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The Balance of Power: Employer vs. Employee

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One of my best friends from college, Bob, came over for dinner last week.  We were discussing my plans to quit my job and take a Family Gap Year in South America, and he said something that really stuck with me.  Bob thinks the relationship between employers and employees is not at all balanced.  He thinks employers hold all the cards, and that they often use this balance of power at work to take advantage of employees.


This certainly seems to be the prevailing view among younger workers, and people with less experience or fewer options.  I remember thinking this way myself when I was starting out my career.  But, for me, the tables have now turned.   In my case, I hold the balance of power at work.


The Opposite View

I am living proof that an employee can in fact hold at least as much power, if not more, than the employer.  In my case, I am about to quit my job on my own terms and do whatever the hell I want.  And there is nothing my employer can do about it (except perhaps to offer me something more, which won’t work in my case).  Right now, I am holding all of the cards.


When Employers Have The Upper Hand

This has not always been the case for me.  At the Massive Tech Company I worked at for 7 years, there was a VP of Finance who was known for demanding people prioritize their work above all else.  He demanded surprise projects on nights and weekends,  and endless revisions that often ended up being discarded.  Pushing his employees around was just a big power trip for this guy.


This jerk clearly understood what gave him the upper hand.  I once heard him say something like this:


“I love hiring guys with a wife and newborn at home, and a big mortgage.”


He knew that these types of employees needed the money, and would do whatever it takes to  keep their jobs.  He knew he could take advantage of their situation.


You Only Need One Thing

If you are young and starting out your career, it can be difficult to accept the fact that your employer holds all of the cards.  The good news is that there is absolutely something you can do about it, and it is completely within your control.  But, like most things in life, it is not a quick fix.


To gain the upper hand on your employer, you only need one of the following:

  • Substantial money in the bank
  • Some rare, special skill that is in demand.

You don’t need both, you only need one.  Either one will do.


Most young workers who are starting out their careers usually have neither money nor a special skill.  Employers know this, and as a result, they can push young workers around.


How to Win the Balance of Power at Work

The key to turning the table on any employer is to either build wealth or to learn a special skill.  As you grow older, you have opportunities to do this.  If you are wise about your spending habits, you can save money, and start to accumulate wealth.  Depending on your career path, you may also gain valuable experience which will allow you to learn a special skill in demand.


Some people do one of these things, some people do both, and many others do neither.


Building Wealth Is Much Easier

While it is true that anyone with a rare, special skill can control their relationship with their employer, this type of skill is, by definition, rare.


Even after twenty years of experience, most of us do not have such specialized skills.  The vast majority of us can easily be replaced.  And this gives the upper hand to your employer.


It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you are good at your work (you probably are), and that your employer would have a hard time replacing you (they probably won’t).  Please don’t confuse being good at your job with having a rare, special skill.


Building wealth is a much easier  than learning such a rare skill.  Be wise about how you spend money, and save a massive percent of your income.  Over time, you will accumulate enough wealth to be able to boss around your boss – if that’s what you want.


Two Different Paths

The opposite views Bob and I now have about the balance of power at work are completely determined by how much money we each have.


Over the last twenty years since college, we have taken two different paths.  I settled down with a family, and Bob stayed single.   Bob has been in sales most of the time, and he often made more money than me.  So, not only was I making less money, but my salary has to support four people, while he only has to support himself.


Nevertheless, I now have considerably more money than Bob.  Over the years, I’ve saved large portions of my income (usually 30% – 50%), while Bob tended to spend most of his money on entertainment and travelling.  After twenty years, Bob has less than $50,000 to his name, while I have over $1M in net worth.  


In addition to the fact that Bob does not have a lot of money, he recently made the choice to start a completely new career.  So, now at the age of 42, Bob has little money and is starting a new career in which he has little experience.  He is clearly missing both of the things that will give anyone the upper hand on their employer: money or a special skill.


The World Is Your Oyster

What would you do if you held the balance of power at work?  There are so many ways you can use that power for your own good.


In my case, I have built enough wealth over time to comfortably quit my job and travel with the family to South America for a whole year.


Another example:  I know an engineer with a a rare skill, who demanded that he be allowed to relocate to Texas, where he would work remotely, part time (the company said “OK”).   Someone else I know picks and chooses the projects he works on.   His employer knows that he doesn’t have to work if he doesn’t want to – so he gets to choose the projects.


If you want this kind of freedom of choice over your career, then put your efforts into accumulating wealth, or gaining a special rare skill.  Once you have either one of these things, the world will be your oyster.



Jojo Bobo



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