How I Finally Went Cold Turkey From Working on Vacation

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(This post originally appeared in FastCompany.com 8/15/12.  Not only did it inspire many interesting comments from readers, but subsequently, I received a number of “out of office” response emails where the sender said they were on vacation and declaring “email bankruptcy” upon return.

The best part was that, in a couple of messages, the sender had embedded this post to explain how they were trying to disconnect from work and take a true break.  Maybe we’ve started a movement!)

How do you take vacation and then actually disconnect from work when you are away?  These are two of the most consistent and, seemingly intractable, including me.  But, I’m proud to say that I just completed my first vacation in years where I almost totally disconnected from email (99%) and didn’t engage at all on any of my blogs, Facebook, or Twitter for two weeks.

Not only did I survive this true break from work, but I feel more energized and focused than I have after most of my previous days off.

How did I do it? I used three simple vacation tactics–day blocking, email bankruptcy, and social media fasting. I explain each tactic below. But first, you might be interested in finding out what finally motivated me, after countless failed attempts, to figure out how to truly separate from work for a few days. (Click here for more)

(Image from FastCompany.com: Flickr user Brian Uhreen)

Monster Careers Work-Life “Balance” Twitter Chat (#MWChat)

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On Thursday, August 16th, I co-hosted Monster Works Twitter Chat (#MWChat) with Charles Purdy of @MonsterCareers, and my good friend, career coach extraordinaire, @MaggieMistal!  

Also, stopping by the chat to offer her helpful wisdom was another friend, career coach Miriam Salpeter (aka @Keppie_Careers).

Check it out at the following link: http://on.fb.me/OJlZm9

Talking Work+Life “Fit” on CBS Radio Career Coach Caroline Podcast

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On Tuesday, August 14th, I was a guest on the CBS Radio Career Coach Caroline Show.  During the show, Coach Caroline and I talked about the common work+life “fit” questions that many people have (for a list of the questions covered, see below).  Here is a link to the podcast: http://bit.ly/Pa8JZh.

  • Why is there no work-balance? How do we handle the different levels of comfort with technology and work flexibility in the workplace?
  • When you want to work more flexibly, why is it important to focus on “how” the work will get done and not on “why” you want more flexibility?
  • Why is piloting work flexibility for a period of time such a powerful option?
  • What is the risk of disconnecting from the workforce for long periods of time? How can you avoid that?
  • Why is it so important for men to participate in the work-life discussion?
  • Do you think young women hold themselves in their careers because of pre-mature concerns about how they will manage their work and life in the future? What could they do differently?

If you haven’t already, I invite you to follow me and Career Coach Caroline on Twitter @caliyost and @cdowdhiggins.

Marissa Mayer and Work-Life Nirvana (My Q&A w/ Reuters)

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(This article by Lauren Young appeared in Reuters.com on July 17, 2012)

The latest poster child for work-life nirvana is Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s newly appointed CEO – who is seven months pregnant.

Cali Williams Yost, a flexible work expert, says Mayer’s pregnancy is noteworthy and symbolic, but not career-defining.

Here are edited excerpts from an interview with Yost, a working mother of two daughters, based in Madison, New Jersey, and author of the forthcoming “Tweak It: Small Changes/Big Impact-Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day” (Center Street, January 2013).

Q. What does Mayer’s pregnancy mean for working women?

A. She is a powerful symbol of what people still think is impossible. The hullabaloo is that she challenges an outdated mindset. That’s why the fact that this is even happening is amazing; however, it’s not so amazing that it should be the sole focus of her tenure as the CEO of a company. It’s something to be remarked upon as what’s possible. It’s an example of how people combine work and life in a way that works for them.

My hope is that her story shows us that having a life – whatever that looks like, be it a pregnancy or an aging parent – should not keep you from doing your job. There will be women who don’t want to do what she’s doing, and there will be other women who look at her and say, “That’s me.”

Q. But most CEOs are not female.

A. Right. The only way women who are not very wealthy, in control of their schedules and in very senior positions can combine pregnancy and work is if we have all things we don’t have now. That includes affordable and reliable childcare, some kind of paid leave as well as eldercare support. For the normal, average, everyday woman, it’s much tougher.

