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Middle Eastern companies want to build a healthy work-life balance. Here’s how

Experts say positive workplace culture is an intentional outcome and requires an investment of time, money, and focus.

Middle Eastern companies want to build a healthy work-life balance. Here’s how
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

The famous WD-40 Company has cultivated a workforce that enjoys going to work. The company, with around 520 employees who helped raise the company’s valuation to $3.5 billion, has an employee engagement rate of over 92%.

“We call our culture of belonging a tribe,” Garry Ridge, former CEO of WD-40, wrote in a LinkedIn post.

The first two levels of the renowned Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs address the most basic physical needs, including food, water, warmth, rest, safety, and security. According to Ridge, these fundamentals can be gathered into the basket in the context of a person’s career. 

The real magic starts at level three of Maslow’s Hierarchy. Friends, affection, and belonging. All of the advantages of employee engagement start here. And “our work-life is one critical area of our short journey in this world where we find meaning, belonging, purpose, and identity,” Ridge says. 

Ridge, like most leaders, owes the work-life balance to healthy company culture. Organizations have never been more disrupted when managing post-pandemic work-life balance. While many executives desire to return their staff to the office as before, employees anticipate a greater work-life balance from their employers. The challenge is enormous.

Experts say effort is required daily to support and care for individuals, establish connections, and care for them. Support on a physical level has become crucial. However, perhaps more emphasis is laid on how we assist one another in growing. “Your coworkers, clients, and business partners require your positive words of advice as well as genuine empathy,” says Dr Oleg Konovalov, global thought leader, author, consultant, and C-suite coach.

“Culture is the soul of an organization. Stronger the soul, greater success can be achieved,” Dr Konovalov adds. It determines a company’s success now and in the future and helps its employees practice the work-life balance they yearn for. 

Given how the pandemic has eroded the distinction between work and life, there are three critical ways, according to experts, leaders can create a pleasant work environment where employees’ ability to maintain a work-life balance is not a concern.

INVEST IN TANGIBLE ITEMS

Take the case of the world’s largest mining company, Rio Tinto. In a recent study, half of its employees stated they had experienced bullying or harassment in the last five years, and Rio Tinto has a roster of up to 45,000 people. The study was commissioned by Rio Tinto’s new incoming chairman after being made aware of the dwindling motivational levels and rising mistrust experienced by the employees.

Lucy d’Abo, CEO of together and co-founder of DABO & CO, advises companies to invest in something tangible that will impact their employee experience. 

Historically, companies have purchased bean bags, ping pong, and foosball tables to foster a positive work environment. The truth, according to d’Abo, is that if the culture is poisonous, disjointed, or out of step, nothing will affect employee motivation or morale. The possibility exists that they won’t even use these amenities.

If leaders believe in work-life balance and want to incorporate it into their culture, they should invest in areas that matter to their staff. “Those things might be something as big as a new office space to encourage collaboration or innovation, or as small as monthly perks for their star employee to demonstrate recognition, an annual event to build cohesion and connections, or better health insurance,” says d’Abo.

ASK. LISTEN. ACT

One of the organizations that Nishi Shetty, trainer, leadership, and relationship coach, closely worked with had a high attrition rate. This, according to Shetty,  was due to the company’s firefighting culture, with no structure, system, or policies in place and top management lacking leadership skills along with micro-management of staff. Moreover, the working hours were extremely long.

The staff wasn’t consulted or listened to by its leaders. According to Shetty, the absence of HR regulations and the slow pace of change resulting from the organization’s control-and-punishment mentality led to rising employee dissatisfaction. Experts say understanding the pulse of your workforce can help you determine viable solutions that will benefit your employees and your business, eventually fostering a healthy work-life balance. Building trust also results from being inclusive, asking your staff for feedback, and then acting on it reflects your transparent, attentive and responsive attitude. 

The working model for LinkedIn’s hybrid platform, introduced in 2021 and built around the positioning “we trust each other,” is a great example, according to d’Abo. This program resulted from a study that LinkedIn conducted among its 16,000 employees to learn more about their preferences for flexible scheduling. As the majority of the respondents preferred to return to the workplace, LinkedIn created the hybrid model, further affirming the Ask, Listen, Act principle.

Leaders believe that having a work-life balance entails working five days a week from home. The problem with this assumption is that a company may invest time and money in a program thinking it would improve work-life balance, only to find that the problem remains unresolved. 

“It would perhaps be better to ask your staff what work-life balance means. For many, it may mean having the flexibility to start an hour early so they can leave earlier to make it to an appointment, a gym class, or pick up their child. Others may want to work 1-2 days per week from home,” d’Abo adds.

INCLUSIVE LEADERSHIP

Emad A. Al-Muhaisen, a Division Head at Saudi Aramco, believes that culture demands inclusive leadership. In Dr Konovalov’s forthcoming book: Mind Crafting: How to develop a true leadership mindset, Al-Muhaisen says, “The business environment has to be welcoming. It would help you to create an environment where you could gain people beyond your organization. Especially if you are a global company, you must create a culture that includes everybody.”

“A culture you have to create is not a one-man show but the effort of a whole team acting together under strong leadership,” he adds.

In a BCG report, employees who stated they work in an inclusive atmosphere reported being happier at their jobs 81% of the time, which is three times as often as those who feel excluded.  

“Inclusive leadership assumes that a leader contributes more effort to culture than anyone else in a team. A leader brings their full energy to grow people and encourage them to invest themselves in the culture,” says Dr Konovalov.

Employees who work in an inclusive atmosphere feel free to express their opinions and believe that their coworkers value their input. They show less stress and anxiety and are more than twice as likely to report they have a healthy work-life balance.

Richard Branson once said: “Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of your business.” And it still rings true.

Strong and positive workplace culture is an intentional outcome and requires an investment of time, money, and focus. Without it, d’Abo says, the culture is left to evolve by luck.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hemanshi Tewari is the Senior Correspondent at Fast Company Middle East. She covers work-life, workplace trends, leadership, the future of work, and ideas that create an impact. In her previous stint, she was associated with The Economic Times. When not writing, you’ll find her having a cup of latte while tweeting her mind. More

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