Archive for October, 2008

Fast Company Blog: New President and Your Work+Life Fit: Highlights…Concerns

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Symbolism is important for driving cultural change.  Within this presidential campaign, there have been many powerful symbolic conversations and actions related to work+life fit.  For the first time:

  • The male and female candidates on both Obama and McCain tickets and their spouses talk about how they manage their unique work+life fit choices and challenges; and
  • Both campaigns list work+life front and center as part of their economic agendas. 

The question then becomes how do the McCain and Obama administrations plan to translate that shift in awareness into action that impacts the reality of individuals? 

Ellen Galinsky of Families and Work Institute recently hosted two unprecedented conference calls in which representatives from both campaigns outlined the specifics of their philosophy, policies and programs related to a broad range of work+life issues.  Detailed transcripts and commentary on these calls is available at

Having listened to both calls and read the transcripts (which I urge you to do), two very different approaches emerge in a number of areas.  To provide a context in which to compare the two strategies, here is an overview of the trends in work and life presented by Brad Harrington, the Executive Director of the Center for Work and Family at Boston College in a recent presentation at Cornell University:

• Aging workforce and generational diversity
• Challenges of working in a more diverse workplace (e.g gender, race, ethnicity, religion)
• Increasing workload, stress and dramatic increase in health care costs
• Globalization, working across cultures, and the 24×7 workplace
• Pervasive use of technology and working virtually
• Growing importance of work-life. 

I would add: 

  • Increasing pressure on businesses to cut costs and work smarter/better, and additional financial uncertainty and work-related pressures for individuals. 
  • Ever-increasing pace of change that requires organizations and individuals to adapt and respond by being even more flexible in the way work is done, life outside of work is managed, and business is run in order to thrive. 

In the context of this work+life reality, my thoughts on the Obama and McCain work+life strategies are as follows: (click here to read more at Fast Company)

Fast Company Blog: Perseverance and Resilience—Lessons from a Funeral on What Matters Today

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Going to a funeral is never fun; however, this past weekend, as I celebrated the life of a man who lived 95 good years, I received a welcome, but unexpected surprise.  With the ever-worsening economic news as a backdrop, the triumphs and challenges of my aunt’s father’s extraordinary life reminded me of what really matters in difficult times. 

Resilience and perseverance in the face of hardship were consistent themes in the life of David Popper, or “Mr. Popper,” as I knew him growing up.  The contrast between how overwhelming his challenges were, and the level of personal and professional success he achieved as a highly-respected U.S. ambassador and diplomat made the lessons in his story even more powerful. 

At key points, he could have given up, and no one would have blamed him.  But he chose to move forward, regroup and fight on with peaceful, generous determination.  Two lessons from his life struck me as particularly relevant for the uncertainty many people face today: 

Lesson #1:  In hard times, it’s imperative to keep moving forward no matter how difficult the circumstances because they will turn around.  Persistence and resilience were the keys to his success:

• In his early twenties, newly-married and getting ready to attend graduate school, his father was killed in a car accident.  As the oldest, he felt he needed to put his plans on hold indefinitely to care for his mother and three younger siblings.   He wouldn’t get the chance to begin his diplomatic training and career until well after World War II.

• When he was at the State Department, Joseph McCarthy accused him of being a communist.  Even though all of his colleagues knew this was a completely unfounded charge, the Secretary of State felt enough pressure from McCarthy that he put Mr. Popper on an unpaid leave of absence for three-months while they prepared for his hearing.  Things did not look good. 

With three children, no income and the real possibility of having his reputation and career ruined by the false allegations, he didn’t sit back and wait helplessly for the verdict to be delivered.  Instead he worked everyday for three months preparing a detailed defense.  When he presented his case to the Secretary of State and the panel reviewing the charges, they were so impressed that McCarthy backed down, the formal hearing canceled, and the charges dropped.  But that wasn’t the end of it.  Although the allegations were dismissed, they would continue to haunt him and risk derailing his career at other points, but each time he fought back and won. 

• When he was the Ambassador to Chile during the Pinochet regime, he continued to press the importance of human rights even as Henry Kissinger told him to back off, (click here to read more)…

Not Just for Families? National Work and Family Month

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October is National Work and Family Month.   I’m guessing for many readers your initial reaction is, “Oh, that’s nice, a month for parents and kids” (assuming you even clicked on this post because you thought it didn’t apply to you).

