Gen-Y: “Promote Yourself” to Get the Work Flexibility and “Balance” You Desire

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Trust me, my corporate clients recognize that Gen-Y/Millennials place a high premium on work-life “balance” and flexibility in the when, where and how they do their jobs.  

What those same corporate clients don’t 100% trust is that their under 30 year old employees understand that the secret to “balance” and greater flexibility is…performance and results.

In other words, if you consistently deliver and “do what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it,” fewer people are going to stand in your way if you want to work from home one day or shift your hours (assuming it makes sense for your job).

But how do you achieve that optimal level of performance and deliver those results in today’s workplace so that, in turn, you can achieve your goals, on and off the job?

In every generation, there will always be people who don’t want to make the effort.  But my experience has been that most millennials are willing to work hard.  They just need someone to lay out what that looks like in action, because the secrets to success that worked for their 50 year old boss, aren’t necessarily going to work for them.

Dan Schawbel’s new book, “Promote Yourself,” is a great place to start.  It offers an honest roadmap, like his “14 rules of the new workplace that millennials need to master“:

  1. Your job description is just the beginning.
  2. Your job is temporary.
  3. You’re going to need a lot of skills you probably don’t have right now.
  4. Your reputation is the single greatest asset you have.
  5. Your personal life is now public.
  6. You need to build a positive presence in new media.
  7. You’ll need to work with people from different generations.
  8. Your boss’s career comes first.
  9. The one with the most connections wins.
  10. Remember the rule of one.
  11. You are the future.
  12. Entrepreneurship is for everyone, not just business owners.
  13. Hours are out, accomplishments are in.
  14. Your career is in your hands, not your employer’s.
Millennials, if you follow these steps, you are much more likely to hear “let’s give that flexibility you want a try,” rather than the often unfair and misguided “you just don’t want to work hard.
To learn more about Dan Schawbel and “Promote Yourself”

3 Reasons “Balance” Has Become a Dirty Word at Work

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(This post originally appeared in

Recently, as skeptical senior leader asked me to explain the business case for why organizations need to take a more coordinated, strategic approach to work flexibility.

I began to list all of the business benefits, including, “Millennials value their lives outside of work and expect to be able to do their jobs flexibly.” He responded, “The problem is that they don’t want to work hard. I would never have talk about work-life balance when I was their age. I just felt lucky to have a job.”

He is not alone in that thinking. The meme that Gen-Y/Millennials “don’t want to work hard” exists, in part, because they talk so openly about work-life balance. But is the bias fair?

First, there will always be people in every generation who who don’t want to work hard. The Gen-Y/Millennials are no exception, but is it accurate to ascribe that quality to an entire generation simply because they are open about how they want to make their lives both on and off the job a priority? It’s not, for the following reasons: (Click here for more)

7 Tips for New Grads to Achieve Better Work Life Balance

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This past weekend I attended my college reunion. A highlight was the chance to meet current students who helped host the event. When one of these smart and enthusiastic student ambassadors asked me what I did for my career, I explained that I make work more flexible inside of organizations and help individuals to use that flexibility to manage their work and life. But I was unprepared when he replied, “So how do I find work life balance after I graduate?”

Unfortunately, my mind wasn’t in work-mode at that moment and I fumbled my response. It wasn’t until I drove home that I realized what I’d wished I’d told him (doesn’t it always happen that way?).

So here are my top seven tips to help recent or soon-to-be graduates find the work-life “balance” that, research shows, is one of their top priorities:

1. There is no “balance.” Update your language and mindset to reflect what you really want and to get manager support.

When I talk to recent graduates, I don’t hear that they expect a 50-50 split or “balance” between their work and personal life every day.  They realize there will be times when they have to work a lot and other times when they might not. What they want is the ability to work flexibly and differently depending upon what’s going on at work and in their life at a particular time.

As one recent graduate told me, “I am happy to work all weekend if you need me to, but don’t make me sit here all day if I’m not busy and could leave early, run errands, see my friends, and get to the gym.”
It’s time for a language and mindset update.

The language that’s worked for me over the past decade and is being adopted by more employers is work-life “fit,” or the unique fit between your work and personal realities. It will change day-to-day and during major life and career transitions, like going back to school, having a baby, or caring for aging family member.  What you want to have is the flexibility to manage your work-life fit in a way that works for you and your job.