Q. Why is “having it all” suddenly considered a failed theory? (For more, go to Reuters.com)

The 10 Keys to Building the Flexible Workplace of the Future

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(This article originally appeared in TheAtlantic.com)

In a follow-up reflection on the overwhelming response to her article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” Anne-Marie Slaughter wisely noted that we need a new framework for work and life.

She’s right. We do need a new model that moves beyond the outdated limits of “balance” and “having it all.” This approach would acknowledge the radical transformation that’s taken place at work and in our lives over the past two decades, offer greater flexibility and creativity to manage our responsibilities on and off the job, and deal with the lack of child care, eldercare, and paid family leave.

The good news is that a new, flexible work/life framework already exists in a growing number of organizations. In fact, it’s an open secret waiting to be scaled. But the challenge is how to get more organizations to try.

For the past six years, my company has worked with BDO USA, a professional services firm with 40 offices and 2500 employees across the U.S., to create and implement their award-winning work+life flexibility strategy, BDO Flex. The success of this program shows how a new approach to work and life can be tailored to the needs of a business and its people. It also shows how to avoid the common mistakes that turn well-intentioned policies into feel-good window dressing.

Here are 10 ways to avoid the common traps and adopt a new, more flexible framework:

Make the goal work+life “fit,” not balance. One of the first steps in the BDO Flex process was to update the language. How do you describe what individuals want to achieve with flexibility so that it reflects the realities of a professional services firm with international clients and periods every year when the workload increases? Having a consistent “balance” may be impossible, but you could manage your unique work+life fit in a way that met your needs and the needs of the firm.

Recognize that work+life fit is an issue for everyone, not just women and parents. Initially, the perception of BDO USA senior leadership was that the firm needed greater work+life flexibility primarily to attract and retain women. This is the belief in many organizations. However, when an internal survey found that the men and the single people at the firm were having more trouble managing their work and life than the women and those who were married, they quickly reset the focus of BDO Flex. Everyone needed the flexibility to manage their work+life fit.

Base work+life flexibility on an employee-employer partnership. A one-size-fits-all policy or program administered unilaterally from the top-down by a manager or HR will have limited success. From the beginning, it was clear that for BDO Flex to succeed, leaders, managers, employees and HR would all play a role in an active partnership that created flexible work solutions based on the unique needs of a particular business line and its people. (For more, click here to go to TheAtlantic.com)

3 Ways to Break Out of The “All Work” Or “No Work” Death Trap

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(This post originally appeared in FastCompany.com)

As I observed the debate ignited by Anne-Marie Slaughter’s controversial “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” article in The Atlantic from afar over the past week, I witnessed person after person, including Slaughter, fall into the classic “all work” or “no work” trap.” It’s a death trap that immediately kills any productive conversation about creative, innovative ways to work differently. And that’s the real conversation we need to have.

But we won’t until we figure out how to avoid the “all or nothing” landmine that everyone seems to run into whenever a discussion about how to manage work and life in a modern, hectic world begins. Here are three simple steps to get us started:

First, understand what it looks like when someone falls into the trap. You’ll begin to recognize what to avoid. Here are a few examples related to the Slaughter article debate:

The truth is that Slaughter did not leave her senior position in the State Department to not work. She went back to her very busy, very prestigious full-time job as a professor at Princeton. The difference was at Princeton she has more control over her schedule.

Unfortunately, in many of the responses to and interviews about her article, the conversation quickly devolved into the unwinnable debate “should mothers work or stay home.” That’s not what Slaughter did or what she was talking about. And yet, that’s where we ended up.

Few were able to pull themselves out of the trap. It would have meant acknowledging that some people do choose to work all the time, or not work for pay at all, but what about everyone else? How do we take advantage of the countless possibilities in-between and do it in a way that works for us and our jobs?

Watch how Slaughter herself falls into the trap in this video from her interview at The Aspen Ideas Festival. She tries to explain how we should praise women who make work+life decisions in part to care for their families. But then assumes men can’t be guided by family concerns because they have to make money.

