You Work Here, Therefore We Own You

“You work here, therefore we own you.”

That’s the modus operandi for many white-collar employee agreements, which often assert that full-time employees should not take on any freelance work. And companies that do permit full-time employees to freelance often require prior written consent. My hunch is that most companies either turn a blind eye, or address violations through some sort of awkward discovery, admission and reconciliation (or termination).

My enlightened friend Dave Balter, founder and CEO of BzzAgent, recently challenged this antiquated policy:

“The fact is, few white-collar employees work 9-5 at all anymore. We’re expected to address work issues on weeknights and often on weekends. We’re constantly reachable and it goes without saying that many are reviewed on the merits of their ‘always on’ capacity.  More to the point, many of us expect employees to be constantly active within the realms of social media — Facebooking, Tweeting, Linked-Ining — to connect, but also to gather research, identify new clients, get better at their job. People are working more, and not getting paid differently for it. But really… what an employee does in their off hours — nights and weekends — is their own business.  They’re not indentured servants.”

Dave suggests that as long as people get their work done, don’t divulge confidential information and don’t work for a competitor, freelancing is a smart thing for a business to allow. It provides employees with additional revenue; enhances the employee’s skill set; reduces any likelihood of an employee having to sneak around; and may reduce turnover, as an employee can make more without going somewhere else.

I agree with Dave. But I would build on the notion of freelance and suggest that such inclinations are often indicative of a entrepreneurial spirit. Employers should do far more than tolerate it. They should recognize this quality as a major asset, and recruit and cultivate it, accordingly. Here’s why:

People with the entrepreneurial spirit tend to be more innovative. They are predisposed to identify and create opportunities, and then act on them in a productive way. Is a company better off with managers who can’t step out of standard operating procedure, or those who explore new territory and introduce new ideas that may disrupt competition and exceed customer expectations?

An entrepreneurial spirit tends to cultivate mastery. Consider Captain Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger III, who rose to fame after he successfully landed a jet in the Hudson River off Manhattan, saving the lives of all 155 passengers. He’s a pilot for US Air, and has more than 40 decades and 27,000 hours of flying experience. And what has he done on the side since 2007? Run his own safety consulting business.

The entrepreneurial spirit also lends itself to leadership and perspective. Entrepreneurs think more independently, see the big picture, inspire, take more calculated risks and deliver more solutions. Aren’t these the sorts of workers companies need in order to compete and sustain in our global economy?

The entrepreneurial spirit also tends to radiate passion. The chance to innovate and pursue opportunity ignites optimism and mission. These sorts of people not only are more sophisticated and engaging, but they tend to their core job responsibilities with a greater sense of urgency and purpose.

As an employer, it is your job to recruit and nurture the entrepreneurial spirit in your workforce. It’s great if you can successfully channel all or most of your employees’ entrepreneurial passion directly back into your firm. But you shouldn’t crush or squander it if some of your talent finds additional or complementary outlets. While core job responsibilities come first, chances are that respecting (and even encouraging) entrepreneurial outlets will motivate and create more effective workers.

Is the entrepreneurial spirit alive in your firm?


After posting this, I realized that the workplace vision I describe is the opposite of the panoptic workplace, which my friend Peter Kim recently detailed.

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Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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