In my first job out of college, I found that I enjoyed software engineering while releasing new products for a company in France. Unfortunately, the company culture there left me feeling disengaged and discouraged. I couldn’t imagine continuing to work in an environment like that, and I realized that a lot of other people had similar experiences with their work cultures. I wanted to change that. I had never actually set out to start a company, but this led me to start Front — so I could build a company that inspires meaningful work for people everywhere.
When I started Front, I had two major goals:
- Create a product that can improve the experience of working for many people and companies;
- Create a company culture that inspires people to do meaningful work and be happy in their lives as well.
Seven years later, my co-founder and our teams are continuing this mission. We’re making work better for those who use our product, and we’re taking proactive measures to bring balance to our team’s lives, in and outside the office.
Create an inspiring company culture
These are a few of the things I do for my team to ensure everyone has work-life balance and can feel their impact at work. These are all super repeatable, and if you run a team I encourage you to try them out!
1. Prioritizing health and family
During onboarding, I do a presentation about the opportunities and challenges facing Front. In this meeting, I also take time to emphasize the importance of maintaining work-life balance by encouraging new hires to make a commitment to prioritizing their health and their families. Two big examples of things I cover during this presentation are:
- Showing examples of how I spend my time each week with a chart showing percentages of different categories of my job.
- Highlighting ways you can prioritize balance while working here by using our product and taking advantage of benefits like PTO, VTO, and Wellness credits.
It sounds simple, but I believe when a CEO takes time to prioritize this topic every single time a new person starts at a company, it sets the tone for the rest of the employee experience during their tenure.
2. Facilitating creativity
At Front, we’re currently paying employees to limit phone usage, so they have more time to reflect and generate new ideas. I have struggled with my relationships with devices and notifications, and I think a lot of people know that their usage is not healthy, but we rarely take action to improve this. So far, motivating our team with this small monthly bonus has worked very well, and the responses we’ve gotten have been super positive.
Those participating are finding that they have more time to be present at work with their teammates and at home with their friends and families. What’s more – once they’re at home, they’re spending more time doing things they care about, instead of reacting to notifications, constantly checking their phones or delving into rabbit holes on social media.
3. Motivating team members with context about their impact
At Front, we have a company-wide All Hands meeting every Monday morning. During this meeting, we cover many topics, but the main one is how we’re pacing to our quarterly goals. This is important because it reminds everyone of what we’re working towards and how the work they’re doing daily can help move things forward. We also hold Last Quarter at Front, a quarterly all-hands meeting, where we connect quarterly goals to our broader mission. My team has said many times that these meetings energize them and encourage them to do better work every day because they know what they’re working towards and why.
Find your personal work-life balance
With all this said, your life at home plays a big role in whether or not you’re able to find meaning at work. Here are a few of the actions I’ve learned to take for myself as a leader to find balance and set an example for my team:
1. Taking a holistic self-care approach
During a time when I was facing a lot of challenges dealing with the pressures of work, to the point that it was seriously affecting my home life, I realized that I needed to take a more holistic approach to prioritizing my overall well-being. I didn’t necessarily set out to do it this way, I just started trying anything I could that might help me deal with my stress.
I tried seeing a therapist and a hypnotist, making habitual changes like meditating, eating healthier food, and not checking my phone first thing in the morning and at night on the weekends. I found that there wasn’t just one thing that fixed my problems, but rather each thing helped a little bit, and altogether it really made a difference.
2. Daily gratitude
I’d been promised that daily gratitude journals are a good way to maintain a positive perspective, and so I started with an app that reminds you to write down three things that you’re grateful for every day. But that was just adding more notifications and more screen time, which is not what I wanted.
Eventually, I came up with this extremely simple system that works really well for me: I bought a $5 sticker that I put in my shower. It reminds me to think of the three things that I’m grateful for that day. And so now I have a consistent time where nothing gets in the way of this ritual because I have nothing else to do while I’m showering, and it puts me in a good state of mind right at the start of my day.
To make a long story short, my mom got me started with hypnosis after she overcame a severe phobia of driving after just 2 sessions with a hypnotist. She was so happy about this that she became a hypnotist herself so that she could help others overcome their issues. She’s been doing this for five years now.
Along the way, she referred me to her friend, and I gave it a try. I was pessimistic at first, as I like to consider myself a very “rational” person. I even told the hypnotist, “I’m sorry, but this is not going to work. I’m only doing this because my mom is a hypnotist, and I told her I would try it.”
But it turned out to be incredibly interesting, and helpful. In my first session, this person was able to bring me into this state of consciousness where I was fully awake and able to communicate, but they were essentially in command of my mind-body connection. For example, I was just standing in a normal position and they told me that I was going to fall. I didn’t understand why I would fall, and then suddenly I fell. They caught me, so it was fine—but that’s when I was convinced that there was actually something logical behind this.
Since then, I’ve used hypnosis to help deal with stress from work that’s affecting me outside the office. About two years ago I was supposed to speak at a conference with our lead investor in front of 4,000 people. It was giving me a lot of anxiety, which meant I didn’t feel hungry and wasn’t sleeping well. I was thinking, “I’m not going to eat, and I’m not going to sleep the night before, so I’m going to be nauseous and tired, and I just want to not worry about this and enjoy my life without all this stress.” So I had a session with this hypnotist over FaceTime. Immediately after the call, I was super excited for the conference. I ate, I slept well, and I truly enjoyed the conference so much. And this is just one small example of how hypnosis can help a truly physical thing like stress because, at the end of the day, this kind of physical reaction is coming from what you tell yourself inside your head.
4. Maintaining perspective
One of the most important changes that I have made to my personal mindset and approach to work is learning the importance of separating your ego from your work. That way your happiness and stress levels are not always tied to your company’s performance (and outside of your control).
For myself, gaining this perspective started with my co-founder experiencing a life-threatening health issue. When he was healthy again and back to work, I realized that the “worst-case scenarios” in business pale in comparison to those in our personal lives.
5. Reflecting with weekly journal sessions
Another practice that I’ve adopted as a way to be more present and productive is journaling. Once a week, I spend two hours in the afternoon with a notebook. I remove myself from all distractions. I start by going home and doing something to give my mind a break, like going for a jog or playing the piano. Then I’ll turn off my phone, put away my computer, and just write down anything interesting that comes to mind for two hours. This is rarely easy for me. What typically happens is that I write down something and then after thirty minutes I think, “Okay, that’s everything I’m thinking about today.” Then I just have to sit there and stare at my notes for another ninety minutes when I really just want to check my phone or go outside.
But I am convinced that this is the absolute best thing that I do every week in terms of productivity. In today’s world, we rarely have time for ourselves to step back and reflect to see if we’re going about life the right way. Building this into my schedule makes a huge difference in my ability to think creatively. I may sit there for an hour and 50 minutes sometimes without having any interesting thoughts or ideas but, by the last ten minutes, I always have some really valuable thought about whatever I’m working on that I wouldn’t have thought of without doing this.
Addressing the issues with company cultures
Over the past year or so, I’ve been exploring this idea of meaningful work – both finding it for yourself, and creating a meaningful work environment for your employees. Throughout this journey, we conducted a series of interviews (one of which included Atrium’s own Justin Kan!), and one of the biggest learnings I took away was that the best way to address health, wellness, happiness and meaning at work is to simply be open about it. The companies who will succeed are the ones who help create meaning for their employees, and the founders who will create those environments are the ones who will be actively open about and embrace conversation around these subjects. Send me a tweet at @collinmathilde and let’s get the conversation started.