24/7 Work Reality

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

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

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

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

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

(Click here for more)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(This post originally appeared in FastCompany)

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

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 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)

Why NPR’s Segment Is Really About “Employers Make Room for Strategic Flexibility” (Not Work-Life Balance)

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Like many, I let out a little cheer whenever a mainstream media outlet discusses the realities of managing work and life in our new work+life flex normal.   But I am consistently amazed how the real story is often lost behind the traditional language and mindset that’s not kept pace with reality.  The first segment of NPRs three part series, “More Employers Make Room for Work-Life Balance,” is an interesting case in point.

First let me join the chorus of those high fiving NPR for covering the topic!  It’s important.  But it’s also another missed opportunity to update the way we think about work and life, and position flexibility as a strategic imperative for employers and individuals.

Let’s deconstruct, update and reframe the important themes from the first segment…

Theme #1:  It’s About Strategic Flexibility

While the employer interviewed at the beginning of the NPR segment sounds like a very nice person, her real motivation for offering flexibility is that, “People who have lives are much better workers.”   Her focus wasn’t on her employees’ individual work+life fit realities (that’s not her concern), it was on the outcomes—more productivity and retention.  And those outcomes are achieved by offering flexibility, not a particular work-life “balance.”

Why it matters: Our employers can’t give us work-life balance.  All they can do is create a flexible culture and operating model that lets us manage our unique work+life fit in a way that meets our needs and the needs of the business.  No matter how nice an employer might be, there must be a strategic business imperative behind any flexibility or it will be unsustainable.

Also, the business impacts should be as broad and deep as possible up front and go beyond individual work+life fit.  Same flexibility, multiple business and individual benefits that can include working smarter, servicing clients better, managing global teams, disaster preparedness, controlling operating costs, etc.

Theme #2: It’s a Process That Considers the Unique Realities of the Individual, Job and Business

The flexibility discussed in the segment and in the accompanying SHRM study is referred to as a “policy,” or a “benefit.”  But really it’s a process that flexibly adjusts how, when and where work is done.

Every person interviewed in the segment had a different work+life fit that they achieved for distinct reasons.  And their jobs uniquely supported the type of flexibility they pursued.  The only way to determine what type of flexibility is going to work for a particular person and a specific job is through a process that supports the analysis.  Not a check-the-box benefit.

People say, “But what about consistency?”  Consistency comes from having access to the same process to analyze your unique realities and come up with a plan that’s going to work for you and your job.  A good analogy is the compensation.  Same process.  Different inputs.  Unique raises and bonuses.

Guaranteeing the same type of flexibility for everyone with a one-size-fits all policy sounds fair, but doesn’t work.   As the NRP segment notes:  Not every person wants every type of flexibility.  Not every job supports all types of flexibility.  And not every type of flexibility fits neatly into the standard, rigid flexible work options.  What about the person who telecommutes once a week and shifts his or her hours?  Is that two different options or one tailored flexible plan?

Additionally, not every business can accommodate a results-only work environment where there are no hours, and no set meetings.  Again, focusing on results and not face-time is a very important objective, but how an organization gets there in terms of strategic flexibility will look different for each business.

Why it matters: The NPR segment accurately noted, “Experts caution that many flex-work programs appear more generous on paper than in practice.”  I agree.  As long as flexibility is a benefit or policy, it will continue to sit on a website outside of the day-to-day operations.  It will look nice and sound good, but will have limited impact.

The only way flexibility will ever become a real, meaningful part of every employer’s operating model is if it is a tailored, process-based strategy that is developed by the employees and leaders of a particular business.

Theme #3:  It’s a Work+Life Flexibility Revolution

I agree with Phyllis Moen, the highly regarded sociologist quoted in the segment, “We are in the middle of something like an industrial revolution.”  But it’s not a “work-time revolution.”  It’s a work+life flexibility revolution.

Why it matters: We need to shift our mindset and language to acknowledge that work and life are one in the same.   We can’t talk about a revolution in work-time without acknowledging a related and reciprocal revolution in how we manage our time outside of work.   And it’s not just about time.  Yes, there’s an increased need for flexibility in the hours that we work, but there also needs to be flexibility in how we work, and where we work.  Taken together it’s a work+life flexibility revolution.

The deconstructed, updated and reframed takeaways from the first segment of NPR’s three part series are: It’s about strategic flexibility based on a tailored process that considers the needs of the individual, job and business.  And it’s part of a work+life flexibility revolution. Now, let’s see if the remaining segments hit these points more directly.  Here’s hoping!

One last interesting point.  NPR uses the SHRM study of “Flexible Working Benefits Offered By Some U.S. Companies” as supporting data.   However…

  1. Missing from the SHRM study’s list are reduced schedules and day-to-day flexibility.  These are two important types of flexibility that should be part of any organization’s strategy, and
  2. Considering the fact that work+life flexibility is essentially missing from SHRM national conference agenda, how can its research offer a path to a more strategic, forward-thinking conversation about flexibility?  Just a question.

What do you think?  Why don’t we update our language and approach to work and life and flexibility to be more strategic?  Do you think it matters?  Why?

Join me! I will appear live on Friday, March 19th at 4:00 pm ET/ 1:00 pm PST on Maggie Mistal’s radio show on the Martha Stewart Radio Network Sirius 112/ XM 157.  Topic:  How to Manage Your Work+Life Fit Heading Back to Work After a Layoff. Click here to sign up for a free 7 day trial of Sirius/XM and listen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relaunch Fast Company Blog–New Work+Life Flex Normal

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Last year an economic bomb detonated and laid to waste the rules and institutions that have guided our decisions related to work, life and business for generations.  Shell-shocked and disoriented, we’re starting to emerge slowly from the rubble wondering not only “What happened?” but “What’s next?   Welcome to the New Work+Life Flex Normal blog.

