Archive for September, 2008

Sarah, Michelle and the Post-Balance Era

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“What do you think Sarah Palin and Michelle Obama mean for working moms?”  I’ve been asked that question more times than I can count over the past few weeks.  Reading Anne Applebaum’s OpEd in The Washington Post entitled “The Class of ’64,” confirmed my hunch that, ultimately, the most important aspect of both Sarah Palin’s and Michelle Obama’s impact will be a subtle yet powerful shift away from the “balance” mindset and the “all or nothing” work life dichotomy that drew the battle lines of the unwinnable mommy wars.  They have the power to usher in the post-balance era of countless work life fit choices based upon our unique work and personal realities, and finally begin a productive discussion about the way work is done, life is managed, and business operates.
 
In her OpEd, Applebaum writes, “Here is a woman (Michelle Obama) who actually chose to present herself as simultaneously intelligent, ambitious and maternal…No less intelligent, ambitious and maternal than Michelle Obama, equally civic-minded and physically fit, (Palin) is the perfect illustration, in the words of Slate blogger Meghan O’Rourke, of the fact that the notion of a clearly defined, right-left/red-blue cultural war has become deeply misleading, since “the categories aren’t as tidy as they’re made out to be,”especially for women. Is it “right wing” or “left wing” that Palin went back to work the day after having a baby?  Is it “feminist” or “conservative” to defend one’s daughter’s right to get pregnant before being married? There aren’t good answers — just as it isn’t easy to say whether Obama’s presentation of herself as both happily married and professionally successful was a “red” or “blue” piece of political theater.”

It turns out that Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin, Anne Applebaum and I have something in common—we were all born in 1964.  As Applebaum so eloquently points out, our experiences make it difficult to put our individual work+life choices neatly into any particular category.  And it’s been interesting to watch our culture uncomfortably struggle with how to explain and judge that work+life ambiguity over the past few weeks.      

In this election, our generation of moms is front and center for the first time.  And we are showing the world that there isn’t a “right,” or “all or nothing” solution to the question of how you combine your work with the other parts of your life.  It’s about what works for each of us, our families, and our jobs.  I believe this post-balance mindset shift will help everyone, not just moms, because it reflects reality. 

As Michelle and Sarah prove, every woman (and man) must create a work+life fit that works for them personally and for their jobs.  The primary question becomes “How is he or she performing on the job?” instead of “How does she do it?”  While it can be helpful to get tips and insights from someone else’s work+life fit, it is impossible to judge their choices.  For example, how would you define my work+life fit?  I am a mom who works full-time as the CEO of a company that I operate out of an office in my home.  This means when I am not traveling or at a client’s, I am in my house.  Am I a stay-at-home mom, or a working mom?  In fact, it doesn’t matter. 

As we move past the “all or nothing,” “right or wrong” work life balance debate of the past decade, now we can hopefully focus on increasing the amount of  work life flexibility on the job, and take action on the issues of portable health care and pensions, paid sick and dependent care leave, and child care and eldercare.  Because in a post-balance era these are strategies and supports we all need to manage our ever-changing, unique work+life fit throughout our lives and careers.   

Do you think the work life fit choices of Sarah Palin and Michelle Obama have moved us into the post-balance era?

Chief Financial Officers Look Beyond Employee Issues for Business Benefits of Work Life Flexibility according to BDO Seidman, LLP and Work+Life Fit, Inc. Study

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BDO Seidman CEO Believes Bottom Line Results Demand Approaching Flexibility as Comprehensive Business Strategy, Not Just Tool to Manage Talent

According to a study by BDO Seidman (BDO), LLP, a leading professional services firm, and Work+Life Fit, Inc., chief financial officers (CFOs) understand that work life flexibility has the potential to positively impact their companies beyond employee issues, but say if flexibility is managed solely by human resources it won’t succeed.
“In order to grow and compete in today’s complex, global business environment, companies have to move beyond viewing flexibility solely as a tool for talent retention or employee satisfaction, and make flexibility matter to all aspects of their business,” says BDO Chief Executive Officer Jack Weisbaum.

BDO and Work+Life Fit conducted the 2008 CFO Perspectives on Work Life Flexibility study to gauge CFO viewpoints on flexibility’s potential impact on business growth.  Telephone interviews were held with a random sample of 100 chief financial officers at U.S. companies with at least 5,000 employees to assess CFOs’ individual and corporate perspectives on work life flexibility.  For BDO Seidman, flexibility is a management strategy critical to the firm’s success in the global marketplace and a lever for growth.“We work smarter,” says Weisbaum, who regularly telecommutes. “Flexibility helps us better plan engagements, service clients across geographies and time zones, maximize our investments in technology and support our talent. It also helps our partners and employees achieve a work life fit to meet their needs as well as the needs of the business.”
  
