Post-Recession Workplace

Work+Life Fit Ah-Ha’s of “Undercover Boss”

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I am not a huge follower of reality TV, though I am a fan of Oprah’s.  I sat down to watch an Oprah episode a couple of weeks ago, and she was talking about the new reality series, Undercover Boss. I almost turned it off, but I’m glad my kids stopped me.  Highlights from the series offered surprisingly important insights.  I was struck by the fortuitous relevance of the show as we make our way through this post-recession, pre-recovery period of uncertainty.

The interactions between the employees and their “undercover boss” showcased the sometimes painful disconnection between the work+life reality employees actually experience and what senior leader know or intend.  I decided to tune in when the series debuted following the Super Bowl, and wasn’t disappointed.

In the first episode, Larry O’Donnell, President & COO of Waste Management, goes undercover and poses as new front-line worker in different divisions of his organization.   Obviously, reality television is contrived by the sheer presence of a camera, but perhaps the followings insights from the show will spark reflection.  Specifically, what’s really happening on the line everyday and what needs to change so that employees and employers benefit.  Here are my takeaways:

American employees work hard…very hard. Often in difficult circumstances.   Productivity grew by 9.5% in the third quarter of 2009, the largest gain in 30 years.  But unit labor costs fell 3.6% in that same period, the largest decrease since 1948.  What this means is that in the second half of 2009, employees produced more work in fewer hours and made less money.

Undercover Boss gives you a sense of what that really looks like.  Whether sorting through a rapidly moving recycling conveyor belt, cleaning 15 port-a-johns in a day, or doing four different office management tasks at the same time, people are working very hard .  And they are often doing it while managing some sort of chronic illness.  In most cases, O’Donnell couldn’t complete the difficult tasks his employees had mastered.  He was visibly surprised and humbled, as he should have been.

Small adjustments in work+life fit reality make a big difference. So often we talk about the big, transformational changes we need to make to improve the way we work and live.  But as the undercover boss learned firsthand, tiny, easy, low-cost adjustments can do enormous good.  There were two small fixes identified by O’Donnell that would make a huge difference to the work+life fit reality of workers.

First, when he rode in the residential sanitation truck with a female driver, O’Donnell was shocked to learn that she goes to the bathroom in a can because there isn’t enough time for a bathroom stop.  At the end of the show, he’d committed to fixing that.

Second, when a worker in the recycling plant panicked and ran to make sure she didn’t clock back in even a minute late from lunch, he was appalled.  He knew this wasn’t the corporate policy, and made sure that rule was reexamined.

Yes, these two small changes, if completed, will have a big impact in terms of morale, commitment, engagement, and lower stress, but chances are they are not isolated.  O’Donnell needs to make identifying and fixing similar work+life fit related issues an ongoing priority.  They may seem insignificant from the executive suite and are easy to pass over and ignore.  Don’t.

Involve line level employees in the creating the solutions. What sounds like a great idea to fix a problem from 30,000 feet up at corporate headquarters may not make any sense on the ground.  I was glad to see that O’Donnell engaged the employees in resolving the issues he observed.  Whether determining when or how to build a bathroom break into the truck route, or how to motivate the people who clean the port-a-johns, he asked the individual employees to participate in the problem solving process.  As a result, there’s a greater likelihood the solutions will work.

Attitude is Makes a Difference. There is no doubt that times are tough today, but attitude goes a long way in determining how we feel about the way work fits into our lives.  While I am sure the employees profiled adapted their behavior for the camera, they exhibited positive attitudes in often difficult work circumstances.  You could tell that they consciously thought about how they approached their jobs.  For example:

  • A man laughs and smiles and describes his job cleaning 15 port-a-johns a day, “an adventure.”
  • A young female cancer survivor takes pride in juggling the responsibilities of one office and three generations of her family alone.
  • The garbage truck driver makes sure to stop and visit with her customers, one of whom is handicapped, along her route, and
  • The proud landfill supervisor marches tirelessly up and down the hills of garbage even though he is on dialysis three nights a week.

The influence of film crews aside, undercover boss O”Donnell was visibly moved by the integrity and dedication of these individuals.  Their attitude offers an object lesson for us all, but you have to wonder how long they can keep it up.  In fact, it turns out the gentleman who cleaned the port-a-johns with a smile had left the company for another job by the time the show aired.

