Major Work+Life Fit Transitions

How to Make Personal Finance Part of Your Busy, Everyday Work+Life Fit

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Next Monday is Tax Day. And, for many, it’s the annual reminder that, “I really need to pay more attention to my money.” 

But good intentions get lost in the everyday busyness of work and life unless we make personal financial management an ongoing, deliberate part of our weekly TWEAK IT practice.

Thankfully, TWEAK IT Personal Finance Expert, Manisha Thakor, can get us started!

Manisha Thakor is the founder of MoneyZen Wealth Management LLC and the author of a number of terrific personal finance books.

Her accessible and understandable approach to money is, “If we simplify our finances, we simplify our life.”

Recently, I spoke to Manisha about the steps we can take to manage our personal finances better and smarter.  Here are highlights of our brief, but very insightful conversation:

  • After candidly sharing a couple of personal financial challenges that I face, Manisha explains how to get around these common roadblocks.
  • In addition to the terrific personal finance “tweaks” she offers in the book and on the www.tweakittogether.com site, Manisha shares an important, powerful small step we can all take this week to improve our personal financial well-being.
  • Finally, as a busy entrepreneur, Manisha talks about the one small step she makes part of her weekly routine that has improved her sense of well-being and order.

I hope you learn as much from our conversation as I did.

To find out more about Manisha Thakor and her Money Zen personal financial management philosophy, check out www.moneyzen.com.

 

Remember, if you want to make what matters to you happen every day, just TWEAK IT!

 

 

The Eldercare Cliff. It’s Coming. Are You Ready?

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(This post originally appeared in Forbes.com)

When I went to the polls, an issue that was barely mentioned during the campaign partially guided my vote. I favored the candidates nationally and locally whom I thought would begin to address the looming eldercare/adult caregiving cliff. Why?

Yes, jobs are very important, but increasingly people will struggle to keep a job as the demand to provide unpaid care for aging relatives (e.g. parents, aunts, uncles, friends, adult siblings) grows exponentially. Ultimately, this demand will far exceed the current level of supports in the community and the public funds available to pay for those minimal supports.

More and more individuals and employers will find they need to fill the gap financially and physically, and the worst is yet to come. But we aren’t talking about it. At least not yet; however, that’s going to have change.

What does eldercare/adult caregiving look like in action?

A couple of months ago, AARP in partnership with the Ad Council launched a three-year public service campaign to raise awareness of the tens of millions of unpaid family caregivers in the U.S. today.

When I first saw the powerful PSA, “Silent Scream” on television, it was so accurate in how it portrayed of the complicated emotions related to caring for another adult that it took my breath away. (My only wish it that they’d shown someone trying to rush out the door to work while figuring how to keep their mother safe when the caregiver doesn’t show up).

If you haven’t seen it, check it out here. It is worth three minutes.

What is the current state of eldercare/adult caregiving in the U.S.?

There are approximately 314 million people in the U.S. today. According to AARP, of that number, roughly 42 million were unpaid caregivers that provided $450 billion worth of unpaid care to adult relatives and friends in 2009. This is care that we, collectively, would have had to pay for otherwise.

In 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that over a three-month period, 39.8 million people over the age of 15 said they provided care to someone over 65 years old because of “a condition related to aging. Of that 39.8 million:

  • • One-third cared for two or more older people
  • • 23% also cared for a minor child.
  • • 85% of caregivers and elders did not live together
  • • 56% of caregivers were women (44% men)

In other words, today about 13% of the U.S. population provides some type of unpaid family caregiving.

What is the projected future of eldercare/adult caregiving in the U.S.? (Click here for more)

3 Reasons Why Card-Carrying Capitalists Should Support Paid Family Leave

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In business school, we were taught that a solid strategy recognizes the exogenous (external) and endogenous (internal) challenges facing your business and addresses them. Employee child care and eldercare responsibilities are not only two major external business challenges, but they become internal issues the minute an employee walks in the door or signs onto his or her computer.

