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Work Ethic and Balance…What’s the Right Mix?

In my prior posts, I wrote about some things that might be controversial. Well, this one has a lot of opinions and I honestly don’t know the “right” answer, but I’ll give my opinion and hope to hear from readers on theirs. Most senior executives out there don’t need to learn these things, as they likely became senior executives because they knew them. I still hope it’s worthwhile as a refresher, as things were pretty easy for our workforce, at all levels, over the past 15 years, with a few bumps along the way.

I recently took a trip to Israel and spent 4 days touring around Jerusalem with our guide, Joseph (Yosi) and my family. He spent some very long days with us, and didn’t cut any corners, even when there were days when we would have been ok with that. Over the course of four days, we were able to have many conversations about lifestyle in Israel, the economy, their industry, and their work ethic.

Because they celebrate the Sabbath, most banks are closed on Friday and Saturday, but are open Sunday through Thursday. Many companies apparently leave early Friday for the Sabbath, but still work half a day, with Saturday the only full day off. Everyone is back to work on Sunday. Trust me, I like my weekends so I’m not advocating that type of schedule.

However, the Israeli economy seems to be doing pretty well, despite all their “troubles” that we read about. We saw most people getting along very well and didn’t see a glimpse of any problems, even though we read about something happening just about every day. In fact, I felt safer in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv than I do in some parts of LA. So did most of the Americans we ran into. What struck me was that even with tourism down, and the world giving Israel some heat these days, their economy is chugging along. The sheckel, their form of currency, is very strong against both the dollar and the Euro, and unemployment is hovering around 6-7%. What we wouldn’t give to have that kind of unemployment number today.

While we were with Joseph, he would take about a call a day from another client that wanted to book him for a tour. I never once heard him say “no”, “I can’t”, or “that doesn’t work for my schedule”. In fact, I asked him how often he works and he said “As often as I can.” He then went on to tell me how bad things were during 2000 when the suicide bombers wiped out nearly all the tourism in the country. He said those were some dark days, and he doesn’t forget them. If someone wants his services, he says yes, and will take the days off as they come. His job, as the main provider for his family, is to work enough to generate the financial resources for them to live. And he has a lot of mouths to feed – 4 kids ranging from 18 to 7 year old twins. His wife also works as a teacher. I liked his story and really appreciated his work ethic. He also appreciated our business and showed us every day with vigor.

On another recent trip to Seattle, I had dinner with a great guy that worked for our firm for about 3 years, and then left nearly 3 years ago to run a recruiting team at Microsoft. One of the things I tried to teach him as a young leader for us was that hard work and “stretching” was ok for people, if there was a lot of work to be done. We have enough times throughout our year where things slow down a bit, and when the work is really piling up, let’s make sure our employees work harder to get it done. In the 2009 economy, everyone was happy to have a job, and if we continued to show our appreciation for them, which we hope that we did, then they worked hard for us. His lesson was that on his new team, the hard workers were the keepers in tough times, and the people that just did enough to get by and focused more on their personal balance than the company needs, were generally not the ones kept when the company went through a downsizing.

Remember JFK’s famous inaugural speech saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” If you change the word “country” to “company”, and constantly seek opportunities to go the extra mile, you’ll probably be a keeper.

Have a comment? Please post it and let’s get the best ideas out there for our readers.

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