Breaking Down Stereotype #5 – I will make less money

Cali Becomes Monthly Guest Blogger, Success Magazine’s “Work/Life Balance” Blog

The Work+Life Fit Blog is one-year old! And, oh, what a year it’s been! What better way to celebrate than by announcing that I’ve been asked to contribute a monthly posting to the newly launched work/life balance blog for Success Magazine. While my own Work+Life Fit blog will continue to follow work+life issues from a wide variety of perspectives, my postings for Success Magazine will focus specifically on how our personal definitions of success related to money, prestige, advancement, and caregiving impact our ability to effectively manage our work and life. Click here for my first posting and join me around the 15th of every month for an update.

Work+Life Stereotype #5—I will make less money

Our fears and misperceptions related to money and flexibility have a direct impact on our ability, or more accurately, inability to manage our work and life. According to the Work+Life Fit Reality Check, the survey conducted for us by the Opinion Research Corporation, when asked why they hadn’t improved their work-life “balance,” 45% of respondents said it was because they’d make less money.

Why is it that almost half of us automatically assume that improving our “fit” means making less money? Because we tend to think of flexibility only as “working less.” It’s true that some work+life transitions require reducing our schedule and workload, and in those situations, we do make less money for a period of time. And there’s nothing wrong with that. However, we’re overlooking the fact that working less is only one of many options for finding a better fit. What about working differently? Not decreasing the amount of work you do, but changing how, when, or where you do it? You wouldn’t make less money, but you would be able to manage work and personal responsibilities more effectively in today’s 24/7, high tech, global reality.

As long as we believe that the only solution to a work+life challenge is “work less, and make less money,” we won’t see or consider all of the available options. This stereotype needs to change.

Here’s the Proof

Last week, I mentioned conducted by Simmons School of Management of more than 400 middle and senior level professional women with an average of 20 years of experience. In the Chicago Tribune, Barbara Rose reported that, “Women who said they used flexible arrangements at some point in their careers were not hit with a ‘mommy tax.’ Holding constant for age, educational level and other differences, they earned as much as women who asked for no special flexibility.” In other words, using flexibility to manage their work and life did not cause them to “make less money” which means most of them found their “fit” not by working less, just by working differently. And there are countless others who are doing the same.

Bob’s story is my favorite example. He took job at a well-known New York-based investment bank, negotiating up front that he would need to arrive by 7:30 am most days and leave by 5:30 pm to relieve the nanny who watched his two children. Needless to say, this was very unusual in an office where people typically left no earlier than 8:00 pm. You might wonder how he does the same amount of work as his equally well-compensated colleagues who work on average two hours more per day in the office. After he puts his kids to bed, Bob gets back on the computer and completes all the work he has to do with the Asia offices he covers. Not only does this work better for him, it also works better for his Asian colleagues who don’t have to come into the office earlier. A win-win. Bob found his “fit” by creatively changing when, where, and how he worked, not by reducing his schedule. As a result, he doesn’t make less money.

Why did Bob succeed? Because he got creative. He looked at his work and personal circumstances and crafted a “fit” that met his needs as well as the needs of the business. And, by the way, his manager says he is one of the best people on her staff. What if Bob had thought the only way he could leave every night by 5:30 pm would be to reduce his schedule and, in turn, his compensation? He would have missed out on a lot of possibilities.

What’s the Problem?

Not only do we as individuals have difficulty considering all of the options available to us along the entire work+life fit continuum, but managers have trouble as well. Say the word “flexibility,” to a manager and what’s the first thing they think? Work less. No wonder so many managers are initially uncomfortable with flexibility, even though it’s a very valuable resource management tool. They are operating on the same false assumption, and immediately think “Who’s going to do the work?”

We all need to help break down the stereotype for managers. Explain to your manager that a reduced schedule is only one of many types of flexibility that can help an individual manage a work and life transition. And for most people, most of the time, it’s a matter of changing how, when, or where the work is done, not reducing their workload. Suddenly, he or she will relax and become more open to the concept. But managers, just like individuals, have trouble seeing this initially.

Why Does it Matter?

Effectively managing our work and life through the countless transitions we will experience over a lifetime and career requires seeing and taking advantage of all types of flexibility. Maybe at some point your unique circumstances will require reducing your schedule and making less money. In that case, redefine success related to money and feel good about a reduction in pay if it gives you the fit you need. But that is not the only answer. Individuals and managers need to step beyond the stereotype and recognize that many solutions involve shifting hours, working from home periodically, or changing how we do our work. But we can’t take advantage of any of these options if our default response is, “work less, make less.”

What’s the New Mindset?

Notice I didn’t say new “stereotype?” Continuing my pledge from last week that instead of promoting new work+life stereotypes (which are really never good) I am encouraging a new mindset, here’s the new work+life fit mindset for this week:

Just as there are countless work+life transitions, there are countless types of flexibility from which to choose. Some may involve reducing your schedule and compensation, but many more will involve changing how, when, or where you work and don’t result in making less money because you aren’t working less, just differently.

Remember, you can’t take advantage of any work+life fit options, if you can’t first see them. So pull back the lens and realize it’s more than, “working less,” and “making less,” it’s about working creatively and differently.

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