When I had my children more than two decades ago, I went back to work after four weeks. I even hid my pregnancies from my all-male team for as long as I could. I felt that if I didn’t, I’d be judged and my career would suffer.
At times in my early career, I didn’t just have a poor work-life balance. I had zero work-life balance. I was focused on work all the time, canceling vacations and even cutting out exercise entirely.
Eventually, I realized that if I was going to achieve my dream of driving a new future for human resources, I had to start achieving a sense of balance. I had to stop putting myself last. So, I began to work at building my balance muscle and developing a routine that worked for me, my team at work, and my family. I started to keep things as simple as possible and prioritize what was truly important. When it came to ‘having it all,’ I had to find some places that I could let go and redefine what ‘it all’ would be for me.
What happened? Life, and work, got better.
The “balance muscle” is the term I use to describe the skill of achieving the elusive work-life balance. I call it a muscle because it takes work to develop and maintain it — and also because it can atrophy. Even now, I still have to work every day to guard against my old patterns. At Nestlé, we offer a variety of benefits aimed at making it easier for our employees to develop — and strengthen — their own balance muscles.
Our Parent Support Policy, for example, makes it easier for parents to spend time at home bonding with and caring for their newborn children, rather than rushing back to work. Through it, all Nestlé employees who are primary caregivers can take up to 14 weeks of paid leave and an additional 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a child. Employees also have the option of returning part-time during the 26-week leave window. This is miles better than the four-week leave I took after my children were born.
The gender-neutral program supports all kinds of families and is open to adoptive and foster parents. Our goal is to make it easier for parents, from the first days of their child’s life, to balance their family’s needs with their jobs at Nestlé.
With that goal in mind, we also offer FlexTime schedules, allowing employees to design schedules that work for their families and their teams at Nestlé. These options aim to make it easier to accommodate long commutes and the demands of life beyond the workplace.
Nestlé also encourages employees to put their health and wellness first, which companies now know is good for employees and good for business. We’ve come a long way since the days when I felt the need to eliminate exercise from my routine. Today, we offer discounted gym memberships to employees, and some locations even have onsite gyms. We also provide employees with the option to meet with a health coach at their workplace.
But it takes more than benefits like these to help employees build their balance muscles. We also must build a culture in which employees encourage each other to make work-life balance a priority.
Early in my career, I worked with a fantastic group of women in the human resources department that did just that. We collaborated to achieve our career goals, but they also pushed me to care for myself. One co-worker even made a hair appointment for me when I insisted I was too busy for a haircut. She showed me that making myself a priority was vital and helped me strengthen my balance muscle along the way. I’m now trying to build the culture our team had across our entire company.
That supportive team of my early days was distinct in another way: We were also high-performing. The balance we helped each other achieve helped us achieve our business goals.
Though my story is one anecdote, research resoundingly lays out the business benefits of workplaces that encourage a work-life balance. The 2014 National Study of Employers, conducted by the Families and Work Institute, found that employees in flexible workplaces are more likely than other employees to have “greater engagement in their jobs, higher levels of job satisfaction and stronger intentions to remain with their employer.” They also had less negative spillover from job stress to their home lives and vice versa. Other studies have linked companies that emphasize work-life balance with increased productivity, higher sales and improved customer satisfaction.
Employees in flexible workplaces are more likely than other employees to have greater engagement in their jobs, higher levels of job satisfaction and stronger intentions to remain with their employer.
Human resources, at its core, is about people and their relationships. And what I’ve found in my personal and professional experience is that developing and strengthening the balance muscle helps our employees nurture their relationships — both at work and at home. It’s also why creating this culture of encouragement and balance is one of my top goals. It’s good for Nestlé and good for our workforce.
When our employees strengthen their balance muscles, they’re also strengthening Nestlé.