Work/Life Balance, with Dianne Grote Adams, Safex (Inspiring Women, Episode 50)
As a working mother juggling family and a career, Dianne Grote Adams felt a compulsion to start her company, Safex, with a core value of giving employees the opportunity to realize a better work/life balance. In this interview with Inspiring Women host Betty Collins, Dianne discussed the development of Safex, what role the focus on work/life balance has had in attracting and retaining talent, and much more.
The host of Inspiring Women is Betty Collins and the show is presented by Brady Ware & Company.
Betty’s Show Notes
Balancing your professional and personal life can be challenging, but it’s essential.
Often, work takes precedence over everything else in our lives. Our desire to succeed professionally can push us to set aside our own well-being.
Creating a harmonious work-life balance or work-life integration is critical, though, to improve not only our physical, emotional, and mental well-being, but it’s also important for our career.
My guest is Dianne Grote Adams. She is president of Safex, a health and safety consulting business, who started her company in 1992. As a working mom with a young family, she wanted to create a company that would respect the abilities of people in a technical career while also offering them some flexibility. From its beginning, Safex has offered flexible scheduling and benefits—vacation, insurance, and paid holidays—for anyone who works more than 25 hours.
Did you find that you attracted the right team around you because of that philosophy?
A lot of people, I think, have this myth that part-time workers aren’t committed. And they say, well, they’re not really committed to their careers. And I found the opposite. They have time to do personal things. And guess what? They don’t make doctor’s appointments during work hours. They don’t make personal calls during work hours because they have other days to take care of that. So I find actually they are probably more committed because they knew they have a special opportunity that others might not have.
But there are people who maybe can’t handle flex time and flexibility. They need more structure. Do you find that sometimes that’s a challenge?
I think there are certain people who maybe need more guidance or more coaching to help them learn how to manage flex time. Many of us didn’t grow up with that as an option, right? Can everyone be successful? I don’t know. But you’ve got to be able to manage responsibility and accountability.
What would you tell employers who are starting businesses to get into this mindset today? How do you get started?
It has been a focus on what does that person. What is that person supposed to contribute, what are they supposed to do? And if you can put a good definition around that and they meet that, then why should you care what the exact hour is or whether they rode their bike for an hour at lunch or they left early to catch a concert?
So in your journey, what comes easy for you in the work-life balance?
For me, it’s really easy to tell someone else to go take the time off. I struggle still with that work ethic that I grew up with, that I need to be first in, last out, and yes, I need to on Sunday night to prepare for the upcoming week. I just don’t give myself that same grace.
Hosted by Betty Collins, CPA, and Director at Brady Ware and Company. Betty also serves as the Committee Chair for Empowering Women, and Director of the Brady Ware Women Initiative. Each episode is presented by Brady Ware and Company, committed to empowering women to go their distance in the workplace and at home.
For more information, go to the Resources page at Brady Ware and Company.
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[00:00:00] Betty Collins
I’m Betty Collins. And this is inspiring women. And today we’re going to go through a topic that all of us think about, all of us wish it were just easy. All of us some of us think it’s a it’s a myth. Some of us think it’s a lifetime journey of perfecting. But it really comes down to work life balance and knowing how to make that happen. And sometimes I do really well at it. Other times I’m like, okay, I’ve got to reset again and figure this out. So I think it’s a challenge. It’s all part of your journey. And then one day you figure out it’s probably is a little bit of a myth, but it’s something you can do if you’re intentional about it. It’s like everything intentionality makes it happen. So today I have a very special guest, Dianne Grody Adams, and she founded a company built this company for for quite a while and has and everything about it had in mind a work life balance. So we are just fortunate to have you today, Dianne. We are so glad that you are taking some time with us and the audience. And I know they’re going to be inspired by what you have to say. So the first thing I do want to do is just tell us a little bit about take a couple of minutes to tell us about Dianne Grote Adams.
[00:01:14] Dianne Grote Adams
Wow. Gosh, what is there to tell? So long time Columbus resident, born basically here and grew up here and started the company actually worth 30 years old this year. Very good. So but you’re right, work life balance was something that I aspired to when I was working and thus led me to start Safex. I started working back many years ago and obviously in the traditional workforce didn’t always have as much flexibility as I would have liked to have.
