updates: I feel exploited by employees, coworker keeps butting into conversations, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

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

I am thankful to your community for all their frank feedback. I was indeed burnt out and needed to slow down. Some suggestions were game-changers. Surely, I can’t peg my success on whether 100% of my employees are 100% happy 100% of the time. So, we are finding alternative metrics to track our progress. The reality, though, is that most employers feel personally anguished when they fail their employees, even for reasons out of their control. So building a few more boundaries and keeping some distance, as recommended, is probably good.

Now, some people did come across as cynical and transactional. A few readers encouraged me to be more so as well. The solution is probably somewhere between being cold-hearted and too embroiled.

I was also reminded that most employees have their share of frustrations but still, just like me, try to be grown up and suck it up. So better to amplify positive voices than reward the negative ones with too much airtime and attention. I was especially moved by one self-aware person who admitted s/he was hooked on the constant praise one often gets as an employee. Some agreed that one has to take the bitter with the sweet. A regular paycheck, a concept still unknown to many on our planet, is really a wonderful invention! And a few even conceded that quitting, reskilling and moving are all options that give employees more power back if they exercise it. Both employer and employee have choices although, clearly, none is immune to bouts of self-pity.

My question was really about how we can better acknowledge the sacrifices both make in the employment relationship, how we can show more compassion. That answer I am still working on. After all, the data show the vast majority of employers are just former employees with more debt, fewer benefits, and more responsibility.  And nobody transforms into a fundamentally different person just because they made an unconventional (probably unwise) career choice. We are all just doing the best we can, under a whole lot of pressure.

2. Disclosing a recent medical condition when job searching (#2 at the link)

I am this poster from more than 7 years ago. I thought I had waited too long to submit an update, but I saw a recent one from 2011 and thought–why not?

When I wrote to you, I actually was in the final stages of interviewing for a job, which I got! I have now been at that company since fall 2012. I ended up disclosing my health situation to my new manager during the phone call in which I accepted the job. She was really understanding about it and assured me that we could work out any time off needed.

As the years have passed, I’ve needed less and less medical supervision, and my health still continues to be excellent. No cancer recurrence, and no long term effects from treatment. I’ve been in remission for nine years and the likelihood of being cured is upwards of 99%. Workwise, I’ve been promoted twice, and love what I do and where I work.

In an odd twist, I have found that my experience with cancer at such a young age has made me a much better manager and colleague than I might have otherwise been. I would never say that it was a blessing (it certainly wasn’t), but it reinforced the idea that you never know what is currently going on with other people or what they might have experienced in their lives, and that you’ll always be better off if you approach situations in an understanding and generous way. It’s a lesson that I feel has really served me well as I’ve moved up the ranks.

3. My coworker keeps butting into my conversations with higher-ups

Upon reading your advice about Steve, my butting-in colleague, I resolved that the next time he butted into a conversation of mine with a higher-up, I would pull him into a conference room to ask him, in a friendly but firm way, to cut it out. At the time that I was reading your advice, a couple weeks had elapsed since the most recent episode, so I did want to wait until the next instance rather than awkwardly and at an apparently random time bringing it up with him. That was in late August, and now here we are in early December. It hasn’t happened again yet, which fits the pattern; months have elapsed between each episode. However, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time till he butts into a conversation I’m having with a senior manager again, and when he does, I’ll be ready! And I’ll report back at that point.

4. Relocating as a remote employee (#4 at the link)

I used a slightly modified version of your note in my email to my boss about our relocation and not only was it not a problem, but I didn’t even get an email back. I got a “moving again?!” Skype from my boss, who seemed truly excited on behalf of my husband and grateful that I’ll be closer.

There was no issue when he told the company president. We moved last weekend and I’ve already notified payroll so I can reap the benefits of once again living in a state with no state income tax.

Thanks again for your wonderful advice!

{ 263 comments… read them below }

  1. Jaybeetee*

    LW1, you do sound so much calmer and healthier than you did before! I’m glad you were able to recoup and get some different perspective. As for the comments, I do find most people here are pretty with it, but as with any peanut gallery, you have to take the bad with the good, and figure out what really applies to you – and it sounds like you’ve done that. Indeed, we’re all muddling along as best we can, and I hope you continue to have smooth sailing. (I seem to be hanging out here a lot today – something about these updates have me chatty).

    1. SomethingCreative*

      LW #1’s mindset is like the poster child for why I won’t work for small businesses anymore and prefer to target large corporations only (even tho he sounds better than he did the first time, seems like he’s not all the way there yet). I’ve encouraged 3 of my friends to make the switch as well, and watched them be continuously astounded at being treated like a person and not a burden.

  2. MK*

    OP1, for added perspective, keep in mind that while “the vast majority of employers are just former employees with more debt, fewer benefits, and more responsibility” might be true, the vast majority of employees are not employed by the vast majority of employers, but by huge cooperations (in one form or another) and goverments.

    1. Grudzeinchica*

      Exactly – I am sure that is what OP feels/thinks, but so not true for most. Most employers are looking out for the bottom line above anything else.

      1. pentamom*

        As MK points out, what OP1 says probably IS true of “most employers.” It is probably not true of the employers of “most employees,” however.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        The sentiment still stands – I am employed by a small business, but realistically, my bottom line is the most important thing for me in my employment.
        I care about the state of the company and the owners of the company as far as they pay me for my work in salary, benefits, etc.
        This isn’t my business, and I cannot be expected to care about it as such.

      2. Mookie*

        Coincidentally, these employers offer the worst benefits on average and less protection from unscrupulous bosses and unsafe working conditions. The LW continues to believe things about small businesses and their owners that, in the US, anyway, that aren’t true, but they are persistent myths for a reason. As for people with the most debt, that’s a misleading statistic and personal v business debt are two entirely different beasts. The people worse off for their debt are the ones with medical debt, student loan debt, and high interest creditor debt with no assets, worse credit scores than small business owners, and a lower credit limit with less favorable terms. They’re also more likely to go into arrears.

        1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

          I don’t know if the rules are different in the US to the UK, but the debt issue should only be the case if the business is a partnership (or sole trader) rather than LLC. A partnership means the owner/manager is personally liable for the company debts. So if they are a really small business (one owner/manager and one or two employees), their level of debt *is* personal as well as business.

          Unless they’ve taken out a personal loan to finance the business capital of the LLC…? I don’t know if that’s even a possible thing?

          1. Koala dreams*

            It’s pretty common for small business owners to take out personal loans to finance the business, or to be personally responsible for some of the debts, especially if the company is just starting out. It can be hard to secure money for a new, un-known company. Later on, when the business is up and running, it’s less common.

    2. MassMatt*

      I am wondering why, if the OP thinks this quote is true, he became a business owner? This, combined with many other things he said, especially how businesses are “bullied” by their awful employees, makes me give major side-eye to the OP. I respect Alison’s rules about being kind, especially to LW’s who follow up, so I will just say this was a strange update to a strange post, and stop there.

        1. TardyTardis*

          I know someone who did just that, and he’s pretty happy about it. He ran a car repair shop, and had terrible trouble getting people to pay while he was out for parts and salaries and stuff, but couldn’t afford a full time paper person/collector (even though such a person would likely have paid back multiples of their salary after a while–he simply couldn’t afford the upfront cost). I should have offered to work for ten percent of whatever I could collect, I am very very polite and very very persistent. But now he’s a mechanic again and happy playing with cars instead of yelling at the computer.

      1. boop the first*

        Yeah, at the risk of being a cold jerk, to me it kind of looks like that final stage of a defensive person who has nothing more to go on, so they devolve into vague philosophical essays that say a lot of nothing just to make it sound like something meaningful.

        “The solution is probably somewhere between being cold-hearted and too embroiled.”

        I mean… yeah? What other option is there?

  3. Beth*

    the vast majority of employers are just former employees with more debt, fewer benefits, and more responsibility.

    And more power. And more control.

      1. Amy Sly*

        I can’t speak for business owners, but for salaried managers …

        When my husband was taking hospitality management classes, one of the things they stressed was to never, ever, NEVER calculate what you make per hour worked. You’ll only realize that on a per hour basis, you’re likely to be the most poorly paid person in the restaurant.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          The restaurant business is it’s own beast. Even owners are regularly making pretty low salaries in the end because of the extensive overhead and competition.

          This is why our state is currently revising their salary requirements for salaried exempt employees. They’re aiming to make it so that you cannot be salaried unless you’re making at least 2.5x the minimum wage.

          1. Amy Sly*

            It was darkly funny when the restaurant where he was the kitchen manager went under. He went from being a salaried manager working 50-60 hours per week to two part-time jobs working 50-60 hours per week, and got an effective raise to boot.

            1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

              This is why I never moved into management when I was bartending. I was asked constantly if I’d like to, always laughed in their faces.

              I made $40k a year bartending. Not awesome, but not terrible. No benefits, reliant on tips etc… I also only worked 30 hours a week. The allure of making $50k/year to work 50-60 hour weeks and having to deal with the worst customers that as a bartender I got to pass off to management? Noooooo thank you.

                1. Derjungerludendorff*

                  Depending on your area, you could comfortably support a small family with that.
                  Barring disasters of course.

          2. boop the first*

            Oof the overhead must be WILD. I worked in a restaurant that was really busy, especially on Sundays. So they expanded the business into 3 relatively nearby locations. What happened is that they successfully divided their existing clientele into four groups and quadrupled their overhead.

            I was often the only employee in the kitchen on weekday mornings because people stopped coming in during the day. But the entire day, we had the grill fired up and eating gas, we had the flat top fired up and eating gas, we had the electric ovens going… gas is super expensive… eight hours of burning fuel later we’d have cooked less than two dozen meals.

            And this was a restaurant that switched from scratch cooking to mass produced frozen products because they insisted on competing through low prices instead of increased quality/environment. I’m amazed they survived it.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        Perhaps I was too harsh, but it should also be noted that business owners start out with the capital/assets to invest in the business in the first place.

        1. MassMatt*

          Yes, this is often overlooked, especially of course by the beneficiaries of largesse, especially from parents.

          There was a recent post about this elsewhere, a young guy talked about how if people would just “work hard and stop complaining“ they too could own a home and achieve financial well-being. Only further along in the article did you find out his parents co-signed the loan, and gave him 100k to pay off the mortgage. Yes, why don’t you all do that, you lazy TAKERS?

          This guy honestly believes he achieved something via his own merit when really his only accomplishment was having rich parents.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            I live in an area where many, many of my peers come from upper-middle class or wealthy families. I really thought we were terribly behind because we couldn’t afford to buy a house until well into our thirties and everyone else not only had bought a home but also far more than we could afford – I realized a bit later that they were able to do it because their parents gave them their downpayments, which, in the DC area, are often in the upper five- to lower six-figures. (Our one-bedroom condo cost more than my BIL’s 3000 square foot home on five acres in the middle of nowhere.) We had to save the whole downpayment ourselves from $0, which is what was taking so long.

