My name is Samantha Walters and I am what you would consider a “millennial executive” over here at Colocation America. Every Monday (get it, get it, Samantha on Mondays – the S.O.M column) I will write a little something on whatever is on my mind from business practices to current events and everything else in between.
This week’s topic – work life balance.
Inspiration comes from many places and this week’s column on work-life balance comes directly from my kickball team (yes, you read that right, kickball). To make a long story short, I joined Urban Sports LA’s fall kickball league and yesterday concluded week 2 of play. As per the usual, after the game we headed to a local bar to hang out and get to know each other. Naturally, the conversation led to the classic “what do you do?” question. Upon hearing my elevator speech, my teammate immediately responded, “that’s great – I hear that tech companies have a great work life balance.”
I was dumbfounded – is that what tech companies mean to others? Do people that work in tech companies exemplify what it means to have a good work life balance? Without a means to answer these questions, I sought out words from the wise aka I Googled it. Here is what I found:
On August 20th, Dustin Moskovitz, the co-founder of Facebook and now the head of the software firm Asana, wrote about work life balance. To sum up his post, Moskovitz thinks, “companies are both destroying the personal lives of their employees and getting nothing in return.” Essentially, tech companies are setting up their employees to work longer hours with less leisure time – the opposite of a good work-life balance.
So the question now remains – how do we promote a good work life balance within our own company?
Almost 100 years ago Henry Ford was trying to figure out a better way of getting more out of his employees. Ford noticed that when he decreased the amount of time working, productivity increased. Today research continues to show that Ford was right; overworking does not result in more productivity. Understanding this, it is important to encourage your employees to create a work cycle that fits their needs.
Thanks to technical advances, the workplace is not what it was when Ford cut our work week into 5 days. Today, employees can work nearly anywhere and in whatever fashion they need to accomplish the job at hand. Many times, we think of working as sitting at a computer from 9AM to 5PM, Monday through Friday. This need not be the case anymore. I constantly encourage my team to get up, take breaks, and leave the office. Yes, leave the office – there is a big world beyond these 4 walls and I want my team to experience it. By telling my team to take more breaks, they know I care about their well being which helps with company morale and, once they take the break, we get more hours of actual productivity.
For those who have an option to not work a traditional 9 to 5, I encourage you to discover the “ideal schedule.” For example, some of my team works Monday through Thursday and take a 3-day weekend. For those team members, the longer break gives them time to reboot (yep, I did mean to put a computer reference). For others on my team, they work in the mornings and are done by 2PM and ready to carry out the rest of their day work-free. As long as they make our team meetings and brainstorming sessions, they can make whatever schedule works best for them.
Beyond the “make your own schedule” approach, we encourage our team to take “&*[email protected] my brain is dead” moments. When a team member feels that their brain is just not working at that moment, we encourage them to leave the office and take the rest of the day/afternoon off. When a team member is forced to stay, they get nothing done. Once their brain is back online, whatever time that may happen, they are welcome to continue working.
Creating a good work-life balance is more than just fixing the “work” problem for employees, companies need to think of ways of making the “life” part better. One of the ways to do this is by encouraging participation of activities outside of work hours. For example, in my kickball league there are many people that have joined with their coworkers. This creates team bonding and forces that workaholic to step away from the computer on the weekend and meet some people.
Another way to create a happier employee is by encouraging volunteer work. From a business standpoint, volunteering increases brand
awareness, client attraction, local buy-in, and happier, longer-lasting employees. In 2013, UnitedHealth Group conducted a study and discovered that
volunteering improves people’s mood and makes them feel healthier. Volunteering has also been linked to less stress and a deeper connection with others and the community. Either as a company or individually, encourage your team to find a cause to support and go out and help! We give our team time off to get involved with a nonprofit and it’s a great “happy booster.” To sum it up, volunteering is just another way to improve an employee’s overall life.
One of the things I had the hardest time learning (and continue to try and improve) is work-life balance. I often listen to women and men with far more wisdom than myself speak about how they balance it all and I am just amazed – so you have a family, friends, you volunteer, and run a company? How is that possible? Many times they credit the inevitable burnout that comes with overworking as to how they figured it out.
My story is the same (more about my story later – way later). At some point you stand back and realize that no matter how many hours you put in, there is still more to do tomorrow. So I stopped putting in 12 hour work days and moved towards less hours a day and more “brain” breaks. My team knows that if I head out early, I will, probably, work later (and, of course, they can always reach me via phone). At the end of the day, I am happier which makes my team happier and makes the overall company culture happier. Thanks to changes within my own work-life balance I am now known as the “company cheerleader” – a role I am happy to have.
So I encourage my fellow corporate leaders to have a better work life balance for themselves. It will not just help your own wellbeing but that of the overall company. Sometimes all you need to do is show what is possible.