We tend to think of “work and family” specifically, and work+life fit more broadly, as a nice thing to do, but not critical to the success of all individuals, and employers.  This year’s Work and Family Month is the perfect time to set the record straight:

1) Strategic work+life flexibility is a mission-critical issue for the success of every individual, and for the bottom-line global competitiveness of every organization. 

We operate in “always on,” “do more with less” reality where change is constant and increasing in frequency.  We all need flexibility in where, when and how work is done, both day-to-day flexibility and formal flex plans.  We need leaves of absence, and other direct programs and policies that help us to flexibly manage all of the personal work+life transitions—parenting, eldercare, retirement, continuing education, community service, etc—most of us will experience at one time or another.  

2) Work and family-related events are a significant part of the broader work+life fit experience, and they apply to all of us.  We may not have children, but we all do have family, be it a family of origin or a family of choice.  All of us have parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and friends who are going to age and require care.  And even if we aren’t parents ourselves, we all have a vested interest (whether we know if or not) in helping our colleagues manage that part of their lives effectively. 

Why does it matter?  Because as long as work+life fit, and more specifically work and family is considered something nice but not essential, the sense of urgency necessary to envision and execute new strategies, programs, and policies that reflect the realities of today’s world will be absent. 

To that end, either we need to redefine what the word “family” means in the context of the broader work+life discussion, or we need to come up with new language that captures the inclusivity.  We cannot afford another year without movement on core issues related to work+life flexibility, child care, eldercare, different types of leaves, health care, and retirement.  And I’m afraid that will happen if we don’t start thinking and talking about the issues of work, life, and family as being relevant for all. 

So, in honor of National Work and Family Month, take a minute to recognize that we all are part of a family, no matter what phase of life we are in.  And now that boundaries between work and life no longer exist, the traditional rules regarding care of family in its broadest definition need to be rewritten.  It isn’t just a nice thing to do for parents and kids.  It’s critical to the success of every person and organization.  Happy Work and Family Month!

Retirement—Interrupted, But Work+Life Fit Options Still Exist

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The current financial crisis and poor market performance are forcing some pre-retirees to think twice about upcoming plans for retirement.  They face the prospect of working longer than they had planned and they are not alone.  In April, a survey conducted for AARP, found that 27 percent of workers age 45 and over, and 32 percent of those 55 through 64 said they had pushed back their planned retirement date because of the economic downturn.

With retirement on hold, most believe that their only choice is sit tight in their the same-old job, with the same-old schedule until their portfolios can recover or their savings can make up the difference.   Not necessarily. 

If you can’t retire completely, now or in the foreseeable future, you can find a new work+life “fit” that provides you with the financial benefits of working while giving you more time and energy for other parts of your life.  And you can do it in a way that meets your needs while benefiting your employer in a period where downsizing and cost-savings will become increasingly important. 

Here are the steps to get you started (for more information a Three-Step Work+Life Fit process is outlined in my book Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You):   

1) Understand How Flexibility Helps You Find a Different Work+Life “Fit”: 

You can flexibly adjust how you work, where you work or when you work in order to find a fit between your work and life that benefits you and your employer.  This could involve reducing your schedule, shifting your hours, telecommuting, becoming a consultant, sharing a job, working fewer, longer days per week, etc. 

2) See the Possibilities—Challenge Your Notion of “Retirement,” and of “Work:” 

This is not your parents’ retirement with the gold watch and the golf course.  My experience is that the hardest part of this process for people over 50 years old is to shift their “all or nothing” definition of work.  You must get past the mindset that if you aren’t working Monday-Friday, in a physical space with everyone else, during a set schedule then you aren’t working.   Here are some examples:

• A former partner at a national accounting firm “retired,” but now works as a senior director with a reduced work load.
• A former Chief radiologist for a large teaching hospital now works “as needed” in the radiology department.
• A former section editor of a newspaper now works flexible hours mentoring and editing young newspaper reporters. and
• A former plant foreman shares his job as plant quality control specialist with another senior foreman.

