Alex K | 26 July 2016
One of the biggest questions job-seekers ask is “What’s the work-life balance?”. If you’re preparing for an interview, there’s a decent chance that it’s on your list of questions to ask (which I would advise against…or at least ask it in a different way and setting). The root of what you’re trying to determine probably revolves around expectations and the people you’re going to be working alongside. However, the most important reason you should be digging to find that out is because the work-life balance is directly related to the way that company treats their employees and possibly you!
I’ve never worked in or been to the Silicon Valley startup environment, but I’ve been to startup companies in other cities, and we (the rising generation of American workers) have a lot to thank them for. When we hear about “startup culture”, people immediately think of ping pong tables and kegs in the break room. But what startup culture has truly taught us about Organizational Behavior is that there is a win-win situation when the company culture blurs the lines between “work” and “life”. If you’re starting to tune out this discussion because startups fail to interest you, have no fear! Any company can have this same type of culture, and in fact, they do. The company that I currently work for, Silicon Labs (NASDAQ: SLAB, with 1200+ employees), creates the exact same environment. It is the very reason why this blog topic occurred to me. Startups just tend to be better at implementing it.
So what is “blurring the lines”?
Blurring the lines refers to almost wiping away the traditional “work/life” break line, and obfuscating the difference between the two. And this starts with the employer.
The employer's role:
On the employer’s side, it means:
- Hiring great, motivated people
- Creating a transparent environment and allowing people to succeed and be rewarded
- Promoting leaders that are smart, selfless, and further drive the 2nd bullet ^
- Provide challenging work and opportunities to the employees
- Add “fun” with things like ping-pong tables, kegs, company trips, etc.
- Keep the culture and policies safe, but also flexible
- (More great tips from the Ex-VP of Operations at Disney: here)
- There are probably 1,000+ books on how to create a great work culture, and I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on how to create it, but I am living in it right now (Silicon Labs is very good at almost all of those characteristics).
What about the employees?
More importantly, let’s talk about you and me – the employees. When a company creates the ideal environment described above and demonstrated in the startup world, it no longer is called “work”. We can say goodbye to the “Shmonday blues”. We no longer count down to 5:00 like Stanley from The Office. And instead of “life” being the retreat from “work”, sometimes this new definition of “work” becomes our retreat from “life”. It’s a really interesting phenomenon, and I encourage all of you to seek out these same types of cultures….especially if you fall into the bucket of motivated, ambitious, smart, and a “go-getter”. That type of culture is ideal for you.
A couple quick observations and tips:
Finally here are a few words of advice on this topic:
Don’t ask the cliché work/life balance question in an interview. Instead, try to observe it when you’re at the employer visit, or you can pick up subtle hints when you talk to current employees. For example, if your point of contact is talking more about the HR benefits than the actual work enjoyment, run for the hills! I promise you (speaking from experience), great paper benefits will not equate to what I’m talking about in this post, and they definitely won’t keep you at that company for long.
They say you can learn about someone by:
- What that person says/writes (words).
- What that person does (actions).
- What others say about him/her (reputation).
Seek ways to use all of those methods to determine whether the culture is right for you. (Use your imagination and think of the company as “a person”.). If you do ask an employee a more direct question, here is a better example:
- “How are employee expectations communicated and then tracked and rewarded?”
- “What do you enjoy the most about XYZ Company?” (this is also overused in interviews, but it’s a better question. It’s more personal too, and people never turn down personal questions because we all love talking about ourselves!)
That’s all I got my friends. It’s a big topic, but that’s the quick synopsis. Working for a great company, startup or large, is a rewarding thing. It’s great to be independently motivated, regardless of how your company treats you, but I personally prefer to work in an environment that feels like “home” and values me.
One day, if/when you manage your own company, you should strive to create the same environment. Based on watching my coworkers consistently “work” 60-70 hour weeks, it's obvious that this isn't work anymore. We enjoy it, and we want our company to succeed too, as if it were our own.
Now it’s your turn. Go get it!
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