The Lighter Side of Work-Life Balance By Richard Branson

Work-life balance is all about making sure you take time to live, not just stay stuck behind a desk. In that spirit, I decided to answer a few of your lighter-hearted questions on meditation, excuses from staff, email etiquette, and my delightful grandchildren. Watch my responses in the video below.

As well as the videos, I decided to answer a few more of your work-life balance questions in writing. Here goes:

Meagen Boyle asked: “How do you inspire your team and the folks who work for you to engage in the living aspect and not view what they do for you as a “job”?

Some people may see work as just a way to earn money for eight hours a day to finance their weekends. But people spend more time at work than anywhere else, so why not enjoy it? This is why it’s so crucial for companies to have a meaningful purpose that contributes to society in some way. If you think about Virgin America, for example – our purpose could easily be just to make profits and get people from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’. But instead, we’re focused on creating an airline that people love and making fun flying again. You can see how passionate Virgin America teammates are about this the second you step into our terminals — instead of the typical drab airport setting, our teammates are playing their own music, the ticket counters are purposefully low so they can move about and have the freedom to be themselves.

It’s the same energy onboard the aircraft – it’s not unusual to have an InFlight Teammate perform the dance from our safety video down the aisles! It’s a wonderful thing to wake up each day and think about that meaningful purpose, instead of just going to ‘work’, you’re going to create something that will have a positive impact on the world.

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Melissa Donaghey asked: “I’m keen to hear your opinion on how your executives at Virgin are living your work-life balance philosophy. Do you give them any coaching? Have you any strategies for helping to shift their mindset on this topic? What has worked for you? Is this part of your recruitment conversation?”

We have always believed that people should be treated like humans, not resources — so flexible working has always been embraced as part of our culture at Virgin. In terms of recruitment, I’m more interested in character than qualifications. The first thing that we look for when searching for a great employee is somebody with a personality that fits with our company culture, so it’s important they share these values too.

Leadership is key. It’s one thing for a manager to say that they believe in maintaining a balance between work and life when they are always working late at the office — they need to walk the walk too. In my opinion, it’s one of the most important skills a leader can possess. This is especially true when you work in the service industry — we’re conditioned to tell our customers/clients “yes, we’ll get this done right away,” without stopping to think about whether it’s actually needed right now or if this timeline will actually allow us to do our best work. As a leader, if you can set an example and manage priorities — your clients and your team will pick up on that and follow your lead.

2Charles Foster asked: “Did you ever feel a sense of guilt or anxiety that you could be working when you were taking time for yourself? How did you change it?”

A lot of people have asked if I ever feel guilty when taking time for myself or my family and the answer is no. The reality is that the way we are working is changing rapidly — more and more companies are focusing less on how many hours their staff work or what time they leave the office each day. By working more efficiently, there is no reason why people can’t work less hours and be equally — if not more — effective. Again, I think it comes back to leadership as people need a great example to follow. A real leader keeps their eyes on the business goal and ultimately if people are working toward that greater goal, it shouldn’t matter if they need to take time for themselves too. You also never know where inspiration may strike. You have a better chance of coming up with your next great idea or a solution to a problem when you are relaxed than when stuck at a desk.

Michael Brooke asked: With our laptops and cellphones, it is increasingly more difficult to separate the work from the downtime needed to recharge. In addition, the 24/7 mentality of some clients and co-workers make it even more difficult. How do you create this separation?

3I would take the opposite view and say that technology has given us even more freedom to work flexible hours and take greater control over the way we work. When I first got a mobile phone, it transformed the way I worked. I became more productive — and even harder for my team to track down! The ability to respond to emails, take calls, and take video meetings from anywhere in the world means that we’re no longer bound to our desks. Look at me talking to you by video now! This belief has allowed us to offer an enhanced guest experience at Virgin. For example, Virgin America was the first U.S. airline to offer fleetwide Wifi — while other carriers didn’t see it as important at the time, we knew that it would allow our flyers to stay connected, work smarter, and ultimately enjoy their time at home once they’ve returned from their work trip.

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