Actually, men could and often do make tough work choices based on family considerations as long as the default assumption isn’t that the only alternative is to “not work,” but to work differently.

Again, Slaughter did not choose to work less. She worked differently. There’s no reason a man couldn’t do the same. But in the “all work” or “no work” trap it’s impossible to stay in the grey zone of work+life possibility for all. What about the men who turn down promotions that would have required more work or take lower-paying jobs closer to home? I see it happen all the time, but because those choices don’t fit our rigid “all or nothing” work dichotomy, we don’t see or celebrate them. We should.

Very few people, men or women, can afford to not work even for a brief period of time; therefore, working smarter, better and more flexibly is the solution. Hopefully knowing what the trap looks like will help us avoid falling into it. And we can finally focus our discussion on the countless flexible ways of fitting work and life together.

Second, the issue is how to reset your unique work+life “fit” not work-life balance: If you have a few minutes, go back and re-read The Atlantic article. Everywhere you see the phrase “work life balance,” substitute “find a work+life fit that works for me and my job.” It’s almost magical what happens. All of sudden the unwinnable search to find “balance,” turns into a series of deliberate choices based on work and personal circumstances at a particular point in time. And much of the drama disappears. (For more,  click here to go to FastCompany.com)

The Top 10 Work, Life and Money Lessons from Mika Brzezinski Every Woman Should Know

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(This post originally appeared in Forbes.com)

I’m a fan of Morning Joe on MSNBC. I love the banter between the hosts and the eclectic mix of guests. I love learning about the “real story” behind politics. I love the music, and I love Mika Brzezinski. She’s a smart, experienced newsperson, but she’s also a mom and wife. And she brings all of that to the table each day.

It was a thrill to see her moderate the opening panel when I attended the White House Conference on Women and the Economy in April. Not only did she wear the most amazing pink dress, but she impressed me with her grasp of the complex issues that impact a woman’s ability to achieve her goals on and off the job.

When Senior Advisor to President Obama, Valerie Jarrett, introduced Brzezinsky as the moderator of the panel, she said her new book, Knowing Your Value (Weinstein Books, 2012) was a “must read for all women.” I decided to check it out. She was right.

Not only does Brzezinski share the often difficult lessons she’s learned over the years about work, life and money but she includes the very candid stories and insights of other successful women like Tina Brown, Sheryl Sandberg, Suze Orman, and Arianna Huffington just to name a few.

Here are ten of the key lessons from the book that every woman should know:

1) Know your “value:” What you contribute and how much that is worth in the market.

My heart broke for Brzezinski when she describes how it felt to finally sign a contract with MSNBC only to realize that both of her co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Willie Geist made significantly more money than she did. Not only that, but they were assigned specifically to Morning Joe, whereas she was required to do the show and other assignments for the network. This very painful realization finally forced her to objectively and dispassionately research how much she was worth in the market and learn how to be compensated fairly.

2) Don’t wait to be noticed. Walk in and ask for what you want…because that’s what all of the guys are doing, constantly. (Click here to go to Forbes.com for more)

3 Signs Flexible Work is Strategic–And Not Just Window Dressing

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(Post originally appeared in Fast Company)

Research shows that a majority of employers offer at least some type of informal, day-to-day and formal work flexibility, and a majority of employees agree that they have access to it.

Therefore, the question is no longer simply, “What is telework, flexible hours, etc.?” We get the concept. The focus must now shift to “How do we use work flexibility strategically and deliberately to achieve our unique business and personal goals?”

Unfortunately, too often the flexible work that exists is either random with no clear, coordinated, widely understood goal behind it. Or it’s a program or policy that sounds and feels good but hasn’t infiltrated its way into the day-to-day business.