In the U.S., we pride ourselves on our capitalistic, profit-oriented savvy; therefore, given the growing magnitude of employee caregiving realities, you would assume that employers would support a clear, consistent uniform strategic response.  One that minimized business disruption and kept employees engaged and productive over the long-term. Unfortunately, the reality is the exact opposite.

Status of Paid Family Leave in the U.S.

Out of 178 countries worldwide, the United States is one of three that does not guarantee new mothers paid leave. The other two countries are Papua New Guinea and Swaziland. Nationwide, in March 2011, only 11% of the private sector workers and 17% of public sector workers reported having access to paid leave through their employer.

Only two states in the country, California and New Jersey, offer six weeks of paid family leave to men and women who are caregivers.  Even in the face of state budget challenges, both programs are healthy and successful. Unfortunately, the state leaves are not job-guaranteed which makes the time difficult to take. (New Jersey Paid Family Leave Fact Sheet / California Paid Family Leave Fact Sheet)

Yes, there are 12 weeks of job-guaranteed FMLA, but it is unpaid and employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempt which eliminates a large percentage of workers.

In terms of private paid leave offered directly to employees by employers, 58% of mothers who gave birth and were offered leave by their employer received some form of maternity disability pay, but only 14% of men on paternity leave received any replacement income (2012 National Study of Employers). That means 42% of mothers and 86% of fathers with employer supported leave received no income at all.

A Brief History

Historically, a coalition of labor, women’s, child and health advocates have promoted paid family leave. They’ve emphasized the well-documented public health benefits, the peace of mind of employees, benefits for children and eldercare cost savings. While valuable and important, these rationales haven’t withstood the “job killer and “anti-business” arguments used by groups like the Chamber of Commerce to fight approval. (Note: at the end of the post, you will find new information that could indicate the Chamber’s position on caregiving as an important business challenge is evolving, at least in their organization.)

Why?

There are workplace and public policies that plan for time off and income replacement in case of illness or injury. There are 401Ks and social security for when you retire and can no longer work. Why isn’t there a coordinated, uniform workplace and public policy that offers time off and at least partial income replacement when people, inevitably, have babies or an aging parent needs care? Why?

I wanted the question “why” answered when I attended last month’s Paid Family Leave Forum at the Ford Foundation sponsored by the National Center for Children in Poverty, New York State Paid Leave Coalition and A Better Balance. What I learned reinforced my long-held belief that every card-carrying capitalist should support paid family leave public policy because:

  • Paid family leave acknowledges and addresses a reality that directly impacts every business and, therefore, should be planned for strategically, uniformly and deliberately;
  • Paid family leave is NOT a tax, but income replacement insurance program funded by employees at minimal cost and
  • We are paying for a cost for caregiving already, albeit indirectly and inefficiently.

But, First, Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Before we dig deeper into each of the reasons listed above, I have to establish my business credibility, or “cred.” Too often when someone tries to engage the business community on issues that they consider “soft” or societal in nature, the messenger is dismissed as “not understanding business.” This, in turn, dismisses the message. I’m a messenger who can’t be easily dismissed with that argument because I do “get” business.

I was a banker for seven years, specializing in lending to closely held companies and I graduated, with honors, from Columbia Business School. I can rock a balance sheet and cash flow statement with the best of them, and I’ve even been known to find a strange joy in deciphering the “story” within the notes at the back of an annual report. I am a flexible work strategy consultant who works inside of organizations regularly, and I believe that both people and the business must benefit if flexible work is going to succeed.

As advocates for paid family leave found in California, I am not alone. Many business people support a uniform, public policy to address this challenge, but their voices were drowned out by the groups lobbying against it.

3 Reasons Every Card-Carrying Capitalist Should Support Paid Family Leave

My knowledge of and respect for business is why I think every card-carrying, profit-oriented capitalist should support paid family leave policy (or at least not stand in its way):

Reason #1: Paid Family Leave acknowledges and addresses a reality that directly impacts every business and, therefore, should be planned for strategically and deliberately.