The series continues for the next few weeks.  I will keep watching and sharing any new insights.  Although engineered to make the CEO look like a good guy, it’s fascinating to watch the leader become follower, and the followers become powerful teachers.   Have you been watching Undercover Boss? What’s your reaction?

Fast Company: Conundrum–One Person’s Flex Job is Another’s Underemployment

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Last week I co-presented a session at the Working Mother Flexibility Leadership Conference entitled, “Flexibility is the Answer When Rightsizing is the Question.”  We explained how to use strategic flexibility (e.g. flexible scheduling, reduced schedules, furloughs, compressed workweeks, telecommuting) to manage costs and minimize job cuts in response to a business downturn.

In the presentation, I emphasized that it was important to focus on all of the broad benefits of strategic flexibility beyond just minimizing layoffs and managing costs. This includes increased engagement, healthier employees, expanded global client coverage, improved sustainability, and individual work+life fit.  Why?  Because the reality is, depending upon your vantage point, the same flexibility can be seen either as a blessing or a curse.

One person’s reduced schedule that allows him to care for his aging parent is another individual’s bitter recession concession that keeps him from working full-time.  One person’s contract employment provides challenge and freedom, but to someone else it’s an endless series of “gigs” that they would trade in a minute for a full-time job with benefits

Employers and employees face a difficult conundrum.  In today’s global economy, rapid change is reality.  Business operating models need to respond more creatively and flexibly.  The same is true for individual employee work+life fit.  We need more flexibility to manage our work and lives but we also need to be agile in navigating a more flexible career path that could include periods of full-time employment, reduced hours, layoffs, contract work and career breaks.

How do we resolve the need for greater flexibility that both helps and hurts at the same time?

This stark dichotomy was presented in the recent BusinessWeek article, “The Disposable Worker.”  The article’s title sets the tone from the outset—flexibility is “bad.”  And for some of the people interviewed, it is negative.  They do feel disposable.  But for others, that same flexibility is what they want.  They don’t see themselves as disposable, but as a “Flexible Worker.”

There’s the contract-based call center employee who works out of her home.  She is paid by the minute and receives no benefits (bad), but is grateful for the opportunity because she lives in an area with high unemployment (bad or good?).  She also has a great deal of flexibility to care for her three children, one of whom is homeschooled (bad or good?).  Is she a disposable worker, or a flexible worker?  Depends upon the perspective.

We also meet two white collar, contract employees.  One is a marketing executive-for-hire who loves the challenge and flexibility of contract-based assignment work.  The other is an attorney taking on overflow projects from other firms as he struggles to start up his own business after being laid off.  He has no benefits and is not happy about his situation.  Two people, the same flexibility. One loves it.  One doesn’t…(Click here for more)

Fast Company: “Up in the Air,” Work+Life Fit Allegory for the Era

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When I saw the movie, “Up in the Air,” I expected to be entertained but I wasn’t prepared for a powerful, multi-layered allegory about work+life fit.

Jason Reitman’s symbolism packed commentary puts up a mirror and challenges us to question key assumptions about work and life today reality.  But it also offers insights into what we can do differently as we move into an era where greater work+life flexibility will be the norm.

Here are a few of my takeaways.  I would love to hear what you think if you’ve seen the movie.

(Spoiler alert—Stop here if you don’t want key points of the movie’s plot revealed.)

Insight #1:  Some people really do like working all of the time.  But we need to stop celebrating their work+life fit as the bar against which we are measured (and fail), and respectfully see their choices as the aberration that happens to work for them…for now.

At the beginning of the movie, George Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham, genuinely loves his work+life fit.  And it’s a fit that’s all work and no life.  In fact, he likes it so much that he develops a series of motivational speeches extolling the virtue of the “baggage free” life to others.

The movie did a great job of showing how we collectively as a culture tend to romanticize Bingham’s fit.  It’s glamorous—fancy hotels, honors clubs, first class seats.   In fact, his speeches are so successful that by the end of the movie he’s asked to present at a large, prestigious venue.  We want that life, but do we?

The role of work+life fit foil is played by Bingham’s junior-level colleague, Natalie.  Initially when we meet Natalie, she seems to hold many of the same values as her more senior, experienced colleague.  So it’s surprising when she begins to actively and forcefully challenge his work+life fit choices as she comes to terms, often painfully, with what she really wants personally and professionally.

