It’s 10 P.M., Do You Know Where Your Employees Are? 4 Steps to Set After-Hours Work Expectations

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The other day I sat with three senior leaders from three different industries. One was the CEO of an international PR and communications firm. One was a partner of a professional services firm, and the other the president of a national not-for-profit. As it often does, our discussion about work and life turned to technology. I asked them how they used their smartphones and laptops to stay connected to work after traditional business hours:

”I keep my phone on 24/7, but I don’t respond to everything, all the time.”–CEO of the PR and communications firm.

“I sometimes send emails at 4 a.m., and on the weekends just to get a jump-start on my day and week.”–president of the national not-for-profit.

“My phone goes in my briefcase when I get home and I don’t look at it again until the next morning.”–partner of a professional services firm.

Three leaders, with three very different uses of technology. So I asked them, “How many of you have sat down with all of your direct reports and explained how you prefer to connect with work, and specified what you expect of them?”

All three shook their heads and said some variation of the following statement, “No, I haven’t done that, but they all know that I don’t expect them to do what I do.” My response was, “I’ll bet that isn’t true,” and I shared what I see too often in many organizations:

Leaders fail to clarify their personal preferences for staying connected to work with technology, and don’t share their expectations of the responsiveness with their direct reports. This leads to misguided assumptions that can wreak havoc on the work/life balance of their employees. And most leaders have no idea any of this is happening.

Here’s my advice:

Recognize that you have to initiate the conversation with your direct reports. They won’t because they don’t want you to misinterpret their questions as, “I don’t want to work hard.” For example, I worked with a senior leader who always caught the 5:00 a.m. bus to the office. On his ride, he did all of his emails and was so pleased that his team were “morning people, too–they get right back to me!” Imagine his surprise when I told him, “Actually, many are setting alarms for 5 a.m. to be awake and reply to you.” “What?!” he responded, “Why didn’t they say anything?” To the person, they all told me they were afraid he would question their commitment if they did.

Decide what you really expect in terms of response and connection. Part of the problem is that leaders are so busy using technology to manage their own work/life balance that they haven’t thought about what they actually expect from their team. The leader who emailed from the bus at 5:00 a.m. told everyone that if he really needed them he’d call their mobile phones. If an email was priority, he’d identify it. Otherwise feel free to respond whenever they can.

Have a meeting, state the parameters clearly, and then be consistent. People watch the behavior of leaders like a hawk. If there’s even a whiff of inconsistency between what you told them and how you actually behave, they will go back to assuming they need to follow your technology schedule. So if you state, “You don’t need to respond to emails at night, I’ll call you if anything is urgent,” don’t penalize someone who missed an important issue because they didn’t answer an email, but were never called.

Finally, keep the lines of communication open and encourage ongoing clarification. Assumptions people make about their manager’s expectations are rarely accurate, especially when it comes to connection and access to work via technology. Set the record straight. It’s an easy way to offer your people more control and consistency over the way work fits into their lives–something we all need.

If you’re a manager, have you clarified your expectations of access and connectedness with your direct reports? If you haven’t, why not? If you did, what did you learn? What difference did it make?

(This post originally appeared in Fast Company)

3 Reasons Every Extrovert Should Read the New Book “Quiet”

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I am an extrovert. Give me a room full of people to meet and talk to for hours, and I’m in heaven. So why am I such a big fan of the new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown, 2012) by Susan Cain?

Like many extroverts, I was surprised to learn that anywhere from one-third to one-half of the population are introverts. In other words, a lot of people we come into contact with everyday don’t thrive on endless meetings, don’t want to solve a problem by talking about it with a group for hours, don’t enjoy jumping into a conversation and just “throwing out ideas,” and don’t want to attend lunches, conferences, and dinners all the time.

These activities are like a shot of adrenaline for extroverts. But they suck the energy right out of our more introverted counterparts.  That doesn’t mean extroverts are wrong and introverts are right. Cain is a big fan of extroverts, as you will see in the book.

It’s about awareness. If extroverts better understood our more introverted friends, colleagues and family members, it would make our lives better in the following ways:

Communication with others would improve. Does this scenario sound familiar? You’re in a meeting with a group of people. Everyone is sharing their thoughts and opinions freely, except for a couple of people who are quietly listening.

