Post-Recession Workplace

TODAY Show–#Doing It All, The Shriver Report

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This week is special, so you will hear from me a bit more than usual over the next few days.

On Sunday, Maria Shriver officially released the findings from her new, groundbreaking, The Shriver Report–A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink. 

In addition to the report (which I highly recommend), on Wednesday 1/15, you can tune in to the day-long symposium in Washington D.C. hosted by The Atlantic and streamed online.

But the launch events don’t stop there.

To support the study, the TODAY Show has partnered with Shriver to offer how-to advice and support to the majority of women in the U.S. who are “doing it all”, but especially the 1 in 3 who are near or at the brink of poverty.

Not everyone works for the forward-thinking organizations that ask me to consult with their leadership and share strategies with their employees; therefore, I am always looking for ways to spread the “work+life fit” message more broadly, especially to those who need it the most.

So, I was thrilled when the TODAY Show approached me to be a member of the team of experts who will appear this week to offer advice to real women struggling with the everyday overwhelm of jobs, kids and life.

While programming is always subject to last minute changes, it looks I will help two women on Tuesday. One will be in a segment we taped in December (see above) with a terrific mom in Houston, and the other will happen live in the studio with Hoda and Kathie Lee.

Then on Wednesday, I will join a team of finance, health and career experts for the TODAY Show’s first-ever LIVE “Help-a-thon”. We will answer questions live on email, Twitter and Facebook, so check it out and participate from 7 am to 12 pm est. Jump in, ask questions and offer your advice! Follow #DoingItAll.

The reason you will hear from me more frequently this week is that I’m going to kick-off the “Helpathon” on Wednesday by sharing the first five of my “Top Ten Work+Life Fit Tips for 2014.” Then, I will follow up on Thursday with the final five tips, and an insider’s recap of the Helpathon experience.

Together, we can make a difference for everyone (men and women) “doing it all”!

I invite you to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost and on our Facebook page.

The Strategic Use of Flexibility (NEW Article in Talent Management Magazine)

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(This article appears in the October, 2011 issue of Talent Management Magazine and was co-authored with one of my Flex+Strategy Group partners, Donna Miller)

As the dust settles from the Great Recession and a new economic reality emerges, businesses are beginning to take a hard look at how they can manage their talent for maximum business impact. The urgency to review and rethink is driven by leaner headcounts, larger workloads and greater stress as technology and globalization.  These trends erased the traditional lines between work and life. The result is a shift in expectations about how to manage responsibilities on and off the job. Businesses are moving beyond the traditional one-size-fits-all model of work and career and taking a more strategic, flexible approach.

Since 2007, Work+Life Fit Inc. and Opinion Research Corp. have conducted a biennial national study to track the state of work-life flexibility from the employees’ perspective. The results of the 2011 Work+Life Fit Reality Check study confirm that new, flexible ways of working have gained traction since 2007. However, organizations need to do more. Helping employees manage the way work fits into their lives and organizations’ profits and growth plans in a transformed economy will require making flexibility — informal and formal telework, flexible hours, reduced schedules and compressed work weeks — an integral part of the operating business model and culture.

Traditionally, that meant writing a policy or training managers. But strategic flexibility requires dedicating people, time and money to a coordinated culture change process — one that clearly defines a business’ unique rationale for greater flexibility, establishes a shared vision of how managers and employees will use it and executes with relentless communication.

(Click here for more)

As We Think About the “Future of Work…” Need to Add “and Life”

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Around Labor Day, the commentary on the current state of the workplace increases. But this year, it seemed that the media focused more on what the future of work will look like. A couple of examples that I’ve seen over the past few days include:

  • A Jobs Plan for the Post-Cubicle Economy, part of The Future of Work—A Labor Day Special Report ( Advocates creating unions that bring together the increasing number of independent workers.
  • The Blended Workforce: The New Norm (Talent Management): Foretells of a future workplace made up of a combination of employees, consultants, independent contractors and contingent workers. Not unlike the Shamrock Organization that Charles Handy first predicted in his 1989 management classic, The Age of Unreason.
  • Are Jobs Obsolete? ( Challenges the relevance of the entire concept of a job.
  • The Future of Work ( Sees a workplace dominated by virtual teams and global nomads.

