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World Wildlife Fund aims for conservation and work-life balance with ‘Panda Fridays’

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Organization: World Wildlife Fund.

Location: Washington.

Employees: 404 locally; 2,500 worldwide.

Every other Friday, the typical hustle and bustle at the World Wildlife Fund’s Washington office comes to a halt. That’s because the organization closes its doors for one day every other week, a schedule that helps it meet dual goals of conservation and work-life balance.

As a nonprofit that champions environmental causes, WWF felt it was important to lead by example. By periodically closing down its office, the organization said it is reducing its carbon footprint by trimming use of electricity, heat, air conditioning and other utilities. And eliminating one day of commuting for its employees means that the nonprofit is taking some cars off the road.

These days are known as “Panda Fridays,” named for the bear that is the organization’s unofficial mascot.

Though some employees choose to work from home that day, they are not expected to do so. Instead, many staffers work extra hours on the other days to make up for the day they won’t be in the office. In that way, this arrangement can free up days for them to run errands or pursue hobbies.

Esther Kantner, vice president of human resources, said that WWF’s chief executive Carter Roberts was instrumental in getting people to accept the program and not feel guilty about taking advantage of it.

“Without that leadership support and behavior, it doesn’t work,” Kantner said. “So our executives really respect that day. It has been one of the fundamental reasons that it works.”

Keya Chatterjee, the senior director of international climate policy, has used Panda Fridays to write a book, a side project that she calls a “personal passion.” Chatterjee said she never would have time for it if she worked a traditional schedule.

By allowing workers to take responsibility for programming their own schedules, Chatterjee also said the policy is a reflection of WWF’s confidence in its workforce.

“It shows that there is a trust that all of us are here because we are deeply, deeply passionate,” Chatterjee said. “It’s really nice to have an organization that recognizes that that’s what their workforce is.”

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