Fast Company: Downsizing Should Have Three Stages–No Layoffs, Flexible Downsizing, THEN Layoffs–Not Two

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December job cuts were far worse than expected.  A recent headline in the Wall Street Journal read, “No-Layoff Policies Crumble,” as a number of companies with historical “no layoff” policies have been forced by the economic downturn to do the unthinkable.  Unfortunately, this all-or-nothing approach ignores an important, interim possibility—flexible downsizing. 

As I’ve written many times (here, here, and here), using strategic work+life flexibility–reduced schedules, sabbaticals, job sharing, project-based consulting—can help organizations avoid at least some layoffs.   But, nevertheless, according to the WSJ article:

  • After 51-years of never laying anyone off, even after 9/11, Enterprise Rent-A-Car is laying off 1,000 or its 75,000 employees.
  • Gentex Corporation, a company that “didn’t even have a layoff policy,” dismissed 15% of its workforce or 370 employees.
  • Life Time Fitness laid off 100 of its 15,000 employees. 

In fairness, the WSJ article discussed how the companies tried to avoid layoffs by “freezing salaries,” “drumming up work for idle employees,” “filling openings with temporary workers,” and “moving employees to busy segments from those with little work.” But nowhere did the article mention creative uses of strategic flexibility that would keep valued employees while allowing companies to reduce labor costs. (Click here for more)

New Year…Start a Blog or Blog Better! The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging

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In February, the Work+Life “Fit” blog will turn three years old.  I can’t believe how fast the time has flown and how much I’ve enjoyed blogging.  In fact, I rank starting this blog and then blogging for Fast Company  as two of the most valuable professional decisions I’ve made.  

Everyone has something to say; therefore, everyone should consider starting a blog.  If you already have a blog, are there new and better ways to share your message?  There’s an excellent new resource to achieve both goals, The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging

Why blog? 

My quote from the Huffington Post Guide, “I blog because I am,” summarizes the benefits from blogging:

  • I am…someone who loves what I do which is help people manage their work+life fit and organizations implement flexibility into their business strategy; therefore, 
  • I am…always seeing connections between my work and current trends and events that I want to explore more deeply.  My blogs are the perfect venue for exploration and dialogue with others; and
  • I am…someone who thinks out loud, and blogging, to me, is thinking out loud and seeing what comes back.

One of my favorite quotes from the guide describes why The Huffington Post started in May, 2005, “As hokey as it sounds.  The Huffington Post really did start as a labor of love.  And passion.  And ideals.  We wanted to be heard, to create a voice.  We made something new because we strongly felt that it needed to exist, not because it would make money.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Blogging is a labor of love. 

In your opinion, do you feel something needs to be said that isn’t being discussed enough or the way you see it?   One of my original motivations for blogging was my frustration with the amount of air-time the “opting out” debate was getting in the media.  While important and interesting, in my opinion, it didn’t deserve to dominate the broader cultural work+life conversation the way it was.  The goal of my blogs was, and continues to be, pulling back the lens and seeing work+life fit as a broader career strategy for everyone, including moms. And work+life flexibility as a critical business strategy with broad bottom line impacts for organizations.  

Why blog better? 

After three years, I’m ready to take my blogs to the next level, and The Huffington Post Guide offers helpful information for the experiened bloggers.  Options discussed in the book that I’m considering include:

  • Adding video logs or vlogs to my blogs;
  • More advanced use of site metrics; and
  • Increasing the two-way dialogue by engaging with and encouraging people who comment on my blogs.

How to get started?  

When I started blogging in early 2006, there were no guides, no easy-to-use, plug-and-blog software.  Now, anyone can quickly and easily start a blog as outlined step-by-step in The Huffington Post Guide

There’s one caution for the new bloggers that I would add to the information in the book. As much as site metrics can be interesting and helpful, just make sure you aren’t discouraged by them when you start.  You may only have three people read your posts initially—in my case, it was my mom, my husband and my best friend.  Choosing not to look at site metrics in the beginning, and writing for myself helped me stay motivated even when I knew my readership constituted a universe of three. 

