Published - Sunday, October 30, 2016
At The Media Collective, like many other organisations we want to have the best of both: a full order book, happy, skillful staff who love coming to work, and enough time to spend doing the things that we love. But how realistic is this? We aren’t saying that we have any answers but here are our thoughts on how business can help people find some balance.
We have just one life
Just like healthy eating we believe that our work should form part of a balanced life. If work is all-consuming then that’s probably not healthy, for us or for the team. Our work can provide enormous benefits to our sense of achievement, and is a great incubator of skills and talents but it can’t satisfy all of our needs. We want to ensure that our business goals allow our staff time and energy to develop outside of work, mentally, physically and spiritually. We believe that our business will be stronger for it.
We recognise that our staff are usually giving up the most productive hours of their day in return for a fair salary. It’s easy to take it for granted but the hours that our staff give to us are extremely valuable to them. Our philosophy is that extra pay rewards extra responsibilities or skills and doesn’t automatically give us the right to demand extra time, unless specifically part of the agreement. We want to avoid the unspoken rule of business whereby a pay rise puts pressure on our staff to stay longer at the office. We never want to think that the money we pay our staff gives us any claim on their lives.
With modern technology and the speed of life increasing we are now more productive than ever. Or are we? By fitting ten jobs into the amount of time we used to do five jobs we might feel more awesome but is working super-fast really better for us. And is the quality of our work better or worse? One thing that seems to have been lost in the gold rush of efficiency is thinking time. So many tasks are done at break-neck speed that we no longer think enough about what we are doing, or why. Allowing staff time to think about their work is ok and even though it looks unproductive we think that the very fact that it makes us stop and be still is one of the things that can help to keep work feel more balanced and as long as it doesn’t turn into day-dreaming we encourage it wholeheartedly!
If our team are struggling to do their jobs then we need to understand why. We need to place realistic expectations of what can be achieved by the team member we have whilst providing adequate training to improve their skills and experience where required. As business owner we can’t expect every staff member to be as passionate as we are about every part of the organisation without passing that excitement on to them in the way that we train, lead, mentor and encourage. We believe in people and we want to give them enough time to develop to become as good as they can be. We won’t always get that right, and it can be a painful experience when we get it wrong but we aim to put people over profit if we ever have to choose.
One aspect of work life that can take it’s toll on our time is our ability to say no to things that we either don’t need to do, or that don’t need to be done right away. Saying yes to too many things at once puts an unnecessary strain on staff and will lead to burn-outs that could have been avoided. Sometimes it’s not possible to say no like when all of your projects land at the same time, but if you understand the capacity of your team then you should be able to say no if you really are full. This can be the most difficult thing for business owners to balance as the lure of growth and increased sales are a constant goal. We’ve decided to work to the capacity of our team rather than the demands of the market. It doesn’t always work out but we’re learning how to get better at this because we don’t want a team that’s constantly being asked to work at a hundred miles per hour.
People usually go to work in order to earn enough money to allow them to do the things that really matter to them. We want to know the goals of our staff and will spend time during the year discussing how their professional progression can tie in with their personal life. Businesses can support people in a wide range of ways, from creating time for volunteering within their contracted hours, to being allowed to run a personal project, to letting members of staff try new ideas and giving them a safety net for if they fail. At The Media Collective we want to allow time for our staff to develop and recognise that this can come from activities that are beyond the scope of their job description.
However hard we carve out ‘work’ time and ‘personal’ time, what we really have is just ‘time’. We recognise that sometimes life doesn’t fit neatly into their ‘personal’ time. Doctors appointments, fixing your car, or dealing with sick family members are just a few examples. We will always aim to be flexible with our staff when life doesn’t give them a neat solution. As directors we aim to treat our staff in the way that we would like to work and trust that as we allow some latitude we will not be let down. It’s means things can get messy and we have to change our plans here and there but we are employing people, not robots, so we think our business policies need to allow some grace to recognise that fact.
There are some businesses that devote every single working hour finding ways to bill their clients, push out more products or generally make more money. We’re happy not to be one of them. We do want to run a great business, and one that is economically viable, but every hour of every day? Not for us. We encourage team lunches, where people can eat and share together. We love days out of the office Go Karting, Hiking or Gorge Walking up rivers (maybe we won’t do that in the Autumn again!). As well as having something to look forward to our staff know that we value their hard work to the point that they are worth us closing the office for. Because life isn’t all about profit lines and balance sheets!