Series on Work-Life Balance – The IKEA way

IKEA is a Swedish home furnishing retailer that sells well-designed, functional furniture. IKEA has over 150 stores in more than 20 countries around the world. IKEA’s Swedish heritage is important in the company, as demonstrated by its training of staff on Swedish culture. The Swedish national values of commitment to, and time with, family and community, combined with concern for a healthy environment, are strongly reflected in IKEA’s organizational culture and management practices.

The above values can be seen in IKEA’s strategic approach that acknowledges work-life balance, to its recognition of the importance of coffee breaks in a pleasant environment for all staff for social interaction. Work-life balance extends naturally from the company’s Swedish cultural roots and its “priority of focusing on co-workers to develop the corporate culture,” according to Anders Dahlvig, IKEA president. Work-life balance is expressed, for instance, in paid days off for all staff for first day of school leave, marriage leave and “moving house leave”.

It is also expressed in the following areas of existing work-life balance offerings, including flex-time (variation in start and finish times); full-time and part-time work; special shift arrangements (for example, early shifts only); non-standard work weeks (for example, longer but fewer work days per week); emergency leave (for a domestic crisis like a flooding); public/community service leave (such as working on a public service board); leave for caring for dependents; parental leave; sick children leave; information about childcare; employee assistance programs; information and advice on work-life balance; and health promotion.

One example of combining national and organizational cultures is the health promotion program in IKEA’s Glasgow store. In addition to subsidized healthy meals from the large and popular public cafeteria, all employees can take advantage of free podiatry (medical foot care) and massage sessions during work time. Burgess believes it is important that “co-workers generally see IKEA as investing a lot in them—and the feedback we get suggests they do.” Offering podiatry and massages relates in particular to the physical nature of much of the work, with staff often working on their feet and wearing protective boots. Doing physical work is not the exclusive preserve of shop floor staff; departmental and senior managers all help when needed.

Business Controller David Montgomerie has taken advantage of the chiropody service. This was a new experience for him and although his initial motivation was the novelty value and curiosity, he now believes promotion of health awareness and general fitness is very important. One of Montgomerie’s team is Abigail Jones, an IT specialist. Jones has also used the chiropody service, a first for her. “It’s a good perk…IKEA is obviously interested in the well-being of staff and are very people– oriented.” Stephanie Miller, a young part-time employee who works on the shop floor, believes that “health promotion to encourage a healthy lifestyle is a good idea and fun as well.” She did not expect such services, but can see that they are valuable.

On an individual level, work-life balance programs help people balance work with other life factors. Burgess notes that “in some cases it can offer the opportunity to experience something new and benefit from it.” In organizational terms, work-life balance is a “win-win situation.” According to Burgess, it increases morale and commitment by improving psychological contracts and gives “something tangible to staff so they perceive IKEA as a caring company that they enjoy working for.”


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Series on Work-Life Balance – Job-Sharing

Motorola, founded in 1928 in the U.S., currently employs more than 100,000 people worldwide. A variety of work-life balance arrangements are offered, many of which are long established throughout the company. One such unique measure is that of ‘job-sharing’. Read on to see how this has benefited scores of people with special working needs.

Motorola offers all kinds of work arrangements that include part-time work; dependency leave; an employee assistance program (EAP); job sharing; health care; special shift arrangements (non-standard shifts); study leave (time off work to complete sections for formal qualifications); and emergency holidays (when annual leave needs to be taken for non-holiday time). Moyra Withycombe, the human resource operations manager at the East Kilbride location, explains that they are offered as part of being a premier employer and to attract high-caliber people, then recognize and reward them. This fits with Motorola’s philosophy of balancing life and work, which has contributed to the company’s high rating in America’s 100 Best Corporate Citizen award lists for environment, community and employment practices.

In 2000, there was a major change in work hours at the East Kilbride plant. The change was intended to standardize shifts throughout the whole organization. Today, full-time Motorola operators work seven 12-hour shifts over a two-week period, on the basis of four days one week, and three days the next. When the work hours were changed, employees were offered job sharing, either on the day or night shifts. Job sharing means that two people share a full-time job between them, splitting equally the number of hours worked. Though not commonplace, it has been an occasional practice in the U.K. for some years, mainly in the public-service sector.