First, she tries to get him to agree with and embrace her vision of a work+life fit that includes a partner and a family.  Then, she attempts to take on his values and change herself to conform.  But, it’s like watching someone put on a suit that doesn’t fit. Very uncomfortable.
In the end, she’s made him think differently, but he hasn’t fundamentally changed.  Instead, she realizes that she needs to make herself happy and finds another job.

Insight #2: Life eventually creeps in for even the most hard core “all work/no life” person, whether by choice or by force….(Click here for more)

Bookmark It! “Work+Life Fit in 5 Days” Series Wrap-up (Video)

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Thank you for joining me for the “Work+Life Fit in 5 Days” Series!

Giving real people, with real jobs and real lives the proven “how-to” basics to flexibly manage your work+life fit day-to-day and at major personal and career transitions.  But that’s not all…

In the new work+life flex normal, knowing how to strategically and flexibly manage your work+life fit is a skill set we must have.  We need know how to partner with our employers to create work+life fit solutions that consider our needs as well as the needs of the business.  And understand how to flexibly adjust our work+life fit not only when our personal realities alter, but when business circumstances change.

Yes, employers must create the space where mutually-beneficial flexibility can be discussed and thrive.  But we need to know how meet them halfway, even if all of them aren’t joining us at the table… yet!

Bookmark this page and come back to it as needed! Flexibly and strategically managing your work+life fit is an ongoing, everyday process.  The “Work+Life Fit in 5 Days” series is here to support you.

Entire “Work+Life Fit in 5 Days” Series:

Day 1: What is Work+Life Fit? / Seeing the Possibilities (Fast Company)

Day 2: Challenge Roadblocks — Redefine Success:  Money and Prestige / Advancement and Caregiving (Fast Company)

Day 3: Challenge Roadblocks — Fear

Day 4: What Do You Want? / Your Internal Guidance and My Story (Fast Company)

Day 5: Creating Your Work+Life Fit Plan–Making It a Win-Win

Want more?

(Day 5) Creating Your Work+Life Fit Plan—Making it a Win-Win

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Welcome to Day 5 of the “Work+Life Fit in 5 Days” Series!  It’s time to create a work+life fit plan that best meets your needs and the realities of your job, as they stand today.

Remember, this series not only helps you find your own work+life fit.  It’s equally as important if we want to create more flexible organizations.  That requires a partnership between employer and employee.  Yes, employers need to do their part to create the space where mutually-beneficial flexibility can be discussed and thrive (we need to do more in this area, but we’ve come a long way).  However, we must know how meet our employers halfway, even if they aren’t all joining us at the table… yet (see Fear roadblocks post).

How do you take the vision of what you want and then work through a process that matches that goal with the realities of our work and life? Today, Day 5, introduces you to highlights of that process.

After Days 1-4, You’re Ready and Aware

Before we get started, let’s look back at how the previous four days make it possible for you to create and implement a plan with the greatest likelihood of thriving.   Typically, individuals jump right to the “create a plan,” step.  But first you must have achieved a level of readiness and awareness which we covered in Days 1-4:

Day 1:  What is Work+Life Fit? (Why Does it Matter?) / Seeing the Possibilities

Day 2:  Challenging Work+Life Fit Roadblocks—Success: Money, Prestige, Advancement and Caregiving

Day 3:  Challenging Work+Life Fit Roadblocks—Fear

Day 4:  What Do You Want?  Creating Your Work+Life Fit Vision / Your Internal Guidance

You’re ready, you’re aware, and you have a glimmering idea of what you want, here are the highlights for creating a solid, well-thought out plan.  Like yesterday, we’re covering a lot of territory in the space of a blog post.  Therefore, I am sharing a number of excerpts from the book that will take you to the next level if interested.   Good stuff!

“How to” Roadmap: Making Your Vision a Reality

Excerpt from Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You

“You’ve created your work+life vision—a vision full of imagination and possibility, and free of limitation. Now it’s time to change direction and make that vision a reality. This is where the dreaming ends and the steps to actualize your vision begin.

Your vision must be compatible with the current realities of your work and personal life if your final work+life fit is going to succeed.
This involves a “compare for compatibility” process whereby you compare your vision to each specific aspect of your work and personal life in order to identify and potential mismatches. The goal is to rectify and incompatibility before implementing your work+life fit, thus reducing the chance of being derailed later.

