Archive for November, 2008

Fast Company: Work Life Flex Even More Important in a Recession

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We could all use some good news, especially as it relates to our work+life fit.  I’ve spent the last few weeks traveling the country delivering one simple message to a diverse group of business leaders, employees, academics and government leaders:  Now more than ever, work+life flexibility is a core strategic lever with broad bottom line impact that allows organizations to not only survive the recession but thrive by:

  • Controlling or reducing costs in many operational areas, 
  • Working better and smarter, 
  • Providing better customer service across time zones, 
  • Helping all employees manage their work+life fit to bring the best of themselves to a tough work reality, 
  • Managing talent and headcount (e.g. creative downsizing) and 
  • Continuing environmental sustainability efforts.  

For more information about the business applications I’ve been discussing, check out the blog post I did for the Sloan Work and Family Network blog. 

The good news is that the response to this message from all groups has been overwhelmingly positive.  This, in spite of the fact, that many of the leaders admitted later they’d arrived skeptical.  They believed that work+life flexibility might be a “perk” or nice thing to do that they could no longer afford.  What they heard changed their mind. 

And individuals confessed that they arrived thinking all was lost with regard to their work+life fit until the economy turned around.  But hearing how to frame their case for flexibility as a win for them personally, but also as a way to benefit the business in the recession gave them hope.  It wasn’t just about helping them manage their work+life fit. But how could their flexibility cut costs, service clients better, and help them work smarter? 

Flexibly rethinking the way work is done, how life is managed, and business is run addresses many challenges facing organizations in a world where rapid change is the only constant.  The innovative application of telecommuting, flexible scheduling, reduced schedules, compressed workweeks, and contract workers is an effective way to achieve diverse business outcomes.  (Click here for more…)

Work+Life Flex in the Recession: Core Business Strategy, Not Unaffordable “Perk” (My guest blog for the Sloan Work and Family Research Network)

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These are indeed interesting times.  Should we even talk about work life flexibility as we move into what looks like a deep and long recession?  Is it relevant?  Not only should we continue talking about work life flexibility, but we must recognize that it’s more relevant today than it was even six months ago.  

Flexibility in where, when and how work is done is a strategic lever that can help leaders and employees adapt in the face of change.  It also achieves a broad-range of bottom line impacts that are critical not only to surviving but thriving during the current economic downturn, and beyond. 

Unfortunately, the response I’m hearing from leaders in this environment is not that work life flexibility is a powerful strategy in their tool kit to address business challenges.  Most see it as a “perk” or nice thing to do in good times, but something they perhaps can no longer afford. 

This “informal perk” mindset is not surprising given our findings in the CFO Perceptions of Work Life Flexibility study, a survey that Work life Fit, Inc. recently co-sponsored with BDO Seidman, a national professional services firm.  This survey of a random sample of the country’s top 100 CFOs tested their perceptions of work life flexibility.  Good news:  a majority of CFOs recognized a broad range of potential bottom line impacts that flexibility could achieve, including recruitment and retention; improved employee productivity; differentiation from competitors; minimizing environmental impact and reducing health care cost. 

The bad news is that only 13 out of the 100 had a formal approach to flexibility in place and had a senior leadership team that perceived it to be a strategy for managing work, resources and talent.  In other words, only 13% of the CFOs worked for organizations with the leadership understanding and organizational infrastructure to translate that awareness into action for bottom line results.  The remaining 87 CFOs, or 87%, had no formal approach to flexibility in place and/or had a leadership team that saw flexibility as an informal “perk.”  Not a powerful recipe for seeing and executing flexibility as a strategic lever.

While this “it’s a perk we can’t afford right now,” reaction isn’t surprising, it’s the wrong response to flexibility at the wrong time.  Again, the business challenges presented by the recession provide an important opportunity to, once and for all, position or rebrand work life flexibility for what it is…it’s not a benefit, program or perk. It’s a core business strategy with broad applications and impacts.   How do we take advantage of this moment in time?  Raise awareness. 