[00:01:49] Betty Collins
Correct. Today we’ve learned all about flexibility because you have a crisis come in and then everyone all of a sudden just went to flexibility. Right. But in 30 years ago, that wasn’t the case. So when you say you have something in mind for that, that you wanted to keep that at your forefront. Tell me just some specifics of what that would be back when you’re thinking through this has to happen, you know.
[00:02:14] Dianne Grote Adams
So I think the big part for me, the motivator for me was I had a professional career, I started a family and I couldn’t balance traveling full time and raising two sons and being a good wife and a good employee. Right. And I didn’t feel like I should have to sacrifice any of those things. So I looked for options and I found a part time job in my field, but it was not very fulfilling. The pay was terrible. There were no perks you got, as many of us probably have done. Hopefully it’s better now. But at that time, right. So as I started to start the business, I thought, well, why does it have to be that way? Why couldn’t I work less than 40 hours a week and still have benefits? Or why couldn’t other mothers or fathers that wanted to be caregivers? Or maybe they just were at a different point in their career and they didn’t want to work 40 or 50 hours a week. Right. Why couldn’t we model a company like that? So that was the intent.
[00:03:14] Betty Collins
Okay. Well, in those beginning stages was of of that and that was part of your culture, probably that was just part of the quote, the mission statement. That was part of how you thought. Did you find that you attracted the right team around you because of that?
[00:03:32] Dianne Grote Adams
That’s a great question, because a lot of people, I think, have this myth that part time workers aren’t committed.
[00:03:36] Betty Collins
And part time B, let’s define as less than 40 hours. And they say, well, they’re not really committed to their careers. And I found the opposite. Those of us who work there knew that we had something special, that we could come to work for three days a week, and then we could have time to do the personal things. And guess what? I didn’t make doctor’s appointments during my work hours. I didn’t make personal calls during my work hours because I had those other days to take care of that. So I found actually they were probably more committed because they knew they had a special opportunity that others might not have.
[00:04:13] Betty Collins
Right. And 30 years ago, this conversation would have been the extreme or it would have been on the out an outlier. It would have been like, okay, good. I’m good luck with that. Right? So you probably had a lot of critics at that point, but at the same time, you felt like you developed a great team that probably stayed with you a long time because of it. One of the things that I that I tell women is your seasons are different. So my twenties look nothing like my thirties. You know, my fifties weren’t my forties. I don’t know what 60 is, but it’s coming there. I’m going to find out pretty soon. Okay. And so sometimes when you look at work life balance, it’s just an easier time to make it happen versus other times. So as an employer and as that person that was building your team. That as far as the work life balance where you flexible as they tendered in came in and out of those seasons. So whether men or women it doesn’t matter.
[00:05:08] Dianne Grote Adams
Certainly and you’re right on and that we all have a different desire or need depending on where we are in our work journey. And sometimes it’s a young family that wants more flexibility. We’ve had other extreme where someone is in their sixties, wants to keep working, but they don’t want to be there five days a week. And so they would like the alternative as well. So I agree with you. It’s not limited to a certain demographic or a certain age group.
[00:05:37] Betty Collins
Right. And in today’s markets, completely different issues of the day. But I mean, people are really back to I want more flexibility. I got used to flexibility and now the things that in their seasons are become extremely important to them, which is not a bad thing. Right. So have you made we had this thing called COVID. You know, we had this thing called a pandemic. Have you made changes since COVID or, you know, as yet another generation is joining the workforce? How are you dealing in all of that? So 38 years ago, you were on the cutting edge. Now it’s like och post-COVID, millennials, all of that.
[00:06:14] Dianne Grote Adams
So actually what we’ve been saying to people is, you know, we’ve been doing this for 30 years. This for us isn’t something really new. But we did recently document our work, flex time, I guess for help for the younger people coming in. We actually got feedback from them is I like the thought here, but I think I need a better understanding and some. Boxes around what you want me to do and not do. Which I was kind of surprised because I was kind of like, Well, you got to take care of your customers and you’ve got to meet your client needs and your internal client needs. And other than that, if you need to run with the doctor under the doctor, but they wanted a little more structure around it. So we actually put it on paper and said, okay, here are your options and laid it out for them.