Chances are the extroverts in the room assume those individuals are being quiet because they don’t have anything to add. But after the meeting, you run into one of the listeners in the hall and they comment, “You know we should really consider doing x, y, z.”  And you say, “What a great idea! Why didn’t you share that in the meeting?” And they respond with a hint of frustration, “It was hard to get a word in edgewise.”

Knowing that introverts tend to like to listen, gather their thoughts, and then share their insights uninterrupted, extroverts could make it a point to pause discussions periodically, and ask, “Does anyone have something to add?” And then wait a moment for a response. This would give those who are more introverted the space they need to contribute comfortably.

If we understood how each of our “types” processed and shared information, we’d communicate better with each other at work, at home, and in our communities.

We would be better parents and partners.  I may be an extrovert, but I’ve always been attracted to the strong, silent type. It’s not surprising that my wonderful husband of more than 20 years is more introverted.

After a long day at work, he just needs some space; therefore, I wait to barrage him with questions and stories of my day. Or when we spend time with my extended (and more extroverted) family and he disappears after a certain point, I know he’s gone to find some quiet place to just sit and regroup. I understand why and don’t take it personally.

In terms of parenting, it was an exchange with my older daughter six years ago that first prompted me to understand the difference between the two types.

She was in second grade and I had volunteered for playground duty. I had been stationed far away from the playground by the door into the school. Next to that door was a basketball hoop where my daughter stood shooting baskets alone. I asked her, “Don’t you want to go play with your friends?” She responded calmly, “No, that’s OK; I want to be with you. I shoot baskets here by myself all the time.”

My uneducated, extroverted first response was, “What? Why do you do that, honey? Go up a play with your friends. I’ll be fine and it’s more fun to play with everyone.” She looked confused, “But Mom, I like to shoot baskets alone.” Yikes! I could see that I had unintentionally made her feel bad, and I realized in that moment she wasn’t like me.

Like her dad, she needed time to herself after a busy, intense morning in the classroom. I had to recognize that and support her, even though all I’d want to do is dive into a big group of screaming, laughing friends. Today she’s a super confident, happy young woman with friends whom she loves and who love her, but she still needs her breaks. That’s OK.

Cain’s book offers more extroverted parents and partners a helpful roadmap for understanding and honoring their more introverted loved ones. It has really helped me.

We could benefit from adopting more introverted behaviors, especially quiet time and listening. About twenty years ago, I started to suffer from the physical wear and tear of my high-intensity, highly extroverted, always-on-the-go existence. My mother was an introvert (I get my extroversion from my grandfather) and practiced meditation religiously. She suggested that I try to be quiet for a few minutes each day. Because I’d exhausted all of the medical options for treating my symptoms, I gave it a shot. It’s was a miracle.

Twenty minutes a day of sitting quietly, journaling, breathing, made all the difference physically, emotionally, spiritually. Introverts tend to stop and regroup naturally because they crave it. We extroverts have to be more thoughtful and deliberate about our down time, but we benefit from it just as much.

Introverts are also excellent, natural listeners. My husband can go to a party, talk to just a few people, but gather information that I hadn’t heard even though I’d talked to everyone. I’ll ask him how he does it and the answer is always the same, “I stopped talking, paid attention, and listened.”

While my natural inclination remains to say “hi” to and know as many people in a room as possible, I catch myself periodically. I try to spend more one-on-one time with fewer people and I make myself stop talking (if I remember) long enough to listen more. I’ll never be like my husband, but I enjoy experimenting with aspects of his style.

What do you think? Are you an extrovert who has benefited from understanding the gifts and behaviors of your more introverted friends, colleagues and family members? What have you done differently once you gained that awareness?

Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown, 2012) is a wonderful guide to help us all understand ourselves and each other more fully.  Here’s how you can learn more and connect with Susan Cain:

(This post originally appeared in Fast Company)

3 Reasons Entrepreneurs Need to Discuss “Work” and “Life,” but Stop Talking About “Balance”

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Last Friday, I had the privilege of participating as a panelist at The White House Urban Economic Forum hosted by Barnard College. The event focused on inspiring, funding and providing technical support to women entrepreneurs.

