Archive for December, 2010

Fast Company: Envisioning Work+Life Flexibility 2020

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Raise your hand if you work from home periodically without a second thought?  Do you sometimes come in late or leave a little early if you have something you have to take care of outside of work?

Today, many (but still not enough of us) take for granted having flexibility in how, when and where we work.  But when I started out as a work+life strategy consultant in the early 1990’s, deviations from the standard “in-the-office, five-days-a-week model” were rare.  Then things began to change….

Celebrating Workplace Flexibility 2010

In 1995, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation saw an emerging trend, and decided to commit their formidable resources to a 15-year initiative called Workplace Flexibility 2010.  The goal was “to develop a comprehensive national policy on workplace flexibility.”

Last week I gathered with researchers, corporate leaders, public policy experts, government officials and practitioners to mark the final culmination of this multi-year, multi-faceted effort.   There was much to celebrate (for excellent overviews of the event, here, here, here, here, and here. And #focusonflex and @RexFlexibility on Twitter)

But I was struck most by a remark made at the beginning of the conference by Kathleen Christensen, program director from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation who oversaw Workplace Flexibility 2010.  She said, “This event isn’t the end, but the beginning of an ongoing conversation.”

With that call to action in mind, I spent most of the meeting thinking about the future, and imaging what a similar gathering might look like in 2020.  Here’s what I came up with…

Envisioning Work+Life Flexibility 2020

The name of the event would have changed from “workplace” flexibility to “work+life” flexibility because of over the last ten years we’d have recognized that work and life are one and the same, not separate. Therefore, having flexibility at work requires a degree of complementary flexibility in life.  Questions about what that reciprocal relationship looks like and how it is managed day-to-day and across careers are discussed.

There would be as many men at the event as there are women, because we would have finally realized that having the flexibility to manage work and life is an issue for all of us.  Not just families and women (as Leanne Chase also noted in her post-event blog).  And by making it about everyone, we would be well on our way to eliminating the painful motherhood penalty in the workplace, and making men more comfortable being full partners in the work+life discussion.

The academic research presented would also include studies that expand the focus on the business applications and benefits of flexibility:

  • How to change corporate governance standards to support the investment in people-based innovations such as work+life flexibility, that don’t show direct, bottom-line benefit in the short-term but the long-term.
  • How flexibility impacts disaster preparedness and business continuity.
  • How flexibility improves customer service and coordination of global client coverage.
  • How flexibility allows companies to sustain a cohesive, flexible workforce and minimize layoffs during economic peaks and downturns.

We would discuss what skills individuals need to be good partners with their employers to ensure that flexibility considers their personal needs as well as the needs of the business. Having recognized that companies can’t give individuals the answer to their work+life fit needs, people have to learn how to present solutions to their employers and then make them work day-to-day and at major career transitions.

Companies would share “how” they developed and implemented their unique flexibility strategies that are tailored to the needs and realities of their particular business. Over the past decade, it would have become clear that “one-size-fits-all” off –the-shelf programs don’t work. Therefore, the discussion would focus on how to create a shared vision of what flexibility means to the business, why it’s important, how to increase readiness and buy-in at all levels and then how to successfully implement and revise over time as business realities change.

Lobbyists for corporate interests and advocacy groups would discuss how they were able to finally compromise on legislation that guaranteed a basic level of paid sick leave and paid time off for care giving. (Okay, this is the part of the vision in which I am the least confident but the most hopeful).

Legislators would discuss how they worked across party lines to revamp outdated laws that limited work+life and career flexibility. Successes would include updating the Fair Labor Standards act to allow more hourly workers access to flexibility.  The tax code would have been overhauled to ensure that out of state telecommuters weren’t double taxed.  And the Social Security would be revised not to penalize older employees who wanted to continue to work.

That’s as far as I got.  Now, it’s your turn. Look into the future to 2020 and envision an inter-disciplinary gathering to advance flexibility in how, when and where is done.   Who would be there?  What’s being discussed?    (Click here to read the great comments on the post at FastCompany.com!)

The Pay Gap and Expectations

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(This post originally appeared in ForbesWoman.com)

What if the frustrating pay gap between men and women was caused, in part, by our collective low expectation that women are supposed to be “good” providers?

This expectation is alive and well according to the recently released Pew Research Center report, The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families, even if it’s not grounded in reality.  Most women will work most of their lives outside of the home in some capacity.

