How to Work and Take Care of 32 Million Children

Parents across the U.S. and their employers woke up this morning with a new and daunting reality — how to work, care for and educate the estimated 32 million children who may be home from school for the foreseeable future. Here are a few tips to help leaders and parents partner to flexibly fit work, life, school, and family together:

Shift Your Productivity Mindset:  The goal is not to maintain pre-coronavirus levels of productivity. It’s about keeping everyone safe and healthy while maintaining as much productivity as possible as we all adapt to this new, ever-changing normal. The key is to be as creative and supportive as possible. If there was ever a moment to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, now is that time. Keep repeating: SOME productivity is better than NO productivity.

Talk Honestly and Be Patient:  Typically, bosses and employees don’t want or need to get into the nitty-gritty of how someone is going to work and take care of their kids. But these are not typical times. Keep the lines of communication open especially as parents settle into some sort of new routine with caregiving and home instruction. Managers, a little bit of extra support and understanding may be the difference between a worker who finds a way to keep contributing and one who throws up their hands and says, “I can’t do this.”

Expect and Embrace Imperfect Remote Workspaces: Effective remote working usually requires a separate workspace with limited disruptions from children, pets, and partners. That is an unrealistic and unnecessary expectation during this period when employees and kids were sent home to remote work and learn with little time to plan. The goal now is for people to feel they can be as responsive and accessible as possible, even if the environment is not absolutely perfect. If everyone—bosses, coworkers, and customers–can forgive a screaming child, barking dog, or the hum of a video game in the background, it will allow everyone to sustain a higher level of communication that would otherwise stop.

Spread Parents Across “A and B” Teams and Be Creative with Schedules:  For jobs that have certain tasks that cannot be done remotely, companies have started to use an “A and B Team” system to limit the number of people together in the same physical space. For those that have or are planning to do so, consider the following:

  • Assign employees who are parents evenly on both teams
  • Allow parents to stagger their start and stop times to coordinate care with partners and other support resources. Allow them to arrive and leave earlier or arrive and leave later as needed.

Hire College Students Available to Help: With two daughters sent home from college for online classes, I know there are millions of higher ed students that will have plenty of time in between classes for activities requiring limited social interaction. Now, there are public safety caveats given current CDC guidelines regarding social distancing. That’s why I say “will have” time. Many college students will not go back to school until fall. Use your judgment and listen to the public health authorities; however, after the period of strict social distancing and personal quarantine periods have passed, we will have millions of smart, motivated young people who could not only help care for kids while parents work but could also lead home instruction.

We have entered an unprecedented work and life reality. By shifting mindsets, changing expectations and re-imagining how, when and where work is done, we can mitigate the coronavirus, care for and educate our kids and stay open for business.

If you are a leader, how are you partnering with your working parent employees? If you are a working parent, what has been your experience so far? What’s worked and what hasn’t? What would help you?

A/B Teams: Flex Schedules and Locations When Remote Work Isn’t an Option

How do you implement a flexible work crisis plan that keeps everyone healthy, safe and as productive as possible during a very challenging period when remote work isn’t an option for certain jobs or organizations?

“Flexing” where people work is getting the most airtime and attention, but flexing when and how people can work together is another option to consider. 

The key is to social distance by controlling the number of people in one space at one time while maintaining at least some level of operating continuity.

One way to do this is to divide employees deemed ESSENTIAL to onsite operations and cannot work remotely into A and B teams. Schedule the teams to limit the exposure of the whole group to the coronavirus and then ensure the workspaces are cleaned daily. Here’s an example:

  • Week 1—Team A: Monday, Wednesday, Friday
  • Week 1—Team B: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday (Add Sat if want to add productivity hours, if needed)
  • Week 2—Team A: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday
  • Week 2—Team B: Monday, Wednesday, Friday

Employees must stick to the teams to which they are assigned to limit exposure. That’s a mandate. To support employees with school-age children at home, divide parents across teams and allow them to shift their start and stop schedules to coordinate caregiving needs.

Productivity—Maintaining as Much as Realistically Possible in a Crisis Period

The reality is when a team that is essential to onsite operations is divided in half and works three-day weeks, productivity will decrease approximately 40 percent per week if employees typically work an eight-hour day.

To address this, some organizations have added Saturdays and/or extended workdays to 10 hours to make up for lost productivity. This still totals 30 hours a week. For this to work, leaders need to make peace with the fact that by switching to A and B teams they’ve kept their people safe while maintaining as much productivity as possible during the crisis period.

Keeping Everyone “Whole” 

How will pay be affected for those A and B team members? Some organizations have found creative ways for employees to use the extra hours to complete tasks that can be done remotely such as updating procedures, cross-training, and continuing education.