A recurring theme throughout the conference was how to start and grow a business while taking care of the other parts of your life.  For example:

  • Rebecca Blank, Acting Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, explained that when women are asked why they started their businesses they’re more likely to answer, “So I have flexibility to manage my life and my kids.” In contrast, men respond, “To make a lot of money.”
  • Joanne Wilson, an angel investor and Gotham Gal blogger, said she thought every woman should be an entrepreneur because it gives you the control and flexibility to do work you love and take care of the other parts of your life.

But when one of the moderators, Arianna Huffington, asked the women on her panel, “How do you balance your work and life?” everyone got so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.  If issues related to work and life were so front and center throughout the day, why was “balance” such a tough topic for the group to address?  And why does it matter?

There is no work/life “balance,” which is why no one can answer the question. It’s not that we don’t want to answer the question.  It’s that we can’t, no matter how hard we try (here and here).  This is especially true for entrepreneurs who rarely have any physical or mental division between their lives on and off the job.

The way to start a productive conversation on the subject is to ask someone, “How do you manage the way work and the other parts of your life fit together?”  The conversation shifts away from limiting, unachievable, one-size-fits-all “balance,” to the possibilities of a person’s unique work+life “fit.” You leave room for the truth that there will be times when work is primary, and the other parts of life take a backseat, and vice versa.  And that’s OK.  We can learn from our individual “how to” stories.

It’s imperative that we share our judgment-free strategies for managing work and life if we want women-owned businesses to achieve their full growth potential. Since the research shows that women entrepreneurs are motivated in part by work+life considerations, then it’s critical to share strategies for managing how all of the pieces fit together.  It’s the only way women are going to see the possibilities for themselves and their businesses, and expand beyond the “it can’t be done” meme that’s out there.

Personally, when I heard that my fellow panelist Margery Kraus grew her company, APCO Worldwide, to employ 700 people around the world while staying married to her husband for more than 40 years, raising three children and spending time with 10 grandchildren, I thought, “If she can do it, so can I.”  Technical advice for business growth is important but so are the “how to” strategies for personal success (as you define it for yourself and your family).

We need to challenge the “all work, all the time” model that dominates entrepreneurial lore and funder expectations. In his book “Delivering Happiness—A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose,” Zappos founder, Tony Hsieh, shares his secrets to entrepreneurial success.  One of his rules is that Zappos employees spend a certain percentage of their time outside of work with each other.  A busy entrepreneur who has other personal responsibilities is going to look at that blueprint for growth and think, “I can’t do that.” But is it really necessary?

After more than 15 years creating work+life fit and flexibility strategies for all types of companies, I can honestly say I don’t believe that the “all work, all the time” model is the only path to business success. It’s time to identify and celebrate other examples where an entrepreneur works hard, achieves results but doesn’t completely ignore their own well-being and their important personal relationships.

Changing the narrative around the work+life fit expectations of an entrepreneur is especially critical for women.

Even Jessica Jackley, the highly successful founder of and now CEO of ProFounder, faced blowback when one of her VC investors discovered that she was pregnant with twins. He bravely admitted thinking, “A pregnant founder/CEO is going to fail her company.”  His public honesty allowed Jackley to eloquently point out that her pregnancy shouldn’t interfere with her company’s need for funding and ability to deliver results.  She will figure out how to make it all work.  Success didn’t require an “all or nothing” choice.  But too many entrepreneurs still think it does.

Let’s learn from each other by asking, “How does your work as a busy entrepreneur fit into the other parts of your life?”  There’s no right answer or “balance,” only countless possibilities for growth and success, personally and professionally.  And in the process, we can expand beyond the outdated “all work, all the time” entrepreneurial growth mindset that limits everyone—men and women.

If you’re an entrepreneur, how to you grow your business and manage the other parts of your life?  What’s your work+life “fit?”

How Do I Tell My Boss I’m Pregnant

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“How do I tell my boss that I’m pregnant?” When a young woman posed this question to a career panel I participated in recently, she reminded me why it’s important to review the basic work+life fit questions periodically. It’s easy to assume everyone knows the answers, when the truth is we often don’t.

So here’s a recap of the “when and how to tell” advice the panel offered:

First, tell your boss as soon as you are showing. Your boss, as well as the rest of the team, will know you’re pregnant. But they’ll be too scared to say something potentially illegal. So as soon as you are comfortable disclosing your good news, share it. The earlier they all know, the sooner everyone can plan for your time out of the office.

