Archive for May, 2009

Grey’s Anatomy’s Dr. Bailey Pulls into the “Slower Lane,” (and I missed Michelle Obama)

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One of the keys to actively managing your work+life fit is flexibly redefining success.  Think of your work+life fit as a highway.  Too many of us see only the fast lane or a stop at the side of the road.  But the truth is there are three options—a fast lane, stop at the side of the road, and a “slower” lane.  The countless work+life fit possibilities involve moving back and forth across all lanes over the course of a flexible career between the fast lane and the slower lane, and sometimes pulling off the road for awhile.  We all know about the fast track, and about taking a break.  But we don’t hear much about what it means to move into the slower lane.  What does it look like?  How do you do it?

Notice I didn’t say “slow” lane, because no self-respecting high-achiever ever wants to admit to being in the slow lane.  But the slower lane…perhaps.   In theory, it may not sound bad at all, until you look back over into the fast lane.  What’s happening?  Someone is passing you by.  That can be very difficult.  But sometimes we have no choice.

The all or nothing, all work or no work, fast lane/stop at the side of the road mentality doesn’t reflect today’s work+life fit reality especially in this economy.  As we found in the 2009 Work+Life Fit Reality Check, a majority said they are less likely to leave the workforce to care for children or aging parents, and a majority now plan to do some type of paid work in retirement.  Taken together, we have to honestly examine what a shift into the “slower” lane involves, since it will mean something different for each of us.

Grey’s Anatomy’s Dr. Miranda Bailey Painfully Redefines Success…

The season finale of Grey’s Anatomy unexpectedly granted my wish for more examples of shifts into the slower lane.  Chief Resident, Dr. Miranda Bailey made the painful move out of the fast lane by turning down a prestigious fellowship for the less demanding position of general surgeon.  This well written and acted episode accurately depicted the conflicting considerations and emotions behind her decision.

For those of you who are not Grey’s Anatomy fans, here’s Dr. Bailey’s backstory:  Season after season, Dr. Bailey continued her determined ascent up the ladder.  She overcame professional setbacks, even if that meant periodically showing up at the hospital with her young son, William, in tow.  Although her marriage to her husband Tucker struggled, it had seemed to be back on track.

As Chief Resident, she had to choose an area of specialization.  While she liked general surgery, midway through the season it seemed she’d found her true passion as a pediatric surgeon.  She began to pursue a prestigious fellowship for two additional years of training, which would keep her in the fast lane.

But when Dr. Bailey receives the news she’d won the fellowship, she goes to the hospital’s Chief of Staff, Dr. Richard Webber. She asks him if there is still an opening for her as a general surgeon.  He says there is but admits he’s confused.  He’d supported her for the fellowship because he thought it was what she wanted, and with that she confesses, “It is, but Tucker said if I took the fellowship our marriage was over.  I need the consistency of a general surgeon’s schedule to be home at night as much as possible.”  She goes on to say that she’s decided to leave her husband anyway because that’s no way to have a marriage, and she catches her breath as she concludes, “I am now a single mother, and need to be home for my son…”

And then there’s the reaction of Dr. Arizona Robbins, the doctor who sponsored her, “You don’t turn down a fellowship like this!” Her response symbolizes the toughest part of pulling into the slower lane–the outside voices telling you what you “should,” “ought,” and “can’t” do.

So how does being a general surgeon put you in the slower lane?”  For Dr. Bailey, turning down that fellowship meant she had to redefine success.  She settled for a position she enjoys and will give her the work+life fit she needs right now, but it isn’t her passion and doesn’t have the same prestige.   To her mind and perhaps in the minds of her colleagues, Miranda Bailey is in the slower lane.

How I missed seeing Michelle Obama speak….

Actively managing your work+life fit and consciously redefining success doesn’t just happen at major life reset points, like a divorce or potential promotion.  It’s something we do on a daily basis, and it never gets easier…even for me.

The last three weeks my schedule has included more than the usual amount of travel (thus, the light blogging).  When I committed to the opportunities that took me to Boston, Chicago and then Lexington, Kentucky I knew there would be very little room for any last minute additions to my work+life fit—personal or professional.  Then I got an invitation to attend the Corporate Voices for Working Families conference in Washington DC.

