How to Exploit Your Employer


I would never hire me. When I was younger I couldn’t last more than 2 or 3 days at a job before I was plotting my escape. I would try to figure out how to game the system: how to build from my current job so I could either have an even better job, make more money, start my own business, or use every spare moment to pretend like I was working so I could write a novel, program a website, or do whatever (with heavy emphasis on “whatever”).

It’s a given that the only area where you can make consistent 100%+ a year returns is your career, whether you are an employee or an entrepreneur. No matter which you are, this is where you need to focus right now. And to get the most out of your situation, you need to understand how to exploit your boss instead of the other way around.

It’s very clear in a capitalist economy that The Man needs to exploit the workers. In the ‘90s I ran a company, Reset, which provided Web services to a range of Fortune 100 companies like HBO, Disney, and Con Edison. I had two main responsibilities as CEO: selling our services to new customers, which required convincing clients they needed to spend $150,000 for a five-page Web site that very few people would visit. The second responsibility was making sure all of my employees were properly exploited. I mean this in a negative sense but it doesn’t have to be that way, for reasons I’ll describe below.

The negative sense of exploitation is that I had to convince them to work 18 hours a day, seven days a week, for pay that would allow me to make a maximum amount of money from their hourly efforts. Every single employer-employee situation on the planet works this way. You need people to work for less than what you’re making. Not only that, you need them to expend maximum effort and if along the way, they burn out, then you need to squeeze every last drop of productivity out of them before they finally collapse and must be replaced. And don’t fool yourself. Look around at all of your employees. At some point, you will replace all of them or at some point they will leave you in the dust anyway when they realize its time for them to move on. The age of four-decades-long exploitation, culminating in a goodbye hug and a gold watch, are long over.

But the beauty of capitalism now, as opposed to the factorylike situations that Marx was describing 130 years ago when he first outlined the map of exploitation, is that it’s a two-way street. To succeed in life, the employee must exploit the employer as well, and I mean this in a positive way. At any given point, because of the liquidity of a global economy, because of the Internet, because of the vast array of opportunities in front of us, an employee must determine his or her worth on the market.

Here’s my immediate five-step plan for employee to employer exploitation:

Give your boss credit for everything, and never talk poorly behind his or her back. Never complain about the perceived unilateral exploitation of employer-to-employee. Exploit back. And, by the way, it doesn’t matter if you are making $1 million a year and you are a top executive or if you are making $30,000 a year as a secretary. Guaranteed, the higher up the job title is, the more the employee understands the need for reverse exploitation.
Make sure you have some contact, outside of your boss, with every client he or she deals with. Build your own reputation that you can point to when it comes time to leave.
Immediately send your resume around. You are not necessarily leaving, but if you haven’t sent your resume out in two years, then there is danger of becoming inbred. You must to know what your value on the market is.
Always think about what skills you have that can last outside the corporate environment. There is nothing wrong with building a career and stability in the corporate environment, but always ensure you have skills that can survive outside of it. Be creative. Everyone can survive outside the corporate environment, even if it feels like you can’t. You can consult, start your own business, anything. This is critical, and one way to get to this point is to make sure you improve your skills every single day. You must feel you’ve improved in some way each day.
Be productive. There’s eight hours in a typical workday, but the average employee works only a few of those hours. The rest of the time is spent on coffee breaks, Web surfing, lunch, random gossiping, useless meetings where everyone around a conference room table is vying for attention. Try to spend at least four solid hours a day working.

If you follow these steps and continue to think, in a positive way, about how you can exploit your situation, then the effort you put into this will have much greater returns financially (and emotionally) than you can ever hope to have from investing in stocks. Exploitation is such a negative word, but it’s a guarantee that if you aren’t exploiting then you’re being exploited.

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  • Pier

    James, I still believe that trading is the best job in the world! You are free from all the stupid politics of the corporate world which are more and more far away from meritocracy. Why don’t we create a social network hedge fund structure!! So that we all traders are more happy and not suicidal? What do u think?

  • kim

    As an employer of 26 years, I would agree but not in all cases. Some employees are exceptional and happy to work very hard without resentment or day-dreaming about starting their own business – because they don’t want their own business. Self-employment is not for everyone. Younger employees are often resentful due to inexperience; the extra pay for the boss is compensation for risk, as well as the unrelenting stress of making payroll, generating new business, dealing with the authorities, and keeping the ship afloat.

