The Harvard Business Review recently featured an article titled “To Retain Employees, Support Their Passions Outside Work”. However, it raises a pertinent question: does our responsibility to assist our employees come to a halt when the workday ends?

Carbon Creative has recently transitioned into an employee-owned business, but even prior to this change, we’ve consistently demonstrated our commitment to supporting our employees’ interests, both within and beyond their professional lives. This support has taken various forms, ranging from flexible working hours to the establishment of a wellbeing fund, allowing all employees to allocate resources according to their preferences. Often, the idea of encouraging employees to pursue passions outside of work is met with reluctance, driven by the fear of them leaving the company and our perceived role in enabling such departures. In this blog, we aim to provide an honest evaluation, from both an employee and employer perspective, of the actual advantages and disadvantages of such an approach.

Meet Jane!

Let’s introduce you to Jane. Jane is an invaluable member of our team, serving as our outstanding web designer and front-end developer for the past five years. But she’s not just a proficient professional; Jane is also a gifted artist. As a company, we’ve gone the extra mile to accommodate her artistic pursuits. We’ve granted Jane every other Friday off to dedicate time to her art projects and attend art exhibitions and fairs. She has also used our wellbeing fund to purchase art materials, and our founders have even commissioned a remarkable piece of artwork from her. Please take a moment to explore andsupport her incredible work at @jk_hebenton. Jane is currently preparing for an upcoming exhibition at the “Guest Artist” event at FaMAS Open Studio in the FaMAS Art Gallery and Studios, located at Falcon Mill in Bolton. We encourage you to check it out!

To gain a deeper understanding of how this flexibility and support for outside projects have influenced Jane, we sat down with her for a candid employee perspective on how it has affected her life,both within and outside the workplace.

Do you believe the support in your passions outside of work have made you more productive and passionate in work?

I think having time to do my artwork makes me a happier person in general, so I would think that it would then also mean I’m happier day to day with other aspects of my life!

So would you say it makes your life more meaningful because of it?

Yes it’s something I’ve always done and it’s something that brings more meaning to my life. I find it meditative and freeing, but also a positive creative challenge.

Have you seen a negative or positive impact in your work having every other Friday off to work on your art projects?

I think the work life balance really improves my mood and this has a positive knock on effect with my productivity and happiness in general.

A noteworthy observation was made in the Harvard Literature Review, which highlighted the apprehension felt by numerous employees regarding non-traditional work schedules. Research indicates that these concerns are not unfounded, as data reveals that individuals who embrace flexible work arrangements frequently face stigmatisation or may experience self-imposed anxiety, fearing that they might be perceived as less dedicated to their roles. Let’s delve into this issue.

Do you feel you have been stigmatised in the workplace as a result of your outside passions?

No, its been so good that I have been 100% supported by the team and I never feel this way.

Has Carbon done a good job in assuring you of the importance of following your passions outside of work and has this relieved any anxiety surrounding it?

They have done a good job, people mention it in work and ask me questions about it which is really encouraging, it’s openly spoken about and people want to find out more which relieves any anxiety. One of the founders Kate has bought my paintings for herself and other people and that has been a really critical part of assuring me of following my passions.

How do you think you would feel/respond to working for a company that didn’t support your Art?

Working for a company where I knew they didn’t support my art would impact me, I would question why you wouldn’t support something that was making someone happy? And it would make me more likely to leave – it would feel like a hush environment where you feel like you need to hide something.

Would you recommend other businesses’ to support employees’ passions outside of work and why?

Yes. I think it’s integral to keeping employees happy and fulfilled in life. It’s good for businesses to understand people have passions outside of work that they like to do and that makes them more well rounded as a people.

What is the best thing about working at Carbon Creative?

I think the team is the best thing, everyone is very supportive and friendly – I feel comfortable giving and receiving feed back on my work and think all our personalities work well together. I also think the type of projects we work on are fulfilling – such as working on sites for charities such as Mind.

Now, let’s shift our focus to one of the founders of Carbon Creative, who has been instrumental in shaping the company’s approach to supporting employees’ passions outside of work. As the driving force behind this unique organisational culture, the founder holds invaluable insights into the benefits and potential drawbacks of this approach from an employer’s perspective. Let’s explore Kate’s experiences and reflections on how this strategy has influenced their company and its workforce.

