How an Asset Management Firm Has Re-created the Notion of Work-Life Balance

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Imagine an office where everything is on wheels—desks, chairs, office furniture, the works. Newcomers to the firm can slide over and witness how colleagues get business done. There aren’t even any titles—or office doors.

It isn’t a dream, nor is it happening at some tech start-up on the West Coast. This kind of structure has been in place at asset management and wealth advisory firm SEI in Oaks, Pa. for over a decade. The company’s clients include individuals, institutions, investment managers and financial advisors.

“Add a new person to a team and you will see the whole team shuffle around and it costs nothing at all to reconfigure [the office],” Colleen Stratton, part of SEI’s workforce development team, told eFinancialCareers.

Open Environment

The open environment also makes it much easier for a newcomer to hold a conversation with a senior member of the organization, she says.

SEI’s (literally) freewheeling strategy makes sense, given that the work-life balance issue looms large in the minds of most employees all around the globe.

Asked if they can think of anything more important than making a top salary where they work, in fact, most people have no trouble.

Enjoyment More Important Than Salary

The majority of employees responding to a global Randstat Workmonitor report consider enjoyable work to be more important than a good salary.

The survey found that on average, 82 percent of employees worldwide agree they work to live rather than live to work. A full 43 percent of those surveyed, in fact, said they were prepared to forgo part of their salary to secure their own job. Fifty-eight percent consider enjoyable work to be more important than a good salary.

Leah Eichler, co-founder of Femme-O-Nomics, a networking portal for female professionals, recently penned an article for Canada’s Globe and Mail describing how Vancouver tech company Peer 1 Hosting may ask job applicants to putt a golf ball or draw a picture of something that inspires them in order to reveal their true personalities.

Be Bold

“We want them to be who they truly are and be bold enough to carry that back at work,” the firm’s chief people and performance officer said.

Eichler tells eFinancialCareers that employees should keep in mind it’s a company’s underlying philosophy—rather than the perks themselves—that are important.

“Superficial fringe benefits like free food can be a fabulous way to generate a sense of community and a stronger attachment to the workplace,” says Eichler, but those kinds of perks can easily be cut from a company’s budget in leaner times.

“The ultimate goal,” she says, is making your employees feel cared for in the work environment, since “most employees want more than a paycheck—they want to really enjoy the place they spend a good chunk of their lives.”

Job More Satisfying

OK, so, what sorts of things might make your job more satisfying and not just about making the big bucks?

How about three weeks of vacation and six personal days for brand new, full-time salaried employees and four weeks of vacation after five years on the job? Or a family center providing back-up day care for your kids? Both are among the perks at SEI, which employs 1,800 individuals in its Oaks, Pa. campus and hundreds of others in places like Canada, Hong Kong, the Netherlands and Ireland.

The firm has been cited by Philadelphia Magazine as one of the best 10 places to work in and around the City of Brotherly Love, reporting that during the 1990s, “SEI company began transforming its corporate culture—eliminating practically everything that smacked of status or hierarchy, from titles to secretaries. Even office doors.”

“There’s not an office on our campus—though we do have conference rooms,” says Stratton.

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