“Everyone” Issue

Fast Company: Why Every CEO Regrets Not Attending the Psychologically Healthy Workplaces Conference

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I recently attended and spoke at the APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Conference.  The goal of the conference as outlined by the APA’s visionary Assistant Executive Director, Dr. David Ballard (who also happens to have an MBA) was to celebrate and learn from,

“Employers who understand the link between employee well-being and organizational performance strive to maintain a work environment characterized by openness, fairness, trust and respect, even when difficult actions were required.  These employers are positioned for success in the economic recovery and will have a distinct competitive advantage in their ability to attract and retain the very best employees.”

The conference was organized around the core elements of the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Model:

Over the past few days, other speakers and attendees have shared their insightful overviews of the conference in the following posts:

My main takeaway from the two days was simply that…every CEO should regret not attending, both professionally and personally.

Had they participated, they would have learned about strategies to resolve many of their organization’s most vexing bottom line challenges—employee stress, lack of employee engagement, high cost of health care, truly leveraging diversity, etc—issues that directly impact growth and profitability.

CEOs would have heard the former U.S. Secretary of Labor, Alexis M. Herman, in her introduction of the winners of the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award point out the three main challenges facing companies as we move into a “do more with less” era:

  • More role ambiguity as everyone takes on more roles and responsibilities which increases the level of job stress.
  • Increased inter-generational worker tension as Boomers work longer, but graduates can’t find work.
  • Increased worker polarization and isolation as workers who lose jobs can’t find work at the same level of income or status.

But perhaps most importantly, CEOs would have seen how they benefit personally from strategies that create a psychologically healthier workplace.  They would realize that they’re not alone in the isolation of overwhelming work+life challenges and stress which are outcomes of a work+life fit model that no longer suits even for those at senior levels.

A recent CNN.com article, “Why Being a CEO Should Come with a Health Warning,” highlights the research conducted by Steve Tappin for his book, The Secrets of CEOs. From his interviews with 150 CEOs, Tappin learned that: (click here for more)

(@fastcompany) Taking Bets: Will Real Reason for Health Care Reform–Uncoupling Work and Coverage–Come Up at Tomorrow’s Summit? (Poll)

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Leading up to tomorrow’s Health Care Summit, I’ve been trying to follow each political party’s public positioning as to why their approach is preferable.

You hear a lot about the current health care reality:

  • 40+ million people uninsured, and growing.
  • Unaffordable premiums.
  • Inability to get coverage for pre-existing conditions.

You’re also presented with two very different solutions, one is more government regulated and the other driven more by the private market.  But, what you don’t hear is “why?”  Why do we need to undertake this massive, structural reordering of a system that’s worked and continues to work for many for decades?

The reason is simple and powerful:  We must uncouple work and health care coverage, because the nature of “work” has radically changed over the last decade. And, since the recession began two years ago, the shift in what it means to “work” has accelerated even more rapidly.  And it’s never going back to the way it was.

That fact needs to be much more front and center in the debate than it has been.  Basically, it’s missing.   For example, in this morning’s New York Times there’s a two page spread of articles discussing tomorrow’s Health Care Summit.  Guess how many times the changing nature of work is explicitly mentioned as one of the key drivers behind the need for reform?  Zero.

It’s not the 1950’s. You don’t get a job with General Motors at 18 years old, keep it for 40 years, and retire with a pension and company provided health care benefits.  But, listening to the politicians from both parties I seriously wonder if they get it.  Do they understand that in today’s economic reality an individual will have any combination of full-time, part-time, contract-based, entrepreneurial employment over the course of a career?  In only one of those four scenarios is there a chance for employer-sponsored health care.  One.  And increasingly having a full-time job doesn’t guarantee  coverage.

Imagine how different the conversation might be…if President Obama kicked off tomorrow’s summit by saying, “We remember a day when we could rely on our job to provide most of us with good, fair coverage for a lifetime.  That day has passed.  We live in a new global economic reality in which most of us will find ourselves, either voluntarily or involuntarily, in a position where affordable employer-sponsored care is not an option.   We must adapt our system to this new existence.”  With that fact as the back drop, it’s much harder to defend the status quo of an antiquated system.

Over the past couple of months, my readers have commented thoughtfully on the need to reform health care primarily due to the changing nature of work: (Click here for more–read comments, and take poll!)

Have Aging Parents AND Siblings? READ THIS BOOK! I Wish I Had.

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I love serendipity (or “serendestiny,” as Sam Horn calls it).  I keep an eye out for it in all aspects of my work and life.  Late last year, I attended a party for the launch of Donna Fenn’s excellent book, Upstarts, in New York City.   At that event, serendipity hit in the form of Francine Russo and her new book, They’re Your Parents Too! How Siblings Can Survive Their Parents’ Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy (Bantam, 2010), which is a must read for everyone with parents and siblings.