Adds Cali Williams Yost, who co-developed BDO’s flexibility strategy and is president of Work+Life Fit, Inc., “In order for flexibility to gain C-suite support and positively impact business and profitability, flexibility strategies have to focus equally on people and business-related goals such as more productive workflows, reduced environmental impact, and increases in health care and real estate savings.”
Findings from the 2008 CFO Perspectives on Work Life Flexibility study include:
Show Me the Business Case:  CFOs clearly understand the benefits of work life flexibility to manage talent and have begun to see that flexibility can also positively impact non-talent related bottom-line issues.  A majority of CFOs say such flexibility can have a high to moderate impact on their company’s ability to differentiate itself from competitors, minimize environmental issues and reduce health care costs.
   
Rate impact of work life flexibility as “high” or “moderate”: 
    Improve employee retention 90%
    Improve recruitment efforts 88%
    Improve productivity 75%
    Differentiate company from competitors 72%
    Reduce environmental impact 68%
    Reduce healthcare costs 53%
    Reduce real estate costs 34%
    Enhance customer satisfaction 34%
But, surprisingly, less than half (39%) of the CFOs surveyed work for companies that offer formal flexibility policies or programs. Additionally, while 75 percent of the CFOs at those companies say flexibility is “very important” or “somewhat important” to the future profitability of their organizations, most think that their management teams (62%) see flexibility only as an employee perk or human resources policy. They have yet to make the connection between flexibility and other business objectives.

“There is disparity between the potential bottom-line impact of flexibility and the strategic infrastructure companies have in place to achieve these goals,” notes BDO’s Weisbaum.  “If flexibility is going to have the impact on profitability that CFOs believe it will, then more organizations must consider strategic, business-based flexibility strategies.”

A majority of CFOs (65%) believe that for flexibility to succeed companies cannot rely on human resources (HR) as the only champion, and 75 percent say business unit leadership involvement and support is “very important.”
 
Steady Use of Flexibility in Economic Downturn:  Despite the current economic downturn, most CFOs (87%) of companies with formal flexibility policies or programs believe use of flexibility will either increase or remain the same.  Approximately a third (38%) of CFOs reported their organizations had reduced their workforce in recent years.  While employee lay-offs were most common, 30 percent did report that innovatively using flexibility to stay connected to employees through contract-project based work (24%), reduced hours with full benefits (3%) and unpaid sabbaticals with full benefits (3%).

CFOs Using Flexibility to Find Their “Fit”:  A majority of CFOs (53%) reported an increased use of personal work life flexibility during the past several years, with 14 percent saying the increase was substantial.  More than 80 percent reported being satisfied with their personal use with 31 percent saying they were very satisfied.
 
Overcoming Common Obstacles to Flexibility:  When asked what they viewed as significant flexibility obstacles, the majority of CFOs said “face time” (76%) and “demands in workload of job” (72%) followed by “concerns about other employees perceptions” (62%), and more than half said “it could hurt my career” (58%).
      
“These negative assumptions are not only personal roadblocks, but become obstacles to company success as well.  Business leaders and employees together need to confront the thoughts and behaviors that might keep them from supporting a business-critical strategy like flexibility,” says Yost.
  
CFOs don’t see finance department-specific responsibilities or regulatory demands as flexibility obstacles.  A majority of CFOs (52%) felt there was no difference in the ability of finance departments to use flexibility versus other functional areas, and 18 percent actually thought it would be easier for finance.  Additionally, a majority (61%) also felt recent regulations, such as Sarbannes-Oxley, had no impact on the use of work life flexibility, with 15 percent reporting flexibility had actually increased as a result of recent regulations. 

 

 

 

 

 

Contact: Pam Kassner, pam@superpear.com, 414-510-1838
 
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Click http://www.bdo.com/careers/flex/  to view a BDO Seidman company video featuring executives and employees discussing work and life flexibility.

BDO Seidman, LLP is a national professional services firm providing assurance, tax, financial advisory and consulting services to a wide range of publicly traded and privately held companies. Guided by core values including, competence, honesty and integrity, professionalism, dedication, responsibility and accountability for almost 100 years, BDO Seidman provides quality service and leadership through the active involvement of its most experienced and committed professionals.

BDO Seidman serves clients through 37 offices and more than 400 independent alliance firm locations nationwide. As a Member Firm of BDO International, BDO Seidman, LLP serves multi-national clients by leveraging a global network of resources comprised of 626 Member Firm offices in 110 countries.  BDO International is a worldwide network of public accounting firms, called BDO Member Firms, serving international clients. Each BDO Member Firm is an independent legal entity in its own country.