Some employers, that are able, are continuing to pay full salaries during this crisis regardless of the hours worked, while others that can’t are decreasing pay proportionally to avoid layoffs and to continue providing at least a percentage of an employee’s salary. (Hopefully, legislation currently under consideration will help with this gap).

There Are More Options than Remote Working 

Everyone is doing their best to rapidly reimagine the way work is done under very difficult, rapidly changing circumstances. There is no right or wrong answer.

It’s about what works best right now; however, the use of A and B teams to creatively schedule when and how your people work is another possible way of continuing to operate if remote work isn’t possible for certain jobs or organizations.

Caution: Some organizations may be using A and B teams as their primary flexible work crisis strategy, even though, if you look closely many of the jobs do not require onsite presence and could be done remotely, at least in part. The reason seems to be that on some level it’s easier than switching everyone over to working remotely. The problem with that is:

  • You are unnecessarily exposing people who don’t need to be exposed to each other and
  • You run the risk that should even more restrictive limits on gatherings be issued, you will be caught scrambling to get remote work up and running under even more challenging circumstances.

Have you or your organization implemented A and B teams as part of your flexible work crisis management strategy? What did you do? How is it working?

Have Aging Parents AND Siblings? READ THIS BOOK! I Wish I Had.

I love serendipity (or “serendestiny,” as Sam Horn calls it).  I keep an eye out for it in all aspects of my work and life.  Late last year, I attended a party for the launch of Donna Fenn’s excellent book, Upstarts, in New York City.   At that event, serendipity hit in the form of Francine Russo and her new book, They’re Your Parents Too! How Siblings Can Survive Their Parents’ Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy (Bantam, 2010), which is a must read for everyone with parents and siblings.

Shortly after arriving at the party, Donna pulled me aside and introduced me to Russo saying, “You two have to connect.  Francine has just written a terrific book on elder care.”  Five minutes into my conversation with Russo, I was hooked.   I only wish They’re Your Parents Too! had been written two years ago when my sisters and I cared for our mother until her death from cancer (here and here for posts recounting that experience).

In addition to being incredibly well-written (Russo is a career journalist who most recently covered the aging and boomer beat for Time magazine), it addresses many important issues that my sisters and I intuitively navigated blindly.  Our elder care experience, while rewarding and very challenging, was aided by the fact that three of us get along well, had flexible work+life fit realities, and lived relatively close to our mother.   In many instances, this is not the case which makes Russo’s book even more valuable.

Recently, I spoke with Francine Russo about They’re Your Parents Too! Here are some highlights from our conversation.

CY: Having coordinated a very intense two-year period of elder care with my two sisters, this book really hit a chord.  I haven’t seen anything written on the subject of siblings sharing care of their aging family members.  Why do you think that is, and what do you hope your book does?

FR: In the past, grandparents usually died quickly and didn’t live to be that old.  They didn’t need help for 10 years.  This is the first time in history that original family members have to engage intimately, perhaps for the first time in 40 years, over important issues that may go on for a decade.

People always had to go through the psychological passage of losing parents and facing their own mortality.  But we never had to do it while gathering with original family members and negotiating how to coordinate care for so long.

The family has changed.  You’re not the little sister.  You’re not the big sister.  Everyone is an adult, and it’s a challenge to adapt in this new period as adults especially in a crisis when we tend to revert back to old roles.  We learned these roles as little kids.  You may have to deal with favoritism, or that so-and-so is the “incompetent” one.  All this needs to be reexamined as you are today.

Caring for your parents is a wake up call to become conscious.  Be aware of your feelings as you navigate uncharted waters.   You need to know that huge emotions can sweep you up, and you want to be prepared so you can react in ways that are productive.

CY: In the book you talk about the process of picking a primary caregiver.   You point out that who that main person might be isn’t always obvious.  Can you say more about the process?  And how much of this conversation can take place between siblings before an elder care crisis hits?

FR: Caring for a parent is not a job for one person.  It is a major family passage.  And the conversation should take place if at all possible before a crisis happens.   In a perfect scenario, the parent should be involved directly in that discussion.  That’s not always possible because you might get, “Oh, I don’t want to talk about that.  I’m going to die at 89 years old in my sleep.”  Well, that rarely if ever happens.

My hope for the book is that the sibling who buys it and reads it first passes it along and initiates the dialogue.   For example, it is often assumed that location determines who will provide care, but that is not the case.  In addition to the responsibilities and location of individual siblings, you should consider who has the closest relationship with the parent or parents.  In some instances, that will mean the parents will decide to relocate closer to the child with whom they have the strongest emotional bond.  This is especially true if a parent is moving to assisted living or continuous care.

