Archive for October, 2010

Fast Company: How to Talk About Work and Life Without Getting Into “It”

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What is my vision of work+life fit nirvana?

  • Every manager would know how to talk with his or her employees about work+life flexibility. The discussion would focus on how to get the job done while acknowledging that employees have lives outside of work that they need to deal with. The manager doesn’t come up with solutions, but everyone feels comfortable enough to talk about options, without getting into the details of or judging “why” they need to work differently.
  • Every employee would have the skills to take the initiative and present a work+life fit plan that adjusts how, when or where they work in a way that’s a win for them and the business. They would do this in response to any change in their personal or professional circumstances that would cause them to rethink the way work fit into their life. They don’t suffer in silence because they have the skills to present options that make sense for everyone.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in work+life fit nirvana:

  • Most employees have no idea that they, not their manager, need to come up with solutions when work and personal circumstances change. And, even if they did, most wouldn’t know how. Further complicating matters is the fear saying anything in today’s economic environment that would put their job at risk.
  • Most managers are afraid to say anything that would get them sued, and quite frankly, they “just don’t want to get into it.” They don’t know enough about each person’s life and tasks of their job to come up with a workable solution, and they aren’t comfortable getting into the details of “why” behind the desire for a different work+life fit.

As a result, the ongoing conversation doesn’t happen which leads to a productivity-draining, engagement-sucking, stress-inducing stalemate that hurts everyone.

How to break the stalemate and start the conversation without getting into “it”

Thankfully, more employers recognize that they need to break the deadlock. Increasingly I’m being asked, “How do we get employees to tell us what would work for them and for us? And how do we get managers to feel comfortable having the conversation?” Here’s my advice:

  1. Keep it simple by asking the question, “Do you have the flexibility to manage your work+life fit in a way that gets your job done and meets your personal needs?” The question opens the door to the discussion, keeps the focus on the job and doesn’t get into the details of the individual’s personal life. I recommend that managers pose the question to everyone at least once a year (proactive), and then use it to address any issues that come up unexpectedly before the stress and strain becomes noticeable (reactive).
  2. Give employees the tools to be an effective partner and come up with a plan once the door is opened. For an example of this skill set looks like, check out the three-step work+life fit process outlined in my book. Highlights can be found in the Work+Life Fit in 5 Days series.

With a simple question and the skills to create a win-win plan, it’s possible to encourage a conversation about work+life flexibility that benefits everyone … and gets us one step closer to nirvana.

What do you think makes managers and employees more comfortable talking about how to manage life and the complex realities of work in a difficult economic reality?

Click here to check out other posts on my FastCompany blog and here to follow me on Twitter @caliyost

Saying Good-bye to the Iconic and Ironic June Cleaver…Literally and Figuratively

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I felt a twinge of nostalgic sadness when I heard that Barbara Billingsley (a.k.a June Cleaver) died this past weekend.  As a child in the 70’s, I’d watch reruns of Leave it to Beaver when I stayed home sick from school sipping on Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup and nibbling on Saltines.  I loved the antics of the Beaver and Wally, and the way Mrs. Cleaver handled it all without ever breaking a sweat or raising her voice.

But it wasn’t until my newly-divorced, newly-working mother of three declared, “I’m done being June Cleaver” that I began to realize that she was more than just Beaver’s mother.  She represented something that my mother felt she had to actively reject in order to survive.  But what?

Iconic June Cleaver—the guilt inducing, unattainable 10 year old boy’s fantasy

When I became a working mother and wife 12 years ago, I finally understood.  To my mother and tens of millions of other women, June Cleaver had become an unrealistic, unattainable bar against which women in general, and mothers specifically would be judged by themselves, by men, and by society.  In order to survive, my mother felt she had to either reject June Cleaver, the icon, or wither under the relenting assault of guilt for not measuring up (see great post by my friend, Morra Aarons-Mele, “Working Mom Guilt is a Political Issue”).

According to her obituary in The New York Times, Billingsley, “…acknowledged 40 years later, her role was a picture-perfect reflection of the times. ‘We were the ideal parents because that’s the way he saw it,’ she said, describing the show as the world seen through the eyes of a child.”

This quote made me wonder, did we all miss the joke?  Did we understand that the image of perfection against which mothers have been measured for 50 years represented the fantasy of a 10 year old boy?  I honestly don’t think so. And now that we are finally in on the secret, can we move on?

Can women follow my mother’s lead and comfortably reject June Cleaver as the bar of success?

