Time for a new compact

In the good old days there was an implicit compact between management and staff. The staff was supposed to show up at the office, put in their time (40, 50 or 60 hours depending on the time of year), do what their manager asked them to do in the way their manager asked them to do it and in return the staff would be rewarded with pay increases and eventual promotions into management. That compact has been destroyed by a number of events – companies that no longer “guarantee” employment even if an employee performs well; the rise of single parent and two working parent households; and technology that has dramatically changed the way work is done.

As a result there is a lot of buzz these days about two major demands from employees. The first is that with employees being responsible for their own career, they want and expect assignments that grow their skills and make them more marketable. The second is that employees expect and demand better balance between the demands of work and the demands of life.

I have talked in previous blogs about the idea that balance is achieved over time, not in every day, but without a new compact between management and staff, today’s technology makes it too easy for work demands to interrupt life anytime and anywhere. So here are my suggestions for a new compact between management and staff:

  1. Management needs to stop managing by face time. Just because one employee is in the office and another is not, doesn’t mean the one in the office is a better performer getting more done.
  2. Management will let staff know when they are on call after hours. Life is not a constant emergency. I doubt someone will die before the end of the day if that tax question from a client isn’t answered at 9:00pm or that reconciliation isn’t performed until the next morning. Management needs to pick and choose when extra effort is required and let staff no about it ahead of time.
  3. Management still needs to tell staff what needs to be done, but not necessarily how to do it. Many younger staff have great ways to use technology to dramatically change the way things are done. If management is always telling their employees the how as well as the what, the organization will never be able to use their talents to make things better.

In return employees need to realize that moving from staff accountant to CFO in two years is not going to happen and not every decision about the direction of the company will be run by them for their approval. What else do you think needs to be part of this new twenty-first century compact?

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Unbalanced on Purpose

If the title of this blog looked familiar it’s because there is a book out there by this title.  I recently had the privilege of hearing the author speak and given the time of year the idea of never being able to achieve balance really hit home.  For those of us in the reporting world with calendar year-ends our busy time is upon us.  Our tax brethren are waiting for the numbers before they start up in earnest and the budget people are taking a slight breather before they start working on updated forecasts and projections and if you are in a small business with a small finance staff you are probably doing or at least coordinating all of these efforts.  The point is, no matter what you do there are times that are busier than others.

In this world, the idea of constant compartmentalized balance – work gets 50 hours a week, family 40, God 5 and personal interests 15 – is a fantasy that sets you up for failure.  The reality is that your life is always unbalanced.  Sometimes family gets priority – can we say vacation?  Sometimes it’s the church and sometimes you get to steal a few extra hours for that personal interest – like watching LSU get destroyed in football – and sometimes, maybe more often then the others, its work that gets extra hours.  Whatever it is, life is never in balance. 

I find this perspective truly refreshing and liberating.  Refreshing because it is so contrary to the accepted “people of have balance in life are happier” mentality that is such an urban legend these days.  Liberating, because as soon as you stop trying to achieve perfect balance you can stop feeling guilty about never getting it done in the first place. 

But if we stop trying to achieve balance, what is it we should try to achieve.  That answer will be different for each person.  There are lots of answers and none of them are wrong (and none of them a right for everyone).  The first priority is to earn enough money to provide the basics – food, clothing, shelter – after that it’s up for grabs.  Maybe your desire is to be CFO, maybe your desire is to have a work schedule that allows you to see the kids off to school and be at home when they return, and maybe your desire is to set the all time record score for angry birds.  Whatever it is is up to you.

The great thing about being a CPA is that our profession has such a diversity of opportunities in ways to earn a living that you can fit a work schedule to just about any unbalanced life you want.   Even better, our profession is great at allowing you to change the way you are unbalanced at different times during the year as well as different times during your career.  So my advice is to lose the guilt, stop trying to achieve balance and really think about where you want to unbalance your life.  You may have to make changes in your life and your job to get there, but as a CPA, you have a better than average shot at actually being able to do it.