Archive for January, 2011

Why Millennials Need to Be “Unrealistic” About Work+Life Fit (But, “Realistic” About Money)

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Originally posted on FastCompany.

I recently attended two conferences where researchers presented studies on the Millennial generation’s beliefs and expectations related to how work will fit into their lives throughout their careers.

The conclusion of the research was not surprising: 20-somethings expect a great deal of flexibility. They expect flexibility in how, when and where they work while employed, but also they want to flexibly manage their careers.

However, I cringed during the presentations when the two 50+ year old researchers both commented that men and women in this generation may be a bit “unrealistic.” I was taken aback because these goals may seem fanciful in the context of an Industrial Age economy, but they’re more understandable when you consider what Millennials have witnessed during their formative years.

Millennials watched the concept of work and career change fundamentally. Technology and globalization decimated the boundaries between your job and your life and rendered the promise of the full-time job with benefits obsolete; therefore…

20-somethings need to be “unrealistic” about their work+life fit

In a recent article for The Christian Science Monitor, Lindsay Pollack commented on the findings of the “Shaping a New Future” study of 1,000 Millennial women that she conducted with Levi’s Strauss & Co, “They are living life on their own terms, and we can learn a lot from how they are navigating our 21st Century world.”

What does that world look like in terms of work and careers?  It’s unpredictable and self-directed. Two recent surveys (Workforce Trends Study and Manpower) found the use of temporary talent by companies instead of full-time employees “is a post-recession phenomenon that is here to stay.”  Not surprisingly, the 2009 Emerging Workforce study reported that 94% of respondents felt that an employee should seek their own career opportunities, and only 24% were satisfied with the growth and earning potential in their current jobs.

Millennial expectations align with this dynamic, free agent existence. As I’ve written before, we would all benefit by sitting up, taking notice and learning.  Examples of new more flexible ways of managing your work+life fit have gotten attention recently and include:

There’s only one caveat…there must also be a new, updated, “realistic” approach to money.

Money—making it, spending it and saving it–is different in the world of a flexible work+life fit.  In other words, it’s not your grandfather’s or even your father’s financial reality.

The steady, ever-increasing paycheck deposited into your bank account every other week has given way to a more inconsistent, unpredictable, multi-stream, project-based cash flow.  This requires an updated, “realistic” approach to finances outlined in the new book, Generation Earn, by US News & World Report columnist Kimberly Palmer.

Unlike more traditional “how to” personal finance books, Palmer attacks the financial implications of this new Millennial work+life fit reality head on by covering topics such as:

  • How to create and manage multiple streams of income either as your primary means of support or as a supplement to your main job. (Includes excellent advice from Michelle Goodman, author of Anti 9-to-5 Guide).
  • How to manage the “new” frugality and buy green.
  • How to create a flexibility plan to present to your boss when you need to adjust your work+life fit.
  • How to calculate the “true” cost of staying home once you have a child (page 148—important because you need to “factor in the value of future earnings and promotions” in order to get an accurate picture)
  • How to negotiate living with your parents again, and
  • How to face the (tough) reality that you will have to fund your own retirement.  It’s important because, as Palmer points out, the existence of Social Security for this cohort is tenuous.

Yes, according to Industrial Age thinking, the expectations of Millennials for job and career flexibility may seem “unrealistic.”  But in the context of today’s circumstances, they make sense.

When, where and how 20-somethings work and manage their lives is going to look very different from the experience of most Boomers and many Gen-Xers.  This requires not only a new, more flexible work+life fit model, but also, as Generation Earn points out, a completely new relationship with money.

Do you think Millennials are “unrealistic” about their work+life fit expectations or do you believe they are adapting what work and careers will look like going forward?  How do you believe the way we manage our personal finances needs to change?

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Fast Company: 3 Dangers of Making “Recruitment and Retention” the Only Reason for Workplace Flexibility

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From what I’m seeing, we’ve turned a corner in the job market. Firms are publicly stating their intention to hire. And, the “Look, people are just lucky to have jobs,” mantra of the last two years has given way quickly to “We need to offer workplace flexibility so we can attract and retain our people.” This is great news for me, but it’s dangerous for employers.