Shortly after arriving at the party, Donna pulled me aside and introduced me to Russo saying, “You two have to connect.  Francine has just written a terrific book on elder care.”  Five minutes into my conversation with Russo, I was hooked.   I only wish They’re Your Parents Too! had been written two years ago when my sisters and I cared for our mother until her death from cancer (here and here for posts recounting that experience).

In addition to being incredibly well-written (Russo is a career journalist who most recently covered the aging and boomer beat for Time magazine), it addresses many important issues that my sisters and I intuitively navigated blindly.  Our elder care experience, while rewarding and very challenging, was aided by the fact that three of us get along well, had flexible work+life fit realities, and lived relatively close to our mother.   In many instances, this is not the case which makes Russo’s book even more valuable.

Recently, I spoke with Francine Russo about They’re Your Parents Too! Here are some highlights from our conversation.

CY: Having coordinated a very intense two-year period of elder care with my two sisters, this book really hit a chord.  I haven’t seen anything written on the subject of siblings sharing care of their aging family members.  Why do you think that is, and what do you hope your book does?

FR: In the past, grandparents usually died quickly and didn’t live to be that old.  They didn’t need help for 10 years.  This is the first time in history that original family members have to engage intimately, perhaps for the first time in 40 years, over important issues that may go on for a decade.

People always had to go through the psychological passage of losing parents and facing their own mortality.  But we never had to do it while gathering with original family members and negotiating how to coordinate care for so long.

The family has changed.  You’re not the little sister.  You’re not the big sister.  Everyone is an adult, and it’s a challenge to adapt in this new period as adults especially in a crisis when we tend to revert back to old roles.  We learned these roles as little kids.  You may have to deal with favoritism, or that so-and-so is the “incompetent” one.  All this needs to be reexamined as you are today.

Caring for your parents is a wake up call to become conscious.  Be aware of your feelings as you navigate uncharted waters.   You need to know that huge emotions can sweep you up, and you want to be prepared so you can react in ways that are productive.

CY: In the book you talk about the process of picking a primary caregiver.   You point out that who that main person might be isn’t always obvious.  Can you say more about the process?  And how much of this conversation can take place between siblings before an elder care crisis hits?

FR: Caring for a parent is not a job for one person.  It is a major family passage.  And the conversation should take place if at all possible before a crisis happens.   In a perfect scenario, the parent should be involved directly in that discussion.  That’s not always possible because you might get, “Oh, I don’t want to talk about that.  I’m going to die at 89 years old in my sleep.”  Well, that rarely if ever happens.

My hope for the book is that the sibling who buys it and reads it first passes it along and initiates the dialogue.   For example, it is often assumed that location determines who will provide care, but that is not the case.  In addition to the responsibilities and location of individual siblings, you should consider who has the closest relationship with the parent or parents.  In some instances, that will mean the parents will decide to relocate closer to the child with whom they have the strongest emotional bond.  This is especially true if a parent is moving to assisted living or continuous care.

Yes, caring for a parent is a family job; however, it is helpful if one person, with everyone’s agreement, takes responsibility.  But that doesn’t mean assigning jobs.  Many of the complaints I’ve heard have to do with a caregiver feeling overburdened, or being highly controlling.

It is best if everyone is asked what they want to contribute, and what they are comfortable doing.  This then becomes a regular assignment that’s part of schedules and lists outlining tasks and responsibilities.

The important thing is to maintain a sense that we are all in this together.  It’s easy for caregivers to feel let down by their siblings.  They expected help but didn’t say anything, and they feel rejected.   The stress can tap into so many unhelpful, often counterproductive things we learn in families like, “I shouldn’t have to ask my brother.”  It’s so wrong, but does a great deal of damage to a relationship.  By the time the siblings finally begin to interact, there’s lots of anger.

CY: Disagreements between siblings about end of life treatment can be incredibly difficult.  My sisters and I are very close, but toward the end of my mother’s life it was interesting to watch how we each dealt with what was a heart wrenching situation so differently.  Why is it important for siblings to recognize the unique challenges of this particular time, and what can they do to avoid as much of the confusion as possible?

FR: You’re right.  This is possibly the most difficult moment in life, and it will bring up equally difficult emotions.  Some siblings will not want to let go and will want to keep Mom or Dad around no matter what.

Siblings need to have compassion for each other.  All I can say is don’t wait to have this conversation!  This book is a manual to help you prepare emotionally for the end-of-life reality now.  A great way to do this is to initiate the conversation over the holidays when everyone is gathered.  You could start by saying, “I heard this horrible story about a friend’s parent going into a coma having not discussed what they wanted their children to do.  It was a mess. I hope that never happens to our family.   (Mom/Dad), while we are in the same room, can you tell us what you would want us to do?”

When handled this way, siblings get beyond emotional distortions, needs, and competitions.  There’s a much better chance you’ll all be on the same page when it happens.  However, some siblings may still have trouble letting go.  If you think it is going to be really difficult, make a trusted relative who is not a sibling the health care proxy.

