FORUM MAGAZINE – June 2003
We don’t punch the clock around here
By David M. Patt, CAE
"Results are what matter," is my mantra with new employees. "Keeping a seat warm during business hours doesn't accomplish anything."
While some staff members need to be on duty during certain hours, most don't. Rather than being chained to their desks for time periods not of their choosing, they can be far more productive when deciding for themselves when to do their jobs. The duties of their positions, and their personal work preferences should dictate their work hours.
Many associations, though, are still stuck in an assembly line mindset. Employees are all expected to work the same, standard shift: 9 to 5, 8 to 4:30, or whatever—with longer hours for execs and those whose work is required beyond "normal" hours. Early birds are frequently praised, late-night aces usually maligned, and parents often forced to conceal their family responsibilities lest they be tagged as slackers for stealing company time for children's medical or school visits.
Why is it acceptable to incorporate the family dinner into your daily regimen but not the morning carpool to school? For all the association gab about thinking "out of the box," when it comes to work habits, many of our professional colleagues are hopelessly antiquated.
When does the work day really begin?
Flexible hours are still touted as a major revolution in workplace behavior and a sign of employee-centered planning. However, employers frequently limit this "benefit" to those willing to begin work earlier than the regular shift, yet deny it to post-shift staff.
Many positions require alert thinkers and doers at the tail-end of the day. Neighborhood organizations and suburban governments generally gavel to order at 7:00 or even 8:00 p.m., and association lobbyists, publicists, attorneys, and editors need to treat this as prime time for work. You can't be at your best at a 10:00 p.m. zoning hearing if you're worried about awakening at 5:00 a.m. to get to the office the next morning.
Associations whose missions are not employment-related conduct most of their activities in evenings and on weekends. Many require staff support outside of the traditional business day. Staffing volunteer- chaired committees also requires flexibility.
"We have made some changes in recent years and try to hold committee meetings during regular business hours," reports Mark Baloga, executive director, DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference. Still, those chaired or heavily attended by suburban mayors often meet early or late in the day so these part-time officials can get to their regular jobs. Those drawing from the ranks of full-time, professional village managers, on the other hand, tend to be held during daytime business hours, as association activities are merely an extension of the full-time work of these municipal employees.
Trade show managers, salespeople, membership developers, and chapter liaisons fulfill many of their tasks during "off hours." Their associations often grant compensatory time for the additional hours required for work, but may insist it be taken in whole days, not selected hours—another throwback to archaic work mores.
Breaking the chains
Fortunately, this inclination toward rigidity is no longer universal. Associations dealing with economic adversity, some with small staffs, and those simply desiring to attract the most talented employees, allow creativity to triumph over traditionalism as they adopt work arrangements that meet their association's, and their employees, specific needs.
"We used to be strictly 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with a one hour lunch, taken either at 12 noon or 1:00 p.m.," recalls Joanne Rock, executive director for the Binding Industries Association, International. "While we didn't actually punch in and out, for all practical purposes, this was The One and Only Schedule Available." As staff size fluctuated and association needs changed, so did the work environment. "Our office hours are now officially 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but the staff work anywhere from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday," she explains. "The individual's ‘work day' is 7.5 hours, but we're pretty flexible on that—doctor's appointments, children's needs, etc. are all accommodated."
CEO work, too, is not exempt from change. "I have been striving to kill the 10 hour days," Rock adds, "and get a life."
Some associations go even further. "We allow full-time, exempt employees to be responsible for their own work schedules," reports Gary Kenzer, director, Magen David Adom USA. "All we ask in return is that when an employee is out of the office, they send an e-mail to the other staff notifying them of their change in schedule."
The association also provides these employees with cell phones so calls can be routed to them from the office. "It is a service we have; it costs so little and makes us so much more productive," Kenzer proclaims.
Some people prefer morning work, and associations may benefit from the fresh energy they bring to the office. "I used to tell people that I got more done between 5:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. than I ever did between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.," brags Max G. Moses, former executive vice president of the Commercial Law League of America and member of the Association Forum's board of directors. Others will tell you they accomplish just as much between 5:00 and 9:00 p.m. in the evening.
Where have all the cubicles gone?
Selecting the work place, not just the work hours, is another strategic decision associations may encounter when managing for results. Face-to-face contact with employees has many benefits, but it may be outweighed by other advantages. Sales people have long worked the road, placing a higher priority on customer contact than office contact. Lobbyists are often based in state capitals or Washington D.C., rather than in the home office, sometimes using office space of members, allied associations, or friendly legislators to gain proximity to lawmakers.
Telecommuting—originally designed for data-basing, editing, and other non- policy tasks that could be conducted any time of day—has expanded dramatically to other facets of association management. And, it's been made more practical by the ease of e-mail and Web site marketing.
"Our main office is in Macomb, with a small satellite office for me in Chicago," explains Joyce Watson, CAE, president, Illinois Agricultural Leadership Foundation. "I found a person I wanted to hire who, because of family commitments, could not move to Macomb. He now works for us from a DeKalb office, which actually belongs to his former employer."
"I have one staff member who telecommutes from Waco, Texas," reports Kay V. Granath, CMP, CAE, account executive and director of meetings at the Association Management Center. "I have another who lives in the southwest suburbs (56 miles one way to our Glenview office) and works at home two days per week. These situations are based on individual longevity with the company and my trust level."
Non-traditional arrangements may also enhance the productivity of home offices, which may have once been seen as less professional, but offer the same appearance as an association management company or any other organization whose members don't need to visit the office.
"I manage from an office at home," says Marianne Shank, executive director, Illinois Government Finance Officers Association. "We have one half-time administrative assistant who comes to my home to work a flex schedule from 9:00 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. to coincide with the school schedule." Shank's work hours vary, designed around day care and her spouse's teaching schedule.
"We use contractors for graphic design, publications, printing, Web site design and hosting, mail house, copy service, recognition awards, and meeting supply procurement," she details. The ability to adapt her skills to her personal needs led her to gush, "I have the best job in the world!"
Don't worry, be happy
Happiness is not inconsistent with work. In fact, happy employees work more—and work better. But a happy environment must demonstrate concern for personal needs.
Our society promotes family values, sometimes forgetting that family responsibilities are the natural outcome of that policy. Parents must leave the office in time to pick up children from day care, and cannot be burdened with last-minute assignments. Late child care pickups result in fines and ultimate expulsion from the service. Would the child be allowed to accompany an employee to work in that case? Probably not. The most committed employee must place family considerations before work; employers should share that belief. A powerful strain of conformity permeates the association psyche, making some professionals fearful of embracing "controversial" ideas, and slowing their career advancement.
If you want to get results, though, you can't be cowered by controversy. Otherwise, you'll just be keeping a seat warm.
David M. Patt, CAE, is chief executive officer of the Chicago Area Runners Association. He may be reached at email@example.com.