The time and passion you commit to blogging will payoff in the most unexpected ways—connections forged, insights achieved and the difference made.  Hey, maybe the editors of The Huffington Post will ask you to share your thoughts on blogging and include your quote in their excellent book (Thanks, Laura Vanderkam)!  You never know.  For more, check out Arianna Huffington’s recent appearance on The Daily Show where she talks about being a blogging evangelist, to which I say, “Amen!”

Fast Company: My Voice–Lost and Found

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Raise your hand if you think talking is something you do without considering the mechanics of the process.  Well, until I lost my voice in early November, that’s what I thought.  And the very unscientific poll I’ve conducted since that fateful day confirms I was not alone in my ignorance. 

Good news!  Two months later my voice is better than ever; however, I thought I’d share some of the surprising insights from the recovery process to help others avoid losing their voice—something most of us take for granted, including me!


First, the backstory.   I love to talk.  Anyone who knows me will confirm I’m a talker.  Whether it’s one-on-one, or delivering a speech to 500 people, talking is something that’s always come very naturally to me.  But, my voice has also been an Achilles heel.  If I get a cold, you can immediately hear it in my voice.  If I talk too much at a party, I feel it in my voice.  But it was never a major problem until the speech I gave in early November. 

The room was beautiful, but the acoustics terrible.  The 300 people in the audience were eating lunch which wouldn’t normally be a problem, but the sound system wasn’t working very well.  The speaker who went before me struggled mightily to be heard throughout her presentation, so shouting was the only option.  I wasn’t worried because I have a loud voice, but I was fighting a cold and had just delivered five others speeches in the weeks prior.  So, I stepped to the podium and began to speak as loudly as possible.  About five minutes into the speech I felt a pull or “snap” in my throat.  (Click here for more)

Fast Company: I Repeat…Flexibility is More Than an Isolated Downsizing Tactic, It’s a Broad Business Growth and Cost-Cutting Strategy

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With a front page article in this week’s New York Times, the use of work+life flexibility as an alternative to layoffs continues to gain momentum.   However, as I noted last week, four-day workweeks, reduced schedules, sabbaticals, telecommuting and flexible scheduling are not just isolated, downsizing tactics.  They are part of a broad, coordinated growth and cost-cutting business strategy with multiple benefits that include, but are not limited to, creative downsizing.  We are missing an important opportunity by not discussing flexibility in this larger context. 

Since August 2008, I have written (here, here, here, and here) and spoken (here), about work+life flexibility as critical strategy that allows organizations and individuals to rapidly and flexibly adapt to challenges that are presenting themselves at an accelerated rate.
In fact, the findings from the September, 2008 CFO Perspectives on Work Life Flexibility that we conducted with BDO Seidman, LLP were some of the earliest results to confirm that CFOs–the financial leaders in organizations–view flexibility as a strategic lever with a broad range of business impacts.  And, approximately one-quarter of the CFOs were ahead of the curve by incorporating different forms of flexibility into past downsizing strategies.
Why does this matter?  Because today we are grappling with how to respond to the recession, but after that, it will be something else.  Using strategic flexibility to rethink the way work is done, life is managed and business succeeds will help us not only survive, but thrive in an environment where change will be the only constant.  But we won’t be able to use work+life flexibility as a business growth and cost-cutting strategy to respond to these changes if we don’t see the possibilities. (Click here for more)

Searching for Clues: Post-Recession Work+Life Landscape

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One thing I know for sure is that the recession is accelerating the transformation of the work+life fit landscape for organizations, individuals, and public policymakers.  So in addition to focusing on surviving the current downturn, I’m thinking about how we might need to adapt in the new more flexible reality that will emerge. 

Most likely we will not go back to “normal.”  But what will the new reality look like?  My search for clues is leading me in many directions.  Recently, I revisited scholarly predictions that inspired me as a business school student.  I became reacquainted with the work of famous British management guru Charles Handy, and was quickly reminded why I became a Handy groupie (in fact, I included a story in my book about how he works six-months of the year, and supports his wife’s photography business the other six-months).    

