Posts Tagged “work life flexibility”

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!

It’s Official–U.S. Department of Labor Advocates Work Life “Fit”

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There have been many noteworthy milestones during my decade-long  Work+Life “Fit” ® campaign.  But one of the highlights happened last Thursday when U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis used the term “work+life fit” a number of times in her keynote address at the Department of Labor Women’s Bureau Conference in California.  Here’s an example:

“Employers need to know that there are tools out there…It’s a balance, having that competitive edge and work-life fit.”    Yup, (emphasis mine).

This particular forum highlighted the unique flexibility needs of low wage workers to manage their work and life.  Her use of the term is exciting because, as I’ve noted before, “fit” makes a big, meaningful difference.  The language allows us escape the innovation-killing “10 Tyrannies of Work/Life Balance,” which are:

  • Balance is always discussed in the negative-what you “don’t” have.
  • Balance keeps you focused on the problem, not the solution.
  • Balance assumes we’re all the same.
  • Balance infers that there is a “right” answer.
  • Balance leads us to judge others (and ourselves), often unfairly.
  • Balance results in unproductive guilt.
  • Balance suggests that the goal is an impossible 50-50 split between work and the other parts of your life.
  • Balance leaves no room for periods where there’s more work and less life, and vice versa.
  • Balance ignores the fact that work and life are constantly changing, and
  • Balance will never be taken seriously by corporate leaders, who only hear “work less” when you say “balance.

And embrace new possibilities because with “work+life fit” we:

  • Focus what we could have.
  • See solutions.
  • Know we’re all different.
  • Realize there’s no right answer.
  • Stop judging yourself and others, harshly.
  • Lose the guilt.
  • Embrace and plan for the ebb and flow of work and life, and
  • Increase the likelihood that corporate leaders will support the need to flexibly manage work and life better and smarter.

This is particularly important when addressing the flexibility needs of low wage workers.  Their work+life fit realities, and therefore, the solutions that will work for them and their employers are different from salaried or exempt employees.  The report that outlines those specific solutions, “Flexible Workplace Solutions for Low-Wage Hourly Workers” by Workplace Flexibility 2010 and the Institute for Workplace Innovation, will be released in March, 2011.

So welcome to the “work+life fit” club, Secretary Solis!  It’s nice to have you onboard.  After I finish this post, I’ll put a copy of my book, “Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You (Riverhead/Penguin Group)” in the mail so you can see that indeed the tools do exist and have existed for years.  The book, which was published in 2004, outlines the steps that individuals need follow in order to meet their employers halfway and use flexibility to find a fit that’s a win-win for everyone.

Now, if we could just get the President and First Lady Michelle Obama to join in…Imagine!

Related post of highlights from Pasadena DOL conference: “Gaining a Competitive Edge in the Global Economy–Using Flexibility with Hourly Workers in Healthcare” from Corporate Voices.

For more on work+life “fit” and strategic flexibility, I invite you to also visit my FastCompany, as well as join me on Twitter @caliyost.

Fast Company: “Help,” “Thank You,” and “Reach”–My Three Words for 2010 (What are yours?)

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My first post of the year was going to be my predictions for 2010.  But prognostication is a tricky business, especially this year when so many variables are in flux.   I decided to take another tack and focus on what I could control—my actions.   Specifically, what actions in 2010 that would achieve the results I wanted to see personally, professionally and culturally?  Even more specifically, what three words best embodied those conscious actions?

Three words?  My inspiration for this word-based approach came first from Seth Godin’s recently released free e-book, “What Matters Now.” It is a compilation of 50+ experts from a variety of industries and disciplines musing on a single word that’s important to them.  Then, I came across Chris Brogan’s “My 3 Words for 2010” blog post.  It turns out he has been picking three words to guide his efforts for the coming year since 2006 and has found it very powerful.

Following their lead, my three guiding words for 2010 are “Help,” “Thank You” and “Reach.”

