4 Ways to Design a Happiness-Inducing Employment Arrangement

Last week, I wrote a post aimed at those of us with the entrepreneurial bug. If you’re like me, you’ll probably never be completely satisfied working for other people.

BUT, that doesn’t mean I think self employment is for everyone. I know people who love their jobs, and I know other people who would find working for themselves way too stressful and uncertain.

Also, many of us who long to be entrepreneurs will work as employees at some point in our lives.

Jobs aren’t going away anytime soon, nor do I think they should. For everyone in employee relationships out there, whether short-term or long-term, wouldn’t it be great if you could have a job AND live the life you want? Can’t jobs be more fulfilling?

Can’t we design better employment arrangements?

Let’s review some of the reasons why jobs tend to suck:

  • There’s not nearly enough time off
  • You have little control over your life (when/where/how you do things)
  • You don’t benefit from enough of the value you create
  • You don’t get to work on projects you love

Each of these problems could be addressed. Some workplaces already do.

For example, when Caleb joined my little company, I thought about these issues and we defined our relationship to make sure this wasn’t just another sucky job. I don’t want employees; I want partners who are in love with what we do and committed to doing the best job we can to create great things and serve our customers well.

Some bigger small companies like 37Signals are changing the rules, experimenting and changing the way employers and employees think about jobs and employment arrangements.

Here are 4 ways to create better employee arrangements:

  1. Let employees decide on how much time off they take
  2. Who says we have to work 5 days a week? Why is a few weeks of vacation time the norm?

    Almost nobody is satisfied with just a few weeks off a year, and yet that’s the standard for companies across the country.

    What if people could take off as much or little time as they like? Would your business collapse?

    I’m not suggesting people should be paid for unlimited time off, but why can’t people take a few months off and return to their jobs? Or, what about working three days a week for a while?

    There are lots of ways to accomplish this. Job sharing, for example, where two people split one “full time” job, or three people split two jobs, etc. can work. Or, one person could work just three or four days a week and probably accomplish 80% of their normal work.

    These arrangements are entirely possible. I worked for a consulting firm in Seattle called Point B who has been pioneering better employee relationships and benefits for years.

    At Point B, people can take a few weeks off or a few months off a year, or anything in between. It’s up to the employee. Some people there spend six months off a year living in another country, and six months working for the company. Likewise, some people choose to work more hours than normal to earn more. It’s about flexibility and treating employees as partners.

    37Signals doesn’t count vacation days. Instead, they let employees take whatever is reasonable.

    How much better would your job be if you could take as much time off as you like?

  3. Measure results, not when/where/how work is done
  4. Who says you need to be in one physical location every day from 9 to 5 to get your work done?

    With all the communication tools at our fingertips (think email, skype, phone, group collaboration tools, etc.), it’s ridiculous to make people commute hours to show up somewhere every day.

    Even if you need to be in-person occasionally, I bet you could still work elsewhere most of the time. If you like the office environment, that’s cool, but a little variety might be good for your creativity and mental state.

    Again, this starts with treating employees like responsible adults and business partners. Some people might take advantage of the freedom, and you can deal with those specific incidents and people. In general, results-focused work environments can increase productivity while making people happier, more creative and more balanced.

    It’s the work that matters, not the method.

  5. Make employees owners
  6. To be satisfied with a job, people need to feel like they own the work they produce and that they share in the value they create. Letting people contribute to the overall decisions made within a company also adds to happiness.

    Giving employees ownership of their work and the business, both from a financial standpoint and decision-making standpoint (on a job-based and overall scale) can be a strong motivator and quality driver.

    A 2007 report from the U.K.-based Employee Ownership Association outlines some of the benefits of employee-owned companies:

    • Employee-owned businesses have the potential to both create happier employees AND more financially viable companies.
    • The Employee Ownership Index (EOI) has consistently outperformed the FTSE All-Share. In cash terms, an investment of £100 in the EOI in 1992 would have been worth £349 at the end of June 2003; the same amount invested in the FTSE All-Share would have been worth £161.
    • For a worker on a $65,000 a year salary, an increase from a job satisfaction score of 8/10 to 9/10 delivers as much extra happiness as an extra $35,000 in their annual pay check.

  7. Find a job you love
  8. This one isn’t directed at employers, it’s directed at employees.

    We’re each responsible for seeking what makes us happy. If you hate your job, try to change the situation or find a new job.

    What do you love to do? What are you passionate about? What change do you want to see in the world?

    Find a job that supports your talents, passions and vision for the world. Don’t expect this to be given to you. You have to work hard, get creative and search until you find what you’re looking for.

If entrepreneurship isn’t for you, there’s no reason you can’t find a job that makes you happy. Figure out what will make you happy and seek out an employer who supports that vision.

Cool employers out there. Look to startups and small employee owned companies. That’s where the innovation is happening in employment situations.

It’s up to you to demand being treated as a valuable partner in the business you work for, as opposed to being treated as just a resource to be used up and discarded when no longer useful.

How would you design your ideal working arrangement?

If you’re an entrepreneur, how do you plan to create better employee arrangements?

I'm Corbett Barr, co-founder of Fizzle and entrepreneur for a decade. Get my weekly curated email of useful things for independent entrepreneurs »

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