Work+Life Fit Blog–Forbes Top 100 Website for Women (But, It’s Still for Everyone!)

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Four and a half years after I wrote the first post (wow, it was lengthy), Forbes. com recently named the Work+Life Fit blog one of the Top 100 Websites for Women!

Thank you to ForbesWoman and to everyone who has read, linked to, and commented on the thoughts I’ve shared.  It’s meant and continues to mean a great deal to be part of this wonderful community.  If you have a chance, check out the other 99 sites recognized by Forbes.com…excellent career, financial, and work+life resources for women (and men).

For anyone who consistently writes a blog, you know it’s a marathon that, at times, requires incredible stamina and discipline to keep it going week in and week out.   So, to celebrate the Forbes recognition, I took the last two weeks off.  It felt great to step back and relax…but it also made me even more excited to take this wonderful blog to the next level.

Join me.  Let’s work together to help everyone (not just women) flexibly optimize their unique work+life fit day-to-day and at major transitions, because it’s work+life fit…not, balance! And let’s show organizations how to make mission-critical work+life flexibility part of  their culture and operating model!  It can be done.

(Fast Company) Work+Life Fit: First, Moms. Now, Dads…Then, Everyone

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You can’t change unless you’re ready.  Ready to recognize the need to change, and ready to make that change happen.

The good news is that it looks like we might be ready as a culture to recognize something that’s been true for quite some time—managing work and life is not just an issue for moms.  It’s also important for fathers.   BUT…

Unfortunately, from my experience:

  • Men aren’t currently included as equal participants in the work+life conversation culturally and within organizations, and
  • Recognizing that dads are active care givers who need and want flexibility gets us much closer to where we need to be.  However, we don’t seem ready to go all the way and acknowledge that work+life fit is really an issue for all of us.  Only then will we—government, employers and individuals—do the hard work necessary to fundamentally rethink how, when and where we flexibly work and manage our lives through our careers.

So, since we aren’t ready to go there (yet!), let’s celebrate the step we’ve made by recognizing that…

Dads need and want to flexibly manage their work+life fit too!

Boston College’s Center for Work and Family recently released The New Dad: Exploring Fatherhood Within a Career Context, a qualitative study of more than 30 middle-income first-time fathers.  All of the fathers surveyed had five or more years of professional experience, and all of them were college graduates.

According to BCCWF Executive Director, Dr. Brad Harrington, they targeted this group because most of the research to date had focused on low income fathers.   And, most middle-income families today increasingly rely on the income of both mothers and fathers to survive, yet as Kathleen Gerson noted in her book “The Unfinished Revolution:

“Regardless of their own family experiences, today’s young women and men have grown up in revolutionary times.  For better or worse, they have inherited new options and questions about women’s and men’s proper places.  Now making the transition to adulthood, they have no well-worn paths to follow…Most women not longer assume they can or will want to stay at home with young children, but there is no clear model of how children show be raised.  Most men no longer assume they can or will want to support a family on their own, but there is no clear path to manhood.  Work and family shifts have created an ambiguous mix of new options and new insecurities with growing conflicts between work and parenting.  Amid these conflicts and contradictions young women and men must search for new answers and develop innovative responses.”

Highlights of the study’s findings were presented by Dr. Harrington in a recent conference call and include (Click here for details):

Most felt becoming a father had changed the way others viewed them in the workplace and that the change was not negative. They were seen “as a whole person, more approachable,” “maturity, more responsible,” a “member of the club.”  About half said the change was minor and half said the change was more significant.

Most fathers assumed having a child would impact their career, but most agreed that they underestimated the degree of impact in both their work and life.

While most didn’t lower their career aspirations, becoming a father had changed how they defined success.

Most fathers used day-to-day informal flexibility to manage their work+life fit, versus formal flexibility.  And many said their managers were supportive of the work+life issues.

Most fathers wanted to achieve a 50/50 split in the responsibilities of care giving and if they weren’t achieving it they were trying to do better.

When asked what it meant to be a good father, the fathers felt it was just as important to provide financial as well as emotional support, which to them meant being present, spending time, being accessible, just “showing up.”

