Work-Life Balance: The #1 Thing to Offer

This is part two of a two-part series on the growing importance of offering a work-life balance to employees in your company.

To compete in recruiting the best new employees and to retain your current employees, you need to offer work-life balance programs, as I discussed in my last column.

So how do you go about doing this? Is it going to cost you a lot of money to implement these programs and result in lost productivity? It doesn’t have to.

The number one consideration for work-life balance is flexibility. That’s what many potential employees value most. Being chained to a desk from 9-5 with a strict two-week vacation policy every year is an old-fashioned and outdated model.

imagesWork-Life Balance and Flexibility

Here are a few ways to bring flexibility to your workplace. And surprisingly, many of these measures result in increased productivity as your employees are happier, feel more independent and motivated.

  • Offer flexible schedules and telecommuting

Stagger starting and quitting times if appropriate. Some people prefer to start work earlier or later to avoid the traffic during rush hour or to leave earlier in the day to exercise or be with their children.

While some jobs can’t be performed at home, many can be done better outside an office so consider telecommuting some or all of the time. Salespeople who spend a good amount of time on the road could be more productive catching up between sales calls by going to their home office or working in a coffee shop rather than making an appearance in an office.

One PR firm in Atlanta allows all employees to work from home every Friday. They are still connected to each other online. Many of them feel that they are more productive at home than in their shared office.

Make it easy for employees to take off a few hours one day to attend a school event, and make up the time at home or on a different day.

  • Be flexible on PTO

I’ve written before about companies that put no limits on vacation time. Maybe that doesn’t work for your company but you can make sure employees have enough time to take off to recharge their batteries. Increase their PTO each year, even if it’s just by a small amount, to motivate and retain employees.

  • Be flexible and understanding about family emergencies

Allow unpaid leave if an employee has a health crisis, a family emergency or is caring for a sick relative. Chances are good that few employees will need to take advantage of this benefit, but just knowing that it’s an option makes employees feel better about working for your company.

  • Provide child care options if possible

If your company is big enough and demand warrants it, check into setting up an on-site childcare facility. Or partner with one nearby and provide a discount to your employees.

Employees Like to Feel Heard

To best meet the needs of your employees, consider conducting a survey to ask them what they would like to see added to your company. That has the added benefit of allowing employees to feel like their opinions are being heard and considered by management.

Just remember, the key is flexibility. When your employees feel that your company is responsive to their needs and their desire for flexible working options, they will be happier and more productive employees. And that is always good for your bottom line.

The Red Flags of Fraud

In a continuing series on fraud, this week’s column is about how to spot the signs that an employee may be engaged in fraudulent activity. Please see last week’s column, “Employee Tips Key to Fraud Preventionfor tips on decreasing fraud in your company.

It happens every day. Employees are caught stealing from their companies. Then the messy business of uncovering the amount of money stolen, how it was taken and how to prevent it in the future begins.

Fraud not only hurts businesses financially — an estimated $9 billion a year is lost to fraud in the US annually — but it takes a toll on the company in other ways. Employees are demoralized and time is lost to dealing with the results of the fraud.

A strong fraud prevention program is critical. Part of that program should include managers being trained to be on the lookout for red flags that employees may be involved in fraudulent activity. Here are just a few of those red flags.

imgres1. Refusal to take vacation and rarely taking personal or sick days

Isn’t that great to have such a dedicated employee? Except that often the employee who never takes off is not dedicated to the company. That employee is dedicated to continuing to perpetrate the fraudulent activity he or she has begun, and doesn’t take off work because of the risk the activity may be uncovered.

I’ve mentioned dear Aunt Tess in this column before. She was the beloved payroll clerk who showed up the day after she had major surgery to hand out the paychecks. In 25 years she hadn’t missed a payroll and a little thing like an appendectomy wouldn’t keep her away.

Turned out she had to show up to handle the paychecks for her non-existent employees whose creation had allowed her to steal around $100,000 year from the company.

Be wary of the employee who never takes off work.

2. Getting annoyed at reasonable questions or offering unreasonable explanations

If a simple question about how an invoice is handled, or who double checks the list of vendors or changes to payroll evokes a defensive or irritated response, don’t back down until you get an answer. The same is true if the responses don’t make sense or sound unreasonable. Guilty people will act defensive when questioned about why they do things a certain way.

