It’s July 5th. How Many People Need to Be Physically in the Office?

As we get closer to the July 4th holiday, if you are a leader, you will likely face the question, “How many people need to be physically in the office on Friday, July 5th?”

Many employees will want to work remotely on Friday from wherever they celebrated the day before. But, for you as the leader, the level of in-person coverage required on July 5th may not be so clear. This simple “Problem, Policy/Precedent or Preference” protocol can help you come up with a fact-based solution that works for you, the business and your people.

Here’s how I walked a leader through the protocol’s three questions after she’d arrived at the office on the Friday before a July 4th holiday to a sea of empty desks and freaked out, “Where is everyone?!” She wanted to be better prepared to determine the best level of onsite coverage on the Friday before Labor Day when it would inevitably become an issue again.

Question #1: Is it a problem? 

I asked her if it had been a problem to have a skeletal staff in the office on that Friday before July 4th? Did her staff still provide a high level of customer service? She concluded that it had not been a problem since they could easily manage their work remotely, especially on a slower day.

Had she received complaints that people were unresponsive or hard to reach? No. Everyone had been working, albeit remotely, and were reachable. She decided it wasn’t a problem for the business to have only a few people present onsite.

Now, that might not be the case at other times and for other businesses. The answer would be “yes” to the question, “Is it a problem we need to solve for?” During certain business cycles, or if in-person, face-to-face interaction is required to do the job well, a leader could find that people do need to be in the office even on the Friday before or after a holiday. If so, it’s imperative that everyone—not just the leader—sit down and coordinate on-site coverage beforehand so there are no “where is everyone” surprises. 

Question #2: Is it a policy or precedent? 

Then I asked the leader, “If people were working and responsive, why did the lack of bodies in the office bother you so much? At some point in the past, had there been a policy or precedent that limited remote work before or after a holiday?” She responded that, at one point, there may have been a policy, but not any more so that wasn’t the issue.

Maybe ten years ago a policy or precedent limiting remote work on the days before or after a holiday made sense. Back then, it was harder to stay connected, remain productive, and put in a full day’s work from another location. For many jobs, that’s not the reality today, especially if your employees, teams, and managers have mastered the high performance flexibility process. Yet, in some organizations, those outdated policies remain.

In other cases, a formal policy no longer exists, but the “precedent” prevails because no one ever officially and publicly disputed it. Another leader I worked with, who considers himself very supportive of flexibility, once told me that he didn’t realize there was confusion until a top performer showed up in the office on the Friday before a long weekend.  She wanted to work a half-day before leaving on vacation, but instead, she lost more than three hours of productivity commuting to and from the office when she could have worked those hours remotely. When he pointed this out, she said, “I thought it was the policy we couldn’t work remotely before a long weekend.” The next business day he sent an email clarifying.

Question #3: Is it a preference?

Finally, we got to the third question and the leader admitted, “Honestly, this comes down to a preference on some level. I am a Boomer, and I still struggle with preferring to see people physically here to know they are working. Look, I didn’t even need to be in the office that Friday before the 4th, but I was. I need to challenge this preference with facts. And the facts are that the work will get done even if most people decide to work remotely before (or after) a holiday.”

If you’re a leader struggling with, “How many people need to be physically in the office on Friday, July 5th?” ask yourself, “Is this a problem we need to solve for? Is it a policy or precedent? Or is it a preference?”

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What I Learned in 2015

I am an early riser. No matter when I go to bed, I am usually awake by 6:00 am at the latest. That is not the case for the rest of my family.

Each New Year’s Day, I get up at the crack of dawn, make a cup of coffee, and sit in the peace and quiet with my journal while they sleep. I read what I wrote the last few years on January 1st. Then I reflect upon the previous twelve months—what I’ve learned and what I am thankful for—and think about goals for the coming year.

