More Voices Say, “It’s an ‘Everyone’ Issue”

New York Newsday Article (9/10/06)–After the Time Out: How to Navigate the Return to the Workforce”by Patricia Kitchen

Check out the advice a team of experts (one of whom was me) gave a mom transitioning back into the workforce after being at home full-time for a few years. Two important take-aways for everyone:

• It’s essential to clarify your boundaries around work before you start working again. Define what you can and cannot do given the fit you are trying to achieve, and then stick with it. You are the only one who can do this.
• You may need to redefine success—what does doing a “good” job look like—and make sure it matches the work+life fit you’ve envisioned above. Otherwise, you run the risk of becoming overwhelmed and burning out.

It’s an “Everyone” Issue

While the Newsday article is about a mom transitioning back into the workforce, the process she follows—the issues she confronts and the choices she makes—can apply to many different work+life scenarios.

For years, I’ve been saying that strategically managing your work+life is a responsibility we all need to embrace especially in today’s 24/7 work reality. It’s an issue for everyone, not just working mothers. Yet, the media and organizations continue to primarily focus on the challenges of working and being a mother.

Why? My hunch after a decade of developing work+life strategies for companies and individuals is that having a baby is the most noticeable work+life transition. And mothers are those most likely to publicly discuss their struggles, because they have to. They have a child to take care of. In other words, it’s easy to make the link: pregnant = child = work+life decision point: should I stay or leave = public discussion of the issue. As a result, the cultural perception is that moms are the ones who experience the most difficulty in this area.

Other work+life challenges aren’t as apparent, or as publicly discussed by the individuals experiencing them. You might not notice the person sitting at his desk whose mother has been rushed to the hospital. Or, the person who is considering quitting because she hasn’t found time for a date in six months. But the need for a new “fit” that addresses these circumstances is equally as important.

As a working mother myself, I can attest that managing children and a career is indeed challenging. Becoming a mother is a big transition. But it’s just one of many personal and career transitions.

Other big transitions that don’t get as much attention include becoming a father (most of the fathers under 40 years old I know personally or have met professionally through my work are very involved in the children’s lives). Allowing fathers more flexibility would open up many more opportunities for mothers.

Also, how about the transition of sending your child off to college? Read Nancy Shenker’s (www.theonswitch.com) blog posting describing the impact of this huge event.

Caring for a sick or aging parent can be highly unpredictable and difficult and require a tremendous amount of work+life flexibility. I know from personal experience caring for my mom for the past four months during her cancer treatment. Then there are the baby boomers that are reinventing retirement to include some kind of work—it ain’t your father’s retirement anymore. Different transitions, but the same process for finding a new “fit.”

There are also the smaller transitions that are given very little attention but make a huge difference in a person’s sense of well-being. They include finding time to date or see friend, going to the gym, or going back to school. Or going on vacation (See the Work+Vacation Quandary)

Thankfully, I am finding other voices joining me in the, “It’s an everyone issue” chorus. Who are some of these voices?

BusinessWeek’s Working Parents Blog

With the name “Working Parents Blog” and a staff of BusinessWeek writers who are also moms and dads, two things are clear. First, the challenges of being a parent while finding time and energy for your job is a dynamic process for everyone. And, second, this is a strategic business issue.

Interestingly, there’s an article in BusinessWeek (9/18/06) magazine about strategies for employers to attract the best and brightest college graduates. If you substitute the words “working mothers, working fathers, eldercare providers, or pre-retirees” for “millenials” or “recent grads,” you can see how these same goals apply to everyone:

• “Let Them Have a Life—Wary of their parents’ 80-hour workweeks, Millenials strive for more balance…”
• “Not Time Clocks, Please—Recent grads don’t mind long hours—if they can work on their own time.”

The Rebel Dad Blog

“Rebel Dad” is the name Brian Reid came up with to describe himself when he left the workforce to stay home with his kids. His blog puts to words all of the things I’ve heard men say “off the record” for years. (See the following postings “Men, It’s Time to Come Out of the Flexibility Closet,” and “More High Potential Men Want Flexibility to See Their Kids or They Will Leave”).

As a woman, I can point out that men want flexibility just as much as women do (though they are less comfortable asking), but a man saying it out loud for everyone else to hear means a lot more. Here’s one of Rebeldad’s comments from a posting last week in response to an article in the LA Times about the new “Mommy Track,”

“Clearly, there is more room for flexibility now — I have, in the past, been able to make demands about when and where I worked — but is it really widespread enough to be a trend? And an employer-driven on at that? Of course, if true, there remains one huge downside. All of this flexibility is a mom thing:

Although fathers are also generally eligible for the same leave programs or reduced schedules, relatively few take advantage of them, fearing they will be viewed as career lightweights, managers say. (LA Times)

I know that’s probably an accurate statement, but I’d love to see it get less accurate over time.”

I do too. And, I look forward to hearing more from Rebeldad.

Sepherion’s Career Blog

Sepherion is a staffing and recruiting company that publishes interesting studies on a variety of work-related subjects, including work+life. Their blog had a posting last week about a recent webcast on Monster.com regarding the top priorities of Gen-Y employees versus Mature employees. The blog author found, not surprisingly, that we all want flexibility and work/life balance regardless of our age. The difference, however, is that younger employees expect to achieve it, while older employee wish for it:

“Recently, I listened to a Monster webcast on Gen “Y” and heard about the top priorities this generation is looking for in their careers…. It struck me how, in many ways, mature workers are similar to Gen “Y” in what they want from work.

Similarities
* Fewer Hours
* Flexible Work Arrangements
* Meaningful Responsibility
* Make a Real Contribution
* Work/Life Balance
* Training to Upgrade Knowledge

Differences
It seems to me that one of the main differences between generations is that the “Y” generation expects these priorities to be met and mature generations simply hope for these priorities to be met. Take some advice from Gen “Y” and raise your expectations!”

I couldn’t agree more! Companies cannot do it for us—they can create the space for the conversation to take place, but it’s up to us to partner with them and make it happen. We all must expect and then make it happen, we can’t just hope.

Bottom line

We all experience different work+life transitions, at different times. Some will be big, and others will be small. Each work+life “fit” will depend upon our unique circumstances and it will change countless times, but the process for finding that solution is the same for everyone.

However, as long as we keep the conversation primarily limited to the “For Mom’s Only” box, we fail to make that common link. We miss the opportunity to embrace a new personal strategy for creating that fit in partnership with our employers, and to overcome the barriers that keep us from doing it.

The 24/7 work reality isn’t going to change. It demands from all of us a more direct role in setting the boundaries around work. Including mothers, like me. Welcome to the “It’s an everyone issue” revolution!


One thought on “More Voices Say, “It’s an ‘Everyone’ Issue”

  1. I think the focus on mom’s rather than “everyone” is a form of diverting the issue (in addition to a bit of old-fashioned sexism!) The problem is this: the workplace has traditionally imposed an arbitrary schedule that’s inconvenient for people and not even particularly tailored to the work needs. People’s response has been to justify getting a dispensation from the arbitrary norm. The real issue is that there is no reason for the norm in the first place; what makes sense is to start with actual work requirements, actual personal requirments, and negotiate the configuration that addresses both sets of needs with the fewest compromises.

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