Resolving an incompatibility involves changing the reality of it at all possible, or if that’s not an option, adjusting your original vision. Depending on how far apart your vision and your realities are, all of the comparing and adjusting can transform your vision into a very different final work+life fit plan at the end of the roadmap. This may seem a bit disconcerting. You may wonder why you should exert the effort to create that vision in the first place if it’s only going to change. There are two very good reasons…” (Click here for more or to download or print PDF).

Six Most Common Changes Your Vision Will Involve

Making your work+life vision a reality will most likely involve changes in one or more of the following:

  • Why you are working
  • What type of work you do
  • Whom you work for/with
  • How you work
  • When you work
  • Where you work

CHANGE “WHY” YOU WORK

Excerpt from Work+Life Finding the Fit That’s Right for You

“Believe it or not, finding a better work+life fit can be as simple as reframing why you’re working. For some, the source of conflict is “Why am I doing this type of work or this particular job?” The good news is that you don’t necessarily need to leave your current situation to discover an enhanced sense of purpose. Jim’s Story…” (Click here for more or to download or print PDF).

I’ve written about job crafting and encore careers as two examples of changing the “why” or purpose behind the work you are doing.   It’s makes a difference.

CHANGE “WHAT” YOU DO

Excerpt from Work+Life Finding the Fit That’s Right for You

“ Perhaps your vision for a better work+life fit includes a different job or career altogether. This was my experience when I resolved my work/life conflict by transitioning from banking to work+life strategy consulting. It is also the experience of many of my clients. You can devote the same amount of time and energy to a job that you enjoy and a job you don’t. One will make you feel great, while the other will result in work/life conflict.”  (Click here for more or to download or print PDF).

Yup, sometimes you just don’t like what you are doing, and you need to do a different type of work altogether.  Here are some great online resources/books to help you change careers (please share any others you’ve found helpful):

CHANGE WHOM WORK FOR/WITH

Excerpt from Work+Life Finding the Fit That’s Right for You

“One of the key components of work/life satisfaction is a supportive work environment. To find it, you may have to work for a new company…The other two key components of your work environment are a supportive manager and coworkers…That said, it follows that either an unsupportive manager or an unsupportive coworker is enough to cause conflict. If this is your reality, your vision for a better work+life fit could involve changing whom you work with…Denise’s Story” (Click here for more or to download or print PDF)

But before you make the leap, double check how you might make some adjustments in your own behavior could make the situation better.  For more, read, “Lost heart with your current job? Don’t rush to escape” by Christine Livingston at A Different Kind of Work.

CREATE A WORK+LIFE FLEX PLAN—Change How, When and/or Where You Work

You create a work+life flex plan when your vision is to have greater flexibility in how, when and/or where you are working in order to find your “fit.”  Notice a couple of things that I didn’t say.  They don’t seem like a big deal, but matter:

  • I didn’t say you want to “telecommute,” “work part-time,” “have flextime.” My experience is that very few work+life flex plans neatly into the standard “flexible work arrangement” boxes.  What if you want to come in earlier and work from home every other Thursday?  Instead, think of what you are trying to do more broadly, which is to change how, when and/or where you work.  Again, creates possibilities.
  • I use the word “plan” and not “arrangement.” This is on purpose. Like a business plan, your work+life flex plan is an agreement that benefits both parties.  It’s a living, breathing understanding that should be reviewed regularly, adapted over time and may take a few rounds of negotiation to finalize.  Whereas, arrangement, as in flexible work arrangement, sounds like an accommodation that someone either does or does not bestow upon you as a favor.  This isn’t a “nice-to-have” perk.  It’s good business and it should be described that way.

The Compare-for-Compatibility Process: From Vision to Flex Plan

(Note:  Each of the realities in the compare-for compatibility process have a corresponding chapter in the book that walks you step-by-step through a plan development.  But overview information below gets you started.)

Couple of Key Points about a Well-Thought Out Work+Life Flex Plan

  • The final version of the plan that you discuss with your manager should include work realities ONLY—how you will get your job done. You analyze both your work and personal realities in order to create a complete picture of your work+life fit, so that you have all of your bases covered.   Try to avoid getting into the “why” behind your plan as much as possible, because it shouldn’t matter.
  • In the plan you present and discuss with your manager, lead with how this will benefit the business, because it will! Does having greater flexibility: Make you more productive (give a concrete number—save 2 hours commuting; not interrupted, therefore, can get reports done faster); provide more client coverage (shifting hours can provide before or after hours support);  save money (if reducing your schedule not paying you as much).
  • Try to think of all the possible “Yeah, buts…” your manager will have and try to address then upfront. Common ones:  How will I reach you?  How will I know you are working?  These are easy to address before they get in your way.
  • Make sure you can be flexible with your flexibility.  This is especially important for people with caregiving responsibilities. As you analyze your personal realities, make sure you give yourself a cushion that allows you to “go the extra mile,” occasionally.  In today’s workplace where the unexpected can pop up, we need to be able to lend a hand now and then.