For all of their futuristic and forward thinking, these articles miss a very important point–the recognition and acknowledgment that work and life are now one and the same. You can no longer accurately predict the future of one, without also imaging the future of the other.

But, with the exception of the need to transform education, the articles barely mentioned how the predicted changes will affect our lives outside of work. It matters because the success of any transformation at work along the levels imagined, will depend on a number of corresponding changes happening off the job as well. For example, if an increasing percentage of workers are part of a contingent, on-demand, virtual, global workforce, then:

  • What does that mean for the type of houses we live in and how we finance them?
  • How do the roles of women and men as providers and caregivers need to adapt?
  • How will that affect our choices to partner with someone and have a family?
  • How do we have to restructure child care and eldercare, and who will provide it?
  • How will we need to manage our finances differently?
  • Not only how do we update the curriculum taught in elementary and secondary school, but how does the school day and school calendar need to change?
  • What does “retirement” look like?

If these questions, and others, aren’t considered then a contingent, global, on-demand virtual workforce will flounder under the weight of misaligned personal obligations and circumstances.

The omission of “life” from questions about “work” is very Industrial Age. Twenty years ago, work and life were two separate and distinct spheres, at least in theory. “Work” was 9-to-5, in the office, Monday-thru-Friday and the other parts of life happened around that framework. Thanks (or, no thanks) to technology, demographic shifts, and economic globalization that’s not the case anymore. Changes in the way we work will directly impact the way we live. And, changes in the way we live will directly impact the way we work.

It’s a Jetsons world, but we still talk and think like we live in an episode of Mad Men. So, whenever you encounter “What is the future of work…”, add two words to the question “What is the future of work…and life?” That’s reality.

Do you think we adequately consider the impact of the future of work on the way we live our life off the job?  What are some of the questions we should be asking about both work and life in the coming years that aren’t being adequately addressed?

(This post originally appeared in FastCompany)

For more, I invite you to join me on my Fast Company blog and connect with me on Twitter @caliyost.

Why Millennials Need to Be “Unrealistic” About Work+Life Fit (But, “Realistic” About Money)

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Originally posted on FastCompany.

I recently attended two conferences where researchers presented studies on the Millennial generation’s beliefs and expectations related to how work will fit into their lives throughout their careers.

The conclusion of the research was not surprising: 20-somethings expect a great deal of flexibility. They expect flexibility in how, when and where they work while employed, but also they want to flexibly manage their careers.

However, I cringed during the presentations when the two 50+ year old researchers both commented that men and women in this generation may be a bit “unrealistic.” I was taken aback because these goals may seem fanciful in the context of an Industrial Age economy, but they’re more understandable when you consider what Millennials have witnessed during their formative years.

Millennials watched the concept of work and career change fundamentally. Technology and globalization decimated the boundaries between your job and your life and rendered the promise of the full-time job with benefits obsolete; therefore…

20-somethings need to be “unrealistic” about their work+life fit

In a recent article for The Christian Science Monitor, Lindsay Pollack commented on the findings of the “Shaping a New Future” study of 1,000 Millennial women that she conducted with Levi’s Strauss & Co, “They are living life on their own terms, and we can learn a lot from how they are navigating our 21st Century world.”

What does that world look like in terms of work and careers?  It’s unpredictable and self-directed. Two recent surveys (Workforce Trends Study and Manpower) found the use of temporary talent by companies instead of full-time employees “is a post-recession phenomenon that is here to stay.”  Not surprisingly, the 2009 Emerging Workforce study reported that 94% of respondents felt that an employee should seek their own career opportunities, and only 24% were satisfied with the growth and earning potential in their current jobs.

