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Do You Live to Work, Or Work to Live?


"The phrase Human Capital was just beginning to come into vogue, but I disliked that term just as much as Human Resources. Capital expenditures are depreciable investments. No, instead I pushed, with very little success, to be innovators in the HR field, to treat and view our employees as appreciable assets."

At my previous company, my partners and I agreed on many issues. We also disagreed on a number of issues. But perhaps the biggest area of disagreement between myself and my partners was work style.

As a consulting company, we tracked each hour of each employee’s day. We knew what they did and for how long they did it. We could calculate an employee’s total number of hours worked per year, average hours worked per day/week/month, what activities they spent most of their time focused doing, and therefore, each employee’s chargeability. That is consulting slang for how much profit we could squeeze out of each lemon employee.

As it turned out, I had some leverage concerning the big disagreement that I had with my partners on this yet-to-be-revealed work-style issue. For each of the years I worked at the firm (except for the first year), I had the highest average working-hours-per-month total out of all the employees in the firm (over a hundred). To make matters worse (from my partners’ perspective), the division with which I had P & L responsibility was not only the most profitable in percentage terms but also in real dollars. Finally, before I came along, this division had never turned a profit and was a significant cash sink from the corporate coffers. I turned my division around in 18 months and it stayed strong from that point on.

So, when I did or suggested something that was not popular, I managed to at least get a slight pause and a few moments of consideration before the arguing would begin. I was a stellar model of an exemplary employee, manager, and director. But to most of my fellow partners, I was not a stellar example of a partner. Why? Because I was seen as the maverick who not only looked at things differently, but also who was constantly trying to stir things up.

Of course, I was trying to evolve the corporate culture so that our employees would enjoy their time at the company, so that they would have less stress, so that they would not only feel more appreciated but would actually be more appreciated. This would lead to greater productivity, faster growth, and more profits. My partners could not see this.

The Big Work Style Issue Revealed

I never liked the inherent, non-spoken, holier-than-thou, outdated and absurd mantra, and sacred covenant that businesses and their employees buy into — that it is not appropriate for employees to bring their home issues to work. Whereas it of course can be distracting to the productivity of the workforce when an employee lets her or his personal issues mix with their work issues, we are human beings after all and it is almost impossible — except maybe for true sociopaths — to avoid periodically letting home life impact work life. Furthermore, companies never have issues with employees bringing their work life and issues home. In fact, for most white-collared workers, it is often expected that you will always be available for contact when you are at home or on vacation. This is a double standard with which I could not tolerate.

To that end, I did two things that most partners at successful consulting firms would never dream of doing — mostly because they would view it as abhorrent and unprofessional behavior. 

First, I allowed my employees to bring their personal lives to work. I sat down with employees who were having a bad day, week, or month as a result of personal issues at home or their own serious health issues. I became someone who did not frown upon those who showed vulnerabilities. Second, I used each and everyone of my vacation days each year and did not allow my firm to contact me when I was on vacation.

It is unfortunate that most employees feel that by not taking all their allotted and earned vacation days, that it shows dedication. Employees also often sub optimize their vacation days taken as they feel that their managers frown on them when they use their vacation days. To me, however, I knew that I earned and deserved each and every one of those vacation days — and even more.

So, I took all my vacation days each year and would leave explicit instruction with my employees and partners not to call me. I made that especially easy as my wife and I usually traveled to an exotic, remote locale where it would be very difficult — if not impossible — to contact me. I also strongly encouraged each of my employees to use all of their vacation days each year (some did, some did not). I even promoted this practice outside of my division, although it was up to my partners to allow that for their employees.

Why did I do this? Because our employees deserved the time off. They earned it. I also believed that if someone could not afford to take all of their earned vacation days in a given year, then that meant that either they were poor time managers or, that we needed to hire more quality employees to distribute the workload.

Most employers give vacation allotments as an incentive but then when it comes time for an employee to use them, they make the employee feel guilty. However, they appreciate employees who underutilize time off. In fact, they use an awful trick to “reward” them for not using vacation days — they pay them for those days. Of course, this is a much better deal for the employers than the employee. An employer expects to earn a profit for each hour an employee works. So, paying them not to take their vacation days results in them making more money than if that employee had taken the vacation day.

Stirring The Pot To Make Gold

I stirred up the pot in other ways as well. I fought to share a larger portion of profits in an equitably manner with each employee (and not in the ridiculously formulaic way in which it was done — and then, not with any regularity or real fairness). I pushed for better wages and salaries. I argued that the company should award more aggressive bonuses. I even lobbied to have our employees treated and viewed as assets instead of resources.

Resources, after all, are something that is mined, consumed, and then discarded when every last drop of usefulness has been extracted. The phrase Human Capital was just beginning to come into vogue, but I disliked that term just as much as Human Resources. Capital expenditures are depreciable investments. No, instead I pushed, with very little success, to be innovators in the HR field, to treat and view our employees as appreciable assets.

Fight For Your Life

So, if you are a startup founder, a partner, manager, or lower-lever employee, do you live for work or work to live? It is up to each of you to decide how you are treated and to treat others in a way that lets them thrive, grow, and lead a life in which work is not viewed as an all-consuming necessity but instead is welcomed as a wonderful partner in achieving personal and family goals.


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