            I was incredibly lucky to graduate from college with no debt, and my mom did help with that. There is no way in the world that she could afford to give me thousands of dollars (much less tens of thousands of dollars) toward my home on top of that.

          2. boop the first*

            Somebody told me that anyone could buy a house (by the way, even 500sq ft condos start at $350,000, townhouses around $500,000, houses over a million) even though a full time minimum wage job probably tops you out at $30K/year. I don’t think I’ve ever earned that much so I’m being generous.

            This guy said that anyone could buy a house if they just tried, you just have to take a loan off of your parents’ existing house, buy a house, flip it, and pay your parents back.

            1. My parents don’t love me that much.
            2. Everyone’s parents are drowning under multiple mortgages already.

      3. Impy*

        Yes. I was quickly disabused of the notion that the small business owners were ‘struggling like me’ after seeing their houses and cars.

        1. Sunflower Sea Star*

          Yup. A friend works for a company that doesn’t plow the snow from the employee parking, and the boss says “just buy an SUV” whenever it’s brought up. He drives a series of tricked out Escalades (new one every year) and average income of everyone else at the company is $30-40K.
          He, too, complains that his employees don’t thank him enough or appreciate his struggles.

          1. Rewe*

            My former manager was once super excited about a new motorized bed he had bought for him and his wife. He was going on about how it is the best thingever and would highly recomend for me to get one aswell since they on such a good sale. It only about €4000 in total. I made about €18k. So not exactly something I could just buy from this specific sale.

      4. Mary Ann*

        As someone who is just breathing a sigh of relief after selling her business I can tell you that this perception can be one of the problems. Our income came from the surplus after overheads including salaries. Our profession is one where staff can expect high salaries, but they didn’t bring in the fees to justify them. We were in the catch 22 of paying a number of people far more than our own earnings, all our money tied up in the business and no way of attracting new partners as they would have to take a drop in income.
        I’m now an employee of the larger business and know our staff resent that we “sold out”. I’m just relieved at present that I’m not slighting away to support those who weren’t putting as much effort in.

    1. Mediamaven*

      It’s not about power and control. That positioning sounds very malicious. It can be about wanting to be your own boss, about wanting to create something, about wanting to do better work for who you want, make more money. There are a lot reasons people become business owners.

      1. Close Bracket*

        Regardless of one’s motivation for become a business owner, business owners have more power and more control than their employees. That is the reality, and that reality impacts their employees. Trying to minimize that by talking about “wanting to do better work for who you want” sounds disingenuous.

      2. JustKnope*

        I mean, all of the things you listed are about control. “Wanting to be your own boss” = more control over your working environment. “Do better work for who you want” = more power to choose who you work with and for. Power and control don’t automatically mean “malicious” intent but it’s very true that as the business owner you have both more power and control over the situation than the employee does.

        1. JediSquirrel*


          “malicious” – – I do not think you know what that word means. (Said in the voice of Inigo Montoya.)

      3. Hope*

        That doesn’t change the fact that the employer DOES have more power and control. Being your own boss is inherently about having more power and control.

      4. MCMonkeyBean*

        Well the first letter seemed pretty focused on a belief that employees have a lot of power which is just really not generally true, and it is not clear from this update whether or not they still hold that belief. So I think it’s worth mentioning again that employers are truly the group with more power.

      5. BRR*

        I don’t think Beth is saying people become business owners for power and control. It’s that those two things fall into a different category of differences than what the LW mentions. And I don’t mean to say these things maliciously. Just that as a business owner, you can’t pretend things are “we’re all the same but I’m the only one who can make certain decision.” There are a lot of pluses and a lot of minuses that come with owning a business.

      6. Mookie*

        This is the context of a letter and update written by someone who believes she is at the mercy of a cruel public and ungrateful staff.

    2. LilyP*

      Seriously. LW, if you think employees have it better, you absolutely can sell your business and move back into a role where you are an employee. Employees, in general, don’t have the same flexibility.

      1. BRR*

        Agreed. I hope this doesn’t sound too snaky. But the LW might want to examine if being a business owner is the best fit (I know I certainly wouldn’t be good at it).

      1. Derjungerludendorff*

        Depends on how rich their company is.
        Many an employer or manager filled their pockets while bleeding their employees dry and running the company into the ground, only to run off into the sunset to another organization.

      2. Avasarala*

        OP and others seem to forget that…you don’t have to wear it if it feels heavy.
        Employees can’t just hop into the employer’s chair nearly as easily.
        I don’t feel that much sympathy for a lonely emperor…

      3. HONK*

        Yes. I love that proverb because the reality of power is just so perfectly and neatly packed in there.

        It can definitely be so hard to be in charge sometimes. You get all the risk, stress and blame, and you have to work hard. Still, you only ever need to look in a mirror to remember why your head is heavy: that frickin hunk of gold and precious gemstones upon your dome which represents all the power and privilege your status affords you.

        The moment you forget about the metaphorical crown and only focus on its weight is the moment you become the “martyr” type of boss. You know the type – the ones who feel like they should be thanked for fulfilling their legal obligations to employees, or who feel personally wounded when employees quit or voice reasonable concerns. The ones who get angry that their employees treat them as bosses instead of buddies. The ones, in a nutshell, who entirely forget what it’s like to be an employee and have another person control your livelihood and much of the parameters of your life at work (which is a big, big chunk of your waking hours).

        I deliberately used the word “privilege” above because it provides another useful analogy – say you’re white, for instance. That comes with privileges in a lot of places. You might have a hard life anyway: you might struggle financially, you might work 3 jobs, you might experience hardship. Those things however don’t negate the preferential treatment you’ll sometimes get based on your race. Being the boss is a lot like that: no matter how hard and unrewarding it can be, those difficulties don’t actually cancel out the privileges attached with the station.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      All the power and all the control is more like it.

      The risk [debt and high costs] and responsibility come with a higher reward attached when it’s done well.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        And it isn’t a trade off everyone is comfortable making. LW1 might be learning that they really don’t like being a business owner. Lots of people go in thinking that they will like being their own boss, being the guiding hand of an enterprise, being the final decision maker, etc. but learn that the risks and the costs are more than they anticipated. LW1 might decide that they prefer a steady paycheck and less power/control, and that is OK. Business ownership isn’t for everyone.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yes, exactly this.

          It’s not just about comfort either, it’s about desire and passion.

          Some of us are gamblers, some of us are not. Business owners have to be gamblers in the end given all the twists and turns out there. You’re gambling on the market being there at any given time.

    4. Kella*

      This stuck out to me as well. It kind of sounds like the people in charge at OP1’s company have done a good job of prioritizing the well being of their general staff, but not of the people at the top. Ethically speaking, this is better than the opposite, because the people at the top are the ones choosing who gets prioritized.

      But the fact is, there are many many companies that give all the responsibility and the least of the benefits to the employees at the bottom, while giving all the benefits and credit to people at the top. Work any retail job. Employees do not get more benefits than their employers do.

      Because the amount of responsibility you accept and the amount of benefits you receive as a business owner comes down to the choices *you make*. Other than following laws, that balance isn’t determined for you. And it sounds like OP1 is still feeling really disempowered in a situation where they can make choices that their employees cannot make.

    5. OP1 lol*

      And more profit.

      It is not the employees’ faults you are working harder than them and earning more than them. If you are not earning more than them, you are managing your business wrong. The fact that there are less than stellar employees on payroll is your fault as well.

  4. Mike C.*

    Uh, working at a job is the definition of a transactional relationship. I show up and do work, you pay me for it.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, I’m torn on this, because that’s a perfectly legitimate approach. On the other hand I’ve found it very rewarding to work with people whose commitment and investment goes beyond that (and I mean above me, at my level, and below me), so I can understand hoping for that, but it’s something to try to create, not something to insist on.

      1. Kendra*

        This. I wouldn’t want to work for someone who was completely mercenary and treated all business interactions as transactional ones, but the other extreme (“We’re like faaaaaamily!”) is just as bad (if not worse in some ways). Then again, I work in the public sector, not the private one, and a lot of what we do is a public good, not something meant to create profits; maybe it’s different over there?

        1. Tinker*

          The thing that strikes me in this is that to a certain degree “transactional” means “boundaries”.

          I like the people I work with and historically I have liked most people I have worked with — even folks that I have had issues with in the context of work, I wish them well and have generally friendly feelings toward them — “transactional” doesn’t necessarily mean a completely cold relationship.

          I’d say that’s actually in part enabled by the fact that we’ve had a structure to our relationship that in this case is based on “I can do certain things that people tend to want to pay to have done” — there are limits on what we each ask of each other and an established process of negotiating requests.

          Really, even my close relationships are enhanced by a mutual understanding of the limits of the relationship — the details are a lot different, but the basic process isn’t fundamentally different from more casual connections.

          1. boo bot*

            Yeah, I think this is really well put – “transactional” just defines the structure of the relationship. It doesn’t mean that the people there can’t care about each other, but if you both understand that the labor-for-money exchange is the reason you’re both there, you can kind of keep track of what’s appropriate based on that relationship.

            I actually think the letter writer’s behavior in the original letter was a pretty good example of this! They were *feeling* incredibly frustrated, but still treating their employees well – and writing to Alison was a good way to get perspective on their frustration.

      2. Fikly*

        What a lot of employers fail to realize is if they want more than just an employee showing up and doing the work and getting paid, they have to do more than the bare minimum too.

        1. designbot*

          ^^this. It requires two way cooperation to build that sort of relationship, and if either party decides it isn’t worth it to try and gives up, there’s no chance of it working. So if LW wants that kind of great relationship with his employees, even if it’s not always reciprocated he can’t give up and go completely transactional. All he can do is hold up his end of the kind of relationship he wants and hope the other side reciprocates.

    2. Sylvan*

      Exactly. I like my job, managers, and coworkers, but this is fundamentally a transactional relationship. Your employees don’t show up every day simply to enjoy your company, no matter how much they might like you. They have bills to pay.

      1. Sparrow*

        Exactly. And understanding employment as fundamentally transactional doesn’t necessarily make the workplace is impersonal and cold. Most of the places I’ve worked have been friendly/supportive and I’ve done good work there and stayed in touch with a few people afterwards – but I was/am there 100% for a paycheck. I do worry that OP resents employees with this kind of mindset and might hold it against them without realizing.

      2. Amy Sly*

        One of my favorite exchanges on Boston Legal:
        Alan: Why didn’t you hire [the attorney I recommended]?
        Brad: She was only here for the money.
        Alan: Brad, everyone from the janitors to the partners is only here for the money.

        1. cmcinnyc*

          I have a manager who’s a little miffy that I come down explicitly on this end of the transactional spectrum, but she’s also a pretty demanding boss who would not hesitate to jettison someone who wasn’t pulling her weight (which isn’t a criticism as that is literally her job). She absolutely does not see the irony in her attitude at all.