As I wish all of you happy holidays, I thought I’d give you a preview of some of the lessons learned that will make my list for 2015. There were many, but these three stick out as particularly important:

  • Work can provide comfort in difficult times. This past year, my father underwent treatment for metastasized prostate cancer. Thankfully, his recent scans show the cancer is in complete remission but the journey to get there was scary and difficult. During this time, my work provided comfort. I found peace in the mastery of tasks that I love, renewed energy from helping others, and a welcomed break from the worry. As we fit work and life together, it’s important to remember to focus on the good things we get from work and not just on the “overwhelm.”
  • You don’t have to wait for the perfect moment to make a change. I loved all our projects this year, but one stands out. It was remarkable because the senior leaders of a team said, “let’s give this new flexibility strategy a shot, even though it’s our busiest time of year and we aren’t meeting our deadlines.” Their risk was rewarded. At the end of the six-week pilot, not only had the group met their deadlines, but their core metric of utilization had never been higher. Too often we wait for the perfect moment before we try something new. Working with this terrific team reaffirmed that sometimes you just have to say, “let’s do it.”
  • The workplace is already flexible. Now, we need to put infrastructure and strategy around it. At the beginning of 2015, I decided to stop engaging in the same old, tired flexibility conversation we’d been having for the last two decades. It’s not about whether or not to offer a formal flexible work policy to your employees. Why? Because flexibility in how, when and where people work already exists (see our most recent survey)! Investments in technology, workspace redesign, and employee expectations have embedded some degree of flexibility in the workplace by default. Now, we have to help people, teams and managers use that work flexibility with deliberate intention.

Finally, because “find a better balance” will be on the top of many New Year’s resolution lists, I thought I’d re-share a couple of my most popular “how to” posts:

I’d love to hear the lessons you learned in 2015 and any tips you have for finding your work+life “fit” (not “balance”) in 2016. Let’s connect on Twitter and Facebook!

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The Top 10 Work, Life and Money Lessons from Mika Brzezinski Every Woman Should Know

(This post originally appeared in Forbes.com)

I’m a fan of Morning Joe on MSNBC. I love the banter between the hosts and the eclectic mix of guests. I love learning about the “real story” behind politics. I love the music, and I love Mika Brzezinski. She’s a smart, experienced newsperson, but she’s also a mom and wife. And she brings all of that to the table each day.

It was a thrill to see her moderate the opening panel when I attended the White House Conference on Women and the Economy in April. Not only did she wear the most amazing pink dress, but she impressed me with her grasp of the complex issues that impact a woman’s ability to achieve her goals on and off the job.

When Senior Advisor to President Obama, Valerie Jarrett, introduced Brzezinsky as the moderator of the panel, she said her new book, Knowing Your Value (Weinstein Books, 2012) was a “must read for all women.” I decided to check it out. She was right.

Not only does Brzezinski share the often difficult lessons she’s learned over the years about work, life and money but she includes the very candid stories and insights of other successful women like Tina Brown, Sheryl Sandberg, Suze Orman, and Arianna Huffington just to name a few.

Here are ten of the key lessons from the book that every woman should know:

1) Know your “value:” What you contribute and how much that is worth in the market.

My heart broke for Brzezinski when she describes how it felt to finally sign a contract with MSNBC only to realize that both of her co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Willie Geist made significantly more money than she did. Not only that, but they were assigned specifically to Morning Joe, whereas she was required to do the show and other assignments for the network. This very painful realization finally forced her to objectively and dispassionately research how much she was worth in the market and learn how to be compensated fairly.

2) Don’t wait to be noticed. Walk in and ask for what you want…because that’s what all of the guys are doing, constantly. (Click here to go to Forbes.com for more)


3 Reasons Every Extrovert Should Read the New Book “Quiet”

I am an extrovert. Give me a room full of people to meet and talk to for hours, and I’m in heaven. So why am I such a big fan of the new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown, 2012) by Susan Cain?

Like many extroverts, I was surprised to learn that anywhere from one-third to one-half of the population are introverts. In other words, a lot of people we come into contact with everyday don’t thrive on endless meetings, don’t want to solve a problem by talking about it with a group for hours, don’t enjoy jumping into a conversation and just “throwing out ideas,” and don’t want to attend lunches, conferences, and dinners all the time.

These activities are like a shot of adrenaline for extroverts. But they suck the energy right out of our more introverted counterparts.  That doesn’t mean extroverts are wrong and introverts are right. Cain is a big fan of extroverts, as you will see in the book.

