engaging in theft or violence, there is no punishment for you taking action. If it’s just poor work, you dismiss them. This is the nature of “At Will” employment in the USA. Likewise, employees are free to leave for other pastures.

    “We settle final pay cheerfully and promptly for employees who have delivered no value we can detect.”
    >>This is actually not up to you. In most states it is a law to pay exiting employees within a certain time frame, and sometimes even on their last day, whether or not you think they provided value. I don’t refuse to pay my auto insurance because I don’t feel it delivers value.

    “We have always managed to pay our staff on time and to increase wages and benefits gradually even when the business was faring pretty badly, insulating them from our woes.”
    >>This is beneficial to you to keep what good workers you do have. However, I don’t think it was the best idea to insulate or make efforts to keep secret the fact that the company was doing badly and/or losing money. At least not completely. But if the company was doing so badly, how much of that could your employees actually change? Were any of those factors actually within their control or was it the result of external market forces?

    I don’t disagree with OP that running a business is difficult and exhausting and stressful. It sounds like the financial stress is really overriding some other things in this case and there is disillusionment and burnout. As an employee who has worked for several smaller businesses, I can say that no, employees are not out to get you, or victimize their employers (!) Honestly, we just want to do our work! And I understand the disillusionment as there is ZERO job security nowadays, even when as an employee, you’ve done nothing wrong and everything right.

    OP says this is a manufacturing business. My understanding is that manufacturing poses a very different set of issues: including skills gaps and lack of younger employees who want to be in that industry. I don’t know what type of manufacturing OP does or where they’re located, but it’s worthwhile to really take a hard look at their hiring practices and be honest about what they want in an employee versus what they realistically can get. If top candidates aren’t available, then something’s got to change: pay more for better quality, or institute more structure around the employees, and/or expect higher turnover as part of cost of doing business. I don’t know the status of OP’s business, but at some point you need to ask yourself if running this business is still worth it if things are that bad, and if it is worth it, decide what steps will help fix the problems. Because the way this trajectory sounds, it’s not a good situation for the owners or the employees.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You’re right about the difficulties when it comes to finding workers in manufacturing!

      That’s why I’ve known people to go through work-release programs through the justice system and also there are vocational programs that you can hook into for disadvantaged workers. However hiring those vulnerable populations come with a lot of the stresses the OP is noting, since your’e working with people who have a very different life point of view for very real reasons!

      It’s also a transient job skill, so people who are into manufacturing know that they can probably find another job if your boss isn’t treating you the way they think they should be treated.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        It’s unfortunate, but US manufacturing is experiencing a crisis of sorts.
        Skilled older workers retiring in droves, and/or may not be in good health anymore (which may require time off). Young workers don’t want to go into manufacturing because they see it as dirty/dangerous/unskilled, or they’re fearful of the downturns, automation and outsourcing overseas (layoffs) their parent’s may have endured if they’re from a blue collar family.

        I saw your post way upthread and some of the theft and other things are really terrible! It would never have been tolerated when I worked in manufacturing years ago, and employers never gave pay advances or anything of that sort–it was very strict. We had to be on time or got docked and fired after 3 instances. So I’m a little shocked at some of that behavior and theft. If OP is dealing with that kind of thing from employees because of the labor pool, then yes, there needs to be some other processes put in place to address and enforce, or accept that on some level weeding through bad employees will simply be cost of doing business and to plan for it accordingly. It’s not pretty, but when the job market is good, the good employees have many options. That’s capitalism, and it feels unfair, but it also feels unfair to the employees too, and there has been so much of that in recent years, especially in manufacturing.

        1. Midwest writer*

          My dad worked his whole career in manufacturing. I didn’t want to go anywhere near any industry with that cycle of boom and busts. We did fine because he was a good planner, but man, talk about some serious stress. That, coupled with outsourcing, gives me pause about manufacturing. (Even though it paid my way through college, fed me for years, did well for my dad.)

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          It’s not that bad really for us. The difference is that instead of filling a position within a week, it takes a month or six weeks to weed through the responses. This is also because [this current company] has higher expectations and requirements than previous ones I’ve dealt with. We still don’t drug test but we do actually interview someone and get a feel for their skillset/desire to be there/fit aspect.

