Work+Life “Fit” is Not Just a Working Mothers’s Issue. It’s an Everyone Issue, Including Men.

Over the past week, there was a flurry of articles about the pending Blackberry shutdown (USA Today 2/3/06; Money 2/1/06). Many focused on the panic high-level individuals in business and government are experiencing as they face the possibility of not being connected to work at all times. (There was even a related article in the Wall Street Journal about Type-A bathrooms –bathrooms outfitted with technology to receive calls, emails, etc).

Running through the individual stories in these articles was a work+life “fit” undertone, even though most of the interviewees were men in very demanding, senior level jobs—lawyers, CEOs, PR Executives, Record Executives. (This is a perfect example of how the term “fit” includes everyone in the same work life conversation, even those who have chosen to devote most of their time and energy to work). These men talked about how their Blackberry was a double-edged sword, waking them up at night, catching them in the bathroom, or on the field at a daughter’s soccer game. But, it also allowed them to be in their own bed or at home, or at their daughter’s game, instead of at the office.

These senior executive men were grappling with the possibility of having to readjust their “fit” should they lose the use of their Blackberry. Granted, they’ve chosen a high level of responsibility, travel and work, but they also still have lives outside of work (e.g. spouses, children, hobbies, homes) they wanted to time and energy for. And while the Blackberry creates work if you don’t manage it effectively, and let it manage you (e.g. “crackberry), it also offers a degree of flexibility that otherwise wouldn’t be there.

Reading these articles I couldn’t help wondering how many other people (including the subjects themselves) even noticed the work+life “fit” dimension of these stories. Why? Because most people still believe that managing work and life is primarily an issue limited to working mothers, and certainly not one that applies to senior male executives. This is a holdover from a time when working mothers in many ways led the charge for greater flexibility out of sheer necessity. But, the personal stories in the Blackberry articles prove that this challenge of managing work and the rest of life, especially in today’s 24/7 world, is experienced across levels and demographic groups. In other words, our choices may be different, our challenges may be unique, but the conversation about how to manage work life transitions, both big and small, is the same.

But too often I’ve seen this lingering, outdated bias hinder the creative process of finding mutually-beneficial solutions. Here are a couple of examples:

  • A manager admitted that he nearly said “no” when a young male employee asked to come in later on Fridays in order to train for marathons (making up the work at other times and from home), because he didn’t think it was a valid reason;
  • An HR manager expressed surprise when the demographic make-up of the group attending my session turned out to be primarily male, as she was sure it would be mostly female.
  • A corporate event planner was surprised by the negative reaction from male employees when I spoke at an event for her company’s women’s network, but wasn’t asked to also addresses all employees.
  • A single woman with no children discounted her desire to leave early periodically in the Spring and Summer to play golf (making up the work by coming in earlier or working at home) saying, “that’s not a good enough reason.”
  • A father of two young sons felt “it was only right,” to do most of the travel for his team which consists of a number of working mothers, even though it meant he didn’t see his boys.

Today, everyone is working harder, faster, and longer. In this era of 24/7 connectivity, long gone are the days when an organization is able to set the boundaries around work. As the potential Blackberry shutdown illustrates, the underlying causes of our respective work+life “fit” challenges may differ, but the need for solutions that are mutually-beneficial to organizations and individuals is universal.

Personal Work+Life “Fit” Innovation

This week’s success story was submitted in the “comments” section of the blog by a reader named John from Portland, OR who runs his own venture capital firm. His story illustrates perfectly how non-working mothers are often unaware that the choices they are making have underlying work+life “fit” motivations:

“Such a new way of looking at things: thank you Cali! I started my own business after having our 4th child in what I believed to be an attempt to “run a business correctly” and other noble objectives. In hindsight, what I really achieved was my Work+Life fit. You know, I, too, was a New York City commercial banker, and I knew early on that that the crowd bragging on Monday mornings about the number of hours they worked on the weekend was not for me. Thank you for giving a name and understanding to what I was feeling!”

Thank you, John! Once again, please share your work+life “fit” success story. You have no idea how much it can inspire others.

Organizational Research Review

Business Impacts of Flexibility: An Imperative for Expansion, a study released in November 2005 by Corporate Voices for Working Families researched by WFD Consulting and funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
One of the reasons I wrote my book and now started this blog is that I wanted to create a wider audience for the important information being created by the industry that I’ve been privileged to be a part of since I interned at Families and Work Institute in 1993. Often referred to as the “worklife industry,” it began back in the early to mid-80s when pioneering visionaries saw that the spheres of work and life weren’t separate and discrete. They understood that work and the rest of life overlapped and affected one another both positively and negatively, and began researching the subject from a variety of different angles. Finding champions in a number of equally forward-thinking CEOs and organizations, they proceeded to change the way we think about work and life.

Over the years, the industry has grown, and the focus of our work has evolved. My goal is to help share the best of this work and help individuals and organizations apply it to promote stronger work+life fit partnerships.
Periodically, I will review a study that I believe is a “must read.” Last week, I mentioned the Generations and Gender Study, conducted by Families and Work Institute in collaboration with the American Business Collaborative. This week, I am going to review: Business Impacts of Flexibility: An Imperative for Expansion, a study released in November 2005 by Corporate Voices for Working Families, researched by WFD Consulting and funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Why is this research a “must read?” First, because of who wrote it—everyone involved has been in the field for years and knows what they are talking about, from the lead researchers (WFD Consulting led by Arlene Johnson, my former FWI colleague), the sponsoring organization (Corporate Voices for Working Families, led by Donna Klien the long-time, innovative work life strategist for Marriott) to the board of advisors (all experienced work life strategists within some of the country’s most forwarding-thinking companies). And, it shows in the final product.

Drawing on their years of collective experience, this group has put together what I consider to be one of the clearest, most comprehensive, compelling, and yet concise guides outlining how an organization executes a well thought-out, real world, business-oriented strategy for formal and informal work life flexibility. Methodically laying out the business case, it proves categorically that work life flexibility is not just a “nice thing to do,” but a strategic business imperative for the 21st century if an organization wants to:

  • Increase retention, reduce turnover expenses
  • Increase satisfaction, commitment, and engagement, and
  • Improve innovation, quality, customer retention, and shareholder value

If you are a manager, use the study to quantify even more concretely why supporting employees’ efforts to strategically manage their work+life fit makes good business sense. Create an environment to supports the informal and formal flexibility employees use to partner with the organization to manage their work+life “fit.” This is especially true if you work for a smaller organization that may not have the resources to implement a large, formal work life strategy. Use the study to identify how to support and empower the individuals in your organization to take the lead and partner with you to find solutions.

If you are an individual, use the study to educate yourself about flexibility and how to discuss the benefits to the organization. And, if you fear some potential resistance from your manager when you present your proposal, bring a copy of the study along. After reading it, your manager will have very hard time not acknowledging the benefits to you and the organization.

Join me on February, 14th when the Work+Life “Fit” Blog will include:
Commentary: Redefining Success—Money

Next week starts the Redefining Success Series. Over the next four weeks, my commentary will focus on one of the most important, and thought-provoking aspects of the work+life “fit” process—how to redefine success to match the “fit” you want to achieve. Unless an individual’s personal definition of success and their work+life fit are aligned, the arrangement is destined to fail.

Next week’s topic is redefining success related to money. I will introduce the New Work+Life “Fit” Math formula for calculating whether or not to work, and introduce an exciting new concept called the Career Asset Management Model developed by a financial planner named Mike Haubrich that incorporates Work+Life Fit into the financial planning process. Stay tuned…

And, of course, another Personal Work+Life “Fit” Innovation..

See you then!