Keeping Women

April 1998


Keeping Women

Flex-time arrangements count more than training, pay and stock options when it comes to retaining some valued employees, especially women with young families

Your top sales earner just had her second baby. After you send the flowers and pass out the cigars, you secretly worry. Will she stick with you? Is this sexist? Nope, just practical.

Generation X workers (women and men) feel jaded by their parents' failures to juggle work and family. They make home and hearth a bigger priority than ever and ask for concessions in their workplace roles. When deciding whether to grant such concessions, consider whether you can afford not to. As the job market tightens and a good jewelry salesperson becomes harder to find, store managers and owners are learning 'tis better to be flexible and keep a good worker under certain conditions than to have no worker at all.

Jewelers aren't the only ones learning these lessons. The Big Six accounting firms have been hurt by raging turnover, especially among women, reports The Wall Street Journal. This brain drain has cost them big-time, so they are vying with each other to keep women happy. In the process, they've learned some lessons jewelers can profit from.

Options Are Available
You have to describe flexible work options and encourage employees to explore them. Some workers don't realize there are solutions and may quit before they find out. One company set up a database listing different kinds of flexible work arrangements. A self-assessment quiz helps employees to sort out their priorities and realistically decide the commitment they can make to their jobs. The strategy is working: employees are choosing flexible schedules and staying on the job instead of quitting. Separately, a survey of 614 employers by Watson Wyatt Worldwide found flexible work arrangements are a more powerful retention tool than training, above-market pay and stock options.

Relieve the Pressure
Just because you're a workaholic, doesn't mean everyone has to be. The Big Six accounting firms have discovered that management puts subtle (or not-so-subtle) pressure on workers to feel guilty if they don't put in long hours. Express clearly and powerfully to your sales associates that it's the quality of their time on the job – not the quantity – that counts.

Part-time Opportunities
The Big Six firms have created part-time partner tracks to reward talented workers who just don't want to commit to full-time demands. You can do the same by offering attractive sales jobs to part-timers and giving them all the benefits and perks you give your full-time workers.

Several years ago, a part-time accountant with a state government was lauded for discovering a multimillion-dollar tax mistake that significantly enhanced the state's coffers. When interviewed later, she stated: "Just because I work part time doesn't mean I use only half my brain." Recognize that talent can come in 20-hour packages. Two 20-hour workers may cost more in benefits but be far better than one 40-hour lackluster salesperson.

A new book about women making choices in the workplace may help you understand why this change in work habits is probably here to stay. Sally Helgesen's Everyday Revolutionaries (Doubleday, 1998) likens workplaces to the coffeehouses popping up on every corner these days. There are many choices, from double-shot espresso to decaf latté – there's no need to stick to plain coffee anymore.

Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.


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