As the dust settles, it’s clear greater flexibility in work, life, career and business is here to stay.  Before the recession, a few fraying threads connected us to a work+life reality that was rapidly becoming obsolete for more than a decade. The downturn severed them:

  • Lifetime, stable employment with set hours, a clear career path and a consistent, always increasing pay check became a relic for workers at every level in every industry.
  • Traditional operating models that were too rigid to respond nimbly and flexibly were dismantled by the rapid change inherent in the global economy.
  • Full-time care giving and complete retirement for extended periods became non-viable for many, if not most, people because of economic necessity and demographic shifts.

Before the recession, enough parts of the old rule book worked for enough people—even until the banks started failing—that we avoided the difficult task of fundamentally rethinking the way we manage work, life and business to match reality.  No longer.  It’s officially a new work+life flex normal.

Flexibility in how, when and where work is done, life is managed and business operates is a strategic imperative.  As I wrote in May, the question is no longer “if” flexibility, but how to expand the “why” behind flexibility and determine “how” to make it work for everyone. To that end, here some of the angles and implications we will ponder and discuss: (Click here for more)

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)

White House May Not Be “Family Friendly,” But It Is Work+Life Fit Aware

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You could read the recent New York Times article,“’Family Friendly’ White House Is Less So for Aides,” one of two ways.  As a commentary on the disconnect between what the Obamas say about managing work and life in the White House and what is actually happening.  Or, and perhaps more accurately, as an innovative case study on the possibilities and limits of flexibly managing your work+life fit in a high-pressure organization.  Here’s what I think the article has to tell all of us:

Our language needs to catch up with our present-day work+life reality if we are to avoid misunderstandings. Part of the problem with the Obama Administration’s efforts is the language they are using.  “Family friendly,” and “balance” are outdated terms that aren’t used by most work life experts because we’ve learned that they don’t accurately describe reality.  Think about it, what exactly does “family-friendly” mean?  Does it mean mothers, or all parents?  Does it include people with eldercare responsibilities?  And what about people who consider their pets to be members of their family?  And what exactly does “friendly” look like?  What looks friendly to me might look very unfriendly to you.

It is much clearer to talk about a flexible work environment that allows people to manage their work and life in a way that meets their needs as well as the needs of the business.  Notice I didn’t say “balance.”  There is no balance, especially not in a global, 24/7 organization like the White House that’s dealing with a major recession and two wars.   So instead of saying the White House is “family-friendly,” President and Mrs. Obama could say, “we support giving people the flexibility they need to manage their important jobs with their responsibilities at home in the context of what it means to work in the White House.”

A leader can set the tone, but he or she can’t give us the answer because our realities are completely different. Kudos to the Obamas for setting the cultural tone related to work+life issues.  They freely talk about how they try to manage their work+life fit, which makes it okay for us all to discuss.  They encourage the use of laptops to support flexibility (only for parents so far, however, I would advise expanding to everyone as soon as possible), and they walk the talk in a way that works for them.  Unlike other aides and staff members, President Obama works from home when he is in the country which does allow him greater, spontaneous access to his family.

While others are still trying to figure out their fit, they report a number of “small wins” such as accompanying a daughter on a field trip, or seeing soccer games.  If I could give them all expert advice, it would be to keep focusing on those small, flexible, day-to-day victories.  They make a huge difference.

Some are making adjustments to accommodate realities of their high-powered jobs that can’t be changed.  In-laws and spouses are taking on more.  Additional support is being hired.  Babysitters are bringing babies to work for a visit.  It might not sound appealing to everyone, but all that matters is it works for them.

Admittedly, there are those that still have a way to go in terms of finding their White House work+life fit.  Nighttime school visits and sightseeing aren’t going to work long-term.  But, it’s only been seven months, so testing the waters is to be expected; however…

This is a big job with long hours and sometimes it isn’t going to work for everyone. As the article noted, these are “prestigious posts that offer a chance to make an impact and unparalleled access to the President at time of recession and war.”   And the work is never, ever going to be done.

These are smart people.  They knew what they were getting into. The United States Government is a global, always on, always changing entity that’s currently guiding a country under great stress. Not surprisingly, a couple of staff members have already decided that it wasn’t going to work and have resigned.  Maybe they have a child or parent with an unexpected special need.  Maybe their partner got a new job.  Or, maybe it just wasn’t what they wanted after all.  They tried and realized it wasn’t for them, which shouldn’t be an indictment of the entire effort.

While it might not be everyone’s definition of “family-friendly,” there’s no doubt that this White House is much more work+life fit aware and supportive than previous administrations.  Is it perfect?  No.  Will they need to keep innovating?  Of course.  A year ago, would we have seen so many male senior administration officials talking openly about their work+life fit challenges?  I don’t think so.  That’s progress to celebrate.

The Administration is trying to create a culture that gives everyone as much flexibility as possible to manage their fit.  But in the end, they all still work for the White House.  And for some, that’s a fit that’s just not going to work.

What do you think?  Do you feel the White House work-life efforts are hypocritical, or do you see them as helping us all make the flexible management of our individual work+life fit part of the day-to-day operating model?