Millennial expectations align with this dynamic, free agent existence. As I’ve written before, we would all benefit by sitting up, taking notice and learning.  Examples of new more flexible ways of managing your work+life fit have gotten attention recently and include:

There’s only one caveat…there must also be a new, updated, “realistic” approach to money.

Money—making it, spending it and saving it–is different in the world of a flexible work+life fit.  In other words, it’s not your grandfather’s or even your father’s financial reality.

The steady, ever-increasing paycheck deposited into your bank account every other week has given way to a more inconsistent, unpredictable, multi-stream, project-based cash flow.  This requires an updated, “realistic” approach to finances outlined in the new book, Generation Earn, by US News & World Report columnist Kimberly Palmer.

Unlike more traditional “how to” personal finance books, Palmer attacks the financial implications of this new Millennial work+life fit reality head on by covering topics such as:

  • How to create and manage multiple streams of income either as your primary means of support or as a supplement to your main job. (Includes excellent advice from Michelle Goodman, author of Anti 9-to-5 Guide).
  • How to manage the “new” frugality and buy green.
  • How to create a flexibility plan to present to your boss when you need to adjust your work+life fit.
  • How to calculate the “true” cost of staying home once you have a child (page 148—important because you need to “factor in the value of future earnings and promotions” in order to get an accurate picture)
  • How to negotiate living with your parents again, and
  • How to face the (tough) reality that you will have to fund your own retirement.  It’s important because, as Palmer points out, the existence of Social Security for this cohort is tenuous.

Yes, according to Industrial Age thinking, the expectations of Millennials for job and career flexibility may seem “unrealistic.”  But in the context of today’s circumstances, they make sense.

When, where and how 20-somethings work and manage their lives is going to look very different from the experience of most Boomers and many Gen-Xers.  This requires not only a new, more flexible work+life fit model, but also, as Generation Earn points out, a completely new relationship with money.

Do you think Millennials are “unrealistic” about their work+life fit expectations or do you believe they are adapting what work and careers will look like going forward?  How do you believe the way we manage our personal finances needs to change?

I invite you to sign up for our new Making Flexibility Real “How To” eNewsletter and follow me on Twitter @caliyost.

Fast Company: Envisioning Work+Life Flexibility 2020

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Raise your hand if you work from home periodically without a second thought?  Do you sometimes come in late or leave a little early if you have something you have to take care of outside of work?

Today, many (but still not enough of us) take for granted having flexibility in how, when and where we work.  But when I started out as a work+life strategy consultant in the early 1990’s, deviations from the standard “in-the-office, five-days-a-week model” were rare.  Then things began to change….

Celebrating Workplace Flexibility 2010

In 1995, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation saw an emerging trend, and decided to commit their formidable resources to a 15-year initiative called Workplace Flexibility 2010.  The goal was “to develop a comprehensive national policy on workplace flexibility.”

Last week I gathered with researchers, corporate leaders, public policy experts, government officials and practitioners to mark the final culmination of this multi-year, multi-faceted effort.   There was much to celebrate (for excellent overviews of the event, here, here, here, here, and here. And #focusonflex and @RexFlexibility on Twitter)

But I was struck most by a remark made at the beginning of the conference by Kathleen Christensen, program director from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation who oversaw Workplace Flexibility 2010.  She said, “This event isn’t the end, but the beginning of an ongoing conversation.”

With that call to action in mind, I spent most of the meeting thinking about the future, and imaging what a similar gathering might look like in 2020.  Here’s what I came up with…

Envisioning Work+Life Flexibility 2020

The name of the event would have changed from “workplace” flexibility to “work+life” flexibility because of over the last ten years we’d have recognized that work and life are one and the same, not separate. Therefore, having flexibility at work requires a degree of complementary flexibility in life.  Questions about what that reciprocal relationship looks like and how it is managed day-to-day and across careers are discussed.

There would be as many men at the event as there are women, because we would have finally realized that having the flexibility to manage work and life is an issue for all of us.  Not just families and women (as Leanne Chase also noted in her post-event blog).  And by making it about everyone, we would be well on our way to eliminating the painful motherhood penalty in the workplace, and making men more comfortable being full partners in the work+life discussion.