Yes, caring for a parent is a family job; however, it is helpful if one person, with everyone’s agreement, takes responsibility.  But that doesn’t mean assigning jobs.  Many of the complaints I’ve heard have to do with a caregiver feeling overburdened, or being highly controlling.

It is best if everyone is asked what they want to contribute, and what they are comfortable doing.  This then becomes a regular assignment that’s part of schedules and lists outlining tasks and responsibilities.

The important thing is to maintain a sense that we are all in this together.  It’s easy for caregivers to feel let down by their siblings.  They expected help but didn’t say anything, and they feel rejected.   The stress can tap into so many unhelpful, often counterproductive things we learn in families like, “I shouldn’t have to ask my brother.”  It’s so wrong, but does a great deal of damage to a relationship.  By the time the siblings finally begin to interact, there’s lots of anger.

CY: Disagreements between siblings about end of life treatment can be incredibly difficult.  My sisters and I are very close, but toward the end of my mother’s life it was interesting to watch how we each dealt with what was a heart wrenching situation so differently.  Why is it important for siblings to recognize the unique challenges of this particular time, and what can they do to avoid as much of the confusion as possible?

FR: You’re right.  This is possibly the most difficult moment in life, and it will bring up equally difficult emotions.  Some siblings will not want to let go and will want to keep Mom or Dad around no matter what.

Siblings need to have compassion for each other.  All I can say is don’t wait to have this conversation!  This book is a manual to help you prepare emotionally for the end-of-life reality now.  A great way to do this is to initiate the conversation over the holidays when everyone is gathered.  You could start by saying, “I heard this horrible story about a friend’s parent going into a coma having not discussed what they wanted their children to do.  It was a mess. I hope that never happens to our family.   (Mom/Dad), while we are in the same room, can you tell us what you would want us to do?”

When handled this way, siblings get beyond emotional distortions, needs, and competitions.  There’s a much better chance you’ll all be on the same page when it happens.  However, some siblings may still have trouble letting go.  If you think it is going to be really difficult, make a trusted relative who is not a sibling the health care proxy.

CY: One of my favorite parts of the book talks about “Reinventing Your Family,” and establishing new rituals.  This is so important and yet it’s not top of mind as you are knee deep in the care giving.  Why is it important and what should sibling caregivers do to start that reinvention process?

FR: Many times original family rituals formed around the parents.   Whether during an illness or after they die, new rituals need to take their place.

If siblings have started a dialogue around caregiving that’s reasonable and friendly, they can extend this.  For example, commit to meet once a year at a particular time.   There were sisters who hadn’t spoken in a year because they were very angry.  As part of their negotiation to try to repair their relationship that had broken down over care giving, they agreed to meet once a year.

Another idea is to make phone calls or video conferences part of every holiday.  Make it a ritual.  Another story I heard that I like was of three sisters who didn’t live in the same city but agreed to all fly to Chicago, which is where there mother had lived, every year on her birthday for the weekend.

It’s about connecting but also being flexible because everyone has busy lives.

CY: Thank you, Francine.  As someone who charted the elder care trenches with my sisters and made it out the other side, I wish we had had this book to guide us.  Thank you for seeing an unmet need and providing such a comprehensive, helpful how-to.

Have you spoken with your siblings about how you plan to coordinate care for your parents?  If you have, what was the experience like?  If you haven’t, why not?

For more about They’re Your Parents Too! and Francine Russo, go to, and @YourParentsToo on Twitter.

Where’s Work+Life Flex on SHRM’s National Conference Agenda? Essentially Missing.

The other day the Society for Human Resource Management’s national conference brochure arrived.  I opened the front cover and read:

“…This year’s conference is programmed to provide the most comprehensive line-up  of thought-leaders, practitioners, and executives to interact with you on some of the most critical issues facing HR professionals today, with topics covering such key issues are:

  • Talent Management and Staffing
  • Employee Engagement and Morale
  • Legislative Compliance
  • Communication Strategies
  • Layoffs, Downsizing and RIFs
  • Compensation and Benefits
  • Business Competencies
  • Leadership/Career Development
  • Healthcare Strategy and Reform
  • Continuity Planning
  • Global HR”

“Great,” I thought, “I wonder who’s presenting on work+life flexibility as a powerful strategy to help organizations and individuals tackle these challenges and opportunities.”  Given the broad business impacts of strategic flexibility it made sense that it would have prominent placement in the program.

So I looked through the printed conference brochure.  Workplace flexibility.  Nothing.  Work-life flexibility.  Nothing.  Work flexibility, or perhaps Flexible Work Arrangements.  Nothing.  I was confused.

Let’s go to the computer.  Maybe it’s mentioned online in the more detailed conference agenda.   I started with the large, plenary or “Mega” sessions.  Hmmm, nothing again.  Even in the mega sessions that cover issues where flexibility is very relevant–engagement, HR trends, leadership, retention, wellness, change management, motivation and balance—it is not mentioned …. Keep looking.

