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The Green Sheet Online Edition

March 23, 2009 • Issue 09:03:02

Work/life balance, an employers' issue

By Curt Hensley
CSH Consulting

Over the past 15 years, the work/life balance movement has been fascinating to watch. I predict companies that aggressively embrace this phenomenon will be the winners when it comes to retaining quality employees.

To bring this issue into focus for your organization, start by asking:

  • Have we developed strategies that promote healthy lives?

  • Can we offer prospective employees a path to create their own strategies?

  • Have we decided what part work plays in our lives?

Answering these questions is the key to making your ISOs more than just merchant level salesperson (MLS) training grounds for other ISOs.

Getting off the merry-go-round

Over the years, I've attended the Electronic Transactions Association Annual Meeting & Expo and joked with people about how the faces seem to stay the same - everyone just changes company name tags. To address the high rate of employee turnover, companies have been forced to change policies concerning work/life balance.

This happened because many Generation X employees (people born between 1964 and 1978 approximately) have moved into leadership positions. They were more aware than their predecessors of the precariousness of employee retention and how quickly corporations can swing from breakneck hiring to handing out pink slips.

Understanding how to balance work and life is crucial to grasping why people accept job offers, stay with companies or decide to work for themselves.

Questioning assumptions

The work/life balance movement questions assumptions about the role of work in life and vice versa. The assumptions are:

  • Work is done for money.
  • Work is generally not very enjoyable.
  • Work interferes with more important things, like family.

The thinking goes that work should be regulated, and spending quality time with our families should be mandatory. The work/life balance conundrum assumes a more or less digital world: Work is on or off; family is on or off.

Yet, for centuries, work and life were one and the same. People toiled in fields, small shops, street markets and homes without paychecks, labor laws or days off. Women and men often shared skills, and children were almost always employed as workers as soon as they were old enough.

Work may not have been enjoyable by modern standards, but it was a family activity, and it was the fabric of life. The majority of people chose to do something they liked, or at least something that provided them food and shelter and employed members of their family. Even learning was an activity done with the family. Fathers and sons often co-invented things and passed their knowledge generation to generation.

The modern separation of work from life engendered by the workplace is a fairly recent phenomenon that resulted from the physical isolation of workers (in offices and on the road) from their domestic lives. Physical separation from one's family also breeds mental separation. That distance is widened by jobs so overspecialized that spouses often do not know what their significant others actually do to make a living.

Yet we can see in our recruiting that Gen Yers - roughly those born between 1978 and 2000 - seem to intuitively understand the value of doing work they care about. They are rejecting the work/life separation, much to the disappointment of their elders, the Gen Xers and preceding baby boomers. Gen Yers tend to look for work they are passionate about and tend to work in ways unfamiliar to their elders. At times, Gen Yers have no work/life balance; they may work for days without stopping or spend time hardly working at all. They prefer meaningful and interesting work and embrace it with a passion only seen sporadically with Gen Xers or baby boomers.

Answering tough questions

To recruit MLSs given the current economic turmoil, you must be able to answer the following questions they are likely to ask:

  1. If I am able to make an adequate living doing whatever I am now doing, what does your company offer me beyond that?

      Start by having a clear understanding of the contributions employees can make to society or toward fulfilling their long-term career goals. Encourage ISOs to commit to funding and supporting social and environmental improvements and other related activities. One great example is Google, which allows employees paid time to work for charitable organizations on a regular basis.
  2. Can you accommodate my desired work style?

      Many Gen Y employees, as well as some Gen Xers and baby boomers, are asking for flexible working schedules and telecommuting opportunities - core benefits that must be offered over the next 10 to 15 years if ISOs are to thrive. Without these benefits ISOs will find it extremely difficult to hire and retain the most productive and valuable people; many good workers will join competitors who offer these benefits.
  3. What opportunities are there for me to accomplish my life ambitions here?

      Today's work environment is no longer all only about employees doing things for their companies. It is also about companies taking actions to benefit individuals, whether or not those actions directly benefit the companies.

    For example, some outfits offer employees college programs or other advanced classes in areas that have nothing to do with their jobs. Some pay for things like culinary school for those striving to become good cooks.

    Others even pay for nursing or law school while employees work in completely different fields. And some businesses now offer cross-functional movement within their organizations and provide the training and coaching needed to make employees successful. They make this a significant part of the employment exp rience, not just a perk for the privileged few.

These are creative ideas that will retain the best people, at least for a while, and improve productivity of everyone involved. To get ideas for what your company might try along these lines, ask your employees for their best ideas for supporting their own work/life balance.

Completing the circle

Many U.S. employment experts predict that convincing younger people to work for large corporations will grow increasingly difficult unless individuals are given more input about the type of work they do and the conditions under which they work.

The payments industry has young, growing companies that are incorporating some of these ideas. As the work environment slowly migrates from large, corporate structures and toward smaller organizations and entrepreneurs working alone, we will see more integration between work and life, which means more spouses working together and more children working with them. I hope the days of specialization, physical separation and mental isolation are coming to an end. We traversed the 20th century - a century of great change - to return to our roots. The focus on the family may be the cultural change needed to actually grow the economy in the long run. end of article

Curt Hensley is the founder, Chief Executive Officer and President of CSH Consulting, a recruiting firm exclusively focused on the payments industry. He and his leadership team have over 50 years of combined experience recruiting in the merchant acquiring arena. They have placed over 1,300 payments industry professionals since their inception eight years ago. Contact Curt at 480-315-8800 or curth@cshconsulting.com.

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