Mary McDonald, a single parent with two children, applied for a job-share on the day shift. She felt the full-time shift pattern was too onerous given her family situation. In making her written application to the Human Resource department, she gave her personal and operational reasons. Her application was successful and, matched with her job partner, Heather Chalmers, she works in the wafer fabrication production area. McDonald says this system “has worked very well” for her. “I’m full of energy for the days I work — Motorola gets 100 percent from me.” She is extremely positive about job sharing, “especially for people with families…it is very good for family life.”

Alistair Reid, a manufacturing section manager, concurs. He also highlights that Motorola East Kilbride hosts 120 job sharers and explains that they are all included in feedback sessions and the annual reviews conducted to assess the effectiveness of partnerships. He stresses that “the transition to new shift patterns, including job share, allowed us to retain key skills and avoid external recruitment.”

Neil McKinven, a senior line manager, believes that job share plays a high-profile role for the East Kilbride Motorola plant to remain competitive and to meet their performance metrics in the face of stiff global competition. In particular, he notes that “job share allowed us to retain our pool of highly qualified and well-trained talent.” Job share, McKinven explains, “created a different management dimension in developing supporting procedures, such as procedures for holiday and absence cover.” These procedures have been refined over time and now function smoothly.

Motorola plans to have ongoing reviews of job-sharing practices, together with evaluation of the business effects.


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Conducting Career Conversations: Program on conducting career conversations for the Leadership team at a prominent IT organization

A Pan-India intervention covering over 90 senior directors and heads of businesses, was designed and delivered for a renowned IT organization. The program was a part of an organizational initiative to empower leaders to mentor their high-potential direct reports through structured career conversations. The Overreaching Objective was to establish a meaningful connect during such conversations instead of superficial interactions that are often a mere formality. This experiential program was contextualized to address some of the real life business challenges leaders face while conducting career conversations.

The feedback from the program was extremely positive and indicated that this training increased the participants’ understanding of the aims and objectives of career conversations and how to conduct them.

The training empowered them to carry out such conversations effectively by helping them prepare a toolkit for conducting career conversations.

Series on Work-Life Balance – ‘To make money and have fun’

W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc. is a global, privately held company headquartered in Newark, Delaware. It employs approximately 8,000 employees (called associates) in more than 45 locations worldwide. Gore is known not just for its innovative products, but also for its innovative business style (Gore’s written business objective is “To make money and have fun”).

Founded by a husband-and-wife team in 1958, W.L. Gore & Associates manufacturing operations are clustered in the U.S., Germany, Japan, China and Scotland. Gore strives to create a unique corporate culture. Quite simply, the culture is driven, according to co-founder Bill Gore, from the need to “foster the creativity and initiative that contribute to technical development.”

It is this corporate culture that integrates and enables work-life balance at W.L. Gore. Ann Gillies, an HR associate in Scotland, believes Gore operates fairly and that associates are not managed but instead manage themselves by being fair, meeting commitments and consulting others as appropriate. Consequently there are very few company policies, procedures or rules; practices develop naturally and do not need to be framed in policies.

There are no policies and procedures, therefore, that explicitly relate to work-life balance. However, the company’s approach to work-life balance can be seen in its approach to working hours. Working hours, according to Gillies, are central to Gore’s approach. There are no set working hours; “people make commitments… they are never imposed and people keep to their commitments.” Gillies continues, “Personal and family responsibilities are okay—people have no need to explain if they are not going to be at work, but tend to anyway because we are fair to each other.”

When commitments require staffing for specific hours, the team in that area decide individuals’ hours of work. Some people choose to work from home, and office attendance is recorded only for fire safety. The need to work long hours can arise, as it did for one associate, Ben Stewart, currently a leader, when he was involved in a global project requiring him to spend large amounts of time in the U.S. When a change in his home circumstances arose, Stewart evaluated the time he spent travelling and reduced it significantly by using videoconferencing and conference calls.

