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Striking a Balance
Published Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Employees at Elbit Systems in Merrimack participate in a lunchtime soccer game. Courtesy photo.

As companies demand more of their workers, employees are pushing back and demanding more flexibility. It's all about work-life balance, right?

One Life
“I fundamentally do not believe in work-life balance. I believe in my life: there’s times I have to give more to my family, my community and my job. It’s always been a blended stew,” says Joe Army, president and CEO of Vapotherm in Exeter.

Jeff Milrod, president and CEO of Bittware in Concord, agrees. “You have one life. If your wife calls and there’s a problem with your kid, your mind will not be here. Go and take care of your kid.” But, Milrod adds, the project still has to be completed. To accomplish that, Bittware offers flexibility whether that’s working from home for part of the week, having to leave early or coming in late.

Army says it’s about getting the work done and not about how or when it gets done. “I don’t care if you do your work at two in the morning in your basement while eating Cocoa Puffs. Our employees are adults, and I don’t feel the need to keep tabs on them if they’re doing their job,” Army says. He emphasizes that when employees aren’t working, they need to unplug. To ensure unfettered down time, Vapotherm instituted a PTO Pal program so each employee’s email and urgent requests are handled by a designated colleague when they are on vacation.

“Work-life balance is a question of flexibility,” says Ralf Kraemer, CEO of Klüber Lubrication in Londonderry. “We expect a lot of flexibility from our employees; we expect them to be willing to go above and beyond the call of duty. In return, we’re willing to be flexible when the employee needs some leniency with work hours, needs to work from home or leave early to pick up a child. We’re willing to accommodate our employees as part of that partnership with our employees.”

Kraemer says allowing a parent to leave early to pick up a child has a small effect on the company but a huge impact on the employee. Giving a little bit usually pays big dividends with employees who, in turn, give back, he says.

Suzanne Foster, vice president and general manager at Medtronic Transformative Solutions in Portsmouth, agrees. She recalls an engineer who did not want to return full time after the birth of her child, but the company did not have a policy around part-time engineering positions. “But there was no reason we couldn’t,” says Foster, who adds they created a customized schedule for the engineer.

Merchants Fleet Management in Hooksett offers summer-flex schedules allowing each department to set a summer schedule from a menu of options, including four-day work weeks and early-out Fridays.

At Comcast in Manchester, employees have shift options, and top performers in the call center can work from home. Comcast also offers employees in the National Guard or Reserves five additional weeks off for basic training, and it provides financial support to employees who are deployed.

Loftware in Portsmouth provides all employees with laptops and technology to work remotely. “Everybody still has a job to do. There is still the need to collaborate in the office with other employees, but it’s also important to strike a balance,” says Robert O’Connor, president and CEO of Loftware. “When you deal with people you trust who work hard for the company, we’re happy to give them the leeway they need to balance their lives and work schedules to be happier employees.”

It’s About Trust
Some companies set no limits on the time employees can take, including the International Association of Privacy Professionals in Portsmouth and NEMO Equipment in Dover. “It’s about creating balance. We think people are more productive when they are balanced,” says Amy Sherwood, COO at IAPP. “When you have other stuff going on in your life and you don’t have room to deal with it, it comes out at work.” She says while there is no set limit on time off, “It is limited by getting your job done and collaborating with your teammates.” Sherwood says it works. “People love it. It does from time to time create challenges when people are not able to set the boundaries themselves, and it requires us to have lots of conversations,” she says. “We don’t need to track every move they make. It’s about getting their work done and doing it really well.”

NEMO Equipment prides itself on hiring creative, self-motivated people who can balance hard work with outdoor adventure. It’s routine to see employees coming in from surfing or from a run together.

As an outdoor lifestyle company, NEMO encourages employees to take time off for fun, and even pays them a stipend to use its equipment. In addition to the unlimited time-off policy, NEMO finds other ways to be family friendly, whether it’s allowing dogs at work or inviting family members to NEMO events.

Supporting Families
Belisario Rosas, president of Worldcom Exchange Inc., says keeping families in mind is about more than time-off policies. Including families in company events helps them to feel connected to the values of the business and what loved ones are doing.

Howard Brodsky, CEO of CCA Global Partners in Manchester, says it is important that leaders model good work-life balance by taking time away from the office themselves.

Companies are increasingly recognizing the importance of allowing new parents time to bond with babies or when foster or adoptive children come into their lives.   

IAPP offers three months of paid paternity and maternity leave. Comcast offers up to 12 weeks of paid time off for primary caregivers and two weeks for secondary caregivers. Additionally, primary caregivers can come back with an adjusted schedule for four weeks.

And Northeast Delta Dental in Concord offers 225 hours of paid parental leave within the first 26 weeks of the child’s birth or adoption. It implemented the policy in 2016 after seeing companies like Netflix, Google and Facebook offering similar programs.

Employees at Pax World Management in Portsmouth all start at four weeks’ vacation and can earn up to five weeks, as well as eight sick days. In addition, they can take 12 weeks of paid short-term leave for a serious illness or maternity/paternity/adoption/foster care leave with the ability to take the leave intermittently. They can also take four paid weeks to care for an ill family member.

“Our family leave policy has been used about 25 times, and 20 of those times were used by men. We’re proud of that. There’s research out there that suggests men don’t take paternity leave because they feel it will be frowned upon, and that has a chilling affect for women who want to take maternity leave. We want to emphasize that this program is for everyone,” says Joseph Keefe, CEO. When a male employee proposed splitting his time between paternity leave and a big project, he was told to take the leave full time, and Pax World delayed the project until he returned.

W.S. Badger in Gilsum allows new parents to bring babies to work until they begin to crawl. Then up to age three, they can send them to a child care center down the street for care that is subsidized by the company. Badger also offers flex schedules and shuts off its phones at 4:30 p.m. so parents can pick up their children and make dinner. “This is one way to fully support young professionals,” says Rebecca Hamilton, an owner and vice president of research and development.

W.S. Badger in Gilsum allows new parents to bring their babies to work. Courtesy photo.

When You Need to be Present
But some jobs require people to be at work. Elbit Systems of America in Merrimack and Wire Belt Company of America in Londonderry are manufacturers that offer 9/80 workweeks to provide balance.  Employees work 80 hours over nine days and receive a three-day weekend every other week. “It created that extra day where people can do for themselves or their family what they normally don’t have time to do,” says Real Madore, vice president of operations at Elbit. “It’s a benefit that helps us to attract new talent.”

Novo Nordisk in Lebanon runs 24/7, 365 days a year producing treatments for hemophilia and growth disorders, which requires people to be onsite at all times. So the company focuses on helping employees achieve balance in the workplace. “In our performance reviews, we talk about the balance of workload, if they’re under stress. Employees can have dialogue around their Wellbeing Metric,” says Peter Gariepy, NH site vice president, of a color-coded system that employees  use to give managers a visual cue about their stress levels.

Bank tellers are another occupation that can’t work remotely. Communication around balance is important at Bellwether Community Credit Union in Manchester. “It’s all about understanding what our employees want and making sure they trust us enough to communicate what they need,” says Mike L’Ecuyer, CEO.

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