CY: One of my favorite parts of the book talks about “Reinventing Your Family,” and establishing new rituals.  This is so important and yet it’s not top of mind as you are knee deep in the care giving.  Why is it important and what should sibling caregivers do to start that reinvention process?

FR: Many times original family rituals formed around the parents.   Whether during an illness or after they die, new rituals need to take their place.

If siblings have started a dialogue around caregiving that’s reasonable and friendly, they can extend this.  For example, commit to meet once a year at a particular time.   There were sisters who hadn’t spoken in a year because they were very angry.  As part of their negotiation to try to repair their relationship that had broken down over care giving, they agreed to meet once a year.

Another idea is to make phone calls or video conferences part of every holiday.  Make it a ritual.  Another story I heard that I like was of three sisters who didn’t live in the same city but agreed to all fly to Chicago, which is where there mother had lived, every year on her birthday for the weekend.

It’s about connecting but also being flexible because everyone has busy lives.

CY: Thank you, Francine.  As someone who charted the elder care trenches with my sisters and made it out the other side, I wish we had had this book to guide us.  Thank you for seeing an unmet need and providing such a comprehensive, helpful how-to.

Have you spoken with your siblings about how you plan to coordinate care for your parents?  If you have, what was the experience like?  If you haven’t, why not?

For more about They’re Your Parents Too! and Francine Russo, go to www.yourparentstoo.com, and @YourParentsToo on Twitter.

Why Is U.S. Work+Life Public Policy So Weak: Entrenched Floors and Ceilings

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At the end of January, the highly respected Center for American Progress and UC Hastings Center for Work Life Law published a comprehensive public policy call to action entitled, “The Three Faces of Work-Family Conflict: The Poor, the Professionals, and the Missing Middle.” The stated goal of the report is, “to persuade policymakers and the American people that sky-high levels of work-life conflict reflect not just a personal problem but also a failure of public policy to provide for all Americans.”

Before I’d opened the report and read that last sentence, I’d hoped and prayed that it would be different from other public policy treatises for change.  But, as I feared, the report held firm to the broad, comprehensive package of heavily subsidized and regulated work+life supports that researchers and public policy advocates believe represent the minimum, acceptable standard, or floor.  And, beyond more enforcement, it didn’t offer new ideas for how to increase the support of business in the development and implementation of new public initiatives. This historical lack of employer support and engagement forms a very low ceiling that limits the access to and effectiveness of rules and regulations already in place, such as FMLA, much less new ones.

We continue to bang up against the entrenched floor and ceiling.  They are the reason the U.S. is the only industrialized country without some form of paid leave or paid sick days.  We need a new path that is open to lowering the floor and raising the ceiling if we hope to make much needed progress.  The Three Faces report offers a glimpse into what that new path might look like, and it presents a powerful business case for more supports that I hadn’t heard before.   But before I get to that….

How intractable are the high floor and low ceiling?  Based on my experience, very.

Last year, I participated in a small gathering of academic, public policy and corporate representatives to discuss the current state of work+life policy. This was the first time I’d been part of such a direct exchange between these groups.

I was part of a panel discussing innovations in work+life flexibility.  As the last person up to bat at the end of a long meeting, I listened as others shared their research and proposals ever mindful that I wanted to add a new perspective to what was already covered.  I quickly realized that there are two camps: 1) academic researchers and public policy advocates and 2) those working mostly with corporations.   Each group brought very different agendas and perspectives to the table regarding what’s needed, what’s possible, and why we need to do it.

The academic researchers and public policy advocates at the meeting spoke passionately about the need for generous, publicly-subsidized child care, elder care, paid sick days, and paid leaves, as well as government mandated schedule consistency and flexibility in hours.  The rationale for this high floor of support ranged from “social justice,” “the common good,” and “the right thing to do.”

Those with a more corporate perspective spoke of business cases and bottom line considerations.  They urged caution about any new regulations or additional costs.  The rationale for this low ceiling of support focused on the burden to business and potential loss of jobs.

Good news:  all agreed something needed to be done.  Bad news: completely different ideas on what the solution looked like.

As a researcher and corporate consultant, I’m a hybrid of the two parties and an anomaly.  I decided to try to bridge that gap and move toward mutual understanding using my experience making work+life flexibility a meaningful part of an organization’s operating model and culture.

I started my speech by noting that when I first entered the work+life field, I believed top-down, flexible work arrangement policies were the answer.  But, early on, I realized that “policy alone wouldn’t be enough to make meaningful change happen.”  I continued explaining that in my experience, policies related to formal flexible work arrangements dictated the rules, but often didn’t translate into intended action because no one took the time to change the hearts and minds of those in charge of implementation up front.