The truth is that we are all potential caregivers. We may not end up having children, but all of us have parents and aging relatives who will very likely at some point require care.

Most mothers and fathers have to work and will be in the workforce when they have children. According to studies by the Center for American Progress, “in 2010, among families with children, 49% were headed by two working parents and 26% by single parents.” In 2009, employed wives of dual-earner families contributed 47% of total family earnings. In most cases, the income of both parents is critical to a family’s financial well-being.

With regard to eldercare, in 2010, 45% of employees surveyed said they had eldercare responsibilities over the past five years, and 49% expect to have responsibilities in the next five years. As the population ages, the eldercare challenges are expected to grow and many of those caregivers—men and women–will be in the workforce.

Paid family leave as public policy acknowledges the reality of caregiving by creating a uniform, clear response. Disruption is minimized because everyone knows the rules of the road. Business can plan in advance how the work will get done should an employee take leave for the prescribed six week period of time. This is especially true for maternity leave where, usually, you have months to plan. For example, perhaps the business can use the wages not paid to the employee on leave to hire a temporary worker, or to pay exist staff to take on the extra work during the leave.

It’s worth noting that a follow-up study of employers in California found that a majority felt paid family leave had either a positive or neutral impact on their business.

Reason #2: In the case of California and New Jersey, Paid Family Leave is NOT a tax, but an income replacement insurance program funded by employees.  In fact, some advocates feel a more accurate name is Family Leave Insurance. (Click HERE to go to Forbes.com for more)

How to Advocate for Family Leave Insurance, a.k.a “Paid Family Leave,” in Your State

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This week I wrote a post for Forbes.com entitled “3 Reasons Why Card-Carrying Capitalists Should Support Family Leave.”  To help individuals advocate for Paid Family Leave (which is really Family Leave “Insurance”) in their state, Ellen Bravo the Executive Director of Family Values @ Work, a national network of 16 state and local coalitions helping spur the growing movement for family-friendly workplace policies, offered the following get-started tips:
  1. Stay informed about legislation in your state or nationally by signing up with a group or coalition working on this issue. You can find more information on these websites: Family Values at Work and the National Partnership for Women and Families.
  2. Spread the word. Urge any group you’re involved with to become a part of the coalition. Speak up on your Facebook page or on Twitter, in a letter to the editor or in a post for a community or congregation newsletter.
  3. Share your personal experience, positive or negative, with legislators (contact information for state legislators can be found online). Let them know the impact on babies, on those dealing with chronic illness or aging, on families and on caregivers like you when employees do or don’t have access to affordable family leave.
  4. Create a personal network of at least 5 people, urge each of them to share their own experience with legislators – and if possible, urge your 5 people to create their own network of 5.

For more, connect with me 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?

Why I Disconnected to Draft My Book

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Since late November, regular readers of this blog, my blogs on Fast Company and Forbes.com and my followers on Twitter may have noticed that I essentially disappeared.  I’d pop up now and then on Twitter from “my book writing cave. But for the most part, over the last two months, chose to focus my undivided attention on finishing the first draft of my new book.  Why?  For the following three reasons that will continue to inform how I approach serious, deep-thinking work in the future:

A constantly distracted brain can’t think deeply: One of the experts I interviewed for my new book was Maggie Jackson.

In 2008, I wrote about her wonderful, must-read book “Distracted” (Prometheus Books, 2008) in my Fast Company blog.  During our recent conversation, Maggie reminded me of an important point in her book that I’d forgotten, “Because we live so much in the sphere of technology, it makes us unconsciously forget the idea of slow incubation, of percolation of ideas, of sort of hanging in the moment of uncertainty and frustration that’s really part of learning or research.”

I needed to give myself the uninterrupted white space to go deeper and allow for the work to happen.

Creativity requires making mistakes and learning from them: Another amazing expert I interviewed for my new book is Julie Burstein, the creator of Studio 360 for Public Radio International and the author of “Spark: How Creativity Works” (Harper, 2012).