Second, offer no apologies when you break the news. Be happy and proud. This was great advice offered by the two senior executive women on the panel with me. Both of them had stories of taking new jobs only to find out a couple of weeks later that they were pregnant. Breaking the news to their respective new employers wasn’t easy but in both instances they received nothing but support.

Third, by the time you are ready to leave to have the baby, make sure that all of your work is covered by and transitioned to others. Trouble happens when you leave and the people you work with don’t know what’s going on with your projects, where to find information, etc. If managed the right way, maternity leaves should be an employer’s favorite work+life fit challenge. Why? Because unlike illness, a natural disaster or eldercare, pregnancy usually allows time for advanced planning.

Fourth, be clear about your expectations related to connectivity to work while you are out. Some women will want to send and answer emails on the delivery table. Others don’t want to have any interaction with work at all. Neither choice is right or wrong. It’s what works for you; however, try not to send mixed messages. If you email during your leave, work will assume that you want them to keep you in the loop. If you start one way and then change your mind, just let people know. Don’t suffer in silence.

What do you think?  How do you tell your boss that you are pregnant? Obviously this is a question on the mind of many young women. How can we help them navigate this big, happy transition as smoothly as possible?

(This post originally appeared on

Why I Disconnected to Draft My Book

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Since late November, regular readers of this blog, my blogs on Fast Company and and my followers on Twitter may have noticed that I essentially disappeared.  I’d pop up now and then on Twitter from “my book writing cave. But for the most part, over the last two months, chose to focus my undivided attention on finishing the first draft of my new book.  Why?  For the following three reasons that will continue to inform how I approach serious, deep-thinking work in the future:

A constantly distracted brain can’t think deeply: One of the experts I interviewed for my new book was Maggie Jackson.

In 2008, I wrote about her wonderful, must-read book “Distracted” (Prometheus Books, 2008) in my Fast Company blog.  During our recent conversation, Maggie reminded me of an important point in her book that I’d forgotten, “Because we live so much in the sphere of technology, it makes us unconsciously forget the idea of slow incubation, of percolation of ideas, of sort of hanging in the moment of uncertainty and frustration that’s really part of learning or research.”

I needed to give myself the uninterrupted white space to go deeper and allow for the work to happen.

Creativity requires making mistakes and learning from them: Another amazing expert I interviewed for my new book is Julie Burstein, the creator of Studio 360 for Public Radio International and the author of “Spark: How Creativity Works” (Harper, 2012).

Over the years, she’s met with and interviewed hundreds of artists.  From those conversations, she’s identified a framework for creativity, and she told me that to be creative you have to allow time to tinker, edit, add, purge and mold.

The reality is that there are only so many hours in the day to create the room to make mistakes, experiment and revise, so something needed to go.  I still had a consulting business to run, and a family to care for over the holidays.  That meant I needed to let my virtual connections rest for a few weeks and trust that they will be there when I returned.

I am an extrovert, so to disconnect after connecting is hard for me. Introverts love time alone, which is what you must do when you write a book.  You spend hours and hours, day after day alone.  Unfortunately, I am not an introvert.  In fact, I am a pretty extroverted, extrovert.

In the beginning, I tried to connect for certain periods, then disconnect again.  But I found it was so hard to get back into the creative groove.  Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown, 2012), who is also in my new book, helped me realize that being alone day-after-day is not my natural habitat.  The minute I’d reach out and start connecting, I didn’t want to go back. But I loved writing my book, so it was easier for me to construct a temporary metaphorical “cave” around myself.  Thankfully, I’ve begun to reemerge.

So where am I in the process?  I’m very please to say that the initial draft is done (Yeah!), and I couldn’t be happier with the result. Now the editing with my publisher begins in earnest which will make the final product even better. I’m excited, and I’m back for the near term.  However, I plan to apply the lessons learned from this period of disconnection and creativity to future projects that require focus and attention.  So this will not be my last visit to “the cave.”

What about you? Do you think it’s necessary to disconnect to do your best work?  Why or why not?

How To Uncover Blind Spots When Mapping Your Career Path

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(This post originally appeared in FastCompany.)

Do you ever read career advice, especially for new entrants into the job market, and feel like the important qualifiers, “Yes, but…” and “So…” are too often missing? For example, “Yes, do what you love. It may translate into money, but not always or it may take a long time. So what can you do to avoid going broke…?”