So how do you tell if an organization’s approach to work flexibility is deliberate, strategic and targeted, or if it’s random, window dressing? Here are three signs:

Sign #1: When a business challenge or opportunity appears, managers naturally ask themselves, “How can we address this by being more flexible in how, when and where work is done?” And then they understand how to pull the team together to make that flexible work solution succeed. For example:

  • The group is covering clients across all time zones and is burning out; therefore, “How can we be more flexible with our work hours so that if you are on a call with Asia or Europe overnight, you don’t have to be at your desk by 9 a.m. the next day?”
  • Business is down and we are getting pressure to cut head count; therefore, “How can I reduce schedules to save labor costs and the valuable talent we’ll need when the business turns around?”
  • An employee has to care for his mother who lives in another state and was recently diagnosed with dementia; therefore, “What if we let him telework so he doesn’t have to quit?”
  • There may be a new business opportunity in a market but there isn’t enough revenue to justify renting an office; therefore, “We can have the initial start up team telework from their homes until revenue grows?”

Sign #2: The organization consistently connects the dots between all of the tactical, siloed applications of work flexibility. (Click here for more)

3 Work-Life Assumptions That Are Often Wrong (and Costly)

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Over the last two decades, work and life have transformed so radically that the language we use (e.g. “balance) and the beliefs we hold about the decisions we “should” or “can” make are often out of date.

Here are three examples of work-life assumptions that are frequently wrong…and costly:

Wrong Assumption #1: When a woman has a baby, she will want to work part-time (or not at all), and won’t want to take on more responsibility or travel. Unfortunately, some leaders, managers and colleagues of women in the workplace still make this assumption.

This bias is based on beliefs that continue to influence behavior, even though they no longer broadly apply. For example, Gayle Lemmon recently wrote an article in The Atlantic about research that showed some men in traditional marriages still unconsciously overlook women in the workplace for promotion, etc. because of their assumptions about women and the role they play. In reality, only 29% of children have a stay-at-home parent. The rest either live in a single parent home or both parents work for pay.

  • Why it’s costly: It costs women in that it reinforces the well-documented “motherhood penalty” that affects their career advancement and earnings. It’s costly to employers because the business doesn’t have access to or develop the talent of some of its best employees.
  • Assumption Update: Don’t assume. Discuss preferences which each individual woman. After having a child, some women will want or have to work full-time. They’ll be happy to travel and welcome additional responsibilities. And even if they don’t, women who choose to scale back their career may want to only for a certain period of time. Not forever.

Wrong Assumption #2: Men don’t care about work-life issues. This is an extension of the previous inaccurate assumption. The bias is that work-life is a women’s issue, or more specifically, a mothers’ issue.

From my experience working inside companies, most men care quite a bit about how they manage their lives on and off the job and want to be invited into the conversation. In fact, research shows that men in dual-earner couples are experiencing more work+life conflict than women.

  • Why it’s costly: It costs men because they don’t feel that they have permission to get the support and flexibility they need to manage their work and life better and smarter. Employers lose the productivity and engagement from unnecessarily stressed and overwhelmed men.
  • Assumption Update: We all need to manage our work+life fit everyday if we want to see our friends and family, stay healthy, etc. That includes men and women. And all of us will experience major life transitions that will require a more formal reset of our work+life fit, whether it’s becoming a parent, caring for an aging relative, relocating with a spouse, going back to school or semi-retiring.

Wrong Assumption #3: You can’t have a life and start a successful business. Whether it’s Steve Jobs’ complete devotion to Apple at the expense of time with his family, or Tony Hsieh’s expectation that Zappos employees spend 10-20% of their time outside of work with each other, the assumed gold standard of successful entrepreneurship is 100% work to the exclusion of everything else.

  • Why it’s costly: It scares off many women and men with great business ideas but want to tuck their kids in on occassion and maintain a relationship beyond the people at work. The economy as a whole loses because jobs that are badly needed are not created. It costs potential entrepreneurs, especially women, because they don’t have access to as much capital to grow their businesses.
  • Assumption Update: No one will ever have “balance,” but you can grow a successful business and still have some life outside of work. There are plenty of examples of people doing it and doing it well. This includes the mothers leading successful entrepreneurial ventures who were featured in a recent New York Times article written by Hannah Seligson. Is it hard work? Yes. Can it be done? Yes.

The answer is to assume nothing when it comes to how we want and need to manage our lives on and off the job in a busy, flexible, hectic modern world. Not only are our assumptions often wrong, but they can be costly to both the individual and the business. Instead let’s keep talking to each other. Learn the facts and come up with unique answers that meet our personal needs and the needs of our jobs.

