Photo by Kimmi Batchelor

By Melissa Matthews

Last Friday, my boss asked me to stop by her office to check in before the weekend. Under normal circumstances, this would probably cause many of us to start mentally updating our resumes and planning to spend the weekend filling out unemployment papers. For me, though, I don’t work under what many of us have come to know as “normal circumstances;” I was honestly not worried at all. 

It’s not uncommon for my boss, the owner of the company, to “check in” with her staff. She does this for many different reasons, but mostly because she knows that if we’re not okay, the company won’t run at its best. It’s the “We’re only as good as our weakest link” mentality. There’s nothing she won’t do to help us through anything we’re dealing with, work-related or not.

I spent the last decade (and over half a million dollars) fighting a court battle where my son and I were victims of parental alienation. Because of an unqualified local therapist and his false testimony, I lost custody of my son. The therapist has since been suspended by the state of Michigan under five counts of negligence, including sexual relations with one of his patients. As it turns out, my son and I were not his only victims.  

The stress of losing my son inevitably put me in a very dark place where I found myself deeply depressed, 60 pounds overweight, and heavily reliant on alcohol and sedatives to sleep. As I suffered through this, so did my quality of work. But instead of shaming me or firing me, my boss chose to love me through it. She offered me a month off to practice self-care and rest. She checked in with me daily and invited me to her home on the weekends to take walks, reflect, and regroup. She cooked me dinner on my birthday knowing that I would otherwise spend it alone.  

The 30 days came and went, but there’s no doubt in my mind that that month led me to where I am now. I overcame the addictions, started eating a plant-based diet, lost 75 pounds, and am currently training for the Detroit Free Press marathon. I also obtained my personal trainer certification and have started a wellness department for my twelve co-workers that focuses on fitness and whole-being wellness.  

Following my boss’s lead are the twelve other women I have the pleasure of spending each day with. We spend more time lifting each other than trying to find ways to climb to corporate ladder because frankly, we’re all already at the top. As part of a woman-owned and operated company, we were established as a result of being bullied by the oh-so-familiar “boys’ club.” Instead of continuing to live and work under uncomfortable circumstances, we decided to start our own company based on the very simple idea of taking care of ourselves and each other. Not only are we professionals in our trade, but we’re also professionals at fixing each other’s crowns without telling the world they were crooked, and most days we give each other more grace than dirty looks.

We’ve thrown out the idea of a work/life balance — we’ve realized that work and life are really one actuality, and our goal is to make it the best it can possibly be. Do you ever wonder why the term “working mom” is so familiar, but nobody ever talks about “working dads?” Is it because all dads are expected to work, or is it because working moms are still a minority? 

When I was a child, both of my parents worked. They were both successful professionals who were highly respected in their industries. My mom did, and still does, all the cooking and cleaning. When we were young, she did the majority of the parenting. Don’t get me wrong, my dad was more than willing to help, but my mom put these expectations on herself that made her feel like she had to juggle it all. To boot, it was totally acceptable for my dad to “work late” at the bar with clients or on the golf course, take fishing trips on the weekends with the boys, or spend entire Saturdays in the garage. I don’t remember my mom going anywhere with friends unless it had something to do with me or my sister, like a sporting event or Girl Scout trip. I’m not picking on my parents, I had a wonderful childhood; it’s just interesting to reflect on social norms from 30 years ago. Why did women put so much pressure on themselves to please absolutely everyone?

These days, during a time when self-care and whole-being wellness are at the top of everyone’s priority list, working moms still seem to be considered “high-maintenance” or even “divas” when we ask for time for ourselves. Why is it “high-maintenance” to not want to spend every weekend cooking and cleaning and mom-ing? Where is the balance there?

My company notices this, and has spent the last five years perfecting what we consider an extremely comfortable place to work. Instead of stressing about having to stop at the store and get milk on the way home from work, we have a delivery service that brings it to us, along with anything else we need. If our kids don’t have school one day, we have an on-staff nanny ready with crafts, snacks, and hugs. The same nanny has gently tended to newborn babies while our new moms acclimate back to work. She watches our school-aged children during the summer months and stepped up during the pandemic to help tutor and home-school while our essential working moms kept the company running.

As moms, we rush home after work to start our second jobs. The second we walk through the door, we’re faced with more challenges that make it impossible to meet the needs of our families as well as our own needs as women — or even, quite simply, as humans. Recognizing this, our company has done everything possible to create an environment with so many comforts that we have no other option but success.

Our creation is based on one simple philosophy: Employees who are happy, healthy, encouraged, and appreciated make a successful business. Here’s how this works for us. 

To begin with, we hold weekly mediation sessions with a professional mindfulness coach who teaches us how to improve self-awareness and control. We offer yoga, strength training, and cardio classes daily with our on-staff personal trainer. This is in addition to an hour lunch break that we’re all encouraged to take every day. Our dry cleaning is picked up and dropped off. We have a meal prep service that allows our staff to order personalized meals based on the size of their family and dietary restrictions. They prepare and deliver the food as needed. Each employee has an identical office set up in their home for days when making it into the office is not an option. We all remain connected no matter where we are.

While many small companies understand the idea of taking care of their staff, we take it to another level. We take care of our people, no matter what they’re dealing with at home or at work; we are all deeply invested in each other and our success. If one of us gets bombarded with work at the end of the day on a Friday, five others will pitch in to help and make sure the job gets done. If someone has a personal issue they need to take care of, we figure out how to make that happen for them and pick up the slack when necessary. No one is more valuable than another, and we treat each other with significance.

Understanding this, practicing this, and knowing our worth sets the tone for what we hope to see in future generations and companies. The best boss is one who knows she’s not the best at everything, but is able to see the best in everyone else. Jobs can be taught, and experience comes with time. Finding someone to work for who figures out what you’re already good at and supports ways for you to flourish will always result in success.

BIO:

Melissa Matthews Allen works at Preferred Title Agency of Ann Arbor. In addition to working in the title insurance industry for over 20 years, she also runs a wellness business called MindfullyFit.org., and is a certified personal trainer. She was recently featured in the plant-based eating national publication called “Forks Over Knives” as well as “The Exam Room” podcast, which examines vegan nutrition and medical news. She grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan and has a 13-year-old son. Her passions include wellness, fitness, family, and helping others find what makes them want to make healthy lifestyle choices.