Balancing work, family life means putting on your 'track shoes'

Published: Thursday, Oct. 11 2012 10:00 a.m. MDT


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As a young man I worked for my father in the warehouse of his industrial supply business and drove the delivery truck. I pulled orders, swept the floors and delivered supplies all over the city. I learned a lot from my Dad. He taught me there was a right way and a wrong way to do everything. He taught me to take pride in my work, my personal appearance and the appearance of our delivery truck. “For most of our customers, you’ll be the only person they see from our company on a regular basis,” he would say. He taught me there were no shortcuts to doing a good job. I’ve tried to remember that over the last 30 or so years.

Amongst all the good things I learned at his elbow, looking back with the hindsight of my own experiences, he did get something wrong.

One day as the clock was winding down and we were sitting in his office making a list of what he expected me to get done the next day, one of his employees was headed out the door. “Do you have your track shoes on?” he said. “You’re in an awful big hurry to get out the door.”

He didn’t like it when people left right at 5 p.m.

My Dad had a very strong work ethic. He showed up earlier than anyone else and was the last person to leave every night. His measure for a good employee was the time they spent on the job — not what they accomplished at the end of the day. He didn’t take vacation days, so he didn’t think his employees needed to (even though we all did — he just complained about it). I wish I could say he let his hair down a little on Saturday, but I can’t. He would still go down to the shop and putter around until lunchtime.

His business was his life. Most small-business owners are like that.

Years later, I was trying to keep a small business going myself. I would often get a call from my wife around midnight asking if I would be home that night or if I needed her to bring me a sleeping bag. I likely got that from watching my Dad — and an intense fear of failure. Neither served me well in those days.

A friend of mine sent me an article written by Robert Pozen for the Harvard Business Review. I don’t know if he was trying to tell me something, but a recent study led by professor Kimberly Elsbach found, after interviews with 39 corporate managers, that they all generally felt like employees who spent more time in the office were more dedicated, more hardworking and more responsible.

I have to admit, over the course of my career, my father has proven to be in good company.

I’ve had many bosses, even recently, who mistakenly believe that putting in a lot of time is what makes a good employee. I believe they are wrong.

“At first glance, this seems perfectly reasonable,” writes Pozen. “Hourly wages and the classic 40-hour work week have trained us to measure our labor by the number of hours we log. However, this mindset is dead wrong when applied to today’s professionals. The value of lawyers, consultants, and analysts isn’t the time they spend, but the value they create through their knowledge.”

“Even worse,” he says, “when managers judge their employees’ work by the time they spend at the office, they impede the development of productive habits. By focusing on hours worked instead of results produced, they let professionals avoid answering the most critical question: ‘Am I currently using my time in the best possible way?’ As a result, professionals often use their time inefficiently.”

Can I hear you say, “Amen?”

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