3. An employee wants to remain in his or her current position

Staying in the same position is not necessarily a bad thing, and many people enjoy staying in a job that they feel comfortable with for years. But if that person turns down opportunities to advance or otherwise better his or her situation in some manner, that can be a warning sign that they are afraid of being unable to continue their fraudulent activity or that it may be uncovered if they leave or change their position.

4. An employee that exhibits behavioral changes, undergoes a sudden change in lifestyle or has financial difficulties

If an employee starts talking about his new lake home, wearing an expensive watch or driving a new car with no explanation for his new-found wealth, that may be worth a closer look. If she starts acting more stressed at work for no discernible reason and claims all is fine at home, that could be a sign that engaging in the fraudulent activity is causing stress.

Having financial difficulties can be a precursor to fraudulent activity. A law student in Atlanta was arrested for stealing more than $100,000 of jewelry at his part-time job at a department store. When he was caught, he said he did it because he had so much debt in student loans.

5. An employee has unusually close relationship with vendors

Friendships do develop in the business world when we deal closely with each other and are often a source of pleasure in our work environment. However, an employee that seems to spend a lot of time with a vendor could indicate a kickback scheme that involves vendor overbilling.

Be on the lookout for these red flags at your company. To learn more about why fraud occurs, read my next column later this week about the Fraud Triangle.

He Who Burns Bridges Better Be a Good Swimmer

The son of a good friend of mine was working his first job, for a bank. He had problems with his new boss and finally decided to leave. He apparently did so in a rather ungracious manner with a few choice remarks to his boss.

Five years later, his former bank bought the bank where he then worked. His boss still worked there. Guess who was the first to lose his job?

burning-bridge-570x234We all remember the story of Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who dramatically burnt his bridge. He lost his patience one day, cursed out the passenger who bonked him on the head with a suitcase over the plane’s PA system, grabbed two beers and escaped down the inflatable slide he had released. Those were the last two beers he ever enjoyed as a flight attendant.

The saying, “Don’t burn your bridges behind you” is believed to be from the military originally. When heading into battle, an army needs to leave a way to retreat if necessary.

In the business world, it means leave every situation in good standing. This is good advice not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also for pragmatic reasons, you never know when that burnt bridge can get you in trouble. As the poet, Dylan Thomas wrote, “When one burns one’s bridges, what a nice fire it makes.”

I know how tempting it can be. You’ve been miserable in a job for years, overworked, underpaid and unappreciated by a horrible boss. You finally land a new job and boy, wouldn’t it feel fantastic to tell your soon-to-be-former-boss exactly what you think of him?

Yes, it would feel fantastic. For a few minutes. Then you are left with possible repercussions you can’t even foresee that could happen months or even years down the road, like my son’s friend.

One mistake I’ve seen young people in particular make is believing that if they live in a large city they can get away with burning a few bridges along the way. In a city of several million, no one will know, right?

Wrong. Although a city may be huge, the people involved in a particular industry run in a much smaller circle. You never know who knows whom and when your name might come up.

On the plus side, if you do maintain a good reputation and leave previous jobs on good terms, that could also benefit you in ways you don’t anticipate. When many business owners are looking to fill jobs in their companies they often ask their peers if they know of anyone looking for work.

As I taught my children and tell young people I work with, the business world runs on relationships — they are the fuel that feeds your business. If possible, maintain good relationships with everyone you work with.

As one anonymous person said, “Burning bridges only makes it harder to get around and cover more ground.”

CEO Not Best Person to Handle Crisis

I deal with a lot of crises in my business as a Turnaround Authority: bankruptcies, family feuds, failing businesses, gun-toting union members, just to name a few. So I’m always interested in reading articles about the topic of emergency situations — particularly about those who regularly deal with crises as part of their job.

Dr. Thomas Frieden knows a thing or two about handling emergencies. As head of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Frieden deals with public health crises all over the world while also leading 11,000 employees in 50 countries and overseeing an organization with an $11 billion budget.

Sometimes it takes more than a Band-Aid to fix problems in your business. Know when to call in a professional.

Sometimes it takes more than a Band-Aid to fix problems in your business. Know when to call in a professional.

In a recent interview with Sunday Business Editor Henry Unger in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dr. Frieden said one thing that I wish every CEO or business leader who is in a crisis situation would read.

When asked if the top leader of a business or organization should manage the crisis, he was quite clear.

“No,” he said. “The CEO should not be the person running the day-to-day crisis response. That would be a mistake … If a CEO tries to manage every aspect of an emergency, he or she is going to mess it up. Other things are happening and the CEO will never be able to focus as much energy as you need to.”