When initiating broad, fundamental, costly change we need to a better job getting buy-in from all of the stakeholders, developing the business case, and explaining the underlying “why” behind the change.  By creating readiness, strategic flexibility is more widely embraced.  I closed my comments by reiterating that, “Using policy alone to drive change in how, when and where we work and manage our lives to match today’s reality will have limited impact. We need a consensus-building process that brings all of the stakeholders together to create new solutions that meet the needs of the business and the individual.”

Warning:  Land mine!  Land mine!  Too late…

Not only did I not bridge the gap with my speech, but I experienced firsthand what happens when you challenge the validity of either the entrenched floor or the ceiling.  How intense was the reaction?  Let’s just say it was as if I’d ended my comments with, “And then after dinner, I throw kittens into the fire.”  In fact, one researcher asked me if I also advocated the reversal of all child labor laws.  What?  Um, no.  Clearly, I’d stepped on a land mine.  This was not going to be easy, and it was becoming clearer why the U.S. is unable to make meaningful progress related to work+life public policy.

Undaunted, I tried valiantly to reach a common understanding.  I pointed out the strong, viable business cases within the proposals that went beyond simply “common good.”  For example, after talking with one researcher who advocated national regulation for a minimum number of hours per shift (which I knew corporations would fight and defeat), I realized that her findings proved that most scheduling in retail environments is relatively stable.  Therefore, her research could help businesses commit to more standard, predictable shifts even without regulation.  She was unmoved in her belief that better and more policy is the only answer.

New path—lower the floor, raise the ceiling

We weren’t able to lower the floor or raise the ceiling at that meeting.  And since then Federal and state governments are even more aggressively cutting budgets, overhauling the mandates we already have, and debating much-needed spending on job creation.

If we want to pass some form of work+life policy, we need to take a new path.  We need to consider lowering the floor of minimally acceptable supports if required.  And we need to raise the ceiling of business buy-in by proving the fact that helping everyone, including families, manage their work and life organizations will be better able to compete strategically in the global economy.

Some clues as to what a lower floor and higher ceiling might look like can be found in the Three Faces report.  For example:

  • Give people some slack. At minimum, what many of the poor, middle class and professional parents and elder caregivers profiled in the report need is some slack.  The vicissitudes of care giving will inevitably rear their ugly head, whether it’s a late babysitter, or a sick child.  We need to challenge the validity of unnecessarily rigid attendance keeping and shift scheduling.  Why are they in place?  How can the process be managed differently to allow for a reasonable amount of flexibility around the margins of a person’s schedule without risking job loss?
  • It’s not just mothers. The report was full of examples of fathers, elder caregivers and grandparents facing the same work+life challenges as mothers.  Organizations need to understand these issues affect a much broader part of their population than they realize.  The negative impact in terms of stress, turnover, absenteeism, distraction, and errors is not limited to an isolated group of women who have children; therefore, the cost of not offering supports is widespread.
  • How much paid leave COULD we support? Yes, five sick days and six months of paid maternity and paternity leave would be amazing, but if that is too much for the government and corporations to support in the current economic environment, what would work?  And use the following powerful business case from the report to frame a serious discussion amongst all stakeholders:  In the global economy, the lack of work+life supports puts the U.S. at a distinct competitive disadvantage between Europe with a generous package of government supported initiatives and the less developed world where work+life supports are provided by an almost unlimited amount of extremely cheap labor. Pretty compelling call to action.

Finally, reaching consensus: Workplace Flexibility 2010 is a great example of a multi-stakeholder, consensus-building process to replicate.  Years of careful effort raised the ceiling of buy-in to a legislative approach to flexibility as high as possible while maintaining an acceptable floor of support.

Can we move past our entrenched interests and expectations?  Or are we forever stuck behind the traditional high floor and low ceiling blocking meaningful work+life public policy?  How can we craft workable solutions?  What do you think?

Work+Life is Not About “Nice,” It’s About Long-term, Strategic, Global Competitiveness

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Okay, here’s the deal:  Work+Life is not about being nice.  Yes, it is lovely to be nice, and helping people manage their work and life is the right thing to do.   But developing and implementing work+life strategies is about the long-term global competitiveness of our people, our businesses and our country.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t see it that way, and until we do we’re not going to move the needle any further in terms of meaningful change:

  • Companies will not fundamentally rethink the way they operate to incorporate both formal and day-to-day flexibility into their business model.
  • Individual employees will not understand the role they play in partnering with their employer to manage their work+life fit, and
  • Public policymakers will not implement thoughtful regulations that support work+life fit, but don’t stifle the flexibility that makes it an adaptable win-win for people and business in an era of rapid change.

Why don’t we get it? Here’s a clue.

Today, the National Partnership for Women and Families announced findings from a study by researchers at Harvard and McGill University entitled, Raising the Global Floor: Dismantling the Myth the We Can’t Afford Good Working Conditions for Everyone (hat tip: Eve Tahmincioglu).

The study examined “policies, protections and supports in 190 of the world’s 192 United Nations countries,” and the working conditions faced by 55,000 households in seven countries on five continents.