It is widely believed that Gore’s corporate culture which encourages a healthy worklife balance directly contributes to the award-winning success the company has long enjoyed. John Kennedy, a Gore leader and senior associate in Scotland in traditional, external business terms, underlines this belief. He says, “Our culture and principles drive very high performance from individuals and teams, who are empowered and results-oriented with a strong ‘can-do’ attitude.”

Gillies acknowledges that “sometimes it feels like it would be easy and certainly quicker to direct, but in the long-term, we know that doesn’t work.” She is emphatic that “because we are not telling people what to do and when to be here, there is more chance work is going to be done better. Associates buy into what the company stands for, so the quality of input and decisions is better.”

Gore’s approach to work-life balance contributes to its repeatedly being included in Fortune magazine’s best companies list. Continuing to develop associates is seen as central to sustaining the corporate culture and principles that foster work-life balance at W.L. Gore.


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Series on Work-life Balance: What defines it

With more of us wanting and expecting our jobs to provide not just a paycheck but also human needs like learning, community, and a sense of purpose, we wanted to know what specifically makes people happy at work. Is it fair pay and benefits? Having a great boss? A clear career path? Opportunities to learn? Working at an organization with a clear sense of purpose? These are all the kinds of things that HR managers and talent developers obsess over, and also the sorts of questions people ask themselves when they’re deciding between job offers: Should I work at Company A, where I’d have better benefits but a worse commute, or Company B, which does important work but doesn’t pay very well?

To figure out what really matters to employees, Happify Inc recently carried out a survey to get a clearer picture using their Happify App. Users engage in various behavioral activities, including gratitude exercises, in which they’re asked to write about things they appreciate and value in their lives. Such exercises have been empirically shown to increase well-being by allowing people to recognize the good things in their lives and the reasons they matter. Their data science team analyzed the anonymized data to uncover elusive measures of work satisfaction.

As a first step, they extracted 200 different topics from the entire text coming from Happify users who were asked to “Jot down three things that happened today or yesterday that made you feel grateful.” Based on the way this question is phrased, they expected to get a glimpse into the things that people recognize and value on a daily basis. Of the 200 topics that were extracted, they identified 14 that prominently featured words that are work-related and were used frequently. The primary themes these topics covered were general job satisfaction, commute and work breaks, positive peer interaction, having time off, achieving high work performance, benefits and compensation, and interviewing and landing a new job.

We noticed that overall job satisfaction followed a U-shaped curve: starting high, dipping in one’s forties and fifties, and then going back up as retirement approaches. The U-shape is expected, and validates prior research. When we zoomed in on different age groups, we noticed that different things are more important at different stages in a person’s career.

• This detailed analysis showed that around ages 25–34 there is a peak of gratitude for topics related to landing a new job, positive work relationships, and external work conditions, such as an easy commute, breaks, or time off.

• For ages 35–44 they saw a decline in gratitude in several areas, particularly work-life balance, time off, and pay. It may be that around this age people are overwhelmed by responsibilities and expenses, and thus aren’t feeling particularly grateful.

• A different pattern emerges starting in one’s late fifties, showing a peak of gratitude for topics related to finances and benefits. We can speculate that at that age people value getting their finances on track for their upcoming retirement, and so are less occupied with new opportunities, their job performance, or having more time off.

Taking a step back to put these findings in perspective, it seems that early on in one’s career, people appreciate a job that will bring future benefits as they continue to perform. The present job may not be ideal, as one tries to balance hard work with enough time to play. In midlife things get generally tougher: It’s harder to balance work and life, and people struggle to make ends meet. But as one gets older, one begins to be more satisfied with one’s present job and also to have more resources to achieve personal aspirations.

The bottom line: Satisfaction at work is influenced by factors such as benefits, pay, relationships, and commute length. But all of this boils down to two things being important, regardless of your circumstances: (1) having a life outside of work, and (2) having the money to afford it. If you have a job that grants you both of these, you might be happier than you realize.


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Series on Work-Life Balance: Warren Buffet way

Who hasn’t heard of Warren Buffet? American business magnate, investor and philanthropist. A man considered by many to be one of the most successful investors in the world and as of March 2017, the second wealthiest person in the United States with a total net worth of 78.7 billion dollars. Considering that signing multi-million dollar deals are common place for him, how does Buffet manage to balance family time with the exigencies of running a high profile business…read on.