          Previously I would have anyone who walked in fill out all their new hire paperwork and tell them to show up the next day. 9 times out of 10 they never came back of course but that was how hiring went and that’s how you end up in a bad situation with liars, thieves and so forth but the owner just let everyone “try” because he was given a chance one and it made him a successful person.

          We skew younger, so I’m not seeing an issue getting twenty somethings to try it out. That’s because lots of people still don’t go to higher education and their other option is working in a fulfillment warehouse, retail or service kind of things.

          There’s still a strong blue collar workforce it’s just a matter of a lot of them scattering to the winds because of the big plants that closed down. There are more options now which will always make it harder to find workers in that aspect.

    2. Jamie*

      OP says this is a manufacturing business. My understanding is that manufacturing poses a very different set of issues: including skills gaps and lack of younger employees who want to be in that industry.

      Just an FYI but every company for which I’ve worked has had good luck in hiring positions from welders to trainees in mechanical engineering, estimators, etc. via community college postings and job fairs.

      There are definitely still course programs out there in manufacturing and it’s a great source of hiring.

  57. Observer*

    OP, you really need to reframe your thinking.

    Here is the deal – almost nothing you describe merits applause.

    * taking colossal personal debt and making incredible sacrifices, including working ourselves an average of 60 hours a week.
    Why would your employees care? This was YOUR investment in YOUR business. If the business works out YOU are going to get the profit from that, NOT your employees.

    * we have always managed to pay our staff on time
    Gee, thanks? For following the law and upholding the bare minimum of your obligation? If you ran the place with any level of effectiveness, you surely would not have allowed any of your staff to continue in your employ if they didn’t show up to work, and do the job you were paying them for. Why do you deserve a pat on the back for upholding your part of the bargain.

    * increase wages and benefits gradually
    I’ll give you some credit for that, but as Alison pointed out, this was not just altruism. At least it SHOULD not have been. If you want to keep good staff, you make sure to give the competitive wages. No one owes it to you to stick around and essentially lose money so that YOU can make YOUR business profitable.

    * insulating them from our woes.
    Why would you think that it would ever be appropriate to NOT insulate your staff? The only stake your employees have in the success of the company is in keeping their jobs. True, it’s tough to see them not sharing the burden – but that’s because they also do not, and will not ever, share in any of the upside and profit (other than keeping their job.)

    * We try to personally support employees and to make sure they feel secure, keep growing and that the culture stays safe, healthy, and dynamic.
    I’ll give you some credit on this one. Keeping a workplace safe is basic table stakes, but helping them to grow and feeling dynamic IS something extra, and you deserve credit there.

    * We stayed silent when a crazy ex-employee was badmouthing us around town. We ignore the occasional unfair online review, take on the feedback, and hope that the other reviews will balance out the story.
    Congratulations. It’s not easy. But also not something your employees need to give you great applause for. Because as Alison says, the ones who benefit the most from this are YOU, the owners. The staff who stay on or who leave on good terms don’t have any skin in that game. Sure, they benefit from your not stoking the flames of drama, but that’s pretty basic.

    * We settle final pay cheerfully and promptly for employees who have delivered no value we can detect.
    In other words, you follow the law without throwing a tantrum. I’m not sure why that’s supposed to be something your employees are so grateful for.

    * We bend over backwards to place star employees we cannot keep.
    This is the one thing that I think you really, really deserve some credit and even gratitude for.

    Look at this list – if all of this is true, AND you don’t have an unreasonable attitude about it, then it sounds like a good place to work. I don’t knock it because so many workplaces range from mildly dysfunctional to toxic. And I know that it’s not always easy. But you’re expecting a lot for what is mostly baseline decency and good management.

    If people are genuinely not grateful for the REAL extras, maybe that’s because your expectations are such that they are tuning you out and so missing the couple of things that they really SHOULD be grateful to you for.

    I think Alison is right – take some time to get away. And then, perhaps think about whether now is the time to cash out.

    1. Zillah*

      * We settle final pay cheerfully and promptly for employees who have delivered no value we can detect.
      In other words, you follow the law without throwing a tantrum. I’m not sure why that’s supposed to be something your employees are so grateful for.

      Just to add onto this a bit – OP, I’m sure that you’ve had employees who either realized after they started that the position wasn’t what they thought it would be or whose positions evolved over time to be things they didn’t want them to be. That’s not a knock on you; it just sometimes happens. You still wouldn’t consider just cutting them paychecks without them showing up for work.

