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"Autonomy Is Crucial to Striking a Great Work / Life Balance"


Autonomy is key to achieving a good work / life balance. In her second piece, Johanna Keppens, managing partner at Volstok explains why this is so important

"Autonomy Is Crucial to Striking a Great Work / Life Balance"

The employees of the Belgian animation studio Volstok can rub their hands with glee having Johanna Keppens as managing director because she is fully committed to people’s wellbeing. In the previous article [link] she outlined seven ‘interventions’ that can help strike a better balance between one’s work and private life. In this second article, she talks about how to implement these interventions and what the benefits are.

“Autonomy is crucial to striking a great work / life balance,” says Johanna. “Employees must have ownership over how they organise their private lives during office hours. So if they want to exercise during the working day, its on them as to how they organise their time. And that works very well. It’s up to them and that ensures that they do it conscientiously. There’s no abuse. And for me, thats a real factor of success.

Less work demands more clarity

Then it’s about very clear communication. While it sounds logical it also needs some real thought too. Working four days a week is available for everyone; for producers, creatives and managers alike. Clarity then becomes key. Its the colleague's responsibility to let the client know when their day off is, and that theres internal cover; someone who’s up to speed on the current issues and doesn’t suddenly get a ton of extra work.

Johanna goes on, “It did happen that on one occasion an employee sent a quick email announcing their day off, assuming it would be fine. But it wasn’t. There was a lot of extra work and it very quickly became frustrating. Of course, it takes time to find a formula that works for everyone.

A puzzle not an obstacle

The legislation in Belgium makes flexible working hours difficult. I often work until 4.30 pm, pick up the children, feed them, put them to bed and then back to work after 7.30 pm,” says Johanna.  “But for people in paid employment, working between 8pm and 6am is officially considered night work. And it’s a bit of a puzzle finding who’s available or not, or who still has time to take over extra work. Too often, working fewer hours means that you have to do the same amount of work in less time. Johanna is wary of this. You can only compensate for this by employing more people, so that you can plan flexibly. And, having made the decision, you have to be consistent. But these issues aren’t a reason for me not to facilitate flexible working, or working less. Because in the long run your employees are more satisfied, motivated and loyal. And, stay with the company longer which is certainly worth it.”


Every Friday, employees receive a pop-up message on their screens asking: How was your week? Its one of the things Johanna learned from the Swedish sister company Bsmart, which, like Volstok, is part of the PAKT group. They are much further ahead in the field of work / life balance. We can learn a lot from them.

Colleagues have to respond to the message. That may be a thumbs up or a smiley face, or four pages of text! It’s a simple way of staying in touch with our employees and their wellbeing. If someone keeps saying, ‘I was super busy’ or ‘Im really tired etc,’ those are red flags. Then we can start talking to the person in question and see how we can help.


I really want to share and spread this way of working. It’s all about the detail. We regularly check in with employees and ask, ‘Are you still happy where you are? What are your ambitions for the future? Do you need something in the way of training or coaching?

Because of this approach, the company's own employees turn out to be the best ambassadors. They share their experiences with their network. Applicants often tell us that theyve heard were a good employer. Thats a wonderful compliment and another reason that encourages us to go further. Because good people are scarce.

Written by Johanna Keppens. She is managing partner at Volstok, Part of PAKT: European ecosystem of content production companies with one vision: Creating quality content at scale

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Pakt, Tue, 22 Nov 2022 13:13:49 GMT