Digital advertising company provides students polar opposite of high stress work environment with focus on wellness

Thursday, October 7, 2021

At-home workspace showing a laptop and monitor that spells out "Work hard anywhere" with the Polar company logo.

By: Namish Modi

In an era when awareness for mental health and wellness is growing, a standout University of Waterloo employer facilitates work-life balance for its employees.

Four-day work weeks, no-meeting Tuesdays and one-on-one mentorship opportunities are all components of the co-op work terms at Polar. Together, they help make an outstanding and well-balanced work experience for students.

Kunal Gupta (BSE ’08), CEO and founder of Polar, a digital advertising agency, is a strong proponent of wellness, work-life balance and positive mental health. This dedication is reflected in the culture of the organization and its co-op program. Gupta, together with fellow Waterloo alum, founded Polar during his fourth year at the University.

CEEIA Student Experience Award trophy

“We’re very biased; we only hire from Waterloo right now,” Gupta says. “We genuinely understand the student experience because we’ve been through it."

Gupta says Polar must continually “come to the table with fresh ideas,” which draws parallels to how the co-op program at Waterloo is set up.

“Advertisers, publishers, consumers are constantly demanding new and interesting and innovative and interactive experiences online,” he says. “This idea of constantly reinventing yourself every four months is built-in (to what we do). And that’s really prepared me, and a lot of our team of former Waterloo co-op students, to not be shy and reinvent ourselves every couple years.”

Polar provides outstanding work opportunities to co-op students while also providing a memorable overall experience. Based on student voting, Polar is the recipient of the 2020 Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE) Employer Impact Award for Impact in Student Experience.

“I want to thank Polar for their outstanding ability to empower students to complete quality and meaningful work during their co-op work terms. Most importantly, I want to recognize Polar for providing exceptional work-life balance and an overall fantastic experience to students,” says Ross Johnston, executive director of Co-operative Education at Waterloo. “It’s very clear, especially from our students’ votes, that Polar has done an exceptional job with their co-op program.”

Prioritizing work-life balance

Polar has recently closed its physical office space and embraced a “work from anywhere” model. The company’s co-op program does more than teach technical skills. It also helps students learn important business skills like how to run a meeting, how to write an email and, most recently, how to be effective in a remote work environment.

Among its many benefits, Polar offers what they call “someday” each Friday. On these days, students and staff can complete non-work tasks or even something in their personal life like a music lesson or personal care appointment. The “someday” experiment is meant to promote health and wellness as part of what is essentially a four-day work week.

“Polar, overall, was a really great co-op experience because they provided us a balance of work and personal life and they really emphasize something called the life-before-work balance.”

- Aatman Shah, Business Administration and Computer Science co-op student

Shah believes emphasizing wellness allows students to excel and be the best version of themselves at work.

“Polar really prides themselves on their mental health and physical health focus,” says Shah, a Business Administration and Computer Science student. “They understand both things are really important for their employees to be successful. It’s important to have a healthy mind and a healthy body while you’re doing work.”

“Businesses, large and small, are facing challenges around burnout,” says Gupta. “People are constantly connected, and boundaries between work and personal life and family are getting blurred.”

In Gupta’s experience, the ability to hire students can help provide balance for existing team members while easing their workload. This has been especially important amid the challenges of COVID-19.

At Polar, each co-op student is paired up with a mentor on their team that helps guide them through their work term.

As part of their mission to prioritize work-life balance, Polar employees have the option to take part in weekly initiatives like Wellness Wednesday’s and Flowday Tuesdays.

Meaningful work in a supportive environment

Students work under the three umbrellas of the organization – product, engineering and marketing/sales.

They take part in dynamic, practical work tasks that help them develop key skills for their future. This includes participating in calls with vendors, clients and external stakeholders.

During the Winter 2021 term, students participated in business activities to help develop Polar’s partner company, Nova. This included working on a website, demonstration tools, and marketing and sales materials.

“I’ve been really impressed with how fast students work. They’re great at working under deadlines. They’re great at finding the fastest, most efficient way to get things done. Which is a currency in small business.”

- Kunal Gupta (BSE ’08), CEO & founder of Polar

“I’ve been really impressed with how fast students work,” says Gupta. “They’re great at working under deadlines. They’re great at finding the fastest, most efficient way to get things done. Which is a currency in small business.”

Shah was fond of the togetherness of the team at Polar, which led to employees working in cross-functional settings and gaining new experiences. As a student working in product management, Shah was able to work with students and employees from other parts of the company and thereby deepen his understanding of Polar’s mission.

“Looking for a co-op placement is always a challenge for every student.” Shah says. “For me personally, the things I look for in a co-op role is the opportunity to really grow and hone my skill, as well as the opportunity to be able to participate in work that’s meaningful to the team, and the entire company that I’m working for. These qualities were really enhanced by Polar with the idea of being able to work in a smaller team with meaningful work that directly impacts the company’s products and services that it offers to its clients.”

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