3) Ask Yourself “What Do I Want?” and Analyze Your Realities, Particularly Financial Realities 

For many retirees-interrupted, the need for a full-time salary may preclude a fit that reduces your schedule or allows you to work on a project basis as a consultant.  However, if you need to work full-time, there are still options.  You could still telecommute, shift your hours or work fewer, longer days depending upon the realities of your job. 

4) Redefine Success So that You Feel Good about Your New “Fit” 

Like all of the examples above, finding a new pre-retirement work+life fit might mean having to give up seniority in job title, responsibilities, and salary level.  It’s very important that you sit down and consciously re-set your definition of success.  This means putting a value on the time and flexibility you gain above and beyond what you may have had to give up. 

5) Finally, Think About How Your Work+Life Fit Can Benefit Your Employer in a Difficult Economy

As the economy continues to struggle, employers will look for ways to cut costs and improve efficiency.  How can the pre-retirement work+life fit you want to propose help achieve those goals?  If you reduce your schedule or switch to a consultant-status, there are direct salary and benefit cost savings to your company, not to mention the retention of your knowledge about how to get the job done efficiently. 

If you want to shift your hours, perhaps you could cover clients or customers in other time zones that are currently under-resourced.  If you want to work from home a couple days a week, could you share an office with another telecommuter and save real estate costs? 

The events of this past week may have caused many to radically rethink their retirement plans.  But if you are a retiree-interrupted, it’s not all bad news.  There are still countless work+life fit options that can provide income and flexibility.  Do you have examples of pre-retirees who have used all types of flexibility to find a new work+life fit?

Fast Company Blog: Revisiting Flex as Alternative Downsizing Strategy…How You Can Prepare

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With lay-offs for the third quarter totaling 287,142 the largest number since 2005, it’s a perfect time to revisit the discussion of work life flexibility as an alternative downsizing strategy.  A number of the top 100 CFOs surveyed as part of the CFO Perspectives on Work Life Flexibility study co-sponsored by Work+Life Fit and BDO Seidman, LLP used strategic flexibility to reduce their workforce without severing ties with employees:

“Approximately a third (38%) of CFOs report that their organizations had reduced their workforce in recent years.  While employee lay-offs were most common, almost a third (30%) of CFOs innovatively used flexibility as a workforce reduction strategy that allowed them to stay connected to employees through contract project-based work (24%), reduced hours with full-benefits (3%) and sabbaticals with full benefits (3%).” 

As I wrote in an earlier posting on the subject, more companies are using flexibility to creatively downsize.  They recognize that it will be very expensive to rehire when the business cycle improves.  Read the comment posted by an award-winning New Jersey-based advertising agency that describes how they have used work life flexibility to match talent with the needs of their business. 

While it might be better to have a job at a reduced schedule or on a project-basis than no job at all, this use of flexibility as a way to manage the workforce injects a level of uncertainty into the lives of employees that hasn’t existed previously.  This means that individuals need to prepare for this potential reality.  To that end, fee-only financial planner, Michael Haubrich ( recommends that everyone have what he calls a “Career Asset Working Capital Fund.”  This money is earmarked for the unique financial requirements of career transitions or job status changes including:  (Click here to go to Fast Company blog)

Fast Company Blog: CFOs Overlook Flex Impacts on Client Service and Real Estate, and at What Cost?

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The first thought-provoking finding that I’m going to focus on from the CFO Perspectives on Work Life Flexibility survey of 100 top CFOs that we co-sponsored with BDO Seidman is the fact that, although a majority of CFOs recognize a broad range of business benefits from work life flexibility, they were the least likely to see a direct bottom-line impact on real estate costs and customer satisfaction.  Here’s the breakdown of “high” or “moderate” business benefits they identified:

Improving retention   90%
Improving recruitment   88%
Improved employee productivity 75%
Differentiation from competitors 72%
Minimizing environmental impact 68%
Reducing health care costs  53%
Reducing real estate costs  34%
Enhanced customer service  34%

This finding is surprising because the potential savings on real estate costs and the improvements in customer service are two of the more concrete strategic application of work life flexibility.  So what opportunities and bottom-line improvements are being missed because most CFOs don’t recognize the business impacts in these two key areas?   Here are some examples:  Let’s start by looking at the potential real estate cost savings…(Click here to go to Fast Company blog)