“Help”…Preemptively

I’ve always tried to be helpful, but honestly my helpfulness was, more often than not, reactive.  If someone said they needed help, I would readily provide it.   Then, last year I began to wonder, “What if I offered my assistance proactively, before people asked?”  It started with Jonathan Fields, a career author/blogger, who signs on to his Twitter account (@jonathanfields) everyday, “Morning, great people!  Who can I help today?”

Even though I’d never met Fields, who is a “Dad, husband, author of Career Renegade, lifestyle entrepreneur, marketer, and blogger,” when his question popped up on my Twitterfeed each morning, I found it made me think differently about my day.   I’d ponder for a moment, “Yeah, who could I help?”

Then I turned thought into action.  I began to test “preemptive” helping.  Most people responded to my unsolicited offers of help with surprise and, “Thank you so much.  I can’t think of anything right now but I will let you know.”  I realized that unprompted, sincere offers of help are so rare that they caught people off guard.  But it felt great to ask, so I decided to continue, “How can I help you?”

I didn’t appreciate the lasting impact of this simple question until my friend, the Authentic Organizations management expert, CV Harquail told me what happened after I asked her, “How can I help?” a couple of months earlier.

Because CV is not only smart but very generous, it was easy at the end of our lunch two months prior to say, “How can I help you?”  While clearly surprised, she thoughtfully considered my offer and asked for my input on a couple of issues.  She thanked me.  I loved our conversation, but didn’t give it much further thought.   However, to CV, my question had become, “Cali’s killer question” (not realizing at the time that Jonathan Fields was the original inspiration).

It turns out that after our lunch, CV decided she would begin to ask others, “How can I help you?” because it had meant so much to her.   But she wasn’t prepared for the intense reaction she experienced after posing the question to a longtime colleague whom she hadn’t seen in awhile.  Toward the end of their visit, she said to him, “How can I help you?”  As she recounted to me, “He stopped.  You could tell he was shocked.  And then he began to tear up and said, ‘No one ever asks that question.’  He was visibly moved and stunned by my offer.”

I’m not the only one motivated by Jonathan Fields’ daily offering of service on Twitter.   Alexandra Levit, author and Wall Street Journal columnist wrote a piece entitled “A Habit of Generosity,” mentioning the power of Fields’ daily missive.  I couldn’t help but wonder what the world would be like if all of us started our day by asking how we can be of assistance.   Perhaps grown, successful businessmen would no longer be brought to tears by the simple question, “How can I help?”

So, wonderful readers, “How can I help you?” in 2010?  I really want to know.

“Thank You”…Concretely and “Reach”…Widely (Click here for more)

Where’s Work+Life Flex on SHRM’s National Conference Agenda? Essentially Missing.

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The other day the Society for Human Resource Management’s national conference brochure arrived.  I opened the front cover and read:

“…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”

“Great,” I thought, “I wonder who’s presenting on work+life flexibility as a powerful strategy to help organizations and individuals tackle these challenges and opportunities.”  Given the broad business impacts of strategic flexibility it made sense that it would have prominent placement in the program.

So I looked through the printed conference brochure.  Workplace flexibility.  Nothing.  Work-life flexibility.  Nothing.  Work flexibility, or perhaps Flexible Work Arrangements.  Nothing.  I was confused.

Let’s go to the computer.  Maybe it’s mentioned online in the more detailed conference agenda.   I started with the large, plenary or “Mega” sessions.  Hmmm, nothing again.  Even in the mega sessions that cover issues where flexibility is very relevant–engagement, HR trends, leadership, retention, wellness, change management, motivation and balance—it is not mentioned …. Keep looking.

Go to the concurrent sessions.  Searching…Searching…Searching.  Finally, buried in over 100 concurrent sessions held across three days, I found one presentation that specifically discusses flexibility.  It’s under the International HR section and is entitled, “ Flexible Work Arrangements to Promote Organizational Diversity,” or how the increased use of flexible work arrangements expanded the talent pool in India.  Okay, one is better than none, but that’s it.

What’s going on?  Some may argue, “But, Cali, you aren’t counting the two concurrent presentations in the Employment Law and Legislation sessions that deal with caregiver discrimination and FMLA Jeopardy.”  No, because that’s not what I was looking for.  I was searching for the inclusion of work+life flexibility in the broader discussions of how companies and people will thrive and compete in a post-recession landscape.