Go to the concurrent sessions.  Searching…Searching…Searching.  Finally, buried in over 100 concurrent sessions held across three days, I found one presentation that specifically discusses flexibility.  It’s under the International HR section and is entitled, “ Flexible Work Arrangements to Promote Organizational Diversity,” or how the increased use of flexible work arrangements expanded the talent pool in India.  Okay, one is better than none, but that’s it.

What’s going on?  Some may argue, “But, Cali, you aren’t counting the two concurrent presentations in the Employment Law and Legislation sessions that deal with caregiver discrimination and FMLA Jeopardy.”  No, because that’s not what I was looking for.  I was searching for the inclusion of work+life flexibility in the broader discussions of how companies and people will thrive and compete in a post-recession landscape.

For work+life flexibility to become part of a business’ day-to-day operating model, Human Resources can’t be the sole owner and advocate.  A majority of the top 100 CFOs interviewed for a survey that we co-sponsored with BDO Seidman in March, 2008 concurred.  They believed that direct line involvement was necessary for flexibility to succeed.

That being said, HR is a critical partner in the development, implementation and execution of a flexibility strategy.  It is often the first place that the need hits the radar screen as a solution to address talent and employee work+life fit issues.  HR is a critical entry point for the discussion of the broader strategic applications within the business.  This is why the fact that there was only one presentation specifically discussing flexibility buried deep in the concurrent sessions of the national conference the Society for Human Resource Management gives me pause.

It doesn’t bode well for increasing the effectiveness of work+life flexibility inside of organizations.   In other words, many organizations have formal flexible work arrangement policies, but flexibility isn’t an effective part of the way the business and its people operate day-to-day.  This is unfortunate because flexibility in how, when and where work is done and life is managed is more important than ever.

Moving beyond confusion and shock, I began to ponder why work+life flexibility had such a minor role in the SHRM conference agenda?   Here are some of my hypotheses.  Please feel free to chime in and share yours:

  1. SHRM doesn’t think it is important. (I find that hard to believe, especially since in May,2009 SHRM released an entire policy statement on flexible work arrangements).
  2. SHRM thinks it’s important, but only enough to warrant one concurrent session solely focused on talent applications. (Again, I find this hard to believe but perhaps SHRM doesn’t see or understand the direct strategic relevance beyond a programmatic or legal application even though flexibility does directly address most if not all of the critical issues targeted in the agenda).
  3. SHRM thinks flexibility is important, but doesn’t really know what more can be done beyond the policy, program and benefit implementation of formal flexible work arrangements and government mandated regulations. (This is the theory that makes the most sense to me.  It is a matter of mindset and perspective.  If SHRM doesn’t think flexibility is part of the strategic conversation related to engagement, creating great workplaces, leadership, retention, change, global talent, and motivation, what more is there to do beyond implementing a policy and understanding the legal issues? )

But that’s just it, there is still so much to be done to move flexibility from a “nice to have” policy or program to a core strategic lever. This is why its exclusion from the SHRM conference agenda is a disappointing missed opportunity.  HR professionals won’t leave the conference:

  • Understanding how to make the business case for greater flexibility to their line leadership.
  • Knowing how to support and promote broader change management efforts necessary to make flexibility part of the operating model.
  • Prepared help leaders and employees understand their roles in creating win-win innovative solutions able to respond to changes in market climate, and
  • Able to articulate how the strategic, business-based application of flexibility can help their organizations and employees successfully manage the challenges and opportunities in today’s rapidly changing marketplace.

Do you think work+life flexibility should be more prominently featured in the SHRM conference agenda?  Why do you think it’s not?  What do you think this missed opportunity means for the advancement of strategic flexibility inside of organizations?

Test Your Perceptions vs. Work+Life Reality–NSCW Implications

“The National Study of the Changing Workforce is here!  The National Study of the Changing Workforce is here!”  Yes, that’s how I responded when I received the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW). Ever since I worked at Families and Work Institute, the NSCW has been one of my favorite pieces of research (yes, I have favorite pieces of research).  Not only does the NSCW offer a very accurate snapshot of the prevailing work+life reality in a given period of time.  But, more importantly, it gives us an opportunity to step back and see if the way we are collectively talking about and thinking about work and life matches reality.  In my opinion, it doesn’t.

My recent conversation with a female MBA student at one of the top business schools provides a perfect example.  She called to interview me for the student newspaper and wanted some tips for women MBAs about how to manage their work and life after they got out of school.  My first tip—“Realize that managing work and life isn’t just an issue for women.  In fact, men report higher levels of work-life conflict.”  Not surprisingly, she responded, “What? Really?” It wasn’t until I showed her the results of the NSCW, and she confirmed the findings with male MBA students that she began to understand how outdated her assumptions were.