Author Alexandra Levit agrees. In her thought-provoking new book Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success, she reintroduces the long-absent and important, “Yes, but…” and “So…” to some of today’s most common career beliefs.

Some of the blind spots that Levit highlights in her book include:

  • Yes, overnight success might happen to the rare person, BUT more likely it will take years of mastery and resilience. SO, here’s how to get started and to deal with inevitable setbacks.
  • Yes, employers recognize and hire you for your unique skills and experiences, BUT they also have an organization to run with rules and guidelines that have to be followed. SO, how do you function professionally and diplomatically in the workplace.
  • Yes, it’s important to perform in order to earn more money, BUT performance isn’t the only factor in determining pay. SO, learn to understand how performance, business realities, HR mandates, and office politics all impact how much you are paid.

And, as an accidental entrepreneur who knows how much work it takes to create, run and grow a successful business, this is my favorite:

  • Yes, leaving corporate America and starting your own business can be the right option for some people, BUT it’s harder than it looks and is not for everyone. SO, how can you evaluate the many often hidden benefits of working for someone else versus entrepreneurship?

I worry that without these well placed reality checks people both miss opportunities and undermine their long-term success. For me, it happened my sophomore year of college. My father responded to the news that I was going to be an English major and become a writer with, “Yes, but…you also want to move away from central Pennsylvania and live with your friends in New York City after graduation. So, you better find a major that will get you a job with a good starting salary and benefits.” That led to my double major in Economics and English and the discovery that I also love business. And today I write books, articles, and blog posts about my work, creating more flexible work environments and helping people use that flexibility to manage their work and life balance.

I’ll confess that it felt good to show my father my first book contract and relish in a moment of, “Ha, I told you so” satisfaction. But then I had to admit to myself (and to him) that moving to New York after college, finding work that I love and being able to write about it wouldn’t have happened if my father hadn’t inserted a valid, albeit painful, dose of reality into my early career decisions. Hopefully, Levit’s book will do the same for others.

What were some of the helpful, and perhaps painful, “Yes, but…” and “So…” qualifiers that helped you along your career path?

For more from Alexandra Levit:

· Buy her book Blind Spots.

· Check out her blog.

I also invite you to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost.

12 Remote Work Trends to Achieve (Not Just Predict)

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(Post originally appeared as part of Microsoft’s “Your Office, Your Term” remote work campaign)

During his closing remarks for the 2011 Society for Human Resources Management’s Strategy Conference, Don Tapscott, the author of the bestseller Wikinomics, said, “I believe that the future is something that must be achieved and not predicted.”

In that spirit, I’m going the share the top trends related to remote work that I believe we need to achieve, not just predict.  If we make these trends happen, then remote work will become a meaningful and accessible strategy for managing our everyday work+life fit.  It will be a win for all; individuals and employers benefit.  Here are the trends that will get us there:

Top Remote Work Trends for Individuals (e.g. You and Me)

  1. We will learn the “skill” of remote working: Successful remote work requires more than a computer and an internet hookup.  It involves higher level of communication and workflow planning skills, as well as flexibility, trustworthiness and discipline.  These skills will become core performance competencies.
  2. We will negotiate remote work and its associated costs into our compensation packages: Once we’ve demonstrated mastery of remote work competencies, the market will value and pay for them.  They will become part of compensation negotiations.
  3. Video will make remote work more personal: As video technology advances and becomes less costly, it will become a main tool in the remote communication and productivity arsenal.
  4. We will look for a separate home office or convenient co-working space before making the decision where to live.  A space separate from the main living area with pre-wired internet access will become a priority for homeowners and renters.  And for those who already know that they don’t like to work from home, but don’t want to have to commute a long distance every day, local co-working space will be an important feature.
  5. As global teams and client coverage increasingly becomes the norm, remote work will allow the coordination across time zones while limiting burnout. As technology advances across global markets, internal and client teams will coordinate and rotates who calls in to meetings remotely from home after hours.