The academic research presented would also include studies that expand the focus on the business applications and benefits of flexibility:

  • How to change corporate governance standards to support the investment in people-based innovations such as work+life flexibility, that don’t show direct, bottom-line benefit in the short-term but the long-term.
  • How flexibility impacts disaster preparedness and business continuity.
  • How flexibility improves customer service and coordination of global client coverage.
  • How flexibility allows companies to sustain a cohesive, flexible workforce and minimize layoffs during economic peaks and downturns.

We would discuss what skills individuals need to be good partners with their employers to ensure that flexibility considers their personal needs as well as the needs of the business. Having recognized that companies can’t give individuals the answer to their work+life fit needs, people have to learn how to present solutions to their employers and then make them work day-to-day and at major career transitions.

Companies would share “how” they developed and implemented their unique flexibility strategies that are tailored to the needs and realities of their particular business. Over the past decade, it would have become clear that “one-size-fits-all” off –the-shelf programs don’t work. Therefore, the discussion would focus on how to create a shared vision of what flexibility means to the business, why it’s important, how to increase readiness and buy-in at all levels and then how to successfully implement and revise over time as business realities change.

Lobbyists for corporate interests and advocacy groups would discuss how they were able to finally compromise on legislation that guaranteed a basic level of paid sick leave and paid time off for care giving. (Okay, this is the part of the vision in which I am the least confident but the most hopeful).

Legislators would discuss how they worked across party lines to revamp outdated laws that limited work+life and career flexibility. Successes would include updating the Fair Labor Standards act to allow more hourly workers access to flexibility.  The tax code would have been overhauled to ensure that out of state telecommuters weren’t double taxed.  And the Social Security would be revised not to penalize older employees who wanted to continue to work.

That’s as far as I got.  Now, it’s your turn. Look into the future to 2020 and envision an inter-disciplinary gathering to advance flexibility in how, when and where is done.   Who would be there?  What’s being discussed?    (Click here to read the great comments on the post at!)

Fast Company: How I Hailed a Cab and Learned to Help Older Workers Find a Job

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What can we do right now to help people over 55 years old find and keep jobs? I’ve pondered this question since the economic downturn transformed the work+life fit reality of older workers, radically and permanently.

Almost overnight, many later-in-life employees were forced into the job market without the know-how to find and compete for scarce opportunities while decimated portfolios changed their retirement expectations. They want to work but countless numbers struggle to find and keep a job.

This bleak employment picture for many over 55 year olds was confirmed in the recently released New Unemployables study conducted by Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging and Work and the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University:

  • 84% of older workers who were unemployed in August 2009 were still unemployed in March 2010, and
  • 67% of older workers reported looking for work longer than a year.

Navigating this new later-in-life work reality requires an updated set of skills as evidenced by the 64% of older job seekers who said that the job search strategies they were using were not helpful, compared with less than half of younger job seekers. So what can be done? The research provides important clues including:

  • Teaching workers over 55 years old how to use social media to network and brand themselves and
  • Introducing them to new models of later-in-life employment, such as Encore Careers.

Teach workers 55+ years old how to use social media to network and brand themselves

According to the study, “just 13% of older job seekers had used online social networking sites compared to 28% of younger job seekers.” We need to convince older workers (and maybe even younger workers for that matter) that creating a presence and networking online is no longer optional. And we need to show them how to do it, as I did recently with a New York City cabdriver.

A couple of months ago I hailed a cab, and behind the wheel was a well-dressed man who looked to be in his mid 50’s. He smiled in the rearview mirror as I made myself comfortable for the ride uptown.

I’d decided to use the time to catch up on some calls. On one call I must have mentioned that I was on my way to give a speech. Overhearing this, the driver politely asked, “What is the topic of your speech?” I responded “How to manage your work+life fit.” He laughed and said, “Do you have any advice for me?”