It’s about awareness. If extroverts better understood our more introverted friends, colleagues and family members, it would make our lives better in the following ways:

Communication with others would improve. Does this scenario sound familiar? You’re in a meeting with a group of people. Everyone is sharing their thoughts and opinions freely, except for a couple of people who are quietly listening.

Chances are the extroverts in the room assume those individuals are being quiet because they don’t have anything to add. But after the meeting, you run into one of the listeners in the hall and they comment, “You know we should really consider doing x, y, z.”  And you say, “What a great idea! Why didn’t you share that in the meeting?” And they respond with a hint of frustration, “It was hard to get a word in edgewise.”

Knowing that introverts tend to like to listen, gather their thoughts, and then share their insights uninterrupted, extroverts could make it a point to pause discussions periodically, and ask, “Does anyone have something to add?” And then wait a moment for a response. This would give those who are more introverted the space they need to contribute comfortably.

If we understood how each of our “types” processed and shared information, we’d communicate better with each other at work, at home, and in our communities.

We would be better parents and partners.  I may be an extrovert, but I’ve always been attracted to the strong, silent type. It’s not surprising that my wonderful husband of more than 20 years is more introverted.

After a long day at work, he just needs some space; therefore, I wait to barrage him with questions and stories of my day. Or when we spend time with my extended (and more extroverted) family and he disappears after a certain point, I know he’s gone to find some quiet place to just sit and regroup. I understand why and don’t take it personally.

In terms of parenting, it was an exchange with my older daughter six years ago that first prompted me to understand the difference between the two types.

She was in second grade and I had volunteered for playground duty. I had been stationed far away from the playground by the door into the school. Next to that door was a basketball hoop where my daughter stood shooting baskets alone. I asked her, “Don’t you want to go play with your friends?” She responded calmly, “No, that’s OK; I want to be with you. I shoot baskets here by myself all the time.”

My uneducated, extroverted first response was, “What? Why do you do that, honey? Go up a play with your friends. I’ll be fine and it’s more fun to play with everyone.” She looked confused, “But Mom, I like to shoot baskets alone.” Yikes! I could see that I had unintentionally made her feel bad, and I realized in that moment she wasn’t like me.

Like her dad, she needed time to herself after a busy, intense morning in the classroom. I had to recognize that and support her, even though all I’d want to do is dive into a big group of screaming, laughing friends. Today she’s a super confident, happy young woman with friends whom she loves and who love her, but she still needs her breaks. That’s OK.

Cain’s book offers more extroverted parents and partners a helpful roadmap for understanding and honoring their more introverted loved ones. It has really helped me.

We could benefit from adopting more introverted behaviors, especially quiet time and listening. About twenty years ago, I started to suffer from the physical wear and tear of my high-intensity, highly extroverted, always-on-the-go existence. My mother was an introvert (I get my extroversion from my grandfather) and practiced meditation religiously. She suggested that I try to be quiet for a few minutes each day. Because I’d exhausted all of the medical options for treating my symptoms, I gave it a shot. It’s was a miracle.

Twenty minutes a day of sitting quietly, journaling, breathing, made all the difference physically, emotionally, spiritually. Introverts tend to stop and regroup naturally because they crave it. We extroverts have to be more thoughtful and deliberate about our down time, but we benefit from it just as much.

Introverts are also excellent, natural listeners. My husband can go to a party, talk to just a few people, but gather information that I hadn’t heard even though I’d talked to everyone. I’ll ask him how he does it and the answer is always the same, “I stopped talking, paid attention, and listened.”

While my natural inclination remains to say “hi” to and know as many people in a room as possible, I catch myself periodically. I try to spend more one-on-one time with fewer people and I make myself stop talking (if I remember) long enough to listen more. I’ll never be like my husband, but I enjoy experimenting with aspects of his style.

What do you think? Are you an extrovert who has benefited from understanding the gifts and behaviors of your more introverted friends, colleagues and family members? What have you done differently once you gained that awareness?

Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown, 2012) is a wonderful guide to help us all understand ourselves and each other more fully.  Here’s how you can learn more and connect with Susan Cain:

(This post originally appeared in Fast Company)


Why Meredith Vieira’s a Work Life Rock Star

(This post originally appeared on Forbes.com; I am reposting here today to honor Meredith Vieira’s last day on the Today Show)

Meredith Vieira’s a rock star when it comes to managing the way work fits into her life, and there’s a lot her journey can teach all of us. Since 1991 when she was fired from 60 Minutes after requesting to work part-time, I’ve watched her make bold, often unconventional choices with a mix of curiosity and admiration.

In honor of her most recent decision to leave NBC’s Today Show at the top of her game “for more time with my family,” I want to give her a well-deserved public shout out. Like any rock star, her high profile and financial resources make her situation unique. But there are lessons in her story that apply to us all. They can teach us how to more deliberately and consciously manage our own work+life fit:

Lesson 1: When your priorities change, don’t wait until circumstances force you to make a choice.  Make a decision on your own terms, no matter what others say.

When I watch Meredith Vieira make her choices it’s clear she doesn’t really care about what other people think she “should” or “can” do.

In 1991, when she wanted to reduce her workload and hours at 60 Minutes, few people even thought about non-traditional schedules. Her proposal was almost unheard of. I’m sure everyone told her she was crazy, but she tried. And, yes, she was fired.

But the point is that she listened to herself, bucked conventional wisdom of what was “possible” and gave it a shot. Then she didn’t go quietly into the night of obscurity when it didn’t work out (more on that in a minute). She controlled her choices.

Letting go of her Today Show post at the pinnacle of success is an equally bold decision when you consider how many in her position would do just the opposite. Often we hang on to jobs that no longer fit our goals until the choice is forced upon us. This was the case with Christina Norman, the OWN Network’s newly-departed CEO, and Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen.  (Click HERE for more)

I invite you visit my Fast Company blog and to join me on Twitter @caliyost.  Also, if you are interested in How-To “Make Flexibility Real” sign up to receive our monthly value-packed newsletter and join our new LinkedIn group.


911! Six Tips to Triage Your Work+Life Fit When Thrown a Curveball

What do you do when an event comes out of left field and lays waste to your carefully planned work+life fit?  This is the question I discussed with my friend, radio host Maggie Mistal, when I appeared on her “Making a Living” program last Friday.

Life recently threw Maggie a curveball when her newborn son arrived two months early while she and her husband were on vacation.  Now, they are living and working temporarily from another city until their son is able to travel back home.

At some point, most of us will deal with a sudden change in circumstances.  My most recent curveball happened five years ago when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. Immediately your priorities shift.  How do you triage and rethink your goals, your schedule, and your responsibilities both at work and in the other parts of your life?  Here are some of the tips that Maggie and I discussed during the show:

Remember that curveball events typically have three distinct phases:

  1. The initial crisis—You are just making it through minute-by-minute
  2. The holding pattern—The crisis has passed, but the situation has yet to resolve itself or settle into a new reality.  You’re operating less minute-by-minute and more day-by-day.  And finally, you will move into…
  3. The post-curveball reality—You’re clearer about what your work capacity will be going forward and you’ve regained some level of control over the other parts of your life.

Try not to fall into all-or-nothing thinking, and avoid making a rash decision to quit.

Especially, during the crisis phase, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.  You start to think “I can’t deal with this and work at the same time.”  Even I had this reaction when I got the news about my mother.  But thankfully I pulled myself back from the edge, and took a breath.

While quitting may seem like the only choice at the moment, it may not be the best answer.  First of all, most of us need the money.  Secondly, you may be surprised to find that work is a welcome distraction especially when you move into the holding pattern.  Try not to make any major work or life related decisions until the crisis period passed.

Be honest with your boss, team, clients, friends, and family.

99% of the people in your life will be understanding and supportive at least in the crisis phase and early stages of the holding pattern.  In terms of how much you share, both Maggie and I agree that you should tailor the information to your audience.  However, in my experience, managers, clients and team members appreciate simple, consistent updates.  This is especially true once you move into the holding pattern period, and you can start actively testing your capacity for more work.

Unfortunately, 1% of the people in your life won’t be able to show up for you emotionally or physically—let it go.   Don’t expend the extra energy you don’t have now.  File away the lack of support and, if you need to, deal with it later.  A woman who called into Maggie’s show talked about how unhelpful the president of her company was when she needed time during the adoption of her child. But she waited until after the adoption was completed to quit and get a new job.

