The case for greater flexibility at your NFP

Dr Clare Allen is on a mission.

As CEO of VisAbility – Guide Dogs Ltd in Western Australia, she knows that work-life balance can be challenging for many people working in the NFP sector – particularly those in more senior roles, and for those in frontline services juggling high client work-loads with admin and/or management responsibilities.

That’s why she wants to spread the word about how organisations can move past a focus on “work-life balance” towards a vision of a much more flexible “work-life harmony” that empowers staff to achieve more powerful and healthier results.

A NFP-sector CEO since her 20s, Dr Allen has won numerous awards including the WA Telstra Business Woman of the Year Award – Community and Government.

We spoke to her about work-life harmony, and what NFPs can do to improve flexibility for their staff their workplaces as a whole.

Thanks for speaking with us, Dr Allen! When did you start becoming interested in the idea of work-life harmony versus work-life balance?

I’ve always shared the concept of work-life balance, and I’ve always struggled with it, because it’s almost like you have to do your job and then you go off and you spend equal time in your personal life. But when you’re in a job like mine, it doesn’t quite work like that. I could never achieve it. And so for me, work-life harmony is about making sure that I don’t overwork, but I make sure everything gets done.

Was there a particular incident that made you start talking about this concept more, or did you see anything in the workplace that spurred you to start speaking out?

I’ve always been really frustrated by people who stay back until really late, and yet they probably don’t produce anywhere near the volume [of work] I can produce in a shorter time. I refuse to live this myth that you have to work ‘X’ number of hours to seem as if you’re productive.

I learned very early on in my career that if I was to work at my capacity all the time, I’d burn out. So when I work, I go in and I work, and then I go home.

Why is the idea of work-life balance particularly a problem in not-for-profit organisations?

We struggle in the NFP sector to set clear KPIs or objectives. [We think] the only way we can determine productivity is if we can see the person.

In actual fact, that’s not what we should be doing. For example, with our staff, I know people look at me a bit suspiciously when I say: I don’t really care how many hours you work, I just want you to see ‘X’ number of clients in the day. When you see them is up to you and if you’ve finished, go home…As long as you see ‘X’ clients and you do the paperwork around that, I’m okay with that.

If in the middle of that you go and pick your kids up or you have to do whatever, that’s okay. Just see the appointments you need to have on that day.

Even in my organisation, people look at me like, “do you really mean that? Do you really, really mean …” I really, really do mean it, but that cultural shift is really tough for some people.

But you’re talking about CEOs and senior leaders in very large organisations now being told that your overheads have to be a lot lower than they’ve been previously. [That means] many organisations are starting to think about working from home or remotely or managing their sites through IT and technology.

So there’s no need for you to put in long hours of travel, you can actually be far more efficient in your day. That’s work-life harmony. It’s fitting your job into your lifestyle, rather than the opposite.

What would you say to organisations that want to adopt this style of working – to get them at least thinking about the possibility of work-life harmony in their organisations?

I would say that it will increase your productivity. You won’t think that it will, but it will, because people will be happier. It’ll actually increase your retention of staff – particularly millennials, they don’t want to be defined by their job, so they’re more likely to stay with you.

They’re more likely to have a sense of meaning in the workplace, and people are searching for meaning and that is really important. So if they can get a sense of meaning, if they can have work-life harmony, it will increase productivity and you will retain key staff and talented staff.

Most people, if you say, “I want you to do ‘X’ amount on your KPIs,” and you’re clear, and you’re happy if they achieve those, they’ll achieve them. Because they’re not going to want to give that job up if they’ve got the flexibility around that job.

What’s a key point you’d like NFP organisations to realise when it comes to actually implementing work-life harmony?

I know it’s a relatively new concept for people to get their head around, but once they do, it’ll actually do something in their own psyche which will change them, as well. They’ll start thinking about things differently.

For example, I used to go away [from Perth] and I might go for a week to the eastern states. I’d get back off the plane and I’d come into work. That’s stupid. I’m older and wiser now. I go home. Because I’ve already just given so much time to my job. In probably three days I’ve done more work than I would in a week and a half.

So you start to think about your own wellbeing too, when you start to understand [work-life harmony]. And if you’re working in the right workplace, that’s good for the health and wellbeing of everybody, yourself included.

Want to find out how to practically implement a flexible “work-life harmony” policy in your workplace? Join us on Thursday, June 15 in Perth for a compelling breakfast presentation by Dr Clare Allen on how to make work-life harmony work in your not-for-profit organisation. Click here to book your place.

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