Excerpt from Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You

“Time to hit the Work+Life Fit Roadmap to begin making your vision a reality. When you change how, when, and/or where you work and devote it to your personal life. But there are certain realities in both your work life and personal life that influence whether or not these changes can be made. Addressing those realities is the focus for the next part of the roadmap. These critical realities are:

realitiesThink of the process as a production line that manufacturers the final work+life fit you will implement. Your original vision is the raw material that goes into the process, while the work and personal realities to your vision is compared along the line molds it into a final work+life fit that is viable and realistic.

Before we begin, here’s a quick overview of the ways in which changing how, when, and where you work can lead to a better work+life fit…Changing ‘How You Work… Changing “When” You Work…Changing “Where” You Work…Compare-for-Compatibility…” (Click here for more or to download or print PDF)

Congratulations!  You’ve finished the “Work+Life Fit in 5 Days” series.  I hope you feel better prepared to move forward to find a better fit–even a small change–in 2010!

This series offered you a preview of the “how-to” basics of managing your work+life fit as a partner with your employer.  Obviously, this is just the beginning, so if you want more please consider the following:

  • Buy the book in print or for Kindle at Amazon.com
  • Sign up to receive my blogs:  via email or via RSS feed in the upper right hand corner of the blog.
  • Follow me and the others dedicated to the topic on Twitter (@caliyost)

Entire “Work+Life Fit in 5 Days” Series:

Day 1: What is Work+Life Fit? / Seeing the Possibilities

Day 2:  Challenge Roadblocks — Redefine Success:  Money and Prestige / Advancement and Caregiving

Day 3:  Challenge Roadblocks — Fear

Day 4:  What Do You Want? / Your Internal Guidance and My Story

Day 5:  Creating Your Work+Life Fit Plan–Making It a Win-Win

Want more?

  • Order the book with the entire Work+Life Fit process: in print or on Kindle at www.Amazon.com
  • Sign up to receive a weekly email of blog post highlights and/or the RSS feed in the upper right corner of the blog
  • Follow me on Twitter @caliyost

Fear–Challenging Work+Life Fit Roadblocks (Day 3)

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Raise your hand if you’ve muttered or thought “Yeah, but…” or “What if…” as you read the posts from Day 1 and Day 2 of the “Work+Life Fit in 5 Days” series.  If you did (and chances are that you did), then you’ve officially hit a fear roadblock.

Fear roadblocks litter the work+life fit process from beginning to end.  Whether big or small, they will sneak up and derail you unless directly challenged.  Today, Day 3, we tackle your work+life fit fears.

If you’re stuck behind a “Yeah, but…” or a “What if…,” I can’t simply tell you not to be afraid, especially in this economic environment.  It won’t work.  And I can’t say that all of your fears are completely groundless, but I can help you challenge them as they come up, by:

  1. Showing  you “how:” I will give you a process for challenging the validity of a particular fear as being real or imagined so you can keep moving forward and
  2. Sharing and challenging the most common fears: There are three common work+life fit fears that have come up consistently during my 15 years of helping companies and individuals partner to develop and implement work+life flexibility strategies.  You will probably recognize them.

“How to” Challenge Fear Roadblocks

Excerpt from Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You

“I was once part of a corporate work/life consulting project in which more than 100 employees who successfully found a better way to fit work into their lives were interviewed.  We asked them what advice they would give to others.  Much of their advice reinforces the strategies put forth in this book, such as redefining success, making the business case, and taking the lead on your own behalf to find the fit you need.  But many also added, ‘Tell them to just go for it.’  Go for it.  Sounds like something you’d say to someone who’s about to jump off the high dive or climb a mountain for the first time.  What exactly were these people trying to say?

Well, they’ve been in your position—wanting a better work+life fit, but feeling very afraid.  And they know that it feels like a leap into the unknown.  But they also know that once you have a well thought-out proposal, then you have to ‘get past the fear and just do it.’”  (Click here for more, and to print or download the PDF).