Top Remote Work Trends for Employers (e.g. Your Boss)

  1. Managers will think of remote work, as well as other types of flexibility in how or when work is done, as strategies to seize opportunities and solve problems in the business. No longer viewed as simply a “nice to have, but not imperative perk or benefit,” managers see all types of flexibility as a tool in their toolkit that they can use to run their business smarter and better.
  2. Remote work will be used to improve productivity when intense concentration is required. When a report must be written or a complicated document needs to be analyzed, managers will encourage employees to work remotely in order to avoid distracting office interruptions.
  3. Periodic remote work will allow businesses to stay open in bad weather or during other unexpected events that would otherwise disrupt operations. Prior to an unexpected event, managers and their teams would practice a remote work protocol that would allow people with jobs that can be completed virtually to stay up and running.
  4. More businesses will use remote work to save on the cost of real estate overhead. As more individuals master the skills required for successful remote work and video technology advances, more businesses will decide to manage an increasing percentage of their workforce remotely.
  5. Seeing the impact on employee wellness, especially in areas with long commutes, and the associated decrease in health-related costs, businesses will encourage one or two days of remote work. The hours spent sitting in the car, bus or train can be used to go to the gym, cook a healthy meal, see a friend, or simply not having to rush.  This translates into increased wellness and lower costs.

In terms of public policy, the trends to push for related to legislation and remote work include:

  1. Updating the tax code so it doesn’t penalize remote workers who also regularly commute to an office in another state. This is particularly important in metropolitan areas like New York City where workers regularly commute from four different states: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
  2. Updating the Fair Labor Standards Act which, as it is currently written, makes it very hard for non-exempt, hourly workers to work remotely without creating a large potential liability for their employers.

Those are the top trends that I believe we need to achieve in the way people, the government and law think about and support remote work.  If we make them happen, then remote work, as well as other types of flexibility in how and when we work, will finally become an accepted part of our everyday work+life fit.  What do you see happening?  Are you ready?

For more, I invite you to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost. And check out Microsoft’s “Your Office, Your Terms” campaign for the month of November.

Role of HR and Flexibility– What Do You Think?

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Later this week, I facilitate a session at the FWI/SHRM Work-Life Focus: 2012 and Beyond Conference entitled “HR and the Business: Strategic, Co-Owners of Flexibility.”

My goal is to help each participant answer the question, “What role does/should HR play in making flexibility in the way work is done part of the culture and business strategy of an organization?”

But I’d also like to know what you think, so please take a minute to answer the question below (once you’ve made your choice, scroll down to enter):

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

Please forward this post and survey to anyone you might think would want to weigh in and answer the question. This is an important and often confusing issue inside organizations, so the more votes…the better!

I will report the results of this survey and the outcomes from my session in a blog post after the conference. Follow Twitter hashtags #workflex11 and #SHRM for conference updates which begin Tuesday 11/8 and ends Thursday 11/10.

And if you are in DC at the conference be sure to find me a say “hi.” Thank you!

The Strategic Use of Flexibility (NEW Article in Talent Management Magazine)

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(This article appears in the October, 2011 issue of Talent Management Magazine and was co-authored with one of my Flex+Strategy Group partners, Donna Miller)

As the dust settles from the Great Recession and a new economic reality emerges, businesses are beginning to take a hard look at how they can manage their talent for maximum business impact. The urgency to review and rethink is driven by leaner headcounts, larger workloads and greater stress as technology and globalization.  These trends erased the traditional lines between work and life. The result is a shift in expectations about how to manage responsibilities on and off the job. Businesses are moving beyond the traditional one-size-fits-all model of work and career and taking a more strategic, flexible approach.

Since 2007, Work+Life Fit Inc. and Opinion Research Corp. have conducted a biennial national study to track the state of work-life flexibility from the employees’ perspective. The results of the 2011 Work+Life Fit Reality Check study confirm that new, flexible ways of working have gained traction since 2007. However, organizations need to do more. Helping employees manage the way work fits into their lives and organizations’ profits and growth plans in a transformed economy will require making flexibility — informal and formal telework, flexible hours, reduced schedules and compressed work weeks — an integral part of the operating business model and culture.

Traditionally, that meant writing a policy or training managers. But strategic flexibility requires dedicating people, time and money to a coordinated culture change process — one that clearly defines a business’ unique rationale for greater flexibility, establishes a shared vision of how managers and employees will use it and executes with relentless communication.

