I just read a fascinating article in the New York Times called “Flex Time Flourishes in Accounting Industry.” What fascinates me most is that accountants have been traditionally stereotyped to be as a group less flexible, more impersonal, dry, and definitely live “by the books.” It turns out, though, the accounting world is doing more innovative, interesting things surrounding flex time and accommodating more and more working parents than any other industry. I find this anecdote from the NYT article particularly fascinating:
At Ernst & Young, as at the nation’s other major accounting firms, workplace flexibility has been built into the culture — even during crunch time. Every Monday morning, the 15 people on Mr. Leeds’s team meet and lay out the personal commitments that might interfere with work — basketball games, teacher conferences, Pilates classes, weddings. They arrange to cover for each other, helping make the busy season tolerable for everyone.
Who would ever have guessed that this sort of team support would be happening at Ernst and Young? Now, of course, accountants are faced with a particularly difficult personnel problem. From January through April 15th they are swamped and need everyone on staff and then some for 200% of their time. For the rest of the year they are probably over staffed. Logically it makes sense that they would allow people to work fewer hours when they are not needed in exchange for knowing they will put in tremendous hours during the “busy” season. It makes more sense to keep employees on staff then to lay off and re-hire and lose training and momentum every year. And, of course, we are talking about accountants who, no surprise, have crunched the numbers and understood keeping people is financially better than laying off and re-hiring every year.
I am a strong believer that investing in people works. That understanding needs and working with a good employee is going to work out to be better than ultimately losing that person and needing to rehire someone. Happy people work better, smarter and harder. Why not work with your employees and figure out how to help them get the most out of their work day, while still giving them the ability to be home for their kids, or to go back to school, or to climb mountains, travel in Tibet, or travel with an African Masai tribe? Employees at my company, Palo Alto Software, have all taken time from work to do the things in that list. And when they are at work, they are happier because they have not felt like they have to make huge sacrifices. Work will always be just that to many people: work. But if you respect them, and work with their schedules, and let them be flexible, they will work harder (notice I did not say LONGER) for your company. Who doesn’t want to feel respected and heard, and like their life is actually important to those around them?