      3. boop the first*

        At the very least, have some self awareness, know what I mean?

        Like if the business is in something passionate, like something creative or humanitarian or maybe even in government. Or even in some retail stores… if you’re selling something that you believe in, it’s easier to feel more connected on a personal level so you might as well find employees that fit.

        but FFS, if you’re the owner of some capitalist corporation that only exists to feed off of people, or you’re a dime-a-dozen food service, or an infamous insurance company, or a bank, or some generic personal project, maybe lower the expectations a little. Don’t make interviewees say they are passionate about plating food or dressing mannequins. Please!

    3. Susie Q*


      My companies tries to sell us on being passionate for our field and helping our customers. Insert major eye roll. I’m here because you pay me to be here. If you stopped paying me, I would stop being here.

    4. CM*

      Yes. It’s perfectly appropriate to be transactional in a business relationship! I care about doing a good job, and people enjoy working with me. But if my employer stops paying me, I will stop showing up, and if they start violating my rights, I will sue. This isn’t family, it’s business.

      Not to pick on the word “transactional,” but I think this is a theme with OP#1, and maybe they should be more transactional themselves! Whether 100% of your employees are 100% happy, as measured by how grateful they are to work for you, is not a good metric for anything. If you care about your employees’ happiness, make sure they are well-compensated and are treated with respect. This includes respecting their right to express feelings or opinions that you don’t like.

      1. Autumnheart*

        For that matter, if I had family who exploited me and used me as a fungible resource, I’d ditch them too.

    5. Calli*

      I love my transactional relationship with my employer. I go to work, I do my work well, I am perfectly friendly to everyone and they are perfectly friendly to me. Then I go home and they pay me and we all get on with the rest of our lives.

  5. hello*

    I hope #2 inspires people who have written in any year to update, we want to hear it! Congrats on everything, thanks for the update

  6. Dr. AK*

    LW 1: You still don’t sound happy with owning a business. Are you sure this is what you want to do forever? You certainly sound healthier than last time, but still burnt out! I hope you can recharge a bit over the holidays.

  7. stem bem*

    LW1, you don’t seem to have really internalized what people were saying in response to your first letter – you are in a much better position than all your employees, and you control what happens to them. feeling burnt out is fine, but that is not their responsibility or problem! you can show more compassion by being kind to your employees and not expecting them to perfectly understand your struggles, as well as by compensating them fairly, giving them good benefits and leave packages, and understanding that they are human beings who are dependent on you for their livelihoods. you can be sad, but you still have all the power here and cannot blame your employees for how you feel about their moving through the world in the way that works best for them.

    1. Tobias Funke*

      Yep. LW1, when you hire employees, that IS a transaction. The relationship is inherently transactional. You are not purchasing friends, you are not purchasing family, you are not purchasing emotional punching bags who will meet your every need. You are exchanging money for labor. Your perspective of “we’re not that different after all!!” and “actually, it’s harder to be me than it is to be you!!” is not going to land well with people who rely on you for their ability to eat and live somewhere and care for their families.

      1. KWu*

        Yeah, and if there are really “sacrifices” being made, that speaks to me not of effort that needs acknowledgement by the other party, but of better boundaries needing to be established somewhere. I make sacrifices for my family… that’s about it. And even then I have agency, I make those choices because of the values I hold, because I prefer certain outcomes to others.

      2. Amtelope*

        Yes, this. It’s 100% fine for employees to have relationships with you and your company that are entirely transactional. You give them money, they give you labor. They don’t have to care about you or your company in any other way, and I get the sense that you still expect them to, which isn’t really fair.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Can I maybe care about the place I’m working for enough to want it to be healthy enough to stay in business so that I can keep my job?

          1. lungflook*

            Sure, you can care about it in a general ‘I hope my job doesn’t shut down’ kind of a way. But when you start caring more about the well-being of your employer than yourself, you end up in situations like that one letter-writer who was refusing to submit her expenses for reimbursement and walking a mile carrying heavy equipment rather than take transportation. At the end of the day, you are responsible for doing the job they hired you to do, to the best of your abilities, full stop.

            1. Kella*

              And ultimately, you as the employee can’t do a whole lot to change what your employer is doing that would influence whether the business succeeds enough for you to keep your job. You can do your job well, you can ask your managers how you can help if the business is struggling, but investing yourself personally isn’t going to change whether or not you keep your job.

          2. Derjungerludendorff*

            That just means you want the transaction to continue, and don’t want to find another place to trade your labour for money (with all the risks and changes and costs that come attached to that).

            Which is perfectly reasonable. I hold no love for my power company, but I don’t want to suddenly get cut off and scramble to get another contract.

            1. CM*

              I actually really do like my company, and think we are doing great things, and feel proud to work here. AND, I value my own well-being over the company’s, just as the company values its own well-being over mine, and both of those are good and healthy. If the company decides I’m not contributing enough to justify paying me, they SHOULD let me go. If I decide that I’d be happier doing something else, I SHOULD leave. Transactional is good! No blurred boundaries.

              1. Ethyl*

                Yes, I think that there’s room for individual humans to take one job over another for reasons such as a mission they are passionate about or a culture that fits them well, while their *employment* in general is still transactional, if that makes sense.

                I think LW 1 was, and still is, hoping all their employees are there because they are as passionate about the company as the owner is, which just isn’t realistic. And, LW 1, to be honest, asking people working manufacturing to be passionate about what can be tedious, demanding, sometimes dangerous work may be an awfully big ask.

    2. Cookie Captain*

      There are people who will be great to look to for sympathy and commiseration. They are ~other business owners.~

      “It’s hard to run a small business, and there are long hours and many sacrifices” is a true statement. But it’s not one you should expect employees to acknowledge.

      Just like you don’t need to think about how being completely dependent on someone else for your livelihood and everything that impacts your daily life kind of sucks, because humans are fallible. That just isn’t your common ground with your employees, and it doesn’t need to be.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I am not sure what the employees are supposed to do with that knowledge. OP it might be a good exercise to figure out what response you expect employees to have to your concerns.

        I have had managers that would hammer on how hard they worked and how hard the job was, etc. I honestly believed there was nothing I could say or do that would give them one ounce of comfort.

        I do think that all this stuff is putting you through a nightmare of some type. Perhaps you need to sell your biz or perhaps you need to reconfigure your business.

        I have seen friends lower their business down so they did not need employees. Other friends shifted, such as the CPA who closed their doors and went to work for Big Online Tax Prep company. One friend was running a taxi service and just stopped one day. This friend had other marketable skills and they started using those skills for a different business entirely. (This is an example of a business person in the wrong arena. They moved to a better arena and stayed with it for over 20 years now.)

        Does the idea of even turning to look at something else cause you to breathe a sigh of relief?

        I can also tell you this, most actions in life are thankless/unappreciated. If I started counting how many times I have not been thanked or appreciated, I’d have to go to bed and STAY there. I have always said there are many displays of strength and one that is not mentioned much is the people who never get noticed for all they do. And they just keep doing it. That is strength.

        At some point we have to find satisfaction INSIDE ourselves. If we look to others to find satisfaction, they probably will not give us what we are looking for.

      2. Avasarala*

        Agreed. OP sounds like a parent who wants their child to acknowledge how hard it is to set fair bedtime rules, prepare healthy food, all on top of being an adult. The child isn’t going to understand and sympathize, especially when they’d rather stay up later and eat less broccoli.

        1. Julia*

          Thia. It’s like going to the doctor with an ongoing medical issue and getting told each time that being a doctor is hard, too, you know?

        2. Autumnheart*

          In a family relationship, that dynamic is called parentification. What might we call it in a professional relationship? Bossification? :)

        3. boop the first*

          My last boss used to lament about how much everything was costing him: delivering to far away places by van, but not insisting on a minimum order, the escalating costs of ingredients, but refusing to increase prices. Never doing anything to attract new clients.

          He would see us pouring cheesecakes and whine about how the cake cost more than the price he was charging. HE WAS THE OWNER. He didn’t seem to understand that he set his own prices, and he set his own opening hours to conflict with the opening hours of his own clients (which meant we had to come up with weird strategies to deliver something with no staff, but still have the freshest product possible). It was kind of a mess.

          1. Kella*

            I had a boss who did the exact same thing. Some of our products were so cheap, and we had no minimum on the card reader, that between ingredient costs and card reader fees, selling a brownie would *cost* us money. Despite having booming business, no competition for our specific type of food, and paying us illegally low wages as I found out later, he was constantly losing money.

  8. Blarg*

    LW 2, I’m so delighted that you are doing so well. Your last paragraph is an excellent reminder why diverse backgrounds and experiences are so crucial in leadership. Empathy and an appreciation for the challenges that may be going on in the lives of your employees, clients, and employees makes for a better company/organization and a better world.

  9. hbc*

    OP1, it still sounds like you’re determined to “equalize” the employee/employer relationship on paper, and I don’t get why this is so important to you. Just…acknowledge that you have more power. You do. They only have the power to opt out, but you have the power to affect their livelihood at a whim, *and* you also have the option to opt out yourself.

    I have never been an owner, but I’ve been The Person In Charge of two manufacturing sites, and I simply don’t see a lack of reasonable appreciation and enthusiasm from my employees. There have been some bad apples to whom I gave too many chances, there have been times when they don’t see how hard I worked for something to benefit them, and there have been some days where I think of the curse my former boss taught me: “I wish you many employees.” But overall, there is mutual respect and camaraderie, and I think you might find that if you stopped looking to them for compassion or indulging any thoughts about how great a regular salary is.

    Go get some beers with some other owner/managers, swap war stories, get your fill of empathy, and come back to work grateful for the people who show up to do decent work.

    1. BRR*

      I think your equalize comment sums up my thoughts. Everybody is not equal. And that’s not a slam. It inherently can’t be equal. The LW seems in a much better place mentally and emotionally but I think if they tried to approach it acknowledging the inequality will be the best for their mental health and for their employee happiness.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Go get some beers with some other owner/managers, swap war stories, get your fill of empathy, and come back to work grateful for the people who show up to do decent work.

      This is great advice. Seriously. There are a lot of professional groups for small business owners and having people on your level, who “get it” may be good for your mental well being. And to help stop the cycle of fighting the fact that there is always a hierarchy and organizational structure involved. It’s never ever truly flat when you’re the owner.

      This is something a lot of people struggle with and it’s often why people opt out of being business owners. It’s hard, there’s a lot of downsides that can make it undesirable and unsustainable to an individual. There’s a reason why there are more employees than employers in the end.

      1. Mockingjay*

        Hierarchy can be a good thing. A business, large or small, should be structured so everyone knows what they are expected to do and who to go to for decision-making. It’s hard to ask the boss to resolve a problem or make a hard call with so much emotional investment.

