Archive for June, 2009

Fast Company: My Brush with Swine Flu–We Dodged It, But What About Next Time?

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At the beginning of June, swine flu or H1N1 hit my daughters’ school in full force.  Thankfully, everyone survived the outbreak, but what about next time?  Experts predict that we haven’t seen the last of H1N1, or its more troublesome sibling H5N1, better known at bird flu.  In a recent Washington Post article, John M. Barry, a scholar at the Center for Bioenvironmental Research at Tulane and Xavier Universities and author of the book, “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History,” wrote:

“There have been four pandemics that we know about in some detail: 1889-92, 1918-20,, 1957-60 and 1968-70.  All four followed similar patterns:  in initial sporadic activity with local instances of high attack rates—just as H1N1 has behaved so far—followed four to eight months later by waves of widespread illness with 20 to 40 percent of the population sickened.  Subsequent waves followed as well.  In all four pandemics, lethality changed from wave to wave—sometimes increasing, sometimes decreasing.  It’s impossible to what will happen this time.”

If this pattern holds, some time between October, 2009 and February, 2010 we could face an even stronger more widespread epidemic.  Over the past month, I’ve been awestruck, in a creepy, skin-crawling way, by how fast the virus moved through one population, and then began to infect other grades and schools in the district as siblings and friends exposed one another.  I watched the challenges public officials, parents and doctors encountered as they grappled to coordinate a response.  It makes me very afraid for the next go round.  Here are a couple of the observations that surprised me:

It happens so quickly it’s hard to get in front of the outbreak. The first official notification that something was amiss in the school arrived via an email from the Superintendent on Monday, June 1st:  (Click here for more)

(Con’t) Work Life Legacy Award Dinner

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Ellen Galinsky–recounting the 20 year history of Families and Work Institute, she co-founded with Dana Friedman.  Now, Ted Childs the former Head of Diversity at IBM who helped create and support FWI from the beginning.  Urge us to ask the question–how does what we did stack up to what is possible?  Dreams are important.  Remembers advocating for IBM to be the founding member of FWI and initial funder of the National Study of Changing Workforce–right decision then, and right decision now.

Why have we not been more impatient for bold progress?  If that progress was our goal…life/work integration should be able to make more progress.   Lou Gerstner at the time said, “let’s focus on results…not face time”  people said that’s brilliant.  It was brilliant but it was a strategic mind who saw a need.

Now, Ted Childs sees two of six trends–1) ascendancy of women in labor force will be competitive advantage 2) work/life integration will define nations.   Shifting demographics will drive a response in public policy and business.  Companies still have control…but that is changing as governments recognize it in the country’s best interest to implement policies to address work/life issues.  Base line supports–child care, eldercare and flexibility–are now the baseline.

Leaders will have to look at game-changers that will make flexibility the way of operating/ change cultures.   Tool of effectiveness for workplaces that are able to compete.   Success will happen because of women.  Success will happen when reorient the workplace to make people successful; the people, not the leaders.

Ted is honoring Dana Friedman and Ellen Galinsky as co-founders of FWI (I am so proud at this moment to say I was a Senior Research Associate at FWI).  Now honoring the original founding board of directors of FWI.  Nine of original board members still serve today 20 years later.

Amazing to hear board member Dee Topel to talk about how new the industry of work and life was 20 years ago and how innovative FWI was at the time.  “Our baby reaches maturity.”  Looking back on FWI accomplishments, the creative  meaningful work of the field is even more important than ever.

Honorees tonight:  Michael Carey, former VP of HR for Johnson & Johnson and original FWI Board member.  Douglas R. Conant, CEO and President. Campbell Soup; James S. Turley, Chairman & CEO of Ernst & Young; Michael I. Roth, CEO and Chairman of Interpublic Group; and Willie A. Deese, EVP and President, Merck Manufacturing Division.

J&J employee shares her experience of work/life supports that helped her manage her work and life as part of her introduction of Michael Carey prior to his award.  Recounts how flexibility at J&J allowed her to work while her premature son was in the hospital in NYC.  Then when her son came home, and then J&J took an unpaid leave to care for son.  Then he was enrolled in the J&J child care center.   Then  three years later son diagnosed with a latex and food allergy, but the staff at the center he was able to  stay at center.   All these years later, the College Coach supports at J&J have helped her now grown son attend college in the Fall.

(Dinner so taking a break…)  Update: I had to leave before the final CEO panel started; however, I am told their message was clear: Work+life strategies will be mission-critical in the coming years.