[00:07:03] Betty Collins
Right. So do you find that this model doesn’t, though, work for everyone? You know, because it’s like, oh, man, I get all this. But there are people who maybe can’t handle flex time and flexibility. They need more structure. Do you find that sometimes that’s a challenge?
[00:07:21] Dianne Grote Adams
I think there are certain people who maybe need more guidance or more coaching to help them learn how to manage flex time. Many of us didn’t grow up with that as an option, right? You went to school and you were expected to be there certain hours and you had homework and it was due a certain time in your first jobs if you’ve been working a while. We had very structured schedules, right? So I think some people need guidance on how do they manage that right now. Can everyone be successful? I don’t know. But you’ve got to be able to manage responsibility and accountability.
[00:07:59] Betty Collins
Right. And I think and I’m sure that you do this for Betty Collins. I do better when I’m in an office. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve always been in an office, but I know when I’m home, I’m like, I’ll just get one more thing done here and I’ll change one more laundry load and maybe I can just shop off to Kroger and then I’ll come back. So for me to go in and out like that, it’s not it’s not a good mindset. I need to stay focused and in there. But when I was raising my kids and that season of Sports and Youth Group and you name it, I could do it then. I can’t do it now. Like I could leave and go. I got to go to the game and then I’ll come back and fit and I was able to. So some of it has to do with the season, but for me, I know if I had I would have to still have a lot of structure around it. So but that’s just me. So when we’re balancing things, what do you find that people like to balance the most? I mean, for me, I look at my life and go, okay, this is the order. I have a spiritual life. I have a mental health life, a physical life. And then there’s this big category called The Routine of Life. And as long as I balance this first, I can handle routine fairly well. So when you’re finding people want that balance, is it that cut and dry? Because I’m a CPA and I’ve got four sections, you know, but when they talk about balance, what do you find your employees want to balance besides doctor appointments or or maybe that’s a lot of what it is.
I do think a lot of it is just life. Yeah. There are things you have to do, right? It’s part of that. Adulting. Yes. And it takes time. Yeah. And if all the people you need to make a phone call and appointments for work 8 to 5 and you work 8 to 5, that’s hard. So that is part of it. I think others I think it’s all over board depending on what their interests are. Right. I have some people who want to go use the gym for lunch or I have some people who want to go the grocery store before they pick a child up at childcare or somebody wants a long weekend to go hiking. So I think it’s really all over the board what those other things are, depending on what their personal interests are.
[00:10:01] Betty Collins
Yeah. So for you, you know, this is part of your culture. It’s been part of the why and the how, because it was personal to you 30 years ago that I need this in my life for people who still don’t grasp this, like maybe my older partners, they just don’t grasp it. What would you tell employers today or women who are starting businesses or anyone who’s starting a business, you know, to get this mindset, especially if it’s hard for them, like how do you really just get in there and go because this works? How do you get started? You know, how do you change that?
[00:10:40] Dianne Grote Adams
For us? I think it has been a focus on what does that person what is that person supposed to contribute, what do they is supposed to do? Right. And if you can put a good definition around that and they meet that, then why should you care what the exact hour is or whether they rode their bike for an hour at lunch or they left early to catch a concert? I mean, why should you care as long as you have our clearly communicating what the expectations are as consultants? I mean, it is a little easier. You have a certain amount of revenue you’re expected to generate and you have certain deadlines to meet with your clients. If you’re not meeting those, then it’s an obvious discussion that we have a problem. But if you are meeting those, should I really care?
[00:11:25] Betty Collins
Right. Right. And I mean so. So your company is very intentional about setting expectations. We are. Okay. So tell us a little bit about your company. So people kind of know that they might be going well, this is easy for her because. You know, what is it that Safex does?
