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.