Takeaway Action Steps to Challenge Work+Life Fit Fears

#1–Create a solid, well-thought out plan that considers your needs as well as the realities of your job.  And, once implemented, review and adapt regularly.

My experience is that most people don’t do this, for a few reasons:

First, they don’t know how. This is why when I develop a flexibility strategy for companies, one of the keys to successful implementation is giving employees a process that let’s them take the lead and create a work+life fit plan that makes sense not only for them personally, but for their job.

The how-to highlights I’m sharing in this series are from the same Work+Life Fit process that we tailor for our corporate clients.  It is the same process outlined in my book.  Knowing how to partner with your employer to flexibly and strategically manage your work+life fit as personal and work realities change is a skill set that we all need, but that most of us still don’t have.

Second, we expect our manager to come up with a solution. And they can’t. To start, if you need to change your work+life it, chances are your manager has no idea.  He or she can’t read your mind.  And in this environment, they’re probably focused on other issues, so it’s not on their radar screen.  Even if it was, your manager can’t tailor a workable plan for you because he or she doesn’t know your work and personal realities well enough.  Your manager can support the conversation, but you need to start the discussion and present solution.

Third, we think corporate flexible work arrangement policies are the solution. Even with more policies, we’d still need to present a plan and have a discussion.  For years, experts–including me–thought top-down policies outlining the different types of flexibility were the answer.  The truth is even if there is a policy officially sanctioning a certain type of flexibility (e.g. flextime, telecommuting, reduced schedules, compressed workweeks) you can’t simply check a box and expect the arrangement to survive day-to-day reality.

I’ve seen plenty of employers with great flexibility policies and no usage because it’s not supported by process that tailors solutions to the person and the business.  And I’ve seen companies with no policies, but with an inherently flexible way of operating where unique work+life fit solutions are organically created.  The power of a policy is to show what’s possible.  But it’s the work+life fit process that creates a workable plan that’s a sustainable win-win for all parties.

Finally, we think getting a new job that’s more flexible upfront is the answer. Even then, you still need to actively manage and coordinate your work+life fit on an ongoing basis for that flexible job to succeed.

#2–Challenge each fear to determine if it’s based on facts or on assumptions that need to be clarified.

The step-by-step “challenge the fear” process is outlined in the book excerpt above.  There’s also an example of someone following the process and moving beyond a concern that she realized wasn’t valid.

In my experience, approximately 80% of the fears that keep us stuck are based on misunderstandings, misperceptions and a lack of information.  The remaining 20% of concerns, are valid on some level, but in many cases can be addressed.  For those that can’t, you still have choices.

#3–Dig down deep into yourself and find the courage to go for it. You do have the power, as long as you know how.

Challenging the Most Common Work+Life Fit Fears

Fear #1 – They will say “no.” This is the top fear that keeps most people from presenting a plan that adjusts their work+life fit.   The specific ways to challenge this fear are covered in the chapter excerpt above; however, here are a couple of things to consider:

  • Are you a good performer?  If you are, by all means put together a plan, especially if you are getting ready to quit to find a better fit.  I wish I had a dollar for every manager who said to me over the years, “They should have said something before they left.  I would have considered it.”
  • The worst thing that can happen is your manager says “no.”  Then you are back where you started and no worse off.  But my experience is that nine times out of ten, you at least get a fair hearing as long as you have a well-thought out plan.   And if you are really concerned, start out by proposing a relatively small adjustment in your fit, and work your way toward more.

Fear #2 – It will hurt my career. I covered the advancement roadblock yesterday (Day 2), but you have to ask yourself, what happens if you don’t find a better fit?  Are you going to leave?  Will you become so unproductive and unhappy that it begins to hurt your health and/or your performance?  Would finding a better fit actually help your career in the long-run?  How would it benefit your employer?

Fear #3 I will lose my job. In today’s economic reality, I understand the instinct to keep your head down and just work harder, faster and longer. You don’t want to make any wrong moves that put your job in jeopardy.  That being said, your employer benefits from helping you flexibly manage your work+life fit.  You’re more productive.  You’re less distracted.  You’re more creative.  You can provide more coverage.  You’re less stressed.  You stick around.  If you work fewer hours, they save money.  All good stuff that should be front and center in any plan.

