So You Think You’re Indispensable? Think again!

As humans, we’re unique, that’s for sure.

We’re high maintenance too.

We have emotions, family and friends to spend time with. Whether employed, self-employed, we like to take time off to relax and spend time with them.

We occasionally become unwell and can be rather unpredictable too. Sometimes we just down tools and decide to take a day or two off, whatever the reason may be.

We are all ‘overheads’ in some way or another, costly, and in some cases slow too – young or old.

The world of work is changing. Very quickly.

Heard of interns? Sure you have. Chances are you’ll associate them with low pay too. Whether that’s justified or even moral is not the point of this article. (With three children entering the jobs market, I certainly have my views on that). The point is more companies and organisations care less about the welfare of their employees and contractors. They may communicate they are however you don’t have to look far to discover what people think of their employers. Websites such as Glassdoor give them a voice and one which warns others that many employers and jobs out there are far from what you may hear about from them directly or their nominated recruitment agencies.

Companies and organisations are less loyal these days and are usually continually looking to save costs for their stakeholders. If you’re self-employed, you are not immune to this. They are looking for maximum value against the services and products they choose. It’s mostly all about the bottom line to them.

The days where you may expect an employer to look after your welfare in return for your loyalty is fast diminishing. If you think that’s what employees can and should still expect, sorry, you need to smell the coffee. And whilst you’re grabbing your next cup, think about the disruption that’s currently happening to the jobs scene via the so-called gig economy.

I’m not writing this article to sugar coat anything. That would be misleading in my view. This is reality.

Check out this article, Your Company Is Not a Family, in the Harvard Business Review, co-written in 2014 by Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn. (Now since sold to Microsoft).

Jobs are becoming more project oriented. Employers certainly don’t like retaining people whose skills are no longer required and they are less inclined to join their ‘hope’ that another project may come along whilst they continue to pay their staff. They love the contracting model but not you. Where contracting isn’t feasible, don’t for one moment assume they still want you around once whatever they originally hired you for is over, even if you’re a full-time employee. You’re not family, after all, remember?

And then we have something called tech.  If you’re not yet aware of how many tech companies operate and how they adopt Hoffman’s employment model, then I suggest you read this bestselling book: ‘Disrupted – The Ludicrous Misadventures in the Tech Start-Up Bubble’ by Dan Lyons.’ It’s very insightful and there is no doubt more and more companies and organisations will apply the ‘Your Company Is Not a Family’ approach.  Staff churn rates at tech start-ups are extremely high. This will be more commonplace in many other sectors.

And what about innovation? The word innovation is now everywhere. Everyone is innovating it seems. Isn’t coming up with bright ideas the same kind of thing? I guess we had to innovate by popularising ‘bright ideas’ to make what we were already doing sound a little sexy after all! Innovation is even now on the back of my toothpaste tube despite it tasting the same. So we taste innovation too!

What continued innovation will mean to us as employees, contractors and even as consumers is exciting however also scary. Very scary for many of us humans particularly as many more tasks become automated.

Here’s another article. This one is written by Udo Gollub, Founder, and CEO of, where he shares his key learnings from Singularity University’s summit on Facebook.  I encourage you to read it if you want to have a quick glimpse as to what is to come.  Here’s a snippet. Within it he shares:

In the US, young lawyers already don’t get jobs. Because of IBM Watson, you can get legal advice (so far for more or less basic stuff) within seconds, with 90% accuracy compared with 70% accuracy when done by humans. So if you study law, stop immediately. There will be 90% less lawyers in the future, only specialists will remain.”
Work: 70-80% of jobs will disappear in the next 20 years. There will be a lot of new jobs, but it is not clear if there will be enough new jobs in such a small time.”

A more succinct example is this one featured in Quartz: ‘A new t-shirt sewing robot can make as many shirts per hour as 17 factory workers.’ It’s about automation again of course. Even low wage garment workers in regions like South and South East Asia will be affected.