Looks pretty good for new fathers, but dig a little deeper…(Click here for more)

Get Your Flex Plan a Fair Hearing and Prepare for ALL Outcomes

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When Sharlyn Lauby (a.k.a HRBartender.com) asked me to comment on “How to Handle Workplace Retaliation,” I presented my advice in the context of proposing a formal flex plan seeking to change how, when and/or where you work.  A very common concern that keeps people from asking for formal flexibility is the fear of manager retaliation.  This concern has grown since the start of the Recession.

You can go to the HRBartender post for more on workplace retaliation, but here are three ways to approach your formal flex plan to ensure it gets the most positive consideration and limits the chance of a negative reaction:

Step 1:  Make sure your formal flex plan clearly considers the needs of the business (MOST PEOPLE DON’T DO THIS-Go to “Work+Life Fit in 5 Days” to learn how).  The quickest way to lose credibility with your manager and support for your plan is to ignore the day-to-day objectives of your job and the state of the business within which you work.

Present your plan as a proposal intended to initiate a conversation.  That way you signal to your manager that you are open to his or her input and that your proposal isn’t set in stone.  This gives the manager wiggle room.  He or she doesn’t feel cornered which is especially important if you manager isn’t used to employees working flexibly.

Step 2:  In many situations, if you are a solid performer, the answer will be “yes” to some version of a well-thought out plan for flexibility; however…

Step 3: What if the answer is “no” to your flex proposal? It’s okay to ask respectfully “why?” in order to determine if there’s a way to address the manager’s concerns.  Perhaps a 60-day trial period would help?

But what if the answer is still no?  You should prepare yourself in advance for what you will do if, even after your best effort to present a win-win plan, the outcome is not positive.   Sadly, it happens. Most importantly, make sure you don’t let that disappointment affect your performance on the job.

Sometimes what is seen by the employee as retaliation on the part of the manager for presenting a proposal is really a valid response to a decline in job performance after hearing “no.”   Go into the negotiation prepared to keep performing no matter what the outcome because your manager will be watching.

Especially if you are a solid, valued performer, your manager will know on some level that he or she should have found some way to make your well thoughtout plan work at least for a trial period.  As much as you may want to, don’t bad mouth your manager to colleagues.   There is a good possibility that he or she may come around with time and decide to give your plan a try; however, you don’t want to give them an excuse to question your commitment.

Even if you decide to look for another job that will give you more flexibility, don’t burn bridges with your manager.  You will want their recommendation.

While there is never a guarantee you will hear “yes,” when you present a formal flex plan, there are steps you can take to ensure you get the most positive consideration.  And, in case the answer is “no,” remain on good terms with your manager.  Whether or not you decide to look for more flexible alternative employment, it pays to stay friends.

One Dad Says “Enough!”–RebelDad’s Pampers Boycott

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Two realizations prompted me to start blogging more than four years ago:

  1. You can develop and implement a flexibility strategy in a company and help someone manage their work+life fit, but that change won’t “stick” unless it is reinforced by the work+life mindset and language the broader culture.  Currently, it is not; and
  2. The extreme or outdated work+life fit stereotypes that the mainstream media consistently reinforced were keeping individuals, organizations and public policy stuck in the past.  Other voices outside of the advertiser/media market were going to have to make that change happen.

Dad as “bumbling, disinterested care giver” stereotype

A perfect example of an outdated stereotype reinforced in the culture by the media and advertisers is the “mom as the primary caregiver, and dad, if he is present at all, as a bumbling incompetent who mom needs to rescue.”  For years, this picture never matched the reality I’d seen in my work and in my personal life:

  • At Work: Even though they’d be invited as an afterthought, men are often at least a third if not half of the participants in my presentations.  And often the organizers of the events are “surprised so many men turned up.”  I’m not.  Men, many of whom are fathers, have told me for years that they are just as interested in learning how to flexibly manage their work+life fit as women.
  • In Life: My husband and most his peers who are fathers have always been incredibly involved and competent caregivers from day one.  In fact, when I go to the grocery store on Sunday many of my fellow shoppers are men who are clearly buying food for their families and often have their children with them while they are doing it.  Mom is nowhere around.

Why does it matter?  We may see men in real life participating as involved, capable fathers who need to flexibly manage their work and life as much as mothers, but then we turn on the television, go to a website, pick up a magazine.  The images presented sell us collectively a very different reality that ultimately hurts men and women.