It’s a smart CEO who knows when to call in an outside professional like me.

As a turnaround guy, I am like an ER doctor. The patient is in an emergency situation and I first have to stabilize the patient and prevent shock. Then I can perform the necessary surgery to save the patient.

Unfortunately, many CEOS in crisis think they can handle their emergencies themselves. They are bleeding from the jugular and think they can slap a Band-Aid on and stop the bleeding.

As Dr. William Osler, considered the father of modern medicine, said, “The doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient.”

You’re not going to cut your own appendix out, right? You hire someone with years of experience doing just that. So if you’re facing a crisis, why not hire someone who has years of experience handling crises?

I am used to skepticism on being hired to turnaround a company. When I’m discussing conducting an initial assessment with a client I often hear, “Our business is failing. We can’t afford to hire you.”

I always respond, “How can you afford not to?”

Then I tell them, “If I don’t save you five to ten times what you pay me in the first year, I’ll give you your money back.”

I’m not saying I’m smarter than any of these CEOs. I’ve just been doing this a long time and have seen just about every situation. And one of the reasons that I have the ability to succeed where CEOs faced by crises do not is because it is not my business. It’s not my company, my employees, my money, my wife, or my life. That allows me to keep a clear head and an objective perspective where the CEO does not have one.

Personal involvement compromises the CEO’s ability to understand what’s important and what is not; the facts and information that manifest themselves during an assessment and what ultimately resolves a turnaround are rarely the same facts and information that the CEO initially deemed relevant.

If your company is in crisis, do yourself a favor. Hire a professional.

Don’t Miss the Exit: Make a Succession Plan

I was at a breakfast with an older gentleman yesterday who started a family business almost 20 years ago and works with his wife and his son.

“Will your son take over the business when you retire?” I asked.

“I hope so,” he said. “But I’m not sure I’ll be retiring.”

That’s a pretty typical response and situation for owners of family businesses. They don’t really have a plan in place and aren’t really sure when and if they will retire. In fact, almost a third of family business owners have no plans to retire.

Furthermore, he wasn’t even sure if his son would be taking over if he did retire, or in the unfortunate event of his death.

Maybe I should have told him my story.

When my dad was 87 years old, I had to carry him out of the family business. I took over and liquidated the business, paying creditors 50 cents on the dollar and rewarding long-term employees with anything left over.

While that may sound harsh, he was in the early stages of dementia and had recently gotten swindled out of $300,000. There was very little left of the company. The worst part? I had been telling him for years to sell the company and even had an offer for $5 million ten years before. He turned it down. The family ended up with nothing.

All because he had no succession plan in place. Although I had no desire to take over the company, having worked there and turned it around once in the 1980s, he persisted in believing I would one day take it over.

If he had planned for and been working with someone else to take over the business, the business could have been saved and provided him with continuing income for his retirement.

Maybe if I had told this gentleman my story he might have taken a closer look at a succession plan.

I bet if I had asked him if he has life insurance or homeowners insurance or car insurance he would have looked surprised and answered that of course he did. What if something unexpected happened?

Then why hasn’t he taken steps to ensure the future of his company by instituting an emergency plan?

I use the analogy of driving on the highway. In Atlanta, where I live, we have I-285, an eight-lane perimeter that encircles the city. If I’m driving on 285 in the far left lane and need to get off at the next exit, I need to start planning my moves to the right so I can exit.

If I don’t? I miss the exit. I could end up circling the city as one of our Atlanta Braves players did in 1983. Pascual Perez, a pitcher from the Dominican Republic, got lost and drove the 64-mile perimeter three times before running out of gas. He missed the game.

While 88% of current family business owners believe their family will still control the business in five years, statistics show that only one in three makes it to the next generation.

Sometimes it’s because an owner died. In almost half of all family businesses that failed, the business collapsed because the founder died. In almost 30% of those cases the death was unexpected.

The key to making sure your business survives is to have a succession plan. Think of it as adding value to your company as well. Wall Street analysts are now tying market value to a company’s succession plan. IBM and GE have strong succession plans and Wall Street took notice.

I know it’s not a lot of fun to talk about what happens when you die. But it’s not fun to talk about what happens when your house burns down or if you wreck your car. But we protect ourselves in the event those unfortunate events occur, while hoping they never do.

However, we know for a fact no one gets out of this life alive. So even if a family business owner doesn’t ever retire, he will die one day. And the only way to make sure his business doesn’t go with him is to make a viable succession plan.

Next week: How to pick the right successor for your business