Buffet has been the chairman and largest shareholder of Berkshire Hathaway since 1970, and his business exploits have had him referred to as the Oracle of Omaha by global media outlets.

Buffet has been considered by many, not just budding entrepreneurs, as a guru. His words of wisdom, as many successful individuals will tell you, have been keys to success in both business and in life. Take for example this gem of a story that came to light in the recent insider trading trial of former Goldman Sachs board member Rajat Gupta.

Former Goldman banker Byron Trott, a long time Buffet confidant, was asked to testify in front of a Manhattan federal court jury about a deal between Goldman Sachs and Warren Buffet during the financial crises era of 2008.

This deal was at the height of the 2008 financial crises and was a make or break deal for the world famous and historic Goldman Sachs Group. Nearing bankruptcy, the deal would lead to Buffet making an investment to the tune of 5 billion dollars into the company and would be the key to survival for the company.

Now, considering the stakes and the importance of this deal, you would expect anyone to drop whatever they are doing and work towards making sure that the deal went without hiccups. But Warren Buffet is no ordinary man.

As Trott went on to narrate, on the day that the deal was meant to be finalized, everything had been readied and all parties involved were only waiting for Buffet to join them for the meeting. They had been trying to reach him since the morning to wrap up the deal. However, Buffet was not available till 2:30 in the afternoon. The reason? He was taking his kids out for ice cream.

Yes, Buffet had kept a multi-billion, historic deal on hold so that he could keep a promise made to his grandkids and was enjoying ice cream with them at dairy-queen. Another life lesson on how to manage the perfect harmony between life and work by the Oracle of Omaha.

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Series on Work-Life Balance – Can do people

The following are two true stories of successful entrepreneurs which prove that work-life balance is not a myth. The perfect balance just requires some good old planning and of course extra dollops of enthusiasm…

Can Do Couple – The only thing better than a good work-life balance story is a good work-life balance love story. Enter Brian and Beth Whitfield, an entrepreneurial power couple based in Southern California, for whom work and love are inextricably tied.

The Whitfields are the proud owners of four businesses — two hair salons, a consulting firm and a coin dealership. But long before they became business owners, the Whitfields were learning to juggle their love for each other with a need to pay the bills. Brian, an ex-Marine, worked three part-time jobs while studying to earn his college degree. Beth also worked three part-time jobs, seven days a week, to help support him. You might think these hard-working folks would want to take a break after all that hustle, but the Whitfields are not the type to settle down.

In addition to helping run the couple’s four businesses, Brian teaches part time at Ashford University in Iowa. He also hosts a weekly radio show called “Financial Fortress” and writes a daily blog. Beth works full time at her two salons, is a national beauty educator and also serves as a stylist for fashion shows, special events and photo shoots. Despite their crazy schedules, the couple says they always make sure to reconnect at the end of each workday.

Do-it-all Doctor- When Stephen Schleicher, a doctor at one of Boston’s busiest hospitals, decided to open his own business, he didn’t quit his day job. In fact, he did quite the opposite — he kept working and enrolled as a graduate student in a competitive MBA program.

Schleicher, 31, is the epitome of a fast-paced entrepreneur. When he isn’t covering long shifts at the hospital, he’s attending first-year classes at Harvard Business School or working on building his startup business, Boxxify.

Boxxify is a package-delivery service that caters to people with superbusy schedules. The company delivers packages between 7 p.m. and midnight, so 9-to-5 professionals don’t have to worry about having their packages stolen off the front porch or returned to sender.

But having a full-time job, being a student and owning his own company make up only one side of Schleicher’s awe-inspiring work-life balance story. Not satisfied with just nurturing a burgeoning business, this go-getter also decided to start a family.

Schleicher and his wife, Magda, recently welcomed their first child who, if she’s anything like her father, is likely very hard to keep up with. But the do-it-all doctor isn’t balking at this newest responsibility. In fact, it’s the support of his family — along with the competency and understanding of his many co-workers — that makes his daily juggling act possible, Schleicher said.


Categorized as Media