The search for work-life balance – a quest for many in the workplace – is a mythical search for that perfect line separating how much we work from how much time we spend on personal activities. While making sure to give time for yourself and family is the right motivation behind the division, this strict differentiation between “work” and “life” wrongly treats them as separate entities.

The reality is that work is very much a part of life. We spend more than 50 percent of our waking time with our colleagues, so instead of looking for a “balance,” companies need to strive for policies that help employees better blend the two and move seamlessly between work and life and back again.

When we asked our employees what we can do to support them, the idea of “work-life blend” really resonated. Our employees are dedicated to providing excellent client service, which they know that can require their focus and attention outside of traditional business hours. So a “traditional” approach to work-life wasn’t a feasible solution for us or for them.

“Traditional” wasn’t enough when it came to policies designed for working families, either. As a new generation made its values known in our workforce, with more men and women leaning in to their jobs and their families, and as more working parents filled our leadership ranks, we knew we could do more to help our people be there for their clients and colleagues, and still attend the doctors’ appointments, soccer games and school visits.

That’s why we moved forward in 2014 with what we call H+K Inside and H+K Outside – a set of policy commitments to our people to support them inside our walls and help them have time for what’s important to them outside those walls.

Our Inside policies focus on things like training, mentoring, office exploration opportunities, and recognizing strong performance. Our Outside policies focus on things like fitness reimbursements, an expanded holiday calendar, flexible work schedules and the ability for all employees to work remotely one day a week.

One particularly notable element of our Outside: Kids commitment is an industry-leading parental leave policy that gives 16 fully paid weeks of leave for birth moms and 10 for all parents – dads, partners, and adoptive parents – with none of it coming from sick leave or vacation time.

Our efforts to better blend work and life were welcomed by our employees, but would turnover, one of the perpetual challenges facing large PR firms, change? After looking at the data from the first full year of these policies, I am happy to say that it has. Our employee-retention rate jumped five points from 2014 to 2015. And we saw double-digit jumps in the rate of employees who said they would recommend Hill+Knowlton Strategies as a good place to work, who feel valued as employees, and who are proud to work here.

The importance of our employees’ happiness and engagement cannot be overstated. In the communications industry in particular, we provide not only our services but also the creativity, ingenuity and insights of our staff. The more we can do to help our people be at their best, the more our clients benefit, and the more stability and consistency we all enjoy.

We’re already celebrating the business impact of this initiative. And now that human resources authority WorldatWork has recognized Hill+Knowlton Strategies U.S. with its Work-Life Seal of Distinction for 2016, we have even more cause for celebration.

Companies that still consider people-first policies as simply perks or as pandering to a millennial mindset would be wise to take a look at the business impact data. We’re certainly pleased with ours.

Mike Coates is President and CEO of H+K Strategies Americas

This evening, our colleague and friend, Tom Hoog, is being honored by the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations with its annual Milestones in Mentoring Legacy Award. I can think of no one more deserving of recognition for a lifetime commitment to mentoring.

When Tom received the prestigious Gold Anvil from the PRSA in 2004, he called on all professionals to commit to a life of mentorship. For the young people in the audience, he remarked that he learned very early on in this profession that if he had to make it, based solely on his own capabilities, he’d probably starve. That certainly drew a laugh, but his challenge rang true to them: Don’t go it alone. Take advantage of the knowledge and experience of the people around you. Then he challenged the more senior people in the room to reflect upon what their legacy would be, noting that, as leaders, the way they will be measured over the long term is not by what they have gained, but by what they have given. He reminded them that knowledge is the one thing you can give away freely, and yet still own it. What a great thought.

I’ve seen Tom share knowledge and selflessly help younger colleagues for more than two decades now. I’ve seen him guide our mentorship and training programs, and accept every single opportunity to speak with young people that comes his way. Honoring him with this legacy award, on the topic that is most near and dear to who he is as a person and as a professional, from an organization that he holds in such high esteem, is a meaningful and fitting recognition for this industry leader and friend.

I know everyone who has crossed his path over his incredible career joins me in congratulating Tom.

H+K's Liz Torrez, Abbie PeGan, Gina Ribaudo, Cathleen Bleers Westley, Tom Hoog, Renae Godish, Mike Coates, and Claire Koeneman gathered with PR influencers in Chicago for a photo to celebrate Tom Hoog's award and leadership.

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