    2. Pommette!*

      I love this answer.

      It’s important to distinguish the things that are real extras you provide because you are a good employer from the things that part and parcel of running a business, and necessary. The OP has a lot to be proud of. Giving extra benefits is wonderful (and may be a good business practice), kudos on that! As for the legal minimum basics: running a business is incredibly hard, and you get to feel proud of meeting those minima, too. It’s a huge accomplishment! But it doesn’t entitle you to gratitude from your employees.

      In the end, running a business is something you do for yourself, because it’s an investment you believe in – whether because it allows you (or, you hope, will one day) to do work that you enjoy and find rewarding, or to make money. If your business doesn’t meet those criteria, or requires an un-sustainable level of investment from you, you may want to consider changing the way you manage things, or selling.

  58. Susana*

    Alison is spot-on as always. But wanted to add, LW – I know it must hurt when someone writes a bad glassdoor review (and then you feel silly, too, because you know, intellectually that it’s business and not personal). But really – most people, I’d guess the overwhelming majority, can spot a disgruntled ex-employee who’s just whining online because he or she can. I promise you most of those angry tirades (especially if they are that, and not thoughtful) are ignored by potential recruits.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Most people can discern both the ridiculous bad and the overly rosy reviews. And yet, the most common thread I read on the more thoughtful reviews is “Try listening to your employees more.”

  59. Jennifer*

    Everyone feels unappreciated sometimes. It does seem that you want kudos for things every employer has to do. There are employees who feel just as unappreciated and misunderstood at times, I assure you.

    Surround yourself with people that make you happy during your off time if you can and do things that feed your soul.

  60. From That Guy*

    I have not read all the comments so this may have been said already. What most of you do not seem to grasp is that the OP is paying these folks OUT OF HIS/HER OWN POCKET. I am just emphasizing that.

    1, When was the last time you went into debt in order to show up at your job?
    2. Was at your desk at 6:00 AM on a Sunday filling out much needed paperwork?
    3. Spent your weekend painting the office where you work?
    4. Spend hours at the library doing research? On a weekend?
    5. Spend your evenings doing technical reading and research?
    6. Go into your office at 5:00 AM so you can work without the phones ringing or getting interrupted?
    7. Spend thousands of dollars flying cross country to land an account that may or may not pan out?
    8. Going into work, not being paid, yet going anyway?
    9. Waiting four months to be paid?
    10. Banging on doors facing rejection after rejection?

    I very much hear this individuals frustration and empathize. I wish you luck and peace of mind.

    1. Lucette Kensack*

      I don’t think folks are missing your points. But that’s just part and parcel of running a business; there are positives and negatives to every job. And if, on the balance, the LW doesn’t want to deal with the downsides of owning a business, that’s fine — but she shouldn’t scapegoat her employees because she’s unhappy with her own job.

      I’ll also point out that most of your bullet points aren’t exclusive to small business owners: many employees work weekends; nonprofit staff paint their own offices all the time; all salespeople face frequent rejection; etc.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      #1 My husband does because he routinely has to foot the bill to pay out of pocket until company (eventually) reimburses–it takes months. His car is required by his employer and they dictate it must be no more than 5 years old or you don’t get reimbursed for the mileage. So employer is dictating the be NEW (ie. going into debt on his part) in order to have this job. Car must also be maintained to certain standard for work purposes.
      I routinely do: #2, #4, #5, #6 and I’m salaried so don’t get overtime for doing it.
      #7 and #10 I don’t do, because I’m not in sales
      #8 has happened and it was a month

      I also have ended up purchasing quite a few things out of my own pocket because the company is cheap! Things I need to do my job, like computer monitor, office supplies, software, etc.

    3. Psyche*

      The problem is that the employees need to be paid because the OP hired them to do a job and they are doing it. The fact that the business is struggling and the OP has to go into debt to pay them does not mean that they earn extra gratitude from their employees. The situation sucks for the OP. It is completely understandable that they are exhausted, stressed and burned out. But none of that is the employees fault.

    4. Jamie*

      What most of you do not seem to grasp is that the OP is paying these folks OUT OF HIS/HER OWN POCKET.

