Archive for September, 2011

As We Think About the “Future of Work…” Need to Add “and Life”

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Around Labor Day, the commentary on the current state of the workplace increases. But this year, it seemed that the media focused more on what the future of work will look like. A couple of examples that I’ve seen over the past few days include:

  • A Jobs Plan for the Post-Cubicle Economy, part of The Future of Work—A Labor Day Special Report ( Advocates creating unions that bring together the increasing number of independent workers.
  • The Blended Workforce: The New Norm (Talent Management): Foretells of a future workplace made up of a combination of employees, consultants, independent contractors and contingent workers. Not unlike the Shamrock Organization that Charles Handy first predicted in his 1989 management classic, The Age of Unreason.
  • Are Jobs Obsolete? ( Challenges the relevance of the entire concept of a job.
  • The Future of Work ( Sees a workplace dominated by virtual teams and global nomads.

For all of their futuristic and forward thinking, these articles miss a very important point–the recognition and acknowledgment that work and life are now one and the same. You can no longer accurately predict the future of one, without also imaging the future of the other.

But, with the exception of the need to transform education, the articles barely mentioned how the predicted changes will affect our lives outside of work. It matters because the success of any transformation at work along the levels imagined, will depend on a number of corresponding changes happening off the job as well. For example, if an increasing percentage of workers are part of a contingent, on-demand, virtual, global workforce, then:

  • What does that mean for the type of houses we live in and how we finance them?
  • How do the roles of women and men as providers and caregivers need to adapt?
  • How will that affect our choices to partner with someone and have a family?
  • How do we have to restructure child care and eldercare, and who will provide it?
  • How will we need to manage our finances differently?
  • Not only how do we update the curriculum taught in elementary and secondary school, but how does the school day and school calendar need to change?
  • What does “retirement” look like?

If these questions, and others, aren’t considered then a contingent, global, on-demand virtual workforce will flounder under the weight of misaligned personal obligations and circumstances.

The omission of “life” from questions about “work” is very Industrial Age. Twenty years ago, work and life were two separate and distinct spheres, at least in theory. “Work” was 9-to-5, in the office, Monday-thru-Friday and the other parts of life happened around that framework. Thanks (or, no thanks) to technology, demographic shifts, and economic globalization that’s not the case anymore. Changes in the way we work will directly impact the way we live. And, changes in the way we live will directly impact the way we work.

It’s a Jetsons world, but we still talk and think like we live in an episode of Mad Men. So, whenever you encounter “What is the future of work…”, add two words to the question “What is the future of work…and life?” That’s reality.

Do you think we adequately consider the impact of the future of work on the way we live our life off the job?  What are some of the questions we should be asking about both work and life in the coming years that aren’t being adequately addressed?

(This post originally appeared in FastCompany)

For more, I invite you to join me on my Fast Company blog and connect with me on Twitter @caliyost.

3 Steps to Make Work+Life Flexibility Really Succeed for Your Business and Your People

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I’ve decided that every time I read an article, study or blog post that talks about how people don’t have meaningful access to flexibility, how managers don’t support flexibility, and/or how flexibility policies don’t match the actual practice in the business (this week here and here), I’m going to re-publish the following article on my blog.  It originally appeared in our “Make Flexibility Real”  newsletter (click here to subscribe), and clearly outlines the three steps that:

  • Give people access to flexibility
  • Create buy-in and understanding from managers and
  • Make flexibility a meaningful part of the actual practice of the business.

I will keep posting it for as long as it takes to get the message across:  Work+life flexibility will not become part of the culture, help business achieve its goals and people manage their work+life fit by writing a policy, running a program, conducting a training session or putting a toolkit on the website.  That only happens with an approach along the lines of the following…

The Flex Strategy “Turducken.”  What?  The Backstory

It all started during a team discussion about the best way to present our next phase recommendations to a client.  In an attempt to wrap them under a unifying concept, FSG partner, Donna Miller, pointed out, “It’s a policy wrapped in a process, wrapped in a strategy.  A veritable flexibility  ‘turducken’ if you will.” And, with that, the perfect metaphor for “strategic flexibility” was born. A turducken.

And just as a butcher creates a turducken by wrapping chicken inside duck, inside turkey, organizations make flexibility real when they wrap policies inside of  guidelines, inside of a a plan for implementation that’s linked to business objectives:

What does a flexibility strategy “turducken” look like in action?  Although every organization is different, here are some highlights by layer:

Step 1: Flexibility Policies (Chicken):  This is where most organizations start and many end.  They draft policies that lay out the approval, implementation and review parameters of the five discrete formal flexible work arrangements: flexible schedules, telecommuting, compressed workweeks, reduced schedules, and job sharing.  For example:

  • We define telecommuting as…/ We define a reduced schedule as…/
  • If you telecommute, the company will/will not reimburse certain expense
  • Every arrangement must be reviewed initially after 90 days and the every six months thereafter
  • If the arrangement is deemed unsatisfactory to either the manager or employee, it can be terminated immediately.

But these one-size-fits-all policies are often one-dimensional.  They fail to come to life because there’s no way to contextualize the flexibility to the unique realities of a particular business challenge, job or person.   This is where the next layer of the flex strategy “turducken” becomes important…

Step 2: Flexibility Process to Tailor Win-Win Solutions (Duck): This layer takes flexibility to the next level.  It provides consistent guidelines to think through what type of flexibility will or will not work for a job or person.  Flexibility processes also address issues of fairness.  While everyone is not guaranteed the same type of flexibility, everyone does follow the same process for consideration of a request.