For work+life flexibility to become part of a business’ day-to-day operating model, Human Resources can’t be the sole owner and advocate.  A majority of the top 100 CFOs interviewed for a survey that we co-sponsored with BDO Seidman in March, 2008 concurred.  They believed that direct line involvement was necessary for flexibility to succeed.

That being said, HR is a critical partner in the development, implementation and execution of a flexibility strategy.  It is often the first place that the need hits the radar screen as a solution to address talent and employee work+life fit issues.  HR is a critical entry point for the discussion of the broader strategic applications within the business.  This is why the fact that there was only one presentation specifically discussing flexibility buried deep in the concurrent sessions of the national conference the Society for Human Resource Management gives me pause.

It doesn’t bode well for increasing the effectiveness of work+life flexibility inside of organizations.   In other words, many organizations have formal flexible work arrangement policies, but flexibility isn’t an effective part of the way the business and its people operate day-to-day.  This is unfortunate because flexibility in how, when and where work is done and life is managed is more important than ever.

Moving beyond confusion and shock, I began to ponder why work+life flexibility had such a minor role in the SHRM conference agenda?   Here are some of my hypotheses.  Please feel free to chime in and share yours:

  1. SHRM doesn’t think it is important. (I find that hard to believe, especially since in May,2009 SHRM released an entire policy statement on flexible work arrangements).
  2. SHRM thinks it’s important, but only enough to warrant one concurrent session solely focused on talent applications. (Again, I find this hard to believe but perhaps SHRM doesn’t see or understand the direct strategic relevance beyond a programmatic or legal application even though flexibility does directly address most if not all of the critical issues targeted in the agenda).
  3. SHRM thinks flexibility is important, but doesn’t really know what more can be done beyond the policy, program and benefit implementation of formal flexible work arrangements and government mandated regulations. (This is the theory that makes the most sense to me.  It is a matter of mindset and perspective.  If SHRM doesn’t think flexibility is part of the strategic conversation related to engagement, creating great workplaces, leadership, retention, change, global talent, and motivation, what more is there to do beyond implementing a policy and understanding the legal issues? )

But that’s just it, there is still so much to be done to move flexibility from a “nice to have” policy or program to a core strategic lever. This is why its exclusion from the SHRM conference agenda is a disappointing missed opportunity.  HR professionals won’t leave the conference:

  • Understanding how to make the business case for greater flexibility to their line leadership.
  • Knowing how to support and promote broader change management efforts necessary to make flexibility part of the operating model.
  • Prepared help leaders and employees understand their roles in creating win-win innovative solutions able to respond to changes in market climate, and
  • Able to articulate how the strategic, business-based application of flexibility can help their organizations and employees successfully manage the challenges and opportunities in today’s rapidly changing marketplace.

Do you think work+life flexibility should be more prominently featured in the SHRM conference agenda?  Why do you think it’s not?  What do you think this missed opportunity means for the advancement of strategic flexibility inside of organizations?

Fast Company: Health Care Reform and Budget Cuts Put Future Elder Care on Your Radar Screen…Now More Than Ever

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We spent Thanksgiving with my cousin and her husband, who is moving into the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s.  Over three days, I watched in awe as she patiently and lovingly cared for her partner of 23 years even though most of the time he didn’t recognize where he was or whom he was with.

Over the past few years as his disease has advanced, my cousin has worked full-time and cared for him at home.  She’s done this with the help of a  group of outside caregivers, but at great cost.  Right now their hours are 8:00 to 5:30 pm everyday, which costs her $800 per week, after taxes.

Fortunately (if you can call any part of this story fortunate), because he is fifteen years older and had already retired, his pension covers most of the costs.  But she must work to pay for everything else.  No one knows how long this situation could continue and she wants to keep him at home as long as possible.  Although he is severely impaired cognitively, he’s in great health physically.  She must earn a living, plus work reenergizes her. It gives her the deep reserve of patience and understanding that caring for him requires.

