Happy at work at DFD

Work-Life BalanceThis 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?

8 thoughts on “Happy at work at DFD”

  1. That would drive me nuts. Some days I’ll know at 3:00 that I’ve used up all of my attention and energy for sensitive but not time-critical work, and expecting me to do it then means exposing the business to extra risk with no prospect for extra returns. Some Fridays I’d rather stay an hour to close off an issue than spend the weekend worrying about what will have happened between then and Monday.

    Taking choice away is exactly what it is, but even worse it’s sending the message that management doesn’t trust its employees to make judgment calls about their own time (which they, not the employer, own); how could the employees expect management to trust them to make judgment calls about the business?

  2. This can be good advice as long as the company is doing well. I would be careful to say NEVER working 37 hours a day is a good idea. I can certainly see situation where it might be necessary during a limited time.
    I personally couldn’t work under these conditions. My work has lots of downtime and I can many times be on the Internet or phone for many hours a day. All private stuff, like blogging. But while I’m doing private stuff I can simultaneously look at other screens and keep track of teh markets so i’m still working. Hard to explain but taking all choices aways can’t be good in teh long run, IMHO

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  3. Reread this when I came back to see what other comments had been added, and got to thinking: I wonder if this is a policy that applies only to the laundry workers, where their job is to start doing clothes when they come in, and stop when they leave, and there isn’t any opportunity for downtime that doesn’t mean lost productivity, and there’s nothing that would make a big difference whether it was done at 4:50 pm or at 8:30 am.

    (It was that the “leaders” go around at the end of the day that got me wondering — it doesn’t sound like that would work except at the bottom of the hierarchy.)

  4. rich: I agree and I wouldn’t like it either. As I understood it, this applies to everyone including leaders.

    AdventureDad: Exactly. Is this overprotecting people, or is it creating a healthy work environment? I’m not sure.

  5. This kind of policy may work for work that requires no inspiration… But practically all jobs now requires massive inspiration. There are fewer and fewer jobs that can be done by rote, and more and more of those are moving to cheaper countries. The problem is that while you can do creativity exercises on a schedule, you can’t turn inspiration on and off.

    That’s why the modern manager must manage accomplishments and results. He cannot manage activity. And that includes which hours of the day are worked. Rich was right: Removing choice is removing choice. If you want your people to be happy and productive, you have to agree with them what their goals are, and then you just have to step back and let them do their jobs.

    -TimK

  6. It just occurred to me. Some time ago, I blogged about something similar. If you tell thought workers when they must work, you will make them less effective (and less happy). If you let them pursue the goals they’ve agreed to meet, setting their own hours and activities, you’ll make them more productive (and more happy).

    -TimK

  7. LonerVamp:

    Tim King: Manage results, not activity – that’s a great way to put it. And your blog post rocks! I like the link to quantum mechanics, and the notion that we’re talking about something that is essentially unmeasurable.

  8. What a concept you actuallu WORK during your work hours. I am German and Know that here is the USA the work ethics are just different than what it is (maybe was) in Europe!

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