        I’m struggling with a somewhat similar situation. Three years in, my project has exploded in size and scope. The project lead is big on group think and consensus and we’re all TEAM. That was fine when there were only 5 of us. We’re now 20 plus with floating support added from other teams. We need clear tasks and hard decisions. Instead we have long meetings in which project lead espouses his grand vision for the project and wants everyone to see the world as he does. Which is why we’re behind on our production schedule.

    3. Arts Akimbo*

      Right. I suspect OP#1 is feeling overwhelmed/trapped by the stress of owning a business and confusing that with disempowerment. The employees don’t have the power, the business owner does. However, that power comes with a ton of stress, which might be the thing that’s burning out the OP.

      1. Derjungerludendorff*

        You’re probably right. It’s hard to feel empowered when you’re falling apart from within.

        But like others have said above, if OP can’t handle the stress that comes with owning a business, then maybe they shouldn’t own a business. Or at least make some serious changes to how they handle it.

      2. Nanani*

        Yeah. Even if OP1 is legitimately disempowered, we don’t live in a reality where that can in any way be caused by the employees, who they -have power over-.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I really agree with the insightful comments in this thread. With position comes responsibility. The higher the position the more the responsibility. Many people deliberately chose not to manage or own a business for this very reason, they do not want the additional responsibility.
        Powerful people become powerful because of their willingness to take risks and to take responsibility. (Well, that is how it’s supposed to work at any rate… we don’t always see that.)

        The best advice that worked for me was to view any position of power as a service position. If I was lucky enough to be assigned people to manage, my actual day-to-day would be activities in service to the very people I am managing. Indeed, I have read, that if business owners serve their employees then the employees will take care of the business.

    4. Lu*

      I agree. Under a capitalist structure, it is quite literally impossible for an employee to exploit an employer. In fact, the very nature of for-profit business is to extract surplus labor from employees (ie, the employee make more value for the company that you pay them so that YOU can make a profit, which, unless you run an employee-owned business, is not seen by employees). THAT is an inherently exploitative relationship, whether you mean it to be or not, and whether or not you’re actually succeeding in making a profit. Employers, even if they’re struggling, will always have more power over employees.

  10. Alice*

    “A regular paycheck, a concept still unknown to many on our planet, is really a wonderful invention!”
    It sounds like you would be happier as an employee. Being the owner of a small business really seems to be stressing you out.

    Working for a paycheck: it’s better than subsistence farming!

    1. Amy Sly*

      There was a reason people worked in the early industrial factories … even working 12 or 14 hours in unsafe conditions was better than farming!

      To paraphrase Pratchett, there is a reason the enduring goal of all human civilization is to get us as far away from nature as possible.

      1. Cathie from Canada*

        Absolutely! My dad was a farmer, as was his father, and there was nothing romantic about it.
        Imagine having your yearly income determined by whether it rained on a particular week or two in September. Or by whether the combine broke down and there was someone available to fix it quick. Or by whether a hailstorm hit your land or bypassed you and hit your neighbours instead. Or a hundred other catastrophes which would determine whether you could harvest enough of a crop to sell enough for a high enough price that you could keep on going.
        Dad would say, he was lucky to be a farmer — because he only had a Grade 9 education (he quit school to help his dad farm) and he thought the only other job he would have been able to get would have been a janitor. He made sure his three children had an education so we had choices about what we could do. In the end, none of us wanted to take over the farm.
        As it was, it took my brother 2 extra years to get his degree –he helped dad get in the harvest in the fall, so he often had to drop courses in the fall semesters.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Farmers have to be electricians, veterinarians, mechanics, horticulturalists, sales people, buyers, accountants, tax experts, plumbers… I could go on… If one does not enjoy digging deep inside their mind to see what they are made of and see what they can learn, then farming is probably not a thing for them.

  11. Veva*

    So happy for LW 2. Awesome update and such a refreshing moment after LW 1, who just doesn’t get it and doesn’t seem to want to.

  12. Oh So Very Anon*

    LW3: I didn’t get from your first letter that this was only an occasional occurrence, only happening once every few months. It might be annoying in the moment, but I’m not even sure I’d address something as a pattern or habit that happens that infrequently.

    1. Zephy*

      IIRC in the comments on the original letter, LW3 clarified that “Steve butting in” wasn’t an everyday thing, but neither was facetime with TPTB. She only gets the opportunity to talk directly with senior leadership once every few months, and in most if not all of those instances in the past several months, Steve butted in and undermined her. I think she’s right that taking Steve aside randomly to ask him to stop doing a thing he hasn’t done in months would land weirdly, if she chose to have that conversation today.

    2. Minnesota Nice*

      It’s not just annoying; it’s rude, undermining, and a transparent power play. Why should LW put up with that?

    3. Cookie Captain*

      Yes, from the original letter I assumed this was happening constantly, but the fact that it only comes up every few months makes a big difference in how I would address it. This problem is like 85% open office, and 15% Steve (and, yes, Steve’s potential subconscious gender bias–but some people also just have a very hard time ignoring people when they’re talking right next to them).

      A Serious Conversation can harm a relationship, and IMO it just isn’t worth it if you otherwise have a good rapport.

      “Hey, Steve, it’s cool, I do know the answer to this. We’ll just be a minute.”
      “It’s okay, Higher Up and I can talk this through, and we’ll let you know if we have a question for you.”
      “We don’t want to distract you, this’ll only be a few minutes.”
      “Higher Up, I’ll walk with you back to your office and I’ll let you know what I think.”

      1. CM*


        I also remember assuming that this was happening a lot more often than it sounds like it is. The exception would be if we’re misunderstanding somehow and the issue is that Steve only has the OPPORTUNITY to do this a few times a year, and takes 100% of those opportunities when they arise. But, if Steve lets most conversations go uninterrupted and only jumps in now and then, that’s more of a normal thing that happens in an open office.

        1. J!*

          The exception would be if we’re misunderstanding somehow and the issue is that Steve only has the OPPORTUNITY to do this a few times a year, and takes 100% of those opportunities when they arise.

          I think that’s exactly what it sounds like. The letter writer was pretty clear about opportunities to speak with higher ups being scarce.

  13. Kiki*

    “I was especially moved by one self-aware person who admitted s/he was hooked on the constant praise one often gets as an employee.”

    I’m a little confused on this point, OP1. I’ve never worked for an employer that gave me (or anyone else) constant praise. Maybe a “thanks for all your hard work this year!” at the end of the year but that’s about it. Not saying that NO employer EVER gives constant praise to employees, but I think it’s less common than you think it is.

    1. Daisy-dog*

      I had a manager who would say “Thanks for all you do!” in every email that she sent. But that was too generic to give me any “rush”. The thankless qualities of the role (customer service) were not balanced out by a chipper email from a super nice manager.

    2. fposte*

      It’s not constant, but it’s a lot more common. Whether it’s moving up in management or becoming an owner, it makes it less likely that people say “Thanks” or “You did that well,” and a few of us were talking in that comments thread about that being a notable difference.

    3. Cookie Captain*

      I looked at the comments on the original post, and I think LW is referring to one from fposte* that basically explains that when you’re the business owner, you don’t get external praise and regular feedback, so you have to identify success/struggles for yourself, and I agree.

      LW’s interpretation is a little odd. Nobody was saying they were “hooked on the constant praise,” just that the kudos/encouragement/feedback that naturally flows downward for people within an organizational structure doesn’t happen when you’re right at the top, and this is something challenging that business owners need to adjust to.

      1. Julia*

        But wouldn’t your customers give you some feedback? Or at least you could extrapolate from the customers coming back that they liked your work?

        1. Derjungerludendorff*

          Yes, but most customers don’t constantly give people praise for the things they buy. And feedback is rarely all positive and sunshine (and it’s often a warning sign if it always is).

    4. Ace in the Hole*

      Yeah, this seems strange to me.

      I’ve had generally good bosses, and none of them gave tons of praise. I’ve been in my current role for almost a year and can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been given “praise” or compliments. Even at that it’s very brief: something like “You’re doing a really good job, I’m impressed,” and then moving on.

      What I do get a lot of (from good managers) is *feedback.* That may be positive or negative, but it’s different than praise. Feedback is about pointing out strengths and weaknesses in order to help you grow/improve. Sometimes it will highlight something you’re doing well – because obviously if you don’t know what you’re doing well you won’t know to keep doing it! But it’s not about showing appreciation or boosting egos, and good feedback will point out the flaws in your work too.

    5. Mia*

      Yeah, I’ve been lucky enough to have bosses who are both good at their jobs and very kind to their reports, but even then, constant praise just isn’t a thing in most workplaces ime. During performance reviews or at the end of a large project, sure, but never *constant.*

    6. biobotb*

      And honestly, employees should get positive feedback. The employer is the one setting performance standards–how else do employees know they’re doing well? Doing well is more than just not doing poorly and not receiving negative feedback. The idea that employees are somehow hooked on “constant praise” when most just want to know they’re meeting or exceeding the performance standards *that their employer set* strikes me as very odd.

  14. CaliCali*

    OP1, it sounds like you’re getting there, but you’re not quite there yet. I don’t know if you’re a parent, but it may be helpful to frame it this way: you don’t go to your own children to get validation and understanding of the challenges of parenting. You talk to other parents. And parenting IS a sacrificial sort of relationship…where you also definitely hold the reins and have a greater degree of control than the child does. But it’s a toxic dynamic when a child feels the burden of the parent’s happiness resting on them, and your employees will feel the same if they are experiencing pressure from you to be understood, appreciated, maybe…revered? So…don’t do that. Feel the sense of accomplishment that you have in creating a successful business that employs people. Find a Meetup or a professional manager group or small business group where you can seek understanding and commiseration for the challenges of it (and, perhaps, some perspective on the benefits of being an owner as well).

    1. tape deck*

      Yes, this is a great way to frame it. A (good) parent doesn’t demand that their child thank them profusely for putting dinner on the table every night. That’s a baseline expectation of parenthood, and one you signed up for when you decided to have a child. That doesn’t mean it isn’t really hard sometimes! It doesn’t mean you don’t struggle and sacrifice, often more than you anticipated. But it also doesn’t mean the onus is on your child to give you enough emotional reward to make it worth it. And if you do or say anything to tell them that that is your expectation, even unintentionally, you are going to damage that relationship. “Look how much I sacrifice for you” is a different way of saying “you are a burden to me.” That feels bad to hear! And then you want them to thank you for it?

      Look, I have compassion for my bosses. I know they work their butts off, I know they’re trying to do right by us. That doesn’t mean I’m never annoyed by them, and it definitely doesn’t mean that it’s my job to make them feel emotionally fulfilled. Recognizing our shared humanity =/= taking responsibility for their emotional well-being.