While there are always exceptions, my experience has been that if someone with flexibility loses his or her job, it’s not about the flexibility specifically.  It’s either:

  • The individual wasn’t performing overall (I would argue that person shouldn’t have had flexibility in the first place).
  • He or she wasn’t willing or able to adapt the type of flexibility they had to the changing realities of the business.  That’s why it’s so important that any work+life fit plan is a flexible, ongoing dialogue with your manager and not just a box checked on a benefits form.  You want to be in the loop when circumstances change, or
  • There were broader layoffs impacting many people in many different circumstances, including those with flexibility.  But not only those with flexibility.

What are the “Yeah, but…” and “What ifs…” keeping you from flexibly managing your work+life fit in a way that meets your needs and the needs of your job?  Have you challenged your fears?  If yes, what did you do?  If not, why?

Entire “Work+Life Fit in 5 Days” Series:

Day 1: What is Work+Life Fit? / Seeing the Possibilities

Day 2:  Challenge Roadblocks — Redefine Success:  Money and Prestige / Advancement and Caregiving

Day 3:  Challenge Roadblocks — Fear

Day 4:  What Do You Want? / Your Internal Guidance and My Story

Day 5:  Creating Your Work+Life Fit Plan–Making It a Win-Win

Want more?
•    Order the book with the entire Work+Life Fit process: in print or on Kindle at www.Amazon.com
•    Sign up to receive a weekly email of blog post highlights and/or the RSS feed in the upper right corner of the blog.
•    Follow me on Twitter @caliyost

Top Posts of 2009, and Blog Goals for 2010–More Breaks, Direct Challenges, “How to”

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This month my blog officially turns 4 years old (cue the applause!).   Yes, I will admit…this is the first year that I’ve tracked metrics.  I know, I know, experts will argue that not tracking metrics from day one is a sacrilege against all core blogging norms and values.  But for the first three years it worked for me.

Initially not tracking metrics allowed me to build my following while writing what I wanted to whether one person or 100 people read it.  It gave me the space to comfortably find my voice and groove.  But in January, 2009, after I was quoted in the Huffington Post’s Complete Guide to Blogging, I decided it was time to start keeping track, and signed up for Google Analytics.

One year later, the data offer a fascinating glimpse into what resonated with you and what my goals for 2010 will be.  First, here are the top 10 blog posts for 2009:

1. Stop Talking About Work+Life Flex Solely in the Context of Women…Really, Seriously, Once and for All (10/22)

2. I am a (blank) and sometimes I put my career before my family (10/16)

3.  Getting Started with Flexible Downsizing – Manager and Employee “How To” (3/13)

4. Jack Welch is Right, “There is No Balance,” But His Reasoning Needs Updating (7/4)

5. Tame the Tween Texting Beast with Great Parent/Child Contract (10/29)

6. Personal Branding, Today and Post-Recession—Me 2.0 by Dan Schawbel (3/19)

7. Work+Life Fit ‘Tipping” Point (10/8)

8. Sun-Times Column by BDO CEO and WLF–Work Life Flex Reduces Costs & Keeps Jobs (3/13)

9. Test Your Perceptions  vs. Work+Life Reality—NSCW Implications (5/4)

10. Where is Work+Life Flex on SHRM’s National Conference Agenda?  Essentially Missing. (12/18)

Here’s what I noticed and how those observations will inform what I write about in this blog and for Fast Company over the next 12 months:

Taking a break (voluntary or involuntary) can lead to better blogging. Three of the top five posts were written in October, 2009 right after I returned from an involuntary four-week blogging hiatus caused by a severe case of Lyme disease. Not only were the topics timely, but I’d given them a lot of thought while I was flat on my back recovering.

While I hope to remain healthy throughout 2010, I’m building periodic two week blogging breaks into my schedule every few months.  As one of my favorite authors, Maggie Jackson, points out in her book, Distracted, there are benefits to deep thought we need to build in to our wired world.  The evidence is in the stats above.

Direct challenges to conventional wisdom about work, life, and business get attention. If you follow my blogs, then you know that I very strongly believe that we have to stop buying into the old, tired models we’ve used to manage our lives, our work and our businesses for that last 50 years.  They just are not working anymore. As I pointed out when I relaunched my Fast Company blog in the fall, we are in a New Work+Life Flex Normal.

