Best Practices for Work-Life Balance

Best Practices for Work-Life Balance

January 1, 2015

Sharing stories of what works and what doesn’t is a profound and meaningful way to learn from others, and this is exactly what we set up at the 8th annual Your Workplace Conference. The Best Practices panel, facilitated by Caterina Sanders of Habanero Consulting Group, an IT company, inspired and challenged conference attendees to construct a workplace that truly meets employees’ needs.

A key theme was to allow more flexibility at work as a solution to the rising concern of disengaged, burned-out employees. The lively group of panelists including Brenda Rigney of Earl’s Restaurant Ltd., Claudette Knight of Meridian Credit Union, Fiona Betivoiu of TD Bank and Travis Dutka of 360incentives. Workplace leaders benefited from the combined wisdom of these senior human resources professionals and participating audience members, including the following takeaways:

Take Calculated Risks

In our rapidly changing world it is important to be willing to “buck the status quo”, said Dutka. He stated that with the roughly 130-employees at 360incentives, they “try things, we pilot things until they don’t work.” In a notable success story, when senior leaders decided to expand into the U.S., they looked at other countries’ vacation policies, including that of the UK, which offers up to 100 days of vacation annually. That inspired them to create an unlimited vacation policy. It’s a win-win: workers can use the vacation time to get some much-needed rest and relaxation or attend to personal matters, and the company benefits from a happier, more motivated workforce.

Taking calculated risks can also be effective in larger organizations. Betivoiu shared that shortly after she began at TD Bank flexible work space practices were introduced for more than 85,000 employees globally. This means employees do not have a set office or work space. Instead, on a daily basis employees must book a space to work in.

Some people resist change by booking the same space each day, but sitting next to different people facilitates crossteam collaboration and the exchange of ideas. Betivoiu personally sits in different spaces every day for this reason.

At Meridian, the fourth largest credit union in Canada, they also have “a notion of testing and learning”, says Claudette Knight. “Sometimes you’re not sure how something is going to work out, but you just give it a try to see what happens. Sometimes it doesn’t work but you can learn from it.” Strong leadership can greatly reduce workers’ anxiety about taking risks, she added. Change doesn’t have to be big to be effective. Companies can pilot projects in their own department or work team. Once successful, they can be pushed through the larger organization.

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It is inspiring to embrace the practice that positive transformation, through risk-taking, can happen in any size of organization and on any scale.

One Size Does Not Fit All

One audience member asked what panelists would do about an employee who is always late but is very hardworking and productive when present. “Change their start time,” was one response. Sanders suggested that unless being at work by a certain time is part of the company culture, the company should jettison a strict start time. One size does not fit all.

From the audience Julie Einarson, HR manager at BBD, an insurance company, shared how her organization recently dealt with this issue. They asked their 90-person team how they wanted to work by selecting from a menu with 12 different work schedule options. While their core operating hours are 8:30am to 4:30pm, they now have 65 different work schedules. “It sounded scary and ominous, but it turned out to be magic,” she said. Someone could take an hour and a half lunch to go to the gym, then stay later to cover the person taking a half-hour lunch and leaving earlier to pick up her kids from after-school care. Previously, with two work schedules, BBD thought they were flexible, but “now that we’ve thrown this open, we’ve realized how much stronger we are for being truly flexible and how much each individual employee is represented,” says Einarson.

Betivoiu shared that in her previous job she worked with graphic and developmental designers who work between 11pm and 3am. Her team accommodated this by nixing morning meetings.

Rigney also shared how Earl’s Restaurant created flexibility for workers. “You decide what your hours are, but you need to be accessible for meetings. That could be through a Google Hangout. That could be through Skype calls. That could be in person, phone, whatever. But you need to be able to engage with the team that you’re working with on a project or on a cross-functional team between 10am and 4pm.”

Together, these examples illustrate that several factors should be taken into consideration when determining work schedules, including role, personal needs, team meeting times and what will facilitate the best output.

Empower your Employees

Policies supporting a flexible workplace can empower employees to be their best in all spheres. At TD, Betivoiu explained the benefit of working from home for those who do not want or need to be in the physical office every day. “For me personally,” she continued, “I work from home every Friday and I am absolutely adamant about it. We’ve got the tools, technology [and policy] at TD to allow me to do that. I made the decision a few years ago that I was going to have lunch with my kids every

Friday… and they have empowered me to do that.” She claimed that her bosses and colleagues understand and respect that she is unavailable between 12:30pm and 1:45pm on Fridays. “I have team members around me [who] recognize it’s something I need, and that helps me productivity-wise. That’s that balance I’ve been looking for.”

The talent on this panel revealed that a more flexible work schedule can benefit both employee and employer. Stanford University professor Nicholas Bloom and graduate student James Liang conducted a study of Ctrip call centre, a Chinese travel website, permitting its employees to telecommute for nine months. They found that these workers were not only more productive, gaining what amounted to an additional day of work over in-house employees, they were also happier.

But in our ever-changing lives, work-life balance is a moving target. Thus, as Knight explained, “People need to understand . . . [that work-life balance] is fluid, so what might look like a peaceful balance for me now, in March of next year it might look different. It’s important to have ongoing dialogue and to adjust your needs and your approaches accordingly so you can have a balance in your life.”

Performance is the most critical aspect of a flexible workplace. That is, the employee needs to know what is expected, and the manager needs to understand what to do to support employees. Then, communicate who is working when, how to reach each other and what is being delivered. Each person can then work in a way that best fits her or his situation.

Claudette Knight concluded by encouraging workplace leaders to remember that everyone’s needs are unique. “It’s important to create a culture and an environment where people can feel comfortable and confident in expressing their needs, and know that their manager and the organization [will] support them to figure out what makes sense.”

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Christelle Agboka
Christelle Agboka is a freelance writer living in Toronto, Ontario.

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