Gather your resources.  You don’t need to handle the curveball experience all by yourself.

This is especially difficult for people who are used to being in control.  Regardless, you need to let others help you.

Perhaps there’s a work colleague that you respect who can take on some of your responsibilities.  Delegate “to dos” to your family members and friends who’ve offered to pitch in.  I can never repay the group of women in my town that provided meals to my family three nights a week for the last few months of my mother’s life.  But I will confess, initially, I refused because I didn’t want to be a bother.  It took my friend Nola saying, “Shut up, Cali.  They’re coming whether you like it or not,” to make it happen.  And it was a godsend.

Also, if you work for a company that offers work+life benefits and leaves, use them.  Remember the Families Medical Leave Act doesn’t have to be taken all at once.  It can be used over time in small chunks.

Once you’ve move into the holding pattern phase, begin to test your capacity for taking on more work but be patient.

Your priorities will continue to shift and change.  See what you can and cannot comfortably take on.  Perhaps it will help to be more creative and flexible in how, when and where you work.  For example, on Friday, Maggie broadcast her show remotely from Florida, while I sat in her New York studio.  You wouldn’t have known the difference.    When my mother had cancer, I often worked remotely from the hospital.

Build in even small moments of wellness.

This is so important yet can be incredibly hard, especially in the crisis phase.  But once you’ve moved into a holding pattern, gather your resources and use them to find time to care for yourself.  Take a 30 minute walk outside.  Try to get a good night sleep.  Eat at least one healthy meal a day.

Again, think small steps taken consistently so you aren’t overwhelmed.  The goal is not just functioning at your best during the curveball event.  You want to emerge from the experience as strong as possible and ready to move forward in the post-curveball reality.

Has life ever thrown you a curveball that’s made you triage your work+life fit?  What helped you reset your work and personal responsibilities and goals when your priorities changed overnight?

Did you find this post helpful?  If so, I invite you to follow me on Twitter @caliyost and at Fast Company.  Also, please sign up here to receive our NEW “Make Flexibility Real” How-To Newsletter.


Work-Sharing Policy as Flex Alternative to Layoffs Gains Steam, BUT Implement Strategically

As long time readers know, I’ve been a loud proponent of using flexibility in the form of reduced schedules, furloughs, telecommuting, job sharing and flex scheduling to minimize layoffs since the beginning of the recession.  And since the recession started two years ago, some innovative employers have indeed incorporated this more flexible approach to managing costs and resources into their downsizing strategy.

But more employers haven’t followed their lead because there wasn’t the incentive to move beyond the knee-jerk “cut” response that is rewarded, at least in the short-term, by the market (here and here).

As the internationally recognized management expert, Jeffrey Pfeffer, pointed out in a recent Newsweek cover story, “The Case Against Layoffs,” unless your industry is disappearing, layoffs do much more harm than good.   Thankfully it looks like an incentive to seek an alternative to layoffs has arrived, and not a moment too soon as early indications are that mass layoffs may be inching up again after a brief hiatus.

According to an article in today’s USA Today entitled, “Work-share program that cuts hours vs. jobs could grow,” work-sharing legislation may expand to more than half the states by year-end and provide employers the incentive they need to think differently and more flexibly:

“Seventeen states already have programs in which employers can cut the hours of all or most employees in lieu of layoffs. The workers get jobless benefits to recover part of their lost wages.

Work-sharing lets employers avoid the costs of severance and of training new hires when the economy rebounds. For workers, it eliminates the trauma of layoffs and helps preserve morale.

The number of employers in the programs soared last year as the recession deepened and the jobless rate climbed to 10%. A record 166,000 jobs were saved in the 17 states that offer the option vs. 58,000 in 2008, according to the National Association of State Workforce Agencies…

The Gear Works of Seattle, which makes gears for wind turbines, sliced workers’ hours 20%, skirting layoffs for about 15 of 93 employees, says executive Mike Robison. Machinist Robert Foster, 38, who worked four-day weeks for 10 months, says, ‘I like it vs. the alternative.’”

