Work-life balance for entrepreneurs and employees: insights from Geniebook

Alicia and Zhizhong from Geniebook

Which is more stressful – work or family? Whatever one answers, it’s clear that for many in today’s world, the stress is compounded by having to balance both work commitments and family life. A recent study by tech company Kisi ranked Singapore as 32 out of 40 in terms of work-life balance, noting the relatively long working hours (an average of 44.6 hour a week), the low number of vacations offered, and that 23% of respondents indicated working more than 48 hours a week.

These pressures are compounded when one runs one’s own fledgling business, or has a new child in the family. Alicia and Zhizhong, founders of Singaporean Edtech startup Geniebook, are no strangers to this. From their beginnings running a tuition center, they have built up an online educational platform, all while maintaining a balance between their business and their young children.

Though they enjoy success today, ranking among the top 10 tuition providers in Singapore via student numbers, their journey hasn’t been easy. Alicia shared that when they started in 2007, they both worked seven days a week. “I had to give up my hobbies and time with my family to build up the education center then. Even now, I will continue with my work or reading after I put my older child to bed each night,” she continues.

Today, Geniebook has 95 staff members under its wing, a large increase from only 30 the previous year. Finding a work-life balance for themselves while also providing opportunities for their employees to achieve it as well has shaped Alicia and Zhizhong’s management philosophy at Geniebook. Zhizhong shared the moment he realized this was an issue, a period when his daughter would cry when he moved to hug her as she did not recognize him.

“That was when I realized that I needed to do something about it. The business can be doing very well, but I believe that it should not come at a cost where I have to sacrifice time spent with my family,” he continued.

Building an environment for work-life balance

At Geniebook, Alicia and Zhizhong develop Objectives and Key Results (OKR) that set clear goals, measured by agreed-upon results, in order to push staff towards achieve great things and keep us focused on the most critical priorities. Bringing the same mindset into their personal life, they ask their teams, “What is the one thing you want to achieve outside of work?”, and try to do everything in their power to help the teammate achieve that.

Having children has certainly shaped their management philosophy. Alicia shared how “Having children helped me balance between love and discipline. To juggle these two principles when raising my children is a lifelong process that has no formula for it. Similar to the workplace, I have to balance love and discipline with my employees.”

“As Sun Tze once said, “Treat your men as you would, your beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.” Having children has made me realize that I have to treat employees with compassion and patience, the same way I treat my children,” she continued.

Technological innovations have also helped them and their employees balance work and family life. Zhizhong shared how many online tools are used to coordinate schedules and share work projects. “For example, we like to use Slack to communicate within the team instead of other messaging apps, as Slack allows us to turn off notifications after a certain time of day, which in turn permits us to switch off from work. In addition, we also use Basecamp to coordinate project objectives and tasks to keep each other on track.”

“This helps us work together more effectively and enables us the option of working remotely when necessary. This way, we empower employees to make the most of their time so they can get work done better and faster, which allows them more time to spend with their families,” he continued. It is through these policies and harnessing technology that Alicia and Zhizhong hope to achieve an equilibrium in which both career and family can reinforce one another and thrive.

Advice for aspiring parent entrepreneurs

Ambitious young Singaporeans may be daunted by the prospect of having to juggle the stress of work life with their commitments to family, leading many to choose one over the other. Alicia encourages aspiring parent entrepreneurs to not let challenges and difficulties pull them down, as “everything can be a learning experience for you, no matter good or bad.”

“It is essential to note that entrepreneurship requires a lot of time and money. Hence, to be an entrepreneur, you will need to prepare yourself for the worst that can happen mentally. Plan and weigh your options carefully before taking that leap of faith,” she advised, before concluding that “having said that, if entrepreneurship is your dream, strive for it because one day, your achievements will be an inspiration to your child.”

Zhizhong feels that there managing parenting and entrepreneurship is certainly possible. “However, while you can have anything you want, you cannot have everything you want. There is still a need to compromise on other aspects of your life if you are an aspiring parent entrepreneur.”