[00:11:43] Dianne Grote Adams
So let me say first, I’m not going to say it’s easy. Well, and I grew up, as many of us did, with this work ethic that you’re in the office at seven, you’re the last to leave. And that’s what life is all about and that’s how you prove yourself. So that was the mindset I started with, and that is how I spent the first ten years of my career. So this was a mind shift for me, no question. And there were days I still have a little heartburn when I’m not sure that everybody has the client’s best interests at heart. But then you have to have a conversation, right? So that being said, because we are occupational safety and health partners with our customers, they often have a project and it has a known deadline. We have a budget. There are known hours to complete that project and each person knows how many hours of revenue they need to generate in a year. So you break that out month by month and then it’s easy, relatively easy to have a conversation about this is what you need to accomplish. And so if you have the open conversation and you share all that information and maybe that’s what helps us, we’re very transparent in our books, the revenue we generate, the hours that everybody is billing, the clients that are happy with us, the disappointments. And so that open communication perhaps reinforces the message of how much we trust you, but also the huge responsibility you have to maintain that trust.
[00:13:13] Betty Collins
So people really trying to to hear you today and go, I mean, I would love to get there. It all started with a Y and it was personal. But it also is your intentional. You’ve set expectations, communication being very open. So as I say in here, your flexibility cannot cause chaos to the overall client in your peer. Correct. And that’s just an expectation that has to be there from the beginning. So who have you seen do did you have a mentor or somebody that you saw in life that did this well or no? I was the mentor and I helped other people do this. It could be either way.
[00:13:56] Dianne Grote Adams
30 years ago, there weren’t a lot of people doing this right. I more went to This is not what we want to do. So how do we do this differently? Yeah, and it wasn’t just my desire for my life. My husband was working in consulting at the same time and he would often be out of town for ten straight days, back home for four gonn again ten. And he didn’t have a choice about that schedule. He was told, this is where you’re going. Yeah. And they expected him to figure out child care or whatever or they assumed he didn’t have to worry about it, that I would worry about it, whatever the case might have been 30 years ago. But then I also saw he came home. He was exhausted. Right. He didn’t have quality time at home. And then he still had to do his timecard and his marketing responsibilities and things. So those four days off really weren’t a four days off. Yeah. So I saw that as, okay, these are other things we can’t do, can’t dictate schedules. We can’t dictate. You have to go out of town this week. You’ve got to have a conversation with people on where they are in their life and who can we count on to travel this month or who can we travel on to next month? Or maybe you can travel next week, but the following weeks, not really good because your spouse is.
[00:15:09] Betty Collins
[00:15:10] Dianne Grote Adams
And so those kind of conversations is what helped allow us to create that.
[00:15:15] Betty Collins
To create that. Yeah. Again, the flexibility can’t cause chaos, but let’s see what we can do to make it all work.
And there are days it doesn’t work. Yeah, we’re there more than we want to be or.
[00:15:27] Betty Collins
Right. Because if you.
[00:15:28] Dianne Grote Adams
Say we’re out of balance and we need to pull back and have a conversation about it, it happens.
[00:15:32] Betty Collins
Yeah. So. So for you, do you I mean I mean, you’ve had this incredible journey of a great company. You’re pretty known for it. Do you find that even though you’ve done this this long and I don’t like to make my podcast about about pandemics, but it was a pretty major thing. Was there any adjustment, though, even to that? Because now we can’t be maybe as flexible because clients we can’t be there when you know what I mean. There was definitely I know for us, for instance, auditors couldn’t just go on it, you know, and then all of our clients are doing these whole audits electronically, which they really didn’t want to do. And you’re doing safety. I mean, so was it Hey, we’ve been doing this, so we’re good to go. And the pandemic, or did you still find that challenging with with doing like everyone did?
[00:16:23] Dianne Grote Adams
There are certain things that we were probably more prepared for than others. Yeah, but no question, there are certain tasks that had never been done remotely that we either had to figure out, can this even be done remotely? Or is that something that’s going to have to wait? Yeah. So no, there’s still some adjustments that absolutely had to be made.
[00:16:45] Betty Collins
So this is a terrible question, but I’ll ask it anyway so you can say no. Edit this, take it out. So the question is so in your journey, what comes easy for you with work life and balance? But what comes hard? I mean, like, what’s the good and what’s the bad? And again, you don’t have to answer, but we’re waiting.