Here are other highlights from the NSCW that together create a snapshot of today’s work-life reality.  As you read, ask yourself, does the picture below inform the way:
•    I think about and talk about work-life issues (even if different than my own circumstances)?
•    My manager/employer thinks about, talks about, and addresses work-life issues?
•    The media presents work-life issues?
•    The government addresses work-life issues?

Reality #1: Women and men under 29 years old are equally likely to want jobs with greater responsibility, which was not the case in the past when men were more likely to report wanting more responsibility.

Reality #2: Women under 29 years old with children are no less likely than women without children to want jobs with more responsibility, which was not the case in the past when women with children were less likely to want jobs with more responsibility.

Reality #3: Women’s labor force participation continues to increase, with 71% of mothers with children under the age of 18 working in 2007.  In 2005-2006, women earned a majority of all bachelor’s degrees (58%) and master’s degrees (60%).

Reality #4: 79% of married employees are part of a dual-earner couple (up from 66% in 1977).  In 2008, women contributed 44% of the annual dual-earner family income, up from 39% in 1997, which makes the loss of their jobs even more detrimental.

Reality #5: For the first time in 2008, the percentage of men and women who agree with the statement that “it’s better for all involved if the man earns the money and the woman takes care of the home and children” was inconsequential and not significantly different (42% of men and 39% of women in 2008, versus 74% of men and 52% of women in 1977).

Reality #6: In 2008, 73% of respondents either strongly or somewhat agreed that “a mother who works outside the home can have just as good a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work,” a big increase from 58% in 1977. Interestingly, even though a majority of men agreed with the statement in 2008 (67%), they do still lag behind the women (80%).

Reality #7: Employed fathers are spending significantly more time with their children under 13 than they did in 1977, with millennial fathers reporting the biggest increase.  Men are also:
•    Taking more responsibility for the care of the children (49% say they take more or equal share of care in 2008, versus 41% in 1992)
•    Doing more or an equal share of the cooking (56% of men in 2008, versus 34% in 1992)
•    Doing more or an equal share of the house cleaning (53% of men in 2008 versus 40% in 1992).

Reality #8: Not surprisingly, “Men’s reported level of work-life conflict has risen significantly from 34% in 1977 to 45% in 2008, while women’s work-life conflict has increased less dramatically and not significantly: from 34% in 1977 to 39% in 2008.” And the level of conflict is even higher for dual-earner fathers, with 59% experiencing some or a lot of conflict in 2008, versus 45% of dual-earner mothers.

What did you think?  Does the reality outlined above inform the way:
•    You think about and talk about work-life issues?
•    Your manager/employer thinks about, talks about, and addresses work-life issues?
•    The media presents work-life issues?
•    The government addresses work-life issues?

I think we have a long way to go before the perceptions and the debate related to work-life issues on all of these levels matches reality.  Hopefully, the NSCW will help close the gap. What do you think?

A couple of interesting work-life resources/opportunities:

  1. Work & Family Life is a monthly, cost-effective magazine that companies and organizations can distribute to their employees.  Work & Family Life is full of great work-life related information (click here to view a recent issue).  For more information contact the publisher, Dr. Susan Ginsburg at or 1-800-278-2579
  2. Are you a mom interested in sharing what it was like to transition from working woman to working mom?  FWO Consulting is conducting a national online survey of moms to learn more about this often challenging change.  To learn more about FWO and the survey, go to   Another resource for women transitioning to motherhood is provided by Rachel Egan at Maternity Transitions

10 Friends + 1 Lake House + 1 Weekend = Priceless…Friends and Your Work+Life Fit

I recently spent a long weekend at a lake house with ten friends celebrating my friend Nola’s birthday.  No husbands.  No kids.  No cell phones (we were off the grid!).  Just ten 40+ moms spending time together.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.  Nola was originally planning to celebrate her birthday by taking a trip with her family.  But as the economy got worse, she decided  to organize a low-cost weekend away with friends.  And thank goodness she did!  Because as much as it was a celebration of her big milestone, it was an important reminder that friends are important.

What did we do?  Not much, but that was the point.  We watched a movie together, ate more food than any ten humans should eat, laughed while playing games, and sat around the fire talking.  And to think I almost didn’t go because of other “commitments” I thought I couldn’t change on such short notice.

Last week I appeared on career coach Maggie Mistal’s radio show on the Martha Stewart Network on Sirius/XM.   We discussed tips for starting off right in 2009 (click here for highlights).  One of the tips we talked about was keeping a work+life fit calendar where all of your work and personal responsibilities and goals are in one place.  Planned time with friends needs to be one of the priorities on your calendar.  It doesn’t have to be a weekend away, although I highly recommend it.  A cup of coffee or a phone call is enough.  But it needs to be there.