It’s great news for me because it is true and it’s the easiest sell for our expertise. A mountain of research has proven over and over again that people choose and stay with employers, in part, because of flexibility. Employers are all ears when we explain how we can help solve that problem. It’s the reason retention and recruitment drove the growth of flexibility in the 90’s and 00’s.

Falling back on this familiar “why” for flexibility could be dangerous for organizations. As we saw at the height of the economic downturn, flexibility based solely on the recruitment and retention rationale had shallow roots. It couldn’t hold against the strong winds of the recession. In many organizations, flexibility disappeared perhaps not in name, but in practice because, “Look, people are just lucky to have jobs.”

Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Let’s use this resurgent focus on the importance of flexibility to create a stronger root system that runs deeper into the culture and the day-to-day operating model.

We need to go beyond recruitment and retention, because if we don’t:

People won’t trust that flexibility is real and safe to use. Flexibility is not a red carpet you can roll out in good times and roll back in at the first signs of trouble. You get one, maybe two, shots at promoting greater flexibility in your workplace. Initially, people will trust you and try it. But they’ll be watching. If flexibility is perceived to not work as promised, hurts someone’s career, or becomes a flavor of the month, it will be very hard to get buy-in the next time. That doesn’t mean flexibility shouldn’t adapt to changing realities. It just can’t disappear.

Flexibility will remain a tactical benefit with an important, but limited, impact. In far too many organizations, both leaders and employees still believe that formal flexible work arrangements are a nice-to-have benefit. They look good on the recruiting brochure and they are a helpful, tactical response when someone you want to keep threatens to leave. Strategic flexibility in the way work is done and life is managed is so much more, but it can’t be based solely on recruitment and retention or …

Employers leave money on the table and miss out on profit and growth opportunities from the other applications of flexibility that hold in good times and bad. Combine these other impacts with recruitment and retention and you create the deeper, stronger root system that allows flexibility to thrive boom or bust. These other impacts include (but is not limited to):

  • Productivity and Engagement: People are able to get more done with less if they have the day-to-day and more structured, formal flexibility to work and manage the other parts of their lives. Companies leave money on the table, especially in a tough economy, when they don’t make flexibility real and meaningful. (For an interesting related commentary checkout Jason Fried’s “Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work” Ted talk).
  • Business contingency planning: You can stay open for business when it snows or there’s a flu epidemic because people can work from home.  (Click here for more)

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Escape the 10 Tyrannies of Work/Life Balance

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Like clockwork, in the last week of December, people start asking me, “My New Year’s Resolution is to find more balance.  What’s your top how-to tip?”  Every year, my answer is the same, “Stop looking for balance and start finding your unique work+life fit.”

But this year, my response is more emphatic.  You see, for ten years, I’ve patiently waited for everyone to realize that balance is an anachronism.  A holdover from an Industrial Age, with all of its boundaries and rules, that no longer exists.  But clearly the realization hasn’t sunk in given the number of Google Alerts for “work life balance” in my inbox over the past two weeks.

This outdated concept of “balance” is a major roadblock that stands between us and having true, meaningful flexibility in the way we manage our work, life and careers, because:

  1. Balance” is always discussed in the negative. “I don’t have balance.” “I am out of balance,” which…
  2. Keeps you focused on the problem, not the solution. You have the power to make countless adjustments (both large and small) in the way you work and manage your life (as long as you know how), but you’ll never see them because balance…
  3. Assumes we’re all the same. We’re not.  At any given time, we all have a completely unique set of work and personal circumstances which precludes a consistent solution.   For Kate, who’s on the steep learning curve of a new job and works long hours, getting to the gym and seeing her friends every couple of weeks is enough.  But for Mark, three days a week mentoring new sales people is perfect, because he can delay retirement for two years and see his grandchildren more.   Work+life fit is like snowflakes.  I’ve never heard the same fit twice, but balance
  4. Infers that there’s a “right” answer. There isn’t.  If the work+life fit reality for each of us is completely unique then there’s never going to be a “right” way.  I’ve met an investment manager who runs a tree farm on the side, an accountant who’s a mom and a competitive ballroom dancer, and an entrepreneur who gets home twice a week for dinner with his kids and tries to slip in time to surf during his 80-hour workweek.  They’ve all found a work+life fit that works for them in the context of their unique jobs and personal realities.  No one is right.  No one is wrong, yet balance…
  5. Leads us to judge others, often unfairly. Honestly, we need to give each other and ourselves a break.  We have no idea what’s going on in someone else’s life or in their job, but we can learn strategies from each other.  “How does an entrepreneur get home for dinner and surf?”  “How do you manage investments and run a tree farm?”  “How does a mother work as an accountant and find time to be a ballroom dancer?”   Instead of judging, we can inspire, but balance too often…
  6. Results in unproductive guilt. If each of us has a unique work+life fit, then there should be no (or at least less) guilt.  If that fit works for your unique work and personal circumstances, rock on; however, the trick is to understand that not everyone can do what you’re doing. This is the missing piece.  How can create a culture that allows all of our unique work+life fit realities to coexist together?  Circumstances will change.  One day you’re able to work 80 hours a week, then because of unexpected eldercare responsibilities you can work no more than 20 hours, but balance…
  7. Suggests that the goal is a 50-50 split between work and the other parts of your life. In today’s competitive, service-oriented, global economy there are very few jobs where a consistent amount of work will be done on particular days within certain hours all of the time.   Even 15 years ago, you could count on a pretty reliable schedule.  And you could walk out the door at the end of the day and not have to reconnect to work until you walked back in.  No longer.  To find a fit that works for you and your job, acknowledge this inherent work flow inconsistency and connectivity.  Plan as best you can to create boundaries around technology and to accommodate the inevitable work+life ebbs and flows.    But balance…
  8. Leaves no room for periods where there’s more work and less life, and vice versa. If you want flexibility in your workplace to succeed, then you need to be flexible with it.  In other words, if an unexpected project has to be completed and you’re supposed to leave at 4 p.m., occasionally step to the plate and stay without complaint.  The unanticipated will happen.  Conversely, maybe you’ll experience a chronic illness (like when I had Lyme two years ago).  Suddenly there’s a lot more life than work, but balance…
  9. Ignores the constantly changing reality of work and life. When your goal is “balance” any and all changes will throw you off.  My experience is that very few of us know how to think through, plan for and adjust our work+life fit in response to the personal and career transitions we know are happening, much less the events that happen unexpectedly.   And, we need to because balance…
  10. Will never be taken seriously by corporate leaders. As I’ve written before, when you say “balance,” all that corporate leaders hear is “work less” and the conversation goes nowhere.  The minute I started talking about the goal in terms of work+life “fit,” these same leaders began to engage.  They saw that they too have a work+life fit that matters to them, but also that there was a business benefit to giving everyone more flexibility to work smarter and better in today’s economy.

Escape the tyranny of balance in 2011.  Focus on how to optimize your work+life fit in 2011 and you’ll:

  • Talk about what you could have
  • See solutions
  • Know  we’re all different
  • Realize there’s no right answer
  • Stop judging yourself and others
  • Lose the guilt
  • Embrace and plan for the ebb and flow of work and life day-to-day and throughout your career, and
  • Increase the likelihood of that your boss will support greater flexibility in the where, when and/or how you work and, in turn, manage your life.

Tell me…How can escaping the tyranny of “balance” help you find your fit in 2011?  I really want to know!

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In 2011, There May Be No Balance, But There Will Be Work+Life “Fit”

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This great new drawing from Hugh MacLeod, the genius behind GapingVoid Gallery, says it all (just bought one for my office!)

There’s no “balance,” but there will be work+life “fit.” I am dedicating 2011 to helping even more people find it.

Happy New Year…Stay tuned!  What’s your big goal for the new year?