Hard Times

Why finance executives are overworked and under stress.

Instead, CFOs have found that what works is the little things. For example, just setting realistic expectations can keep staffers happy, says Harold Kosakoff, CFO and CIO of the California Superior Court in San Diego County. “I tell my staff, ‘You make a handful of decisions every year that are job-on-the-line decisions. With the rest, if you make the second- or third-best choice, you make it and you live with it.’ ” He says that so far, the philosophy has worked. “I’ve never had a direct report do something so stupid that it got me upset. It doesn’t happen when you hire good people.”

Employee recognition and morale programs also reduce staff stress levels, although these programs have been maligned by some as a bandage approach. Fred Stepan, executive vice president of The Scooter Store, in New Braunfels, Texas, for example, says his staff takes off one afternoon a month to go bowling or to a happy hour, among other activities. They also have a tradition of decorating people’s cubicles on their birthdays. “I went to Notre Dame, and on my first birthday with the company, my staff decorated my office like a Notre Dame dorm room,” says Stepan. “My people are very creative, and they take this stuff very seriously.”

Finance staffers also view flextime very seriously. Jim Rea, CFO of American-Marsh Pumps, in Collierville, Tennessee, lets his employees work any eight hours between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., which is especially helpful because much of his staff gets an hourly wage. “They appreciate it because it puts a lot of stress on them if they have sick kids at home and they have to take a day off and they can’t get their normal take-home pay one week,” he says.

CFO, Heal Thyself

Several years ago, Rea was the 48-year-old CFO of an automotive-supply company in Detroit. The company was encountering such tough times that suppliers began demanding cash on delivery for shipments. And Rea was dancing as fast as he could, trying to keep it all together. Adding to his stress was the fact that he and his wife missed their families back in Tennessee, as well as the slow pace of the country.

After a year of watching the company hemorrhage money, “I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown,” says Rea. And one day, an intense pain gripped his chest, sending him from the office to the emergency room by ambulance. Luckily, the pain was only an anxiety attack, but Rea calls it one hell of a wake-up call. Three months later, he quit his job and moved his family back to Tennessee, where he landed the job at American-Marsh Pumps, a small irrigation pump manufacturing company, and now works a manageable 45 hours a week.

While CFOs seem to have a variety of techniques to reduce employee stress, they tend to fall down when dealing with their own. Consider, for example, that most senior finance executives in the survey fail to use the easiest stress reducer available to them: taking all their vacation time. In fact, 62 percent of survey respondents admit they don’t use all their time each year, and when they take vacation, 61 percent check work voice mail, 55 percent check work E-mail, and 35 percent bring a laptop.

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