Rebel Dad’s Pampers Boycott–One man’s mission to fight the “Dad as bumbling, disinterested care giver” stereotype

Unfortunately, the market is set up to reinforce this stereotype.  Media outlets want advertisers dollars.  And, advertisers have decided that playing up the mom as the primary, competent caregiver who makes all of the decisions is the best way to move merchandise.  So, it’s going to take individuals standing up and saying, “Enough” before the outdated stereotypes are replaced.  That’s exactly what one father, Brian Reid (aka RebelDad.com) is doing.

I first ran across Rebel Dad when he blogged for the Washingtonpost.com.  Through his writing, I’ve been introduced to a group of men online whose beliefs and actions reflect what I actually see everyday–smart, involved, caring, competent fathers.  So, I was thrilled when Brian and his community of dads decided to take on Pampers for its “mom-centric” advertising campaign.  It’s one shot fired in a campaign that will hopefully build even more momentum.  Here’s his story.  Go Rebel Dad!

CY: As a Dad, what made you so frustrated that you said “enough” and started the Pampers boycott?

RD: Every year, on Mother’s Day, Pampers sends me an e-mail telling me how important “moms like you” are. And every year, I post on how tragic it is that the world’s biggest maker of diapers instantly assumes that everyone on their e-mail coupon list is a woman. This year, with tongue firmly in cheek (I’m out of the diaper stage forever now), I decided I’d try to protest a little more officially.

CY: What do you hope this boycott achieves with regard to Pampers specifically, and more broadly with the media’s recognition that dads are caregivers?

RD:  I am realistic. I don’t expect or even want Pampers to institute some sort of marketing plan that calls for exactly half of all ads to be targeted at men. All I want is an acknowledgment, somehow, somewhere — in an ad, in an e-mail, in a campaign — that dads play a central role in raising kids, up to an including changing diapers. This isn’t rocket science: Huggies is doing it. But if you look across everything that Pampers does, it’s hard to find so much as an image of an engaged dad.

CY: Why is this important to Dads, moms, kids and the broader culture?

RD: There is no meaningful biologic reason why — with the exception of breastfeeding — dads can’t play an equal (or greater!) role in raising kids. The imbalance in gender roles, then, is largely a social phenomenon. And though a single mom-focused commercial doesn’t automatically make dads into indifferent fathers, the cumulative impact of the mom-as-caregiver image in medium after medium after medium has an impact after a while. There are a good percentage of working dads that have never even thought about a role reversal, in part, because they’ve assumed that the world don’t work that way. And — if all you did was watch TV — you’d be hard-pressed to argue.

CY: Although you are putting your own blogging about the boycott on hold for awhile, the boycott itself continues.  The response from other dads/parents has been positive.  What is the message you are getting from fathers responding to the boycott?

The feedback has been great. Everyone has been supportive. But what’s really heartening is the number of people, who — like me — pay attention to the companies that show dads as involved parents. I mentioned Huggies earlier, and they came on my radar screen in no small part because of a bunch of fathers who suggested that I look at their marketing, which is gender-neutral in its language and pretty dad-friendly in its approach.

CY: How long will the boycott continue, and do you plan to expand it beyond Pampers?

At this point, I have other issues on which to focus my attention, and I am under no illusion that I will bring Proctor and Gamble to its knees. I’ll keep posting — and keep mentioning the boycott — every time I see something mom-centric from Pampers, and I look forward to calling off the dogs as soon as I see some dads in their marketing materials.

CY: I look forward to that day too.  In the mean time, keep going.  The your voice and the voices of other fathers in your community are critical if we are to change the broader cultural misperceptions about care giving that keep us all stuck.  Thanks, Brian!

What do you think of Rebel Dad’s Pampers boycott?  What else can we do to make the we the broader culture talks about and thinks about work and life match the reality most of us live in?

Three Reasons Why It’s Work+Life “Fit” (Not, Balance)

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(This is the first post I wrote for MomsRising’s Peaceful Revolution.  It appeared last week in The Huffington Post)

The economy continues to teeter between Recession and recovery, and we are being asked to do more with less both at work and in the rest of our lives.  As a result, the challenge of how to manage it all remains front and center for many, including mothers.

