Thursday, September 27, 2007

The best employees have lives outside their work.

Just this week, one of my assistants admitted that she found her true calling, and it did not involve working long hours in a PR firm. What she really wanted was to go back to school and become a teacher in her Catholic mission. “I’ll have to quit.” she stated emphatically, and in one fell swoop I was faced with the prospect of losing an amazing employee. Naturally, I made a counter offer. “Are your classes in the afternoon or morning?” I asked. They were in the former and Laura and I worked out a compromise where she could still be employed at my consulting practice 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. before heading off to her classes.

The story ended well, but not all stories do. There are many entrepreneurs who hijack their employee’s other interests by encouraging a culture of overwork and stress. Employees are encouraged to put in 60 plus hours on the job per week and wear that as a badge of honour. One entrepreneur even sheepishly told me that she resented her employee taking vacation because she never did. In fact, she encouraged her staff to put in late nights and long weekends. She never quite saw that what she gained in exchange were not just workaholics but tired, depressed, mistake prone, resentful and burnt out members of staff.

The smarter way I’ve learned –albeit the hard way- is to make your firm adaptable enough to accommodate each employee’s situation, especially, the terrific ones. It is that realisation that allowed me to come up with a flexi-plan that would accommodate Laura and her dreams and hold on, at least for one more year, to an exceptional employee.
Don’t get me wrong though. When it is time to put one’s elbow to the grease and work overtime in order to meet a client’s deadline, I am the first to lead the charge but as a business owner I also know that it is important to place your employee’s contributions into context. The urge to equate long hours with commitment should not be a one size fits all employee template. At best, you should consider your employee’s relationship with work in the same terms as any other relationship and a candid conversation with them about work life balance and how they can recharge their batteries once it becomes depleted is necessary.

The best employees I have found do not find work to be their only source of self esteem, they set boundaries, have lives outside work and are connetced to their families and friends. They are the ones I am interested in as employees. They are the ones who often step up to the plate when needed.

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