The Semco Style 5 Principles to transform the way we work

Prioritize Quality Of Life

The lack of challenge, meaning, and purpose would be suffocating. Human beings thrive on being productive, on working toward goals, on providing for their families, on building a future—just don’t ask them to do it all the time and without the freedom to say, “Now, I need time for me.– Ricardo Semler

In a Nutshell

Most people, working in conventionally managed organizations, tend to ignore the imbalances in their personal and professional lives until the moment something goes wrong. It’s a highly reactionary attitude that leads to high-strung situations, deep regrets and a drained return to the workforce.

Research invariably shows that people who are unable to dedicate enough time for their personal lives tend to be employees who are physically present, yet mentally absent. And it works both ways: People who work in high stress environments often find all that negativity reflecting on their personal lives, disrupting their familial and social relationships.

Which explains why quality of life is often thought of as an elusive ideal that people and organizations are constantly striving towards. But what is it really? Is it the superficial motifs, such as gaming stations, sleeping pods and beer kegs at work, that pop culture has embraced with such ferocity? Or, is it the deep-rooted belief that your company and colleagues will be empathetic when your personal life throws a curveball at you?

It all boils down to treating others the same way you’d like to be treated in a given situation. It requires flexibility, empathy, trust and commitment to understand and accept that sometimes people need to take some time off or switch to a different routine. And that quality of life isn’t a measurable metric but an ephemeral state of mind, which is sometimes derived out of actions that have no definitive agenda or profit making capacity.


Prioritize quality of life inside and outside the workplace.


It may be true that the main driver in a business is its capacity to make profits – the more the merrier – but such a traditional and narrow definition of a business’ purpose is lopsided and unsustainable in a rapidly evolving marketplace. Instead, organizations are microcosms of society, where people interact with each other, expending a great deal of their energy and resources to influence outcomes that shape the lives of all stakeholders. So, businesses might have a profit motive, but the way they go about acquiring those profits is a huge differentiator. Historically, companies that refrained from treating their people as afterthoughts are the ones that grew into enduring and sustainable organizations. In the end, employees who feel like they are the core purpose of their company, and not just clogs in a large machine, hold the key to enduring corporate success.


Be beyond lip service: If you claim to be an organization that’s people-centric, your management needs to walk-the-talk. It isn’t okay if you fill your office with cool gadgets and reserve Friday afternoons for beer-a-thons, while ignoring the insane number of hours your people are working and losing out on their personal lives. Instead, strive to treat every employee with empathy and appreciate the fact they are real people with relationships and problems that exist beyond the office walls. And that, sometimes, life just happens and you need to be part of the support system that people need when tackling a personal responsibility or crisis.Prioritize quality of life right from recruitment: The interviews you conduct are a great way to show your commitment to prioritizing quality of life and filtering out those who don’t think it’s important. If the last time a person took a personal vacation was three years ago, then that candidate clearly doesn’t think of their personal life as being important. While conventional companies might lap up someone like that, knowing they’d work like machines, such a candidate will disrupt your drive to give importance to personal lives. It sends out a clear message that people who don’t balance their work and personal lives cannot thrive in your organization.

Make it safe for people to speak the truth: Who hasn’t cooked up an imaginary doctor appointment when in reality they just needed to leave early to take care of arrangements for their child’s birthday party? Or, who hasn’t snuck out of office on an “extended” lunch break, in order to say goodbye to a friend who’s moving away? If employees in a company are making up excuses like little school children, is it not because their companies act like boarding schools with hard-and-fast rules and punishments? If you want people to speak the truth and state the real reasons why they need some concessions, then create the safety they need.

Trust people to honour their commitments: More often than not, trust begets more trust. When you make it safe for people to openly prioritize their personal commitments, it’s an implicit understanding that they will also honour their work commitments. Trust that people will arrive early to work if they need to leave early. That they will come back to work and stay an extra hour, if needed, as long as they can visit a sick family member at the hospital. Or, that they will stay up at night to finalize a report that’s due the next day. And usually, people do.

Remind people they can prioritize their personal lives: It’s quite unlikely that people’s work life will be constantly disrupted by personal challenges and responsibilities. For, your employees are thinking adults who know how to compartmentalize their personal and professional lives. However, make it a point to check-in with your people to see if everything is as it should be in their personal lives. Enquire about their family and friends and have a casual knowledge of their engagements beyond work. Doing so sends out the message that you’re interested in their personal lives and that if something goes wrong, their workplace encourages them to realign their priorities. Although they might not need to do so very often, just knowing that it’s a possibility can drive up people’s engagement and productivity at work.

Be flexible as long as it’s rational: Always keep in mind that your employees are people with different personalities and quirks which set them apart from their colleagues. While most people naturally fit into traditional work hours and patterns, there may be a few who need to approach work differently. For instance, there may be someone who feels the most productive and creative during the wee hours of the night. If they approach you with a request to come in late afternoon and work until late in the night, you need to rationalize their request. Understand why they need to work such unusual hours; find out if they’ve discussed it with colleagues who might be affected by the change. And if everything can be rationalized, allow them the flexibility. And make sure that it’s an option for anybody else who can explain the rationale behind their request.

Don’t think of quality of life as a measurable metric: A lot of the decisions that are made in organizations tend to have financial repercussions – either positive or negative. And, placing personal commitments ahead of professional ones may not always make sense financially. But still, persevere to prioritize people’s quality of life – whether it’s at home or at the workplace. If people want to set aside time, during working hours, to relax and just unwind, help them do it. Or, if they want to redo the office interiors and transform it into a space that they feel much more comfortable working in, try to accommodate it. These actions might not have any explicit financial benefits to the organization but it improves people’s quality of life at the workplace. And, although it might disrupt productivity temporarily, it will have an overall positive effect on employee morale and commitment.