In the employment and self-employed scene, there will be winners but a whole lot of losers too. You may feel that you can adapt to change but my advice is we all had better notch up our respective ‘adaptation mindset’ big time and be as innovative as those innovators.

The robots have arrived and many more are well on their way. They even help clear trays at some eateries. Today.


John Coupland
John Coupland
JOHN is an independent marketing consultant and is the bestselling author of ACCELerate™ Your Social Media. With extensive experience in e-business and ICT, he helps ambitious entrepreneurs, business owners, and corporates with their business growth using his unique and proven ACCELerate™ methodology. John speaks at leading business events, has written a number of articles for major publications worldwide, and is a member of The Brain Trust®, Small Business Advocate Show®, America. Amongst a number of awards, John played an instrumental role in helping a major UK department store chain achieve the Queen's Awards for Enterprise - Innovation. Learn more at ACCELerate™ Your Business

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  1. Interesting to note too, that in software development, there is a strong migration away from a “project management” mindset to a “product management” mindset because it produces better results for the customer, but is clearly in conflict with:

    Jobs are becoming more project oriented.

    This simple fact is something I’ve felt in all realms: freelance, contract and full time. It seems almost irretrievable that a company can think of anything other than the time they will no longer have to pay an employee…

  2. There are three levels of employees — those that support the work structure, those that manage the work structure, and those that lead business management. You become more indispensable as a leader, less so as a manager or a swappable cog.

    Focus on being a leader, someone that is a force multiplier in an organization. Then you can always justify your worth.

    • Yes, however in my view, no-one is indispensable.

      Unforeseen changes can happen, even to an exceptional leader.

      Thank you for commenting Chris.

    • I agree and disagree. I find it depends heavily on the environment. If the environment drives behavior, then people are not indispensable. Swap one out, swap another in. There are companies where you could tear out the whole executive team and replace them with a brand new team and the organizational will chug along. But, if a person can rise above it all and drive the way the environment works, then that person is indispensable. I’ve seen major business transformations succeed only under the right person’s leadership.

      It all depends on the organization, its structure, and the existing human capital being leveraged.

    • Good points Chris, however I’m struggling with “…if a person can rise above it all and drive the way the environment works, then that person is indispensable.” To me it implies that person cannot be replaced by anyone who could do a better job. If that’s the case, I can’t agree with that.

      I personally struggle to relate with those who at least give an air that they are themselves indispensable. Such behaviour is ridiculous to me.

    • I agree with what you say about “indispensability” from in theory. There is always a better person out there. But, this can get muddy in practice, and based on the scenario I will either agree or disagree.

      Let’s say there is an initiative, and we are paying someone $100,000 per year. It cost about $50,000 to acquire this person and $50, 000 to develop and train this person per year. That means the cost of the person in their first year is $200,000 and in their second year and onward is $150,000. Based on performance measurements, the person has multiplied the company’s revenue during their stay by 1%. They achieved this impact at the end of their first year.

      Now, you want to replace this person, with someone else who you think is a better value. You find someone who you feel is a better investment. They are asking for $150,000 and it cost $50,000 to acquire them. They require no additional training or development. This means the cost of this person is $200,000 for their first year and for every year onward is $150,000. At the end of their first year, their multiplier for revenue was 0.5%.

      This wasn’t a better person. So you try to bring back someone who’s better. This time everyone you found good is asking for $200,000 or more. Further, the ones you’re interested in are not interested in working for you. You realize that you finally found someone that will work for you for $200,000 and the cost to acquire them was $200,000 as well. No training is needed. So the first year it this new person costs $400,000 and then $200,000 for each following year. At the end of their first year, they have a 0.75% multiplier for revenue.

      Who was the better person for the job? Based on the criteria, it can be anyone. Based on my criteria, it’s the first one because I hire people based on their potential.

    • I understand what you share here Chris however, in my view, it’s very calculative.

      We’re humans, not robots of course.