The conference sounded wonderful, and I knew many of my favorite work+life industry colleagues would be there.  But looking at my calendar I saw that if I attended the conference I would have to fly from Chicago to Washington and be away for the last two days of my older daughter’s statewide standardized tests.  Because these tests partially influence her placement in Junior High School next year, she was more nervous than usual.  So I declined the conference invitation in order to be home.

I was disappointed, but happy with my decision, until the first day of the conference when I received an email from one of the attendees telling me about Michelle Obama’s fabulous speech! Michelle Obama?! Yes, Michelle Obama delivered an unannounced speech at the conference that I had consciously chosen not to attend!  (Click here to read the post by Ellen Galinsky of Families and Work Institute about her meeting with the First Lady).

I spent the rest of the day reading articles and blog posts about her speech.   I found myself thinking of what it must have been like for my “fast lane” colleagues who attended the conference to hear her speak about a subject many of us have spent more than 15 years studying and promoting.   Had I missed a once in a lifetime opportunity?  What had I done?  But all of my doubts were erased when I put my daughter to bed that night and she said, “Mom thanks for being here.  It made me feel better in my tests.”  I’d said no to the conference, pulled into the slower lane, missed Michelle Obama, and made the right decision.

Maybe I’ll see Michelle Obama another time, and maybe Dr. Miranda Bailey will get that fellowship in a couple of years.  But we both actively managed our work+life fit and redefined success in a way that worked best for us, for our jobs and our personal realities at a given point in time.  There’s no right answer.  Today, we pulled into the “slower” lane, as we defined it.  The next time the decision may be to put our blinker on and pull back into the fast lane again.  It’s not all or nothing…as hard as that may be sometimes.

How many lanes are in your work+life fit highway?  Have you even pulled into the slower lane as you define it, either by choice or circumstance?  What did that look like and what did it involve?

Test Your Perceptions vs. Work+Life Reality–NSCW Implications

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“The National Study of the Changing Workforce is here!  The National Study of the Changing Workforce is here!”  Yes, that’s how I responded when I received the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW). Ever since I worked at Families and Work Institute, the NSCW has been one of my favorite pieces of research (yes, I have favorite pieces of research).  Not only does the NSCW offer a very accurate snapshot of the prevailing work+life reality in a given period of time.  But, more importantly, it gives us an opportunity to step back and see if the way we are collectively talking about and thinking about work and life matches reality.  In my opinion, it doesn’t.

My recent conversation with a female MBA student at one of the top business schools provides a perfect example.  She called to interview me for the student newspaper and wanted some tips for women MBAs about how to manage their work and life after they got out of school.  My first tip—“Realize that managing work and life isn’t just an issue for women.  In fact, men report higher levels of work-life conflict.”  Not surprisingly, she responded, “What? Really?” It wasn’t until I showed her the results of the NSCW, and she confirmed the findings with male MBA students that she began to understand how outdated her assumptions were.

Here are other highlights from the NSCW that together create a snapshot of today’s work-life reality.  As you read, ask yourself, does the picture below inform the way:
•    I think about and talk about work-life issues (even if different than my own circumstances)?
•    My manager/employer thinks about, talks about, and addresses work-life issues?
•    The media presents work-life issues?
•    The government addresses work-life issues?

Reality #1: Women and men under 29 years old are equally likely to want jobs with greater responsibility, which was not the case in the past when men were more likely to report wanting more responsibility.

Reality #2: Women under 29 years old with children are no less likely than women without children to want jobs with more responsibility, which was not the case in the past when women with children were less likely to want jobs with more responsibility.

Reality #3: Women’s labor force participation continues to increase, with 71% of mothers with children under the age of 18 working in 2007.  In 2005-2006, women earned a majority of all bachelor’s degrees (58%) and master’s degrees (60%).

Reality #4: 79% of married employees are part of a dual-earner couple (up from 66% in 1977).  In 2008, women contributed 44% of the annual dual-earner family income, up from 39% in 1997, which makes the loss of their jobs even more detrimental.

Reality #5: For the first time in 2008, the percentage of men and women who agree with the statement that “it’s better for all involved if the man earns the money and the woman takes care of the home and children” was inconsequential and not significantly different (42% of men and 39% of women in 2008, versus 74% of men and 52% of women in 1977).

Reality #6: In 2008, 73% of respondents either strongly or somewhat agreed that “a mother who works outside the home can have just as good a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work,” a big increase from 58% in 1977. Interestingly, even though a majority of men agreed with the statement in 2008 (67%), they do still lag behind the women (80%).

