You Can’t Buy My Respect: 30 Years of Employment


I’ve been a working person for over 30 years. I have experienced a lot of different employers working a lot of different positions. I’ve cashiered for more dismal places than I can even remember (fast food, electronics, neck ties, and for about 2 seconds I even cashiered at Safeway – until I was strangled to death by coupons, just to name a few). I’ve been a coffee jerk, a fabric cutter, a stock person, a hair dresser’s assistant, a design assistant, a supervisor of other design assistants, quality control, shipping manager, swatcher (color specialist), seamstress, technical writer, customer service rep, headline editor, and book seller.

In every single job I’ve ever had – EXCEPT FOR THE HALF DAY I WORKED THE SAFEWAY CASH REGISTER – I have been this kind of employee:

  • I work hard for my employers and managers whether they earn my respect or not, whether they deserve my loyalty and commitment to my job or not.

Even when my managers have been chauvinistic bosses at Radio Shack who believed my poor sales record was because I couldn’t properly understand electronics, being a girl, and NOT because our products really fucking sucked.

  • I will work late, I will work extra, I will do it without getting overtime, I will do it – to get a job done. When I work with other people I like and respect I will do it to support them, to be a valuable and reliable part of a team.
  • I am never sloppy in my work. I make mistakes like all human employees do but I am always endeavoring to improve my performance. This is a matter of personal pride.
  • 90% of the time I come to work with a good attitude. I face work fuckery with a positive approach. When things get crazy I might freak out for five minutes but I always find my equilibrium and determination to turn a touchy or tough situation around with good will and humor.

However, I’m also always THAT employee who speaks up at meetings to point out what isn’t working and suggests ways that might make the work process smoother or faster or easier. If a manager or employer asks my opinion, I WILL GIVE THEM MY FUCKING OPINION, even though I know they rarely truly want it. What most bosses want is to ask you a question and hear you agree with the position they’ve already taken. When a boss says “Don’t you think this way of doing _____ makes the most sense?” you’re supposed to agree to make them feel good.

But that’s just a steaming pile of bullshit and the one thing I am never tolerant of is steaming stinky bullshit.

An employer hires me to do a specific job, to be (or become) expert at that job, and if my opinion on how to get the best results doing it don’t matter – then that employer doesn’t actually trust me or respect me in my position. Even when I’m trying to improve things so they can sit back and rake in money and have customers so happy with them they become loyal and return again and again.

I won’t play that bullshit game. I’m never paid enough to abandon who I am, abandon my self respect, or to stroke someone’s bloated fragile ego. Do that in your bathroom mirror, get that from your customers/clients, become a cult leader, but don’t think that paying me a wage entitles you or your lieutenants to sycophantic worship.

I respect the boss/employee relationship. I don’t argue with the fact that paying me a wage entitles an employer to have certain expectations that, when not met, can result in lawful termination of employment. I don’t have a problem with figures of authority as a general rule.

But I have a big problem with employers taking advantage of that authority and that happens all the time. Unless you work in an actual sweatshop it’s hard to prove and most employees won’t challenge an employer because they need the money and can’t afford to quit and go to court trying to prove an employer’s negligence with regard to OSHA safety regulations, respectful treatment, fair pay, etc. This very fact makes it excessively easy to intimidate the general work force into keeping their mouths shut, putting their heads down, and accepting outrageous disrespect from employers.

All of this is compounded by a bad economy in which jobs are scarce and this is further true of the workforce that’s limited in options due to age, years of staying home to take care of kids, lack of formal education, sex, and race. The more limited the options of an employee the more likely they are to knowingly be taken advantage of by an employer/manager.

If you are an employer and/or a manager there are some things you should know:

If you cram 5 employees into a residential garage that violates at least 4 OSHA safety regulations at any given time and no one reports you, it doesn’t mean it’s okay that you are putting people in unsafe work conditions every day or that your employees are cool with those conditions. Consider yourself fortunate that you employ people whose need to feed their families is more important to them than reporting you.

Just because people agree to take on employment in sub-par working conditions doesn’t mean they deserve to work in such conditions. It’s proof of the poverty of your ethics and your greed as an employer that you put people in such conditions in the first place. What conditions people are willing to work under has nothing to do with their worth.

Employees know when they’re being lied to and cheated. Just because they don’t speak up doesn’t mean they aren’t keeping a tally of what kind of human being you are and constantly weighing how much more of your fuckery they’re willing to take and how quietly or loudly they’ll go when they’ve had enough abuse.

A high employee turnover rate is evidence of poor working conditions, poor management, and a toxic work environment. If you own or manage a company in which there is a high turnover rate: it’s YOU not the people you’re employing that’s the problem.

Managers who throw their employees under the train but pretend to stick up for them aren’t fooling anyone, ever. It’s not rocket science to figure out when a manager is actually sticking their necks out for their team with the owner and when they’re NOT. Employees know when you talk behind their backs, when you lie to them. THEY ALWAYS FUCKING KNOW THIS SHIT BECAUSE TAKING A PAYCHECK DOESN’T MEAN THEY SUDDENLY HAVE NO BRAIN, NO EYES, AND NO EARS. Level of pay in employment rarely has a direct correlation with level of intelligence or acuity.