Women are already providers but that’s not what we expect.

According to the Pew Research Center study, when asked “To be ready for marriage, how important is it that a man be a good provider?” 67% of all respondents said, “very important.”   But when posed the same question regarding women, only 33% said, “very important.”  (I’d bet if Pew asked the question, “how important is it that men/women be a good caregiver” the results would flip.)

Expectations matter.   They affect the choices we make.

If women aren’t expected to be good providers but men are, how does that affect the decisions each gender makes from a very young age that perpetuate the gap?

When I was growing up my family emphasized education and being able to support myself but I was never expected to be a “good provider.”  What if I had been?  Would I have been forced to learn how to negotiate my compensation more effectively at a younger age?     Would I have made different, perhaps more lucrative, choices throughout my career?

That’s exactly what my friend Karen has done since we started in the same bank management training program after college.   From the beginning, Karen had clear high expectations for her career and for her compensation.   I remember staring in awe as the 23 year old Karen responded, “No,” when asked by the bank’s President, “Is everyone happy with their placements?”   Sure enough, she was moved to the higher paying job that she wanted.

Over the next twenty years, Karen continued this pattern of asking for what she wanted and felt she deserved whether it was a title, a job or money.   It wasn’t always easy or fun, but she expected it for herself.  And guess what?  She got it along with a loving husband and three beautiful children.

I can’t help but wonder what would happen to the pay gap if more women were like Karen and set their earnings expectations as high as those of the men in their chosen fields doing the same amount and type of work?

Expectations also influence the way others perceive and respond to us. (Click here for more)

Strategic Work+Life Flexibility and the C-Suite–My Interview for the “Corner Office” Series

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Check out my first interview via Skype with Susan Radojevic of Canada’s The Peregine Agency.  Our talk is part of an ongoing series called Corner Office that provides information to C-Suite leaders about key strategic issues.

Click HERE to launch the interview!  Learn what strategic work+life flexibility is, why seniors leaders should care about it, and how they can make it a reality in their organizations….

Working for Yourself, the Perfect Work+Life Fit? It Can Be, But….

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(This article originally appeared in the November 2010, Fordyce Letter newsletter)

I often present work+life fit strategies to groups of people who work for someone else—a big company, a government agency, or an academic institution. Inevitably, a participant will ask, “So, Cali, what does your work+life fit look like?”

I’ll begin to explain that, “I work for myself, and…” but before I can finish, it’s not unusual for someone to interrupt with, “Uh, see you have the perfect fit. You’re your own boss.” Cracking a knowing smile, I respond, “Yes, working for yourself has benefits, but is it perfect? Not necessarily. Unless you’re careful, there are dangers that can dash even the strongest work+life fit against the rocks.”

Owning your own business does give you more control of how, when, and where you work. But, you’re also the only one responsible for making sure all of that work gets done.  And unless you’re diligent, it’s easy to become the business owner that’s all toil…and no life. So, what do you do to avoid this fate?

Here are three steps I consistently follow to find the work+life fit that works for me and my business:

I consciously choose where and when I allocate my time and energy, as much as possible. If I just let it all happen haphazardly, work will usually win.  Where there are periods of more work and less life, overall, I do choose how it all fits together. To make this happen, I:

  • Keep all of my work and personal “to dos” in the same calendar. You can’t keep separate calendars and effectively manage your work+life fit, yet you’d be surprised how many people have work responsibilities in one place and personal “to dos” in another. With a complete snapshot, the conflict is clear when a client wants to schedule a meeting the same time as your yoga class. You may choose to miss the class and meet with the client, or more likely you’ll find an alternative that lets you do both.
  • Set time aside every week to review my calendar and reflect upon what I want my work+life fit to look like for the next seven days, and the rest of the month. What’s happening that takes priority at work and in the other parts of my life? What’s missing? What’s there too much of?
  • Then, depending upon what I’ve decided I want to accomplish in the business and personally, I chart my work+life fit for the coming week and weeks on my calendar.

My experience has been that, as long as I stick with this system, I accomplish more of everything. But when I get lazy and let it slide, I look up and realize I wasn’t as efficient at work and I haven’t taken a walk with my husband, seen a friend, gotten to the gym, or balanced my checkbook in a month.