Handy’s model of the Shamrock Organization, outlined in his book Age of Unreason, offers prescient insight into how institutions have been slowly reorganizing themselves over the past 20 years.   When I read his description of the Shamrock in the mid-90’s, I thought it was a fascinating but drastic departure from reality.  As I reread Handy’s description today, it sounded much more familiar:

“• The first leaf of the shamrock is made up of the professional core. It consists of professionals, technicians and managers who possess the skills that represent the organization’s core competence. Their pay is tied to organizational performance, and their relations will be more like those among the partners in a professional firm than those among superiors and subordinates in today’s large corporation.

• The next leaf is made up of self-employed professionals or technicians or smaller specialized organizations who are hired on contract, on a project-by-project basis. They are paid in fees for results rather than in salary for time. They frequently telecommute. No benefits are paid by the core organization, and the worker carries the risk of insecurity.
• The third leaf comprises the contingent work force, where there is no career track and often routine jobs. These are usually part-time workers who will experience short periods of employment and long periods of unemployment. They are paid by the hour or day or week for the time they work.”

As the recession progresses, many organizations are becoming more flexible in how, when, and where work is done, as well as by whom.  Reducing schedules, transitioning employees to project work, and encouraging telecommuting to save on overhead—these are no longer HR policies, but strategic levers for operating businesses in a more flexible, dynamic way.  And I believe they are here to stay, even after the recession ends. 

If the use of such strategies does continue and expand, the Shamrock-like organization becomes even more of a reality. The potential implications that I’m beginning to see are revolutionary:  

For organizations, work+life flexibility will become even more of a strategic business lever.  Line leaders in the professional core will see the broad benefits from increased organizational adaptability, improved client coverage, cost and resource management.  But, the dual application of work+life flexibility as a business strategy and as a work+life fit management strategy will require a radical shift in mindset on the part of all three groups in order to succeed;

For individuals, whether they are core professionals, self-employed professionals, or contingent workers, there will be many more work+life fit choices. That will be good news for most people.  However, with that choice comes even greater unpredictability, especially for contingent worker.  Like learning to manage personal finances, individuals will need to learn how to successfully manage their work+life fit, and do it in a way that meets their needs and the needs of the business.

And, for policymakers, this transformation of organizations will force the rethinking of retirement, unemployment insurance, healthcare, employment taxes, and Social Security, just to name a few.  Organizations will step out of the role of providing these benefits to permanent employees and something needs to step into the void. 

Is the Shamrock Organization the answer?  I don’t know.  But what I do know is that the employment and organizational landscape that emerges from the recession will look different.  And I want to think about possible scenarios today, so that I have a better understanding about how we might need to adapt in order to not just survive, but thrive. 

As I continue my search for clues, I’m very interested in hearing your thoughts.  How do you think the recession will transform the organizational or work+life fit landscape?  And how do you think we all need to begin to prepare and adapt?

Fast Company: Make Downsizing Alternatives Part of a Broader Flexibility Strategy

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Thankfully, the call to reduce unemployment by rethinking traditional all-or-nothing downsizing is gaining traction. Hooray! According to recent articles in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Wharton’s Knowledge at Work, more experts and business leaders are recognizing something I’ve been saying since the summer which is that there are alternative, more flexible approaches to reducing overhead costs.  

What’s interesting is that few, if any, of the articles discuss these alternatives in the context of a comprehensive work+life flexibility strategy.  They are presented as isolated tactics, and not as part of a broader strategic use of flexibility in where, when and how work is done and life is managed.  This strategic application of flexibility allows organizations and individuals to adapt and respond to a broad range of business challenges and opportunities simultaneously.  Not just one. 

