BUSINESS
09/09/2014 12:22 pm ET Updated Apr 01, 2015

This Company Is Taking A Radical Approach To Work-Life Balance

Sociology At Work/Flickr

Most of the American workforce has been conditioned to feel guilty about asking the boss for time off - whether for a vacation, a doctor's visit, or to see their kid in a school play. As HuffPost's Jillian Berman recently wrote, "Americans Are Too Afraid And Stressed To Take Days Off From Work." The article points to a survey revealing that "40% of American workers will leave vacation days on the table, sacrificing their health and well-being and adopting a 'work martyr complex' to demonstrate their value." We've been trained to believe our success is tied to how many hours we're putting in at work - no matter what the trade-offs may be.

Against this bleak setting, imagine this:

"An environment where you aren't sweating bullets when daycare calls and your child is sick. A place where you can take your infant on a stroller ride at lunch to give yourself a break and feel like you get to still have an active role in his day. Managers who understand that if you have to leave early for a doctor's appointment, you will log in at night to make up for your work. A give and take, that as a parent, is worth its weight in gold. Respect, understanding and a true work/life balance."

This is how Brandy Mann, a developer at the software analytics company SAS, describes her workplace on the SAS Voices blog.

Part of the company mission is making sure employees don't have to choose between their work and their lives. Company leaders have built a culture based on trust, they recognize that employees have a life outside of SAS and encourage work-life balance. Employees are trusted to manage their own time and work, and take personal time when it is needed - no micro-managing, no clock-punching.

What does a company have to gain from this kind of setup? SAS CEO, Dr. Jim Goodnight, understands creativity does not happen on demand. Workers are given the autonomy and flexibility they need in order to be creative enough to develop software that solves major challenges for clients like reducing child fatalities, pinpointing areas likely to produce oil and gas and uncover new heart attack treatments that extend survival rates.

Mann says she often thinks about solutions while going on a run in the middle of a weekday. "It started out as a walk with a friend at the office. That turned into running, and now we code verbally while we run to figure out how to make something work."

Goodnight also knows setting an example for a trusting work environment has to start at the top. On any given day, if an employee is enjoying the amenities that SAS has to offer like getting a haircut, swimming, or just taking a walk around the campus to clear the mind - they are not going to get looked down upon for taking a short break. In fact, they may see an exec working out or getting a haircut at the same time, too.

Employees also trust each other to step in as needs arise, which sounds simple, but can actually be a huge stress-reducer. In the 'Overwhelmed America' survey, workers cited "returning to a mountain of work" and "the feeling that nobody else can do their work" as the top reasons for not taking time off. Mann explains "We don't work in silos, so someone always has your back. If I have to pick up my kids, I can text a teammate to cover a meeting."

Trust is actually a skill set SAS looks for when sourcing talent. A spokeswoman for SAS said, "You could be the smartest person on the planet in your field, but if you're not trustworthy you're not going to fit in." During interviews, candidates are asked behavior-based questions to test for soft skills like taking risks, handling conflict and finding solutions.

SAS VP of Human Resources Jenn Mann attributes the culture of trust in large part to the success of the company as whole, saying, "We know we hire smart people and we trust them to get the job done. In turn, our employees are committed to performance."

She says, "When a culture breeds distrust, innovation and creativity suffer. In turn, the customers suffer - which directly impacts the business. When the business suffers, it can't adequately take care of its employees and it becomes a vicious cycle of unhappiness and unproductiveness."

When asked if trust is something that has to be earned, Mann explains the company philosophy on trust as more of a reciprocal relationship: "We want our employees to take care of themselves and their families, and in turn, the employees take care of SAS."

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