Helping small business owners develop extraordinary businesses that really work for their customers, their employees, themselves and their families

Terms of engagement for employees

Last year, I was on a panel of speakers for community college students learning about careers as CPAs (certified public accountants.)

After the presentation, several of the speakers, who were young women, came to me to talk about their problems of juggling their careers with their family lives. They didn’t have time to see and build their relationships with their children and spouses.

This is a real problem today. CPA firms (and some other employers) are finding it challenging to find enough good people, so they don’t have enough team members to adequately staff their projects, resulting in significant overtime.

Employees are often afraid to talk to prospective employers and their current employers about their personal life requirements.

They need to understand that it isn’t in the best interest of the employer to “burn out” its employees and drive their employees out of the business. Employers make a significant investment in their employees to train them and for employees to be acquainted with their clients to serve them properly. Clients are usually most comfortable working with the same team members for several years.

The employer-employee relationship is actually an agreement about what the employee is willing to give in exchange for what the employer is willing to give. It’s subject to negotiation. “Union shops” have professional negotiators to interface with the employer. In other businesses, employees are on their own, and the balance of power mostly favors the employer. That doesn’t mean the employer isn’t receptive to knowing what’s required to hire and keep good employees.

The best time to discuss these issues is during the interview process. Admittedly, easier said than done, especially for an employee’s first job.

After joining the business and getting established, there should be other opportunities for employees to discuss conflicts of personal needs with job responsibilities with their superiors, including informal meetings and counseling sessions. The employee just has to be brave and do it.

Many years ago, I worked in a large firm office of 80 people. I was surprised to see some employees take time to go to the gym and take care of their family obligations. These were employees who were brave enough to speak up and just walk away when it was time to do those things.

Employers need to recognize the importance of the quality of life for their employees. Confronting these issues and doing something about them can be a point of differentiation to attract and keep good employees. It might mean having to let some marginal clients go and raising fees. It also means going beyond “What’s expected of you” in prospective employee interviews and employee counseling sessions to “How can we make life better for you here?”

Good employees represent the “human capital” of the business. It’s a shame to lose them.

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Helping small business owners develop extraordinary businesses that really work for their customers, their employees, themselves and their families