He proceeded to explain that he had started driving a cab a couple of months earlier after his 18 months of severance ran out. He had two masters degrees and for eight years he had been a project manager for a major online retailer. When the layoffs started, he thought another equally good job would eventually turn up. But after countless promising interviews and not one call back, he had no choice to start driving the cab to make extra money. He sighed, “Any advice for me, lady expert?”

We were about 10 blocks from my stop so all I could think of saying was, “Are you networking with employers on Linkedin?” His confused eyes stared at me in the mirror, “What’s Linkedin?”  (Click here for more)

Fast Company: How Millennials Are an Untapped Treasure for Business

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Somehow last week turned into a spontaneous celebration of the potential within the Gen-Y/Millennial generation that’s just waiting to be fully tapped. Everywhere I turned, articles, conversations, and presentations reaffirmed my belief that we need to move past the intergenerational finger-pointing and harness the good, albeit different, approaches to work and life that the Gen-Y/Millennial generation offers.

Because it’s their inherent flexibility, openness, and communication skills that hold the key to future success in business and life for all of us, if carefully mined.

It started when I read an article in this month’s Fast Company magazine by Nancy Lublin, CEO (and self-described “Chief Old Person”) of Do Something entitled, “In Defense of Millennials.” As an employer of 19 full-time millennial staffers, Lublin shared how she flips the common complaints lodged against the generation on end and makes them into a positive:

Compliant #1–they multi-task: Lublin agrees that they do, and often not with great success but that isn’t going to change. So, instead, “I see my role as defining a clear goal, giving her the resources to take the shot, and then getting out of her way while she takes the dunk.”
Complaint #2–they share too much information on their social networks: Lublin sees it as, “Free advertising.”
Complaint #3–they are entitled: Lublin believes it makes them hungry for responsibility and she gives it to them.
Complaint #4–they require too much praise: Lublin feels that we all need more praise, so gives it freely.

But it’s the last paragraph in which she wonders, “Maybe the real problem isn’t this generation–maybe it’s that the rest of us don’t manage them for greatness, for maximum effect,” that rang in my ears when I met with a terrific senior leader last week.

We met for lunch prior to a work+life fit strategy session I facilitated for his group. I asked him, “So how have you found working with the millennial employees in your organization?” He smiled and proceeded to share the following story that perfectly illustrated their power to get things done when we guide and let them, (Click here for more)

Fast Company: Quarterly Earnings Kill People-Based Innovation…

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Do a quick search in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and you will find numerous articles by very smart people pronouncing that only “innovation” will lead to an economic recovery.

Yet, it’s ironic to read these articles at the same time that Hewitt releases its most recent quarterly global employee engagement survey. In the first quarter of 2010, the trend lines of companies reporting increases and declines in engagement converged and crossed. For the first time in 15 years, the companies experiencing declines far outpaced those reporting improvement. Houston, we have a problem. As Hewitt correctly states in their report,

“This highlights the growing tension between employers—many of which are struggling to stabilize their financial situation—and employees, who are showing fatigue in response to a lengthy period of stress, uncertainty and confusion brought about by the recession and their company’s actions.”


Now we could argue the point about employers are “struggling to stabilize their financial situation” when 3,000 non-financial firms hold an estimated $1.6 trillion (yes, trillion with a “T”) in cash and equivalents, but I want to focus back on one simple question:

How do companies across the globe expect to innovate on the backs of an increasingly demoralized workforce that’s stressed, overworked, undercompensated, unrecognized, lacks career opportunities, and doesn’t trust leadership?

As I said before, how do we square this circle?

Now, I’m not an expert on innovation strategy, but I’m pretty sure that it’s not, “Be sure to overwork and undercompensate your employees. Make them really afraid. And then, when they no longer trust you, put everyone in a room and let the magic begin!”

So, what’s the answer?

Let’s go back to the articles begging for more innovation written by those very smart people. What do they say?  (Click here for more)

11 Ways HR Can Jumpstart Work+Life Flex Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Resources (No particular order):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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