Recently, Meta4, the company I work for renewed FFE certification as a Family-Friendly Enterprise, a practice that is registered as part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies. CSR addresses responsibility issues and work-life balance; it also includes support for equal opportunities and the integration of the most disadvantaged.
Even though I had always backed and personally sponsored all such initiatives, my experience of this over Christmas has further reinforced the arguments to defend them at all costs. Today I firmly believe that a company that doesn’t do this nor start off in this direction, will miss the boat for becoming a good employer and end up positioning at the tail end for talent attraction and retention.
I’d like to share with you what I experienced that day and the days leading up to it.
A couple of weeks ago at work, I received an odd email about the possibility of filling a new job through our internal mobility policy. This turned out to be a temporary job to work a single day as Santa Claus on what the company calls “Churumbel Day”. Churumbel for those who don’t know much Spanish, it is the colloquial word for kid.
In Meta4, it’s a tradition to celebrate Churumbel Day during the Christmas period, in which the children of the employees are the protagonists for that day. They get to know where their parents work, and a recreational space is made, so they can have fun and enjoy themselves: inflatable castles, Junior Master Chef, mechanical bull rides, table football, planetarium, and of course, Santa Claus and the Three Wise Men who bring gifts the kids asked for. Again, for those of you who aren’t familiar with Spanish Christmas customs, traditionally the Three Wise Men bring kids their gifts on the 12th day of Christmas, just as they brought theirs for Baby Jesus.
When I saw the e-mail, I didn’t think twice about it and went for the job as Santa Claus. My master’s degree at the top school in Rovaniemi and my internship over two Christmases in various Finnish cities ratified me as the best possible candidate. Besides, my physical fitness steered to concentrating all my energy in one-day marathons as a page scattering candies in the annual Three Kings parade, while keeping up with the floats were perfect for the job. This was going to be a day of work for 364 days of rest (at a desk).
Plus, other skills were also important, like my knowledge of world geography for my umpteen trips to distribute gifts or having worked in a technology company for more than 20 years that could help me with designing a sleigh as special as Santa’s requiring deep engineering expertise, especially in Mechanical Engineering.
Of course (as could be expected), this meant I was recruited and then the big day came. I was accompanied by one of the Three Wise Kings, Balthasar, who also ventured to take part in Meta4’s Churumbel Day.
Just as I was parking the sledge at the entrance of the Meta4 offices, I suddenly became conscious of unexpected trepidation. For my kind of work, managing the Training Department for the other 364 days of the year, I am used to interacting with many people and sometimes to addressing large crowds in an auditorium. Even though the butterflies in the stomach are always there, on that day they were greater than ever.
In a split second, I became aware of the enormous responsibility of my job that day, since I was facing an audience of children full of great hopes and expectations and who would judge me with total honesty.
Despite the jitters, as soon as I entered the room and got the first child on my knees, all apprehension left me, plunging into an unknown world in which I could see each child as the extension of each co-worker, showing their most human, exciting, and innocent side.
When I finished attending all the children, I walked around the room and noticed that it was full of big children, parents, and relatives, who were enjoying every minute, just like their little ones in an unbeatable atmosphere of total well-being.
This is the feeling that any worker has when their company finds a way to balance their working lives with family lives.
This Churumbel Day comes under social benefits at my company, but then again, this special day has helped me to experience in my own flesh the happiness of my colleagues when they are with their families and how important it is to reconcile both worlds.
If we provide workers with the best possible conditions for work-life balance, we will attain increased engagement and motivation on their side that will be directly proportional to their sense of belonging. This way, they will be more likely to remain in the company.
Other examples for helping to create work-life balance are through teleworking, flexible hours, reduced working hours, etc. Actions that are becoming less expensive due to technology advances, since just a mobile device, a network infrastructure and a Wi-Fi connection are needed to carry out tasks, without needing to be tied to a physical space. Moreover, there are more and more technology tools for working virtually as a team that facilitate this kind of work-life balance actions.
Finally, I would like to stress that the key to being able to carry out effective work-life balance actions should be in the hands of middle management who are also people managers; they are the ones who should be the leaders of this change. They are the ones who must find the best way to help reconcile the working and private lives of each person on their team in a personalized way. Of course, always with the support from the human team in your company’s HR department, the technology provided by IT, and their bosses. Each case is always different and consequently the actions too must be different.