And our research has confirmed that employees do prefer flexible downsizing to the alternative.  Most respondents to our nationally-representative 2009 Work+Life Fit Reality Check study said they would accept a change or reduction in schedule, or take a cut in pay to save their jobs.

Work-share legislation can provide the much-needed incentive, but for flexible downsizing to succeed it can’t be a one-off  “program.” To be a strategic lever for managing through the recession, it must be implemented, reviewed and revised as operating realities change.  Here are some important insights and resources to help the strategic implementation process taken from previous blog posts I’ve written on the subject:

As Recovery Simmers, Limit Lagging Layoffs with Flexible Downsizing (Not Just Furloughs)

One Year Later–Flexible Downsizing and Hard Choices Post-Recession, Pre-Recovery

Get Started Tips to Navigate Post-Recession, Pre-Recovery Flexible Downsizing.  Highlights of the advice include:

  1. Go back and assess where you are.  Know where you stand in the business.
  2. Once you have the facts on paper, reset the organization’s flexible response to match today’s realities.
  3. Reframe and communicate the business case behind either the continuation or discontinuation of any type of flexible downsizing in the post-recession, pre-recovery era.

Finally, to help leaders work through a cost-benefit analysis of layoffs versus a more flexible approach to downsizing, I joined with a team of work+life experts to develop a tool  entitled  “Flexible Rightsizing as a Cost-Effective Alternative to Layoffs.”

Today’s news that work-share legislation is gaining steam across the country is very welcome.  However, for organizations, leaders and employees to truly benefit from the more flexible approach to managing costs and resources it must be implemented, review and revised thoughtfully and strategically.

What do you think?  How important is this legislative incentive to encourage a more flexible alternative to job cuts?


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 www.yourparentstoo.com, and @YourParentsToo on Twitter.


Work+Life Fit Ah-Ha’s of “Undercover Boss”

I am not a huge follower of reality TV, though I am a fan of Oprah’s.  I sat down to watch an Oprah episode a couple of weeks ago, and she was talking about the new reality series, Undercover Boss. I almost turned it off, but I’m glad my kids stopped me.  Highlights from the series offered surprisingly important insights.  I was struck by the fortuitous relevance of the show as we make our way through this post-recession, pre-recovery period of uncertainty.

The interactions between the employees and their “undercover boss” showcased the sometimes painful disconnection between the work+life reality employees actually experience and what senior leader know or intend.  I decided to tune in when the series debuted following the Super Bowl, and wasn’t disappointed.

In the first episode, Larry O’Donnell, President & COO of Waste Management, goes undercover and poses as new front-line worker in different divisions of his organization.   Obviously, reality television is contrived by the sheer presence of a camera, but perhaps the followings insights from the show will spark reflection.  Specifically, what’s really happening on the line everyday and what needs to change so that employees and employers benefit.  Here are my takeaways:

American employees work hard…very hard. Often in difficult circumstances.   Productivity grew by 9.5% in the third quarter of 2009, the largest gain in 30 years.  But unit labor costs fell 3.6% in that same period, the largest decrease since 1948.  What this means is that in the second half of 2009, employees produced more work in fewer hours and made less money.

Undercover Boss gives you a sense of what that really looks like.  Whether sorting through a rapidly moving recycling conveyor belt, cleaning 15 port-a-johns in a day, or doing four different office management tasks at the same time, people are working very hard .  And they are often doing it while managing some sort of chronic illness.  In most cases, O’Donnell couldn’t complete the difficult tasks his employees had mastered.  He was visibly surprised and humbled, as he should have been.

Small adjustments in work+life fit reality make a big difference. So often we talk about the big, transformational changes we need to make to improve the way we work and live.  But as the undercover boss learned firsthand, tiny, easy, low-cost adjustments can do enormous good.  There were two small fixes identified by O’Donnell that would make a huge difference to the work+life fit reality of workers.

First, when he rode in the residential sanitation truck with a female driver, O’Donnell was shocked to learn that she goes to the bathroom in a can because there isn’t enough time for a bathroom stop.  At the end of the show, he’d committed to fixing that.

