Support your team’s non-work passions

Culture  Leadership
25 April, 2022

Well-rounded, happy employees score higher on wellbeing, loyalty and productivity. A win-win for everyone!

Around the world, employees are quitting their jobs in unprecedented numbers – a phenomenon that has been dubbed the Great Resignation. India is seeing its highest attrition levels in the last two decades, while the US has posted a record number of open positions. Companies are struggling to hold on to their best and brightest.

In this context, it’s more important than ever for leaders to support their employees’ passions outside of work. This underrated strategy offers several benefits, many of which I have personally witnessed and experienced over the course of my career.

At boAt, we encourage one other to “do what floats your boat”. Our brand purpose is about enabling people to live uninhibited lives, unleashing their passions and doing things on their own terms. In line with our purpose, we try to support our team members to explore, experiment, grow and make a difference both at work and in their personal lives.

When I was at Godrej, the group had launched Godrej LOUD, which was an innovative platform that was initially focused on supporting the dreams of MBA students on campus and providing financial support to fund those ideas. Later Godrej LOUD had also been extended to employees.

And during my time at Bain & Company, the company was gracious enough to give me extended leaves of absence at multiple junctures to unplug. Bain has a sabbatical program that it’s employees can leverage for rest, renewal and to pursue personal interests (among other unique people practices which has consistently made the company the top consulting firm to work for).

This week, my message focuses on why companies should support their employees’ passions outside of work. What are some ways for leaders to implement this approach?

The pandemic acted as a wake-up call. One of the reasons behind the current spate of resignations is that many people rediscovered the joys of life outside the office, from cooking and exercising to gardening and family activities. With businesses returning to normalcy, those precious pursuits are again being forced to take a backseat.

What’s more, talented workers are no longer willing to give their all to companies that assign scant importance to autonomy, wellbeing and satisfaction.

Supporting your team members’ passions outside of work can help address these concerns. It actively encourages a better work-life balance. It views employees more holistically, not just in terms of their professional contribution. And it demonstrates a clear commitment to the overall happiness and fulfilment of employees. Far from being feel-good fluff, these factors are key to retaining your top talent – especially right now.

Beyond retention, organisations also benefit in other ways. Pursuing interests unrelated to your job actually enhances engagement and performance at work, by increasing confidence and positivity. (According to a Warwick study, happy workers are up to 12 percent more productive.) The boost in confidence also improves employees’ ability to tackle challenges and deal with setbacks at the workplace.

Engaging in passion projects also reduces stress, enables a sense of freedom, and helps employees “switch off” and go into recovery mode at the end of a workday. Research by San Francisco State University found that creativity outside work aids in relaxation and recovery, and boosts organisational citizenship behaviours. As a leader, learning more about your team members’ hobbies could even reveal new skills and talents to be tapped.

Passion vs. work

We’ve all heard the saying. “Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” While this is good advice for cultivating more fulfilling careers, it doesn’t reflect the complexity of the real world. For some people, their job may be a way to sustain other interests (which may not be financially feasible as career paths). Others might be passionate not only about their work but also about several other things.

As explained in a Harvard Business Review article on this subject: 

A growing body of research suggests that pursuing your passion does indeed improve your well-being but that where you do it is far less critical. In fact, several studies show that doing something you are passionate about outside of work rather than in it benefits both your career and your personal life.

Supporting non-work passion projects

Here are five ways in which leaders can support their team members’ interests outside of work.

1. Provide flexibility.

The HBR piece mentioned above explains: 

What prevents employees from pursuing activities outside of work that make their lives meaningful? It’s clear that passions require time – but with ever-more-packed workdays and constantly surging to-do lists, employees struggle to find it. To support employees’ passions outside of work, leaders need to work with them to create this time. 

Flexibility can be accomplished via different methods. In its most direct form, it involves leaders and team members working closely to craft schedules that allow employees to pursue non-work. interests. Can certain team members start work earlier to free up their evenings? Can others leave early on specific weekdays and make up the hours elsewhere?

Leaders should consider implementing specific policies and progammes rather than relying solely on ad-hoc efforts. Embedding these new norms into the company culture is likely to yield better results, especially when reinforced with manager training. 

2. Lead a mindset shift.

It’s all very well to offer flexibility – but how can we ensure that people use it? It’s tough enough getting team members to take their paid leave. This reluctance comes from the deeply entrenched idea of a “good worker” as someone who dedicates themselves fully to work, no matter what the personal cost.

As it turns out, employees’ fears are grounded in reality. Research shows that those who use flexible work schedules are often seen as less hard-working and less invested in their jobs – even though research shows the opposite. Leaders can help banish this irrational stigma by making passion projects a part of the company conversation. Why not share your own hobbies, highlighting how they re-energise and inspire you? Follow this up by encouraging team members to also take time for the same.

You can also demonstrate organisational commitment by creating spaces for employees to share their passions with one another, either through in-person forums or via virtual channels like Slack and Teams. Celebrate the non-work achievements of team members, be it running a marathon or publishing a short story. Remember, the perception of one’s peers is as important as the perception of one’s boss!

3. Embrace different attitudes.

People relate to their jobs differently. For some, it’s a passion, a calling. For others, it’s secondary to their main passion. Leaders (who often belong to the first category) can find it difficult to understand employees in the second category. However, in order to ensure that team members bring their best selves to work, it is vital for leaders to become open to these different perspectives and unique requirements. 

4. Rethink company retreats.

As things return to normal, companies are likely to re-start the tradition of out-of-town retreats. These trips can be leveraged to support employees’ passions and also strengthen the social bond between them.

Instead of limiting the agenda to the usual fun and games, why not offer meaningful opportunities for team members to engage with their interests in a group setting? Those who love to cook could attend a culinary class, fitness buffs could go on a hike, and amateur photographers could take a guided tour of photogenic spots. These interactions offer the added benefit of building trust and camaraderie among co-workers.

5. Allocate resources.

Companies that back their convictions with financial support reap greater benefits. It’s certainly worth exploring ways in which your organisation could fund employees’ non-work interests.

From travel opportunities to finding for once-in-a-lifetime projects, an array of strategies can be found in the corporate world. Software company FullContact offers a generous stipend that can be spent by employees on whatever they like, on one condition: they must unplug and engage in an activity completely unrelated to work. Reddit, meanwhile, offers learning stipends to cover classes related to any interests.

Encouraging and facilitating team members’ passion projects outside of work presents an untapped opportunity, with a myriad of benefits for the individual as well as the organisation. At a time when talent retention is critical, supporting employees’ non-work interests can help leaders hold on to their key talent.


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