It Takes a Happy Employee

Over the past few months, you’ve heard any number of ways that we at ClickZ have been somewhat contrarian in our approach to business.

We never took a dime of venture capital.

We aren’t heading toward an IPO.

We’re cash-flow positive, growing, and profitable.

We work with professionals who can write rather than pay for professional writers.

We have intentionally stayed small and focused.

All this flies in the face of the “conventional wisdom” of the way an Internet publisher should operate.

But I have a new shocker for you…

We want our employees to have a life.

Yes, it’s true. You can shoot a cannon through the hallowed hallways of ClickZ headquarters here in North Andover, Mass., at 8:30 a.m., and I can guarantee you won’t hit many souls.

Fire that same cannon at 6:30 p.m. and often you’ll get the same results.

We don’t try to manufacture community here. No ping-pong tables. No volleyball courts. No all nighters. No skateboards in the hallways. The only employees we have here in North Andover that are under 30 are our interns, who will be leaving us today to head back to school.

Most of us are married or are in relationships of one sort or another. Most of us have rich and varied lives outside of ClickZ.

We aren’t aiming for ClickZ to be the epicenter of our employees’ lives, but we do strive to create a place where they feel happy, relaxed, and productive.

The kind of mindset that it takes to create a place where everybody is pulling the proverbial 16 to 20 hours per day is one that is in an incredible rush.

We aren’t in a rush. We’re in it for the long run, and we want to do it right.

But for God’s sake, we gotta have a life.

This stands in stark contrast to the VC and Starbucks-driven frenzied start-ups of twenty-somethings with artificially inflated bank accounts (and egos), rapid “growth,” and zero profitability.

What do they call it in your body when you have a mass of cells that are growing and growing and growing very rapidly, sucking resources as quickly as possible but not adding anything healthy to the body it is in?

They call it cancer.

“Growth without profit,” opines Peter Drucker, “is cancer.”

I would add to that, “Frenzied, urgent, unfocused growth without profit is terminal metastatic cancer.” And the graveyard of dot-coms is a testament to that truth.

We believe that employees, in order to be productive, have to be fed in any number of ways, and most of them are outside of ClickZ: family, friends, lovers, interests, etc.

We don’t believe that having a frenzied environment invites clear thinking or responsiveness to the people you serve. It creates a nervous place, full of distraction with inattention to the people you serve.

My experience in places where people put in “long hours” has been that after 5, work in earnest tapers off, a lot of schmoozing about and flat out goofing off begins, and while the “hours” are put in, the work is not.

I’d just as soon get 8 honest hours a day out of an employee than 12 bogus hours. And I’d rather work with people who together comprise an impressive mosaic of life experience than a bunch of no-lifers.

I won’t say that Ann and I didn’t burn the midnight oil pretty consistently when we were starting up ClickZ. Just like a newborn baby, a start-up takes a real toll on your personal life. But as soon as we were able to shift responsibilities to our growing team of people, we did. We got our lives back, and we got a team of really interesting, enjoyable people.

What does that have to do with profitable online publishing?

A lot, as a matter of fact…

The quality of people that you assemble into a team, the way you give them space to grow and create and feel free to live their lives can have a very material impact on their desire and ability to grow with you and be productive. They are far more likely to stay with you for the long run because they are genuinely happy in their work.

And most of us have had to learn the hard way that life is too short to spend your waking hours in misery no matter how much money you make.

Drucker’s truth applies to your employees’ lives as well: Growth without profit is cancer.

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