Flexibly rethinking the way work is done, how life is managed, and business is run addresses many challenges facing organizations in a world where rapid change is the only constant.  The innovative use of telecommuting, flexible scheduling, reduced hours, compressed workweeks, and contract workers is an effective way to achieve diverse business outcomes, some of which are shown in the graphic below:   (Click here for more…)

Fast Company: Economic Crisis Transforming the “All or Nothing” Work+Life Mindset

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More people are moving beyond the traditional “all or nothing” choice about whether or not to work when they experience a major work+life transition as a result of the economic crisis.  Out of necessity, more retirees are “working” in retirement; more mothers are seeking alternatives to opting out; and eldercare providers are trying creative ways to work and share care responsibilities.
 
As I discuss in my book, seeing all of the possibilities that exist between the two extremes of “all work” and “no work” is not easy because it’s not how we typically respond to work+life challenges.   When I give speeches, I ask the audience, “You’re having a bad day trying to manage work and your personal life, what’s your first thought?”  Everyone laughs, because they all have the same first thought, “I’m out of here!”  All or nothing.  You can’t see the work+life fit possibilities if your default response is, “I’m out.”  But the economic reality is making it increasingly difficult to stop working even for a short period of time.  As a result, more flexible and creative ways to retire, be a mother or father and care for an adult relative while working are emerging.

Here are some of examples of how the economy is driving people to rethink the “all or nothing” mindset: (Click here for more)

Will Obama Make it Cool for Dads to be Part of the Work+Life Conversation?

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Listen to Cali on Wed 11/19 at 4:00 pm ET talk with Maggie Mistal about Work+Life Fit in a Recession on Sirius Radio’s Martha Stewart Network!  “Making a Living with Maggie” inspires, educates and entertains listeners so that they feel empowered to make a great living doing work they are passionate about that fits into the lifestyle they desire.  Join Maggie every Wednesday at 4pm eastern/1pm pacific on SIRIUS 112 and XM 103.  For a free trial of SIRIUS visit http://www.maggiemistal.com/radio.htm

Now back to the blog…

I thought it was amazing that after being elected President, we saw images of Barack Obama holding his first press conference and dropping his daughters off at school.  He didn’t open the car door and let them run out.  He got out of the car, and publicly kissed them good-bye.  The message was clear—I may be the President-elect but I am very much a dad.  

Both our President and Vice President-elect are very involved in their children’s lives.  What makes Obama and Biden different from previous administrations is that they are vocal and public about their parenting commitments.  And they talk openly about how they make choices to “fit” those responsibilities into their busy, high-profile lives. 

Will their example finally make it cool for men to feel comfortable stepping forward and engaging as equal partners with mothers not only in the broader work+life fit conversation but in developing new strategies for managing work and life that are relevant in today’s world?   Let’s hope the time has come.  Here are some ideas about how organizations, men/fathers, and women/mothers can leverage this historic moment and get the ball rolling: 

Organizations need to expand and rebrand internal work+life strategies beyond their women’s groups:  Nine times out of time, in most organizations, when work+life is discussed it’s within the context of women. But as one of my clients discovered three years ago, helping employees strategically manage their work+life fit goes way beyond women.  When we started discussing the development of their work+life flexibility strategy, this firm’s senior management team did view flexibility primarily as a strategy to retain their female talent.  However, when they conducted a firm-wide survey, they discovered that the men and the single employees were having more trouble managing their work and life than the women and married employees!  Immediately the focus of their approach to work+life flexibility shifted to helping all employees manage their work+life fit. 

This isn’t to say that work+life fit isn’t a women’s issue.  It is.  But limiting it to women and moms, let’s an organization feel good that they are “doing something,” while avoiding the tougher conversation and harder work related to fundamentally rethinking the way all of us work and manage our lives in an always on, do more with less reality.  

Dads need to support and encourage each other:  Feeling comfortable publicly acknowledging their parental role without fear of being seen as “less serious” is new territory for this generation of fathers.  They’ve had few visible role models.  But if Barack Obama and Joe Biden can publicly talk about their roles as fathers while holding two of the most powerful positions in the country, hopefully more men will see that it isn’t a sign of weakness but strength.  

Fathers are beginning to step forward to share information and ask to be included as part of the work+life dialogue.  For example, a couple of years ago, a male partner at one of the Big Four accounting firms asked that his region’s Mothers Network change its name to the Parents Network, so that fathers in the firm could participate.   