    Relatedly, how many of your friends are not on your payroll (including all forms of pay, such as status, entertainment, crying towel, financial advice, etc)?

  • Bill Waddell

    James Altucher and the word ‘Formula.’ Formula Capital — Formula writer
    #1 a surprising sounding title “Don’t send your kids to College” or “how to exploit your employer”
    #2 a solid opening line that forces you to read the second line “In 1985 my Dad made $5 million” or “I would never hire me.”
    #3 followed up with a trip to the edge of the abyss , Eugene O’Neil would be proud of with well phrased insights causing this reader to empathize, sympathize and and in some cases identify.
    This example is however a little weak when judged against some of his pieces. Maybe that is why the stogie sucking illustration. But still good.

    Another example of formula writing (or speaking) Aristotle: ethos pathos logos. It works, and you have good stuff to say. Look forward to your comic book series.

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  • KJP712

    Some times while trading,I will still look over my shoulder to see if a Supervisor is watching me.Then seeing that I am alone and it is quiet,a smile appears on my face.

  • Doc

    Twice when I worked for a Fortune 50 company providing remote IT support the firm demanded I move 1000 miles at my expense away from my family. The issues causing the move were more political than practical and I surmised I would be constantly in conflict with jealous coworkers who resented my working remotely.

    Both times the Navy Reserves had requirements for my occupation (field Corpsman)
    First time was local supporting young Marines in training
    Second time was an all expense paid trip to Al Anbar Iraq supporting young Marines fighting

    I figured conflict with people who were trying to kill me than jealous coworkers was preferable and though I saw much conflict with tragic results the enemy was easier to get along with when we were not fighting than my coworkers.

    Moral as James’s blog is
    Always have a backup

  • Wizo

    Hey James, great post. Is it possible you could expand on how to exploit the boss, I am in a situation with a boss who has major bipolar and regularly screams at me and other employees for things out of our control. Another trick of his is to threaten us with termination so that we stay quiet and don’t talk back to him. I understand it is my choice to stay at the job, but at the moment I am finding it difficult to get work so my leverage is low. Luckily I am now starting to do the things you talk about, including writing down ideas. Hopefully I can leave this job, I have managed to save up $100,000 but not sure what to do with it yet. Hopefully I can direct it to a good idea I have when I come up with it. Thanks

  • KarlCapital

    I missed how this is really exploitive: (1) participate in customer service, (2) work harder then the average, (3) give the boss credit for everything, and (4) develop your skill set (making you more potentially valuable to your employer). The only thing that does not benefit your employer as well as potentially yourself is to shop around your resume — but I’d say that is a wash because you probably are earning market wages anyways.

    But, after all, you’ve admitted that you see yourself as the boss rather than the worker so I can understand how you would want to turn your worker’s “exploitive” temptations to your benefit. After all, isn’t that the best con — when the mark thinks he is the con artist?

  • Anonymous

    Linked back this from your more recent post “Life Tastes Better….”. Great, common-sense and ‘all too true’. Keep calling a spade a spade! Sincere thanks for sharing your experience and life lessons…..

  • Andrew R Long

    Hear hear. “Every single employer-employee situation on the planet works this way: You need people to work for less than what you’re making. Not only that, you need them to expend maximum effort and if along the way, they burn out, then you need to squeeze every last drop of productivity out of them before they finally collapse and must be replaced.” 

  • Rob

    “It’s very clear in a capitalist economy that The Man needs to exploit the workers.”

    I’m exploited by the government taking over 40% of my annual income.  I feel as though my boss is doing me a huge favor by giving me the most money for my time.  The US isn’t even close to a capitalist economy.  In a true capitalist economy, no one is exploited.  

  • KB

    Awesome article! I recently discovered your blog after re-reading your article in Tech Crunch: Cheat sheet for starting a company. Although I work for an awesome startup in a great role, I am always thinking about how I can get out and do my own thing. This is helpful in motivating.

  • Antara Man

    A very good advice, James. As I am now in such a situation I agree with your tips. Thank you. I have a question: when you are a self-employed who do you exploit, yourself?

  • mammolastan

    I’m posting this comment on the clock, right now, learning personally valuable life skills.