Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
My career began in a high-tech company with 120 thousand employees. I worked on a large campus in a small cubicle and most days I joined my colleagues in one of the many cafeterias for lunch. We almost never purchased food but gathered at a table to talk and eat whatever we’d brought from home.
That lunch break was important. We had to get up from our desks and walk to another floor, another building, or even across the street. There were no cell phones to keep us digitally tethered and the 45 minutes or so spent away from our offices was a respite from the pressure of our work day.
When the monolithic companies began to crumble in the face of newer, leaner technology I jumped the big ship and found myself riding the dot com wave. Eventually that morphed into nicely funded late stage start-ups; my sweet spot for the past 20 years.
High Energy, High Productivity, High Reward
Start-ups have an energy all their own. They build strong technical teams to drive product development while overhead departments like marketing run lean. Companies like that value skills like mine to competitively position their global marketing prior to an IPO or acquisition. I am almost always a solo pilot, and the reward for such an investment is often a rollercoaster ride.
Small companies come with a great deal of autonomy, and during my transition from large to small, eating lunch, as a stand-alone block of time, fell by the wayside. What was once a daily routine become an afterthought, hastily eaten at my desk, or overlooked completely.
Last week I was working from home and had to run over to the church to drop something off. Our church has an early learning center for pre-school kids and they were at recess when I pulled up.
It was a warm day, and I could hear their laughter from the parking lot. They didn’t notice me because they were busy swinging, sliding, running and laughing. I was reminded how lucky I am to work for a company that knows how important it is for everyone to eat snacks, stop for lunch and go outside for recess.
Connecting the Dots
I choose my companies and colleagues wisely, looking for strong work culture, relatable executives and the empowerment to use my experience to implement strategic programs. They will become the family you work with.
My employer understands working for long stretches without breaks affects productivity. It’s a path to stress, exhaustion, and disillusionment. Happy employees are productive employees who create harmony in the workspace. Treat them well and they will respond in kind.
I can go to lunch anytime I want, and I enjoy flex time, which spares me the Boston commute. Our office has an amazing kitchen, complete with espresso machine and wine fridge, a weekly grocery delivery to satisfy snack cravings and to provide ingredients for a healthy lunch.
Employees have unlimited vacation in recognition of how hard we work and how important it is to spend quality time away from the job. There’s no playground but there is a balcony with a view of the Boston skyline and a roof deck for more elaborate gatherings.
Even grown-ups need snacks, lunch breaks and recess on the roof deck.
The Reality of the Working World
I travel extensively; sometimes over weekends, with days that run into different time zones. My Tel Aviv office is seven hours ahead, so there are early morning calls and a quirky three-day weekend to accommodate Shabbat. Most of us work a minimum of fifty hours a week.
I can honestly say nobody mails it in. In a small, high-profile company poor performance rises to the top quickly and those people don’t last. We work hard, but we also enjoy great benefits, an important component to employee retention.
The reality of the working world is that it’s 24/7. Digital devices make it impossible to disconnect without a strong resolve to do so. Building a strong social community, investing in hobbies, pursuing education goals and taking scheduled time off creates healthy boundaries between you and your job.
Things will go off kilter, and recognizing imbalance is a skill you must hone. When it happens at work (and it does) I set up time with my manager for a re-balancing meeting.
Even the best employer is not responsible for managing your quality of life—that is your job. If the company you work for impedes your ability to do that, or does not respect the importance of balance, they are decades behind the curve. When a company makes no investment in employee wellbeing (or chooses to ignore it) they reap what they sow.
Notice I did not say work-life balance. Everyone gets this one life, and work is a big part of it. Separating it as a stand-alone block of time that must somehow be incorporated into the rest of your life and then balanced is the wrong approach. Define your quality of life and find work that gives it meaning.
Life is a balancing act. Celebrities and psychologists have written books about how to achieve a state of balance, but I don’t need someone famous to tell me what is important.
A group of 4-year olds on the playground is the perfect reminder.