      People get that, it’s just that it’s not charity. They are paying a business expense out of pocket because it benefits them to keep the business running at this point.

      1. EH*

        This!

        Any profit the business eventually makes will overwhelmingly go into OP’s pocket, so no, they get no brownie points for keeping the business running out of their own money.

        Making payroll is not a favor. It is literally the bare minimum.

    5. Oranges*

      Employees are a needed part of the business. It would be like a tech startup saying they’re paying for computers out of their own pocket.

      Sucks. Yes. But that’s part of the cost of doing business. You get to decide to a) pay for it out of pocket or b) close up or c) something that I don’t know about.

    6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      When your business bank account dries up, you close the business and find another way to make money.

      It’s their choice to keep it going, to keep funding it out of their own pocket.

      The last person who ran out of money in their business account, got out of business instead of killing themselves with the crippling debt. Now they work for someone else, making money.

      Quitting is an option. It’s a business, they come and they go. They’re choices.

      I love business. It’s my favorite thing next to tacos and professional wrestling events. Yet it’s a choice. It’s always a choice and sometimes you fall on your face trying your hardest. That’s respectful but you don’t get to act like you’re wronged and owed something by the people who you had to pay for their work.

    7. Zillah*

      I think most people know what it’s like to face rejection after rejection when it comes to their employment.

    8. Louise*

      No one’s forcing you to run a business. Literally. You can just not do that. People don’t owe you gratitude because you decided to do a hard thing and are struggling to succeed, and you don’t have the right to run a business just because you want to. Working on the other hand, is entirely compulsory if you want to survive (under capitalism). Like if you don’t want to do those things and they bring you pain, you can just not do them and get a job instead.

    9. Reliquary*

      I regularly do all of these things, except for 7, 8, and 9. I’m an academic.

    10. pancakes*

      Many, many, many Americans go into debt to get jobs because college and grad school are extraordinarily expensive. Those of us who are lawyers & doctors often have student loans measured in hundreds of thousands. We also very frequently spend our evenings doing research!

      Your way of talking about the employer’s “own pocket” is very disingenuous. If they’re earning income on someone else’s labor, it’s income, not profit. They’re not the same thing and never have been.

  61. CoolInTheShade*

    Running a business is no joke. I’ve long maintained that something drastic would have to happen in my life to consider being my own boss.

    There are some genuinely awful people out there that can drain you and make it hard to see and appreciate the good ones in your professional (and personal) life. I wish you well in trying to find at least a little time to get away for a break.

    1. From That Guy*

      Oh, I forgot one!

      11. Receiving a nonsensical named pdf file from some piss-ant attorney who writes nothing in the email or subject line that this is lawsuit for trademark infringement (because if you have a trademark you are obligated to protect it) that has absolutely no basis however it will cost you over 20K of your money to fight and you may not win! So you have to change your business name, site, literature and ancillary materials to a different name since that is the cheaper option. Again, no basis!! How many of you employees have faced a lawsuit?????

      1. pancakes*

        You don’t see an inconsistency between the case having “no basis!!” yet not being a guaranteed win for you? Either way a trademark dispute is not an employee’s fault or concern, nor is it the fault of the lawyer who took your adversary’s case. They sent you an email you clearly weren’t happy about, but they didn’t create the circumstances of the dispute. It seems like you’re having trouble thinking about this lucidly.

  62. Oranges*

    I think there might be a bit of the “I am a job-maker” fallacy* that’s warping your perspective.

    Your business is dependent upon your employees. The better employees you have the better your business will do. You are getting labor out of them and giving them the market value for that labor. Yes, you could not do so but then you get… well… bad labor.

    *This is the weird thing where being a “job-maker” is somehow… worth something in our society? Which… no. Having your own business is a hard grueling job but you ultimately are in it for yourself. No one decides one day to go into business because people need jobs.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Good point! It’s the “trickle down” fallacy we’re supposed to be sold on.
      But I guarantee you JPMorgan, Getty, Carnegie, Ford and other capitalist barons never went into business because people needed jobs.

  63. Business owner*

    OP I don’t know if this is going to get buried under the comments, but I hope you see this. I completely empathise with you and had all the same thoughts and feelings myself. It is really comforting to read your letter and see this is probably a very common issue amongst business owners.