      It doesn’t take into account many potential, unforeseen, circumstances like being the first person – no matter how good they may be – starting to be off-sick frequently or for a long period of time. The second person hired could be more productive because he / she is actually at work a lot more. How would your ROI calculation look like then?

      Hiring the first, second or third person always comes with the unknown, no matter how good an organisation thinks their interview process or their intuition is.

      It’s impossible to know for sure how each hire will pan out.

      …and what if the manager has a disagreement with the first hire a few months down the line because he / she turns out better than him*, can’t get a promotion and even tries sues him for discrimination, or similar? (Whether fair or unfair).

      What happens to the ROI calculation then?

      (*Yes, even the manager is indispensable in my opinion).

      Hypothetical scenarios, I realise, however still possible.

      Humans are a complex species.

    • Earlier on in this thread I said that indispensability highly depends on the scenario. That’s why I included calculations to reflect how high-level hiring managers make their decisions. Note that employees are also assessed and score based on their behaviors and objectives — which may or may not impact business performance.

      I don’t think people are robots, though each and every person has two sets of behaviors. One set when they are not under stress, then another set where they are under stress. Both sets of behaviors are predictable. What requires a lot more data collection is to be able to forecast when people transition between different behaviors. People are not robots, but they are creatures of predictable habits. With organizational design and process we can augment these behaviors.

      In regards to changing ROI calculations, I’m cautious to not blend the “ROI” styled (aka cash flow) calculations to take into consideration specific scenarios. It turns an apple to apple comparison to apple and orange comparisons. That makes the returns/cash flow approach unreliable. You mentioned other aspects that are just not appropriate for the cash flow modeling. These aspects are more suitable for risk mitigation, HR training, legal consultations, and subjective assessment styled tools.

      Each and every tool has an appropriate time and place and should be used accordingly. The same holds true for people. Each and every person has an appropriate time and place where they will succeed.

  3. Just in TODAY … The Future Is Here:

    Their demands … Ending Zero Hour Contracts (how the hell did they ever get a foothold to begin with), Union rights … ie ability to negotiate and £10 per hour – which means that for a 40 hour working week – you earn 400 pounds, call it 20,000 pounds per year … for people that are your front line with customers …

  4. it varies from country to country – but if talking about the USA, I would rephrase >>>”The days where you may expect an employer to look after your welfare in return for your loyalty is fast diminishing.” to

    The days where you may expect an employer to look after your welfare in return for your loyalty have long gone.

    Corporations have lied to the market and customers for years think tobacco companies, think Exxon suppressing climate change for 40 years all the way to specific cases like PGE in Hinkley here in CA .. and I just bet Flint will eventually reveal similar specifics …. but that’s to the market – employees … how about the right to work act that is spreading through American states like a cancer ( and how about that name – specifically chosen to have nothing to do with what it really means to employees) … or ’employment at will’ … and and and …

    … and all of this is to maximize the profits for the corporations – and thus increase shareholder value … and so the ‘Wall Street’ markets keep growing and growing and growing and are essentially totally orthogonal to what is going down on ‘Main Street America.

    As for the future …. good grief even the term ‘Future of Work’ is a misnomer – the future is here now …. and that is why ageism is alive and well in corporate America and why outsourcing jobs to ‘lower income regions’ has been the modus operandi for years … automation, AI, Robots, Deep Learning, Machine Learning … chose your word d’jour …. will all be absorbed and utilized in the name of corporate efficiencies – and don’t pay attention to those pundits who talk about AI ‘augmenting’ human activity … yes it will – as long as it suits them – tell me how self-driving trucks on the freeways are going to augment the existing driver – no – the job is going – has gone? I wrote about this here

    a post that has turned out to be shorter than this comment – sorry. Bottom line – this is why we are building the People First movement …. come on over and take a look :

    • Thanks for sharing and for your comments John.

      One of the reasons why I didn’t add “long gone” is because I believe there are still some businesses out there, particularly SMBs, (we call them SMEs in the UK), still genuinely look after their loyal employees’ welfare.

      There is certainly a huge shift away from this nonetheless in my view.