According to the list of top posts, you are looking for and responding to my most direct challenges to yesterday’s conventional wisdom. You want new ideas and “how to” strategies based on today’s reality.  I will continue to deliver new approaches as I find them.  And I will directly challenge the obsolete work+life status quo in 2010, because recent research released by Career Builder, Watson Wyatt and Harris Interactive confirms the prevailing post-recession state of work, life and business remains grim for many.

There are new flexible ways of operating businesses and managing life that lead to growth, innovation and improve work+life fit and performance.  I welcome your comments, links, research, and case studies.  This is a conversation we ALL need to be part of.

Basic “How to,” and “Get Started” information appreciated. Chip and Dan Heath point out in their bestseller “Made to Stick” that one of the pitfalls experts face is they forget what it’s like to be a novice.  I read their book early in 2009 and tried to be mindful to bring the strategies and concepts I discuss down to the applied basics as much as I could.

Ideas, concepts, and research are important, but at the end of the day “What’s in it for me” and “How do I do it” will win the race.  Again, in 2010, I will do my best to keep it real and applied.  Call me out as soon as I lose you for too long.  The fundamental changes we need to make collectively are not going to happen if you can’t take action based upon what you read here.

My three words for 2010 are “Help” “Thank You,” and “Reach.” For four years, this blog and my Fast Company blog have allowed me to do all three.  But this year the helping, the thanking and the reaching will be especially conscious.  If you haven’t already, please consider doing the following:

  • Comment on my posts!  The conversation is always better when more people are involved.
  • Sign up for the RSS Feed for this blog
  • Sign up to receive weekly email links to the best of my Work+Life Fit and Fast Company posts in the above right hand corner of this page (we promise to never share your email with third party vendors)
  • Follow me on Twitter @caliyost – I am always sharing real-time information related to all aspects of strategic work+life flexibility
  • Tell me what you are doing, thinking, finding and I will share it as best I can.
  • Let me know what else you want to learn and hear about in this blog that I’m not covering.

Finally, thank you for joining me here and at Fast Company each week.  I appreciate your interest, your commitment, your thoughts and insights.  Happy New Year!

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: How to Work with More Meaning…and Get Paid

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Why do you work?  As we emerge from the rubble of the Great Recession, an increasing number of people from a variety of sectors and in different stages of life are searching for a more meaningful “why” behind the work they do.

Paying the bills continues to be important, but there’s a growing awareness that work needs to be about more than money.  As we have seen, the money either isn’t going to be there in the amounts it was before or it can disappear in an instant.  Here are some of the discussions about and resources supporting the movement to find paid work with greater meaning that have come to my attention over the past week.

Looking for an Encore Career?  The guide to finding work that matters by Encore Careers

As they approach traditional “retirement,” many Baby Boomers want to work and make money but they also want their work to have greater purpose.  Following its recently announced Encore Opportunity Awards, Civic Ventures paves the way to a purpose-driven job with its excellent new guide, “Looking for an Encore Career?

According to Marci Alboher, Senior Fellow with Civic Ventures, the core tenents of an Encore Career are 1) continued income, 2) personal meaning, and 3) social impact, “This generation is looking to change the world in this next phase of their lives.  They are returning to the values of Kennedy, and they are interested in service, giving back and having impact.”  Many of areas in which people have launched successful encore careers have also seen some of the greatest job growth:  social services, government, education and green jobs.

Alboher and I agree that everyone should begin their “encore planning” as early as possible because this is the new vision of retirement.  And much of the planning for an encore career can, and should, be done while you are still working in your primary job.  You can chart the winding path of research, informational interviews, conferences and trying out different options.  When the moment arrives to make the transition, you are ready.

And you don’t necessarily need to wait until retirement.  The Encore Career guide is an excellent resource for anyone in any stage of life looking for a purpose-driven job.  In fact, I realized after reading the guide and talking to Marci that I started my encore career in 1993 at the age of 29.  That’s when I left banking, went back to school and entered the work+life field.   For the past 16 years, I’ve made money (albeit initially less than I made as a banker), found personal meaning and have had social impact.  I need to start planning my second encore!

Finding Meaning in Your Current Job – Authentic Organizations Blog

As CV Harquail points out in an insightful post on her Authentic Organization’s blog, you don’t have to leave your current job to find more meaning.  In “How Job Crafting Can Get You Closer to Authentic Work,” Harquail, a former Darden b-school professor, explains how the revolutionary concept of job crafting (also outlined in a recent Time Magazine article) can help everyone build more meaning into their existing work…(Click here for more)