When a manager sticks up for their employees/teams they will earn a lot more loyalty and respect. When the chips are down, employees will always be there for the manager who speaks up to the boss on their account. They know that managers need their jobs too and that sticking their necks out puts them at risk – that willingness to be a real advocate for their crew is deeply appreciated and always noticed.

It’s measurable in how things do or don’t change on the job.

If you are a manager of any kind, never act like you’re in the exact same position as everyone else. It’s patronizing. Don’t say “we” when you mean “you”. Your team will respect you more for being honest about your position.

If you’re a manager don’t pretend you have just as little power as everyone you’re managing. That’s the same as the above statement. It can’t be stated loudly enough. Own up to your position and wield your power fairly and honestly and your team will work hard for you.

Know that your employees all talk to each other. When you talk behind their backs they tell each other. They also know (because they aren’t stupid) that when they talk to each other about you – you will hear all about it.

When something awful happens to one employee – all the employees know about it. There are no secrets. So when one employee is treated like shit by El-Bossperson, everyone knows about it and adds it to the over-all tally of a boss’s ethical scorecard.

Don’t ask your employees/crew for opinions you aren’t planning to take seriously. Stop wasting their fucking time. Just stop it. You want something to be done a certain way, all you have to do is tell your employees that’s how it’s got to be done. No excuses, no quibbling, no pretending to care what anyone thinks of it.

If you insist on asking your employees for their opinions know that most of them are going to tell you what you want to hear not because that’s what they really think but because they really need to pay their rent.  If one of them actually tells you what they really think and it isn’t in agreement with your ideas – don’t start pissing on the wall in anger. You started it. You asked for it.

If you don’t like the opinion you invited, take it with respect and then make the decision you feel is best and ask your crew to respect your decision. They may not like it but they’ll DO WHAT YOU DEMAND. And for fuck’s sake don’t hound that person hoping to get them to agree with you. They obviously don’t, leave it. They’ll respect you more for being honest and for listening to them before going with your own idea.

A good relationship between an employer, a manager, and employees is dependent on mutual respect. Employees always know when an employer doesn’t respect them. You can’t fake that shit. They know. Just know that they always know.

You can tell them you respect them but still think you’re better than all of them because you have your own business and employ people – they know . They know by the conditions under which you expect them to work. They know by the raises you do or don’t give. They know by the way you talk to them.

You can’t buy a person’s respect by paying them a wage. That’s not how it works. Paying people a wage merely buys you their man-power, their professional courtesy, their expertise. That’s all it gets you. You want your employees’ respect? You have to earn it the way all people have to earn respect in the world of other people – with your actions. You earn respect by giving it.





That’s the end of this story, friends. I’m a fantastic employee that people have been lucky to have for 30 years. I always give 100% to my jobs even to employers who don’t deserve it, but I will never give my respect unless it’s earned. I will never be untrue to myself for a paycheck. I will always ask the questions that need to be asked knowing that it might result in me getting fired.

In 30 years of employment I have never once been fired. Right now I’m at a job that could be a great job. It could be a great way to support my family and I want it to be. But I’ve almost walked out without giving notice at least once a month for all 5 months of my employment.

I’ve only ever walked out on a job without giving proper notice ONE TIME IN 30 YEARS. No matter how bad a job is and how little they deserve notice I have only one time not given proper notice.

But seriously, those coupons were going to crawl down my throat and suffocate me, I had no choice but to walk away.

I almost walked out on my current job on Tuesday. I decided to stay solely out of respect for a fellow employee and knowing how fucking awful bad it would be for her if I bailed this week. So I’m not leaving. I’m not even giving notice. There’s a chance that the general work conditions may be about to improve considerably and it would be awesome if this job started becoming the cool opportunity I had originally hoped it would be.

I AM writing this post, however, knowing that if my manager and/or employer reads it they may decide to terminate my employment (but will find a legal reason for firing me, of course) and I’m at peace with that.

If that’s the price for being true to myself and having self respect, I’m willing to pay it. If that’s the price for having a voice and using it, I’m totally at peace with it.

We all always have choices. Weigh them honestly. Look at them carefully. And once you’ve chosen, proceed forward confidently and fearlessly.


  1. Kele Lampe says:

    There is SO MUCH TRUTH in this. Thank you for writing so eloquently. The two best jobs I ever had both had managers who treated me as a person. The coffee house manager who let us play pinball when there were no customers and all the work was done, instead of bitching that we didn’t look busy enough. The shoe store where, when I came into work in tears on my first day because I had just broken up with my boyfriend, the manager/owner sent me home and told me to come back and try again tomorrow instead of firing me on the spot. It’s insane to me I should feel SO MUCH gratitude even 30 years later for NOT getting fired when I called in sick with pneumonia to that coffee house job, for the fact that the shoe store gave me a 20% raise when someone pointed out that I had been working there six months and made 20% less than the MAN they had hired two days ago. This is just sense. And you know, when I was treated as a human being, instead of having every single thing questioned and challenged, when I was encouraged to take care of myself instead of coming in with a fever of 103, I TOOK LESS ADVANTAGE. I had fewer days when I called in sick because I simply could not cope that day.

    Anyway. Thank you for writing this.

  2. angelina says:

    You’re welcome! I really needed to write it. Your stories are testament to how little it takes to earn an employee’s true loyalty and respect and how long those deeds are remembered. I love the story of the 20% raise especially!

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