Why?  Because you can no longer afford to just let work and life “happen,” especially in today’s economy.  There are simply too many often stressful demands on your time and energy.  You can’t be reactive.  You need to take control of as many of your work+life fit choices as you can, especially if work is requiring more of your attention.  Because if you don’t, parts of your life outside of work will begin to disappear in the following order:

  1. Caring for yourself
  2. Connecting with friends
  3. Spending time with your partner/spouse
  4. And, last, caring for kids/aging parents

A lot has been written about the need to take better care of ourselves.  But not enough has been written about the importance of friends to our well-being and peace of mind, although that seems to be changing.  The recently published The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-First Century by Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz talks about how isolated we’ve become as a society.

From my 48 hours at the lake house I gained insights about what it’s like to have kids entering their “tween” years.  I helped friends who currently don’t work think about what they may want to do as they consider getting back into the workforce.  I was inspired by my friends who love the snow to appreciate snow shoeing and building snow forts.  If I hadn’t spent time with these wonderful women I wouldn’t know all the ways that a 10 year old can get in trouble using the internet (scary!).  I wouldn’t have heard about the interesting ambitions of my stay-at-home mom friends, and I would still really dislike everything about snow!   I’m a better person because of that weekend.  That’s what friends do.

What do you think?  Do you spend enough time with your friends?  What small step could you take to make friends a bigger part of your work+life fit this year?

Oprah, You’re Trying to Find the Best Work+Life Fit! Now, If You Would Just Call It That…

Check it out:  I’ll be appearing on Maggie Mistal’s radio show on the Martha Stewart Radio Network, Wednesday, January 21st at 4:00 pm EST.   Get tips for a better work+life fit in 2009!  Tune in on Sirius 112 or XM 157.  Call in and ask your question at 1-866-675-6675.

Now back to the blog…

Oprah launched her “Best Life” series last week “making the commitment to have more joy and balance in 2009.”  But if you watched all five episodes (which I did—full disclosure, I’m a fan), you saw that what she’s really trying to do is manage her work+life “fit” better.

She’s not calling it work+life fit, but if she did I think it would help her and her viewers understand the real issues more clearly.  It would connect the dots between the “life” advice provided by the health, money and spirituality experts in the later episodes.  But, more importantly, it would highlight the fact that a very important piece of the equation is missing from the series—how to manage work, and how that work “fits” into what’s happening in the rest of your life.

Although the focus has been on her weight gain, Oprah knows that’s a symptom and not an underlying cause.  According to highlights from the show on her website, When Oprah gains weight, she says it means her life is out of balance. “It’s not about the food.  It’s about using food—abusing food,” she says, “Too much work. Not enough play.  Not enough time to come down.  Not enough time to really relax.”

But the problem is not a lack of “balance.”  It’s a lack of actively managing her work+life fit when the realities in her work and personal life changed over the past year.  As a result, she was just adding more and more until it became too much.

What do I mean?  I took the liberty of imagining what the information in opening episode would look like if presented from the work+life “fit” perspective.  See if you think it more accurately reflects the real issues that Oprah, and so many other people, are trying to address:

“Oprah Finds Her Best Work+Life Fit”

As Oprah shares her story of “falling off the wagon,” she talks about the changes in her work and personal life over the past year. And discusses how, by failing to rethink her work+life fit in response to those changes, she became sick and overwhelmed.

When she says, “I’m hungry to do something other than work,” She shares that her dog died, and how grief not only requires time, but takes a lot of energy.  She talks about campaigning for Barack Obama, dealing with challenges at the school she founded in Africa, and deciding to start a television network.  And then she confesses that she didn’t reset her work+life fit by deciding what she would give up both personally and professionally to account for these changes.  As a result, she gave more than the 100% she had to give, and cut out the activities that are easiest to eliminate—all of the things we do to take care of ourselves.

We can give more than 100% for a period of time, but eventually the wheels begin to fall off the bus.  Oprah talks about how overwhelmed and disconnected she was from the inner guidance telling her it was too much.  Then the physical signs started, which included sleeplessness, weight gain, and thyroid disease.   Oprah explains that her weight gain and thyroid condition were the physical manifestations of that lack of work+life fit. There was no room for healthy eating, exercise, writing in her gratitude journal, and taking a relaxing bath.

She points out that it’s not just about the hours in the day.  It’s also about the energy expended to deal with your responsibilities.  Sometimes more energy is required than time.  But, like everyone else, she didn’t pay as much attention to energy deficits as she did to the lack of time.  And it became a downward spiral.  There’s less time to take care of yourself, which results in less energy and it goes on from there.