According to the study’s co-author, Jody Heymann, “The world’s most successful and competitive nations are providing the supports (to varying degrees– guaranteed paid sick leave, paid leave for new mothers, paid leave for new fathers, paid time off to care for children’s health, guaranteed day of rest each week, wage premium for mandatory overtime) the United States lacks, without harming their competitiveness.  Globally, we found that none of these working conditions are linked with lower levels of economic competitiveness or employment…In fact, we found a number of these guarantees are associated with increased competitiveness.”

Important, impressive stuff, right?   For twenty years, researchers at many of the top academic institutions and think tanks that focus on work+life issues have proven over and over again variations on this same theme.  So why no change?  As much as I wish this were not true and as much as I don’t think it is right:

Reason #1: The groups that historically fund and announce these findings tend to be focused on families, women, children.  Unfortunately, this runs the risk of eliciting a “That would be nice,” response rather than an urgent “This is critical to long-term, global competitive sustainability for all of us. Let’s do something.”  Think about how different the reaction would be if the National Association of Manufacturers or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had co-sponsored or also announced the findings above with a call to action for every business leader and politician?

Reason #2: The language in the call to action associated with much of the research tends to include words like, “humane,” “family-friendly,” “support,” “programs,” “protections.”  For business this translates into “Expensive, limiting regulation that I’d like to avoid even if it sounds like a nice, albeit optional, thing to do in a perfect world.”    What if, instead, we used language like:

“The research found that by implementing a broad range of work+life strategies individual employees managed their work+life fit more effectively. And businesses reduced costs associated with retention, safety issues, health care, as well as provided better customer service, improved employee engagement, etc.”

“Nice” is nowhere in that statement, even though one of the outcomes would be much needed support for families.

What do you think?  How can we make everyone understand that work+life strategies are mission critical for long-term value-creation and sustainability, not just “nice” theoretical concepts to study, talk about and ponder in a perfect world?

Note: I’m submitting this post to the About.com Working Mom’s blog carnival, which is part of the Fem 2.0 campaign to highlight the workplace experiences of everyday Americans.

Stop Talking About Work+Life Flex Solely in the Context of Women…Really, Seriously, Once and for All

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I waited.  I knew it was coming.  As expected, shortly after the release of The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything the calls and emails began rolling in, “What do you think?”  Earlier this year, I’d dodged that question when Womenomics was released.  At the time, I thought I didn’t need to add my voice to the mix because of course by now most people understood that work+life flexibility was an issue for everyone.  Not just women.  Future efforts would certainly discuss the issue from an inclusive, gender neutral, business based perspective.  I was confident this would be the last high-profile, big media launch of a book or program that focused on work+life flexibility primarily in the context of women.

I was wrong.  The launch of A Woman’s Nation was even bigger and bolder.  So, for what it’s worth and because people keep asking me, it’s time to answer the question, “What do I think?”  First, let me say a couple of things.  Like Womenomics, The Shriver Report is well done and well intentioned.   In fact, two of my favorite thinkers, Brad Harrington of Boston College’s Center for Work and Family, and the writer/feminist, Courtney Martin, contributed excellent chapters.  Issues such as pay inequity, lack of representation in senior levels, and sharing of care responsibilities are all important issues to discuss specifically as they relate to women, but

We really, seriously, once and for all, need to stop talking about the need for work+life flexibility solely in the context of women!

Why?  Four reasons:

It’s not true that women have the greatest need for flexibility in work and life

Both men and women do.  More flexibility for men means more flexibility for women.  And it doesn’t include the multiple ways businesses benefit from making flexibility in how, when and where work is done part of the day-to-day operating model including:Impacts graphic

I fear it inadvertently reinforces the Motherhood Penalty

As Kanter award-winning researcher Shelley J. Correll of Stanford University found in two separate studies: Evaluators consistently rated mothers less competent and less committed to paid work than non-mothers, and childless women received 2.1 times as many callbacks as mothers with similar credentials.  There’s a deep, entrenched bias in the system that says if you hire a mother, it’s a problem.  So don’t hire her.  (Check out the work of Harvard’s Mahrazin Banaji for more on entrenched bias—hat tip: Maryella Gockel, of E&Y).

When a book, report or press conference is entitled Womenomics or A Woman’s Nation, no matter how much you say, “It’s not just about women,” it is about women.   By linking the need for greater work+life flexibility so directly and publicly to women and mothers, I’m afraid it perpetuates this inaccurate perception that mothers are the only ones who can’t make it work without extra accommodations.  It doesn’t challenge or change the prejudice.

It further isolates men, who want to be part of the conversation but won’t participate is something they perceive to be a “women’s thing.” (Really, you can’t blame them.)

Today, work+life strategies are ghettoized outside of the day-to-day operating model of business.  In many organizations work+life issues are discussed, if not solely, then primarily as part of the women’s initiative.  In the media, coverage of the topic is confined almost exclusively to women’s magazines or articles focused on women.  Even though research shows that men suffer from higher levels of work+life conflict than women, and are just as interested in work+life strategies.  But they are usually left out in the cold.