    I agree with Alison’s points that yes treating staff right is for your own benefit. But as an employer there is also a component of altruism and genuinely wanting to build a good workplace because it’s the right thing to do. It sucks when that goes unappreciated (and it often does). When my store was going through tough times I refused to cut anyone’s hours, taking on the financial toll myself. I genuinely did not want to affect my staff’s income and was concerned about their family’s finances. It was disheartening when staff just grumbled that I wasn’t giving the same bonuses as before.

    What helped me is taking a step back and removing emotions out of it. I now see my work relationships as what they are – labour in exchange for money. If I do happen to come across someone who shows appreciation or has a good rapport with me, that’s a bonus. But ultimately it is a business transaction. I do my part – comply with all pay and employment legislation, treat people with courtesy, pick my battles, give fair and timely feedback, make sure they are working reasonable hours, etc. In return I expect my employees to invest a reasonable level of time and effort and if they don’t, I don’t feel guilty about letting them go.

    It’s tough being a manager. It’s a lonely, thankless road where someone is always complaining. It’s human nature to feel burnout when constantly dealing with whinging while yo urarely receive recognition for your efforts. And as the commenting section plainly shows, people who have never been employers will likely not understand or empathise. I encourage you to seek other employers to vent and share tips to stay emotionally healthy.

    Thanks for writing this letter, it’s helped me a lot today. I wish you the best OP.

    1. rear mech*

      Well of course people will grumble if you are effectively cutting their pay by reducing or getting rid of bonuses. Our bills go up every year; it’s disconcerting when our pay goes down after busting ass to earn the best bonus possible.

      1. Business owner*

        Aaaaaand this is why we can’t have nice things. Dont worry dude, next time I’ll make sure I just make layoffs.

        1. LJ*

          Sure, of course that was going to be the first reply to your comment. But, take just a moment to consider it. You couldn’t give bonuses because your income/costs/expenses changed, right? An employee might be in a position that they can’t pay rent, or child care or whatever because of that change in the bonus. Both things are valid.

          1. Business owner*

            If you’re going to put it that way the employer may risk being bankrupt and that’s worse than simply walking away and finding another job? But your mindset of “who has it worse” is not adding any value to the discussion so I’m going to leave it there.

      2. FD*

        Yes, it’s understandable–but I think you can also see why it would FEEL crappy if you were the owner in that situation, right?

    2. Anon for this*

      I’ve been a senior level HR leader for years; my spouse owned a separate company for years. I’ve seen all sides of this, and at all organization sizes and levels. There are absolutely some terrible managers, but oh god they are a small crowd compared to terrible employees. Many commenters here do have a “boss is always wrong and must accommodate all whims” at times.

      OP, I feel for you. Sometimes the answer is to…care less, as awful as that sounds. There are employees for whom you’ll never, ever be able to do enough, just as there are customers who are impossible to please. So keep on being the legal, fair employer that you are. But do keep some emotional boundaries between you and the employees. Best of luck.

      1. Business owner*

        Agreed re: commenter mindset. And it’s understandable given that most simply haven’t been an employer. But still frustrating.

        1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

          But an awful lot of them have been on the receiving end of employers who are not self-conscious enough to ask for help on AAM and instead go on rants to their employees about not being grateful enough, not understanding how hard it is etc. etc. etc. and that can colour a persons’s thinking about what being an employer means

          1. Business owner*

            Yeah… you can be a jerk whether you’re an employer or employee. It’s not a competition to see who’s worse. Acknowledging employers can have it rough isn’t taking away the negative experiences of employees. Your comment is divisive and not helpful so let’s agree to disagree.

      2. Marvel*

        I’m thinking that it may be possible–and stop me if I’m sounding crazy here–that being a jerk is independent of which side of the employee/employer divide you’re on, and that arguing about which group contains the greater proportion of jerks based on anecdata is silly.

    3. LetterWriter*

      Thanks for this, Business Owner. The solidarity is appreciated, and I do think this shift in perspective is really helpful. I really value this community in all its diversity and I already feel better just getting all this off my chest!

  64. Zillah*

    OP, I think one thing to keep in mind here is that you’ve invested all of this time, money, and labor into your business because it’s your dream, and that’s totally valid. But your employees are also working to achieve their dreams, and their dreams probably don’t involve your business.