Finally, she closes by admitting that she’ll never have “balance.  But in 2009, she’s going to take control and find the “fit” that works for her, and restores her health.

Roll the closing credits….

The rest of the week-long series would remain the same with experts offering advice on a variety of topics critical to finding your Best Life, or managing your work+life fit.  This includes exercise, managing your health, spirituality, money and sex.

However, I would add that missing episode on how to manage your work-related responsibilities day-to-day and throughout your career especially in this economy.  Managing your work+life fit is a two-sided equation.  Even though she chose not to cover it in the Best Life series, I would imagine managing the work piece of the puzzle is a big part of Oprah’s challenge, as it is for many others.  Is she delegating more responsibilities?  Is she saying “no” to any additional projects, so that she has the time and energy to take care of herself?

Whether she realizes it or not, Oprah is trying to manage her work+life fit better in 2009.  It’s not about weight.  That’s just a symptom of a work+life fit out of whack.  It’s about knowing what you want and then actively managing your choices and resetting the way work “fits” into your life, especially when your work and personal realities change.

To learn from Oprah’s journey, check out the Best Life episodes and webcasts on, and let me know if you agree with me—Oprah is trying to find a better work+life fit!  Now, if she’d just call it that…

New Year…Start a Blog or Blog Better! The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging

In February, the Work+Life “Fit” blog will turn three years old.  I can’t believe how fast the time has flown and how much I’ve enjoyed blogging.  In fact, I rank starting this blog and then blogging for Fast Company  as two of the most valuable professional decisions I’ve made.

Everyone has something to say; therefore, everyone should consider starting a blog.  If you already have a blog, are there new and better ways to share your message?  There’s an excellent new resource to achieve both goals, The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging.

Why blog?

My quote from the Huffington Post Guide, “I blog because I am,” summarizes the benefits from blogging:

  • I am…someone who loves what I do which is help people manage their work+life fit and organizations implement flexibility into their business strategy; therefore,
  • I am…always seeing connections between my work and current trends and events that I want to explore more deeply.  My blogs are the perfect venue for exploration and dialogue with others; and
  • I am…someone who thinks out loud, and blogging, to me, is thinking out loud and seeing what comes back.

One of my favorite quotes from the guide describes why The Huffington Post started in May, 2005, “As hokey as it sounds.  The Huffington Post really did start as a labor of love.  And passion.  And ideals.  We wanted to be heard, to create a voice.  We made something new because we strongly felt that it needed to exist, not because it would make money.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Blogging is a labor of love.

In your opinion, do you feel something needs to be said that isn’t being discussed enough or the way you see it?   One of my original motivations for blogging was my frustration with the amount of air-time the “opting out” debate was getting in the media.  While important and interesting, in my opinion, it didn’t deserve to dominate the broader cultural work+life conversation the way it was.  The goal of my blogs was, and continues to be, pulling back the lens and seeing work+life fit as a broader career strategy for everyone, including moms. And work+life flexibility as a critical business strategy with broad bottom line impacts for organizations.

Why blog better?

After three years, I’m ready to take my blogs to the next level, and The Huffington Post Guide offers helpful information for the experiened bloggers.  Options discussed in the book that I’m considering include:

  • Adding video logs or vlogs to my blogs;
  • More advanced use of site metrics; and
  • Increasing the two-way dialogue by engaging with and encouraging people who comment on my blogs.

How to get started? 

When I started blogging in early 2006, there were no guides, no easy-to-use, plug-and-blog software.  Now, anyone can quickly and easily start a blog as outlined step-by-step in The Huffington Post Guide.

There’s one caution for the new bloggers that I would add to the information in the book. As much as site metrics can be interesting and helpful, just make sure you aren’t discouraged by them when you start.  You may only have three people read your posts initially—in my case, it was my mom, my husband and my best friend.  Choosing not to look at site metrics in the beginning, and writing for myself helped me stay motivated even when I knew my readership constituted a universe of three.

The time and passion you commit to blogging will payoff in the most unexpected ways—connections forged, insights achieved and the difference made.  Hey, maybe the editors of The Huffington Post will ask you to share your thoughts on blogging and include your quote in their excellent book (Thanks, Laura Vanderkam)!  You never know.  For more, check out Arianna Huffington’s recent appearance on The Daily Show where she talks about being a blogging evangelist, to which I say, “Amen!”

Fast Company: My Voice–Lost and Found

Raise your hand if you think talking is something you do without considering the mechanics of the process.  Well, until I lost my voice in early November, that’s what I thought.  And the very unscientific poll I’ve conducted since that fateful day confirms I was not alone in my ignorance.