Reality #7: Employed fathers are spending significantly more time with their children under 13 than they did in 1977, with millennial fathers reporting the biggest increase.  Men are also:
•    Taking more responsibility for the care of the children (49% say they take more or equal share of care in 2008, versus 41% in 1992)
•    Doing more or an equal share of the cooking (56% of men in 2008, versus 34% in 1992)
•    Doing more or an equal share of the house cleaning (53% of men in 2008 versus 40% in 1992).

Reality #8: Not surprisingly, “Men’s reported level of work-life conflict has risen significantly from 34% in 1977 to 45% in 2008, while women’s work-life conflict has increased less dramatically and not significantly: from 34% in 1977 to 39% in 2008.” And the level of conflict is even higher for dual-earner fathers, with 59% experiencing some or a lot of conflict in 2008, versus 45% of dual-earner mothers.

What did you think?  Does the reality outlined above inform the way:
•    You think about and talk about work-life issues?
•    Your manager/employer thinks about, talks about, and addresses work-life issues?
•    The media presents work-life issues?
•    The government addresses work-life issues?

I think we have a long way to go before the perceptions and the debate related to work-life issues on all of these levels matches reality.  Hopefully, the NSCW will help close the gap. What do you think?

A couple of interesting work-life resources/opportunities:

  1. Work & Family Life is a monthly, cost-effective magazine that companies and organizations can distribute to their employees.  Work & Family Life is full of great work-life related information (click here to view a recent issue).  For more information contact the publisher, Dr. Susan Ginsburg at or 1-800-278-2579
  2. Are you a mom interested in sharing what it was like to transition from working woman to working mom?  FWO Consulting is conducting a national online survey of moms to learn more about this often challenging change.  To learn more about FWO and the survey, go to   Another resource for women transitioning to motherhood is provided by Rachel Egan at Maternity Transitions

Fast Company: Time to Move from “If” Flex to “How” and “Why” Flex…

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Over the past two weeks since we released the thought-provoking results of the 2009 Work+Life Fit Reality Check, I’ve been asked by a number of people what I think the findings mean.  To me, the results confirm that it’s time, once and for all, to move the conversation from “If work life flexibility exists,” to answering the questions:

  • How to make it really work for everyone, individuals and employers, in boom and doom periods and
  • Why flexibility is important for both employee work+life fit but also the day-to-day operation of the business.

Before we move forward, it’s important to note that these results are based on a telephone survey of 757 full-time employed adults, sponsored by Work+Life Fit, Inc. and conducted by Opinion Research Corporation.  With a margin of error of +/- 4 percent, this means that 95 out of 100 times the results would be within the +/- 4% if the total population were interviewed.

Flexibility in How, When and Where Work is Done is Here to Stay—“If” Flex is no longer the question

  • 98% of respondents indicated they currently have work life flexibility.
  • 81% of respondents indicated the amount of flexibility they currently have either increased or stayed the same from this time last year.
  • 85% said the flexibility opportunities at their company either increased or stayed the same last year.
  • 85% reported there was either an increase or no change in the likelihood they would use work life flexibility with the increase in the amount of layoffs at companies.

As Kathie Lingle, Executive Director of Alliance for Work-Life Progress commented in response to these findings, “Workplace flexibility has repeatedly demonstrated a remarkably tenacious streak during previous economic downturns. Erroneously labeled ‘soft’ by the uninformed, flexibility practices appear to be holding their own in these particularly tough times.  Flexibility requires little to no monetary investment because at its core, it’s a management philosophy.  It may morph and adapt, but it will most definitely survive.”

Understandably, these findings about the resilience of flexibility are somewhat counter-intuitive in the face of the worst recession in a lifetime. I have heard , “I find those results hard to believe given that we are hearing anecdotally that people are afraid to ask for anything.”  Let’s think about how we defined work life flexibility in the survey: “Having flexibility in when, where and how you work.  It allows you to flexibly allocate time and energy between your work life and personal life.”

To me this says that people do have flexibility, but perhaps it’s not exactly the flexibility they would want (we will talk more about this in a minute).  For example, someone may want to reduce their schedule, and they haven’t pursued it, but they do have day-to-day flexibility or the ability to telecommute…(Click here for more)