Allow us to introduce you to Kate Hadfield, the co-founder of Carbon Creative. With a rich history spanning over two decades, Kate is not only a successful businesswoman but has also been an integral part of numerous community and charitable endeavors. Her involvement includes notable contributions such as the Salford Literary Trail and the local Food Gift Box initiative, which has resulted in the generous donation of over 20 tonnes of food to support local residents in the city.

In addition to her impressive commitment to these charitable causes, Kate is a dedicated participant in the Salford Social Value Alliance, and the Real Living Wage Action Group, and a co-founder in the MediaCity Sustainability & Social Value Network. Kate’s multi-faceted engagement and leadership are a testament to her dedication to both Carbon Creative and the broader community.

Why did you introduce the Wellbeing fund?

We advocate any interests and skills that the team has outside day to day work as away of supporting wellbeing and healthy work life balance. The Wellbeing fund was set up to help the team explore their interests in more depth and it was initially set up during the pandemic as a way of relieving stress and having fun, exploring new skills and hobbies, and a way to connect with each other whilst we were remote working, sharing ideas and stories. Lots of different requests were made, from fitness equipment, apps, knitting courses to art materials, baking tools and beer making kits!

No hard rules were applied, the fund has one simple requirement, spend it on something that makes you happy. The fund proved very successful so has continued.

Have you observed supporting employees’ passions outside of work has made them more passionate in work?

I think everyone appreciates that we are invested in them as individuals, not just employees. We champion a creative thriving work environment and naturally part of that is nurturing skill growth, but not just the on-the-job skills, additionally all the extra passions and interests team members have outside of work. Any hobby can improve our mental health and boost our mood and in turn make us feel happier and more productive in our work environment. For our team, having that open and fun approach has fostered a caring and supportive workspace to develop and succeed in.

Have you observed a positive or negative impact in work efficiency and quality ingranting Jane every other Friday off to work on focus on her art projects?

Jane has always been a very committed, hard working and creative member of the team. But her skill for painting and the art she creates outside of work is just outstanding and something we as colleagues feel very passionate about too. In the time Jane has been with us she has picked up more and more commissions as an artist, but rather than worrying about how this would impact her work at Carbon Creative, we were very supportive and suggested adjusting her work hours to allow more time to work on her paintings. We felt this gave her an opportunity to then continue to excel in both areas, as a digital designer, but also as a very gifted painter. We’ve seen the genuine positive impact this has had on Jane, not only for developing a hobby in to a very successful additional career, but helping build her confidence and boost her self-esteem.

From Jane’s answers we can see that you have been able to curate an open and safe work environment. How would you advise others on the best way to make your team feel safe in their work environment to openly discuss their passions and interests which are not related to their work?

Firstly you need to take a genuine interest, and spark up initial conversations to explore what the team’s perspective would be on this, rather than just forging ahead with a set approach. Every workplace is different and every team member is unique. Some may love an open forum to chat, others may like a more private space.

We usually start any new initiative with a simple survey, ping some questions out to get feedback and ideas first and foremost on the best approach. As an employee owned business we also have a dedicated Voice group where the team explores ideas, such as how to support and promote hobbies, independently of the business owners. Also putting aside a dedicated pot of money, such as a Wellbeing fund, can also help drive forward interest and engagement.

Making sure everyone feels included and providing a variety of ways to participate to suit the inevitable mix of personalities within the team will also help ensure positive success.

Would you recommend other businesses’ to support employees’ passions outside of work and why?

Absolutely, it’s a win win, no doubt about it. If you take the time to take interest in your team’s passions and interests, not only do you feel better connected and aware of what makes them genuinely happy, but they also feel more valued and invested in their work environment too. You can also discover opportunities where those extra skills can cross over into the workplace, sometimes in a fun and engaging way to boost collaboration, or potentially as an additional service that the workplace can start to promote. Discovering individual passions can sometimes be the key to additional business success.

The notion that employees are confined to a single dimension in their skillset is outdated, and it’s evident that individuals don’t neatly fit into a one-size-fits-all category. Embracing and nurturing our employees’ passions both within and outside of the workplace has consistently demonstrated the enhancement of their work quality and the cultivation of a more profound sense of passion and enthusiasmin their professional roles.

While it’s often considered a sensitive topic to discuss employees’ extracurricular interests, with the concern that it might encourage them to leave the workforce, our experience has shown the opposite to be true. Our commitment to this approach has not only helped us retain valuable team members but has also reinforced our commitment to fostering a positive and inclusive workplace, which remains our foremost priority.