Can men stop looking for and expecting June Cleaver to greet them at the door and mother their children while contributing meaningful amounts of money to the family’s coffers?

Can company leaders, many of whom–like me–grew up charmed by the wonder that was June Cleaver, realize she never existed and never will exist.  And as a result, support the creation workplaces and cultures that support real women, men and families.

Can public policymakers stop clinging to the ideal when they cut child care, eldercare, and after school programs because June’s at home taking care of everything.  She’s not!  And she never was.

It was a 10 year old boy’s fantasy!

Ironic June Cleaver—Barbara Billingsley, single working mother

And then there’s the irony that the woman who portrayed June Cleaver, Barbara Billingsley, was herself a divorced working mother of two.

It wasn’t Barbara Billingsley’s job to point this fact out to the world.  She was being paid to play a character and she did it beautifully.

But perhaps it would have made a difference to know that the woman behind the character wasn’t a perfect suburban stay-at-home mother.  She worked and was paid to support her sons.  That’s not to say the choice not to work is wrong.  But let’s understand and acknowledge that June Cleaver wasn’t even June Cleaver and judge ourselves and others accordingly.

So, good-bye Mrs. Cleaver.  Thank you for keeping me company and making me feel safe as a little girl wrapped in a blanket on the couch as you lit up the screen.  Even more, thank you Barbara Billingsley for letting me in on the secret…you weren’t real.  You were a mother, just like me, trying to do what’s best for you and your family.

Plan Your Holiday Work+Life Fit…Maximize Joy (Minimize Stress!)

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Like clockwork, around the second week of December, I begin to hear the same frustrations, “I still have all of my shopping to do.  I haven’t sent out cards or decorated my house and I have a year-end project due at work.  Every holiday season, it’s the same nightmare.”  Well, not this year.

During my recent appearance on Maggie Mistal’s Martha Stewart Network XM/SIRIUS radio show, I talked about how to start your holiday work+life fit planning…now!  I promise, if you do, you’ll be less stressed out and frazzled.  And, we could all use as much relaxed cheer as possible.   Follow these three steps to put as much joy and as little stress into your holiday work+life fit as possible(by the way, I just did them myself):

Remember, it’s not just about time management.  It’s about managing your time, energy and definitions of success.  Let’s start with…

Time: Take out your calendar.  Go to January 1, 2011 and work backwards.  Is New Year’s Eve important to you?  Do you want to celebrate it?  If yes, how?  Do you need a sitter?  If yes, start making calls to teenagers now, because they get busy.  Make reservations at your favorite restaurant or invite friends over.

Then move to December.  What holidays do you celebrate?  Mark them on your calendar.  Do you want vacation?  If yes, when?  Put in your request for vacation now and start to coordinate with teammates and clients to ensure they know your plans and offer to cover for each other.

Now add October and November to the big holiday work+life fit picture.  Are there year-end work-related deadlines that you can count on?  If yes, start to plan them into your schedule now so you can minimize last minute fire drills that can suck the joy right out of the season.

Think about what you want to accomplish related to the holidays.  What’s important to you?  Buying presents within a particular budget?  Baking cookies?  Seeing friends?  Decorating your house?  Sending cards?  Start to block off days you want to devote to these tasks.  The earlier, the better.  This is especially true if you want to avoid budget-busting last minute shopping.  Why wait?

Energy: Tired, distracted, overwhelmed, stressed.  These are the words we use too often to describe how we feel over the holidays.  And that’s because we aren’t optimizing our energy by building downtime into our holiday work+life fit.  Block off a few hours here and there to just relax even if you feel you “should” be doing something.  Watch football or read a book, but mark it down in advance or it won’t happen because there are even more demands pulling you every which way over the holidays.  Just rest.

Definitions of Success:    This is a biggie, especially for women.  When I was growing up, my mother baked delicious, wonderful cookies of all shapes and sizes during the holidays.  For many years, I felt bad that I didn’t.  But ultimately I gave that up and found the Pillsbury pre-made dough that I roll out and decorate with my children.  They love it.  Done.

Ask yourself, what really matters to you, your family and friends?  I LOVE giving and receiving holiday cards.  But I want to take my time filling out those we send and reading the ones we get, so I need to plan in advance.   But I don’t really care about fancy entertaining (although I sometimes fantasize about it).  A casual get-together with close friends and family is perfect and truthfully all I can manage without overload.