In our quest for big answers, sometimes we forget that simply reframing how we think about, talk about, and approach an issue can make a big difference.  Try this…instead of enduring the ongoing daily frustration of never achieving “work/life balance,” focus on optimizing your unique “work+life fit.” Here are three reasons why the shift from “balance” to “fit” makes a difference in your well-being:

Reason #1:   There’s no “right” answer, only what works for you and your unique work and personal realities at any given day or period of your life.  No one is right, therefore, no one is wrong.  By removing the judgment from ourselves and on others, we automatically relieve at least some of the guilt that can paralyze us from taking action.

So next time you arrive home with a pizza for dinner after staying late for the third night in a row finishing a project and see your neighbor cooking through kitchen window, what are you going to think?  “Next week when the project is finished I’ll make a point of having a home cooked meal.”  It’s not, “I must be a terrible mother.” That’s your work+life fit.

Reason #2:  It’s an action verb; not a destination noun. If you focus on a predetermined outcome or “balance” to gauge success, you will often be disappointed because many of the factors that influence whether you reach that goal are out of your control.  But if you consciously optimize the way those same circumstances “fit” together on and off the job, then your focus turns to how you feel about the process regardless of the outcome.  You can control the action (see #3).

For example, you’re disappointed that you had to ask your sister to take your mother to her chemotherapy appointment because you had to work, but you’ve arranged to help her grocery shop and pay bills on your day off.  If your predetermined “balance,” was to take your mother to chemotherapy, then you will feel frustrated.  But, instead, you adapted and found a way to be supportive given the current circumstances.  You took action you could feel good about.

Reason #3: It’s strategic, not reactive. As the previous example shows, many of the factors that determine “balance” are out of your control; therefore, it’s easy to become reactive, constantly responding (perhaps not very effectively) to what’s coming at you.  But if you expect that optimizing your work+life “fit” is an ongoing, ever-changing process, then you will be more strategic and nimble in your response.  You will plan accordingly.

For example, when you realized in advance that your work schedule conflicted with your mother’s chemotherapy, you devised an alternative solution.

If you look at the definition of “strategic” in the dictionary, you find, “(related to) a careful plan or method; the art of devising or employing plans or stratagems toward a goal.”  Your goal is to influence, account for, and anticipate how to best “fit” work and the rest of your life together at any point in time.  Sounds logical, right?  Guess what, we don’t do it.  Here’s my proof…

For years, people would swear, “But, Cali, I do manage everything, and I’m still overwhelmed.”  So I began giving a little quiz before each of my speeches.  Here are the typical results from group of employees at a Fortune 500 consumer products company:

78% said that they “Actively manage my work and personal responsibilities and goals daily or weekly.”

43% said that they “Always keep a calendar with all of my personal and work responsibilities and goals in one place.”

32% said that they “Set aside time daily or weekly to check in with myself and answer the question, “What do I want?”

Strategic work+life fit means keeping all of your work and personal “to dos” in one central location so you have a complete picture of what is happening in all areas of your life (why it’s work “+” life).  You need to set time aside at least weekly to check in with yourself to make sure you are where you want to be with your “fit” given your most current set of circumstances.  And then change as many realities as you can to close any gap between what you want and where you are, knowing there is no right answer.  Only what works for you.

Your unique work+life “fit.”  No right answer, only strategic, judgment-free action.

Fast Company: “Happiness at Work”…Yes, Really–Q&A with Author Srikumar S. Rao

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When I was given the opportunity to interview Srikumar S. Rao, Ph.D., author of the new book, Happiness at Work, I jumped for a couple of reasons.  First,  I’d been hearing about the “Creativity and Personal Mastery” class he taught at Columbia Business School (my alma mater) for years.  It was legendary.  And I wanted to meet the man behind the legend.

Second, I believe the approach to work and life outlined in his book is critical if we are to ride the inevitable career twists and turns in today’s volatile, ever-changing global economy.

A bit of a back story will help you understand the questions I asked Professor Rao (Please feel free to skip down to the interview!).

I entered Columbia Business School in 1993, after seven years as a banker in New York City.   At the end of my banking career, I was a specialist in lending to closely-held middle market companies and large not-for-profits (e.g. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was one of my accounts).  And I managed the day-to-day responsibilities of a team of bankers.

By every external metric, I was “successful,” but I wanted to become a work+life flexibility strategy consultant.  Why?  As a manager, I realized it was bad business not to help the account officers who had the relationships with the clients flexibly manage their work+life challenges.  The account officer usually left the bank and the account became vulnerable because our money was as green as the bank’s down the street.  It was the relationship that mattered and needed to be sustained.

