DIM THE LIGHTS
Continuing the culture discussion and the importance of understanding what truly drives job satisfaction among your team members, let’s dig a little deeper into the universal desire to have more personal time to do the things that matter to each of us the most. Company policy and company culture are the chicken and the egg. Policy impacts culture, but desired culture leads to policy. Finding the perfect balance of corporate policy that produces the culture you want is sometimes easier said than done, especially with ever-changing business dynamics.
A few years ago after the acquisition of two companies, we needed to make some decisions about which policies from each company we would embrace in order to create the blended culture that would drive future growth. The existing cultures within our three companies were about as different as they come. One had a very structured culture, with firm business hours (8 am – 6 pm) and perks directly tied to performance. Another had no standardized office hours, which meant that staff could come in whenever they wanted but often burned the midnight oil to complete projects. The third was somewhere in the middle, with published 9-5 hours but ample flexibility at the individual level and perks like year-end bonuses and closing the office the week between Christmas and New Years positioned as a given versus needing to be earned. The only way to make everyone happy would have been to select all the best policies offered at each company and standardize that across the company. But that was neither practical nor scalable, so we needed to find a middle ground, and that always creates a challenging transition period no matter how well-intentioned management is in their decisions.
So many things needed to be evaluated and decided. Do we close over Christmas? Should it be based on hitting company goals? Are bonuses automatic or based on hitting revenue targets? Do people earn an extra week of vacation after a certain number of years? Do we allow half-days? Can people work from home? Do we want part-time employees? What holidays should we close? How many sick days and personal days should we offer? And let’s not even start discussing how you standardize titles to align with the company vision, normalize comp, and decide who gets an office and who gets a cube. Policies need to be analyzed from every angle and the cause-effect relationship has a significant impact on employee retention during periods of transition, so the stakes are high to get this right as quickly as possible.
After a few years of experimenting with a number of policies about when the offices are closed, and in order to meet the needs that were consistently shared with the leadership team about the desire to have more quality personal time, we decided to do what we like to do a lot around here, and we wrote our own rules. In addition to granting paid days off to observe the traditional holidays, we threw in several unexpected days like Columbus, President’s and MLK Day, specifically to ease the burden on our team members with kids, as finding one-off child care is always a point of stress on working parents. These account for 12 days off. In addition, we created our “Dim the Lights” policy. There are certain days of the year when our clients tend to be less needy, typically surrounding long holiday weekends, because so many of them take those days off work. Our inboxes stay pretty empty the Fridays before Memorial and Labor Day, and practically zero business gets done on New Year’s Eve. We decided to give our staff the option to work remotely on certain days, and be more reactive than proactive in their activities. They are expected to be highly available and responsive, and be willing to work diligently on anything that comes up that day requiring attention. This policy has allowed people more quality time with their families, as many of our team members live far away from their families. They can add a day to their trip and even save money on airfare by avoiding expensive peak travel periods. We offer 8 Dim the Lights days at Brand Connections, bringing the total number of days to 20, in addition to individual vacation.
The results have been fantastic. Team members have shared how this extra flexibility has allowed them to enjoy more time with loved ones, or reduced stress by not having to commute into the office on busy holiday weekends. Many have expressed appreciation about being trusted to do their jobs outside the office. Our clients still receive all the attention they need from us when the lights are dimmed, so there is no downside from their perspective.
While there are plenty of books, articles and consultants that talk about culture, managing mergers and setting policies that keep people happy, sometimes the best solutions are home-baked from the feedback you get from your own people. Don’t be afraid to go off-script and course-correct along the way until you find the perfect recipe that works for your own unique organization.