Almost 25 years ago, I left the company where I worked for a variety of reasons. My boss capped my "worth," telling me "You'll never be worth more than $34,000 to my firm." Also, he lived half-time in the DC area and half-time in Ohio, and didn't see his kids much. From observation, I knew we were not aligned in what matters in life. Our core values conflicted. He valued work above everything else. I valued family and balance.
When we tried to institute telecommuting, he didn't trust that I was working.
I eventually quit and launched my first company after sketching out a business plan on a paper table cloth in an Italian restaurant. I knew then that when I had kids, I wanted flexibility to be a present parent without sacrificing our work.
This desire became the foundation for our culture and we instituted a core value of "Responsible Flexibility." The value statement was, "We recognize that work life is an important but single component of a larger picture of life responsibilities, obligations, goals, and interests. Our employees are empowered to build a responsible work-life model that reflects the needs of their unique life situations and still enables them to achieve maximum productivity. This is a natural win-win-win for our company, our employees, and our customers. We support each other internally in this responsible flexibility."
In many ways, it's harder than ever to find the elusive work-life balance. While we can work wherever and whenever we want, we are also always online, always available, and never disconnected.
How can today's leaders create cultures where employees are able and encouraged to disconnect, be present with their families, and achieve balance?
1: It starts at the top. Leaders set the pace and cadence of an organization. They are always being watched. If the CEO is working around the clock, never takes vacations, and doesn't prioritize family, then the organizational culture will reflect this value. When I mentor young professionals and college graduates, I stress how important it is to learn how the leadership lives their life. Typically, the core values of an individual in their personal lives are reflected in their company and leadership.
2: Encourage self-care through a healthy work environment. Create an environment that is conducive to health and wellness. Provide healthy snacks, encourage frequent breaks that get people moving or outside, and encourage employees to take up healthy activities by subsidizing gym memberships or supporting participation in local sports activities. Discourage all-nighters. We once had a new employee from a large company arrive at work their first day with a cot to sleep over during all-nighters. The rest of the employees were stunned. I informed him that we didn't do that. He didn't last long at our company.
3: Encourage employees to use their PTO, and support them when they need to do so. So many companies have a use-it-or-lose-it policy, but the workloads make it almost impossible for many to use all of their earned time off. If employees are traveling for work, suggest that they tack on a few extra days for vacation. Or, send out reminders throughout the year regarding the status of their PTO. A burned out employee is a liability to the organization, and to customers.
4: Support telecommuting and the use of conferencing capabilities to stay connected. There are so many things companies can do to cultivate a culture of strong engagement with remote employees. Invest in technologies such as Zoom and Go-To-Meeting that allow employees to fully participate in internal and client meetings from their own homes.
Work should always be challenging but it shouldn't be the total center of anyone's life. Employees aim to please, and will often feel that there aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done. The belief that enough is never enough is destructive to the person and the organization. A culture that encourages a healthy balance of fun and priorities will yield a far greater ROI than a company that runs its people into the ground.