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Work Is Part of Life. So Why Do We Treat Them Separately?

"Work-life balance" is an enormous daily challenge that can never be won or checked off the to-do list. That’s why I don’t put it on the list in the first place.

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Work-life balance: the constant struggle, the perennial topic of conversation. Everyone from business experts to parenting gurus weigh in on whether this elusive balancing act is achievable, and how. I’ve been known to share my own time management tips with my team — taking advantage of quiet time on the train, being fully present with my family after work hours…the list is endless and applies differently for everyone.

Work-life balance is an enormous daily challenge that can never be “won” or checked off the to-do list. That’s why I don’t put it on the list in the first place. Yep, you read that right — I don’t view a fulfilled, balanced life as split down the middle between my “work self” and my “real self.” Work is part of life, after all. I’ve been lucky enough to build my career with a company that not only allows us to bring our whole selves to work, but encourages that we do. Especially now, within the culture of Charity Network, we value each individual team member as a unique human being, inclusive of their Excel skills, their winning Fantasy Football record, and everything in between.

By welcoming employees’ whole selves into the office, we’re curating an environment that is dynamic and diverse. We all benefit from that breadth of interests and experiences. In the New York office, our “watercooler talk” is filled with everything from restaurant recommendations, to differing takes on new movies, to banter about our respective athletic feats (the question is: can Faisal really jump over a car?). And I am sure the team here has also learned more about golf than they’ve ever wanted to know since it is my daily topic of conversation.

Our encouragement of people being themselves has allowed our team to grow stronger and develop meaningful relationships and even genuine friendships with each other. We spend time together outside of work, hang around late in the office, connect on social media. All of this bolsters our company culture and improves how we collaborate as a team. Workplace friendships are a key to employee retention and morale — you want people to like coming to work. But you can’t build a relationship with a coworker if you don’t know who somebody is beyond their job title. People have to be open and excited to talk about who they are and what they love to do; luckily, that is the culture we’ve fostered.

This approach is about more than just the warm-and-fuzzy feel-good outcomes. Studies have shown that bringing a diversity of interests and backgrounds to the workplace results in more creative concepts, helps with “quality control” and sensitivity, and can help connect with different types of clients and partners.

We choose to celebrate employees’ endeavors outside of their Charity Network jobs, so people can bring 100 percent of themselves to the office. No one feels like they need to hide their family vacations, their entrepreneurial business ideas, or their sports affiliations (even Michigan football fans are welcomed here). Part of this conscious business decision is about minimizing those switching costs of people having to show up differently in different parts of their lives. While in some companies — many companies, actually — employees might be fearful about shedding light on anything about their lives outside of work. Will they think I’m not committed to this job? Will they judge my beliefs? Will they make assumptions based on my family situation?

For us, we genuinely appreciate those who take the initiative to build lives outside of work. We have team members who write novels, perform stand-up comedy, volunteer with nonprofits, start nonprofits, get creative with baking, run half-marathons, game competitively — it’s an impressive group. People with that drive to accomplish great things out of the office, while delivering on their day jobs, are the types of employees who will make big things happen for our company. In fact, it is a standard and essential interview question for us. I always ask candidates about their pursuits outside of work, and the answer becomes a key data point as we make hiring decisions. When people really open up, I get a sense of who they are, if they’re right for the job and if they’d be a fit for the office. For some job seekers, finding a place that celebrates this freedom is a top priority, so when they come in and have those open conversations with us, it helps solidify that the role is right for them.

I’m proud to say I legitimately like the individuals I have the pleasure of working with. As business norms continue to evolve, I hope and expect to see more organizations embracing people as just that, people: multidimensional, complex, and distinctively valuable.

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