My experience is that if you make the discussion gender neutral, and get senior line leadership support, the men will flood in.  A couple of years ago, I conducted a series of work+life fit strategy seminars at an investment bank.   The first two sessions were sponsored by the company’s women’s leadership group.  Although men “are encouraged and welcome to attend,” not surprisingly, the majority of attendees were women.  A few brave men were scattered about the room.  Curious, I stopped one of the men at the end of the session and said, “If this wasn’t sponsored by the women’s group would more guys show up?”  Without hesitation, he responded with a smile, “Of course, most men don’t go to a chick event.”

I suggested to the HR leader in charge of the series, “Why don’t we get individual business unit leaders to sponsor the remaining three sessions, and ask the women’s leadership group if they would become a silent partner?  Maybe we’ll get more men to show up.”  The head of the women’s group thought it was a great idea, but the HR leader wasn’t so sure, “Well, okay, but don’t be surprised if only a few attend.”  P.S. the last three sessions were so popular that they added a fourth session.  And more than half of the attendees were men.  The HR leader and the male business leaders who sponsored the seminars now understood that work+life flexibility wasn’t just a woman’s issues, but an issue for everyone.

It allows us avoid the hard work we need to do to make flexibility part of the way business operates and individuals manage their lives.

Isolating work+life flexibility as a women’s issue is a feel-good, red herring.   What we really need to do is fundamentally rethink how we all work, manage our lives and run our businesses.   That’s going to require innovation and creativity which is not easy.  Today, rapid change and uncertainty are the norm, making flexibility and resilience imperative if we are to thrive.

Hopefully A Woman’s Nation is the last public, high-profile media event that so directly and publicly links work+life flexibility and women for all the reasons I listed above.  Going forward, let’s focus money, firepower, effort, and exposure on the truth that it’s about all of us, which, in turn, will help women more.  What do you think?

“I am a (blank), and I sometimes put my career before my family”

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Take a minute to slowly read the following statements, and pay attention to your reaction:

  1. “I am a mother, and I sometimes put my career before my family.”
  2. “I am a mother, and I sometimes put my family before my career.”
  3. “I am a father, and I sometimes put my family before my career.”
  4. “I am a father, and I sometimes put my career before my family.”

Chances are for 2 and 4 you were more likely to think “of course.”  But for 1 and 3, perhaps your answers were more along the lines of “I’m not sure that’s a good idea?”

Now consider the following:

  • What is the impact of our collective judgments about women who admit that they sometimes put their career before their family?   Personally,  I’ve experienced it, and it’s painful.
  • And if we don’t allow ambitious women to comfortably admit that, yes, sometimes they do put their career before their children (and aging parents) without the fear of being branded a bad mother (or daughter), will they ever ascend to the highest levels of business and government in representative numbers?
  • Conversely, if we don’t let men comfortably admit that, yes, sometimes they put their children (and aging parents) ahead of their career without the fear of being seen as less committed, will women continue to have to make the major and minor care giving concessions? This includes not attending after-hours networking events, or volunteering for special assignments.  These compromises accumulate over time and impact pay and level.

A powerful post by CareerDiva.com’s Eve Tahminicioglu, entitled “Women need keys to executive bathrooms, not lactation rooms,” following the release of the Working Mother list of Top 100 Companies got me thinking.  She pointed out, “What I found was pretty pathetic.  Women leaders are few and far between at these so-called ‘best’ companies.  Among many of these ‘best’ companies, women represent anywhere from zero percent to 30 percent of top executives.”  In other words, the best of the best “family-friendly” programs aren’t translating into greater female representation in the upper ranks.

I agree with the Your (Wo)man in Washington blogger that this is due in large part to the low level of utilization of these corporate supports.  This is because most are feel good HR benefits and perks that aren’t part of the business operating model (a subject for many other posts).  But something more is going on.

I realized what it could be when I read two terrific articles in More Magazine about two high profile leaders in their fields who also happen to be mothers.  One of the many things I love about More, is the “been there, done that” wisdom of the over 40 year old women they profile.   Mika Brzezinski, of Morning Joe fame, and Vivian Schiller, CEO of NPR, didn’t disappoint.  In both cases, these high-ranking working mothers candidly admitted, directly and indirectly, that to get where they are today required making certain decisions that put their careers before their children.  Choices they were very comfortable with.

I was shocked to realize that as I read each of their stories I momentarily winced and ever-so-briefly thought, “Was that a good idea?”  I did this even though:

  • I am someone who freely admits that there have been times I’ve put my career ahead of my family. (As well as times I’ve put my family ahead of my career.)
  • I know that the best research says children are not negatively impacted by maternal employment.
  • I’ve been a parent long enough to have met plenty of great kids with mothers who have all sorts of different work+life fit realities, and
  • I have four close women friends who are very senior executives with huge jobs who have wonderful relationships with their terrific, well-adjusted kids. (Note: in all cases, they do have male partners who willingly sometimes put their family before career.)

