This post is part of a blog carnival taking place through Labor Day on MomsRising.org to celebrate the publication of The Custom-Fit Workplace: Choose When, Where and How to Work and Boost Your Bottom Line, by Joan Blades and Nanette Fondas (Jossey Bass).
In 1995, I graduated from business school and began working for Families and Work Institute developing and implementing work+life strategies. I often joke that I’m probably the first, and last, student to walk the halls of Columbia Business School publicly professing the desire to become a work+life strategy consultant.
But my previous experience as a line manager at a bank had opened my eyes to an irrefutable truth: it’s a strategic imperative to help employees flexibly manage the way work fits into their lives day-to-day and at major career and personal transitions. It’s not just a nice thing to do. Unfortunately, my conviction was often greeted with a confused, “what?” Remember, this was 1995.
Undaunted, I began my work at FWI with gusto. But two seemingly insurmountable roadblocks continued to stymie progress:
- Every time we talked to leaders about “balance,” they’d visibly physically shutdown. Heads bobbed and eyes glazed over. And, they weren’t alone.
- Individuals were paralyzed by the frustration of never achieving “balance.” No matter how many programs were offered or flexible work arrangement policies were written, “I don’t have balance” or “I’m out of balance.”
“Balance” wasn’t working. So, I tried to redefine it. For leaders, I’d patiently explain, “Balance doesn’t necessarily mean working less. It means working better, smarter, more flexibly.” For individuals, I’d point out, “There’s no right answer or 50-50 split between work and life.” But to no avail, the reactions were the same. Something had to change. But what? A tiny word, “fit.”
#1 Reason Work+Life Fit* Matters and Makes a Difference: Everyone at all levels becomes part of the same conversation. They recognize the uniqueness of their particular “fit” and the business benefits of greater workplace flexibility.
Finally, one day, a senior executive saw my “balance” struggle and took pity. He candidly confessed,
“Look, Cali, no matter what you say every time I hear ‘balance’ all I hear is ‘work less.’ Plus, I don’t have any kind of balance. In my job, I never will.”
Suddenly, I heard myself say,
“Exactly, you have a work+life fit that works for you and your circumstances, and everyone in this organization has a unique work+life fit that’s going to change many times over the course of their careers. The trick is to create a flexible culture and operating model that allows all of these different work+life fit realities to coexist in a way that meets the needs of the individual and the business.”
That’s all it took. Miraculously, for the first time, a line leader not only listened to the importance of giving employees greater flexibility, but he was engaged. “Actually, you’re right, “he said, “I do have a work+life fit,” and he began to share aspects of his personal life that he consistently tries to fit into his busy job. He also understood that his circumstances (e.g. plenty of financial resources, stay-at-home spouse) were different from many others in the organization.
Simply adding “fit” replaced disinterested defensiveness with understanding recognition. The result was a more productive conversation about work-strategies that would create a more flexible culture and way of operating. Roadblock removed.
#2 Reason Work+Life Fit Matters and Makes a Difference: Individuals stop focusing on what they don’t have, “balance,” to see the work+life “fit” they could have. (Click here for more)