#1 Pick the right employees.
Finding people who slot seamlessly into the lifestyle-business structure is challenging. Naturally, flexible hours and leave attract all sorts of undesirable applicants. While some will thrive in this environment, others will milk the benefits and simply burden the business. Unfortunately, when recruiting, businesses don’t have the luxury of a crystal ball, so promising candidates will often prove to be disappointments.
Sir Richard Branson, long-time champion of employee well-being, and whose staff are entitled to “essentially unlimited” leave, has a favourite question during the recruitment process: What didn’t you get a chance to include on your résumé? “Obviously, a good CV is important, but if you were going to hire by what they say about themselves on paper, you wouldn’t need to waste time on an interview,” he writes in his book The Virgin Way: Everything I Know about Leadership. This approach aligns with the lifestyle-business ethos of blurring the lines between work and life: Employees shouldn’t leave their personality behind in the workplace but rather carry it with them in everything they do. Getting to know employees in this way is crucial at the interview stage.
Brainteasers can also prove revelatory. In Elon Musk’s biography, it’s claimed the entrepreneur proposes the following quandary to candidates: “You are standing on the surface of the Earth. You walk one mile south, one mile west, and one mile north. You end up exactly where you started. Where are you?” Those who answer correctly and don’t freeze up in the moment demonstrate confidence, and this self-belief is a sign of the kind of self-reliant employee who could can get on with tasks without being baby-sat.
#2 Success = freedom + responsibility
It was Netflix’s management philosophy of “freedom and responsibility” that inspired Virgin’s liberal leave policy. Like Branson, CEO Reed Hastings gives hourly freedom to salaried Netflix workers—a policy he claims can breed “stunning” workers who “thrive”. However, he’s quick to underline that only responsible people are “worthy” of freedom. For the CEO, responsible people are “self-motivating, self-aware, self-disciplined and “self-improving.”
Equally, employers have a responsibility to punctually unburden themselves of mediocrity, reminds Hastings. While Netflix’s employees have comparative freedom, they must perform like members of a pro sports team, otherwise they’ll be ‘cut by the coach’. This approach contrasts with the liberal aspects of the lifestyle business model and attitudes of loyalty that we typically associate with a healthy workplace culture. But while Hastings admits “people who have been stars for us, and hit a bad patch, get a near-term pass,” he stresses that “unlimited loyalty is not what we are about.” As increased productivity is one of the goals of the lifestyle business, employers should not settle for anything less than high performance.
#3 Don’t forget to live.
It’s important to remember that in a lifestyle business, employers should have the same relationship to the business as their staff. Make sure you structure your own business to accommodate a desirable work-life balance. Why? For the same reason employees should: to increase performance and productivity. Hastings’s salaried employees are entitled to huge amounts of leave, but he, too, ensures he takes as much vacation as required. “I take a lot of vacation, and I’m hoping that certainly sets an example,” he says. “It is helpful. You often do you best thinking when you’re off hiking in some mountain or something. You get a different perspective on things.”
Finding the right balance is no walk in the park, however. “Achieving work-life balance is like walking a tightrope,” Branson cautions. “Lean too far one way and you’ll lose your stability, and topple.” He recommends phrasing the division as “doing and being”. “Alongside the meetings, appointments and email replies, find time to be inspired, take in the beauty of the world, and laugh with your loved ones. If you slow down, breathe, and be present in the moment, you will find balance more easily.” —James Orme