I had a vision that work+life flexibility was going to become a business imperative for all employers in the coming years.  I wanted to be a part of it, and I knew an MBA from a top school would give me the credibility to make change happen.  Remember, this was the early 1990’s.

When I started at Columbia, I knew no one in the work+life field, which was just starting to grow.  By the time I graduated two years later, I’d managed to get an internship and an initial consulting project with the one place I wanted to work, Families and Work Institute.  But, I earned less than I did when I left banking, I didn’t have any managerial responsibility, and no one had any idea what work+life strategy consulting was, “What? (confused look)”

Using those same external metrics, was I a success or a failure? At the time, I’m sure many thought I wasn’t just a failure, but a crazy failure!  I, on the other hand, felt like I’d hit the lottery.

I persevered by intuitively embracing many of the philosophies Dr. Rao shares in his book. I only wish he and the students who took his class had been at Columbia when I was there.  It would have been nice to have fellow travelers on my unconventional journey. (I may actually take his class now that he offers it outside of MBA programs just so I can join the alumni association!)

Seventeen years later, I can’t believe I get paid to do this job everyday.  If I can achieve my unique work+life fit vision, (trust me) anyone can.

Srikumar S. Rao’s Happiness at Work helps guide the way.  Dr. Rao generously spent time with me recently discussing his philosophy.  Highlights of our conversation are below.  For more information about Happiness at Work and Srikumar S. Rao, visit www.areyoureadytosucceed.com.

Happiness at Work guides the way for everyone…Interview with Dr. Srikumar S. Rao

CY: Professor Rao, when I read your new book, Happiness at Work, I was both overjoyed and surprised.  Overjoyed because I believe the approach you outline is critical for a sense of well-being in today’s economic reality in which there are no guarantees and change is inevitable.

But I was surprised because the core principles of the Happiness at Work philosophy run counter to the standard profile of the typical top MBA student I’ve encountered both while at school and after (although, there are exceptions for sure).  For example here’s a quick side-by-side comparison to illustrate my point: (Click here for more)

11 Ways HR Can Jumpstart Work+Life Flex Strategy

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Thank you for tuning into HR Happy Hour and talking about the important topic of “Making Work/Life Work.”  As promised, here is a list of ways HR professionals can get started today advancing strategic work+life flexibility in their organizations.  Please add others you think are important and didn’t get a chance to share during the show.  I look forward to continuing this important conversation with you!

Define what you believe work+life flexibility is. The answer will determine HR’s role and response.  Is it a business strategy?  Is it a “perk” reserved for good times?  Or is it an annoying regulation to be tolerated and mitigated?  Assuming you decide, yes, work+life flexibility is a strategic lever that we want to help integrate into the day-to-day operating model of the business, then…

Start to change the way you talk and think about flexibility because according to our the WLF/BDO study of top CFOs, only 13 out of 100 felt their senior leadership saw flexibility as a strategy (the rest saw it as a perk), and had the process in place to target flexibility toward a problem or opportunity.

At FSG, we talk about work+life flexibility, as opposed to workplace flexibility, because flexibility in how, when and where work is done won’t succeed if there isn’t corresponding flexibility in the way life is managed, and vice versa.  So for example, a compressed workweek is only going to succeed for a parent that can flexibly move the pickup time at child care back.  Or telecommuting only works if there’s the appropriate equipment and space to work remotely.

We also use the term work+life fit, not balance as one of the outcomes of strategic flexibility.  By work+life fit, we mean actively and flexibly optimizing the way work fits into your life day-to-day and at major life and career transitions given your unique realities.   Everyone has a work+life fit they need to manage, from the CEO to the temp worker.  This normalize it throughout the culture.

Learn about what is already working and start to capture it. Success doesn’t require a complete overhaul of the way you do business.  No, in fact, there’s often a great deal of flexibility already happening that you can start to capture and leverage.   And chances are HR doesn’t know about most of these pockets of flex innovation because it’s usually just organically happening and might not even be called “flexibility.”  The intuitively flexible manager and team probably think of it simply as “getting the job” done.

Gather internal and external data to support the need for flexibility.  And to reinforce the business impact of the success stories you’ve identified internally.  Here are links to some of my favorites (others below):

Find a senior line leader who will be the champion and public face of the flexibility strategy. As much as possible from the beginning, position the strategy as business led and sponsored effort with HR as a partner.