As the debate regarding health care reform rages on, and state budget crises make headlines, I often think about my cousin and the millions of other caregivers who currently or will care for an adult family member.  Why?  Because the outcome of these challenges will profoundly affect access to the already minimal level of affordable elder care support that exists.  No one seems to be talking about it, and we need to.

Over the years, I’ve blogged about my personal, eye-opening experiences with elder care, as well as the realities of others.  I come back to the same questions I originally asked in a post I wrote in July, 2008 about caregiving-gone-very-wrong,“Heartbreaking Reminder—There’s No Elder care:”

Over the years when I’ve brought up the challenges facing parents trying to find child care, more than a few people have commented, “Well, if you can’t care for your kids don’t have them.”  Okay, let’s assume for a minute that argument has merit (which I don’t think it does) and explains why child care should be the problem of individual parents rather than the broader community.  How does that argument hold for elder  care?  “Well, if you can’t care for your parents don’t have them?”  We don’t have any choice in having parents.  We all have them.  And increasingly the responsibility to care for an ever-growing number of aging adults is going to fall to all of us.  Where are we going to turn for support and help so that we don’t find ourselves making the same misguided, perhaps desperate choices as Theodore Pressman?

Are we as a country and as individuals prepared for the reality of elder care?  Do we truly understand how little support is out there, and are we planning accordingly?

I wrote that post just before the worst of the financial crisis began to challenge already strapped state Medicare and Medicaid budgets.  At the time, I’d asked an elder care expert where she thought the support would come from and how it would be paid for.  She responded without missing a beat, “Medicare.  We’ll demand it.”  Well, we can demand all we want.  But you can’t get blood from a stone.  A recent story in The Washington Post reports many states are already cutting the daily reimbursement rates for adult day-care centers.  These are critical, relatively affordable supports for individuals who are providing elder care at home but need to work.

What should we be doing?  Here are a few thoughts, but I very much welcome the insights of my colleagues who specialize in elder care related issues, so please comment: (Click here for more)

Work+Life “Fit” Tipping Point

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It’s been a big two weeks for the term work+life “fit,” a more flexible and expansive way to think and talk about work and life.  For over ten years, in my consulting, speeches, blogging, and book, Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You (Riverhead, 2004), I’ve diligently explained the concept of “fit” to all who would listen.  So, imagine the sense of validation and excitement when recently:

With these two research powerhouses joining the effort to shift the way we think and talk about work and life toward “fit,” we may be approaching a critical tipping point.  To explain why this is so important, here are some key milestones, or “ah-has,” from my work with business leaders, managers and individuals that led me to understand the power behind this change in language and mindset:

Ah-Ha #1Business leaders can get behind work+life “fit,” whereas they glaze over when they hear “balance.” I found that whenever I explained the broad impacts of strategic work+life flexibility to a business leader, his or her eyes would physically glaze over at employee work-life balance.  Finally out of frustration, I began to ask what caused this reaction.  A few brave souls confessed, “All I hear when you say balance, is work less.  And we can’t afford to have everyone work less.”

While I knew I wasn’t saying, “Everyone will work less,” that’s what they were hearing.  So I began to consider different ways to articulate the impact of flexibility on employee work+life reality.   How could I explain that in some cases, yes, it’s about working less, but mostly it means working differently, more flexibly, smarter and better?

After numerous failed attempts, one day I heard myself say in a meeting, “It’s about helping everyone in this organization–including you—manage their unique work+life fit.  And doing it in a way that meets the needs of the individual and the business.”  Jackpot!  Instead of visibly shutting down, the business leader got it.  Not only did he get it, but he began to share what his work+life fit looked like.  And he acknowledged that indeed his work and personal realities were unique and very different from many people in his organization.  He began to see why greater flexibility in work and careers was a strategic imperative.

With the shift to “fit,” the innovation and problem-solving continue.  The conversation doesn’t shutdown.    Leaders can better understand that one of the goals of strategic work+life flexibility is for all of the different work+life “fit” realities to coexist in their organization as effectively and productively as possible in good times and bad…including their own.