Then I thought, if I’m having this reaction, how is everyone else responding?   (Read the comments under the Mika Brzezinski article to see the judgment her candor unleashed).   How does this collective recoil at the thought of a working mother ever placing the demands of her job before her kids affect the ability of women to compete for top, high-profile positions with men?  Because, let’s face it, men get the “of course” response when they sometimes put job before family.

Here’s the reality:  If you want to be a senior leader in a large corporation, or you want to be the co-host of a national morning show, then there are going to be times that your job has to come before your care giving.  I didn’t say all the time, but some times.   Sometimes an out of town client meeting falls on your son’s birthday.  (This actually happened to a member of my team two years in a row!  It just couldn’t be avoided).  Sometimes there’s an end of the day fire drill or breaking story and you need to stay late.  Sometimes you have to catch an early train for a meeting and you can’t kiss your child good morning.  Sometimes, like NPRs Schiller, you may even choose to commute to another city every week for two years so you don’t have to relocate your family.  It’s not that everyone is going to make these choices, but these are the compromises top people, men and women, make to get to where they are.

There are those who would argue that the solution is to make the workload required to ascend the ranks less demanding and time-consuming.  Unfortunately, in today’s 24/7, always on, global, competitive environment you will never be able to engineer all of the extra time and energy requirements of senior level work out of the system.  Therefore, how do we support, and not condemn, the women who do what they feel they need to do to for themselves and their families to achieve their professional goals?  Here are some thoughts:

  1. Like me, consciously catch yourself when you start judging the work+life fit decisions of anyone (men and women), because we really don’t know anything about their lives and their work.
  2. When talking to women and men with responsibilities at work and at home, ask them about both!   It shows that both aspects of their lives have value.   I find a tendency to ask women about their kids, and men about their jobs.
  3. Ladies, let’s celebrate all of the unique work+life fit choices we all make!  Cheer on a sister who has ambitiously climbed to the top rung of their chosen profession while caring for their children and/or aging relatives in the best way that works for themRecent research proves that when women advance to top levels it makes it better for all women.   But we must stop the defensive judgment of each other!   It hurts and it keeps us stuck.

I applaud Brzezinski and Schiller for ascending to the highest ranks of their fields by making choices that worked for their circumstances and not letting the collective recoil get in the way.  However, I can’t help but wonder how many capable, ambitious women are held back, no matter how generous the work-life supports in their organizations, by the judgment that limits their ability to periodically and comfortably put their career before care giving.

Oh by the way, today I didn’t bring the gym clothes my 6th grader forgot to school because I had too much work to do (including writing this post).  Was she mad?  Yup.  Am I am bad mom?…careful how you answer that.

Note:  I’m submitting this post to the About.com Working Mom’s blog carnival, which is part of the Fem 2.0 campaign to highlight the workplace experiences of everyday Americans.

Work+Life “Fit” Tipping Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cambridge Policeman’s Public “Baby-sitting Issues,” Symbolic Shift in Work+Life Reality

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Kudos to Beth Teitell, a correspondent for the Boston Globe, for noticing an important, yet subtle, milestone in the evolution of work+life issues that occurred during the Cambridge police union’s press conference to discuss the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  It was announced that the president of the Police Association couldn’t attend because of “baby-sitting issues.”

Here’s a preview of and link to her 8/6/09 article, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby-sitting Issues: As work habits change, moms–and dads–juggle child care demands,” for which I was interviewed:

You’ve come a long way, baby-sitting issues

As work habits change, moms – and dads – juggle child-care demands

By Beth Teitell, Globe Correspondent  |  August 6, 2009

Given the gravity of the situation, the comment went mostly unnoticed. Except by working parents and work-life balance advocates, that is. To them, it called out loud and clear.

Attorney Alan McDonald was introducing the cops who’d assembled to show support for the officer who’d arrested Henry Louis Gates Jr. when McDonald dropped this surprise: The president of the Cambridge Multicultural Police Association couldn’t attend the press conference, the lawyer explained, because he had “baby-sitting issues.’’

The statement – delivered casually and causing no stir onstage – shows the degree to which the workplace has changed to recognize the needs of working parents, according to human resources professionals. And although they’re quick to add that difficulties persist for working parents, that moment at the podium would seem to mark a notable if slight shift.

“It moves [child-care issues] from an excuse and a failing to a statement of fact that we all deal with,’’ said Cali Yost, author of “Work + Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You.’’

“I think it’s very powerful,’’ she said, particularly since the “baby-sitting issues’’ claim was not only made in regard to a man, but one working in a traditionally male-dominated field “where life and work never used to intersect at all publicly.’’