Over the years, she’s met with and interviewed hundreds of artists.  From those conversations, she’s identified a framework for creativity, and she told me that to be creative you have to allow time to tinker, edit, add, purge and mold.

The reality is that there are only so many hours in the day to create the room to make mistakes, experiment and revise, so something needed to go.  I still had a consulting business to run, and a family to care for over the holidays.  That meant I needed to let my virtual connections rest for a few weeks and trust that they will be there when I returned.

I am an extrovert, so to disconnect after connecting is hard for me. Introverts love time alone, which is what you must do when you write a book.  You spend hours and hours, day after day alone.  Unfortunately, I am not an introvert.  In fact, I am a pretty extroverted, extrovert.

In the beginning, I tried to connect for certain periods, then disconnect again.  But I found it was so hard to get back into the creative groove.  Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown, 2012), who is also in my new book, helped me realize that being alone day-after-day is not my natural habitat.  The minute I’d reach out and start connecting, I didn’t want to go back. But I loved writing my book, so it was easier for me to construct a temporary metaphorical “cave” around myself.  Thankfully, I’ve begun to reemerge.

So where am I in the process?  I’m very please to say that the initial draft is done (Yeah!), and I couldn’t be happier with the result. Now the editing with my publisher begins in earnest which will make the final product even better. I’m excited, and I’m back for the near term.  However, I plan to apply the lessons learned from this period of disconnection and creativity to future projects that require focus and attention.  So this will not be my last visit to “the cave.”

What about you? Do you think it’s necessary to disconnect to do your best work?  Why or why not?

Why Meredith Vieira’s a Work Life Rock Star

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(This post originally appeared on Forbes.com; I am reposting here today to honor Meredith Vieira’s last day on the Today Show)

Meredith Vieira’s a rock star when it comes to managing the way work fits into her life, and there’s a lot her journey can teach all of us. Since 1991 when she was fired from 60 Minutes after requesting to work part-time, I’ve watched her make bold, often unconventional choices with a mix of curiosity and admiration.

In honor of her most recent decision to leave NBC’s Today Show at the top of her game “for more time with my family,” I want to give her a well-deserved public shout out. Like any rock star, her high profile and financial resources make her situation unique. But there are lessons in her story that apply to us all. They can teach us how to more deliberately and consciously manage our own work+life fit:

Lesson 1: When your priorities change, don’t wait until circumstances force you to make a choice.  Make a decision on your own terms, no matter what others say.

When I watch Meredith Vieira make her choices it’s clear she doesn’t really care about what other people think she “should” or “can” do.

In 1991, when she wanted to reduce her workload and hours at 60 Minutes, few people even thought about non-traditional schedules. Her proposal was almost unheard of. I’m sure everyone told her she was crazy, but she tried. And, yes, she was fired.

But the point is that she listened to herself, bucked conventional wisdom of what was “possible” and gave it a shot. Then she didn’t go quietly into the night of obscurity when it didn’t work out (more on that in a minute). She controlled her choices.

Letting go of her Today Show post at the pinnacle of success is an equally bold decision when you consider how many in her position would do just the opposite. Often we hang on to jobs that no longer fit our goals until the choice is forced upon us. This was the case with Christina Norman, the OWN Network’s newly-departed CEO, and Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen.  (Click HERE for more)

I invite you visit my Fast Company blog and to join me on Twitter @caliyost.  Also, if you are interested in How-To “Make Flexibility Real” sign up to receive our monthly value-packed newsletter and join our new LinkedIn group.

911! Six Tips to Triage Your Work+Life Fit When Thrown a Curveball

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What do you do when an event comes out of left field and lays waste to your carefully planned work+life fit?  This is the question I discussed with my friend, radio host Maggie Mistal, when I appeared on her “Making a Living” program last Friday.

Life recently threw Maggie a curveball when her newborn son arrived two months early while she and her husband were on vacation.  Now, they are living and working temporarily from another city until their son is able to travel back home.

