In my role as chief evangeliser for OLIO – the world’s only neighbour-to-neighbour food sharing app – I speak about our work and journey at a lot of events. And without fail I’m almost always asked something along the lines of “How do you juggle having a family with a start-up?” Whilst this is an extremely valid question – and it touches on a topic that’s very close to my heart, it really frustrates me because I never hear the same question levelled at male peers. As a result, this seemingly innocuous question is laden with an enormous amount of gender bias, generally to the exclusion of men. I would suggest that if we want to achieve a fulfilled balanced life for all – male and female – we have to ensure that we’re all participating in this debate about work/life balance, and that inclusivity needs to be the starting point.
Another challenge in this area is, funnily enough, the gender bias experienced by men who choose to be the “stay at home Dad”! Several years ago my husband and I decided that given our respective career paths and motivations in life, it made sense for me to be the “bread winner” and for him to look after our two kids and home, whilst developing property in his remaining time. This has given me the flexibility to pursue the opportunities for OLIO with full vigour, and has been absolutely invaluable in terms of helping me to achieve a balanced life. However, sadly, my husband experiences more than the occasional disparaging passing comment and has even been asked “When are you going to get a proper job?” Thankfully he has no self-esteem self-esteem issues, and thinks he has the best job in the world! But I highly doubt that in this day and age anyone would ever dare say this to a woman; and so why to a man? If women are to be truly equal in the workplace – and to achieve a balanced life, then we need to adjust our perceptions of what it means to be a male in a modern society, and accept that this will require men to taking on an increasingly prominent role in the delivery of childcare – which is to the benefit of all involved, not least the children!
Gender issues aside, I spend a considerable amount of mental energy working towards achieving a ‘balanced life’. I prefer the terminology of a ‘balanced life’ rather than ‘work/life balance’, because when you’re an entrepreneur (and especially an entrepreneur working from home), the two can become very mixed! And to suggest that ‘work’ and ‘life’ are the antithesis of one another surely isn’t what we should aspire to. In the very early days of setting up OLIO, it was pretty much impossible to lead a balanced life because we had to achieve so much, in so little time, and with virtually no resources. As we’ve grown the business and the team however, both Saasha my Co-Founder and I have achieved a much more balanced life – which is important, because the start-up journey is a series of marathons, not a sprint, and so it’s essential to avoid burnout. We find that working predominantly from home is extremely helpful in achieving balance (5-10 hours per week gained back through not having to commute!), and we both carve out time during our working days to exercise. In the early days we used to feel quite guilty about exercising when we ‘should’ be working, but now we recognise that if we’re to perform at our best then we need to be mentally and physically fit and exercise is absolutely critical for this. Plus, I find that I have many of my best insights and inspirations for OLIO when working out, so it really is killing two birds with one stone!
As well as working towards a balanced life for ourselves, we’ve really baked this into the DNA of the company too. And this has manifested itself in a couple of important company policies. The first is our holiday policy – we have no cap on the number of day’s holiday an employee can take; however we do have a minimum and insist that everybody has at least 20 days off. This is because we saw research from other companies who had adopted a limitless holidays policy, and it actually showed that the number of days worked by employees increased, not decreased! We also think it’s really important for the team to have a collective break over the Christmas holidays so everyone can really relax, confident in the knowledge that their email inbox isn’t rapidly filling up! We also ensure that in every employee’s induction, we talk about the importance of a balanced life, and in our line manager training, we stress that the line manager is responsible for working with their direct reports to ensure that they are achieving a balanced life. What this means is that on a day to day basis our team chat will often show someone walking the dog at mid-day, someone else with their kids at 3pm and others heading off to swim or yoga. Each team member is responsible for ensuring that their work is done, according to whatever schedule best suits them, and as a result, we have an incredibly motivated and productive team, the majority of who say that working for OLIO is the best job they’ve ever had! If you aren’t already talking about how you can achieve a balanced life as individuals and as a company, then I can highly recommend spending some time on it, as the rewards will be enormous!
About the Author
Tessa Clarke is the Co-Founder and CEO of OLIO, a free app tackling the problem of food waste by connecting neighbours with each other, and volunteers with local businesses, so that surplus food can be shared, not thrown away. Since its inception in 2016, 850,000 people have joined OLIO and have together shared over 1.2 million portions of food. OLIO also publishes ZeroWasteWeekly.com, a website and newsletter that aggregates all the best zero waste news from around the world. Prior to founding OLIO, Tessa spent 10 years as a digital Managing Director in the media, retail and financial services sectors, and gained her MBA from Stanford. Tessa is passionate about the sharing economy as a solution for a sustainable world, and is equally passionate about the importance of leading a ‘balanced life’.