What are the incorrect assumptions that you see people making about work and life? What’s the cost and how can we update those beliefs to match today’s reality?

For more, be sure to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost.

7 Tips for New Grads to Achieve Better Work Life Balance

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This past weekend I attended my college reunion. A highlight was the chance to meet current students who helped host the event. When one of these smart and enthusiastic student ambassadors asked me what I did for my career, I explained that I make work more flexible inside of organizations and help individuals to use that flexibility to manage their work and life. But I was unprepared when he replied, “So how do I find work life balance after I graduate?”

Unfortunately, my mind wasn’t in work-mode at that moment and I fumbled my response. It wasn’t until I drove home that I realized what I’d wished I’d told him (doesn’t it always happen that way?).

So here are my top seven tips to help recent or soon-to-be graduates find the work-life “balance” that, research shows, is one of their top priorities:

1. There is no “balance.” Update your language and mindset to reflect what you really want and to get manager support.

When I talk to recent graduates, I don’t hear that they expect a 50-50 split or “balance” between their work and personal life every day.  They realize there will be times when they have to work a lot and other times when they might not. What they want is the ability to work flexibly and differently depending upon what’s going on at work and in their life at a particular time.

As one recent graduate told me, “I am happy to work all weekend if you need me to, but don’t make me sit here all day if I’m not busy and could leave early, run errands, see my friends, and get to the gym.”
It’s time for a language and mindset update.

The language that’s worked for me over the past decade and is being adopted by more employers is work-life “fit,” or the unique fit between your work and personal realities. It will change day-to-day and during major life and career transitions, like going back to school, having a baby, or caring for aging family member.  What you want to have is the flexibility to manage your work-life fit in a way that works for you and your job.

For some, the goal will be the complete, seamless integration of work into your life. However, many will prefer to deliberately separate the two as much as possible. Neither goal is right or wrong. It’s a matter of the work-life fit that you choose.

Another reason to stop using balance to describe your goal is that managers tend to interpret what you are saying as “work less.” They don’t hear “work differently and more flexibly.” In an economic environment where organizations are forced to do more with fewer resources, anything that infers working “less” won’t be positively embraced.

So how do you get support to work differently and more flexibly?

2. Realize you are a “digital native,” but many people you will work with and for are not…at least not yet. You can help them get there. It might seem like a no-brainer to you to get to work a couple of hours later in the morning because you were on the phone with Asia for three hours from home the night before. But that might not be so clear to a manager who expects you to be at your desk by 9 a.m. every day, rain or shine, call or no call. If that mismatch of expectations happens, don’t take it personally. Open a dialogue about how working more flexibly and differently can benefit the business. You do that by remembering to:

3. Focus on how the work will get done and the business will benefit by working flexibly and differently.  Don’t emphasize “why” you want to do it and how you will benefit. As I advised in a recent blog post, managers support flexible work when it’s clear how the work will get done. This is especially true for recent graduate who may require more supervision. Will your manager/supervisor need to be available to answer your questions if you work on a project at night from home? Is that going to be convenient for them?

A recent Student Employment Gap survey of employers conducted by Millennial Branding found that employers looked for teamwork as one of the top skills in their new hires. Show that you are focused on the needs of the business and your team when you propose working more flexibly and differently.

4. Use the power of the “pilot.” If you want to work more flexibly, but your manager resists, offer to test it out for three months. This gives your manager comfort that they aren’t committing to something they think might not work out (even though most likely it will). It’s called using the power of the pilot.

5. Try not to completely disconnect from the workforce for a long period of time. Chances are you will experience a major life transition at some point in your career like having a baby, relocating for a partner’s new job, or caring for an aging adult. Life is long, unpredictable, and expensive. It can be risky to step away from the workforce.

Before you quit completely, try to propose a flexible work plan that will allow you to remain employed while taking care of your new personal realities (click here for a step-by-step, how-to for creating a plan). If you do decide to leave the workforce, be strategic about it. Check out iRelaunch.com for great advice about how to plan a career break. (Click HERE for more at FastCompany.com)

I would love to connect with you on Twitter @caliyost.