The Call of the Anti-Extreme Job

It often seems like those who get ahead at work are the nut cases who put in marathon hours and abandon their families at the hint of a project deadline (see our story on page 54). But what if employers rewarded just the opposite?

Burned out from 15-hour workdays, Todd Einck, 42, quit his semiconductor sales job in 1998 and moved from Silicon Valley to Chandler, Arizona. He started JLT Mobile Computers, intent on creating an organization where he could control his schedule and have time for his wife and young kids.

At JLT, which supplies rugged laptop computers for extreme conditions, Einck leaves by 5:10 p.m. almost every evening — and he expects his 15 employees to follow. Working on weekends or taking assignments home is discouraged. "Every employee we hire says, 'I'll work my butt off and burn the midnight oil for this job,' " Einck says. "But I tell them, 'I would much rather you have balance.' "

That's an easy line to mouth, of course; making it stick takes some discipline. Einck says he has become more discriminating about only chasing sales leads that make sense: big customers that are likely to have long-term needs. He also has learned to hire experienced managers and entrepreneurial types who don't need hand-holding.

JLT enjoys some advantages. It only sells to original equipment manufacturers, so it's not obliged to field service calls 24-7. (Einck says customers abide by his requests not to call after hours.) And it's a private company without analysts and institutional investors to answer to.

Even so, keeping to shorter hours means working differently. JLT's employees have become accustomed to fast-paced, intense days of multitasking. Personal phone calls and emails are discouraged. The result: "I do more in one day than I used to do in one or two weeks," says office manager Joe Kass, who previously worked as a broker's assistant. "We're friends and coworkers, but we don't sit around shooting the breeze."

Is JLT's sanity sustainable? Its market niche is crowded, so a competitor could swoop in and serve customers better. Einck admits his company could sell more computers if his people worked longer. But at what cost? Last year, JLT's revenue rose more than 50%, to almost $10 million. Any more than that, he says, would have exhausted workers and taxed morale. As it is, "being able to have dinner with my kids and put them to bed is huge," says general manager Lisa Ridley, a mother of two. "Does it makes you more loyal? Absolutely."

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