Try to control technology so it doesn’t control me. I confess…this is a beast with which I continue to battle. Many business owners have offices in their homes, as I do.  It’s so easy to slip in a little bit of work here and there until the next thing you know, that’s all you’re doing.  A couple of changes I’ve made have helped:

  • When I’m out of the office and engaged in non-work related activities, I wait to respond to non-urgent emails.
  • When I am home and I walk over the threshold of my office to do other things, my blackberry stays on my desk. I have to physically walk back into my office if I want to check in. As a result, I’m more present.
  • Finally, I’m trying to physically close the door to my office when I am “done” for the day. I’ve had mixed results, but so far I’m 30-50% less likely to mindlessly wander into my office and start working when I want to be doing something else.

I plan and take vacations. Taking a vacation can be a big problem for business owners, because unlike those who work for someone else, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. Vacation can seem like an avoidable extravagance you just, “can’t afford.”  Plus, who’s going to cover your clients if something happens while you’re away? After many years of struggling with my own vacation conundrum, here’s what finally moved the needle:

  • I faced the fact that vacation is a necessity, especially for an always-on, multiple-hat-wearing business owner.  I do some of my best work after taking time off.
  • I started scheduling my vacations far in advance, blocking off two days before I leave and one day after I return in my calendar as “prep” and “re-entry,” respectively. If the vacation is on my calendar, I plan my work around it and notify clients to minimize fire drills. Also, by blocking off two “prep” days before I leave, I complete the projects that inevitably pop up at the last minute without pulling all-nighters and starting vacation frazzled. Then, by blocking off the first day back in the office for “reentry,” I can catch up without immediately undoing all of the benefits of taking some time off!
  • I provide my mobile number in my out-of-office message if there’s an urgent issue. Otherwise, I trust that if someone needs me, they will find me.  It’s nice to fantasize that I’m indispensable, but since I’ve made this change, nothing has come up that couldn’t wait until I returned.

So, is working for yourself the “perfect” work+life fit fantasy that many people who work for others imagine it to be? For me, as long as I actively choose where and when I put my time and energy, try to control technology so it doesn’t control me, and take vacation, the answer is “yes.” What do you think?

Fast Company: How I Hailed a Cab and Learned to Help Older Workers Find a Job

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What can we do right now to help people over 55 years old find and keep jobs? I’ve pondered this question since the economic downturn transformed the work+life fit reality of older workers, radically and permanently.

Almost overnight, many later-in-life employees were forced into the job market without the know-how to find and compete for scarce opportunities while decimated portfolios changed their retirement expectations. They want to work but countless numbers struggle to find and keep a job.

This bleak employment picture for many over 55 year olds was confirmed in the recently released New Unemployables study conducted by Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging and Work and the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University:

  • 84% of older workers who were unemployed in August 2009 were still unemployed in March 2010, and
  • 67% of older workers reported looking for work longer than a year.

Navigating this new later-in-life work reality requires an updated set of skills as evidenced by the 64% of older job seekers who said that the job search strategies they were using were not helpful, compared with less than half of younger job seekers. So what can be done? The research provides important clues including:

  • Teaching workers over 55 years old how to use social media to network and brand themselves and
  • Introducing them to new models of later-in-life employment, such as Encore Careers.

Teach workers 55+ years old how to use social media to network and brand themselves

According to the study, “just 13% of older job seekers had used online social networking sites compared to 28% of younger job seekers.” We need to convince older workers (and maybe even younger workers for that matter) that creating a presence and networking online is no longer optional. And we need to show them how to do it, as I did recently with a New York City cabdriver.

A couple of months ago I hailed a cab, and behind the wheel was a well-dressed man who looked to be in his mid 50’s. He smiled in the rearview mirror as I made myself comfortable for the ride uptown.

I’d decided to use the time to catch up on some calls. On one call I must have mentioned that I was on my way to give a speech. Overhearing this, the driver politely asked, “What is the topic of your speech?” I responded “How to manage your work+life fit.” He laughed and said, “Do you have any advice for me?”

He proceeded to explain that he had started driving a cab a couple of months earlier after his 18 months of severance ran out. He had two masters degrees and for eight years he had been a project manager for a major online retailer. When the layoffs started, he thought another equally good job would eventually turn up. But after countless promising interviews and not one call back, he had no choice to start driving the cab to make extra money. He sighed, “Any advice for me, lady expert?”

We were about 10 blocks from my stop so all I could think of saying was, “Are you networking with employers on Linkedin?” His confused eyes stared at me in the mirror, “What’s Linkedin?”  (Click here for more)