At some point, most of us will deal with a sudden change in circumstances.  My most recent curveball happened five years ago when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. Immediately your priorities shift.  How do you triage and rethink your goals, your schedule, and your responsibilities both at work and in the other parts of your life?  Here are some of the tips that Maggie and I discussed during the show:

Remember that curveball events typically have three distinct phases:

  1. The initial crisis—You are just making it through minute-by-minute
  2. The holding pattern—The crisis has passed, but the situation has yet to resolve itself or settle into a new reality.  You’re operating less minute-by-minute and more day-by-day.  And finally, you will move into…
  3. The post-curveball reality—You’re clearer about what your work capacity will be going forward and you’ve regained some level of control over the other parts of your life.

Try not to fall into all-or-nothing thinking, and avoid making a rash decision to quit.

Especially, during the crisis phase, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.  You start to think “I can’t deal with this and work at the same time.”  Even I had this reaction when I got the news about my mother.  But thankfully I pulled myself back from the edge, and took a breath.

While quitting may seem like the only choice at the moment, it may not be the best answer.  First of all, most of us need the money.  Secondly, you may be surprised to find that work is a welcome distraction especially when you move into the holding pattern.  Try not to make any major work or life related decisions until the crisis period passed.

Be honest with your boss, team, clients, friends, and family.

99% of the people in your life will be understanding and supportive at least in the crisis phase and early stages of the holding pattern.  In terms of how much you share, both Maggie and I agree that you should tailor the information to your audience.  However, in my experience, managers, clients and team members appreciate simple, consistent updates.  This is especially true once you move into the holding pattern period, and you can start actively testing your capacity for more work.

Unfortunately, 1% of the people in your life won’t be able to show up for you emotionally or physically—let it go.   Don’t expend the extra energy you don’t have now.  File away the lack of support and, if you need to, deal with it later.  A woman who called into Maggie’s show talked about how unhelpful the president of her company was when she needed time during the adoption of her child. But she waited until after the adoption was completed to quit and get a new job.

Gather your resources.  You don’t need to handle the curveball experience all by yourself.

This is especially difficult for people who are used to being in control.  Regardless, you need to let others help you.

Perhaps there’s a work colleague that you respect who can take on some of your responsibilities.  Delegate “to dos” to your family members and friends who’ve offered to pitch in.  I can never repay the group of women in my town that provided meals to my family three nights a week for the last few months of my mother’s life.  But I will confess, initially, I refused because I didn’t want to be a bother.  It took my friend Nola saying, “Shut up, Cali.  They’re coming whether you like it or not,” to make it happen.  And it was a godsend.

Also, if you work for a company that offers work+life benefits and leaves, use them.  Remember the Families Medical Leave Act doesn’t have to be taken all at once.  It can be used over time in small chunks.

Once you’ve move into the holding pattern phase, begin to test your capacity for taking on more work but be patient.

Your priorities will continue to shift and change.  See what you can and cannot comfortably take on.  Perhaps it will help to be more creative and flexible in how, when and where you work.  For example, on Friday, Maggie broadcast her show remotely from Florida, while I sat in her New York studio.  You wouldn’t have known the difference.    When my mother had cancer, I often worked remotely from the hospital.

Build in even small moments of wellness.

This is so important yet can be incredibly hard, especially in the crisis phase.  But once you’ve moved into a holding pattern, gather your resources and use them to find time to care for yourself.  Take a 30 minute walk outside.  Try to get a good night sleep.  Eat at least one healthy meal a day.

Again, think small steps taken consistently so you aren’t overwhelmed.  The goal is not just functioning at your best during the curveball event.  You want to emerge from the experience as strong as possible and ready to move forward in the post-curveball reality.

Has life ever thrown you a curveball that’s made you triage your work+life fit?  What helped you reset your work and personal responsibilities and goals when your priorities changed overnight?

Did you find this post helpful?  If so, I invite you to follow me on Twitter @caliyost and at Fast Company.  Also, please sign up here to receive our NEW “Make Flexibility Real” How-To Newsletter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AND, more specifically….

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

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

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