Good news!  Two months later my voice is better than ever; however, I thought I’d share some of the surprising insights from the recovery process to help others avoid losing their voice—something most of us take for granted, including me!


First, the backstory.   I love to talk.  Anyone who knows me will confirm I’m a talker.  Whether it’s one-on-one, or delivering a speech to 500 people, talking is something that’s always come very naturally to me.  But, my voice has also been an Achilles heel.  If I get a cold, you can immediately hear it in my voice.  If I talk too much at a party, I feel it in my voice.  But it was never a major problem until the speech I gave in early November.

The room was beautiful, but the acoustics terrible.  The 300 people in the audience were eating lunch which wouldn’t normally be a problem, but the sound system wasn’t working very well.  The speaker who went before me struggled mightily to be heard throughout her presentation, so shouting was the only option.  I wasn’t worried because I have a loud voice, but I was fighting a cold and had just delivered five others speeches in the weeks prior.  So, I stepped to the podium and began to speak as loudly as possible.  About five minutes into the speech I felt a pull or “snap” in my throat.  (Click here for more)

Janet Napolitano, Ed Rendell, and Why We Need to Take “Life” Out of the Job Equation

Last week, sexism, singleism, and workaholism came together to create a big post-balance era faux pas that reinforced why we must remove the often inaccurate judgments about a person’s personal life and responsibilities from the hiring process.  It started when Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell commented that his fellow governor, Janet Napolitano of Arizona, would be perfect in the role of Secretary of Homeland Security, “Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19-20 hours a day to it.”  Uh oh.

First, let’s look at how others interpreted Governor Rendell’s remarks.  What did they hear?  Not surprisingly, the same words were interpreted differently depending upon the work+life fit lens people were looking through.

For moms, like CNN’s Campbell Brown, Rendell’s words were sexist (or “mom”ist).  They meant that if Napolitano did have a family she couldn’t do the job, which is not only unfair but wrong.  The nomination of Sarah Palin for Vice President sparked a similar debate.

“Workplace discrimination against mothers and others based on family caregiving responsibilities is a rapidly growing problem,” notes the introduction from a new policy briefing released by the Sloan Work and Family Research Network and the Center for Work Life Law.  It is such a problem that there are new enforcement guidelines from the EEOC on caregiver discrimination and many states are considering legislation.  But, comments like Governor Rendell’s, however innocent, further reinforce the bias.

Another group, represented in a New York Times OpEd piece by Gail Collins, felt Rendell’s comments promoted “single”ism, or the assumption that because Janet Napolitano is single, she has no family and no life and therefore, can and wants to, work all of the time.

This is the other side of the sexism coin but is equally inaccurate.  In my work, I have found that single people have unique challenges that add an extra layer to their personal responsibilities.  They have to do all of their own errands, home maintenance, financial planning, shopping, etc, as well as care for parents, pets, and friends.  The belief that if you are single, you are all about work is completely untrue.

Now, let’s consider what Governor Rendell says he was trying to say.  In a nutshell, he was trying to say, “She’s a workaholic like me.”  According to Governor Rendell, he has no life.  And as far as he knows, Napolitano has no life because she has no family.  He believes that’s what’s required to be the Governor of Pennsylvania, or a Secretary of Homeland Security.

Now, I’ve been doing my job long enough to know that you can waste a lot of time trying to change someone who thinks that to do a good job you need to work all the time.  Some people work constantly out of a compulsion or the desire to work.  And most of them, like Ed Rendell, do believe it’s what’s required to do their job.  That’s fine, but it can’t be the bar against which we measure everyone else’s ability and effectiveness.  (See a recent article on “Surviving a Workaholic Spouse” in which I’m quoted)

Most jobs don’t require working all of the time to complete well.  I’ve met plenty of competent people with very demanding, highly-responsible jobs who work long hours but also feel it’s important to have relationships and interests outside of work.  In fact, most would argue it makes them better at their jobs.  (For more, see Stewart Friedman’s book, Total Leadership)

Maybe Governor Rendell’s definition of success is all work, all the time.  But it doesn’t have to be Janet Napolitano’s in order for her to be a Secretary of Homeland Security.

What lessons can we all learn from this seemingly accidental work+life fit faux pas? We need to update the way in which we interpret our own work+life fit choices and those of others.  We also need to take “life” out of the hiring equation.  When someone is being considered for a job the primary question for that person must be “can you perform the tasks and responsibilities required?” and not “How will he or she do the job given what I perceive to be his or her personal responsibilities?”

Like Governor Rendell, we get into trouble applying simplistic, outdated paradigms to judge someone’s personal realities.  The truth is that few of us have work+life fit realities that fit neatly into any category.  My experience is that when we do try to guess or judge, we are usually wrong.  Keep it about the job.  Leave life out of it.