Link impacts of flexibility to the business as directly and broadly as possible. Keep pulling all of those links together and building buy-in and awareness.  Find the “pain” points of opportunity or challenge within the business where being more flexible in how, when and where work is done and life is managed would make a big difference.  Start to share and build the business case.  Listen and join the conversation.  For example,

  • Is the administration group trying to figure out how to seed new markets without taking on office space until a presence is established?  Telecommuting.
  • Have revenue and earnings not rebounded as quickly as expected?  Are conversations starting about more reductions?  Furloughs, sabbaticals, reduced schedules.
  • Are more and more of the company’s clients oversees requiring coverage outside of normal office hours?  Flexible scheduling.
  • Are levels of stress and overwork causing a spike in health care costs?  Day-to-day flexibility to get to gym, leave early to see kids’ games etc.
  • Are the investor and government relations groups struggling to complete the Corporate Social Responsibility/Environment and Social Governance Report for the SEC? Telecommuting.
  • Can implementing a flexibility strategy in partnership with the technology group help improve utilization of what’s already being offered and identify gaps in tech resources that need to be filled?

Understand the common characteristics of successful work+life flexibility.  Fifteen years of work with companies, leaders, and employees have shown us, time and again, that the best strategies have the following characteristics:

  • They are NOT one-size-fits-all. They are tailored to the unique realities of the business and the people who work there.  Those (sometimes tough) business realities must be acknowledged for the solutions proposed to have credibility and staying power.
  • They are process, not policy-based which makes them flexible enough to adapt and evolve with the changing realities of the business and the people who work there.
  • They are built on a strong employee-employer partnership, not from the top-down. The employer/manager creates the space within which innovative work+life solutions are crafted as part of the day-to-day operating model.  And employees are prepared and know what they need to do to meet the company halfway. Most companies skip this important step.
  • They achieve both business and individual personal objectives. The employer understands how to apply the same flexibility that helps individual employees manage their work+life fit to achieve other business objectives such as resource cost management (eg. labor, real estate, technology, and health care), global client service, sustainability, disaster preparedness, working better and smarter, etc.

Move beyond the five standard types formal flexible work arrangements.  Again, it’s process, not policies. Include in the process the ability to officially change how, when and/or where you work for a period of time.  Some people and the business will need a formal change, at some point in time.  But, build the strategy primarily around day-to-day flexibility or small, periodic, none recurring shifts in work and life.  Consider including in the flexibility toolkit any PTO and Leaves you offer.  You are providing a whole continuum of flexible tools in one package.

Any job and any industry can embrace some form of flexibility but not every type of flexibility. A process-based approach lets you adapt the flexibility to the business, whereas “check the box,” one size fits all formal flexible work arrangements don’t.  Flexibility is going to look different even within different businesses within the same company.  Important: The consistency comes in the access to the same process not in the promise of the same type of flexibility.

Measure at all points. Adapt what you measure to where you are in the process and what you want to learn.  An example is the case study of key metrics from our BDO Flex project. In the discovery phase we used quantitative and qualitative data to begin to identify what’s working and make links to the business.  In the visioning phase, we tested how well people understood this shared vision.  Then when we were building readiness of a key leadership group, we tested their buy-in.  And finally in the orientation and review phases we measured the following buckets of outcomes at set intervals:

  • Personal Work+Life Fit and Understanding of Flexibility
  • Employee Engagement
  • Work Effectiveness
  • Business Impact

Nothing is EVER going to be perfect, and you are always going to have to continually tweak and improve your flexibility strategy. Some employees will not live up to their end of the bargain.  If they don’t, then they don’t get flexibility.  As a very wise executive once said to us, “Chances are it’s not the flex, it’s the employee and maybe they should be gone.”  You will always have managers who won’t support it.  They need to be coached and penalized in the reward system.  But, at the end of the day, avoid the temptation to build a flexibility strategy geared toward the few who will abuse.   Build it for the many who will thrive…they will.

Great Resources (No particular order):

SHRM, I’m Confused, Again…Do You See Flex as Strategic, Legislative or Both?

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(More info below: Join me on Blog Talk Radio’s  “HR Happy Hour” with host Steve Boese 5/20 at 8 p.m. ET to discuss “Making Work/Life Work)

SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management), I’m confused…again.  Do you see work+life flexibility as strategic, legislative or both?

