‘Leave your problems at home’ may be the mantra of older CEOs, but the new generation of leaders know the personal lives of employees have a direct bearing on their work life and thus their productivity.
While it may not be practical for the CEO of a large company to take a pulse of their employees personal lives on a regular and individual basis, start-ups and small- and medium-sized businesses are embracing a culture where they actually care about what’s going on outside the office walls.
“Personal lives have a tremendous effect on professional performance and development. American business culture has evolved into a strict separation of work life vs. personal life,” says Jason Coppage, co-founder of Chromedia. “Doing business globally, we have become sensitive to cultures where the personal relationships matter more than the professional relationship.”
Chromedia, the website development and mobile app start-up, has remote offices across the world, making it easy for Coppage to think of his employees as faceless workers and accept a high turnover rate, but instead the company has embraced some unheard of HR practices that breed loyalty and make people want to do a good job. Chromedia will cover medical providers when health insurance won’t. It also provides health insurance access to parents, grandparents and siblings, and company executives even visit the homes of the employees around the holidays with Christmas hams and gift baskets.
But, it doesn’t stop there. Chromedia uses technology to find out what is going on in its employees’ personal lives and uses that feedback to make it easier for the workers. For instance, a few weeks ago Coppage received a weekly report from one of the employees who was recently married and trying to conceive. The employee’s wife lived an hour flight away making it difficult for them to reach their personal goals. As a result of that feedback the employee was allowed to work remotely during his wife’s fertile week, reducing some of the stress and keeping that employee happy. “If you actually want to improve your relation with your employees, you have to find a way to engage employees on an individual level that feels both accessible and valuable,” says Coppage. “Create systems that provide real, true contact channels for all employees to air feelings and concerns.”
At Freak’n Genius, the creator of YAKiT, the application that lets you create and send video messages to friends, interacting with employees on a personal level is also an important ingredient to the company culture. According to Kyle Kesterson, founder & CEO of Freak'n Genius, in order for the company to create a “healthy and vibrant culture” it’s important to understand what is going on in the employees’ lives and support them on a personal level.
Not only does the company start each day with a 15 minute meeting where the team talks about what they’ve accomplished in the past 24 hours, but employees are asked to quickly share their emotional status, whether it’s mad, sad, glad, afraid, and whether or not they are in or up to the task at hand. “It might sound like, ‘Last night my dog got really sick, and I was up all night with him, so today I'm pretty tired and also a bit worried about his recovery, but I'm in,’” says Kesterson. “Having context to how someone is feeling, is going to help you understand their responses throughout the day.”
While the meetings and other team building activities Kesterson employs may seem cumbersome, especially for larger companies, he says companies of all sizes need to make sure their employees are satisfied and know their leaders care about more than just the bottom line. “Caring about the people who make up the organization and finding ways to empower them to grow and find what they are driven by, or helping them solve real issues that keep them up at night can strengthen relationships and make it really difficult to just walk away from, even if the business has hard times,” says Kesterson. “Our company has sailed some rough early seas over the past couple of years…and we have done it getting stronger and stronger with no internal implosion or break downs.”
Derek Flanzraich, CEO and founder of Greatist, the health and fitness website, also goes out of his way to talk to his employees on a personal level and will host one-on-ones every other week to check in on how they are doing personally and to see if they need any help from a professional or personal standpoint. “It’s amazing how much personal stuff can affect what they are doing at their job,” says Flanzraich. “People who are healthier in mind and body are better at their jobs.”
While Flanzraich acknowledges that once the company gets bigger it will be harder for him to sit down with each employee every other week, he does say it’s important that a culture is created within an organization in which if it’s not the CEO, the employees’ managers are the ones checking in on their personal life. “Most companies forget that the people who work there aren’t just employees but they are people too,” says Flanzraich.