      So, look for that emotional connection in a more appropriate place, with your peers. And if, after that, owning this business isn’t inherently financially and/or emotionally rewarding enough to compensate for the sacrifices, then it’s time to reconsider owning this business.

    1. Fikly*

      It’s sad when you see an update where the LW goes, thanks, this was helpful, but you can see that they have completely missed the point.

  15. Another HR manager*

    LW#1 — I think that you need to find and/or create support for yourself outside of your company. Not with people who will bitch about how “terrible employees are” but with people who can help you navigate building a company — and who understand how hard it is to shoulder building a company. And it is hard but it is a misunderstanding to think employees should help shoulder this. When they do (for a moment), it is a gift. Let me put it this way – I have a small 2nd home in the country and not one of my incredible wonderful friends without a country home gives a crap that this is also a headache. This doesn’t make them un-compassionate — its just that my “headache” of heading out of town each weekend doesn’t seem like a bad deal (and its not).

  16. Lucette Kensack*

    I’m (still) a little uncomfortable with LW1’s thinking, as evidenced in this quote: “…the vast majority of employers are just former employees with more debt, fewer benefits, and more responsibility.”

    She needs to remember that this is a choice she made, and one she can change her mind about. Each role — employer and employee — has tradeoffs. Presumably she decided to become an employer because she thought the benefits would outweigh the challenges. If that’s true, then she needs to keep that calculus front of mind so she’s not thinking of her employees as an oppositional force that’s getting the better of her… and if it’s no longer a worthwhile tradeoff, she should consider disengaging from the business and looking for a job where she can be just another employee.

    1. Maya Elena*

      I mean, if most businesses in the US are <100 employees or whatever, by a large margin, then that statement is absolutely true, which is interesting because the moment someone goes in business and hires an employee they now have this undefined "power", but that power doesn't actually include any kind of guarantee of anything that they can't generate themselves – no paid vacation, no benefits. Just because it's a choice, doesn't mean it's wrong or unfair to point it out. Or if it's their choice, they're basically not allowed (in an ethical sense, not in a legal sense) to complain ever again about difficulties or unfairness?

      1. Oh So Anon*

        Well, it’s not power to directly benefit the employer, it’s power over an employee’s livelihood. That latter part, through hiring and firing, is pretty well defined.

        The issue isn’t so much complaining over a choice the LW made, it’s partly that she’s complaining to people who have a vested interest in her choice to run a business and are largely at the mercy of her power as an employer.

      2. Another HR manager*

        Yes – but complain to the right people — not your employees. When you say to an employee — “I get paid last” “I would love to take vacation” …. what that says to me is “Paying you is a problem.” ” You should feel bad about taking a vacation that I can’t.” It’s passive-aggressive nonsense. Yes — the investor/owner takes the risk in hopes of the future reward. And that reward may never arrive. But don’t expect employees to hear “I get paid last” impartially or from a distance.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Truth be told, if I worked at a business where the owner said that kind of stuff to me, I would assume the business was on the rocks and start job hunting. Biggest boss complaining about their pay=bad sign

            1. Derjungerludendorff*

              And you can’t put that compassion before your own need to get paid.
              Even if they don’t try to exploit you, you need their money a lot more than they need your emotional support.

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                Yes. I really like the company I work for, I care about the people, and I want them to succeed and want to help them do so. However, I am first and foremost there for a paycheck; I couldn’t afford to work for free.

        2. Impy*

          Or the “Oh, we were here until 9pm last night!”

          That’s nice. I deliberately chose a non managerial role so I don’t have to do things like that, your salary is 5 x mine and also it’s your business.

          1. Derjungerludendorff*

            Also, that sounds unsustainable in the long term. I’d be wondering how long they would last if they did that a lot.

            1. Impy*

              It was because someone senior had been on holiday for three weeks. I don’t mind helping out during crunch times – of course not! But this wasn’t even work I could do. The guy was trying to sell me on how the owners had it sooooo much harder than me, which I acknowledge. But as I say, they also have things like owning their own homes, regular trips abroad and fancy cars. If I stayed until nine I’d be going home in the snow on a bus, and wouldn’t get home until 11.

      3. biobotb*

        Employers’ power is “undefined”? That’s a truly bizarre thing to say. Do you think the power that employers have over employees is not codified by many laws?? That employers can’t set salary and can’t fire people? That they have no choice over whom they hire? Do you think they are forced to hire a person just because that person wants a job or something?

        And commenters aren’t saying that employers can’t complain about the difficult aspects of being an employer–just that they *really* shouldn’t do it *to their employees.*

      4. Blueberry*

        What I see people describing here is basically “comfort in, dump out” as applied to business relationships.


        Because employees are subordinate to an employer, they are not the appropriate people for the employer to complain to about the difficulties of dealing with employees. The employer should find peers, such as other and former employers, to discuss these issues with.

        Also, not least considering the number of times in my life I have been threatened with being fired, yelled at and insulted to my face, had my work thrown out and told I was getting no credit for it, and told to put up with microaggressions, I think employers’ power is not all that undefined.

      5. EventPlannerGal*

        I think the point is more that it’s misguided to complain to, or more broadly to expect emotional validation and reassurance from, your own employees. The problem is the chosen audience.

        I think it’s very common and natural for people to want validation and positive feedback and the OP isn’t a bad person for wanting that from *somewhere*. But there are much better places to be looking – how about their own family or friends, who are probably much more aware of their personal sacrifices than their employees? Other business-owners who can relate to their journey? How about looking at the positive impact of their products and services? The contribution they make to the local economy? The number of jobs they’re creating? Their own internal sense of self-worth?

  17. Amy Sly*

    I think the trick for LW1 is going to be continuing to work on reframing the relationship — yes, your employees are mercenaries, not “citizen-soldiers.” If you want the business equivalent of “citizen-soldiers,” you have to give them some sovereignty in the business, just as countries had to give their soldiers a say in politics to get the buy-in from them. If you really want emotionally invested employees, then you need to get them financially invested (bonuses/commissions) and give them the data to see if their investment is succeeding. (I’m willing to bet they’d have been more “grateful” for making payroll during lean times if they’d seen that their hard work on X Customer’s project was the reason some of them weren’t getting pink slips with the paycheck.) If you don’t want to go that route, you have to accept that they are mercenaries who will cross over to enemy lines for anything better. There isn’t a “right” answer; just two options and you have to pick which model you will use.

    I understand what you mean about dealing with employees who abuse their employers and how painful that is. Unscrupulous employees have quite a lot of tools to hurt your business (e.g. theft, time clock fraud, false whistleblower complaints to regulatory agencies, in addition to the more obvious things like gossip and bad online reviews), and unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do besides tough it out. The alternative is to do all the work yourself though. You’re paying them so you don’t have to, and well, unless you’re hiring angels, you have to accept that some of them will be sufficiently manipulative to get into positions to take advantage. Just remember that you still have the upper hand in the relationship if you are willing to use it, and they’re only hitting below the belt because they can’t reach higher.

  18. All Outrage, All The Time*

    OP#1 If I had a business that I had to support by going into debt for TEN YEARS before it turned a profit, I’d be tired too. It’s costing you money, not making you money. I think that’s called a hobby, not a business.

    1. WS*

      Depending on what kind of debt you’re talking about, ten years isn’t uncommon. If you had to take out a loan to buy a business or to get premises/equipment/start-up capital etc. you could easily still be paying that back in ten years. Of course, that kind of debt isn’t necessarily a negative, but you still feel it hanging over your head!

  19. Maya Elena*

    LW1, I think a lot of people will tell you some version that boils down to scolding you for thinking that your owning a business is in any way praiseworthy, and pointing out that you are inherently exploitative and there’s no way to expiate it really, so at least have the humility to acknowledge it.

    I think people forget:
    1) the risks you take – that in the business, you pay yourself last; your creditors and employees get their money before you; and that risk needs to be compensated, just as employee labor and supplier materials need to be compensated.
    2) the work you put in to get where you are; because while “you didn’t build” everything, not everyone in your exact circumstances built your business, so it’s not 100% a matter of chance and privilege; your work went into it;
    3) that there are 2 or 20 or 200 people – your employees – whose livelihoods are in fact in your hands, and it’s a pretty big responsibility – and discharging that responsibility honorably is praiseworthy, and
    4) Your “power” is actually closer to that of a normal person (say an employee) than a large corporation or a government, because you have no access to political power or protection, and because your money is measured in thousands or a few million, not hundreds of millions or billions or trillions (which is why I think so many small businesses have the tendency to penny-pinch and nickel-and-dime, by the way).

    Obviously you have obligations to be ethical, treat your employees well, etc., but I’d guess that you know that.

    1. biobotb*

      And yet this is all a choice the LW made. The people they should be looking to for praise are NOT their employees. Expecting them to grovel and suck up because LW made a choice to take on these responsibilities sets up a terrible dynamic.

      1. Maya Elena*

        But the employees are also making a choice. I don’t think he’s looking for them to grovel and suck up; it seemed to me like in his update here he’s more interested in a more basic validation that he’s not evil.
        Anyway, the “you made a choice, so therefore you never get to complain about it ever or expect anything else and have to suck up all difficulties” is also not a reasonable demand. Like, if I did a small misdeed – say, if I got caught with some pot, and then get caught in the criminal justice system for years because of it, do I deserve it because “it was my choice” and I knew the risks? If I marry a man and he turns out to be a slob, do I not get to complain because “I chose him”? These are extreme examples perhaps, but we excuse a lot of pretty bad choices as a society – worse than employing people and creating jobs for them; and the glib “well it was your choice so shut up and bear it” doesn’t seem fair in this case.

        1. RandomPoster*

          It’s only “shut up and bear it” because this situation isn’t mandatory – it’s the OPs choice. They have an alternative here if it’s not working out.

          1. Another HR manager*

            Maya Elena, you are missing the point. The issue is WHO to complain to — not if LW#1 is allowed to have their feelings. But the maturity required to build and lead a company means having enough sense of self that you know you are not evil (or that you are). Get your appreciation from the local better business bureau — they are wonderful outfit working to build small local businesses.

        2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          They can complain to peers all they want, but they also need to recognize that they forfeited a steady paycheck and less risk/responsibility for more autonomy, greater chance of reward, and being unable to be fired. They have to suck up the difficulties of their position and also recognize that they escaped other difficulties. It is more like a being a parent than a spouse. You can complain all you want about how hard being a parent is, but you can’t expect your kids to recognize your sacrifice ad you shouldn’t want them to.

        3. revueller*

          Not to quibble with your metaphors, but comparing an employer/employee relationship to a marriage implies that there’s equality there. And I think a lot of commenters have picked up that OP1 seems to believe that there’s equality there, when there really isn’t.

          Everyone has the right to complain for sympathy and be burned out. But people also have the right to push back, especially if the complaint comes from unreasonable expectations. OP1 seems to still have some of those unreasonable expectations that led to their initial burnout. That’s what I think people are pointing out.

