Nov 3, 2009

Some advice for employers

Prior to coming to work in my current ultra-corporate environment, I worked for a university. I held several positions there, but the last one was as a student web designer. My group developed various and sundry multimedia for professors, including websites. I adored my job, and not simply because they gave me total creative control over the websites I designed from the ground up. (Although that certainly helped!)

My previous supervisors worked very hard to create a positive environment, where the focus was as much on growth, creativity, and learning as it was on turning out a good product. If you expressed a desire to learn a new skill or work on a new and different project, you were not only allowed to do so, but given the resources and the support necessary to be successful. Obviously, if there was a time crunch, they would want the most experienced developers on the job, but for the most part, they did what they could to help their employees realize their full potential. This was good for the student employees because they were learning a lot and working on things that made them happy, but even better for the professors who relied on us for course materials and CV sites because our quality of work improved so rapidly and also for our organization as a whole, which had a steadily growing and improving body of work to refer to when trying to get more funding and more clients.

I have experienced none of this in my corporate environment.

My supervisors have more or less taken the position that whatever skillset you had when you began working here--or whatever skillset they decided you had, a determination not always based on your testimony or your portfolio--is the extent of your talent. If you were hired to do html and CSS, you can do HTML and CSS. If you were hired to do Flash, you can do Flash. If you have other talents or abilities, though, that you did not possess at the outset or that they were not made fully aware of early on, don't expect ever to incorporate those into your daily work.

There have even been a couple of instances where, instead of utilizing the existing talent pool, they've hired from outside because, as they say, "No one here has that skill." Or, in other words, no one here is currently using that skill, so instead of taking a chance on you and letting you prove yourself, we're going to keep you doing what you're doing and simply hire someone new.

The way my employers have put their employees in a rigid box has had an incredibly negative impact on the work environment. People are frustrated because they not only feel their skills are going unused, but they feel they are being passed over in favor of outsiders for team changes and promotions. It also highlights how disconnected management is from their employees and the lack of confidence they have in the people they have hired. What it really shows is how little they are invested in their employees.

Investing in the long-term growth of your employees is crucial to building a strong and capable team. Particularly in a tech field, your organization needs people who are constantly growing, learning, and building new skillsets. Failing to acknowledge and take advantage of the professional growth of your employees will have the effect of one (or all) of the following:
  1. Your employees will become angry and frustrated by the sense that management is not paying attention to its talent pool, and they will feel overlooked.
  2. They will become discouraged of learning new skills, since they know that those skills would be overlooked yet again.
  3. The best of your talent will move on to greener pastures, where their work and skills will be acknowledged and put to better use.

To be honest, there is no reason why you shouldn't be fully aware of your employees' abilities, their efforts to improve and develop their skills, and their goals in terms of long-term growth. Moreover, there is no reason why you shouldn't be taking advantage of their abilities and goals as you move your organization forward. There is little to gain in passing them over and failing to use their skills, and everything to lose: morale, your best talent, and eventually, the quality of your product and your clients.


  1. My last place of employment repeatedly said, "If you need help, just ask" ... but if you did, these seemed to be tasks that would no longer be asked of you ever again. Talk about frustrating!

    I love your business advice. It's important to keep in mind for the long term growth of both a business and employees that a stagnant environment will not flourish.

  2. You know you have found a great job when the company is interested in your own growth and how your future skills, as well as current ones, will be an asset to their company. You will know it's a great company when your efforts are appreciated and you are told so.

    As for the current issues at "Happy Workplace Inc?" That's how people get driven over the edge and end up come to work with firearms.

  3. That sounds REALLY frustrating. Definitely not the kind of place you wake up and look forward to going to every morning.