Archive for January, 2009

10 Friends + 1 Lake House + 1 Weekend = Priceless…Friends and Your Work+Life Fit

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I recently spent a long weekend at a lake house with ten friends celebrating my friend Nola’s birthday.  No husbands.  No kids.  No cell phones (we were off the grid!).  Just ten 40+ moms spending time together.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.  Nola was originally planning to celebrate her birthday by taking a trip with her family.  But as the economy got worse, she decided  to organize a low-cost weekend away with friends.  And thank goodness she did!  Because as much as it was a celebration of her big milestone, it was an important reminder that friends are important. 

What did we do?  Not much, but that was the point.  We watched a movie together, ate more food than any ten humans should eat, laughed while playing games, and sat around the fire talking.  And to think I almost didn’t go because of other “commitments” I thought I couldn’t change on such short notice. 

Last week I appeared on career coach Maggie Mistal’s radio show on the Martha Stewart Network on Sirius/XM.   We discussed tips for starting off right in 2009 (click here for highlights).  One of the tips we talked about was keeping a work+life fit calendar where all of your work and personal responsibilities and goals are in one place.  Planned time with friends needs to be one of the priorities on your calendar.  It doesn’t have to be a weekend away, although I highly recommend it.  A cup of coffee or a phone call is enough.  But it needs to be there. 

Why?  Because you can no longer afford to just let work and life “happen,” especially in today’s economy.  There are simply too many often stressful demands on your time and energy.  You can’t be reactive.  You need to take control of as many of your work+life fit choices as you can, especially if work is requiring more of your attention.  Because if you don’t, parts of your life outside of work will begin to disappear in the following order: 

  1. Caring for yourself 
  2. Connecting with friends
  3. Spending time with your partner/spouse
  4. And, last, caring for kids/aging parents

A lot has been written about the need to take better care of ourselves.  But not enough has been written about the importance of friends to our well-being and peace of mind, although that seems to be changing.  The recently published The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-First Century by Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz talks about how isolated we’ve become as a society. 

From my 48 hours at the lake house I gained insights about what it’s like to have kids entering their “tween” years.  I helped friends who currently don’t work think about what they may want to do as they consider getting back into the workforce.  I was inspired by my friends who love the snow to appreciate snow shoeing and building snow forts.  If I hadn’t spent time with these wonderful women I wouldn’t know all the ways that a 10 year old can get in trouble using the internet (scary!).  I wouldn’t have heard about the interesting ambitions of my stay-at-home mom friends, and I would still really dislike everything about snow!   I’m a better person because of that weekend.  That’s what friends do. 

What do you think?  Do you spend enough time with your friends?  What small step could you take to make friends a bigger part of your work+life fit this year?

Fast Company: Market Rewards Layoffs, Discourages Flexible Downsizing

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“Stocks Surge on Layoff Announcements” was the headline on the front page of the Washingtonpost.com this week as major U.S. companies announced 55,000 job cuts.  At the same time, The Conference Board projects that approximately two million more jobs may be lost in 2009.  I can’t help but wonder:

  1. What role does the market play in encouraging organizations to move right to job cuts without first considering flexible downsizing? 
  2. Is the need to please the analysts what’s best for organizations, individuals and the economy in the short-term and long-term?
  3. And do these analysts even know what they are talking about? 

First, the direct link between layoffs and the market is irrefutable when you consider how shares of the following companies responded after job cuts were announced on Monday:

“Sprint Nextel gained 1.8 percent after announcing it would lay off 8,000 workers.  Home Depot announced plans to eliminate 7,000 positions, or 2 percent of its workforce, and close its EXPO Design Centers.  Its stock was up 5.5 percent…”

The article in The New York Times announcing 62,000 job cuts worldwide starts out, “Employers have tried to nip and tuck their labor costs by reducing overtime, shortening the workweek and freezing wages, but now, they are reaching for the saw.”  But did they really try alternative approaches?  Experts like me as well as numerous reporters have been struggling to find concrete examples of wide scale flexibility to achieve at least part of corporate labor cost saving goals.  The reality seems to be that most companies are going right to layoffs. 

It’s not surprising that business leaders experiencing downturns in their business cut jobs, especially when their peers are doing it.  They get very publicly rewarded.  But as Wharton’s Peter Cappelli explained in my post last week, this “herd mentality” doesn’t make a lot of sense when you look at the real costs of downsizing. 

This brings us to the next question, is cutting jobs to meet the short-term expectations of analysts really what’s best for organizations, individuals and the economy in the short-term or the long-term? 