(Click here for more)

Work-Life’s Missing Ingredient — Clear Definitions and Good Implementation

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As I contemplated what to write about in my post for National Work and Family Month, an interesting piece of research crossed my desk entitled, “Are Family-Friendly Workplace Practices a Valuable Firm Resource?

What caught my attention was the ironic disconnect between what the study intended to conclude and what the findings actually proved (and the authors missed):

  • Intended Conclusion: “Family-Friendly” work practices (FFWPs) are not valuable to organizations;
  • Actual Unintended Conclusion: “Family-Friendly” workplace practices are very valuable to businesses and people…as long as they’re implemented well and you know what you are talking about.  Unfortunately, too often that’s not the case.

How does a gap like this happen?  The researchers made the same mistakes that many stumble over, and these common oversights are what suck the value out of “Family Friendly” work practices.

The authors didn’t consider the importance of effective implementation and what that looks like in action.  And they didn’t position and talk about the practices in a broad, strategic, business-oriented way.  When FFWPs are effectively implemented and strategically positioned, the value that they provide to the business in terms of financial performance is proven and measureable.

So, how do you reconcile these two radically different conclusions?

Let’s start with a real-world example of how strategic flexibility helps a business run better, smarter and save money

We’ve been working with a multi-national company that wants flexibility in the way work is done to become a more visible and consistent part of their day-to-day business (the authors of the study consider all forms of flexibility “Family-Friendly” work practices).  As we interviewed leaders and employees, they shared numerous examples of how flexibility in the way work is done has allowed the business to run smarter and better:

  • Because people were able to work from home, the company was able to stay open and operational on a number of days when snowstorms would have, otherwise, halted business.
  • By shifting and staggering the times people on the team started and stopped working, the business was able to expand customer service hours without paying overtime to the non-exempt staff.
  • Because their job requires absorbing and analyzing large amounts of complex information, people will often work remotely either from home or another quiet location to get more done efficiently and productively.
  • As the company has grown, office space is a premium.  By coordinating days worked at home, and in the office, it limited the need for additional office space.
  • Because many of the employees at the company have long commutes through heavy traffic, by shifting hours to avoid the worst traffic or working from home periodically the level of employee stress has been reduced.

And when asked, “What do you think the role of flexibility will be in the organization five years from now?”  Every person, no matter what level, said, “There will only be more of it” for all of the reasons listed above and more, because they know that flexibility, informal and formal, helps the business run more productively and saves money.

“Family-Friendly Work Practices…do not affect firm performance directly or indirectly” Say What?!

This client came to mind as I read the “Are Family-Friendly Workplace Practices a Valuable Firm Resource? study by Nick Bloom from Stanford University, Tobias Kretschmer from University of Munich and John Van Reenen published in the Strategic Management Journal  (June, 2010).

Normally, I give research a quick review and move on.   But, in this case, I’m felt compelled to respond to the study’s conclusions for two reasons.

First, Freek Vermeulen, an Associate Professor at the London School of Business, wrote about the results in an article on entitled, “Are Family-Friendly Workplace Practices Worth Their Money? New Evidence.”  This means that the results have entered the mainstream press, and are potentially influencing the decisions of business leaders who may be considering whether or not to support a work+life initiative.

Second, the study’s rather emphatic conclusion that Family-Friendly workplace practices don’t positively affect the financial performance of a business is, in fact, wrong.

Here are the study’s official conclusions in more detail:

“In this paper, we studied the impact of Family-Friendly Workplace Practices (FFWP) on firm performance, and found that increased provision of FFWP is only (weakly) positively correlated with better firm performance if we omit management quality.  Once we control for general management quality, there is not significant association between FFWP and performance measured in different ways.”

And it goes on:

“Our results support the conclusion that FFWP are neither a value-creating bundle of activities nor a lever for existing resources they do not affect firm performance directly or indirectly.”

“FFWP have implications different from other SHRM practices, as they affect employee well-being rather than firm financial performance.”

“Therefore, FFWP should be treated as policies that improve firm performance in terms of satisfaction of a particular stakeholder group—the firm’s employees—but that financial performance should not be the primary goal of implementing FFWP.”

“This calls for recasting FFWP as a non-market strategy affecting other outcomes than financial performance.”

Wow!  Can’t get much clearer than that. Now, let’s look at how they are wrong… (Click here for more)

(This post originally appeared in the