[00:17:03] Dianne Grote Adams
Oh, no, it’s okay. Yeah, there’s nothing to hide. Yeah, I struggle still with that work ethic that I grew up with, that I need to be first in, last out, and yes, I need to on Sunday night prepare for the upcoming week. I am so wired that way that I really struggle to not think about work on the weekend. Now that might be in part business owner and not just employee, a combination of the two. So that for me is still hard. Yeah, what is easy for me. A young man came to me yesterday and he said I got my work all caught up and I’m supposed to be here till the end of the day. But we have our new puppy and it has its first vet appointment. And I’m not a dog lover, so I didn’t really get it, but I’m like, okay, he’s all gushy about it, you know? And he says, I really want to go with my wife to see to the puppy’s first vet appointment. I said, So go. He goes, Really? I’m like, Yeah. Did you not read our flexible work policy? You can do that. You’ll work, you’ve met your needs. Go. So for me, it’s really easy to tell someone else to go do that. I just don’t give myself that same grace probably.
[00:18:18] Betty Collins
Well, it’s amazing to me and how I would answer is it’s the it’s the constant engagement that we have set ourselves up to be. And that first one is just the email, shut it down, quit having it on your watch, your phone everywhere round. That’s one that people you don’t really have your flexibility in my mind on the weekends if you’re getting emails from the person who wants to work all weekend and yet how you not you know and that one is the hardest for me and I’ve even learned I have ideas or emails that I draft and wait until Monday morning to send them all out. Good for you. You know, because you’re you may be wired to do this, but you’re your people maybe don’t want to do this or they don’t want to keep getting this stuff that engages them back in. And so as employers, we need to set a better example of that to me. But how did we ever do this? Because email, it’s hundreds a day. It can be where it wasn’t like I was on the phone all day in the eighties. But, you know, that’s one to me that’s a challenge for me and work life balance. Don’t answer email, shut it down. But then don’t send emails and think people will just come in on Monday and answer them. You put them in an anxious spot, right?
[00:19:39] Dianne Grote Adams
I agree. I resisted email on my phone long after. People are like, What do you mean you don’t check your email on your phone? I’m like, Because the minute I look at something, then my brain engages and I can’t disengage. But I don’t have a smartphone or a smartwatch because I don’t want email.
[00:20:00] Betty Collins
[00:20:01] Dianne Grote Adams
Wrist because I just will go nuts.
[00:20:04] Betty Collins
And I did turn off notifications because that does help at least. So then it is. If I don’t see a bunch of notifications on those two things, I’m not going to dig in to.
[00:20:14] Dianne Grote Adams
I have all my notifications off 100%.
[00:20:17] Dianne Grote Adams
Even in the office. Because if I’m focusing on something, I don’t need those little reminders that somebody has something to tell me. Right. Because sometimes what I’m. Doing is more important than whatever that person had to tell me at that moment. And if I’m engaging with a client, I need to be focused on what that client’s needs are. So I don’t use those at all. But you have a valid point.
[00:20:38] Betty Collins
It’s tough. It’s tough. So use the employer. If you’re really say you have work life balance and the weekend is yours, then don’t make it theirs. Don’t make it yours. I mean, you know, so the other thing I would ask, work life balance, we always think of it’s well, that’s the mom.
[00:20:53] Dianne Grote Adams
That’s for women, right?
[00:20:55] Betty Collins
It’s not for the dad or whatever. Maybe the dad is more of the caretaker or those type of things. How do your if you have a balance of men and women do men I mean, does it seem like it’s always geared to women and that’s what they think? Or are men going, no, I get this.
[00:21:14] Dianne Grote Adams
30 years ago when we started, we had some men who felt put out would probably be a good way to put it, that all of our women didn’t work full time and they worked like Monday through Friday every day, and that they had to take the really hard road. And we talked about it and got through it. But over time, no, it’s been men and women who have taken advantage of the part time at side effects. My husband joined us after a few years and he worked less than full time for a number of years because the our sons were in ball and it was perfect for him. Right. He got to leave at 230. When they got out of school, he went and helped coach. I mean, it was a great family environment and I would come later then and we’d have dinner together as a family. So for us, that worked great. I had he and another person came both men and at the end of their careers worked less than full time and we’re still able to mentor our young people, do productive work, feel good about themselves, but didn’t have to be there Monday through Friday. So I think it’s not just a woman’s issue, but it does take very strong men, I think, to be able to buck the tradition and be that less than full time person. And I think it’s more acceptable now than certainly 30 years ago.