For some, the goal will be the complete, seamless integration of work into your life. However, many will prefer to deliberately separate the two as much as possible. Neither goal is right or wrong. It’s a matter of the work-life fit that you choose.

Another reason to stop using balance to describe your goal is that managers tend to interpret what you are saying as “work less.” They don’t hear “work differently and more flexibly.” In an economic environment where organizations are forced to do more with fewer resources, anything that infers working “less” won’t be positively embraced.

So how do you get support to work differently and more flexibly?

2. Realize you are a “digital native,” but many people you will work with and for are not…at least not yet. You can help them get there. It might seem like a no-brainer to you to get to work a couple of hours later in the morning because you were on the phone with Asia for three hours from home the night before. But that might not be so clear to a manager who expects you to be at your desk by 9 a.m. every day, rain or shine, call or no call. If that mismatch of expectations happens, don’t take it personally. Open a dialogue about how working more flexibly and differently can benefit the business. You do that by remembering to:

3. Focus on how the work will get done and the business will benefit by working flexibly and differently.  Don’t emphasize “why” you want to do it and how you will benefit. As I advised in a recent blog post, managers support flexible work when it’s clear how the work will get done. This is especially true for recent graduate who may require more supervision. Will your manager/supervisor need to be available to answer your questions if you work on a project at night from home? Is that going to be convenient for them?

A recent Student Employment Gap survey of employers conducted by Millennial Branding found that employers looked for teamwork as one of the top skills in their new hires. Show that you are focused on the needs of the business and your team when you propose working more flexibly and differently.

4. Use the power of the “pilot.” If you want to work more flexibly, but your manager resists, offer to test it out for three months. This gives your manager comfort that they aren’t committing to something they think might not work out (even though most likely it will). It’s called using the power of the pilot.

5. Try not to completely disconnect from the workforce for a long period of time. Chances are you will experience a major life transition at some point in your career like having a baby, relocating for a partner’s new job, or caring for an aging adult. Life is long, unpredictable, and expensive. It can be risky to step away from the workforce.

Before you quit completely, try to propose a flexible work plan that will allow you to remain employed while taking care of your new personal realities (click here for a step-by-step, how-to for creating a plan). If you do decide to leave the workforce, be strategic about it. Check out for great advice about how to plan a career break. (Click HERE for more at

I would love to connect with you on Twitter @caliyost.

“The Iron Lady” and the Truth About Aging We’re Afraid to Face

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As I watched Meryl Streep accept the Academy Award for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady”, I reflected the following reactions I had to the movie:

  1. How did Meryl Streep literally transform herself into Margaret Thatcher?  (It’s truly unbelievable)
  2. Even though I’d been in high school, college, and even lived in England briefly during Margaret Thatcher’s term as Prime Minister, I’d forgotten how tumultuous and violent that period had been. It puts today’s global economic turmoil into perspective.
  3. I completely understand why Margaret Thatcher would imagine that her beloved husband, Dennis, was still alive long after he’d died. I’d probably do the same.
  4. And finally, no matter how rich and powerful we may be at one time in our lives and careers, we all grow old. None of us will escape it. I hope the contrast between Margaret Thatcher’s ascent to power and her eventual descent into dementia finally sparks an important conversation about the truth of aging.

So, imagine my surprise when I read reviews of the film that expressed the absolute opposite response. Commentators were dismayed over the portrayal of her advancing dementia. They felt it was “unkind,” “unnecessary, “despicable.”

While I respect the desire to focus solely on the noteworthy and sometimes controversial achievements of Prime Minister Thatcher, her aging is also part of the story.

As Meryl Streep explained so eloquently when she received the best actress award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts for her role (link to video):

(The goal of the film was) to look at the life of the Iron Lady inside and out and to locate something real, maybe hidden, but truthful in the life of someone we all decided we know everything about already.”

If we can’t witness the entire arc of the life of one of the most powerful leaders in modern history, how can we begin to grapple what the later stage of life will require of us personally, of our families, and of our society? To me, doing so doesn’t take away from achievement and contributions; it only makes them more human.