For many reasons, the answer is no.  Here’s a quick and dirty cost/benefit comparison.  What is the impact of job cuts, versus the impact of reducing schedules, sharing jobs, transferring to consulting status, or offering sabbaticals?  The comparison is based on the 5% salary/schedule reduction versus 5% layoff scenario Dr. Cappelli presented in his article HR Executive online article: (Click here for more)

Fast Company: Wharton’s Peter Cappelli on Historical Precedence for Flexible Downsizing

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Today, Microsoft announced the first layoffs in its history. Nowhere in the announcement were flexible alternatives to job cuts mentioned.  The signal this sends to other organizations is that cutting employees is the only way to achieve labor cost savings.  But, it’s not.

Since the summer, I’ve mentioned in numerous posts the need for a three-tiered, more flexible approach to downsizing that goes beyond job cuts (here, here, here and here).  This message gains importance each week as the rate of layoffs by companies, like Microsoft, continues to snowball.

There are creative, cost-effective ways to use strategic work+life flexibility to reduce labor costs while remaining connected to valuable talent. These options include reduced schedules, job sharing, sabbaticals, and contract workers.  But I didn’t realize that there’s historical precedence for flexible downsizing until I read a terrific article entitled, “Alternatives to Layoffs,” in Human Resource Executive Online by Dr. Peter Cappelli, the director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School of Business (a recent blog post by AWLP’s Kathie Lingle also provides interesting historical context).

Not only does Cappelli outline the history of a more flexible approach to labor cost reductions, but he’s as mystified, as I am, that companies aren’t considering these alternatives.  In fact, he contends we are witnessing a “herd mentality” in the organizational response to the economic downturn.  Companies need to reduce costs, see their peers laying off workers, and think that’s what they need to do.  No, it’s not.

In an effort to shift the herd, I spoke recently with Dr. Cappelli.  Highlights of our conversation include: (click here for more)

Obama Administration – “Know Hope” that Real Work+Life Change is Coming

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Today is Martin Luther King’s birthday, and tomorrow Barack Obama will be sworn in as President of the United States of America.   Amazing.

This momentous occasion offers hope for change in so many different areas; however, for me, I’m optimistic that finally the realities of work and life will be addressed in 21st Century terms.

My hope is not blind.  My faith is reaffirmed by a consistent approach to work+life issues within the campaign and now in the administration’s policy agenda.   Here are highlights from blog posts I wrote starting in August, 2008.  Do you see a pattern?  Know hope:

August 27, 2008: Obama/McCain—First Time Work Life Flex in Econ Platforms of Both Candidates!

“They both have recognized that flexibility in where, when and how work is done is a business issue, not just a “nice thing you do.”  This is important because it positions work life flexibility where it should be, which is within the debate about economic competitiveness and effectiveness.”  (more)

 September 24, 2008:  Sarah, Michelle and the Post-Balance Era

 “…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.” (more)

October 22, 2008: Next President and Your Work+Life Fit—Highlights…and Concerns  “Obama Work+Life Strategy—What I like:

 

  • Sees work+life as mainstream economic and social policy issue
  • Flexibility is a partnership between government and business through a combination of incentives and education to support the benefits.  The government would be a model employer and Obama endorses the Kennedy legislation allowing employees to present a plan for flexibility, but still give the employer the right to determine whether or not to approve. 
  • Power of the “bully pulpit:” Leveraging the power of the President to move the conversation and change understanding and perception about work life issues.
  • Expanding FMLA coverage to more people, and more issues including eldercare, parental participation in academic activities, and situations of domestic violence.
  • Making FMLA a paid leave.
  • Employers would have to provide seven paid sick days. 
  • Comprehensive approach to care for children: Taking a comprehensive approach to children ages 0-5, as well as after-school care for school age children.
    • Increase minimum wage.
  • Seeing role of government as supporter and facilitator of solutions for business: “We are in a tough time economically so we don’t want to do anything that is ineffective or inefficient or that would actually hurt employers.  Government bureaucracy needs to be changed, but in some cases it will be a conversation (about) cultural norms. People don’t want a hand out, but do want a government that is on their side. 

