Working in a competitive industry like the tech sector requires an enormous commitment of time and energy. And working at a technology company in Silicon Valley, the epicenter of startup culture, can consume every waking hour if you let it.
You shouldn’t let it. Not only does all work and no play make proverbial Jack a dull boy, but it’s also unnecessary for success and bad for business.
I’ve worked at top companies in Silicon Valley for more than 25 years. For many of those years, I was the stereotypical workaholic, sacrificing my health and personal life in pursuit of success. Then one day I saw myself in a video of a trade show presentation, and I was shocked at how terribly I came across. I looked tired and worn out—hardly the most convincing or impactful version of myself. I resolved then and there to make a change.
I continued to work hard, but I kept more reasonable hours. I resumed activities I enjoyed, like polo and playing tennis, and I got involved in a charitable cause about which I care deeply about. I founded my own startup marketing technology company, and not only have I managed to maintain a healthy work-life balance for myself, but I also strive to make sure my employees do, too, by creating a company culture that values balance and encourages volunteer work. Along the way, I learned something: Having a life outside the office is actually good for business. If I want to run a strong business—and I do—I need to also create a culture that encourages having a healthy life both inside and outside of it.
All companies have a culture, whether the founders set out to create one deliberately or not. As a Silicon Valley veteran, I was steeped in the workaholic lifestyle, and I knew that creating a different kind of company would require intentionally building a culture that supported a team-oriented business that allowed employees—and founders—to have complete and fulfilling lives. I wanted to build an innovative, engaged workplace where employees would be inspired to support the company.
With that vision in mind, my co-founders and I set out to create core values as a framework for our company culture, one of the most important of which is treatment of the team as a priority. The tech sector is intensely competitive and tends to focus on the individual instead of the group. Some companies place employees in opposition to each other in the mistaken belief that the competition between them will deliver better results. I value friendly competition, but I’ve seen how destructive pitting individuals against each other can be.
Instead, at our company, we decided to create a workplace that brings a team together to serve customers. We’ve found that our team orientation makes us even more competitive—but in the marketplace, not the workplace. We work together to deliver better solutions to our clients, besting the competition instead of undermining each other in a dog-eat-dog environment.
But it is not enough that employees enjoy their time at the office. They must have time outside of it, too. When I insisted on finding a healthy work-life balance for myself, I soon discovered that having a life outside the office actually made me more productive when I was at work. That’s one of the reasons I was determined to make work-life balance a core part of my company’s culture. At my company, hobbies are mandatory—we ask job candidates about their hobbies, and if they don’t have one, they don’t get hired. That’s how strongly we believe in the power of recharging.
When a company recognizes that employees have lives outside the workplace, it sends the message that the organization sees staff as human beings instead of rows on a spreadsheet. We not only require employees to have a hobby, we actively encourage them to take time to pursue their interests, plus spend time with their families and friends. We also encourage volunteering, donating up to 24 hours each year per team member in paid time off so employees can give back to their communities.
We’ve found that when employees have time to spend on their hobbies, connect with friends and family and volunteer for a great cause, they come to the office recharged and ready to make a difference. They are more creative at work and less likely to leave the company to pursue other opportunities because they know we care and they value the culture we’ve built. That means we retain incredibly valuable colleagues and have an inspired workforce that is more innovative and productive. And we’re not the only ones who have found this to be true: Studies show that taking time off benefits both productivity and the economy.
But so, too, do labor statistics show that Americans tend to put in more hours, take fewer vacations and retire later than the citizens of other industrialized countries. In the tech sector, it’s not usual to get work-related emails after midnight—and a text message if a quick response isn’t forthcoming. Many business leaders are convinced that driving their staff to work around the clock will lead to success.
I’ve found that the opposite is true. Pressuring employees to work long hours and driving yourself to put in 100-hour workweeks may pay off in a short-term productivity gain, but it’s not sustainable over the long haul. And what kind of life is that anyway? Even if you enjoy your work immensely—and I do—you’ll do your job better if you take the time to recharge. So for success in business and success in life, work hard and play harder. Or, to put it more bluntly: Get a hobby.