So, map out your holiday work+life fit today.  Bring more joy (and less stress) to this season by optimizing your time, energy and definitions of success over the next three months at work and in the other parts of your life.  There’s no better gift you can possibly give yourself…and everyone else around you.

How do you manage the fit between work and the other parts of your life to be as joyful and stressfree as possible over the holidays?  When do you start planning?

Fast Company: How Millennials Are an Untapped Treasure for Business

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Somehow last week turned into a spontaneous celebration of the potential within the Gen-Y/Millennial generation that’s just waiting to be fully tapped. Everywhere I turned, articles, conversations, and presentations reaffirmed my belief that we need to move past the intergenerational finger-pointing and harness the good, albeit different, approaches to work and life that the Gen-Y/Millennial generation offers.

Because it’s their inherent flexibility, openness, and communication skills that hold the key to future success in business and life for all of us, if carefully mined.

It started when I read an article in this month’s Fast Company magazine by Nancy Lublin, CEO (and self-described “Chief Old Person”) of Do Something entitled, “In Defense of Millennials.” As an employer of 19 full-time millennial staffers, Lublin shared how she flips the common complaints lodged against the generation on end and makes them into a positive:

Compliant #1–they multi-task: Lublin agrees that they do, and often not with great success but that isn’t going to change. So, instead, “I see my role as defining a clear goal, giving her the resources to take the shot, and then getting out of her way while she takes the dunk.”
Complaint #2–they share too much information on their social networks: Lublin sees it as, “Free advertising.”
Complaint #3–they are entitled: Lublin believes it makes them hungry for responsibility and she gives it to them.
Complaint #4–they require too much praise: Lublin feels that we all need more praise, so gives it freely.

But it’s the last paragraph in which she wonders, “Maybe the real problem isn’t this generation–maybe it’s that the rest of us don’t manage them for greatness, for maximum effect,” that rang in my ears when I met with a terrific senior leader last week.

We met for lunch prior to a work+life fit strategy session I facilitated for his group. I asked him, “So how have you found working with the millennial employees in your organization?” He smiled and proceeded to share the following story that perfectly illustrated their power to get things done when we guide and let them, (Click here for more)

Fast Company: 10 Signs That Work+Life Flexibility Is Strategic, Not Just a Feel-Good Program

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Someone recently asked me, “I hear what you say about flexibility needing to be strategic to be real, but what does that mean? What does it look like?”

To answer this excellent question, here are 10 signs that will tell you whether work+life flexibility in your organization is a real strategy with broad impact or simply a program that sounds good, but doesn’t lead to meaningful change:

Sign #1: It’s an employee-employer partnership where everyone understands their role and has the skills to make flexibility a win for the business and for individuals.

Sign #2: It’s not driven solely by HR or the women’s initiative. It lives and breathes in the day-to-day reality of the culture and business as “Just the way we all work.”

Sign #3: When someone under 30 years old says, “I’m going to leave early but will finish this up at home tonight,” the first reaction from managers isn’t, “He doesn’t want to work hard.”

Sign #4: When a valuable team member approaches retirement, conversations start well in advance about how he or she might stay connected with a reduced schedule or working on a project-basis.

Sign #5: The careers of mothers who want flexibility to manage their work+life fit aren’t unfairly penalized because fathers and those caring for aging adults have just as much flexibility.
(Click here for Signs 6-10)

Fast Company: Three Steps to Stop the Game of “When” at Work

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When I was little, my friends and I played variations of the game “When!” We held our breath until someone yelled, “When!” Kept our eyes wide open until someone shouted, “When!”

I’m reminded of this game when I’m helping a group of employees optimize their work+life fit and someone will say, “Yeah, my work is done for the day and I want to leave the office, but I don’t want to be the first one to get up and I don’t want to leave before my boss.” In other words, they are waiting for someone else to say, “When!”

But two things happen. First, everyone else is waiting and watching not wanting to make the first move. And, further complicating matters, are those few people in the office who can and want to stay later, therefore, unintentionally raising the bar for everyone else. So, how do you leave, assuming you are at a good stopping point with your work, whether or not anyone else is?

Challenge the “Yeah, But … “

This “yeah, but … ” fear of leaving before your peers and/or boss is one of the primary work+life fit roadblocks that I address in chapter 10 of my book. To move past it, here’s a three step process that I use in my workshops.

Step 1) Determine if the “yeah but, I can’t leave before my peers/boss leaves” fear is based on fact. (Click here for more)