Obama Work+Life Strategy—Concerns:

In a nutshell, my concern is cost, especially given the recent economic downturn.  And from a pure cost perspective, yes, these proposals will be expensive.  But in the context of the work+life reality outlined earlier, the benefits from the overall investment will offset a sizeable portion of the costs through increased productivity, goodwill, workforce preparedness, and enhanced global competitiveness in terms of a flexible workplace and workforce.  In other words, from a pure “cost” perspective I am concerned.  From a cost/benefit perspective, I am less concerned given the positive results I’ve observed over the past 13 years in the work+life field.” (more)
 

December 4, 2008: Michelle Obama as Post-Balance Rorschach Test

 “Like all of us, she is a complex individual whose choices aren’t going to “fit” neatly into any simple category.   I believe she’s going to be a ground-breaking pioneer, who will help us all envision unique possibilities of working and having a life…Whether she realizes it or not, Michelle Obama through her words and actions is busting a number of our longest-held biases about the way we manage work and life.  She is showing us that there are no right answers, that change is an opportunity, that just because one partner “wins” doesn’t mean the other has to lose, and that shifting focus onto the personal areas of your life doesn’t mean completely eliminating your professional identity.  It’s not “all or nothing,” it’s work+life fit.  And it’s going to look different for all of us.” (more)

January 8, 2009:  “Work and Family Balance,” Second Bullet in the White House VP Task Force Agenda

“The prominent placement of “work and family” within the economic goals of the White House Task Force on Working Families is important and noteworthy.   It may finally move us beyond the outdated “all or nothing” mindset and inflexible approaches to work and life that keep individuals overwhelmed and organizations underperforming.  It’s a change that’s long overdue.” (more)

In January, 2010, I will check back to see if the progress continued, but in the meantime what do you think?  Do you see a consistency in an approach and commitment that gives you hope that real work+life change is finally coming?

Oprah, You’re Trying to Find the Best Work+Life Fit! Now, If You Would Just Call It That…

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Check it out:  I’ll be appearing on Maggie Mistal’s radio show on the Martha Stewart Radio Network, Wednesday, January 21st at 4:00 pm EST.   Get tips for a better work+life fit in 2009!  Tune in on Sirius 112 or XM 157.  Call in and ask your question at 1-866-675-6675. 

Now back to the blog…

Oprah launched her “Best Life” series last week “making the commitment to have more joy and balance in 2009.”  But if you watched all five episodes (which I did—full disclosure, I’m a fan), you saw that what she’s really trying to do is manage her work+life “fit” better. 

She’s not calling it work+life fit, but if she did I think it would help her and her viewers understand the real issues more clearly.  It would connect the dots between the “life” advice provided by the health, money and spirituality experts in the later episodes.  But, more importantly, it would highlight the fact that a very important piece of the equation is missing from the series—how to manage work, and how that work “fits” into what’s happening in the rest of your life. 

Although the focus has been on her weight gain, Oprah knows that’s a symptom and not an underlying cause.  According to highlights from the show on her website, When Oprah gains weight, she says it means her life is out of balance. “It’s not about the food.  It’s about using food—abusing food,” she says, “Too much work. Not enough play.  Not enough time to come down.  Not enough time to really relax.”   

But the problem is not a lack of “balance.”  It’s a lack of actively managing her work+life fit when the realities in her work and personal life changed over the past year.  As a result, she was just adding more and more until it became too much.    

What do I mean?  I took the liberty of imagining what the information in opening episode would look like if presented from the work+life “fit” perspective.  See if you think it more accurately reflects the real issues that Oprah, and so many other people, are trying to address:

“Oprah Finds Her Best Work+Life Fit”

As Oprah shares her story of “falling off the wagon,” she talks about the changes in her work and personal life over the past year. And discusses how, by failing to rethink her work+life fit in response to those changes, she became sick and overwhelmed.

When she says, “I’m hungry to do something other than work,” She shares that her dog died, and how grief not only requires time, but takes a lot of energy.  She talks about campaigning for Barack Obama, dealing with challenges at the school she founded in Africa, and deciding to start a television network.  And then she confesses that she didn’t reset her work+life fit by deciding what she would give up both personally and professionally to account for these changes.  As a result, she gave more than the 100% she had to give, and cut out the activities that are easiest to eliminate—all of the things we do to take care of ourselves.

We can give more than 100% for a period of time, but eventually the wheels begin to fall off the bus.  Oprah talks about how overwhelmed and disconnected she was from the inner guidance telling her it was too much.  Then the physical signs started, which included sleeplessness, weight gain, and thyroid disease.   Oprah explains that her weight gain and thyroid condition were the physical manifestations of that lack of work+life fit. There was no room for healthy eating, exercise, writing in her gratitude journal, and taking a relaxing bath.    

She points out that it’s not just about the hours in the day.  It’s also about the energy expended to deal with your responsibilities.  Sometimes more energy is required than time.  But, like everyone else, she didn’t pay as much attention to energy deficits as she did to the lack of time.  And it became a downward spiral.  There’s less time to take care of yourself, which results in less energy and it goes on from there. 