  65. Dave from the Bronx*

    I’m enjoying the dynamic in the comments section too. When you make the decision to have employees, it’s an important responsibility as a business owner. On top of the salary/wages, there are costs to having an employee. From the post, it sounds like the employer did a ton to maintain a consistent team though the economic downturn – a move that was mutually beneficial – your company’s productivity stayed consistent and they had their jobs.

  66. TeapotNinja*

    This is the sort of stuff why boards of business that have one very often recommend the business owners / CEOs to have a coach or mentor. Someone you can lean on in private when times are tough or you don’t know what to do.

  67. Mookie*

    In short, the company aims to keep the moral high ground, no matter what.

    I’m confused: are you suggesting that your non-“psychotic” staff deserve anything less? Your clients and customers? This is standard business practice.

    We know that employees far outnumber employers in the world, so our side of the story is seldom told.

    When I read the post title, I thought this was going to be about unappreciative employees, but then you mentioned that the culture at large is letting you down or ignoring you. For one, that isn’t true; the powers that be that shape our culture and finance projects that tell stories, fictional and otherwise, are all “employers,” business owners, c-suite suits, “self made” folk. Neither you nor they are lacking a voice and a podium, both of which are beyond the reach of most working people. Which leads to my second point, if you want to celebrate yourselves because you see yourselves as a good example, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that and nothing holding you back from doing so. But that might make more work for you. However, the hard work you’re doing now, as Alison says, has already reaped you great rewards commensurate with your effort. Enjoy them with great relish and congratulations on surrounding yourself with enough good workers in their own right that your business continues to prosper.

    1. LetterWriter*

      I have to respectfully disagree on this one. I don’ t have data, but other than superficial stories that lionize large business owners, where can you see in popular media an unvarnished story of a relatable, contemporary business owner starting up from scratch and the journey to failure (more likely) or success? So workers need entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs need workers. And I don’t believe anyone on earth is self-made, least of all me, with all the support I have received from all corners. But if you become a business owner tomorrow, it doesn’t negate everything about you that happened before that, or suddenly make you a different person. It’s that continuum and complexity I don’t see spoken of enough. In other words, I am worried that a myth exists that these two groups are further part that they are. And that serves nobody well.

      1. Mookie*

        To answer your question: reality TV, aspirational films, and lots of lightweight, fictional television programming (especially for female audiences). I mean, “unvarnished” is an unrealistic expectation if you mean it literally because (a) stories need conflict and (b) your particular story is not itself unvarnished at this point, but also characterized by struggle, fear, setbacks, and overwork. There are countless stories like yours available for public consumption and I don’t think audiences are tuning in because they hate small business owners and want to watch them suffer or fail; judging by their popularity, people seem to find these narratives compelling and are interested in “complex” protagonists (whether these reality shows in particular are scripted or no).

        I’m trying to understand the personal benefit for you, or for the world at large, if the “myth” you’re talking about gets debunked as you want it to. Is it validation? That’s, of course, just fine; I’m just confused why, when you’re struggling, this needs prioritizing.

  68. FD*

    Something else clicked together for me, so I’ll leave this here too.

    OP, when someone works particularly hard, they want some reward. It’s a natural human trait to want to get something when you throw your all into what you’ve done.

    I think the problem you’re struggling with is that the market HASN’T been rewarding you for your efforts in nine of the last ten years. You’ve worked and worked and it sounds like you’ve taken an annual loss until now. As a result, you’re trying to find that reward somewhere else, in positive feedback from your employees.

    Unfortunately, that’s the wrong place to look.

    It’s really, really hard to truly feel, deep down, that the things that are central to your life aren’t all that central to other people’s life. (It’s part of why two friends often drift apart when one has children and the other doesn’t.) This business has been a huge part of your life for the last ten years. You’ve sweated and bled for it. You’ve likely spent far more time here than at home.

    For your employees…this is their job. They’ve had other jobs before. They’ll probably have other jobs after. It sounds like you provide a good place to work, and many of them will probably remember it fondly but it’s never going to be as important to anyone else as it is to you and your partners.

    As a result, seeking the reward you need from them is only going to create a negative feedback loop because you want their gratitude, which makes you come off as entitled, which makes employees less appreciative, which makes you more frustrated…

    All of this is very understandable, but it risks turning you from a good employer into a bad one who alienates their employees by expecting gratitude at every turn. I think you’ll be a lot more happy and satisfied if you’re able to turn instead to focusing on rewards within your control.

