This week’s theme on the blog is work-life balance in honor of the Danish National Work-Life Balance week. Read my previous posts on the topic.
I was at a party last saturday, and even when there I could’t stop talking about happiness at work. How’s that for not being able to separate work and “free time” :o)
Which was great ’cause I met a lady who works for De Forenede Dampvaskerier (DFD), a Danish laundry and cleaning company that employs 2.500 people. She told me that DFD has a rather extreme policy: Employees are hired to work 37 hours a week, and are expected NOT to work any more than that.
Leaders make a round of the offices around quitting time to make sure that everybody leaves. You can’t answer emails or phone calls outside the company. If you consistently work more than 37 hours a week, you will be called to a meeting with your manager, who will ask what’s wrong and how they can help.
This lady told me that she’d had a child, taken a year maternity leave, returned to the company, and then 6 months later became pregnant again. She dreaded announcing this second pregnancy so soon after the first, but needn’t have worried. The company’s reaction: Congratulations, we’re really happy for you!
There is a flipside: During work hours, DFD employees are not allowed to do private phone calls or surf the net on personal matters. You work 37 hours a week and you’re expected to work during those hours.
It’s probably no coincidence that this company is family-owned and led. The original founder is in his 70’s and still around, and the company is run by his son and daughter. If they were publicly traded, I doubt that they could keep these practices.
Much as I like this approach, and even though it has given the company great results and a happy workforce, I still have one worry. Work-life balance is very much about making some choices. Do I work late? Do I work week-ends or not? When am I most efficient? When am I most happy?
DFD’s approach, to some degree, amounts to taking the choice away from people. And while this certainly also takes away a lot of problems, doubts and frustrations, it doesn’t teach people to make these choices wisely. That can only come from having the choice. Though I freely admit that this is more of a philosophical argument, I believe strongly that it’s better to give people a choice and the tols to make the choice wisely than to solve the problem by taking away the choice.
What do you think? Does this sound like a good approach to you? Would you like to work under these conditions?