Flexible schedules topped the list of ‘dream job’ requirements in a recent Business Journal poll. Employers have found stressing a work-life balance helps keep employees focused and motivated

Sacramento Business Journal, October 27, 2006
A+ Employers Award / Best Places to Work
Finalist 2006: DesCor Builders

Weary from a construction job that had him working several weeks at a time without a day off, Chris Calvert planned to quit and move his family back to Sonoma County – until he had a job interview with DesCor Builders in Rancho Cordova. Calvert was so impressed with the small firm that he told his wife he didn’t want to move if he got the job offer.

Now, as a superintendent on large construction projects for DesCor, he said he’s happy to have found a company where he can grow professionally without sacrificing his personal priorities. “It’s such a positive environment,” he said. “They understand we have a life, and they understand the most important thing in our life is family.”

“To be a good employer, you have to know what people want. This gives employees permission and a platform to tell us what they want.”

– Brad DesJardin, Founder, DesCor Builders

Flexibility and benefits that promote a healthy work-life balance top the list of reasons employees love their jobs, according to the Business Journal’s A+ Employers survey. Savvy companies, both big and small, find a variety of ways to help employees make work fit their lives – from offering flexible schedules to letting employees work at home to sponsoring training that helps workers balance their lives.

“We’re committed to the success of our company and also to the success of our people,” said Brad DesJardin, who founded DesCor Builders with Neal Cordeiro. “We define success as having a great quality of life.”

The company uses a team approach, and it discourages working on the weekends. If employees have to put in extra hours to meet tight deadlines, managers tell them to go home and take time off after the crunch. Employees get three weeks of vacation to start, and they’re strongly encouraged to use all of it. To make the approach work, the company is careful about how much work it takes on, and managers meet weekly to discuss their resources and current and upcoming projects.

The firm also sends all its salaried employees to leadership training by EmpowerU, a Fernley, Nev.-headquartered training company. The 2-day workshops teach people how to set visions for their lives, both personal and professional, and encourage them to share their goals.

“To be a good employer, you have to know what people want,” DesJardin said. “This gives employees permission and a platform to tell us what they want.”

Calvert said he got so much out of it that he signed his wife up for the training.

Mutually Beneficial
This isn’t just about being nice. Creating an environment where employees can balance their work and lives is important to the bottom line. Flexibility is linked to employees’ engagement with their work, job satisfaction and retention, according to research by the Families and Work Institute in New York.

Sacramento accounting firm Gilbert Associates Inc. made work-life balance a top priority after learning that many of their new clients left other firms because of high turnover – every year the clients had to educate new accountants about their companies. Gilbert managers didn’t want that to happen at their firm, so they embraced the latest technology, enabling employees to work from home whenever necessary, and allowed employees to work flexible hours and reduced-hour schedules.

“We’d rather have 75 percent of an employee’s time than lose the person altogether.”

– Kevin Wong, Shareholder, Gilbert and Associates Inc.

“We’d rather have 75 percent of an employee’s time than lose the person altogether,” shareholder Kevin Wong said. The firm also appointed an employee advocate – a manager who makes sure alternate schedules are working for those employees. In addition, managers can take a one-month sabbatical from the office every seven years.

Wong said only one employee has left in the last dozen years to go work for another public accounting firm, and head-hunters tell him Gilbert is one of the hardest firms from which to pull talent.

Flexible Culture
Companies have to do more than pay lip service to work-life balance. The principle must be embedded in the culture.

“It’s how we treat our employees on a day-to-day basis,” said Crystal Breazeale, director of human resources at engineering firm Wood Rodgers in Sacramento. Last year the firm was named one of the nation’s 10 best midsize firms to work for by CE News, a trade magazine for civil engineers and surveyors. Employees choose when to put in their hours and whether to work part or full time. One employee alternates weeks between part-time and fulltime hours.

How much is flexibility worth?

Jeanne Mazzuca, controller at Hubbert Systems Consulting Inc. in Gold River, took a pay cut when she went to work for the company after moving with her family to Sacramento, but she said the value of flexibility more than makes up for the loss in pay. The firm lets employees set their own schedules, work from home and even bring their kids in for an hour or two in a pinch.

“Today my daughter is sick, and I’m working at home,” Mazzuca said. “That’s priceless.”