[00:22:32] Betty Collins
[00:22:32] Dianne Grote Adams
And I’ll brag a little bit, my son is the primary caregiver of his two sons. And when right before he got married, he said, you know, Mom, what I would really like to do is be the stay at home dad. And I said, well, then talk to your wife to be about that. It may not happen for whatever reason, but that’s a conversation you two need to have. She’s an attorney. Her hours are not as flexible, and that’s a choice they’ve made. But he’s thrilled and he’s good at it. And so I think just giving all of our family members the option for whatever works for their family is what is that real work life balance.
[00:23:07] Betty Collins
What I really like is that your employees, your environment, your clients, whoever they solve from the top that it’s for, it’s for both. It’s for parents, not moms or it’s not the single dad who has to was you guys showed that example that this is how we want our work in life and balance to be. So then it gives people kind of the they see it and then they go, oh well maybe maybe I can do this right. So for women business owners who tend to go, everything is on me because it’s hard, right? And you’re and you take it all on. And one of the reasons I would say that women struggle in business more because men will start a business and it goes like this. Women are like this. You know, it’s the journey is a little bit longer. Doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It’s just they don’t and a lot of it is is because they think they have to do it all instead of you can have it all, you don’t have to do it all. So kind of our end today, I’d like to talk about how we inspire women to to think about that statement of you can have it all. You just don’t need to do it all. Can you kind of expand on that?
[00:24:27] Dianne Grote Adams
Sure. I think there’s two components to that, though. I’m not in business and this will upset some people. I’m not in business to see how much money I can make in a short period of time. I’m in business to provide a decent living for my family and for those that we work with. So my end game might be a little different than other business owners, so I didn’t need to go from 0 to 102 years. Right. So that being said, I might have a slightly different perspective, but it is hard, I think as a woman who was brought up, that you are the rock, right? I guess the core focus to be able to ask for help. And Betty knows I am a caregiver now and that is the hardest thing for me to do is to ask for help. And so I have been honest with our team that I can’t do what I use. To do, and it’s killing me in my soul because it’s still something I love. But I need other things for people to either pick up or if I ask you for help, it’s because I really need help. I’m not trying to quote unquote dump on you. Right. And I think, Ben, it’s back to that, just being honest and communicating. I don’t think anybody judges if you’re honest, I think we all think we’re being judged. Right. But if you have the conversation about it, I don’t really think people then are judging. It’s when you try to keep it a secret and they don’t understand that misconceptions maybe.
You’re guarding it close because oh my we can’t show that or but women business owners have a tendency to and not even the end game the end game they don’t see the full potential of who and what they could be because they’re wrapped up in in doing it all.
Because what you want to be and what you want to do might be completely different. At the end of the day. I mean, as a CPA, my goal is not to focus on your depreciation, and those things are all important. But the goal for me has always been if the marketplace is successful in this country, the world works, it just does. And when you get to be that employer you have, that means you have employees and you’re the provision, right? You’re the provision. And those are households and those households firm communities. And so how do I make sure that success happens and it’s not doing it all? Because, you know, there’s another balance and another world out there.
[00:26:57] Dianne Grote Adams
So one of our core values, we say, is equality. And that’s part of what we tell people when we first come is like, you have a different experience than me. You have a different skill set than me. None of us are better than the other. Without our collective skill set, we can’t be successful. Right. And so I think saying that does help a little bit and living that, not just saying it, but living that also helps you ask for help a little bit or say, you know what, your strength is really good in this area and I’m going to take 6 hours to do this because I am not good at this. I can do it, but I’m not good at it and being honest. And then that person picks it up, gets it done an hour, you’re like, Well, that was a much better use of time, right? And I’ll go do something that I’m better suited to do.
[00:27:43] Betty Collins
Yeah, well, today we’ve had Dianne Adams with Safex, and you have just been a delight. You have restored my. Maybe I don’t need to go through a big plan and reset. I just need to go know there is work life imbalance. It takes work, but it’s worth it. So we appreciate you coming with us today. We appreciate you talking to our audience and being part of this.
[00:28:06] Dianne Grote Adams
It’s my pleasure. I love to share our story and to hear from other women.
[00:28:11] Betty Collins
It’s a great story.
It’s a wonderful part of being in business. Right. All right.
Thank you very much.
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