Second, when a worker in the recycling plant panicked and ran to make sure she didn’t clock back in even a minute late from lunch, he was appalled.  He knew this wasn’t the corporate policy, and made sure that rule was reexamined.

Yes, these two small changes, if completed, will have a big impact in terms of morale, commitment, engagement, and lower stress, but chances are they are not isolated.  O’Donnell needs to make identifying and fixing similar work+life fit related issues an ongoing priority.  They may seem insignificant from the executive suite and are easy to pass over and ignore.  Don’t.

Involve line level employees in the creating the solutions. What sounds like a great idea to fix a problem from 30,000 feet up at corporate headquarters may not make any sense on the ground.  I was glad to see that O’Donnell engaged the employees in resolving the issues he observed.  Whether determining when or how to build a bathroom break into the truck route, or how to motivate the people who clean the port-a-johns, he asked the individual employees to participate in the problem solving process.  As a result, there’s a greater likelihood the solutions will work.

Attitude is Makes a Difference. There is no doubt that times are tough today, but attitude goes a long way in determining how we feel about the way work fits into our lives.  While I am sure the employees profiled adapted their behavior for the camera, they exhibited positive attitudes in often difficult work circumstances.  You could tell that they consciously thought about how they approached their jobs.  For example:

  • A man laughs and smiles and describes his job cleaning 15 port-a-johns a day, “an adventure.”
  • A young female cancer survivor takes pride in juggling the responsibilities of one office and three generations of her family alone.
  • The garbage truck driver makes sure to stop and visit with her customers, one of whom is handicapped, along her route, and
  • The proud landfill supervisor marches tirelessly up and down the hills of garbage even though he is on dialysis three nights a week.

The influence of film crews aside, undercover boss O”Donnell was visibly moved by the integrity and dedication of these individuals.  Their attitude offers an object lesson for us all, but you have to wonder how long they can keep it up.  In fact, it turns out the gentleman who cleaned the port-a-johns with a smile had left the company for another job by the time the show aired.

The series continues for the next few weeks.  I will keep watching and sharing any new insights.  Although engineered to make the CEO look like a good guy, it’s fascinating to watch the leader become follower, and the followers become powerful teachers.   Have you been watching Undercover Boss? What’s your reaction?


Work-Life Initiatives Are the Foundation of Authentic Organizations, by CV Harquail of Authentic Organizations Blog

In case you missed it, the wise and wonderful CV Harquail has given me permission to share a terrific post she wrote last week for her Authentic Organizations blog about the direct link between work+life fit and the authenticity of an organization.

I concur wholeheartedly–rousing “Amen”–with her argument that you can’t be an authentic organization without work+life fit as part of your foundation.  Enjoy! Work-Life Initiatives Are the Foundation of Authentic Organizations:

” Earlier this week I met with a group of organizational change advocates, each of whom is dedicated to reshaping the relationship between work and life.

Work-Life issues per se aren’t really my gig, although I’ve had a fair amount of work-life conflict in my day as an employee and as a manager. However, I invited myself along to this strategy session because I’m convinced that work-life fit, synergy, resonance, whatever-we-call-it is something we have to address if organizations themselves are to be(come) more authentic.

I have noticed in my own organizational change work and in the perspectives of other consultants how often conversations about work-life strategies are kept at the sidelines. When we talk about how organizations can, will, or should change, we talk about technology, sustainability, flattening hierarchies, innovation, and so on, but we don’t talk about these opportunities in ways that pay attention to work-life issues.

Worse yet, we fail to remember that creating organizations with better work-life resonance is the only thing that will make any of these other initiatives effective.

You’d think that organizational change consultants, corporate strategists, and everyday leaders & managers would be interested in what is clearly the strategic initiative that would support and enable all others initiatives.

Instead, folks seem to be deterred from paying attention to work-life issues because we don’t ask each other to address the myths that make work-life a side issue and not a central issue.

These three myths are that (1) Work-Life is a women’s issue, (2) Work-life initiatives are only for employees who can’t keep up, and (3) Work-life initiatives are ‘nice to have’ but not critical. I wrote earlier, in The (Feminist) Business Bloggers’ Lament , about how sexism prevents us from considering work-life strategies, so let’s focus here on the other two myths…”(Click here for more)