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Commentary: Yes, Things Are Getting Better… Last Tuesday I spoke to a group of professional women under 30 in New York City. I introduced the work+life “fit” strategies and then two senior executive women presented their personal stories. One was from a large media company, and the other from a large private equity firm, both had children. The final question posed to us during the Q&A was, “Have you seen things really change for the better regarding work+life?” The three of us were unanimous, “Yes, it absolutely has.” Even though we had come at this subject from three completely different perspectives, we all agreed things were improving. This got me thinking about other positive signs I’ve noticed recently.
The signs may be subtle, but the work+life conversation is starting to take a turn toward creative solutions—individually, organizationally, and culturally. Like the green shoots of the spring flowers that are just peeking out, they don’t make much of an impression individually. But, once they all start to bloom, it becomes clear that a change of season has arrived. Here are some small “shoots” of evidence that I take as encouraging signs:
Ambitious young people care about work/life “fit” and aren’t ashamed to say it. For example, here are the stated objectives of the group of young women I spoke to last week:
- Help members develop professional skills to reach career objectives
- Educate members about different career possibilities through interactions with colleagues and speakers
- Create a forum for members to discuss work/life balance issues
- Provide members with opportunities to contribute to the New York community.
This is a professional group of very motivated and successful young women in New York City, and work+life fit issues are right up there with their more traditional career objectives.
I heard a senior executive utter my mantra, “It’s not just a women’s issue.” I think I actually said, “Amen!” out loud when one of women co-presenting with me last Tueday said, “You know this isn’t just an issue for women.” She went on to tell about a guy at her company who just negotiated to telecommute from upstate New York because his family was relocating. She admitted this type of arrangement was unheard of in the past, and applauded that he’s eaking new ground for her organization.
Clarification of the “Mommy War” and “Opting Out” rhetoric—recognition it’s a subset of a oader conversation. The magnitude of the “Mommy War” and “Opting Out” trends is being clarified by experts offering more tempered interpretations of the data. Claudia Goldin, a Harvard economist professor, wrote an OpEd in the New York Times, presenting statistical evidence that the opt-out trend for highly educated women has been overblown, especially when you include mothers who are working but not full-time. Bonnie Erbe, a writer for the Scripps Howard News Service, presented a similar argument. And, Leslie Morgan Stiener, the author of “Mommy Wars” admitted in an article for Salon.com that, in fact, there really isn’t a mommy war at all. The struggle is within ourselves not with each other.
Are there highly educated women who are choosing to be home full-time with their children? Yes. Are there some working mothers and non-working mothers who feel misunderstood by each other? Absolutely. But it’s becoming clear that their experiences have been given a disproportionately large percentage of the airtime.
In today’s 24/7 work reality, we all need better strategies for managing the many unique transitions in our work and life more effectively and in partnership with our employers. Hopefully, the conversation will now become more inclusive and, in turn, more productive.
Businessweek started a blog for Working Parents (not just Working Mothers)
New studies find that workers who value life outside of work are more committed and ambitious. Studies are proving that individuals are beginning to value both work and life equally, and no longer seeing them as two mutually-exclusive objectives. As a result, they’re performing better professionally than those who don’t.
Workopolis, a Canadian organization, just published a survey showing how priorities had shifted for Canadian workers over the past five years. Five years ago, the top priority was career followed by family. Today those priorities have switched, with family ranking first (44%) and career second (31%). And the priorities of men and women are more aligned then they were five years ago. Five years ago, career advancement was far ahead of work+life fit, but today both genders say it’s their first priority. But the study also found that these same employees were still very interested in professional development and career advancement.
The Families and Work Institute’s Generation and Gender Study also reported what may seem to be counter-intuitive findings. Individuals who placed equal value on work and life were actually more committed to their careers. They were more likely to seek greater responsibility than those who are work-centric, or who report placing a greater value on work.
These are just a few of the small shifts that are moving work+life away from the unproductive “all or nothing,” “companies need to do more,” “mommy wars,” mentality, and toward solutions suited for the unique realities of the 21st Century; solutions that meet the needs of individuals and organizations.
Mom Update: Thank you to everyone who offered their prayers and good wishes for my mom after last week’s posting. Last Monday we got some great news that the cancer is localized and hasn’t spread. Yesterday, we saw the doctor to set her course of treatment which she begins this week. We are all hopeful for a positive outcome.
Personal Work+Life “Fit” Innovation – How Michelle strategically adjusted her “fit” during five different work+life transitions….
I learned about Work + Life Fit early in my career and it’s been the most important element of my job satisfaction.
Work+Life “Fit” Transition #1 – Going Back to School/ Not Working Less, Just Differently
When I started out in the health care industry I was working full-time and pursuing a masters degree. I negotiated a flexible schedule that allowed me to leave work a couple of hours early 3 nights a week in order to attend classes that started at 4:00pm. Since my education was directly related to the work I was doing, my boss viewed the classes as on-the-job training. Therefore, I didn’t have to add those hours back in to my schedule somewhere in order to attend school.
Work+Life “Fit” Transition #2 – Having First Baby/ Telecommuting Two Days a Week
Several years later, as I was finishing my masters, I got pregnant and began to plan how to adjust my Work + Life Fit in order to work and raise a family. Fortunately, there was another mother at my job who had paved the way for a work-at-home arrangement. I spoke with her to find out how she negotiated with our boss, and what kind of arrangement she had.
I proposed working from home two days a week after my maternity leave. My boss agreed because I had demonstrated my work ethic and ability to work independently and get the job done during the three years that I was going to school. And since he had good experiences with the other mother working from home, this also helped my cause.
Work+Life “Fit” Transition #3 – Having Second Baby / Continuing to Telecommute Two Days a Week
This arrangement worked well for three years, and then I got pregnant with my second daughter. My boss told me I could continue my telecommuting schedule, and even add an additional day at home.
Work+Life “Fit” Transition #4 – New Job with Even More Flexibility
Five years ago I got a call from a recruiter asking me to consider a job with a different company. I was hesitant at first. I had come to value my flexible schedule and the ability to work from home so much that those factors were almost more important than my income. I also had accrued 4 weeks of vacation, and didn’t relish the thought of having to start a new job with only 2 weeks. I told the recruiter that I’d only consider the job if the new employer would be able to match or improve my flexible schedule and vacation time.
I was delighted when the new employer came back and said I could have all the flexibility I wanted. He told me I could work from home all the time if I chose to, and also offered a more generous time-off package. So not only could I take on a new and challenging job opportunity that would let me grow in my career, but that I could also have a better and more flexible working arrangement, and thereby improve my work + life fit.
Work+Life “Fit” Transition #5 – Finding Time for Myself and My Community
As my children have gotten older, my work + life fit needs have evolved. I still work from home several days a week, but that’s only when I don’t have external meetings planned. My current work + life fit challenge is finding time to get in a workout at the gym (yes, finding time for me to keep healthy and fit), and volunteer with my daughters’ Girl Scout troops, pick my girls up from school periodically, and make sure that I never miss a school play. Now I find myself scheduling days to be in the office because I enjoy being part of the office camaraderie. I found that I missed my co-workers when I was constantly telecommuting.
My employer is extremely supportive, and has encouraged me to make my schedule meet my needs so that it affords me my best Work + Life Fit. My personal experiences have empowered me. I’ve learned that it’s okay to make requests of an employer for the work + life equation that works best for you, and if you demonstrate that you can be productive within that equation, then the results of what you can accomplish are unlimited.