Ah-Ha #2To most people, balance” was a deficit model, or that-thing-no-one-has.  This made it almost impossible to find solutions. Here’s a perfect illustration.  At the beginning of a speech, I asked those who had work-life balance to raise their hands.  Approximately 10% of the group held their hands up. Then I said, “Keep your hand up if you’ve maintained that balance for an extended period of time.”  About 1% of the hands remained in the air.  By the end of the speech after I’d introduced the work+life fit process, I asked “How many of you now think it’s feasible to find a better work+life fit?”  Almost every hand in the room went up.  Shifting to “fit” unearths the possibilities.

Ah-Ha #3If there’s no right answer then there’s no judgment, only the “fit” that meets the needs of the individual and the business.  The result is more flexible innovation that works for all parties. One of the roadblocks I consistently ran into was people thinking there was a “right way” to manage their work and life. That there was a specific answer or “balance.”  Not only did this rigid, all-or-nothing thinking limit possibilities, but it resulted in unhelpful, often harsh, judgment of themselves and others (a la, the mommy wars.)

With “fit” there is less judgment and more creative problem solving because there is no right way to do it.  Everyone’s individual work+life fit changes daily along with personal and business circumstances.  It also resets at key milestones like finding a partner, having a child, caring for a sick parent, starting a business, getting laid off, accepting a promotion and/or retiring.  I have never heard the same work+life fit reality twice.  The focus becomes how do we flexibly adjust work, life and business to find a “fit” that is mutually-beneficial to the individual and the employer.   Not who’s right, and who’s wrong.  But what works.

Those are just a few of countless “ah-has” I’ve experienced over the years that reaffirm the need to shift our language and mindset.  We need to account for the flexible, ever-changing “fit” between work and life, especially in the new work+life flex normal.  Yes, a decade later, the work+life “fit” tipping point may have arrived.    Thanks to FWI and Phyllis Moen for adding their influential voices and unique perspectives of “fit.”  What about you?

Fast Company: 5 Lessons from CFOs–How to Make Flex Biz Strategy, Not Perk/Benefit

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We know that the HR community recognizes the importance of work+life flexibility, but what about the people who drive the financial decisions, and write the checks.  Is work+life flexibility on the radar screen of CFOs?  Is it a core strategic lever for responding rapidly to unexpected economic challenges, and for addressing future trends well in advance?  If not, why and how can that change?

To answer these questions, Work+Life Fit, Inc. partnered with BDO Seidman LLP to co-sponsor the first ever CFO Perspectives on Work-Life Flexibility study.  This national telephone survey of a random sample of 100 top CFOs at companies with at least 5,000 employees was conducted by an independent research firm in May, 2008.  I’m so pleased that the peer reviewed World at Work Journal chose to publish the article I wrote about the results and their implications entitled, “CFOs See Business Impacts of Work-Life Flexibility, But They Can’t Execute for Strategic Benefit,” in the most recent issue.

The publication of the article and the important insights the CFOs offered couldn’t come at a better time.  Eighteen months ago global corporate line leadership had a chance to use a broad range of work+life flexibility strategies to respond to the brewing economic crisis, and for the most part they didn’t.  Early on, they missed the opportunity to consider how they could reduce costs and sustain revenue by being more flexible in where, when and how the business and employees operated.  Specifically, they overlooked how to use a combination of flexible scheduling, compressed workweeks, furloughs, sabbaticals, telecommuting, reduced schedules, and job sharing to help employees become more productive, reduce labor costs while minimizing layoffs, cut real estate overhead, lower operating expenses, as well as improve and expand customer service.  This was a costly and unnecessary oversight that we can’t afford to repeat.

The key findings from the CFO survey outlined in the World at Work Journal article offer guidance into what we can leverage and do differently to make work+life flexibility a more integral part of both the short-term and long-term decision-making process:  (Click here for more)

Grey’s Anatomy’s Dr. Bailey Pulls into the “Slower Lane,” (and I missed Michelle Obama)

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One of the keys to actively managing your work+life fit is flexibly redefining success.  Think of your work+life fit as a highway.  Too many of us see only the fast lane or a stop at the side of the road.  But the truth is there are three options—a fast lane, stop at the side of the road, and a “slower” lane.  The countless work+life fit possibilities involve moving back and forth across all lanes over the course of a flexible career between the fast lane and the slower lane, and sometimes pulling off the road for awhile.  We all know about the fast track, and about taking a break.  But we don’t hear much about what it means to move into the slower lane.  What does it look like?  How do you do it?