Live Blogging from FWI Work Life Legacy Awards

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(Note: Please forgive typos, etc. –I’m typing real-time and fast!)

Immersion Learning Experience — Conversation with Ellen Galinsky, President of FWI and Kaye Foster-Cheek, VP of HR of Johnson & Johnson

Discussion:  How Work Life Realities Changing for Men

How have organizations changed the marketing of flexibility so that men feel comfortable using it?

Example:  Sara Lee marketed flexibility through their younger employees/  Ernst & Young conducted a survey and found everyone wanted flexibility and emphasized the use of day-to-day flexibility for everyone

Now, dealing with jeopardy and risk of using flexibility in this economic environment:  Merck–distinguished from day-to-day and formal flexible work, a global survey found that men were more likely to take advantage of occasional flex now dealing with how to get more men involved and to make it more global.  So they are reaching out across organization and leveraging success stories of men using flexibility.  Target leaders and what are you seeing and what are your barriers. …JP Morgan Chase with regard to people be afraid of using flexibility, in two areas in finance the senior leadership initiated “Change One Thing” urging people to make a small change in how they are working.  It started in December and now they are following up to encourage more use

Back to National Study:  Fathers are experiencing more work-lif e conflict than mothers.

Moving on now to Aging Workforce and Challenges

Kaye Foster-Cheek:  There are difference in the generations, but there are  a lot of similarities.  J&J brings generations together to listen to each other.  Understand what we have in common versus what is different.  The economy is going to impact on progression in the labor market.  So it’s important to focus on what is similar.   For example, defined benefit pension plan is overwhelming appealing to the Gen-X and Gen-Y which was surprising.  The reason was the volatility in the market, but also the commitment the company is making to the employees.

Another interesting finding;  Gen-X, Gen-Y wanted flexibility beyond care giving, but also to find time to fit in volunteer activities

Kathy Lynch from Center for Aging  and Work at Boston College points out the need to look not only at generations but life-stage.

Question: Wondering if this has to do with differences if people are executives or not?  Executives just assume that this is the “way work is done.”  Look at National Study Data to determine if there is difference in the way manage people…Data finds there is no difference by level or generation in wanting flexibility to manage work and life.

One of the key variables is socio-economic and is key to opening flexibility up to all levels in the organization.  As we open up flexibility to everyone, this will mean more flexibility for lower-wage, non-executive workforce.   This will be one of the factors when thinking of flexibility as a business issue and not just something that nice companies do.

IBM–Executives are role-models, so glad that the data shows no difference between levels because executives in our company are setting the tone for the use of flexibility.  With regard to Millennials, they are just more vocal about asking…but we all want the same things across generations.  From an IBM perspective, we’ve used flexibility to facilitate flexibility.  In her team globally, 50% work from home, and don’t care where they are located.

Trend #4:  Elder care is growing

Trend #5:  Number of hours worked have grown.

Trend #6: Health rating improving for people under 30 / Minor problems with health increasing, and sleep problems are pervasive / one in five receive treatment for high blood pressure

J&J–really focusing on employee health.  Has a global tobacco free workplace and supports to help employees give up smoking and offer fitness centers and on-site clinics to help employees.  Comprehensive approach to health and wellness.  Measures that they track–tobacco, cholesterol–all improved.  Inactivity unfortunately is still a problem.

What companies are NOT doing well–Question raised: employers have been allowed to insert ourselves into employees life with technology. So is that one of the reasons that people are not as healthy?

Kellogg has summer work hours from approximately May to November where Friday afternoon off if completed their work to a supervisor’s satisfaction.  Has changed companies culture.

(NOTE:  Ellen used Work-Life Fit, to describe outcome on a slide–Yeah! So glad they are not using balance)

The Immersion Learning Experience is wrapping up…moving to cocktail hour before the dinner presentation where Legacy Awards will be announced.  (Click here for live post from dinner)

Fast Company: 5 Lessons from CFOs–How to Make Flex Biz Strategy, Not Perk/Benefit

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We know that the HR community recognizes the importance of work+life flexibility, but what about the people who drive the financial decisions, and write the checks.  Is work+life flexibility on the radar screen of CFOs?  Is it a core strategic lever for responding rapidly to unexpected economic challenges, and for addressing future trends well in advance?  If not, why and how can that change?

