09/19/2013 09:31 am ET Updated Nov 19, 2013

The Work Dichotomy: Bridging the Gap between Life and Work

There exists an ever-present separation between life and work. With the average American spends over 1/3 of his or her life within their occupation, this separation is becoming an overlap that seems to choke out one side or the other. For companies, this translates into a growing concern about their internal structure, about stopping the "brain drain", and finding methods to keep existing talent. Within this problem exists a unique opportunity for the business to decide what kind of internal culture will facilitate the overlap of the life and work, changing it from an either/or situation into productive blend of both.

An Example

Last year our executive team encouraged the employees to create an internal brand. I was one of fourteen people selected for the committee. Our company has always been a haven of the young and motivated, a group of individuals who continually strive for innovation while improving upon current ideas. We had a Culture Team, kegs at our monthly meeting, and (probably the most valued) Fridays off. In the midst of all these successes within the culture, there was still an imaginary disconnect between the workplace and the person, a chasm that separated the person and the job. Furthermore, because of this separation our options for finding the definition were naturally restricted. In essence, we realized we needed a bridge.

For us, one of the qualities that described our culture was our ability to "Work Hard and Play Hard". When not working, we dove into our personal interests with the same intensity that we brought to our jobs. This realization was seen as a common ground that naturally bled over into our jobs. It opened our minds and brought down the walls of restriction, revealing the possibilities of our internal culture to be endless. It also brought up another question, one that syncs with the overall perception that work and life are required to be separate. The question was, "Is that really true?"

Familiar Examples

Google is well-known for its workplace environment. In a scathing slap to the traditional sense of squeezing as much out of the employee while paying them as little as possible, Google takes an active interest in personnel investment and reverence. This philosophy includes a workplace culture that encourages the individual to be themselves in all cases, without restriction or threat. The result in this investment is what we see today, a company that has stock which has appreciated over 670 percent since the firms IPO went public and a range of products (Google search, Google Maps, Google Drive) which have had more impact than that of Apple Inc. The secret to their success had less to do with the indoor bowling alleys and catered meals every day and more to do with the idea that every person is encouraged to be themselves in every way possible. The workplace and the rest of their life is not separated. The fear involved is not there to block the intellectual pay dirt that is the true difference between a failed business and a successful one... creativity.

Baby Steps

Establishing this environment does not happen overnight and does not have to include frills like expensive sleep pods found on the Google campus. It can begin with an investment in the creation of an internal brand or a desire by the leadership to get feedback about the workplace so it can be improved. Below are some tips to get started:

Full investment by the Executive Team

Whether you are the CEO bringing this to the table or an first-year employee speaking with the C-Level management, this is a mandatory step. The entire team must understand the need for a strong company culture and agree to not only invest in it, but support and revere the employees that make it work.

Start with the employees

Assemble a group of internal performers and give them the reins for the project with set goals and expectations. Make the group large enough for diversification but small enough to encourage a result. This will instill a sense of ownership and of honesty that would not be present in the audience of a C-level. As a bonus benefit, if the group experiences substantial problems during the process, that is a strong indicator of a larger problem which needs to be addressed. See every threat as an opportunity and meet said threat with an investment in the individual.

Give purpose through transparency

Give a person purpose and you give them life. Show them the meaning in their work. Communicate the successes that would have never happened without them and link those success to the internal qualities that they possess. This shows your personal interest and encourages your employees to be themselves.

More and more businesses are realizing the link to employee investment and business success. In an economy where a strong employer brand can reduce turnover by 28 percent and reduces cost-per-hire by more than 50 percent, there is every incentive to encouraging the creative side of every individual. Time spent in the workplace can either be and investment or a regret. A culture of purpose, reverence, and investment will work to create ROI in your personnel.