Notice I didn’t say “slow” lane, because no self-respecting high-achiever ever wants to admit to being in the slow lane.  But the slower lane…perhaps.   In theory, it may not sound bad at all, until you look back over into the fast lane.  What’s happening?  Someone is passing you by.  That can be very difficult.  But sometimes we have no choice.

The all or nothing, all work or no work, fast lane/stop at the side of the road mentality doesn’t reflect today’s work+life fit reality especially in this economy.  As we found in the 2009 Work+Life Fit Reality Check, a majority said they are less likely to leave the workforce to care for children or aging parents, and a majority now plan to do some type of paid work in retirement.  Taken together, we have to honestly examine what a shift into the “slower” lane involves, since it will mean something different for each of us.

Grey’s Anatomy’s Dr. Miranda Bailey Painfully Redefines Success…

The season finale of Grey’s Anatomy unexpectedly granted my wish for more examples of shifts into the slower lane.  Chief Resident, Dr. Miranda Bailey made the painful move out of the fast lane by turning down a prestigious fellowship for the less demanding position of general surgeon.  This well written and acted episode accurately depicted the conflicting considerations and emotions behind her decision.

For those of you who are not Grey’s Anatomy fans, here’s Dr. Bailey’s backstory:  Season after season, Dr. Bailey continued her determined ascent up the ladder.  She overcame professional setbacks, even if that meant periodically showing up at the hospital with her young son, William, in tow.  Although her marriage to her husband Tucker struggled, it had seemed to be back on track.

As Chief Resident, she had to choose an area of specialization.  While she liked general surgery, midway through the season it seemed she’d found her true passion as a pediatric surgeon.  She began to pursue a prestigious fellowship for two additional years of training, which would keep her in the fast lane.

But when Dr. Bailey receives the news she’d won the fellowship, she goes to the hospital’s Chief of Staff, Dr. Richard Webber. She asks him if there is still an opening for her as a general surgeon.  He says there is but admits he’s confused.  He’d supported her for the fellowship because he thought it was what she wanted, and with that she confesses, “It is, but Tucker said if I took the fellowship our marriage was over.  I need the consistency of a general surgeon’s schedule to be home at night as much as possible.”  She goes on to say that she’s decided to leave her husband anyway because that’s no way to have a marriage, and she catches her breath as she concludes, “I am now a single mother, and need to be home for my son…”

And then there’s the reaction of Dr. Arizona Robbins, the doctor who sponsored her, “You don’t turn down a fellowship like this!” Her response symbolizes the toughest part of pulling into the slower lane–the outside voices telling you what you “should,” “ought,” and “can’t” do.

So how does being a general surgeon put you in the slower lane?”  For Dr. Bailey, turning down that fellowship meant she had to redefine success.  She settled for a position she enjoys and will give her the work+life fit she needs right now, but it isn’t her passion and doesn’t have the same prestige.   To her mind and perhaps in the minds of her colleagues, Miranda Bailey is in the slower lane.

How I missed seeing Michelle Obama speak….

Actively managing your work+life fit and consciously redefining success doesn’t just happen at major life reset points, like a divorce or potential promotion.  It’s something we do on a daily basis, and it never gets easier…even for me.

The last three weeks my schedule has included more than the usual amount of travel (thus, the light blogging).  When I committed to the opportunities that took me to Boston, Chicago and then Lexington, Kentucky I knew there would be very little room for any last minute additions to my work+life fit—personal or professional.  Then I got an invitation to attend the Corporate Voices for Working Families conference in Washington DC.

The conference sounded wonderful, and I knew many of my favorite work+life industry colleagues would be there.  But looking at my calendar I saw that if I attended the conference I would have to fly from Chicago to Washington and be away for the last two days of my older daughter’s statewide standardized tests.  Because these tests partially influence her placement in Junior High School next year, she was more nervous than usual.  So I declined the conference invitation in order to be home.