    1. CanCan*

      Your employee’s gratitude comes in the form of doing a good job and being pleasant to deal with. If either is lacking, a conversation and disciplinary action may be in order.

      You should not expect any other form of gratitude or acknowledgment of your hard work, your losses and your personal sacrifices. If these things are no longer making sense for you (economically or emotionally), perhaps you should get out of this business.

  69. boop the first*

    I’m pretty sure my boss thinks he’s great too. He pays well (from MY perspective, maybe not others), he has an unusual work schedule that doesn’t fit with the industry (but makes employees happy), and he talks like he doesn’t understand why there is suddenly all of this turnover.

    Uhhh, but he also sharply barks at people for no good reason, constantly lies, engages in screaming matches (again, for literally no good reason such as, an employee is stirring clockwise instead of counterclockwise), and keeps an unsafe workplace. He has no idea that this isn’t normal, and yeah, I’m sure he thinks he is the bee’s knees and is just being victimized by all of these angry employees.

    1. CanCan*

      To rephrase this in a kinder way (see rules re. being kind to posters), the OP should check if there’s any good reason why some employees are unhappy. Did the “crazy” employee say anything that might have a degree of truth? Have a one-on-one with employees (or have your managers do so), to ask with genuine curiosity whether anything should be improved. Maybe the place lacks organization? Or on the contrary, there’s too much bureaucracy? Is there a high turnover – if so, why? Install an anonymous suggestion box, where employees can voice their concerns/suggestions without fear of repercussions.

      If one employee lacks professionalism, decency, etc. – it’s a bad apple, and you should let them go. If it’s many – there’s something wrong with how you’re hiring, or your perspective is wrong.

  70. LJ*

    I haven’t read all the replies (although I am going to go back to do so, because it’s an interesting topic).

    Even as a founder/owner if you can’t take time off, you are doing something wrong. There should be back up, VPs, etc. who can do the job of running things so you, OP, can take the time to re-charge and reset.

    Your employees are the reason you can run your business as many others have pointed out. Sure they are thankful for their job, but you are also thankful for their labor. Their labor is thanks enough.

    I think more important though is the point that you need to take care of yourself. Others have pointed out they see more to this story, which may be true, and you will be a better owner/founder when you can also give yourself time.

  71. Lisa Large*

    If business owner feels so unappreciated and taken advantage of, perhaps you should listen to Richard Wolff, the economist discuss Surplus Value and the capitalist system!

  72. CM*

    This letter reminds me a lot of complaints that businesses have about their customers — like, “we’re doing everything we can, we go above and beyond to please them, but still they yell and complain!” And there’s a similar issue with both employees and customers that you have to be very careful how you respond to their complaints, or you’ll look bad, even if you sincerely tried your best and their expectations are unreasonable. While I agree with a lot of what other people said above, I also sympathize — it’s hard having a business that involves lots of people-pleasing, whether it’s your employees, customers, or both.

  73. Anoncorporate*

    Yeah…you can’t be “exploited” by employees. I understand that it’s not easy being a business owner…but you can’t expect your employees to understand that. Your employees are there first and foremost to get paid for their work. Some of them may also be professional growth purposes. All of them will evaluate employers based on how they measure up to these two priorities. They aren’t at your level, so they will never care about the company as much as you do. Employees can definitely be unreasonable and have weirdly high expectations, but I don’t understand why you are so bothered by these types of employees. If you are a generally good employer, a couple of bad reviews won’t hurt you.

  74. nnn*

    My advice to OP would be to start a job search.

    I know, it’s no simple thing to extract yourself from a business you own! And I’m not suggesting you do that just yet.

    But you’re clearly burning out from being an owner, so it would be informative to look into what options would be available to you on the employee side of the table, and see how you feel about that.

    You might think “Ugh, there’s no way I could work for someone else!” You might think “Yes, this would be my dream!” You might come down somewhere in between.

    Whatever your response, it will help clarify the path that’s right for you, whether it’s extracting yourself from this business and working for someone else, or working for this business under different terms and conditions, or extracting yourself from this business and starting a new one, or maybe even selling your stake in this business to the other owners and working for it as an employee, or some other route that I can’t imagine.