Flexible hours, reduced schedules, compressed workweeks, job sharing, flexible staffing, and telework can reduce layoffs, but they can also achieve other important goals at the same time.  Here’s an example of the targeted impacts that one organization expects from its work+life flexibility strategy:

Work Better/Smarter – Improve workflow planning and improve communication
Manage Talent—Reduce real estate costs; manage headcount but without layoffs
Reduce Costs—Control health care costs by lowering the level of stress
Individual Work+Life Fit—Help people manage their dependent care responsibilities, and retain pre-retirees
Customer/Client Service—Extend coverage beyond standard hours
Environmental Sustainability—Cut energy use by reducing unnecessary commuting

In other words, while this company uses flexibility to manage headcount and reduce layoffs, that same strategy is also: (click here for more)

Janet Napolitano, Ed Rendell, and Why We Need to Take “Life” Out of the Job Equation

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Last week, sexism, singleism, and workaholism came together to create a big post-balance era faux pas that reinforced why we must remove the often inaccurate judgments about a person’s personal life and responsibilities from the hiring process.  It started when Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell commented that his fellow governor, Janet Napolitano of Arizona, would be perfect in the role of Secretary of Homeland Security, “Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19-20 hours a day to it.”  Uh oh.

First, let’s look at how others interpreted Governor Rendell’s remarks.  What did they hear?  Not surprisingly, the same words were interpreted differently depending upon the work+life fit lens people were looking through.
For moms, like CNN’s Campbell Brown, Rendell’s words were sexist (or “mom”ist).  They meant that if Napolitano did have a family she couldn’t do the job, which is not only unfair but wrong.  The nomination of Sarah Palin for Vice President sparked a similar debate.

“Workplace discrimination against mothers and others based on family caregiving responsibilities is a rapidly growing problem,” notes the introduction from a new policy briefing released by the Sloan Work and Family Research Network and the Center for Work Life Law.  It is such a problem that there are new enforcement guidelines from the EEOC on caregiver discrimination and many states are considering legislation.  But, comments like Governor Rendell’s, however innocent, further reinforce the bias.
Another group, represented in a New York Times OpEd piece by Gail Collins, felt Rendell’s comments promoted “single”ism, or the assumption that because Janet Napolitano is single, she has no family and no life and therefore, can and wants to, work all of the time.
This is the other side of the sexism coin but is equally inaccurate.  In my work, I have found that single people have unique challenges that add an extra layer to their personal responsibilities.  They have to do all of their own errands, home maintenance, financial planning, shopping, etc, as well as care for parents, pets, and friends.  The belief that if you are single, you are all about work is completely untrue.
Now, let’s consider what Governor Rendell says he was trying to say.  In a nutshell, he was trying to say, “She’s a workaholic like me.”  According to Governor Rendell, he has no life.  And as far as he knows, Napolitano has no life because she has no family.  He believes that’s what’s required to be the Governor of Pennsylvania, or a Secretary of Homeland Security.
Now, I’ve been doing my job long enough to know that you can waste a lot of time trying to change someone who thinks that to do a good job you need to work all the time.  Some people work constantly out of a compulsion or the desire to work.  And most of them, like Ed Rendell, do believe it’s what’s required to do their job.  That’s fine, but it can’t be the bar against which we measure everyone else’s ability and effectiveness.  (See a recent article on “Surviving a Workaholic Spouse” in which I’m quoted)

Most jobs don’t require working all of the time to complete well.  I’ve met plenty of competent people with very demanding, highly-responsible jobs who work long hours but also feel it’s important to have relationships and interests outside of work.  In fact, most would argue it makes them better at their jobs.  (For more, see Stewart Friedman’s book, Total Leadership)
Maybe Governor Rendell’s definition of success is all work, all the time.  But it doesn’t have to be Janet Napolitano’s in order for her to be a Secretary of Homeland Security.
What lessons can we all learn from this seemingly accidental work+life fit faux pas? We need to update the way in which we interpret our own work+life fit choices and those of others.  We also need to take “life” out of the hiring equation.  When someone is being considered for a job the primary question for that person must be “can you perform the tasks and responsibilities required?” and not “How will he or she do the job given what I perceive to be his or her personal responsibilities?”   
Like Governor Rendell, we get into trouble applying simplistic, outdated paradigms to judge someone’s personal realities.  The truth is that few of us have work+life fit realities that fit neatly into any category.  My experience is that when we do try to guess or judge, we are usually wrong.  Keep it about the job.  Leave life out of it.