Here’s another opportunity for fathers to share information and support each other:  I’ve written before about ThirdPath Institute and their concept of Shared Care between moms and dads.  For over a decade, ThirdPath and its founder Jessica DeGroot has studied how men and women can work together to create innovative ways to “share” the care of their children.  On November 21st from 1 to 2 pm ET, ThirdPath will hold its first ThirdPath Community call focused on Shared Care dads—dads who have redesigned their work so they can play an active role in the everyday care of their children.  Five Shared Care dads will talk about their experiences and ThirdPath will end the call with a chance to answer questions from call participants.  Attendance is limited, so please email Jessica DeGroot at jdegroot@thirdpath.org and put Shared Care Dads in the subject line. 

Women need to create venues that encourage dads to participate:  Maybe we are so used to leading the fight related to these issues for so long that we don’t know how to bring men into a partnership, but my experience is that many men are just waiting to be invited.  Moms and women need to look at our groups and activities related to managing work and life and see where we might be able to engage men and fathers in our efforts.  

Here’s a successful approach I’ve taken for the past couple of years.  Every time I am asked to speak to a corporate women’s group, I ask if the work+life subject is being discussed in other venues in the organization so men can get the information if they are interested.  Often, the answer is no.  In those cases, I accept the opportunity only if the women’s group can find another line-related group to co-sponsor the event, and if they publicly open the event up to men.  One recent group got their internal Innovation Team to co-sponsor the talk.  And another got the senior line leadership of their division to be the co-sponsors.  In both cases, men composed at least 50% of the attendees much to the surprise of some of the female organizers and HR.  Interestingly, the men were the least surprised by their turnout.  They were invited.  It wasn’t just a “women’s” event, so they came.  And in my opinion, the women were helped more by positioning work+life in their organization as an “everyone” issue. 

We all win by encouraging fathers to work with women and mothers to develop new, joint strategies for managing work and the care of children.  Men have better relationships with their children, children really know their fathers, and more opportunities open up for women.  Maybe seeing President-elect Obama happily dropping his kids off at school, or Vice President-elect Biden talk candidly about his years as a single father, will make men more comfortable taking their place at the work+life table.  And women will see that we need to create the space for them at the table that we have historically had occupy alone. 

What do you think?  Is working and managing the care of children a “women’s’ issue or can we do more to bring dads into the process?

Work-Life Rising Star Award–Call for Nominations

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Do you know someone who is doing amazing work in the area of work-life, helping us all rethink the way we work and manage our lives?  The Alliance for Work-Life Progress and World@Work are accepting nominations for the 2009 Work-Life Rising Star AwardThe deadline is November 14, 2008

The award recognizes innovative, high potential career starters or individual mid-career contributors who exhibit a combination of professional and personal attributes that demonstrate emerging leadership and growing contributions to the work-life community. The Work-Life Rising Star encourages professionals to remain engaged in the work-life profession and ultimately advance work-life effectiveness.

Fast Company: Challenging John Challenger: Right about “Balance,” Wrong about Work+Life Fit

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John Challenger, the CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement firm, was recently quoted as saying, “Holding on to your job right now is more important for many than getting more work/life balance…This is not the right time to be negotiating those sorts of things.” 

With regard to “balance,” I agree with Challenger.  This is not the time to being talking to your employer about balance.  Why?  Because all your employer will hear is “I want to work less,” even if what you want is to work differently by telecommuting or shifting your hours.  Regardless, in today’s economic climate, any discussion of balance could be misinterpreted as not being willing to go the extra mile.  And we all need to go the extra mile. 

Here’s where Mr. Challenger and I disagree:  I believe that, now more than ever, we all need to actively and consciously manage our work+life “fit” so that we bring the best of ourselves to a difficult situation. 

When times get tough, many of us work harder, longer or faster thinking it will save our job.  This may work in the short-term, but ultimately we’ll burnout and start the downward spiral of working harder, getting burned out, having less energy, becoming unproductive, so we work even harder and on and on. 

Strategically managing your work+life fit, means you work and manage your personal responsibilities smarter and better.  Here are three tips for managing your work+life fit in a way that meets your needs as well as the needs of your employer during the economic downturn:  (Click here for more)