Finally, she closes by admitting that she’ll never have “balance.  But in 2009, she’s going to take control and find the “fit” that works for her, and restores her health.  

Roll the closing credits….
  
The rest of the week-long series would remain the same with experts offering advice on a variety of topics critical to finding your Best Life, or managing your work+life fit.  This includes exercise, managing your health, spirituality, money and sex. 

However, I would add that missing episode on how to manage your work-related responsibilities day-to-day and throughout your career especially in this economy.  Managing your work+life fit is a two-sided equation.  Even though she chose not to cover it in the Best Life series, I would imagine managing the work piece of the puzzle is a big part of Oprah’s challenge, as it is for many others.  Is she delegating more responsibilities?  Is she saying “no” to any additional projects, so that she has the time and energy to take care of herself? 

Whether she realizes it or not, Oprah is trying to manage her work+life fit better in 2009.  It’s not about weight.  That’s just a symptom of a work+life fit out of whack.  It’s about knowing what you want and then actively managing your choices and resetting the way work “fits” into your life, especially when your work and personal realities change. 

To learn from Oprah’s journey, check out the Best Life episodes and webcasts on Oprah.com, and let me know if you agree with me—Oprah is trying to find a better work+life fit!  Now, if she’d just call it that…

Fast Company: Actually, Millennials Do Expect Work Flexibility–Reinterpreting PWC’s Survey

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“We do not expect work flexibility” That’s the headline from PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PWC) Millenials at Work global survey of 4,271 recent graduates.  Wow.  A strong statement, and one that completely contradicts what I find in my work, which is that millennials not only want work+life flexibility, they expect it. 

The summary of findings concludes that, “Although the millennials seem to indicate flexibility is not expected, we did however receive many comments about wanting more flexibility.”  What?  Which is it?  Something wasn’t adding up.  And might organizations take these findings from the well-respected PWC as license to stop focusing on greater work+life flexibility, especially in this economic environment?

The PWC researchers attributed the difference between the quantitative findings and qualitative comments to the fact that, “Perhaps the millennials do not feel that total flexibility is a realistic possibility, even though it is something they might desire. We also believe that their expectations may change as they get older and the need for greater flexibility for example to look after family members may become more of a priority.”

After digging further, I realized the difference between my understanding of millennials’ expectation of flexibility and PWC’s understanding related to how we defined “work flexibility”…(Click here for more)

“Work and Family Balance,” Second Bullet in the White House VP Task Force Agenda!

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This fall, I noted how remarkable it was that work life “balance” and flexibility were part of both candidates’ economic platformsFamilies and Work Institute, the prestigious work-life think tank, then hosted unprecedented conference calls with both campaigns to discuss their positions on work+life issues.   And with the recently-announced White House Task Force on Working Families, to be chaired by Vice President-elect Joe Biden, the historic progress of the work+life agenda as a core economic issue continues.  This could be big. 

The goals of the task force are to “work towards raising the living standards of middle class families” by (presented in the order outlined in the official Obama administration press release):

  1. Expanding education and lifelong training opportunities
  2. Improving work and family balance
  3. Restoring labor standards, including workplace safety
  4. Helping to protect middle-class and working-family incomes
  5. Protecting retirement security

“Improving work and family balance” is second bullet point (emphasis mine), after expanding education and training.  Second.  That’s not to say it’s more important than labor standards, income protection, and retirement security.  But placing “work and family balance” so near the top of the list is a noteworthy statement about the importance of managing work and life to the future economic success of the country. 

This placement acknowledges what we found in the 2007 Work+Life Fit Reality Check survey which was the 60 % of respondents believe the next President should introduce legislation that would make it easier for organizations to offer and individuals to have work life flexibility. 

Second, it recognizes the fact that work and life are no longer two separate spheres, with neat, commonly understood rules and boundaries. To use the term coined by Families and Work Institute, there is “spillover.”  Today there are no boundaries, and the old rules governing how we manage our work and our personal responsibilities no longer apply. 

There is no universal 9-to-5, in-the-office, Monday through Friday.  In all economic categories, most moms don’t stay home full-time, and dads are taking on more child care responsibilities.  (For new insights into the employment realities of rural women, check out the recent research from the Carsey Institute at University of New Hampshire.)  More and more people have aging parents.  No one has guaranteed lifetime employment with one company until retirement.  And increasingly, retirement includes some kind of paid work, either out of necessity or desire.  The personal, organizational, governmental, political and cultural ramifications of this spillover are formidable, and they need to be recognized and addressed. 

