The New York Times article that explored what it's like to work for Amazon has many of us thinking about corporate culture. There's a fundamental shift occurring in how people look at relationships with employers. We no longer want to work "for" companies (i.e., golden handcuffs). Instead, we want to work "with" companies, where the partnership is equitable and satisfying.

Don't expect this trend to go away, because:

  • Independent contractors are on the rise. Studies predict as much as half of our work force will be freelancers by as early as 2020. We're all businesses-of-one and every job is temporary.
  • Millennials make up 50 percent of our work force, and counting. While they're currently getting fired for work ethics that don't match traditional business models, time marches on and they'll eventually have control. Their business mantra will be "Let's get more done in less time." With books like The 4-Hour Work Week, written in their formative years, this generation values free time and expects to work with companies that do the same.

Get ready for the rise of the lifestyle employer.

A flexible business that suits the schedule and personal needs of the founder is known as a lifestyle business--a small company intentionally designed to give the entrepreneur a particular lifestyle. Unfortunately, not everyone's cut out to own his or her own business. Yet everyone still wants the benefits a lifestyle business provides.

This trend is being recognized by some savvy larger companies. Smart management teams see the value of becoming lifestyle employers to attract top talent. Every company knows the real secret to success is hiring highly productive staff. Studies show becoming a lifestyle employer can drive that.

Perks and benefits alone don't make a lifestyle employer.

Offering a cool work space, free meals, and other perks doesn't make a company a lifestyle employer, especially when those things are offered in exchange for an intense work environment with long hours and highly stressful, competitive team environments. While that's a common business model (i.e., Google, Amazon), it's not the definition of a lifestyle employer.

Becoming a lifestyle employer is about creating a career opportunity that enables the employee to feel satisfied and successful as a whole. The perks and benefits the company chooses to provide are customized to ensure employees have the ability to live a healthier, happier life.

Meet a lifestyle employer that's "Raising the Bar."

An example of successful lifestyle employer is Clif Bar Company. To learn what it takes to transition from a traditional employer model to a lifestyle employer, read founder Gary Erickson's book, Raising the Bar. It chronicles the journey of the organization's transformation. The company invited me to spend two days seeing how it operates. Besides getting to create my own flavor of Clif Bar, I spoke to employees and managers to hear why the lifestyle employer model works so well. With only 2 percent annual employee turnover, the company's proving that the lifestyle employer model is good for business.

Forget corporate culture; lifestyle employers focus on creating community.

In a conversation I had with Clif Bar CEO Kevin Cleary, he explained the company doesn't focus on corporate culture because it implies employees must try to fit themselves in. At Clif Bar, the focus is on "corporate community," so employees feel accepted and encouraged to be themselves. This subtle shift in HR perspective is vital to unlocking lifestyle employer potential. Using the company's founding principals as a guide, decisions about how to best support employees are driven by the community.

Here are seven benefits that have resulted from this:

1. Monetary incentives for reducing carbon imprint of commuting. The company provides employees with points toward on-site massages, acupuncture, and hair styling for carpooling or riding a bike to work.

2. 9/80 work schedule. Employees work 80 hours over nine business days so they can have every other Friday off.

3. Paid exercise. The on-site gym has a full array of equipment, two full-time personal trainers, and 30 fitness classes scheduled each week. Employees can use 30 minutes a day to work out and get paid as part of their normal schedule.

4. Catered weekly round-ups. An extensive breakfast from the in-house restaurant is served every Thursday morning, prior to an hour-long company-wide meeting. Various departments get on stage to announce both business and personal success stories. Which leads to:

5. 20 hours of paid volunteering. Every employee can do up to 20 hours of paid volunteer work per year. This includes fundraising. While I was there, two employees shared a presentation on the fundraising mountain-climbing expedition they completed that raised $25,000 for cancer research.

6. Easy access to good food choices. It's hard not to eat healthy when the company's products are available throughout the office. There's also an on-site cafe with affordable organic food served daily.

7. Clubs, clubs, and more clubs. The company has a wide variety of clubs (i.e., cycling group, house band, etc.). Employees are encouraged to connect and befriend one another to foster stronger team bonds.

As you can see, the benefits focus on wellness of employees--both physically and mentally. Which makes this final point…

Don't bribe employees--help them become better businesses-of-one.

The secret to being a successful lifestyle employer is recognizing employees are businesses-of-one. The more employers help employees become strong, healthy, and sustainable service providers, the better they can serve the company. Bribing employees to work themselves to death creates a need to keep replacing them. It makes better business sense to invest in the retention and development of service suppliers--a.k.a. employees.

Interested in having a one-on-one conversation about your company's potential to become a lifestyle employer? Contact me and I can share more.

Published on: Sep 2, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.