Fast Company–Recession Silver-Lining: No More Excuses Not to Make a Work+Life Fit Change

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By nature, I am a glass half-full person.  So even though there are many dark clouds hanging over this long and painful recession, I continue to look for the silver-linings.   And I believe this recession is going to force some people to finally find the work+life fit they really want. 

The other day I had lunch with Bob, the brother of a friend, to help him think through a difficult work+life fit decision.  A year ago, Bob negotiated that in January 2009 he would take a package and leave the job he’d held for 10 years with the same company.  While he had been very successful, a change in leadership and the sense he needed a new challenge made the package seem like a perfect segue into the next phase of his life.  Then the recession hit full-force, and now he is reconsidering. 

He doesn’t want his current job anymore and his employer wants him to stay.  They have offered him a few alternative jobs none of which are particularly appealing.  But Bob has a 15 year old going to college soon, and a large portion of his college fund as lost in the market downturn.  Bob is concerned that there won’t be any jobs out there, which is understandable given the unemployment figures. 

He’s stuck in an all-or-nothing quandary—do I stay and have salary, or do I leave and face a financially scary unknown.  This is where I come in.  We talked, and ultimately Bob realized that maybe there was a middle way work+life fit.  Here are some clues from our conversation that helped Bob begin to see the possibilities.

“They’ve offered me a lower level job I could do in my sleep.  It would give me money, and a lot of flexibility to investigate other opportunities, but my ego would take a big hit.”   Maybe Bob doesn’t have to quit.  He could try take this lower level job, do what he needed to do, but take advantage of the autonomy and flexibility to beginning setting up his next career move.  (Click here for more)

Keep Environmental Momentum Going in Recession with Work+Life Flex

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In August, my husband and I attended a speech given by Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist and author of the new book, “Hot, Flat and Crowded.”   While we have always been aware of the need to go green, we left his speech convinced of the dire consequences if individuals, businesses and governments don’t radically change the way we use our resources. 

One of the points Friedman emphasized was that for innovation in alternative energy sources to continue, the price of gas and other fuels needed to rise.  Otherwise, the economic return would not be enough to justify the increased costs for companies to invest in development.   At that time, gas was inching toward $4 a gallon, and the economic collapse seemed to be isolated and contained. 

Oh what a difference four months makes.  A recent article by Elizabeth Rosenthal in the New York Times confirmed my fears:  Economic Slump May Limit Moves on Clean Energy.  Because of the global economic downturn, doubts are growing about commitments to cap emissions or phase out polluting factories.   With gas at $2 a gallon, Americans will be less likely to stop driving their SUVs, and Europeans argue they can’t afford to address the financial crisis and reduce emissions. 

Let’s assume that 50% of the hot, flat and crowded future scenarios that Friedman presented in his lecture are valid.  We don’t have the luxury of putting our efforts to improve environmental sustainability on hold while we sort out our finances.  And the good news is that we don’t have to.  Unfortunately, none of the proposals related to reducing emissions that Rosenthal cited in the New York Times included the one strategy that will cost the least amount of money: increasing flexibility in where, when, and how work is done.  

Rosenthal wrote about the environmental proposal presented by President-elect Obama.  It called for “the country to build wind farms, and solar panels, fuel-efficient cars and alternative energy technologies.”  Nowhere did it mention reducing emissions and consumption of fossil fuels by implementing a broad-reaching work+life flexibility strategy.  So what would that look like?