  75. travel guru*

    Thank you so much for this article. I am going to keep it on my computer.
    It was actually my son that sent it to me because I am burned out, and always trying to please clients 24/7.
    Each of my VIP clients thinks that they are the ONLY one with my cell number.

    It also gets to a point when asking an employee to get something accomplished it takes less time to just do it myself.

    I started my business in 1981, and times have definitively changed. Yet, everytime I schedule a vacation or me time, it doesn’t get done. SO, I thank you all for your comments, and need to work harder for my own health and sanity to take the time off, and let my employees handle things, and step back.

  76. CanCan*

    OP, it’s very important for you to have a vacation! To get some rest, get things out of your mind, relax, get some sleep, do something fun, whatever — so that when you come back, you can look at everything with a fresh perspective. Perhaps there’s something you need to do differently regarding your employees. Perhaps your internal business structure needs to be reorganized. More efforts thrown into a different area (e.g. marketing over product development, more creative marketing, additional products/services, cutting some products/services). Letting go of a toxic employee, working on succession planning. Maybe it’s time to start a different business? Sell this one and start again in a different area of work or different location? Maybe there’s someone who can help you with business advice?

    Figure out if there’s one person at the company that you can trust to take over for 2 weeks. Or a few. E.g. a trusted assistant who would monitor your emails and calls and find the right person at the company to deal with, and a person senior/experienced enough to deal with particularly important stuff. Sit down with them to discuss potential things that might arise while you’re on holiday.

    Then go away. For two weeks, preferably far away – perhaps to a different country. Leave your work phone behind. (You do have a personal phone that’s only for your friends and family, and not known to your employees? If not, get one now.) Don’t check your work email, not once. Disconnect completely! At most one person at your company should be able contact you, and that only in case of absolute emergency (e.g. your building burns down).

    One of my former bosses ran a 20-person law firm (3 associate lawyer, the rest admin staff). He would go away on a 2-week vacation like that every year, to a different continent. In three years I was there, everything was handled. (Only once did he interrupt his vacation for a scheduled call regarding a Very Important Client.) The business survived. The clients understood. Most matters were handled, some put off until his return. And he was recharged, relaxed, happy.

    Good luck!

  77. ZucchiniBikini*

    I can see both sides of this, and I sympathise with the LW (who does sound really burnt out to me) without necessarily thinking they’re right.

    I have been an employee; I grew up in a small family-owned business (a vet clinic) that had employees; and I’m currently a sole trading freelancer who uses subcontractors fairly regularly. (I’m in Australia, so the employee / contractor line is drawn a bit differently I think than it is in the US).

    I know, growing up in a small business, that in tough times my parents often stinted themselves to ensure their employees’ wages and benefits were met, and never represented that to us as a burden, but sometimes when some new union rule would come along that gave their employees a seemingly bizarre new entitlement, my dad would grumble a bit. (I recall one directive that said that vet nurses must have an allocated 22.3 minutes to scrub in for surgery and 15 mins to scrub out afterwards. My dad’s primary nurse chortled loud and long at this – as she said, her hands would’ve been raw after that much scrubbing). My parents were fortunate enough to have had wonderful long-term vet nurses and receptionists in their 40 years in business, and remain in regular contact with several of them now they are retired.

    Now that I use subbies in my own business, I have tried to mirror my parents’ attitude on this – to be always mindful that we are engaging in an exchange of labour for money, and if I make use of their labour, it is incumbent on me to pay them quickly, cheerfully, fairly and unproblematically. I realise, of course, that using subbies is in many ways easier than having employees – I have no ongoing obligations to my subbies, I don’t cover their leave or provide other benefits, and if I am not happy with their work on a particular job, I can simply not use their services again (no need to go through a performance or dismissal process).

    The reality is, if you run a business and use the labour of anyone but yourself, you do need to accept that you have both more investment in seeing the business succeed, and more obligation to do the right thing, than the people performing labour for you. Yep, there are some dreadful workers out there, and yep, the cost of doing business can be the uncomfortable, and at times expensive, process of trying to help them improve or dismissing them (and even being subject to lawsuits, unpleasant as it is). But the only real alternative is to work alone or work only with business partners, who have the same risks and investment as you, rather than having any workers at all.

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