Corbett Barr

Lifestyle Business Weekly

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?

Corbett Barr

A weekly curated email of useful links for people interested in lifestyle businesses and independent entrepreneurship.


Cash Rich… Lifestyle Poor


When Goals Make You Crazy


  1. Joe

    Great post! In 35 minutes, my wife is having a meeting with her boss and proposing to go from 90% working in-office (70 minute commute each way!) to 100% working at home. She’s already had a preliminary discussion with him about this, but today is the big day. Her job is to make her 67 year old boss realize how silly it is to show up in an office every day, when 100% of the work can be done wherever in the world she has an Internet connection.

    It’s posts and blogs like this that have given us the knowledge and information to be able to make these types of requests, so thank you!

    • Hi Joe,

      I really hope that today everything gone right for your wife!

      I work 100% at home and I can say that it’s really good. I have my space and my time. And I work a lot without any problem.

      Maybe people will tell you that you miss a lot of human contact, but I can say that it’s not true: you miss the bad part of it, but you gain a lot of time for your friends.

      And with all the communication tools that we have today, you are connected with everyone. But only WHEN you want, and this is the important thing.


    • Corbett

      Hey Joe! I hope the conversation went well. Please fill us in…

      If her boss doesn’t accept the idea outright, maybe go back and propose a two-week trial, measured by productivity or work quality.

      • Joe

        I’m happy to report that her boss had absolutely no problem with her proposal for 100% remote-working situation. She may need to go to the office once a month or so for meetings, but that’s fine. She went in with a bang-up proposal (and even left him with a written outline). He even said that he was surprised that she hadn’t asked him for this earlier, as he would have if he were in her situation (she’s been there for 8+ years)! This goes to show that if you’re a conscientious employee and take the time to craft a thoughtful proposal, even an old conservative guy (excuse my stereotype) sees the value. On top of that, he even agreed to buy her the computers and monitors she’ll need to work at home (she’s a trader).

        This is really a life-changer – she’ll gain back those 2.5 hours/day she’s currently spending in the car. What a blessing.

        Alessandro – I agree about the human contact thing. If someone needs to go into an office for his/her daily fix of human contact, that’s sad. Rather, you should be able to interact with people you want to be around!

        Thanks again for the encouragement, Corbett and Alessandro!

        • Corbett

          That is SO awesome Joe! Thanks for reporting back. Hopefully this will encourage other people in similar situations. Congrats to you and your wife.

        • Wow, Congratulations Joe that is great, I wish my boss would understand that, I have to work from 8 to 6 in my job, and I get the job of the day done in 15 min at day, (45 min in busy days) and I could do everything remotely because all my tools are in the web but they put too much interest in “being there just in case”.

          Although in my country this is a good job, most of the people I know work even more and from monday to saturday and they get paid way less, and because all the free time in my office I have a lot of chances to work on my own business and my blog, so I’m taking all the advantage possible, I hope I can create my own business by the next year and leave the work and start traveling the world.

          Happy New Year Joe, and again, congratulations for your wife, I’m truly happy to see another person is free in the world :D

  2. Hi Corbett,

    my solution is to work for myself and to have a lot of strong relations with other experts, so we are a motivated team.

    But I have a doubt about “Letting people contribute to the overall decisions made within a company also adds to happiness.”

    In my experience, it must be a leader. If not, everyone want to make different decisions, and the result could be really dangerous.


  3. I completely agree with this points. Even for those who are starting the entrepreneur world, this can become a wonderful way to know if you want to work in a particular way with someone.
    I also need to get my brother to read this one, this could help him manage his business a lot better.
    Thanks for this post Corbett!

  4. On point #3, I’m wondering how big of impact this had on the success of Wal-Mart. Of course distribution was the granddaddy of all their tactics that allowed them to take over the world but this making employees owners was another huge move Sam Walton made.

    Love the premise of bringing on partners and for anyone who’s looking for a more in-depth take on this, I’d highly recommend on getting a hold of Brian Clark’s “Partnering Profits” course. There be some gems in there. :)

  5. Dan

    Hi Corbett,

    Points 1 and 2 were my biggest bugbear. I use to do it old school (before the internet) and work, quit, travel, quit, travel…. It need not be this this way and the smart companies are getting onto this. Treat adult like adults and you’ll be amazed. Traipsing into an office cubicle each day working a block of hours makes little sense for many companies.

    This year I relocated from the UK -> Australia & now work 100% remotely. Being able to structure my work day around my life has been pretty life changing, I probably work less physical hours but my productivity is way up.

    I agree with Alessandro, I don’t miss human contact one bit. That can easily be fixed by getting out of the house or firing up skype.

    We’ll laugh about this quaint idea of flexible working hours in years to come :) and I’d urge anyone that can make it work to ask the question.


  6. If all places of employment took these suggestions to heart, we’d see a lot more smiling faces out there on the roads.

    In a small way, my current position let’s me arrive anytime between 8:30 – 10:15, and this makes a huge difference. The stress of having to be there 8:30 everyday has disappeared and it makes a different.

    Ideally, I like the idea of production based goals, regardless of the time it takes. If you can reach your goals in 5 hours of office time a day, great.

    Or, on the flip side, working 4 ten hour days with a three day weekend is attractive.

    Or the option to telecommute several days a week, putting in some face time each week.

  7. Wow, this is great advice. As a budding entrepreneur, I often think about how I can create a happy work environment for my future employees. This is right on the money. Thanks Corbett.

Leave a Reply

Happy ! Thanks for reading.

RSS   |    Archives   |    Newsletter