Investing In Yourself

POSTED BY Christina Arbini on Oct 15, 2009

Jack Anderson was recently approached by Forbes.com for his insights on giving investment advice to employees. Here's what he had to say:

Investment Advice forEmployees: When should the boss get involved?

By Jack Anderson, Creative Director & CEO, Hornall Anderson

Oct.14, 2009

Invest in yourself. We've all heard this advice, probably received it at one point or another. But what does it mean, and how many people actually take it to heart? Investing in yourself - and not just in dollars - is the surest way to weather transitions like the one our economy, is currently undergoing.

Despite the proliferation of investment plans like employee stock purchase, 401Ks, automatic transfers to savings, and the easy access to on-site Fund Managers and Human Resource Directors to help employees navigate these various plans, I'm continuously surprised when I learn how many people, particularly younger people, aren't taking advantage of these opportunities.

Our firm currently has a 100% match of up to 5% of an employee's salary for 401k contributions and still many of our younger employees aren't taking advantage of this benefit. But as baffling as this is to me, I make a point of never crossing the line by saying anything that might suggest I'm pushing our program, as I don't want it to come across as self-serving. But this doesn't lessen the frustration of seeing people set themselves up for unnecessary hardships.

It's tough out there. I get that. We all get that. A lot of companies are facing painful lay-offs, plummeting investments, and sinking profits, and these stressors are forcing tough decisions, decisions that are impacting our health and well-being, as well as our bottom lines. Gone are the days when people could - if they ever really could - get away with living beyond their means. As a result, I'm seeing more people rattled by the current economy. They are over-extended and not participating in investment programs.

But in the midst of this upheaval, a reality check is in order. Just as our banks and financial institutions have been slapped out of their gold rush daydream, it's time for individuals to take a sober look at the way they are, or aren't investing in themselves.

Now, more than ever, is the time to take advantage of these investment offerings. Sure, 401ks nationwide are yielding less than desirable returns and interest rates are negligible, but there's never a bad time to start investing in oneself in whatever amount or manner makes sense.

This goes beyond 401ks. It goes without saying that I'm always happy to hear of an employee getting married, buying a house, having children. I'm encouraged because I see these decisions as a different type of investment - an emotional 401k. Home, family, community - these foundations give us grounding and security and this is often directly reflected in how people do their job. If you're happy, I'm happy, and the business does well.

In the creative services industry, we don't invest in machinery, we invest in people. Employees who are unsettled in home life cause an emotional ripple throughout the office, affecting it in a negative way, sometimes influencing the morale of their co-workers, as the stress and pessimism spreads like wildfire. It can eventually show up in their work, which obviously has a critical effect on the company's success. Investing in employees' happiness goes beyond the 5% match.

Services firms are only as good as the people they employ. Our foundation is our relationships, both with employees and clients. It's in the culture - a shared vision that has a life of its own. We believe in creating a home base for our employees. It's not just about avoiding turnover, it's about maintaining relationships, and that's something that clients see and respond to - they see it as something we put in the water, and for as often as not that's what wins us work, a client sees a slice of that culture and says, "I want that work, I want to work that way and I want to work with those people." It's natural for companies and employees to feel unsettled in an economic situation like this. Times are tough, but that's all the more reason to take care of each other.

We invest a lot of time in our employees because it pays off - and it's also the right thing to do. I personally call each employee on the anniversary they joined the firm and their birthday, and the firm celebrates each baby born, each marriage, and shows concern regarding family illness, loss and surgeries. I don't do this because I want everyone to think I'm a great guy; I do it because it's important for all of us to celebrate our lives beyond the office walls. I want our employees to know that we, as a culture, appreciate the investments they make in their own health and happiness and that we recognize them as being integral to the firm's success. Just as we always strive to take on holistic, integrated projects, we hire whole people, not skill sets.

"Regret" is a strong word, but looking back, if you were to ask me if I'd have done anything different years ago, I have to answer yes. I wish I'd said, "It's not about materialism." It's not about the cars you drive, how big your house is, etc. It's about developing a balance between work and play, freedom and responsibility, and part of that is earning the financial security to make the choices you want.

There's a definite correlation between healthy, financially stable employees and a successful company. With that in mind, it's important for leadership to spend as much time discovering ways to help employees find happiness as we do watching the bottom line. And while I still draw the line at pushing our 401k plan, I will continue to aggressively advocate that every one of our employees continue to invest in themselves - physically, emotionally and financially, because I do look at the bottom line too, and it turns out that the old adage is true: if you're happy, we're happy.

WRITTEN BY Christina Arbini

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