I didn’t used to believe work-life balance was possible.
Like many of us, I desperately wanted to achieve that seemingly elusive goal where your work feels manageable, your health feels top notch, and there is a deep inner peace that you can do everything on your plate. For years, I read self-help books and followed gurus online. Still, I hit my pillow each night with a lingering feeling I was carrying too much stress.
As a global health professional, I cared deeply about making an impact. The need was big, and I spent evenings and weekends working. After a few years, I saw my professional success take off. However, the more success I found, the busier life became, and the less time I had to myself.
Then, in 2018, I had a panic attack on the bathroom floor of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where I worked at the time. The weight of lots of work, frequent trips to Africa, and endless leadership requests finally broke me. I ended up in the hospital, and a doctor looked me in the eyes and said, “Mel, you need to find more work-life balance. Your health literally depends on it.”
I had ignored all the early signals, and was now experiencing what 77 percent of US working professionals also experience: a clinical case of burnout.
In the wake of my burnout, I quit my job – frustrated with the modern workplace and uncertain if I’d ever return. I traveled to twelve countries and interviewed women on what helped them maintain work-life balance (which I write about in my forthcoming book Soulcation: Design a Life You don’t Need a Vacation From). When my savings got low, I started consulting and picking up side hustles. I learned that 1) setting my own schedule and 2) spending two hours every day doing something for myself (something I used to think you could only do if you were mega rich) made me incredibly happy. I made a vow to myself I would never stop, even if it meant I never took a real job again.
Then I found Dimagi.
Pay, benefits, leadership, job responsibilities, etc. are all important criteria when selecting a job. However, the one criteria I believe employees are starting to demand is flexibility. We want flexibility to get the work done while working from inspiring places. We want time in our day for self care and to pursue other creative activities without feeling like we’re falling behind at work.
In my early conversations with Dimagi’s leadership about their flexible workplace, I thought it was too good to be true. “Were they just saying all the right HR things to get me to sign my life over to them for the next five years?” I wondered.
However, I got the feeling Dimagi was different, so I said ‘yes’ and joined in a brand new leadership role in October 2021.
Once I was “behind the curtains” I was shocked to find a company who lived so true to their value of flexibility.
On my first day, the HR manager walked me through a powerpoint that said, “There are no working hours here. We want people to work when they’re energized, and take care of themselves when they need to.”
Slowly over the coming weeks, life happened. I ended up needing to go to all sorts of appointments during work hours due to visa issues. No questions asked. When my brain felt drained in the afternoon, I attended a yoga class or went for a walk along the river. Totally fine. When the holidays came, and the CEO announced a “closed week” where we weren’t to send emails, I got zero emails. I could hardly believe it. People didn’t schedule meetings outside work hours. I was encouraged to take Fridays off and not record as vacation if I had a super busy week.
There was a fly wheel of momentum around flexibility. I wasn’t just “job-hacking” or “time-hacking,” I was participating in the rhythm of work and life the leadership intended.
Ever since that panic attack at the Gates Foundation, I’ve been publicly speaking and writing about how to avoid burnout and achieve more while doing less. I don’t believe in the 5 am wake up calls. Endless meetings. Emails at night. Always being on. Even 5 year plans and strategies don’t always make sense.
The truth is: we create and produce our best from a place of mental wellbeing.
Wellbeing underpins everything we do, and it’s the engine to making a great company.
Too many companies fail employees by making small gestures towards flexibility, but not giving employees the tools or confidence to truly leverage them. We need leaders who talk about their therapy appointments and morning routines. We need to see people starting at 10am if that’s what will make their day most productive. We even need to eliminate the 8 hour work day. Time does not equal results, and as a work-from-home workforce, we need to stop pretending we will still live by this.
It’s 2022, and our economy is driven by ideas. If Dimagi is going to continue to be a leader in digital transformation, we need a workforce that feels supported to be the most physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy individuals, capable of generating the best ideas for tomorrow. This investment in wellbeing both supports employee health, but also saves us on costs, reduces absenteeism, and creates a more loyal and productive workforce.
We need to schedule things that make us happy in our everyday life. It’s the very thing that will keep us from ending up on the path to the bathroom floor with a mountain of unanswered emails and a panic attack. It’s on employers like Dimagi to do more than offer vacation time. We feel responsible to employees to champion wellbeing, and to encourage them to do things they love to do on vacation in their everyday life. It’s these rhythms of input and output that drives humans to do the best work possible.
I believe world-changing companies start by giving people the space to be world-changing people. We need to stop pretending we can do it all, and make sure we’re actively talking about how we do the most important things, and take care of ourselves and our families along the way.
If you want to learn more about Dimagi’s hiring opportunities click here. If you want to order the book, Soulcation: Design a Life You Don’t Need a Vacation From, click here.