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Work World Putting More Emphasis on Productivity, Results

Thanks to a culture that emphasizes flexible work schedules and family, Jefferson Wells, with an office in Carlsbad, has enjoyed a pronounced increase in the number of women managers.

“We work hard here, but we also try to accommodate everybody’s personal needs,” said Debbi Frazier, managing director of the accounting firm’s Southern California office in Irvine.

Frazier, appointed to the job last year, said three of the eight management jobs in her regional office are held by women. Of the firm’s 78-person staff, 48 are women. The Milwaukee-based firm’s region includes offices in Carlsbad, Irvine and Los Angeles.

A big reason for the increase in females in an industry dominated by men is an emphasis on flexible working hours, Frazier said.

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“If somebody has worked four days in a row, and put in 10 hours a day, they should be able to take the next day off, assuming it’s OK with the client,” Frazier said.

Lightening The Load

As a way of ensuring employees aren’t overworked and get home every night, Jefferson Wells usually assigns more people on a particular project.

Another advantage of working at a middle market firm such as Jefferson Wells is most professionals don’t have to do a whole lot of travel, she said.

At many of the Big Four and larger accounting firms, out-of-town business travel is a given, Frazier said.

A wholly owned subsidiary of Manpower Inc., Jefferson Wells doesn’t do audit or attest work. Instead, it focuses on internal controls, tax and technology.

The firm had been working on regulatory compliance projects surrounding the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the reform law enacted by Congress following the meltdowns of Enron Corp. and other major companies. That work declined last year, Frazier said.

Jefferson Wells isn’t alone when it comes to providing employees with more flexible work schedules, mainly because experienced accounting professionals are in such high demand, said Brett Good, district president of Robert Half International Inc., a staffing firm based in Irvine.

“Because of the challenges of attracting and retaining top executive accounting talent, what was once a fairly conservative industry has been forced to change,” Good said. “Organizations are looking at creative ways in order to give them a competitive advantage in the marketplace.”

At Ernst & Young, for a long time the emphasis was on clients and their needs. In the late 1990s, the firm implemented a program called People First that focused more on what its employees’ needs were, said Bin Wolfe, E & Y;’s people team leader.

“It was a fundamental shift,” Wolfe said. “If we treat our people right, and support them in the right way, they will do the right thing.”

To this end, E & Y; isn’t as focused as it used to be on hours people are working, but on productivity and results, Wolfe said.

The firm’s program and other changes in managing employees helped earn E & Y; a place on Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work list for nine straight years, and on Working Mother Media Inc.’s list of the best 100 companies to work for, also for nine consecutive years.

Breaking Tradition

Besides offering flexible work hours, many finance and accounting jobs allow staffers to work part time from their homes.

At CBIZ, a Cleveland-based business services firm with an office in San Diego, staffers can work at their client sites or at home as needed, said Marianne Leiter, a human resources staffer.

While only four employees now work a flexible schedule in the local office, the firm has that option, and more will likely use it, Leiter said.

“As more and more women come into the accounting field, I’m sure we’ll see more of this,” she said.

Besides accounting and finance, employees in technology firms are working flexible hours, and not adhering to traditional schedules, said Brian Margarita, chief executive officer of TalentFuse, a San Diego-based staffing firm focused on the technology industry.

Advancements in software applications that permit workers to securely log onto the Internet from outside the office is enabling more opportunities for flexible working arrangements than were possible even a few years ago, Margarita said.

But while flex scheduling and telecommuting can be a good thing for some industries, if the work involves more interrelational contact, it’s not such a great thing, he said.


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