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Be a Purpose-Driven Business by Being a Purpose-Driven Workplace

Image credit: Štefan Štefančík

This is an excerpt from Rise Up: How to Build a Socially Conscious Business, released this week from Elevate Publishing.

Purpose-driven companies regard employees as their most critical resource, one to be nurtured and sustained rather than exhausted and played out like a mine with a short-term life expectancy.

Perhaps what’s most important here is to change your view from top-down. Instead of thinking of your team as “your employees,” think of them as your coworkers, fellow human beings who are committed to professional success and also have wants and needs that can be mutually fulfilled by a purposeful workplace.

Creative benefits equal happy people

At my company, Oliver Russell, we provide a few interesting benefits to the people on our team. We have a healthy-living benefit where every person receives $50 a month to purchase a product or service that will make them healthier. That could be a YMCA membership, acupuncture, or a new baby carrier for a bicycle.

Healthier people are not only happier; they’re also more productive and create less demand on our healthcare system. Plus, that type of health benefit is a creative way to say the company appreciates the individual and values their overall health.

Additionally, we provide a stipend for alternative transportation. If one of our team members walks to work, rides their bike, takes public transportation or carpools, they receive the cash equivalent of a day’s paid parking. It’s not much, but it does add up and also helps diminish the environmental impact of traffic.

These are all attractive benefits, but I think the most important part of recognizing a person’s worth in the workplace is by making an investment in work-life balance.

Our company has measured its performance on work-life balance yearly since 1997. In the nearly 20 years we’ve surveyed our team, the results consistently show this is the most important issue to our workforce — routinely outpolling compensation.

Advancing work-life balance

At our company, we advance work-life balance through policies and practices that revolve around the treatment of employees.

One such practice is flexible hours—we allow team members to work the hours that fit their lifestyles. In our experience, most people work generally around the same schedule, though some come in early and some arrive later. But everyone has the ability to come and go throughout the day as they please.

We also have the ability to work remotely at Oliver Russell. If you want to keep good people, you need to extend the boundaries of your office. We have team members who work from home while juggling childcare. We’ve had people move away for a spouse’s schooling and work for us from a college campus several states away. We have some who work from other remote locations, be that their living room or a coffee shop, because they find those environments help them be more productive.

Does this provide challenges? Sure. When you’re not in the office you don’t benefit from the social lubricant of working in physical proximity to the team. Not being around sometimes means you miss out on ideas and discussions that happen on an impromptu basis. However, the most important thing for making the remote situation work is effective communication. And as anyone who’s ever sent an email to a coworker sitting several feet away can attest, there are challenges to effective communication within office walls, as well.

Lastly, we try to work reasonable hours. We don’t believe that working 12-hour days on end is a badge of courage. We frankly don’t think it’s smart or sustainable, so we discourage it. That doesn’t mean there aren’t occasions to work longer and harder, but when it becomes the rule rather than the exception, it’s symptomatic of a longer-term problem with your organization.

More unexpected work-life benefits

Oliver Russell also has an unlimited sick leave policy — if an employee is sick, they can just stay at home and forego the cost/benefit calculation of subtracting a personal leave or vacation day from their yearly allotment. This helps people recuperate faster, and when they don’t come to the office, they can’t expose coworkers to germs.

Here’s one of the most interesting things about our sick leave policy: We’ve had the same policy for about 10 years, and as best I can tell, as both a businessperson and a student of human nature, it’s never been abused.

What to expect while you’re expecting at Oliver Russell? We try to make things easier for new parents. While, as a business of fewer than 50 employees, we aren’t required to comply with the Family Medical Leave Act, we provide maternity leave. Paid. And we provide paternity leave. Also paid. Talk about a time where people value (and need) work-life balance!

We also created a benefit for employees to receive paid time off to volunteer in the community. We try to model this civic spirit of engagement in our business through an active volunteer program, and we aim to stimulate this in our coworkers’ lives outside of work with a benefit that matches personal volunteer time with paid time off.

One size doesn’t fit all

I realize this way of doing business can be viewed as challenging, and especially so for different types of businesses. After all, manufacturing machines can’t run without operators (excepting, of course, robotics), and customers can’t shop at retailers without the help of salespeople. Every business is different and can creatively shape the ways it engenders work-life balance. My point is, if you intend to create a purpose-driven workplace, your number-one priority should be creating work-life balance for the people who are its economic engine.

Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t have high expectations for your coworkers. On the contrary, you can and should have high expectations for your coworkers, as they likely have high expectations for their company — the combination of the two is a powerful force.


Russ Stoddard is the founder of Idaho-based creative agency Oliver Russell. He’s committed his career (nearly 30 years) to social responsibility, first inside the corporate world and then as an entrepreneur who’s started four companies and five nonprofit causes.… [Read more about Russ Stoddard]


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