I originally wrote about a national work+life flexibility strategy back in May 2008 in response to predictions that gas could reach $10 a gallon.  It’s an approach that would allow us to make progress on environmental sustainability without incurring the costs related to expensive carbon caps or factory conversions and closures:

There is one powerful solution that leaders could implement today.  It would have a guaranteed positive impact, not only on the environment but also on the people and organizations using it—work+life flexibility.  Isolated efforts have started such as the UK’s Work from Home Day on May 15th, Houston’s Flex in the City, and the state of Georgia letting employees work from home one day a week.  But to have a meaningful impact, it needs to be broader.  It needs to be national. Therefore, if I were the President of the United States, I would propose that starting June 1, 2008: 

1)  Everyone with a job that could be done from home would coordinate with their leader and team to determine one day of the week to telecommute.
Impact: Because people are still working full-time there would be no decrease in productivity, and fewer people commuting.   The group undress4success just released an interesting review of research on the estimated energy savings from telecommuting and it is truly astounding. 

2) Everyone who sets up a home office would be able to write off the cost on their taxes. 
Impact:  Shifting costs from the individual and employer to the government would provide a strong incentive to get the proper equipment for telecommuting.

3) For those who don’t have jobs that can be done remotely or who would prefer not to work from home (believe it or not there are many people for whom this is the case), set up three staggered shifts. This would reduce the number of people commuting at the same time.  These shifts could run from 5:00 am to 1:00 pm, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm; and then 2:00 pm to 10:00 pm.  As I have written before, there is no longer any reason we all need to commute at the same time (here).
Impact: Reduces energy consumed sitting in traffic; increases the efficient use of roads and public transportation by spreading it more evenly throughout the day; provides more global coverage across time zones for businesses, and allows people to work when they are at their best, e.g. morning people in the earliest shift, and night owls in the later shift.

Implementing strategic work+life flexibility will require organizations, leaders and individuals to fundamentally rethink the way they work, live, and manage their businesses.  As I have often written (here, here and here), the bottom-line payoffs go far beyond environmental sustainability, and are critical for not just surviving, but thriving during this economic downturn. 

As Thomas Friedman so clearly and eloquently points out, we can not let the challenges of this recession keep us from making headway with the environment.  If we do, the future will make what we are going through right now look like a vacation.  So, spread the word about work+life flexibility as a low-cost way to keep the environmental momentum going.

What do you think?  Do you hear people talking about work+life flexibility, or flexibility in where, when and how work is done, as part of a comprehensive approach to environmental sustainability?

Fast Company: Michelle Obama as Post-Balance Rorschach Test

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In September, I predicted, “Sarah Palin’s and Michelle Obama’s impact will be a subtle yet powerful shift away from the “balance” mindset and the “all or nothing” work life dichotomy that drew the battle lines of the unwinnable mommy wars.  They have the power to usher in the post-balance era of countless work life fit choices based upon our unique work and personal realities, and finally begin a productive discussion about the way work is done, life is managed, and business operates.” 

Now Barack Obama is the President-elect, and my prediction is coming true.  How we perceive Michelle Obama’s choices as she moves her family to Washington, and begins her new job as first lady is a rorschach test for our post-balance approach to managing work and life.  Most of us still think in outdated “all or nothing” terms, judging Michelle Obama’s choices from a simplistic viewpoint.  Consider the following myth-based responses: 

Myth #1: She’s being forced into a more “traditional” role

According to a recent article in the International Herald Tribune, “While Obama has publicly embraced her soon-to-be-assumed role as first lady many women remain deeply divided over whether she will become a groundbreaking pioneer, or a dispiriting symbol of the limitations of modern-day, working motherhood.”  Why does it have to be all or nothing, ground-breaking pioneer or dispirited symbol?  Because this is how we think, and in doing so, we label ourselves and others in ways that are often inaccurate.  Michelle Obama seems to understand.  She told the Washington Post, “My view on this stuff is I’m just trying to be myself, trying to be as authentic as I can be.  I can’t pretend to be someone else.” 

Like all of us, she is a complex individual whose choices aren’t going to “fit” neatly into any simple category.   I believe she’s going to be a ground-breaking pioneer, who will help us all envision unique possibilities of working and having a life. 

Myth #2: She has “sacrificed” her career, which women are expected to do (Click here to read more)