Aug 30 2012

The Best Place to Work, Part 6: Let People Be People

The Best Place to Work, Part 6: Let People Be People

Last week, in this continuing series on creating the best place to work, I talked about being a great enabler of people, meaning you do your best to let people do their best work.  This week, I want to talk about Letting People Be People.

I wrote about topic a bit this last year when I wrote my series on Return Path’s Core Values, in particular the post on our value People Work to Live, Not Live to Work .

Work-life balance is critical.  I’ve worked in a grind-it-out 100-hour/week environment as an analyst before.  Quite frankly, it sucks.  One week I actually filled in 121 on my hourly time sheet as a consultant.  If you’ve never calculated the denominator, it’s only 168.  Even being well paid as a first-year analyst out of college, the hourly rate sucked.  Thinking about 121 gives me the shivers today…and it certainly puts into perspective that whether you work 40, 45, 50, 55, or 60 hours in a given week can pale by comparison, and all still let you have a life.  An average week of 40 hours probably doesn’t make sense for a high-growth company of relatively well-paid knowledge workers.  But at 121 you barely get to shower and sleep.

While you may get a lot done working like a dog, you don’t get a lot more done hour for hour relative to productive people do in a 50-week environment.  Certainly not 2x.  People who say they thrive on that kind of pressure are simply lying – or to be fair, they’re not lying, but they are pretending they wouldn’t prefer a different environment, which is likely disingenuous and a result of rationalizing their time spent at work.  Your productivity simply diminishes after some number of hours.  So as a CEO, even a hard-charging one, I think it’s better to focus on creating a productive environment than an environment of sustained long hours.

Work has ebbs and flows just like life has ebbs and flows.  As long as the work generally gets done well and when you need it, you have to assume that sometimes, people will work long hours in bursts and sometimes, people will work fewer hours.  Work-life balance is not measured in days or even weeks, but over the long term.  So to that end, We Let People Be People as a means of trading off freedom and flexibility for high levels of performance and accountability.  At Return Path, we create an environment where people can be people by:

  • Giving generous maternity leave and even paternity leave, at least relative to norms in the US
  • Having a flexible “work from home” policy, as people do have personal things to do during the business day from time to time
  • Allowing even more flexible work conditions for anyone (especially new parents) – 3 or 4 days/week if we can make it work
  • Letting people take a 6-week paid sabbatical after 7 years, then after every 5 years after that
  • Having an “open vacation” policy where people can take as much vacation as they want, as long as they get their jobs done

As with all the posts in this series, this is meant to be general, not specific.  But these are a few of the things we’ve done to Let People Be People, which has created an incredibly productive environment here where people have fun, lead their lives, and still get their jobs done well and on time.