The conversation about men and child care has picked up since Barack Obama took office, Yost added, although the president himself may have an easier time being an involved dad than do his staffers, according to a July 4 New York Times story, “ ‘Family Friendly’ White House Is Less So for Aides.’’

Time was, of course, when child-care problems were thought to be the mother’s alone. It’s hard to imagine a “Mad Men’’-era dad in a gray flannel suit hustling home because his child had to leave school with a fever.

But it’s not just gender roles and parental expectations that have changed in recent years. Our jobs have transformed, too. Armed with BlackBerrys and laptops and VPN networks that allow employees to work from home during the day – and at night and on weekends – there’s a growing acceptance that, for many white-collar professionals, the work will get done, no matter where or when it happens, said Alexandra Levit, career coach and author of “They Don’t Teach Corporate in College.’’

“People have to get their work done,’’ she said, “but there’s not this concentrated 9-to-5 you have to be there.’’

That’s a helpful change for many families who have two parents working full time.

“We are now in a world where the typical family has all their adults working in the labor market, which means there is not a parent home to deal with a sick child or a child-care crisis,’’ Jane Waldfogel, a professor of social work and public affairs at Columbia University School of Social Work, wrote in an e-mail to the Globe. “I think parents speaking up about this is a very positive development – so long as both men and women are able to do so.’’

Of course, that’s much harder for blue-collar or hourly workers, Yost points out. “Right now too many hourly and non-exempt workers don’t have access to the work-life flex tools that [managers] have, even though their jobs could accommodate some form of all of them.’’ (Click here for the rest of the article)

Jack Welch is Right “There’s No Balance,” But His Reasoning Needs Updating

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As reported in The Wall Street Journal‘s The Juggle blog, Jack Welch was quoted at a recent SHRM conference as saying “There is no such thing as balance.”  While his comments set off a firestorm of response, fundamentally, I believe he is correct–there is no balance.   However, his explanation of “why” needs updating.

He’s right that we need to stop talking about “balance.”  The sooner we discontinue thinking that there’s a right answer or “balance,” the quicker we will see that every one of us has a different work+life fit at different times in our lives.  There isn’t one  way to make work and life fit together.  Only what works for us and the realities of our jobs.

But here’s where the “why” behind his argument needs to be updated:

Update #1: He, along with almost everyone else, is stuck in the land of  the “all or nothing / CEO or stay at home parent” which is not where most of us live: Unfortunately, Jack Welch and many of those responding to his comments online are still stuck in the all-or-nothing, all work-or-no work dichotomy. This  keeps us from seeing the many creative, flexible ways to manage our unique work+life fit that exist between the extreme all-work reality of a CEO like Jack Welch, or the no-work reality of a parent who chooses to leave the workforce for an extended period of time to care for their children.  That doesn’t mean work-primary CEOs or life-primary stay-at-home parents are wrong.  Their work+life fit choices work for them–but most of us live somewhere in the middle along that continuum.

Image how different this story would be if Jack Welch had responded to the question, “Look, I chose to become the CEO of GE therefore I had to give 100% of my time and attention to work.  That was my choice; however, that isn’t the only way of managing work and life if your goal isn’t to become the CEO of a multi-national company.”

Update #2: It isn’t just about moms and women. To be fair, Jack Welch was being interviewed at the SHRM conference by Claire Shipman who just wrote a book Womenomics, therefore, chances are the conversation was about women which is why he answered it in that context.  However, the fact of the matter is we need to stop talking about work+life issues as women’s issues.  In today’s economy, we all–men and women–need to strategically manage our individual work+life fit choices day-to-day and at major life and career transitions such as partnering, parenthood, elder care, and retirement.

Update #3:  It’s also about flexibly redefining success. Just as there’s no one right way to combine work and life, there is no longer one rigid, linear definition of success.  Welch did reference the fact that if you take a career break “you may be passed over for a promotion,” and “that doesn’t mean you can’t have a nice career.”  What he’s saying is there are many different ways to define success personally and professionally, at different times in our lives.  Yes, you may choose to pull into the slower lane from the fast lane when passed over for a promotion but that doesn’t mean later when your circumstances change you won’t raise your hand and pull back into the fast lane (as you define it).  Remember, Welch was a CEO; therefore, anything less than that would probably be a “nice” career to him, but a very successful career to everyone else.

Bottom line,  it’s work+life fit, not balance.  There is no right answer.  It’s not all-or-nothing, either be a  CEO or a stay at home parent.  There are countless flexible, work+life fit options in between which is where most of us live.  And that’s where we need to focus our discussion and problem-solving.  It’s not just women, it is all of us at all stages of our lives.  The sooner all of us, including Jack Welch, realize this, the faster we will begin to have a productive, up to date dialogue that moves us forward.

Thanks, Jack Welch, for keeping this important “there is no balance” debate on the radar screen.  What do you think?

(Update: Since writing this post, I’ve learned that Jack Welch is recovering from a very serious spinal infection.  My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family for a full recovery.)