Posts Tagged “men”

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the language we use (e.g. “balance) and the beliefs we hold about the decisions we “should” or “can” make are often out of date.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.

6 Ways to Promote Work Flexibility Culture Change

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Our client, the professional services firm BDO, recently produced a short video about their award-winning approach to work and life flexibility.  Here are the six lessons every organization can takeaway from the clip to help better position flexible work as part of the culture, or the way the business and people operate every day:

Lesson 1: Language matters. BDO Flex is a “strategy.”  It’s about getting work done, serving clients, and managing people.  It’s not a program or policy.  There are policies to support various aspects of the strategy (e.g. compensation, telework equipment) but “flexibility” itself is not a policy.  There are programs that use BDO Flex, but “flexibility” is not a program.

Lesson 2: The employee AND the business must succeed for flexibility to work. All of the stories and key themes in the video reinforce the point of “dual” benefit and impact:

  • ReThink–The possibilities are endless
  • ReFresh–You work hard. Use Flex to recharge
  • ReDefine–Don’t accept business as usual
  • ReDiscover–Don’t lose sight of your dreams
  • ReAssure–Small changes can make a big impact

Lesson 3: Take the time and invest the resources to create a shared vision of success that anchors the strategy. It took months for the firm to create the “BDO Thrives on Flexibility” vision statement, but that process changed hearts and minds and created a shared understanding which moved the culture.

Lesson 4: Flexibility is not just about formal flexible work arrangements. It’s about both formal and informal, day-to-day flexibility in how, when and where you work and manage your life. It’s not an “arrangement,” but a well thought out plan tailored to meet your unique needs and the needs of the business.

Lesson 5: Men and women want and use work flexibility. Work flexibility is not a women’s issue.  It’s a strategy to help all people fit the unique pieces of their lives together in a competitive, hectic, global economy and for businesses to work smarter and better.

Lesson 6: Flexibility is not about child care only. Yes, parents absolutely need to work flexibly; however, as the video shows so do employees who have spouses who relocate, who have a passion for ballroom dancing or cartoon drawing, and who want to stay healthy.  And it’s for leaders who want to reduce the level of employee burnout and service clients better.

What other lessons did you learn from watching how one organization is talking about and positioning strategic flexibility in their business?  What is your organization doing?

If you haven’t already, I invite you to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost!

Where are Men in the Work/Life Conversation? They’re Starting to Arrive

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(This post originally appeared in FastCompany.com)

A couple of months ago, Selena Rezvani, author of The Next Generation Women Leaders, wrote an article in The Washington Post entitled “Where are the Men in the Work/Life Conversation?” I’ve grappled with this question for more than 15 years as I helped companies rethink inflexible ways of working so that everyone (not just women) could optimize his or her work+life fit.

But, I decided it would be more interesting to ask a man to share his insights.

Immediately, I thought of Dan Mulhern, whose moving and powerful letter to his 13 year old, Jack, “How to Be a Real Man” was published in last week’s Newsweek. It’s a must-read for anyone who’s raising the next generation of men.

Professionally, Mulhern writes, speaks, coaches and consults to help people” lead with their best self.” He’s authored two books on leadership and writes a weekly e-column called “Reading for Leading.” (sign up at www.danmulhern.com). Personally, Dan shifted from a 50-50 sharing arrangement to the lead parent role in 1998 when his wife Jennifer Granholm was elected Michigan’s first female attorney general and subsequently served two terms as governor. Their daughters were 8 and 7 years old, and son Jack was not quite a year old at the time of Jennifer’s first election.

Drawing upon his professional and personal experience, here’s what Dan Mulhern had to say about men and the work+life conversation.

Cali Yost: Welcome Dan. So how do you answer the question, “Where are the men in the work/life conversation?

Dan Mulhern: I think they are increasingly in the conversation. We are at a tipping point with a rash of articles about men, work and their lives. I think there’s a multi-level conversation about what is happening to men more broadly.

For a strong contingent of these men this is a really great opportunity especially for young fathers like Tom Matlack and The Good Men Project. I feel part of that group and it’s a huge celebration. For another group of people, it’s more of a reaction to a world that’s changed. When my wife burst into her new role (Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan), in a sense I had to change for her welfare, our family’s welfare.

Men have not been socialized to have these conversations about our work and other parts of our lives. These men who have chosen it are saying “Let’s talk about it. It’s cool.” But the other men are being swept along, less by choice.

Cali Yost: You’ve recently participated in a study of new fathers with the Boston College Center for Work and Family. What does that research tell us? What are the implications for men?

The Boston College Center for Work and Family New Dad Study confirmed two old findings and unearthed one new finding:

  1. There is a lingering pro-male bias, in the sense that people treated men as more mature and seasoned when they had children versus women who felt professionally penalized. Men felt propelled into adulthood, whereas, for women this new phase brought a lot of anxiety about their role and work commitment, and
  2. The new fathers really didn’t think about being the main caretaker. Out of the 32 study participants, only two new fathers gave serious thought to taking on primary role.

So Gen Y fathers are not that different from those two perspectives. But what was really clear and new with this generation is that men really want to be involved and part of the conversation.

Cali Yost: The National Study of the Changing Workforce reported that men had higher levels of work+life stress than women. I have found that to hold true in my work with companies. Yet, work+life is still entrenched as a “women’s issue.” What do you think will finally change this?

Dan Mulhern: There’s a triangle of influence that’s important if we want to make that change and involve men in companies. First, a male senior leader needs to speak openly and encourage the conversation. Second, a man has to be brave enough to say something about what he needs. And then, third, the managerial conversation with that employee is critical. Emphasis on the conversation including men up and down all levels of the organization is key.

I also think men need to be willing to talk about the issue honestly and openly. I have a friend who used to ask me to play golf and I had to say “no” because of taking care of kids. He would respond, “Your priorities are all right.”

His interest in my choices made a difference, because it’s not the same when women would tell me “You’re so great for taking care of your kids.” That seemed somewhat matronizing (like patronizing). I equate it to what it must feel like if you are a beautiful woman who completes an engineering project and a bunch of guys say, ‘You’re so smart.” Well, what did you think of me before?

Those conversations for me are important. Jennifer and I talked for years that this time would be “my time” after her term as governor ended. But instead I’ve found that I’ve really exalted in my family. I appreciate reading about other men who are also excited about their families on the Good Men Project. You don’t feel like the only one. What’s going to change the reality is men talking.

Cali Yost: What are the key changes related to men and work+life you’re trying to drive with your work?

Dan Mulhern:

  1. Help to make talk about what’s going on in work and life amongst men normal and safe. There’s never been a legal prohibition that’s kept men from being a primary parent. It was all internal. You didn’t show feelings, emotions unless they were manly feelings. Talk is the most liberating thing.
  2. In terms of who does what in parenting, we need to move away from gender and biology as the determinant toward competency and passion. In other words, each partner does what they like and are good at regardless of gender or biology.

The first two points are inter-related because if it’s not okay amongst men to talk about how you like to be with your kids then we won’t be able to accomplish the second goal.

I think that so many artificial barriers have already come down or will come down. We created a divide between life and work over the last 100 years. Farmers didn’t have a divide. There should be a real questioning in the work life movement of work life boundaries.

Sons and daughters benefit from seeing both parents working. The conversations with our son, Jack, are very different and that will create the change.

Cali Yost: Thank you, Dan. I knew you’d have wise insights into the question “where are men in the work/life conversation? The answer I hear is that they’re starting to arrive. And that’s good for all of us!