Work-life balance is a term that’s heard a lot—especially in reference to people with children. Ask any successful working mother, and she’ll tell you how often she gets asked about juggling work and life, whether she feels guilty, whether her boss or company is accommodating, etc.
But here’s the thing: work-life balance is climbing the ranks of what workers want, whether they have kids or not. And while companies try to become more conscientious about flexibility toward employees with families to consider, they could unintentionally be breeding resentment across their workforce.
It’s a situation Rachel Hofstetter, chief marketing officer of Chatbooks, has seen before. In a previous job in New York City, Hofstetter would constantly see people with families packing up and heading home at 5 on the dot, leaving fellow coworkers bristling.
“It became: Who gets to leave? Who has the most pressing reason to leave? Picking up your kid from daycare is always going to trump going to yoga class,” says Hofstetter. “That’s where things can come to arms. If there’s no way to finish working at night, if someone has to stay, it’s going to be the person who wants to go to yoga, not the one with a crying kid at daycare. Even if the parent wishes they could stay!”
The solution that Chatbooks has embraced is simple: both people should get to leave. With technological advancements, Hofstetter says, there’s no reason the aspiring yogi or the parent should need to miss out on life—provided the job gets done.
Tools for flexibility
These days, there’s no reason to believe the job has to get done between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., says Hofstetter. With few exceptions, work should always be able to be flexible enough to let employees have a life.
“You used to have to do work at work and home at home. When you left work, you couldn’t actively do work in a connective way, or approve things, or talk. You could e-mail, but you couldn’t do collaborative work from home. I think there’s a really interesting shift that’s happened with Google Docs, DropBox, Slack and the cloud. That’s what’s happened,” she says. “You can quietly dive back in now at 8:30 p.m. after your kids have gone to bed. It’s no longer ‘someone else has to pick up the slack so it’s done.’ You can go home and do things with your kids, pick them up, go to your favorite hike or yoga class. You can leave and do that and then come back to your work later at night. … Tech takes away these conflicts.”
Chatbooks “puts energy into” adopting tools that allow for remote collaboration, says Hofstetter, which frees people to take care of their sick children or take that highly coveted cake decorating class offered only at 1 p.m. on Thursdays. The company even records its weekly all-hands meetings and disseminates it so that others can watch from home at their own leisure.
“Implementing that suite of tools and giving people the freedom and flexibility to use them is what makes it fair. It’s not ‘these people get these privileges and these don’t.’ It gives people goals and expectations, but how you make them happen—that’s up to you,” says Hofstetter.
Everyone, says Hofstetter, has had a job where they’ve stared at the clock. Everyone has had to leave early for a doctor’s appointment and slinked off, feeling vaguely guilty. Even when the employee is salaried, even if they’ve been encouraged to take flexible hours—if leadership doesn’t embrace and normalize the flexibility, it won’t be used by the employees, totally defeating the purpose.
To that end, Chatbooks’ leadership mostly works from home on Wednesdays, and tries not to show a ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ attitude.
“It’s one thing encouraging it for other people, but if I’m here working until 7 p.m. every night, it’d be like: ‘She says it, but she doesn’t do it,’” says Hofstetter. “So everyone has to do their work-life fit in their own life. A lot of our leadership team works from home on their schedules. It’s encouraging people and making it really positive and normal, and putting it into practice ourselves.”
Furthermore, Hofstetter makes sure she applauds the employees who do take unconventional hours to make work and life balance—she has one employee who leaves at 4:30 to pick up his daughter, so she makes sure that employee has what he needs before he heads out from meetings.
Utilizing the flexibility makes employees more loyal and enthusiastic, she says. The flexibility doesn’t mean employees work insane hours (from, say, 3 a.m.), but rather that they’re more productive in both the hours they do work in the office and those they work from home. Almost everyone, she says, still comes in for a rough 9-5 schedule, with tweaks that make them “feel like they actually have a life,” Hofstetter laughs.
Mandatory meetings are scheduled far enough in advance that everyone can generally make them, or at least call in, and not be blindsided if they’d already carved the time out for something else. Employees have tasks and expectations, and the company hires those the leadership believes are “grownups.”
“It is evaluating people based on their work versus them putting their behind in a chair for eight hours and giving them the stamp of approval,” she says. “It’s based on work. Your work has to be better if you have flexibility. And people really thrive in that environment.”