        4. biobotb*

          Your examples aren’t extreme, they just don’t have much to do with the fact that employers shouldn’t complain to employees about the fallout of their choices. If you were a business owner and your employees constantly complained about how much they disliked working for someone else, having to get vacation approved, not being able to set whatever salary they wanted, etc.–would you find that appropriate? I wouldn’t. Those are reasonable and totally foreseeable consequences of being an employee, not an employer. Conversely, employers shouldn’t complain to employees about the totally foreseeable consequences of being an employer.

        5. Gazebo Slayer*

          Demanding that your employees give you constant reassurance about what a good person you are is going to come off as really tone-deaf.

          It reminds me of a conversation I saw on one AAM thread where we were discussing a letter about a creeper coworker making inappropriate advances and how to deal with that, and this insecure male poster kept repeatedly derailing the conversation to ask women to talk about how nice their husbands were and how they’d met them and all the nice men in their lives.

        6. Mediamaven*

          As a boss you summarized this for me. The current generation I think it’s being conditioned to believe they should hate their bosses, hate their jobs, and everything extra they get isn’t a nice to have, it’s a must have. It’s not really that you want your employees to be grateful, you just want them to be ok saying I have a nice job and a nice boss. But that’s not on trend.

          1. Julia*

            I don’t know if you’re trying to shit on millennials with this “current generation” stuff, but do you know what our generation does a lot of unpaid internships, lives with huge expectations for experience for entry level roles, and often goes from temporary contract to temporary contract?
            Our lives are much easier when we have a boss we can like. But if you look around this site, you’ll see that a lot of bosses don’t make their employees’ work lives easier, they often make them harder.

          2. WS*

            Noooooo, this is not a new generational thing at all! Complaining about your boss and job goes back as far in human history as there were jobs! The first recorded use of “fuck” in English is a monk complaining about the abbot!

          3. Impy*

            Oh don’t be absurd Media Maven. Employee / employer relationships are not a ‘trend’ and ‘this generation’ are no more grasping or entitled than any other. Less so I’d say. Go peruse the disconnect between wages and productivity that’s been happening since the 70s. Look at how frequently layoffs happen, and how the cost of living has risen while wages haven’t. And no, we don’t hate our bosses – that’s an absolutely absurd and insulting thing to say.

          4. Fikly*

            I’m in the current generation. I have a nice job and a nice boss. I am happy to say so. I’m not happy to say so when that’s not true. Want your employees to say you’re a nice boss? You have to be one.

          5. Tinker*

            I’m not sure what the current generation is, but I’m nearly 40 and find that the public discourse about my generation is that

            1. Tinker*

              Er whoops, also I’m apparently old enough not to be entirely fluent in touch keyboards.

              Anyway, the discourse about my generation is as if we’re still teenagers and entry level employees when this is increasingly not the case, and I wonder if that’s part of the disconnect here — I actually have had, personally, someone tell me I was a perfect example of an entitled Millennial because when I was looking for work I expected to get a job of the sort that usually asks someone with a STEM degree and a few years experience in tech despite… actually having exactly those qualifications.

              Not that teenagers and entry level employees don’t deserve reasonable working conditions, either — being paid on time, for instance, is a very basic expectation for which gratitude is not necessary even if one is junior.

              But I digress — I would say that my job meets requirements and that my boss has many notably positive qualities, but I think I would not say that latter thing if my boss was the sort to seek solace in muttering about kids these days. This may possibly, at least in some cases, be implicated in the “lack of praise from employees” type problems.

        7. EventPlannerGal*

          “a more basic validation that he’s not evil“

          But look, that is not something that I feel like I need to be constantly providing for my boss. I’m not my boss’s therapist. I don’t go around telling my boss “remember, you’re a good person!”, and I don’t go around telling my hairdresser that she’s a beautiful soul or my landlord that he’s worthy of love.

          I appreciate that the OP dislikes the “transactional” view of employment, but if he’s looking for that type of validation he is unlikely to get it from his employees because a lot of people *do* hold a fairly transactional view of their employment even when they like and enjoy their work. There are better places for him to look for reassurance of his worth/the worth of his business.

        8. Kella*

          There’s nothing wrong with complaining– given you’re doing so to the right audience who is available to listen to you and offer comfort.

          But OP wasn’t just letting off steam, they were looking for a solution to their problem. They don’t like the fundamental aspects of being a business owner and are looking to their employees to create that change. Their employees do not have the power to create that change, but OP *does* have the power to stop being a business owner.

          OP can complain all they want (not to their employees) if they’re just looking to manage their emotions, but if they actually want something to change, they’ll be a lot happier if they either accept that this is what running a business looks like or if they change what *they* are doing to meet their own needs. Looking to their employees won’t get them what they want.

    2. RandomPoster*

      Yes, there are a lot of downsides to owning your own business. But presumably there are more upsides, which is why OP is sticking this out despite the lack of financial success. That’s on them, and their decision to make. I’m not going to fall over myself in gratitude to them though – the risks and benefits are theirs to contend with. Their employees don’t owe them anything other than the work and expertise that they’re being paid for.

      If they want to whine about how hard it is to own a business, they have the option to shut it down and go back to being an employee.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’ve only known one owner that paid themselves last…that’s not the norm. And it’s your own fault if your expenses are more than your income. That’s awful business and sometimes businesses die, you have to let it die instead of pouring good money after bad.

      All these excuses are pretty bland and uninspiring to say the least.

      Literally just go work for someone else if you’re this downtrodden and feel like life as a business owner is unfair.

      If you make a decision that doesn’t jive with what you want, you move on. Sure it’s normal to be disappointed with how things turned out but you don’t get to pass the blame around when in reality, it was all within your control.

      1. Oh So Anon*

        Small business owners very often pay themselves last – not forever, and it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re making pennies, but they’re often prioritizing overhead that’s not about their own compensation simply to keep the business running. That’s less about benevolence than it is about the cost of doing business.

        Even if they’re not actually paying themselves last they’re often over-leveraging themselves to continue making payroll.

      2. Sleepless*

        My husband is a small business owner and he *always* pays himself last. His business follows the real estate market so sometimes it’s fine and sometimes, due to forces beyond his control, it’s not fine at all. The financial crisis hit us like a brick wall, about a year before it hit everybody not in the real estate industry, and we made payroll out of the home equity line on our house several times. None of our employees ever knew that was where their paychecks came from.

        1. CM*

          This is a great illustration of both the sacrifices and stress that small business owners go through, and how to treat your employees.

  20. Oh So Anon*

    Something else, LW1, is that acknowledging that you do have more power than your employees should also come with the realization that they aren’t the ones who entrusted you with it. Nor are they shirking responsibility in not having the same powers and responsibilities that you have. There’s an inherent asymmetry to your relationship with your employees that is no one’s fault and that neither you nor them can fully compensate for.

    This is close to the similarities between this and the parent/child relationship that CaliCali is describing. I’d go even further to say that the key is that, at least in a somewhat functional family, children aren’t expected to have the same exposure to risks than parents do, and this is true of you with your employees. That said, unlike children, your employees (especially in a small business) probably understand the tradeoffs that you face in running a business, but they’re also not in a position to do anything about them.

    All that said, yes, it can be kind of lonely to not have access to work relationships that aren’t defined by that type of asymmetry – I don’t think anyone here will deny that. Being a sole proprietor means you have less access to work relationships between equals. But your employees can’t take that on, and if you can’t get those reasonable needs met through a manager or small business Meetup, maybe it would be easier for you to step back from running a business on your own. There isn’t shame in wanting to be in a work situation where you have more natural peers at your disposal.

  21. Shhhh*

    Part of my job is working with people who are considering starting businesses or are in the very early stages of doing so. Part of that is attending a lot of events with speakers talking about how they got to where they are. The number one thing I’ve learned is that owning a business is definitely not for everyone. Actually, even more than that, it’s absolutely not for everyone at every stage of their life and career. Even people who are great at it and get a lot out of it at one time may not at another.

    I don’t want to just flat out tell LW1 to reconsider their livelihood. That’s what I would do–but then, running a business wouldn’t be a good fit for me, at least not now. But as others have said, if LW1 doesn’t currently have some sort of professional support network…they should really think about finding one. Running a business seems incredibly hard and I’m sure it can feel thankless at times. Finding other people who are doing it or have done it and who are not involved in LW1’s business (the original letter, at least, sounded like they had business partners) will probably help bring clarity. My work context is different, but having a network of people who don’t all work at my institution and that I can bounce things off of is immensely helpful.

  22. Budgie Buddy*

    from OP 1: “The reality, though, is that most employers feel personally anguished when they fail their employees, even for reasons out of their control.”

    Am I missing a “don’t“ or do I have a more extreme definition of “anguish” than most people?

    1. Amy Sly*

      My experience is that LW1 is completely correct. One of the reasons why employers are so loathe to fire bad employees is because it can feel like you’re failing. That if you’d managed to coach them a little better, or had a little more margin to put up with their inadequate performance, or a better training program, or something, you wouldn’t have to let them go. Being a boss doesn’t make you a sociopath unable to empathize with your employees, and particularly if you’ve gotten to know and like them, the last thing you want to do is add more problems to them, even if those problems are just the consequences of their own bad behavior. I know when I was younger I skated by with a boss who liked me and understood my problems too much to fire me even when I deserved it.

      1. Another HR manager*

        agreed – most managers I know are sleepless before letting someone go. That doesn’t make their upset bigger than the life altering change of being fired/laid off. But it also doesn’t mean they slept like a baby – which they often don’t.

        1. Amy Sly*

          The day we got notice of our foreclosure auction my husband and I slept like babies … that is to say, waking up to cry every couple of hours.

      2. Budgie Buddy*

        Yeah, I was expecting more that some degree of sadness or disappointment would be common, but distress and self-blame would be more extreme. But it looks like there are bosses out there who worry a lot when their employees are in a bad place.

    2. Calli*

      This seems over the top to me but I’m fairly sociopathic and not a boss so I’m not a good barometer to judge.

  23. Jennifer Juniper*

    OP2: Congratulations on your excellent health, job, and prognosis! And thank you for acknowledging that cancer has helped you be a better person without going off the rails into performative positivity.

  24. EJane*

    OP1, I can see the difference in your tone, but I’m concerned, as someone working under a boss who could have VERY easily written your letter, that you’re missing a facet of this reciprocity you’re looking for.

    I went back to your original post, and read a lot of the comments, and your responses to them. It sounds to me like you really enjoy engaging in thought experiments, parsing human behavior, and figuring out the logic behind why these cultural norms operate the way they do. That’s a really good place to start from, and if you can identify and isolate your own bias, it’s pretty much the best place to start from when approaching a challenge like this that may ask you to shift your worldview.

    I’m going to give you a scenario from my own life, and I’d love to know your thoughts on it, and if it offers any new perspective.