Does it matter that I’m confused?  Actually, it doesn’t.  But what does matter is that I’m beginning to understand why many HR professionals in the day-to-day trenches are confused about work+life flexibility. What it is?  Strategy, “perk,” or a regulation to be risk managed and mitigated?  What is their role? How do they advocate and execute work+life flexibility in their organizations?

These are important questions to help HR professionals answer, because, from my vantage point they are getting mixed, confusing messages from their primary industry association.  And, in the process, HR is missing a tremendous opportunity.

In this new economic reality, HR has access to a powerful, important lever for managing people and the business. It lets them pull up a chair to the table with line leadership to help solve many of the organization’s most pressing problems.  That strategic lever is work+life flexibility, or flexibility in how, when and where work is done and life is managed.

If developed and implemented into the day-to-day operating model it can contain costs, manage resources (e.g. talent, real estate, technology), manage global clients with less burnout, reduce employee stress, increase innovation, prepare for disasters, improve the way work is done…and more. But first it needs to be seen and understood as a business strategy, not just an annoying legislative mandate to be tolerated, or “perk” reserved for good times.

My confusion over SHRM’s position began last December when I wrote a post sharing my surprise that flexibility was all but missing from the agenda of the its 2010 national conference.   Even though the conference description said they were going to focus on issues directly addressed by strategic work+life flexibility:

“This year’s conference is programmed to provide the most comprehensive line-up  of thought-leaders, practitioners, and executives to interact with you on some of the most critical issues facing HR professionals today, with topics covering such key issues are:

  • Talent Management and Staffing
  • Employee Engagement and Morale
  • Legislative Compliance
  • Communication Strategies
  • Layoffs, Downsizing and RIFs
  • Compensation and Benefits
  • Business Competencies
  • Leadership/Career Development
  • Healthcare Strategy and Reform
  • Continuity Planning
  • Global HR”

Then in March,  I read the agenda for SHRM’s 2010 Employment Law & Legislative Conference.  Work+life issues were showcased prominently.  I thought I had my explanation.   SHRM believes work+life issues are addressed through mandate and public policy, not strategic change and integrating flexibility into the day-to-day operating model of a business.  That’s why it wasn’t on the national conference agenda.

But then, today, I read an article about SHRM’s recent efforts to “encourage, not mandate, workplace flexibility.” In three high profile work+life related events, the White House Flexibility Forum, its own co-sponsored panel on “The State of the Workforce in the New Economy,” and The New American Foundation’s panel on “The Future of Work-Life Balance and Workplace Flexibility,” SHRM representatives reinforced its position that:

Workplace flexibility is an issue that has gained importance with employers and employees…(Critically important to the discussion) is not to see it as just an issue for women or individuals with young children. It’s an issue that works its way through an individual’s life cycle…The employer needs flexibility to adapt its work/life options to its community and organization…Not every [workplace] environment always lends itself to the same type of approach. What may work in a manufacturing environment may not work in a hospital. What works in a union environment may not work in a nonunion environment.”

What?  So, here’s my question:  Does SHRM now believe that workplace flexibility is a process-based strategy, not a one-size-fits-all legislative mandate?

Can you see why if I’m confused, how the line HR professional might be unsure about what to think or how to proceed?   Are they to take a programmatic risk management and mitigation approach or partner with the business to initiate business-based change management process?  Or both?

Let’s continue this important conversation. Join me on Thursday, May 20 at 8:00 pm on Blog Talk Radio’s “HR Happy Hour” where I will talk with host Steve Boese about these questions and other issues related to “Making Work/Life Work.”  The show description and links are below.  Hope you will listen and contribute to this important subject.

“Making Work/Life Work” on HR Happy Hour with Steve Boese.

It is one thing to talk about workplace flexibility, and quite another to design and implement flexible working strategies in organizations, and to measure their effectiveness and impact on the bottom line.

Sure, most employees might prefer to work at home in their jammies, but does it make sense for the organization?

While most of us would agree that more flexibility in the design of jobs is desirable or ‘better’, often HR professionals have difficulty understanding how to design more flexible workplaces, to develop flexibility strategies that will work for the organization, and to even understand their important role in this area. Joining us will be Cali Yost, of the FlexStrategy Group and WorkLife Fit, Inc., writer at Fast Company, and an expert on workplace flexibility, to talk about how to move Work/Life from discussion to action, and how HR professionals can be better equipped to lead and support these important initiatives in their organizations.