By facing this new work+life reality head on, the Task Force has an opportunity.  It can advocate updated strategies that will help individuals and organizations take advantage of the benefits that lie within these changes.  Important advantages do exist, if managed correctly:

  1. Individuals will have more choices about how to flexibly manage their unique work+life fit realities as they change day-to-day and throughout their careers.
  2. Organizations can be more adaptable and flexible in a global economy in which rapid change will continue to be the only constant. 

While there are great opportunities, success will require a partnership between government, business, and individuals.  The government alone can not provide the answers, but it can create a sense of urgency and reward innovation.  Making “work life” one of the top economic priorities of the Task Force is a great start. 

If I could make an initial recommendation to the Task Force, it would be to change the goal from “improving work and family balance” to “improving work+life fit and flexibility.”  

We all need to actively and strategically manage our work and life, not just those with family responsibilities.  There is no such thing as achieving balance, only helping individuals flexibly manage their unique work+life fit.  And, organizations can use the same flexibility individuals need to manage their work and life–flextime, telecommuting, reduced schedules, compressed workweeks, and project-based work—as business strategies to help them compete and thrive.

Simply changing the language of the goal would open up many possibilities:

For individuals, it could mean providing new guidelines and an updated skill set for managing work and life.  This would include an understanding of how propose a flex plan to telecommute, flex your hours, reduce your schedule, work fewer longer days, share your job, or become a project-based consultant.  And do it in a way that considers your needs as well as the needs of the business. These skills could be incorporated into the new education and lifelong learning effort.

From a public policy perspective, it could involve updating laws, programs and policies related to all aspects of work and life—continuing education, child care, eldercare, retirement, volunteerism, health and wellness—to reflect this new flexible work+life reality where one-size-does-not-fit all.

For organizations and business leaders, it could move business strategies—client service, resource management, talent management, work design and planning–once and for all out of the 1950’s.  Adapting workplace practices to a reality where work and life are no longer separate entities. 

The progress within organizations toward a more flexible work environment has been steady but too slow, as only 25% of respondents to the 2007 Work+Life Fit Reality Check said they had the work life flexibility they needed. Greater flexibility in where, when and how work is done allows individuals to more effectively manage their work+life fit, but also helps businesses better service clients, manage resources, prepare for disasters, support environmental sustainability, and reduce costs, just to name a few of the broad bottom line impacts. 

The Task Force could start by supporting the Working Families Flexibility Act whereby employees can request flexibility but must prove that it works for them personally and the business.  And the government could provide organizations with resources, tax incentives and best practices to encourage the implementation of strategic flexibility in a way that works for their business and employees.  As with individual work+life fit, one type of strategic flexibility does not fit every business or industry.

The prominent placement of “work and family” within the economic goals of the White House Task Force on Working Families is important and noteworthy.   It may finally move us beyond the outdated “all or nothing” mindset and inflexible approaches to work and life that keep individuals overwhelmed and organizations underperforming.  It’s a change that’s long overdue.

What do you think?  Will making “work life” a prominent objective of the White House Task Force have an impact?  How?

Fast Company: Downsizing Should Have Three Stages–No Layoffs, Flexible Downsizing, THEN Layoffs–Not Two

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December job cuts were far worse than expected.  A recent headline in the Wall Street Journal read, “No-Layoff Policies Crumble,” as a number of companies with historical “no layoff” policies have been forced by the economic downturn to do the unthinkable.  Unfortunately, this all-or-nothing approach ignores an important, interim possibility—flexible downsizing. 

As I’ve written many times (here, here, and here), using strategic work+life flexibility–reduced schedules, sabbaticals, job sharing, project-based consulting—can help organizations avoid at least some layoffs.   But, nevertheless, according to the WSJ article:

  • After 51-years of never laying anyone off, even after 9/11, Enterprise Rent-A-Car is laying off 1,000 or its 75,000 employees.
  • Gentex Corporation, a company that “didn’t even have a layoff policy,” dismissed 15% of its workforce or 370 employees.
  • Life Time Fitness laid off 100 of its 15,000 employees. 

In fairness, the WSJ article discussed how the companies tried to avoid layoffs by “freezing salaries,” “drumming up work for idle employees,” “filling openings with temporary workers,” and “moving employees to busy segments from those with little work.” But nowhere did the article mention creative uses of strategic flexibility that would keep valued employees while allowing companies to reduce labor costs. (Click here for more)