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Why this lawyer may be the best boss of 2014 Add to ...

And the award for best employer of 2014 goes to … Mayanne Downs, a Florida lawyer who allows her staff to “work the schedule that suits their home life.”

The Orlando Sentinel’s Jim Stratton profiles Downs and her work-life balance attuned office this week.

The Orlando firm of GrayRobinson lets employees leave the office when they need to for family commitments and also provides an office concierge who will run employees’ pesky domestic errands – think dry cleaning, groceries and picking up prescriptions. Most importantly, before each case, Downs sits down with employees to hash out how much work they think they can comfortably take on. Downs calls it “reality-based management.”

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“The policies are part of Downs’ attempt to help her staff members – the women in particular – strike a balance between their work and home lives,” writes Stratton. “The effort reflects a growing sense that, historically, most companies have done little to acknowledge that many women work two full-time jobs: one in the office and one at home.”

Beyond boosting women in the workplace, such perks no doubt also appeal to male employees: “I don’t want expectations to chew on our souls,” the lawyer told Stratton.

In addressing work-life balance through staff policy, Downs is a unique employer. Many managers remain reticent about innovative scheduling options such as flex time, even as human resource surveys suggest options such as working remotely help retain and motivate staff. Stratton cites a recent LinkedIn survey that found 42 per cent of career women polled wanted to work from home more often, even as they worried telecommuting would impact their promotability.

Here, Stratton describes a common but largely unspoken managerial/employee dynamic: “show up” and be visible at your desk to placate the boss. What Downs offers her workers is permission not to have to run basic life errands surreptitiously on a rare lunch break.

Mommy bloggers commended the concept even as readers wondered how it all plays out in reality. Some commenters doubted employees could ever be so forthright about their own limitations with a boss while others wondered if the work-life balance policy applied equally to parents and those without children or spouses.

With research suggesting happy employees are more productive employees, the Globe’s Tavia Grant reported that some companies are starting to support time-strapped staff with initiatives such as personal days, sabbaticals and closing at noon ahead of holidays – or automatically flicking the lights off at 6:30 p.m. each night so people are primed not to overwork themselves.

And like the office concierge at GrayRobinson who will fill employees’ Whole Foods shopping lists, the authors of a 2010 article titled “Housework is an Academic Issue: How to keep talented women scientists in the lab, where they belong,” recommended that universities start offering benefits packages that include money to hire domestic help.

Less vacuuming, more science.

Follow me on Twitter: @ZosiaBielski

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