    I’ve been working in my current job for over a year. When I joined last year, I was recovering from a massive nervous breakdown (I am not using that term flippantly; I moved back in with my parents and it took two weeks of laying in front of the fireplace all day to get to a point where I could actually engage with anyone) and had a very impressive resume, solid experience, and no idea that my breakdown was actually going to have far-reaching effects.

    From an employee’s perspective, the next 3-4 months were marked with me figuring out how to define this nonexistent position I’d been asked to create, manage my recurring panic attacks through DPT with my service dog, explain to my boss–who was entirely unfamiliar with the ADA–how my condition worked without divulging private info, and doing my damndest to be worth my paycheck.

    From my boss’s perspective, I had a tendency to get distracted on company time, I wasn’t delivering consistent results, and for some weird reason I was sitting on the ground with my dog in my lap on a regular basis.

    Obviously, there was a big disconnect there. For the following 3 months, this boss and I struggled through figuring out how to mend our working relationship, and then finally sat down and had a heart to heart.
    She explained her insecurities, her own experience with chronic health issues and how she wanted to help, how she was worried that current employees would repeat vindictive patterns that had occurred recently, how she didn’t know how to approach me because of my panic attacks, that she’d immediately become defensive when I, in the midst of some truly legendary ADA violations, had mentioned in passing to someone else that I was ready to hire a lawyer if I had to.

    All of her concerns were valid. She’s human. Of course she would have these fears, given her past experiences, and of course she would want to and struggle to connect with me. Of course she would be hurt when she presented me with an alternative work plan that she’d spent a lot of time on (and which I didn’t ask for) and I declined. It would make sense that she would feel that I was being ungrateful by not acknowledging the effort she’s putting into our working relationship.
    The problem is that she was putting all this emotional energy into learning and adjusting and trying to understand how having a disabled employee with a service dog worked, and she expected me to be grateful for that effort.

    From my perspective, as an incredibly vulnerable individual whose entire life–where I live, my income, my ability to pay my debts or go to grad school–was dependent on a boss with whom I was not on the same page, I wasn’t grateful. I was waiting for her to figure it out. I was desperate for some kind of stability, and to know that my legal rights under the ADA and our state’s HRC laws were secure. There’s a difference between gratitude and acknowledgement. I acknowledged the work she was putting in, and now that I know her better, I know just how much work it was, but gratitude isn’t part of this equation.

    This is where the power dynamic is really evident. My boss was struggling with something that she knew she needed to do, and the alternative would be further damaging the relationship with me. She was putting effort in both because she needed to do the thing, and because she genuinely cared.

    For me, everything was hanging on whether or not she would abide by the ADA and provide the accommodations I needed, and stop being unintentionally hostile (by the legal definition) regarding my disability and my service dog. Everything. (I wish I knew how to do italics.) This was not an issue of feeling unappreciated. It was an issue of constantly reevaluating what risks I needed to anticipate, knowing that if she decided not to do this, my only options were to quit, or get a lawyer. Or both.

    That’s the inherent power dynamic that I’m not sure you’re fully aware of.
    An employer puts effort in to secure something for their employee(s), and they’re aware of that energy investment, and (it sounds like, in your case) would like some credit for that effort.
    The employee receives that something, whether it be a paycheck, legal accommodations, or what, and that thing allows them to continue functioning as a sane and productive human being. They’re not going to express extra gratitude, because it’s their right, not a gift.
    You don’t thank someone for not mistreating you.

    You mention wanting to know how we can express more compassion and understanding for the sacrifices employers make (and employees, I know you acknowledged that, but it’s pretty clear your focus is on the former).
    The answer: change where you’re looking to get that compassion from, because it can’t come from your employees. You are in an implicit or explicit contractual business relationship. You don’t thank them effusively for fulfilling their basic obligations, and they don’t thank you.
    (Now, if you want compassion from someone who isn’t employed by you, that’s fine. It’s absolutely okay to express to a third party “man I’m so stressed about this, payroll was rough this month” and hope for sympathy.)

    I hope this shed a little extra light. I have a lot of sympathy for feeling frustrated and like you would like more credit where you see credit as being due.
    But the reality is, if someone is thanking you for doing the basics, then you’ve surprised or impressed them in some way–because they expected less.
    And you really don’t want to run a company where your employees expect less than the bare minimum.

    1. revueller*

      Beautifully written, novella or not. Thank you for sharing this with us, it’s a really insightful perspective.

      1. EJane*

        I’m really glad to hear that! Knowing that I can share something useful helps offset the weight of this disability bulls***

    2. mf*

      This is really, really good. The fact of the matter is that you don’t thank someone for not violating your legal rights. I don’t thank my employer for my paycheck very two weeks—that’s money I earned, it’s not a favor they’re doing for me.

      1. EJane*

        right? I’ll thank my employer for fronting me a couple hours of PTO, or the fact that we get a full paid day off for our birthday, which is very cool and very much above and beyond the basics. But I’m not going to thank them for allowing me to use the sick time I’ve accumulated.

    3. chronicallyIllin*

      I think this is a stellar example of the issue and excellently written. Thank you for sharing it.

    4. Avasarala*

      Very very kind and thoughtful. Thank you for sharing.
      We certainly don’t thank our bosses for fulfilling basic things like payroll and law-abiding environments. And as employees we are risking more from the power imbalance.

      (By the way, italics are: less than sign then your italic text, then close with less than sign .)

      1. Avasarala*

        woops, should be
        less than sign, i, greater than sign
        your italic text
        less than sign, slash/, i, greater than sign

        1. Derjungerludendorff*

          I wonder if it ignores spaces?
          If not, here is an example (just remove the spaces between the signs)

              1. EJane*

                haha I appreciate all the effort! I was wondering if it was simple HTML. thank you~ and thank you for your kind words.

      2. EJane*

        Thank you. My bacon was saved at this job by the other two bosses on the same tier as Trouble Boss, one of whom ran interference for me towards the end and helped me figure out how to talk to her. He’s a godsend,

    5. Calli*

      “There’s a difference between gratitude and acknowledgement. I acknowledged the work she was putting in, and now that I know her better, I know just how much work it was, but gratitude isn’t part of this equation.”

      “You don’t thank someone for not mistreating you.”

      Nicely said.

  25. LGC*

    …I’m a bit afraid to look at all the comments for LW1.

    But anyway…hm. I don’t think you’re wrong for a lot of it – some people here DO have a very transactional view of employment, we SHOULD be kinder to each other on both ends, and I don’t think a lot of people (myself included) quite appreciate the risk a business owner takes.

    But zooming out…it does read like a LOT of your self image is still tied up in your work, and I think that isn’t great for anyone involved. I apologize for not being able to phrase this appropriately, but it reads to me that you feel like your employees don’t appreciate you as a person. And…that is pretty heavy stuff, something I seriously hope is wrong, and something that I suspect IS mostly wrong. I’ll admit that I’m not always as pleasant as I should be, or as appreciative as I could be. But I still do appreciate upper management for going to bat for me on numerous occasions, for letting me perform mad experiments with our databases, and last (but not least) for trusting me in the first place with a supervisory role even though I have a disability that should limit my ability to do it. I think upper management at my job is made up of good people. So even when I’m frustrated if they’re handling a situation poorly, it’s not a judgment on their entire humanity.

    I think for a lot of people, the gratitude is implied. And if you’re doing the right things and acting the right way, your employees WILL appreciate it even if they don’t say it out loud.

    (Self story – I’m a shift supervisor, and one day I brought in doughnuts because Krispy Kreme was running a promotion. I think I’d brought in doughnuts a couple of times previously in the previous month, so one of my employees expressed her disapproval at getting doughnuts AGAIN. My co-supervisor pushed everyone to thank me because of that. And I was quietly mortified – I mean, yeah, I bought them out of pocket and I don’t make THAT much money, but I wasn’t doing it to be thanked, I did it to thank everyone for their work!)

  26. Impy*

    LW1 – I don’t want to be nasty but from my experience, your data is flawed. I’ve known a lot of business owners who think they’re very hard done by when they’re actually living a lifestyle their employees could only dream of. I’m not saying you/they don’t necessarily earn it. I am saying some of y’all are living in a dreamland when you think you have it worse than your employees.

    E.g. I’m thinking specifically of the boss who said the raise he’d promised me for over a year suddenly ‘wasn’t in the budget’ but also could I manage the office for two weeks while he took a trans-Atlantic vacation. I was having to do freelance and visit food pantries because my pay didn’t cover my (extremely frugal) expenses. He was all betrayed when I left for a job paying more, because apparently wanting to make enough money to afford meat occasionally is selfish, whereas stiffing your top performer for a fun holiday is a ‘necessity’.

  27. Sockit2me*

    Wait, so the butting in thing does #3 is only happening every few months. We knew from the original letter that it just started this year, so it’s happened 3 or maybe 4 times total! That was a major omission in their original letter. Just let it go.

    1. Blueberry*

      I thought it wasn’t so much that it happened infrequently but that LW#3 only gets to talk to these higher-ups infrequently and that’s when the butting-in happens. As in, Grandboss works in the Other Coast Office so I can only speak with her once a month and every month an officemate comes across the office to add herself to that conversation. Or did I read the original letter incorrectly?

    2. OP3*

      Sockit2me, OP3 here. Not sure where you’re finding a “major omission” in my original letter? I said that it had happened three times “over the past year or so.”

    3. Fikly*

      If it’s happening every time the LW is talking to someone higher-up, the how often it happens per year doesn’t matter!

  28. Not My Money*

    LW3 – it doesn’t matter if he butts in every day or every 3 months. It matters that he butts in when she’s talking to the bosses. If I only get a chance to chat a few times a year I don’t want someone horning in on my time.

  29. cheeky*

    “The reality, though, is that most employers feel personally anguished when they fail their employees, even for reasons out of their control.”

    I strongly disagree.

    1. EJane*

      “The reality, though, is that *good* employers feel personally anguished when they fail their employees.”

      I have three top-level bosses, two of whom are insane, and one of whom is, quite honestly, one of the best bosses I have ever worked under. Even-tempered, devoted to constant improvement, wants to know how you’re doing and how he can help, puts in WAY too much overtime, welcomes ideas, doesn’t get visibly angry, seeks employees out to check in with them… etc.
      I sent him a quote about good bosses:
      “If you think about what makes a good boss, it’s someone who does all this work to be in touch with people, who’s constantly fretting over how to make employees feel safe; they’re guilty, they’re listening, they’re giving, they work so hard,” says Sutton. “It’s just — ah, I just think it’s exhausting.”

      His response was
      “I’m terrible at accepting compliments, but thank you– I will always be failing at the leadership role but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying.”

      (Mind you, this man is the same man who procured a roll of “rectal use only” stickers from god knows where and hid them all over the tech shop. He’s truly a gem.)