Level to implement



Be empathetic towards people and their personal challenges

Offer flexibility and other concessions universal and not for specific departments or groups of people

When you introduce such a practice, coach and mentor people to align themselves with their colleagues whenever needed.

Help colleagues put themselves in the shoes of the other person to help minimize any tensions.

Be flexible about when people come in to work or where they do their work.

Focus on results rather than rules and regulations


Place monetary benefits over people’s personal commitments and engagement.

Try to measure quality of life as a metric because it’s not tangible.

Be partial about whose personal problems or responsibilities you empathize with


Boosts employee morale, engagement and productivity

Improves the trust employees have in the management

Encourages people to reciprocate in times of business crises

Transforms employees into committed advocates

Helps people find work-life balance


Might lead to some confusion about agendas when people don’t know who’s where at what time

Might lead to some tension when there’s no explicit rationale behind someone’s actions such as arriving at midday everyday

Some of the actions may lower the productivity of your teams at times.

There may be some people who abuse this freedom, trust and flexibility


One day, Paulo Ogeia, from Sales department came in very early to work because it was his son’s birthday and he had to leave early to make arrangements for the party they were throwing to mark the occasion. And Paulo did just that because he knew it was completely accepted at Semco and that there was no need for him to lie saying he had a doctor appointment or to sneak out when no one was looking.

Semco employees know that there’s no need for such pretence and that everyone expects you will compensate for the time off at another moment. If you’ve already delivered all that was expected, then even better for you can do whatever you want with your time. In that sense, quality of life was highly valued at Semco: The management understood that if employees managed to find fulfillment in their personal lives, without jeopardizing their professional commitments, their engagement at work would be much more sustainable.


There was an engineer at Semco who was generally regarded as a genius who could compute extremely complicated mechanical calculations with ease. But he was someone who preferred to work late nights, which wasn’t the regular shift timing for someone in his position. In any other company, his request to change his work hours would have been immediately rejected and the management would have forced him to continue with the status quo. However, Semco understood that doing so would make them lose his more inspired and productive moments as an employee and the company decided that was more important than any policy on work timings for engineers.

So they allowed him to choose his own work timings and he began coming in at midday and working until late into the night. The arrangement worked out for everyone, in the end, because they aligned his knew schedules with the people who might be affected by the change. Though there were some initial tensions, they eventually faded away when people understood the reason behind his odd hours. The management also helped subside the tensions by assuring everyone that they too could change their work schedules as long as they could justify it.

Of course, it did prove to be quite challenging initially when people began setting their own work schedules and there was no standard office hours. For a lot of people who came in from traditional backgrounds and mindsets, it was tough to accept or understand. But overtime, people began understanding the new dynamics of how things worked at Semco and discovered that it was quite difficult to go back to their original ways of working. A lot of people who quit Semco during this transition, returned to the company once they found out that they couldn’t go back to working out of little cages and mindless rules.


At one point, the factory employees at Semco decided amongst themselves to repurpose materials that would have been otherwise thrown into recycling or the garbage. They approached the management with a plan to create a lounge-like space for themselves using materials like wooden pallets, cardboard boxes and other recycling materials. They planned to use the proposed space to unwind during factory hours, to have a drink or a barbeque at work. They also planned to beautify empty spaces around the factory and the garden in order to improve their work environment.

Superficially, the project wouldn’t bring any benefit or savings to the company. Neither was it a proposition to optimize the chain of production or any other business practice for that matter. Instead, it was one that solely meant to improve the workers’ quality of life at work and Semco felt that it needed to be valued and encouraged. So the factory workers went ahead and created a cool, colourful lounge space with little tables and chairs where they could take a break and relax.


One Friday, it was Paulo Ogeia’s daughter’s birthday and they were throwing a party for her friends at 6PM that evening. Since Paulo needed to leave work at 4PM, to make arrangements for the party, he arrived early at work in order to finalize an important report that had to be processed that evening. It was for an important client order that needed to be sent out on the following Monday.

But, he discovered that there was a problem with the internal system that morning and that even after lunch the problem couldn’t be fixed. That meant he couldn’t finalize the report before he left at 4PM.

In a traditional company, Paulo would have been expected to stay back until the system could be fixed and leave only after the report was finalized. But that wasn’t the case in Semco. Paulo called the department that would be processing the report at 7PM that evening and explained to them that he had to leave early that day to organize his daughter’s party. But, he also promised to log into the system later that night to finalize the report and send it in as soon as possible. So the person on the other end said, “Okay, instead of processing the report tonight, I will do it tomorrow at 7 AM but make sure that I have all the required information before that time.”

Ogeia agreed and left early to organize his daughter’s birthday party as planned. After he wrapped up the party at around midnight, he took an hour-long nap and logged into the system at around 1 AM. After working on the report for a couple of hours, he was able to send it in via email at around 3AM and everything was fine.

This kind of flexibility, which allows people to fulfill their personal duties, is not just about the freedom. It’s a reflection of the commitment that Ogeia had to wake up at 1AM on a Saturday morning to take care of business that was originally stalled due to things beyond his control. It’s also something that takes a lot of collaboration between different teams and people who work and empathize with each other to make such flexibility possible. At Semco, when someone asks someone for flexibility from another person or department, it’s offered without hesitation because they know that when it’s their turn someday, the same flexibility will be available to them as well.



Expert avatar

Borges, Ian

Co-founder at LeadWise | Partner at Semco Style Institute | Entrepreneur | Lifestyle Strategist | Digital Nomad

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Portuguese, English, French, Spanish

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