Here’s an example of three common levels of guidelines.  They build upon one another to harness flexibility and create win-win, tailored solutions:

Level 1—Manager/HR: A process to guide a manager or HR’s approval of a request for one of the five standard, one-size-fits-all formal flexible work arrangements.  Managers and/or HR are prompted to consider the performance of the employee, whether it makes sense for the business, etc.   This is where most organizations begin, but at some point they make three important realizations:

  • Managers and HR can’t come up with a flexibility plan that is going to work for each individual person,
  • The five, one-size-fits-all formal flexible work arrangements are too rigid.  They don’t allow the creativity required to tailor a solution that meets the work+life fit needs of the individual and the needs of the business, and,
  • Most of the time people don’t need to formally change the way they are working.  They just want to make small, flexible adjustments in how, when and where they work day-to-day.

That leads to the creation of…

Level 2—Employee Work+Life Fit: A process that helps an employee take the lead to determine what type of formal and day-to-day flexibility will help them manage their work+life fit. These guidelines help them think through how, when and/or where they want to work, how their job will get done, etc  before talking to their manager and team.

Unfortunately, in many organizations, these employee-based guidelines only focus on work considerations and leave out personal realities that will also impact the success of flexibility.  This incomplete picture is the reason that I wrote my book, Work+Life:  Finding the Fit That’s Right for You. I wanted to help individuals create a solution with the greatest likelihood of success.

The processes in levels 1 and 2 address the individual’s need for flexibility to manage their personal work+life fit.  But how do organizations harness this same flexibility to deal with business challenges?  This is the next level of flexibility process…

Level 3—Team-based Innovation: A few companies are providing teams with guidelines to help tailor win-win solutions that use flexibility to target business challenges.  The process shows leaders, managers and employees how to engage in an ongoing conversation that rethinks rigid ways of working. Together they create flexible, innovative solutions.  For example, creating a rotating telework schedule to deal with overcrowding in the office, or a flexible shift schedule for global client coverage to ensure people aren’t “on call” all of the time.

This brings us to the final level of strategic flexibility.  You can have the best policies and guidelines, but they won’t have much impact unless there’s a…

Step 3: Plan for Strategic Implementation (Turkey): This is the piece of the “turducken” that too few organizations develop and execute.   Without a plan that creates readiness, links flexibility to other management practices, rewards buy in, communicates broadly, etc. flexibility will not become a meaningful part of an organization’s culture and way of operating.   Like laying a piece of paper on top of water, it floats but never penetrates.

Flexibility implementation must be intentional, have a clearly articulated impact on the business and its people, and be able to be measured.  Depending upon the unique goals of the organization, it might include:

  • Creating a shared vision of flexibility that answers the questions “why do we need it?” and “what does it look like here?”
  • Aligning work processes, management structures and rewards
  • Linking flexibility to leadership competencies
  • Encouraging a culture of shared responsibility versus top-down hierarchy

There’s more, but it gives you a sense of some of the key elements for deep and broad buy-in and impact.

Just as a butcher creates a turducken by wrapping chicken inside duck, inside turkey, organizations must link policy, process and strategy if they want to make flexibility real.

Has your organization completed all three steps of the flex strategy “turducken?”  If not, what’s missing?

For more, I invite you to sign up to receive the “Make Flexibility Real” newsletter via email, to visit my Fast Company blog, and to join me on Twitter @caliyost.

Labor Day Issue: Healthcare Reform is Really About Changing Nature of Work

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(Legal challenges to healthcare reform continue and it’s now an election issue.  I watch from my book-writing cave wondering why no one is talking about the real issue…work has radically changed over the past two decades making the job-healthcare link unsustainable.  So in honor of Labor Day, here’s the post in March, 2010 I wrote during the healthcare reform process.  What do you think the answer is 18 months later?)

Last week on the eve of the Health Care Reform Summit, I wondered if the changing nature of work, the real driver underlying the need to reform our current employer-sponsored health care system, would be mentioned.  I even created a brief survey asking you to place your bets, on “How will the ‘changing nature of work’ as key health care reform driver show up in tomorrow’s summit?”  The responses were split:

  • 50% said, “It will not be mentioned at all,” and
  • 50% said, “It will be mentioned, but tangentially.”

No one picked the other option which was, “It will be front and center.”

So, who was right?  Well, after reading the complete transcript from the day provided by Kaiser Health News (via Dr. David Ballard at the American Psychological Association), both groups were correct to a degree.  The increasing flexibility in the way we work as the powerful reason “why” we need to reform our health care system did come up, but very briefly and very tangentially.

Specifically, there were SIX references that linked nature of work and coverage.  Only six, out of a six-plus hour summit.  To be fair, there was a great deal of discussion about the need for exchanges where individuals and small businesses could purchase insurance, and the requirement to extend coverage of dependent children under their parents’ policies up to 25 years old.

But there was little explanation as to “why” there were so many millions of people either on their own, working in a small business, or without insurance in their early 20’s.  Answer: the change in work which involves more flexibility in type of employment beyond the traditional 1950’s “right out of school, work full-time for a big company for life” model.

Here are the six most specific references (I am not identifying the speaker or the political affiliation, if you are interested please review the transcript):….(Click here for more)