As I sit here on this Labor Day weekend, I ponder who it is we labor for. I want you to as well.

Most of us in the computer industries are lucky enough to be doing what we love. Programming, system administration and the like are in our blood. We’ve done it as a hobby, and now we’re getting paid relatively large amounts to do it. Plenty of other people don’t have it nearly as good as we do.

And yet, so many of us are unhappy with where we’re at. We work with jerks, or the companies we work for have Mickey Mouse rules that treat us like children, or even worse, hourly workers. Maybe you’re in a company with motivational posters on the wall where you can’t miss ’em when you have to take a leak. It’s a sort of ongoing battle for your soul, where the day-to-day grinds down at you and makes you miserable over time.

Seems to me, however, that the most common source of bad jobs is having the bad boss.

I had lunch with my friend I’ll call Bob who had just been let go from his job after a short, confusing month. His boss was vague in expectations, yet also a micromanager. He’d demanded on Wednesday that Bob have a project done by Monday morning at 9am, because it was Crucial To The Company. On Friday night, after Bob returned home from a long-planned dinner with his wife and some friends, he found in his inbox on his return a note: “I see you logged off at 6pm, this project is crucial to the company.” The boss badgered him all weekend until Bob finally declared that his work was done on Sunday.

Add to this that even though Bob had the work done, there were other unspoken, unmet expectations. The boss rattled them off to Bob at his summary firing, but Bob didn’t understand them after the fact.

I offered “It doesn’t sound like much of a loss. Your boss was crazy, or stupid, or just a bad boss. He wasn’t like that when he interviewed you, was he?” Bob replied “I’m glad you think he was a bad boss, because I kind of picked that up in the interview.”

Now here’s what astonishes me. Here’s a guy who’s a good programmer, who works hard, and yet he’s willing to take a job with someone who he strongly suspected of being dumb and/or crazy.

Bob’s not the only one, of course, or I wouldn’t be writing this. I’ve got other friends who jump into a job relationship hoping for the best, and coming out miserable. Some people may be desperate and have no choice, but it happens so often, that can’t be the case most of the time.

I suspect that most people miss that word “relationship”, because it is exactly that.

Your job is a relationship.

It’s a relationship with your boss, yes, but it’s also a relationship with the company, with your co-workers, with the commute, with everything that goes into your job.

It’s a relationship that you spend 40+ hours a week on. How many hours a week do you actually spend awake with your spouse? Probably a little bit more than that, but it’s roughly the same in size.

The relationship with your employer is as important to look at as the relationship with your spouse. That means both before and after you commit.

I’ll write more about this in weeks to come, as I work on my upcoming book, Pragmatic Job Hunting.