Your Work, Outside of Work
Last week I read this post, What do you do when you’re not working? from Chris Marks. Chris is a venture capitalist here in Boulder. He is on the board of Lijit and Kapost (where I work now, and where I used to work for 3 years) so as I’ve grown to know him I also greatly respect his work, knowledge and ideas.
His post stuck with me and I found myself going back to it, reading it, agreeing and taking mental notes.
He is emphasizing how important a life and passion outside of work is. Yes, he’s a VC investing in companies in which he likes to see the employees explore their hobbies and passion. You can’t just leave work the only thing you do.
Building a team is so important for early stage companies. Success or failure often depends on how management interacts with one another, and how they lead the rest of the growing employee base. They must be able to communicate with their colleagues, and relate to them both professionally and personally. I have found it remarkably difficult to connect with someone who can only talk about work (or only wants to).
Most of the successful entrepreneurs that I have worked with have something, other than their the company, that they are passionate about. Whether it is something as intense as flying planes or racing cars (remarkably popular pastimes for risk tolerant founders) or something as routine as collecting wine, early stage entrepreneurs almost always need outlets for their passion. It is usually why they have started a company in the first place.
If people don’t have outlets for their passion, then they probably don’t need outlets. If they don’t need outlets, then they probably aren’t wired for the start-up environment . If they are not wired for the start-up environment, then they will probably have trouble adapting to the culture and their colleagues. This is not to suggest that employees need to share the same passions — only that it helps to have some.
That is why, when I meet with prospective hires (either my own or within the portfolio), I always ask what the person does when they are not working. The question is usually met with a sigh of relief and a very relaxed answer. More often than not, it is the most telling part of the conversation.
This is refreshing.
This is 2011 and companies that don’t accept this way of thinking (in my opinion) will leave their employees feeling tired and overwhelmed. It doesn’t breed longevity or success.
I remember writing about US News and World Report about “Workplace No No’s” where I said, they’re really “Doesn’t Matters” that included don’t share your blog URL, your next vacation or your adorable pets with your co-workers. Incredulous.
It is so backwards and I basically do the opposite of their suggestion which is why Chris’ post resonated with me so much.
Overworked doesn’t equal productivity:
Dave Gilson recently wrote an incredible piece, filled with infographics in Mother Jones on how overworked America is. He echoes how is this hardly something to be proud of. Agreed.
Call me an idealist, maybe it’s my Generation, but I cannot imagine working for a company that asks you to be one dimensional and doesn’t care to look beyond what you’re doing at your desk just during the day. Where’s the dynamism there?
Studies show that vacation and building a robust life and activity-level outside of work increase productivity and makes for happier employees, which translates to strong teams.
This has nothing to do with your level of work-ethic, it has everything to do with a balanced and happy individual who ends up performing better.
How You Hire:
Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh hires on “weirdness” and the focus is to “create fun.” In a feature from the New York Times he emphasized his first company, LinkExchange was all about work, work, work. He dreaded going into work each day and there was nothing outside of work. With Zappos, he promised to never make the same mistake and he believes in creating company culture as one of his top priorities. As part of his interview process he asks them questions around core values, that are mostly, not work related.
Result? Zappos is notorious for one of America’s best company culture and for treating their employees well.
Both at Lijit and Kapost, I am good friends with my co-workers. We’re friends outside of work. We take time to enjoy a beer together, treat each other with respect and also have fun. I knew/know everyone’s interests, their family and loved ones and I have fun at work. Seriously.
This included company outings, long talks over company happy hours and recently with Kapost, the whole crew (and our families, significant others, spouses, etc.) headed up to the mountains for a retreat all together. We didn’t work while we were up in the mountains. We laughed, we cooked, we drank homemade margaritas, we hiked and hung out together. Kicked it.
There is a lot about getting to know someone which is why I love how Gary Vaynerchuk says, “You know where the real business gets down? Not over a stuffy board table, but over wings at a bar.”
I was hired over beers with Kapost’s co-founder, Toby. I joked, “Do you need to see my resume?” Note: it was never exchanged.
It was unanimous – my work, the great people that knew me and knew Kapost (recommendations hold weight) and experience was known from board members and the current team. And of course, over beers, we talked business but also about meditation, where I came from, Toby’s family, our mutual desire to create an invigorating culture and how we loved Boulder.
My cousin, who recently moved here from NYC told her brother (my cousin) excitedly about my new job, “It’s so awesome. They’re really cool, she has a good view and Matt, she wears jean shorts to work!”
Can you express yourself at work? Do you feel held back to not enjoy the hobbies and interests you have beyond work?