A boss giving her employee a thumbs up

Do you want to prioritize the well-being of your employees? How can you create a more casual workplace?

In his book Let My People Go Surfing, Yvon Chouinard says that a core tenet of Patagonia’s business philosophy is prioritizing the well-being of its employees. Your business depends on your employees, so ensuring their happiness and safety is a recipe for success.

Discover three employee well-being initiatives that you should utilize as a manager.

Nurture Employees By Giving Them Freedom, Trust, and Benefits

In Let My People Go Surfing, Yvon Chouinard writes that he wants Patagonia to be an enjoyable place to work—a place that feels familial rather than corporate and appeals to the independent and free-spirited “dirtbags” who represent what the company is all about. He traces these values back to the company’s early days when he forged climbing hardware with friends.

(Shortform note: In Delivering Happiness, former CEO of Zappos Tony Hsieh agrees with Chouinard on the importance of prioritizing employee well-being. He argues that by creating a culture devoted to making employees happy, companies will naturally fulfill their other objectives and achieve continued success. This is because happier employees are more productive and produce better work. To create such a culture, Hsieh recommends nurturing three qualities within the workplace: friendship, support, and innovation.)

He contends that Patagonia spearheaded the trend of more casual workplaces by following three employee well-being initiatives:

1. Encouraging work-life balance. Patagonia promotes a rich and adventurous lifestyle among its employees with its “Let My People Go Surfing” flextime policy, which allows employees to work flexible hours as long as they get their work done without impacting the work of others. Patagonia employees can take time off for anything from catching an afternoon surf to furthering their education to caring for their children.

(Shortform note: In No Rules Rules, Reed Hastings explains Netflix’s similar unlimited vacation policy and writes that such a policy improves employee performance, attracts top talent, and cultivates mutual trust. However, he cautions that this increased freedom can lead to problems if it’s not somewhat regulated. To prevent employees from taking too much time off or from leaving at crucial times, Hastings suggests you give them enough relevant information to make good decisions. Conversely, to prevent workers from taking too little vacation time, set an example by taking big vacations and talk openly about them.)

2. Eliminating hierarchies. Patagonia values open communication and collaboration over corporate bureaucracy, and as such, offers an egalitarian workspace with no private offices or special parking spaces. Chouinard argues that effective communication and a sense of equality encourage employees to feel accountable and motivate them to work efficiently and productively.

(Shortform note: Though many companies have transitioned to open workplaces to promote collaboration, some experts argue that such forced openness can be ineffective and counterproductive. One study of two firms found that face-to-face interactions fell by 70% after they transitioned to open offices. Researchers suggest that in open spaces, people adopt behaviors to create a sense of solitude—for instance, avoiding eye contact or using headphones to block out distractions. Ultimately, experts suggest that the best way to foster productive collaboration is to experiment with workplace layouts and to find one that best matches your company’s goals.)

3. Offering on-site child care. Recognizing that it can be hard for working parents to find quality and affordable childcare, Patagonia manages several on-site child development centers that provide stimulating learning environments for children. The company also encourages parents to spend time with their children during the day. According to Chouinard, having employees’ children on-site creates a more comfortable, family-like atmosphere and increases employee happiness and productivity.

(Shortform note: Compared to a national average, where nearly 35% of women don’t return to their jobs post-childbirth, Patagonia boasts a return rate of 100% post-maternity leave. This perfect retention rate is a testament to the effectiveness of the company’s commitment to creating an environment that supports working parents.)

Top 3 Employee Well-Being Initiatives for a Healthy Workplace

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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