‘Work/Life Balance’ or ‘Work Versus Life’ – Which is Most Productive?

Work Life BalanceAs a recruitment business Owner or Manager, how do you sustain a productive workplace culture, retain your best recruiters and avoid them being tempted away? Chris Orkney, Sales Executive at Bond International Software, weighs-up some common ‘work/life balance’ and ‘work versus life’ approaches and offers his thoughts on how recruiter productivity can be affected…

As an AdaptUX Sales Executive, I regularly meet with recruitment agencies and enjoy learning about their workplace cultures. Just a few days ago I met with an agency and noticed how their staff seemed very relaxed and close-knit and found myself wondering how they achieved that.

I ventured a couple of questions about their demographic and sales team structure and the answer was, simply, that they have very low staff turnover. Their newest consultant had been with them for only four weeks, but they were hired a result of business growth not as a replacement for someone who had left. They proudly explained how over the years their people had just stayed with them and they only add to their team when necessary.

In my experience as a recruiter I saw low, medium and high staff turnover first hand and as a result developed a keen interest in the concept of ‘sustainable workplaces’. What works, what doesn’t work…and why?

Anyone for (table) tennis?

One agency I worked for had a ping-pong table downstairs, so we’d play during every break. I found this to be a great way of making people more productive. Rather than spending their break staring at more (or the same) screens, people would get away, relax properly and really get the juices flowing before returning to work. A simple and effective idea for sure and one I would recommend for fun, competitive motivation.

Take the afternoon off!

Another idea which worked for me was how, at one agency, when we hit our target for the week we were rewarded with Friday afternoon off – not just as an individual, but as a company. If a few people closed deals, we would all have Friday afternoon off. Again, simple and effective – who doesn’t like, and wouldn’t work harder for, a Friday afternoon off?!

Suited and booted?

Dress code is an interesting and contentious issue. I worked for a sizeable recruitment agency with a very formal environment, both in the back office and on the sales floor, and their policy was ‘all staff must wear a suit every day’. None of my work was client-facing so I was wearing a suit and jacket to sit behind a desk and a phone, which was odd, but it had positives and negatives.

On the positive side, people did tend to be more professional just because of the way they were dressed – for lack of a better phrase, it helps you get your ‘game face’ on. However, traveling to and from work, sometimes in the blistering heat, wearing a suit when you knew you weren’t going to see a client, could be frustrating.

For recruitment consultants, this policy is a negative in my opinion. I liked elements of it and my own productivity increased, but would I work in a role with a strictly smart dress code again? I would, but it wouldn’t be my first choice. Work was more productive, including earning more commission, but life was more painful and, personally, I would probably accept the trade-off.

Different management styles

I’ve worked at recruitment agencies where if one Manager was pushy, kept people in the office late and often raised their voice, another would do what they needed to do, but do it quietly without threats or intimidation. Inconsistent for sure, but with some positives.

Managers having different styles enabled recruiters to see which they would thrive under and work in that particular Managers’ team. On the negative side, I would often prefer to work for the nicer, quieter Manager and would sometimes feel pulled from pillar to post.

Yet, strangely considering my thoughts above, people did seem to work more productively overall because, more often than not, they were being managed in the style which best suited their needs. Perhaps the unstructured nature of the management styles within these organisations was a strength after all.

When it comes to working hours, ‘flexible or inflexible?’ is the question

I’ve worked to very structured hours and I’ve worked to flexi-time and, in my experience, there are pros and cons to both approaches.

With tightly structured hours, start, finish and break times, the discipline is certainly there for those who respond well to it. However, for others, perhaps feeling they’ve had little flexibility throughout the day, when ‘clocking-out’ time arrives, they might just switch off completely and not take that call – which could be a difference-maker.

With flexi-time and the ability to work when most needed, taking that call in what would otherwise be ‘your time’ might well be a lot easier to do.

For me, having the flexibility to deploy myself when I know I can be most productive, without occasionally being hamstrung by rigid hours, works best; but some recruiters really thrive under strict hours, so…

What is the answer?

In the examples above, as often as I found myself liking or disliking an approach, there would be someone else who thought the opposite. I’ve seen companies employ recruiters who have done amazingly well at other companies but flounder at their own. I’m certain that different environments and workplace cultures can affect a recruiter’s preferred work/life balance and business productivity. These factors really can make a world of difference.

Perks, dress codes, management styles, flexible or inflexible working hours…the more I consider these aspects of being a recruiter, the closer I get to concluding that the most important thing is for the company culture to match the recruiter’s needs. For some, in order to keep billing, it’s ‘work/life balance’ – fun perks and flexibility, for others, its ‘work vs. life’ – strict discipline and written warnings for missteps.

Maybe the answer is to find out which approach each individual recruiter personally responds to – then work with them.