What do you think? How can we become more comfortable discussing all of the stages of life and work? Our own, but also of those we love? Does it matter?

“Do I Tell Everyone I’m Leaving Work to Go To the Gym, or Do I Just Leave?”

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(This post originally appeared in

A couple of weeks a ago I facilitated a work+life fit panel of senior women business leaders at the Forte Foundation’s MBA Women’s Conference. The conversation between the leaders and the student attendees was so rich and informative, I thought it would be interesting to continue the dialogue in a series of posts on ForbesWoman.

The goal of our panel was to share lessons learned with students from our journey to fit work into our very different but equally busy lives. To make the dialogue as open and honest as possible, all of the panelists moved our chairs to the other side of the official dais. I even asked the students to imagine this was a “girls afternoon out” rather than a conference in the hopes it would make them comfortable to ask even the  most basic questions.

Our session could have continued far beyond the 75 minutes allocated. The work+life fit concerns of the young women MBA students were insightful and important. And the responses from the panelists were equally as interesting and oftentimes different. But the point wasn’t to get an “answer,” but to start a supportive, candid dialogue across the generations from which we can all benefit.

My next few ForbesWoman posts will highlight a different question posed by one of the MBA students either to the panelists or offline to me afterwards. I hope the community will jump in and offer their thoughts, so that together all of us, but especially the next generation of women leaders, can “Lean into your careers.”~Sheryl Sanberg COO, Facebook.

Here’s the first work+life fit inquiry….

“Should I Tell People I’m Leaving Work to Go to the Gym, or Should I Just Go?”

To disclose or not to disclose, that is the question.  The answer is a tough one  (Click here for more)

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

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Originally posted on FastCompany.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work+Life Flexibility “How to” in Pictures: #2 Change requires employee+employer partnership (some gov’t) and shift in broader cultural conversation

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How Employees Can Partner with Employers: Work+Life Fit in 5 Days Series

Work+Life Flex “How to” in Pictures: #1 Don’t get stuck on the innovation curve

Work+Life Flex “How to” in Pictures: #3 Focus on fact that same flexibility keeps business open in snowstorm, cares for aging parent (and more)

Work+Life Flex “How to” in Pictures: #4 Making flexibility real takes more than traditional policy, toolkit and training

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 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)

Missing from David Brooks’ Older People’s Revolution: Greater Work+Life Flexibility

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David Brooks‘ thought-provoking piece in this morning’s New York Times calls older Americans on the carpet for, “Far from serving the young, the old are now taking from them.”  He then urges the older generation to use their time, energy and the internet to reverse this trend by starting a spontaneous national movement that demands changes in health care spending and the retirement age, “to make life better for their grandchildren.”

Okay, makes sense, but here’s the rub.  And I think Seth Godin said it best in a recent blog post:

“Baby boomers are getting old. Dreams are fading, and so is health. Boomers love to whine and we love to imagine that we’ll live forever and accomplish everything. This is the decade that reality kicks in. And, to top it off, savings are thin and resource availability isn’t what it used to be. A lot of people ate their emergency rations during the last decade. Look for this frustration to be acted out in public, and often.” (Emphasis mine)

This means that for David Brooks’ older people’s movement to take off a couple of things need to happen:

  • First, we must address the harsh reality that for many older Americans the demand for greater government support is grounded in real (or perceived) financial need.
  • Second, we have to get more creative.

Yes, expensive mandates like health care spending and Social Security require new approaches.  But what else can we do that would give older Americans non-governmental financial support, and greater time and energy for other parts of their life?   The answer: more later-in-career, work+life flexibility.

As part of the movement, older Americans should ban together, learn how to present a well thought-out plan, and propose creative, flexible work+life fit solutions to their employers.  This might include but is not limited to:

  • Reducing hours and shifting responsibilities. For example, the seasoned newspaper editor who reduced his schedule and took on responsibility for teaching younger reporters how to write compelling stories, faster.
  • Becoming a consultant who supports the business during specific busy periods, or in a particular area of expertise.  For example, experienced accounting firm partners who consult during busy season doing audit reviews.
  • Job sharing with another older worker covering a specific function. For example, two plant managers takeover shared responsibility for the quality review process at their facility.
  • Becoming part of a “coverage pool” that supports the business when people call in sick or go out on leave. For example, a group of experienced tellers are “on call” to cover a group of five offices in a region.  They work on average two to three days a week.