I was disappointed, but happy with my decision, until the first day of the conference when I received an email from one of the attendees telling me about Michelle Obama’s fabulous speech! Michelle Obama?! Yes, Michelle Obama delivered an unannounced speech at the conference that I had consciously chosen not to attend!  (Click here to read the post by Ellen Galinsky of Families and Work Institute about her meeting with the First Lady).

I spent the rest of the day reading articles and blog posts about her speech.   I found myself thinking of what it must have been like for my “fast lane” colleagues who attended the conference to hear her speak about a subject many of us have spent more than 15 years studying and promoting.   Had I missed a once in a lifetime opportunity?  What had I done?  But all of my doubts were erased when I put my daughter to bed that night and she said, “Mom thanks for being here.  It made me feel better in my tests.”  I’d said no to the conference, pulled into the slower lane, missed Michelle Obama, and made the right decision.

Maybe I’ll see Michelle Obama another time, and maybe Dr. Miranda Bailey will get that fellowship in a couple of years.  But we both actively managed our work+life fit and redefined success in a way that worked best for us, for our jobs and our personal realities at a given point in time.  There’s no right answer.  Today, we pulled into the “slower” lane, as we defined it.  The next time the decision may be to put our blinker on and pull back into the fast lane again.  It’s not all or nothing…as hard as that may be sometimes.

How many lanes are in your work+life fit highway?  Have you even pulled into the slower lane as you define it, either by choice or circumstance?  What did that look like and what did it involve?

Fast Company: Time to Move from “If” Flex to “How” and “Why” Flex…

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Over the past two weeks since we released the thought-provoking results of the 2009 Work+Life Fit Reality Check, I’ve been asked by a number of people what I think the findings mean.  To me, the results confirm that it’s time, once and for all, to move the conversation from “If work life flexibility exists,” to answering the questions:

  • How to make it really work for everyone, individuals and employers, in boom and doom periods and
  • Why flexibility is important for both employee work+life fit but also the day-to-day operation of the business.

Before we move forward, it’s important to note that these results are based on a telephone survey of 757 full-time employed adults, sponsored by Work+Life Fit, Inc. and conducted by Opinion Research Corporation.  With a margin of error of +/- 4 percent, this means that 95 out of 100 times the results would be within the +/- 4% if the total population were interviewed.

Flexibility in How, When and Where Work is Done is Here to Stay—“If” Flex is no longer the question

  • 98% of respondents indicated they currently have work life flexibility.
  • 81% of respondents indicated the amount of flexibility they currently have either increased or stayed the same from this time last year.
  • 85% said the flexibility opportunities at their company either increased or stayed the same last year.
  • 85% reported there was either an increase or no change in the likelihood they would use work life flexibility with the increase in the amount of layoffs at companies.

As Kathie Lingle, Executive Director of Alliance for Work-Life Progress commented in response to these findings, “Workplace flexibility has repeatedly demonstrated a remarkably tenacious streak during previous economic downturns. Erroneously labeled ‘soft’ by the uninformed, flexibility practices appear to be holding their own in these particularly tough times.  Flexibility requires little to no monetary investment because at its core, it’s a management philosophy.  It may morph and adapt, but it will most definitely survive.”

Understandably, these findings about the resilience of flexibility are somewhat counter-intuitive in the face of the worst recession in a lifetime. I have heard , “I find those results hard to believe given that we are hearing anecdotally that people are afraid to ask for anything.”  Let’s think about how we defined work life flexibility in the survey: “Having flexibility in when, where and how you work.  It allows you to flexibly allocate time and energy between your work life and personal life.”

To me this says that people do have flexibility, but perhaps it’s not exactly the flexibility they would want (we will talk more about this in a minute).  For example, someone may want to reduce their schedule, and they haven’t pursued it, but they do have day-to-day flexibility or the ability to telecommute…(Click here for more)

Work+Life Flexibility Crossroads—Will We Go Forward or Backward?

