In business, most entrepreneurs put in long days in the beginning but taper off as things get easier. Phenomena such as “ The 4-Hour Workweek” have caused many leaders to cut back their hours and make themselves unnecessary, but I believe a constant presence in the office and a consistent work ethic are critical for long-term success.
In the property restoration business, we don’t have the option of sticking to regular hours. When a disaster strikes, our crews are there alongside first responders. That sometimes means coming into the office at 4 a.m. or rushing out in the middle of dinner. Whether it takes days, weeks or months to complete the restoration, we’re with our clients until they get back their keys.
For me, the “first in, last out” mentality is also a personal commitment. I started my business 28 years ago doing grunt work. I worked long hours to show my team and clients I was trustworthy, and I stick to the same routine of being the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night. Some people say that’s unhealthy, but I disagree.
Being an entrepreneur means working hard and testing your limits to get results. Giving your best to your company encourages your employees to do the same. It's important to make long hours sustainable, though. Being a hard-driving force means running the risk of burnout, so let me tell you how I make this approach work:
1. I recognize that I’m not there yet.
As a business owner, you have to live with the reality that your company can always be bigger and better. I look years ahead to set goals for where our company should be, then break those down into smaller steps. Having a goal in mind is what helps me sustain long hours.
2. I take meaningful days off.
Work-life balance means different things to different people. To me, taking meaningful days off is more important than taking time off just for the sake of it. For example, my kids were disappointed that I wasn’t home for Halloween one year because I was stuck in an airport, so now I go out of my way to be at every event possible.
3. I remember my roots.
I started my professional life washing dishes at a Detroit restaurant. Forty years later, the owners still call me “kid” when I go back. I often think about where I started and how far I’ve come to remind myself I can always do more.
4. I celebrate with my employees.
I’ll be honest: Our line of work is very stressful at times. But if your work feels like drudgery, you’ll burn out fast. I enjoy what I do and try to keep things at the office lighthearted and fun, whether that’s through joking with employees, throwing a party to celebrate the birth of someone’s child or going camping with our families. At our company, we call these “all the time relationships.”
5. I make myself available.
Growing up poor, I knew I wanted to be successful so I could take care of my family. My family now extends to our thousands of employees and their families. They motivate me to work hard, which is why I spend every spare minute fostering those relationships.
Because I’m always at the office, my employees know they can talk to me at any time. I used to wear a suit and tie to work, but I switched to jeans and a sport coat to make myself more approachable. I provide my cell phone number to employees and answer when people call. I also make a habit of writing thank-you notes and giving positive feedback in writing so employees can cherish their victories.
Being the first in and last out isn’t just about the hours you spend at work. It’s about going above and beyond to care for your people. Success starts with relationships. You don’t build a company by sitting back once things are running smoothly. You do it by continually pushing your limits, making yourself available to your people and being your company’s rock.