Jamie Roberts, Partner

This famous phrase has been attributed to intellectual giants such as Mark Twain and Confucius. My Google research indicates it more likely came from a professor at Princeton University in the eighties, quoting an “old timer” he knew. Whoever coined the phrase, they did so well before smart phones were permanently in our pockets, tempting us to do some sort of “work” every day of our lives.

At YFM we spend a lot of time with management teams across all sorts of businesses, at all stages of their lifecycles and all doing different things. There are some common themes to note from those we spend time with who are doing great things:

  • They really believe in what they are doing
  • They really enjoy doing it, and
  • They want to do more of it

This is great – but it does also mean that there is a risk of an “always on” culture, and that creates two risks for their businesses and investors:

  1. Their behaviour puts pressure on those around them to “always be on” as well – even if they do not enjoy it quite so much or have the same passion for it. This can impact on retention and satisfaction.
  2. Burn-out – for both them and the those around them.

The Blackberry landed in the UK in 1999 and revolutionised how we all worked – it meant we were always connected, and the flashing red light in the top right-hand corner created an addiction for many to “just check my emails”. That stepped up a notch in 2007 when Apple launched the first smart phone, meaning we essentially had the whole office and internet in our pocket, all the time. And over the last couple of years as WhatsApp has become more common, it can sometimes feel like there is a 24/7 discussion happening in our pockets. This is often across various groups which can create even more of a temptation to “just have a look” – even when we are really meant to be building Lego with our children, watching a film, eating lunch etc.

Then when Covid hit we all ended up living and working in the same place, work and play mixed in to one as people juggled home life, home schooling, work, family etc. One of the challenges we had at YFM was that some people managed by starting and finishing early, others started and finished  their day late – which of course meant that emails and WhatsApp messages were flying around at all hours, creating more of a culture of “always on”.

Different people found different ways to deal with the challenge of lock down. There was a real mix of solutions across YFM; exercise, locking laptops and phones away after certain hours, blocking out set time in the diary to not respond to emails and calls – these all helped the team get through it. For me, I did a fair bit of running but I was also tipped off about the Calm meditation app…another reason to be on my phone. It is not my usual thing and I had to overcome some scepticism but for me it works – 10 minutes a day, eyes closed, not thinking about anything else.

We hope that this focus on people and respect for our differences carries through when we invest in a business. We know that the team is crucial in creating value for our investors, so as you would expect a key part of any plan is the people. We spend a lot of time thinking about:

  • How sustainable is the people plan?
  • Is there enough resource to deliver the plan?
  • Is the culture going to support that or does it risk burning people out?

There is not a science to this, but we think we are getting better at it. There are also various diligence providers who we use to really dig into this – much the same way as we do the commercial, legal and financial aspects of the plan.

And we are trying to live the same in our own business – we are not going to stop people who are passionate about what they do choosing to work longer hours when it is busy. But we are going to make much more of an effort as a business to encourage people to take the down time when it is there, by making sure their work is properly covered by others so they can fully switch off.

Outlook has a function to delay emails sending until a set time. It even suggests you set it to 8am – 6pm Monday to Friday… it’s a good feature.

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