To answer these questions, Work+Life Fit, Inc. partnered with BDO Seidman LLP to co-sponsor the first ever CFO Perspectives on Work-Life Flexibility study.  This national telephone survey of a random sample of 100 top CFOs at companies with at least 5,000 employees was conducted by an independent research firm in May, 2008.  I’m so pleased that the peer reviewed World at Work Journal chose to publish the article I wrote about the results and their implications entitled, “CFOs See Business Impacts of Work-Life Flexibility, But They Can’t Execute for Strategic Benefit,” in the most recent issue.

The publication of the article and the important insights the CFOs offered couldn’t come at a better time.  Eighteen months ago global corporate line leadership had a chance to use a broad range of work+life flexibility strategies to respond to the brewing economic crisis, and for the most part they didn’t.  Early on, they missed the opportunity to consider how they could reduce costs and sustain revenue by being more flexible in where, when and how the business and employees operated.  Specifically, they overlooked how to use a combination of flexible scheduling, compressed workweeks, furloughs, sabbaticals, telecommuting, reduced schedules, and job sharing to help employees become more productive, reduce labor costs while minimizing layoffs, cut real estate overhead, lower operating expenses, as well as improve and expand customer service.  This was a costly and unnecessary oversight that we can’t afford to repeat.

The key findings from the CFO survey outlined in the World at Work Journal article offer guidance into what we can leverage and do differently to make work+life flexibility a more integral part of both the short-term and long-term decision-making process:  (Click here for more)

Fast Company: As Recovery Simmers, Limit Lagging Layoffs with Flexible Downsizing

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Great news… 90% of economists in a recent survey by the National Association of Business Economics predicted the recession will over by the end of 2009!  But hold the champagne.  These same economists saw unemployment rising as high as 10.7% in the second quarter of 2010, plus:

Historically, jobs lag behind a recovery as employers wait until the last possible moment to ensure the rebound is sustained.  As a recent Hewitt Associates study of 518 HR leaders found, even though most believe an upturn will start by year-end, many are “contemplating additional cuts.”

In other words, we are not out of the woods in terms of layoffs; therefore, it’s a perfect time to revisit flexible downsizing strategies to minimize job cuts.  As I’ve pointed out for more than a year in numerous posts (20 Reasons to Promote Flexible Alternatives to Layoffs) , reduced schedules/salaries, furloughs, unpaid vacation, job sharing, sabbaticals, telecommuting and compressed workweeks allow companies to manage labor and operating costs without having to let as many people go (for specific examples check out the recently updated Downsizing Flexibility Champions Honor Roll).  If a recovery is starting to simmer, it makes even more sense to try to hang on to your people, rather than scrambling for talent when business begins to pick up.

According to a recent Watson Wyatt survey, U.S. employers increased their use of reduced workweeks and mandatory furloughs; however, as with any innovative approach to tackling a problem, there are challenges to the wisdom of these flexible alternatives.

Concern #1:  Employees won’t go for it.
When I started writing about flexible downsizing to reduce job cuts in early 2008, the first response was, “Sounds good, but employees won’t go for it.”  So, I decided to find out by including questions in our nationally-representative 2009 Work+Life Fit Reality Check survey of full-time employees conducted by Opinion Research Corp at the end of March (+/- 4% margin of error).

We found that 9 out 10 full-time employees said they would be willing to accept a change or reduction in their schedule, or take a pay cut to avoid layoffs. Here’s the breakdown of the specific flexible downsizing options from which respondents could choose (there was no statistically significant difference between men and women):

78%     Four-day workweek, but the same amount of hours worked
59%     Add additional unpaid vacation days to the year
59%     Take one to two weeks unpaid leave, known as a furlough
48%     Share your job with another individual
47%     Reduced hours with reduced pay
41%     Work on a project basis as a contractor
41%     A pay cut, but the same amount of hours worked
31%     Take a month or more unpaid sabbatical
5%       None of these

Are people going to jump for joy when their schedule changes or if they make less money?  No, that’s unrealistic. But, I find there’s a pragmatic understanding that these are extraordinary times.  And most people, perhaps begrudgingly, will make trade-offs to keep their jobs. One conclusion from the data is that not everyone is interested in the same option.  Therefore, organizations might want to include a broad range of cost saving flexibility in any downsizing strategy and let managers and employees choose the options that work best for the individual and the business.

Concern #2:  You don’t save money and you will lose your top talent, therefore, the answer is to cut poor performers.

(Click here for more)