Another option would be for older workers to pursue an Encore Career where they earn money and give back.

Adding greater work+life flexibility to Brooks’ spontaneous, national movement would do more than just reduce the public financial burden on the younger generation.  Companies would retain valuable knowledge and experience.  And older workers, especially those “who ate their emergency rations over the past decade,” would make money and get time for other parts of their lives.  This is important because, quite frankly, I haven’t met too many 70+ year olds who are thrilled about the thought of going to work all day, everyday.

So why isn’t work+life flexibility part of the vision?  How do we get the movement started?  What do you think?

Fast Company: Gen Y Entrepreneurs Transform Work, Life & Biz–Interview w/ Upstarts! Author, Donna Fenn

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Striking out on your own, either voluntarily or involuntarily, is becoming a more common experience along an increasingly flexible career path.  And, it turns out entrepreneurship is especially appealing for members of Generation Y.   In her terrific new book, Upstarts – How Gen Y Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit from Their Success (McGraw/Hill), Donna Fenn says we all need to pay attention, 0071601880

“They were born between 1977 and 1997, and you can call them what you like; I call them entrepreneur generation.  There are approximately 77 million of them, and their sheer numbers, combined with the rate at which they’re starting businesses, will make them a force to be reckoned with…these “Upstarts” are destined to have a profound effect on the economy and specifically on the small-business landscape.”

In a recent interview, I asked Fenn to talk about some of the ways Gen Y entrepreneurs were transforming the future of work, life and career… for all of us:

CY: Welcome, Donna Fenn!  One of the reasons I love your book is that I want business leaders to expand their understanding of work+life flexibility, or flexibility in how, when and where work is done and life is managed.  Flexibility, in all of its forms, is a strategic lever that has broad application as a way to run your business.  The Gen Y entrepreneurs in your book seem to fundamentally see flexibility as a way of operating.  Here are some examples from the stories in the book:

  • Cost Saving: Having all or part of your workforce work remotely to save overhead costs, such as real estate.
  • Talent Resourcing: Using a combination of full-time, part-time, and “as needed” employees.
  • Productivity/Engagement: Letting people flexibly manage their lives and work as long as they produce.  This boosts morale and productivity.
  • Marketing/Brand Development: Devoting a certain number of hours a month to community service to promote their brand and motivate employees.

Do you think these Gen Y entrepreneurs are applying strategic work+life flexibility consciously or intuitively?  What do they “get” that many business leaders over 30 years old struggle to understand?

DF: This generation is going to have enormous impact on the future of work for all of us, as employers of their own business but also as employees.  They are hardwired for this more flexible and innovative way of operating we know is very important.

Gen Y entrepreneurs are creating the places they want to work. I don’t think they are sitting down and thinking about it.  They are doing it completely intuitively.  It gives you a huge advantage when an approach that is so strategic, important and gives you a competitive advantage in the workplace is something you don’t even have to think twice about.  It’s like the air you breathe.

The things that are important to Gen Y entrepreneurs—again, you have to be so careful when characterizing a whole group, because there are people to whom obviously this doesn’t apply—but by and large they crave flexibility.  For them, work+life is a 24/7 mash up.  There is no clear dividing line. They are the first generation that expects work to be fun and meaningful.  When you say that to a member of Gen Y, their response is, “Duh!”  But to anyone else and the response is “What a concept that I should actually want to go to my job in the morning.”

They want to work with their friends. They want to have relationships at work, and they want to play and have fun.  People might shake their heads, “What a spoiled bunch of kids,” but think about it.  What’s it like when you play games in the middle of the day?  You find out a whole lot about people that you otherwise might not know.  Like who’s trustworthy, or super competitive.   There is value to game playing and it’s a stress reliever at a time when we are working really hard.  To the older generations, there is still this dividing line, “When I am working I’m working.  When I’m playing, I’m playing.”  This generation doesn’t see it that way.

CY: From the book, it is clear that Gen Y entrepreneurs aren’t rigid about where they work. (Click here for more)