I hope you can join us for what should be an interesting and informative show where we try and take the Work/Life discussion beyond ‘should’ and get closer to ‘how‘.

Fast Company: Why I’m (Starting) to Trust the Government’s Work+Life Bully Pulpit

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Periodically, I contextualize my opinions with “Maybe it’s my background as a banker and an MBA but…” because as much as I’m open-minded to and appreciate different perspectives, I’m still a businessperson at heart.  It’s important for me to acknowledge that fact, because it’s from this perspective that I’ve historically maintained a wary, arm’s length relationship with public policy solutions to work+life challenges.

My wariness stems from the 15 years I’ve worked with real companies, managers and employees developing and implementing work+life strategies.  I’ve learned that flexibility in how, when and where work is done and life is managed is the flagship solution that everyone needs.  It’s part of and enabled by a package of other direct supports such as paid time off, leaves, dependent care, etc .  This experience has shown me, time and again, that the best work+life strategies have the following characteristics:

  • They are NOT one-size-fits-all. They are tailored to the unique realities of the business and the people who work there.  Those (sometimes tough) business realities must be acknowledged for the solutions proposed to have credibility and staying power.
  • They are process, not policy-based which makes them flexible enough to adapt and evolve with the changing realities of the business and the people who work there.
  • They are built on a strong employee-employer partnership, not from the top-down. The employer/manager creates the space within which innovative work+life solutions are crafted as part of the day-to-day operating model.  And employees are prepared and know what they need to do to meet the company halfway.
  • They achieve both business and personal work+life fit objectives. The employer understands how to apply the same flexibility that helps individual employees manage their work+life fit to achieve other business objectives such as resource cost management (eg. labor, real estate, technology, and health care), global client service, sustainability, disaster preparedness, working better and smarter, etc.

For quite some time, these characteristics of success struck me as antithetical to mandate-based approach of public policy. Therefore, I tended not to look to the public sector for the leadership to promote and advance truly effective work+life strategies.  That is until the Obama candidacy and then presidency.

Listening to the administration’s statements and watching its actions, I began to think maybe the public sector could provide that extra “oomph” of support to move the work+life agenda forward.  They seemed interested in building upon the success within the private sector, while creating a legislative environment that reflects the reality of a 21st Century global economy.

To date, my new found faith has been consistently rewarded…(Click here for more)

Fast Company: Don’t Let “Flex Just Doesn’t Work for Me”= “I Don’t Care If You Leave” Because It Will

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Three times in the past couple of weeks I’ve heard a variation of the same story that should serve as a cautionary tale for all managers:

  • You have a highly valued, competent current or prospective employee who has used flexibility in the past to manage his or her work+life fit in a way that considers their needs as well as the needs of their job. They have a track record of success.
  • Said employee presents a well-thought out proposal for flexibility. They’ve covered all angles. Of the three scenarios mentioned above, one person wanted to reduce his schedule to deal with an ongoing health challenge more aggressively, with the goal of going back to full-time after he recovers.  Another individual had been promoted, and returned to a full-time role; however, she wanted the flexibility to work from home periodically.  And finally, the third person was being considered by a venture capital firm to be CEO of a company.  He wanted to telecommute two days a week as he was doing with his current job.
  • In all three cases, the response was, “No.” The initial reason given was, “I need you here.”  Then each employee respectfully asked if there were any business concerns that made the plan unworkable.  None of the decision-makers could cite a business-based rationale for their answer.  All they said was, “It just doesn’t work for me.”

Okay, let’s stop here for a minute. I have seen this same scenario play out over the years more times than I can count.  To these managers, their logic makes complete sense (at least at the moment):  If I just say, “it doesn’t work for me,” then everything will go back to the way it was.  Everyone will forget about any flexibility.  I don’t want change.  I like things exactly the way they are right now.  It works for me as it is.

In fact, in an alternate universe, these managers are often giving a compliment.  They are essentially telling the employee that he or she is too valuable, therefore, they  want them around and available.  They think saying “No,” will make their preferred status quo a reality.

Unfortunately, that’s usually not what happens.  Note to managers: just because you will it, doesn’t make it so.  Fair warning, you will lose.
What should managers and individual employees do? (Click here for more)