I've been planning to write this for a long time now, but recent events have finally pushed me to do so.
Any employment situation should be win-win. Both the employer and employee should be getting something out of the agreement. The employer has someone to do work and carry the load to help out a team. The employee gets pay and work experience that will help him in years to come.
In my experience, it seems that a lot of employers forget it isn't all about them. Perhaps with the recession and so many people looking for a job, it's forgotten that good help isn't as replaceable as they think. But if your employee finds that they aren't going to benefit from working for you, they'll be gone at the first opportunity.
While in college I've had my share of absentee bosses. They would hire me, train me, and then spend days at a time being anywhere but the place of business, leaving me (and occasionally others) to run the place in their absence. The work wasn't hard, but it was frustrating to try and keep up with the demand with no help. Even if I did the best I could, my bosses would balk at having to come in and help when things were busy.
I couldn't learn from jobs like this, because I was stuck on the front lines helping customers. The only thing I learned how to do was run in a cramped space. So when I saw the writing on the wall, I didn't look back.
Recently I had the opportunity to speak with an employer in this area about a weekend job. One of the first things he brought up, and would not negotiate on, was that I sign a non-compete agreement prior to working. This, on its own, is understandable. I wouldn't mind doing that as long as I knew that the job I would be taking is beneficial. I want to get a cake decorating business of my own off the ground someday, and could use the experience. So I told him that I would think about it, and ask him more about the workplace. He didn't answer my questions and went back to stressing the non-compete.
What's wrong with this picture? While it's perfectly acceptable to want to cover your ass legally, if you're not going to negotiate the terms of the agreement you should at least work to convince a prospective employee that signing their name will help them in the long run. Owning a business willing to hire them isn't enough. I don't care how bad the recession is, nobody will be willing to shoot themselves in the foot for minimum wage and a poor work environment.
When I graduated, I made a promise to myself not to allow an employer to take advantage of my skills. To make sure that any job I take will benefit me as well as my employer. It's important for employers to step back and think of what they're offering to their employees, and not always the other way around.