    2. Shadowbelle*

      Yeah, me too. Cynical old fart that I am. After you’ve had 20 or 30 managers (not an exaggeration), you don’t make sweeping generalizations like that.

  30. Yeah*

    I still am not convinced that Op1 gets it. Allison did an amazing job of telling her upfront that employees aren’t exploiting business owners in letter 1 and this follow up is very milquetoast.

    1. Wacky*

      I agree. A lot of comments are discussing the “change in tone” but I’m really not seeing it. To me both letters are exactly the same. They boil down to “my subordinates don’t realize how lucky they have it or appreciate how hard employing them is on me, the Employer (aka the modern day servant.)”

  31. Shadowbelle*

    OP#1: I went back and reread your first letter, then I reread the “update”, and for the life of me, I cannot figure out what you are complaining about. You had a couple of bad employees? That happens. You struggle and work long hours? That’s the human condition. Read the AAM archives for hundreds of examples.

    What problem, *exactly*, are you complaining about? Excuse my putting it this way, but both your letters come across as “O tempora! O mores!” without any specific issue.

    1. Diamond*

      I have no clue either. OP hasn’t provided any specific examples of what the employees are doing wrong, apart from a few ex-employees leaving bad reviews. The update seems to consist of vague hedging. Shrug.

    2. Sylvan*

      No idea. This update is also heavy on the thoughts and feelings, which is something I’m always interested in, but doesn’t contain any action. That is, OP didn’t actually do anything.

    3. Batgirl*

      I agree OP has a lot of power…but think it’s genuinely tough to not get any honest feedback as a result of the power differential. Except for anonymous ones – and who leads rave reviews anonymously?

      Also ..its the default human condition to struggle is it!? Maybe temporarily but most people want a payoff or solution and to not just accept something as bad enough.

      1. Scarlet2*

        Well, if it’s so tough to have power over people, they don’t *have* to do it… Nobody forced LW to become a business owner, right?

        They do seem burned out, but it’s not their employees’ fault and it makes no sense to direct their frustration at them. Yes, employers have heavier responsibilities than employees, they also have more rewards and more power. Like many other commenters pointed out, if the burden is too heavy, LW can sell the business and go back to being an employee. It’s probably going to remind them that it’s not exactly sunshine and roses either.

        1. Batgirl*

          I agree. They needed to refocus on themselves and what powers they have – up to and including quitting.

    4. Tobias Funke*

      OP1 reminds me so much of my spouse’s employer. My spouse makes around 20k a year for a white collar office job with no benefits whatsoever. They are treated to constant beratings about how they’re not as grateful as the overseas employees and how they should just get rid of all of them and find people who are more grateful. The owner is constantly complaining about money while the staff is not given tools or resources to do their job because if they “really cared” they would pay for the tools and resources themselves. They don’t tell sales staff what their sales goals are so that if they get too close to bonus, they can change the numbers. Payroll is late. The BUT FAAAAAMILY has brainwashed some of the people. Some are there because it’s better than other minimum wage type work. Some are there because they are trying to transition into office work after other work. Some are there because they’re not super employable elsewhere (but that still doesn’t make any of this okay in my opinion). All are reliant on a bread winning spouse. And then the owner invited the entire staff to the owner’s birthday party.

      1. Batgirl*

        This is why the family metaphor is such a terrible sign of poor business dynamics.
        A boss who starts out wanting to be beloved on that kind of level is going to be quickly disappointed.
        They are going to go from feeling deflated when people do nothing more than the agreed transaction, to outraged when people genuinely do need a work ethic implant. Even though the latter is a predictable part of business.
        No one has to feel as invested or as personally involved in the work they do, as the person who owns the company! So the boss has to accept the loneliness of that perspective along with the perks.

  32. Sleepless*

    This is the saddest, least kind comment thread I have ever read on AAM. I’m truly disheartened at how people treated LW #1 both times. Is it really that hard to realize that companies of all sizes are owned by human beings?

    1. Amy Sly*

      And that “you chose it; stop bitching” can just as fairly apply to every complaining spouse, parent, and employee?

      Or that yes, employees can be sociopaths who destroy comradery and create hostile work environments, manipulate employers into giving them chances they only use to make life worse, and then file false reports and claims after being fired to make the employers job a living hell? Employees are human, not angels, and just because the employer has the stronger hand doesn’t mean employees have no power at all to abuse.

      1. biobotb*

        People aren’t telling the LW to “stop bitching” — they’re telling them to avoid “bitching” to their employees. Would you enjoy working for a boss who wanted you to constantly commiserate about how much of a burden you are?

        1. Amy Sly*

          We must be reading different threads. I see quite a few people saying that if LW1 doesn’t like the responsibility of an owner, they should learn to tough it out or quit, because all the downsides of being an owner are what LW1 chose when they became an owner. Well, the “you chose this” goes for everyone who bitches about their spouse. And everyone who bitches about their kids. And everyone who bitches about their boss.

          No, I don’t want to hear the boss complain about their disloyal employees, because yes, they chose to have employees. I also don’t want to hear about the annoying habits of the spouse you chose to marry or the children you chose to have or the boss you chose to work for when you decided you’d rather work than starve. If one of those is inappropriate, they’re all inappropriate.

          1. biobotb*

            For some reason you’re failing to see the distinction between a boss complaining about employees to people outside the business and a boss complaining about employees *to those same employees*. The second situation is the one people are telling LW1 to avoid. They’re not saying suck it up, never complain to anyone ever. They’re saying complain to other bosses, but not your employees. Because yes, the LW1 chose to become an employer. The employees cannot remove that burden from them. Only the LW1 can, and it’s not unreasonable to point out that if LW1 finds being an employer so terrible (and they certainly seem to), LW1 can change that situation.

          2. Ethyl*

            All of your examples happen every single day at various advice columns, personal conversations, therapy sessions, and online forums, and every single day the answer is usually some variation of “you made this choice, so you need to decide whether to live with it or to change things.” I’m not sure what is unkind about that.

          3. biobotb*

            Also, if the LW1 wants to be an employer, not an employee, they have no choice except to tough it out. Noting that is not unkind, it’s just pointing out reality.

            The “you chose this” message is also about the emotional investment piece. Of course LW1 is emotionally invested in their business–they *chose* to become a business owner. It’s unreasonable to expect the same level of emotional investment from employees who did *not* make that choice.

      2. Kella*

        Okay, so let’s look at other options that Alison and the commenters could have said instead.

        OP has a problem, which is why they wrote in. Their options to address that problem are to a. accept it or b. change something. Those are your options with literally any problem. That’s essentially what most of the advice to OP boils down to: Accept that these struggles are inherent to owning a business, or make a change in how you’re going about running your business up to and including quitting it.

        My guess is that OP actually wanted validation and commiseration… but this is an advice column, not a therapy session. You go to advice columns for solutions, not as a platform to feel your feelings and have them reflected. Sometimes validation is part of the advice, but validation alone isn’t a solution. Imagine how frustrating it would be if someone wrote in to Alison and said “I’m dealing with this awful problem!” and Alison just replied, “Yeah, that sounds really hard.” ????? So now what???

        So it’s perfectly reasonable for OP to want commiseration, but this isn’t the right place to get it, just as their employees are not the right place to get it. They should be looking to friends, family, therapists, and other business owners for this support. Commenters are following the assumption that OP wants a solution, not under the assumption that they are there to assist OP’s emotional management.

    2. Tobias Funke*

      Blowing smoke up someone’s ass and validating their unhelpful and downright harmful beliefs is not a kindness in any way.

    3. The IT Plebe*

      LW1 clearly didn’t take Alison’s advice to heart and it’s not unkind to point that out. Based on their update, it really feels like they were seeking validation instead of advice when they first wrote in and that shouldn’t be anyone’s goal when seeking help.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        I agree. It is not unkind to disagree with someone or explain why you disagree with them. “Unkind” doesn’t mean “saying things I don’t agree with”.

    4. Rainy*

      LW#1 claimed that paying employees who left in full and on time was evidence of their magnanimity. Once you’ve made an absurd claim like that, and then gone on to complain about how the peons are insufficiently grateful, I think you pretty much lose most people.

    5. biobotb*

      How would it be helpful to validate LW1’s belief that their employees owe them this level of emotional support, or should commiserate with them about the burden of having employees? Pointing out that they shouldn’t be looking to employees for this is not the same as ignoring the fact that businesses are run by humans. Should the LW also listen as their employees complain about how hard it is to have a boss?

    6. Ethyl*

      Nobody here is being unkind, just honest. Nobody is calling anyone names, or using slurs, or telling LW 1 about the violence they wish would happen to them. This sounds like a “you” problem, not a “them” problem.

    7. Shadowbelle*

      “Is it really that hard to realize that companies of all sizes are owned by human beings?”

      No, but it is hard to figure out what work-related problem the OP needs addressed. Solving work-related problems is why this blog exists.

  33. FE*

    OP1 maybe you should form a worker co-op where your employees are stakeholders in the company. Maybe the reason they don’t care is because at the end of the day, the success or failure of the company has no more impact on their lives than the caprice of its owner.

    1. Batgirl*

      What an amazing idea. It would certainly create more of the collaborative spirit the OP seems to want.
      John Lewis do the employee ownership thing particularly well. When I was little my babysitter had just retired from working there. Spent her whole retail career with them and loved it.

    2. biobotb*

      That’s really the only way to get the emotional investment the LW appears to want–through financial investment and decision-making power. The LW certainly wouldn’t be as emotionally invested in their company if they weren’t financially invested and had no ability to make decisions.

    3. Capitalist Karl Marx*

      Bosses of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but more debt, fewer benefits and more responsibilities!

  34. Bevo's Left Horn*

    “After all, the data show the vast majority of employers are just former employees with more debt, fewer benefits, and more responsibility.”

    OP, where are these data sets? I’d really like to see this.

  35. J*

    “The reality, though, is that most employers feel personally anguished when they fail their employees…”

    Ummm… Seriously?

  36. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*


    It may be time to take your own advice. You wrote:

    And a few even conceded that quitting, reskilling and moving are all options that give employees more power back if they exercise it. Both employer and employee have choices although, clearly, none is immune to bouts of self-pity….

    After all, the data show the vast majority of employers are just former employees with more debt, fewer benefits, and more responsibility. And nobody transforms into a fundamentally different person just because they made an unconventional (probably unwise) career choice.

    It sounds as though you are questioning your choice to start/run a business. What you said about quitting, reskilling, and moving doesn’t apply only to employees. If owning/running a business has left you unhappy, it might be time to sell that business (maybe to the co-owner or to less-burned-out employees?), and either go to work for someone else, or ask whether the new owner would be interested in keeping you on staff as a manager.

    That path would definitely call for some self-examination: could you accept being an employee, not the final decision-maker, at a business you used to own? Or would it be better to relocate or change fields?

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