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In February, 2008, as the recession clouds started to gather, I posted a prediction of what would happen to work life flexibility when the storm broke.  I knew we’d arrived at the crossroad I envisioned last February, when I read this week’s Washington Post article, “As Cuts Loom, Will Working From Home Lead to a Layoff?”  The experts, employees, and managers interviewed (as well as people commenting online) recognize and express the knee-jerk response I feared then, “Forget flexibility, people are just luck to have jobs.” 

The question becomes whether this backward-looking response will prevail, or will the wisdom of the organizations that recognize there’s no going back on workplace flexibility if their businesses and the people who work for them are to succeed?  Instead of a “policy,” “benefit,” “program,” or “arrangement” reserved for good times,  will flexibility take its rightful place as a way of operating, as part of the culture and core strategy?  For more information on what using work+life flexibility as a business strategy means, check out video highlights from speeches I gave recently on the subject. 

In a nutshell, flexibility helps an organization manage costs and resources (e.g. real estate), service clients, helps employees manage their work+life fit, improves environmental sustainability and creates an environment of innovation:

  • Many companies are actively using flexibility to reduce labor costs and minimize layoffs in the recession.  And, as CV Harquail points out in the Authentic Organizations blog, there are important leadership opportunities in flexible alternatives to layoffs that go beyond the labor cost savings. 
  • Just this week I learned that Johnson Space Center incorporates work+life fit into their Inclusion and Innovation Initiative.
  • Astellas Pharma reduced employee schedules on Friday without reducing salaries so they can have a better “balance.” 

Not every organization is turning back the clock to 1985.  Many are moving flexibly into 2009 and beyond.  As we decide which path to take—to go forward or go back—here’s my Fastcompany.com post from February 1, 2008 that outlines the choices.  There’s still time. 

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been repeatedly asked: “What do you think will happen to work+life fit and flexibility if the economy experiences a recession?”

I think two things will happen. Unfortunately, too many leaders and organizations will default to a shortsighted fall back position, “Forget flexibility. People are just lucky to have jobs.” But the smart leaders and organizations won’t. They will continue to move forward integrating flexibility into the way they do business because they understand that there is no turning back. To use a recession as an excuse to stop developing news ways of flexibly managing work and life will only put them further behind in terms of growth potential when a recession ends.

What do these smart leaders and organizations know that the less enlightened overlook? They understand that flexibility is key to their businesses success in a 24/7, high tech, global work reality. They know that:

Even in a recession talent will still be a scare commodity (see the results from PriceWaterhouse Cooper’s recent Global CEO Survey). If organizations hope to hold on to valuable talent (especially employees under the age of 30) once a recession ends they better do all they can now to win employee loyalty and be the employer of choice. And finding a better work+life fit is very important to a majority of the workforce. As a leader in a professional services firm recently said to me, “Back in 1975, there were 30 resumes for every job. Now there are 10 jobs for every qualified resume.” That ratio isn’t going to change drastically with a recession (Update: I obviously didn’t foresee the growth in layoffs as the recession unfolded. I would have moved the last two bullets up to the beginning);

You can’t effectively service global clients and manage global teams without flexibility that considers impact on work+life fit. Domestic employees can’t be on the phone all night with Singapore and then haul themselves into work the next day 8-to-6. Clients and teams in other countries can’t always be expected to be the ones to make the early morning/late night concessions. Organizations aren’t going to stop operating globally because of a recession;

In a recession, more needs to be done with fewer resources. It’s even more critical that your employees are at their most productive and your workflow and communication management is at its most efficient. Studies show that flexibility to help employees manage their work+life fit results in increased productivity, more efficiency, and better communication.

Finally, companies that need to cutback will use flex to creatively downsize. By offering to reduce schedules or a transition people to project-based, consulting work, employees who otherwise would lose their tie to the organization can stay. When business turns around, those companies then have the option of offering those employees a return to a full-time schedule.

So which direction do you think the leaders of your organization will choose as we move further into the recession? Will they follow the knee-jerk retrenchment where all innovation related to work+life fit and flexibility not only halts but reverses as people fear for their jobs? Or will the recognition that flexibility is more important that ever to manage time, talent, and workflow prevail?