Why I Banished the Phrase “Work-Life Balance”

If you’ve ever set the daunting goal of work-life “balance,” you know it doesn’t exist. It’s not achievable, so working toward it feels exhausting.

I realized that the “B” word wasn’t helpful almost 20 years ago, when I was talking to a senior leader in a large bank. I was trying to convince him he needed to give his people more “balance.” I pulled out all of my research and data. Finally, he stopped me and said, “Every time you say ‘balance,’ all I hear is ‘work less.’ We have so much work to get done, and I can’t agree to any policy that’s going to lead to less work.”

A lightbulb went off for me. I needed to start talking about “fit” — how everyone has a unique work+life fit that allows them to get their jobs done and manage life in a way that works for them. “Fit” allows for personalization, creativity and innovation. It isn’t one-size-fits-all. It helps us move toward a space of potential and possibility that’s exciting.

I recently talked to entrepreneur Morra Aarons-Mele on her Forbes.com podcast “Hiding in the Bathroom,” about what work+life fit means for each of us and how teams can create a flexible culture that works for everyone. Listen to the full podcast below, or keep reading for highlights from our conversation.

Why We Need to De-Gender, De-Parent and De-Age the Flexibility Conversation

Say it with me: Work+life fit is not a mommy issue. Unfortunately, the conversation about work, life and flexibility has become all about moms, but it’s not. We all need to know how to intentionally fit our work and life together, to be our best on and off the job. So when we just talk about moms and women, we’re missing out on a huge opportunity to help everyone leverage whatever work flexibility they need to be productive and happy.

Flexibility in the way we work today isn’t about women, it isn’t about parents, and it isn’t just for millennials. I’m thankful that millennials have made flexibility a cultural norm inside organizations, but work+life fit is about everyone — including those valuable, experienced Baby Boomers who might consider sticking around to help with project work instead of retiring if they have the flexibility they’re looking for.

What We Can Learn from Work+Life Fit Naturals

When I was researching my book “Tweak It,” I discovered that a small percentage of people (10-15 percent) are, what I call, work+life fit naturals. They seem, from the outside, to fit all of the parts of their life together without breaking a sweat. I figured their secrets must be very complicated (since I was not, I’ll admit, a work+life fit natural), or we’d all be doing it. But it’s actually pretty simple, and it’s more “intentional” than “natural”.

Here are the steps you can follow to think and behave like a “natural”:

  • Sit down at least once a week and think about the small, meaningful priorities you need to get done at work and in your personal life over the next seven days. Look at what habits (like exercise) and what moments (an important training and your kid’s science fair) you want to fit in.
  • Create a combined calendar where you can see all of those different priorities in one view and schedule your “tweaks” for the week.
  • Consider what resources you’ll need to make your work+life fit tweaks a reality. What flexibility do you need in how, when or where you work? What tools or technology do you need to set up? Who do you need to communicate and collaborate with to make sure everything flows seamlessly? If your flexibility (like coming in late to work on Tuesday or working from home on Friday) will affect someone else, let them know about it so that you can plan together.
  • Will it all happen as perfectly as you plan? Probably not. Things come up. Regardless, at the end of the week, celebrate your success. Work+life fit naturals don’t focus on the goals they didn’t quite reach or the hanging tasks that didn’t get finished. They celebrate the little victories, since they know that doing 60% of what you intentionally planned is better than 0%.

Even though our research shows that 97% of full-time U.S. workers say they have some degree of work+life flexibility and one-third already do most of their work from a remote location — not on their employer’s site — many workers still think “nah, I can’t work differently.” I’ve heard from many, many managers who were shocked when employees quit instead of asking to work remotely or rethink their schedule. My advice: Put together a thoughtful plan. Consider how being flexible in the way you do your job could help you remain productive, manage your life and stick around. If you’re a good performer, you’re going to be even better if you have greater flexibility and control, and managers know that.

I’d love to hear from you. How do you fit work and life together? What tweaks help you be your best, on and off the job? If you’ve joined me in banishing “balance,” what advice do you have for others?


Escape the 10 Tyrannies of Work/Life Balance…Finally

escape

“What’s your top how-to tip?”  When I’m asked this question in almost every consulting engagement, speech and media interview, my answer is the same, “Stop looking for balance and start finding your unique work+life fit.”

Over the years, my response has become even more emphatic.  Why?  Because “balance” is an anachronistic holdover from the Industrial Age, with all of its boundaries and rules that no longer exist.

Until we move past “balance” and begin to speak and think differently, it will stand between us and true flexibility in the way we manage our work, life and careers because:

  1. Balance” is always discussed in the negative. “I don’t have balance.” “I am out of balance,” which…
  2. Keeps you focused on the problem, not the solution. You have the power to make countless adjustments (both large and small) in the way you work and manage your life (as long as you know how), but you’ll never see them because balance…
  3. Assumes we’re all the same. We’re not.  At any given time, we all have a completely unique set of work and personal circumstances which precludes a one-size-fits-all solution.   For Kate, who’s on the steep learning curve of a new job and works long hours, getting to the gym and seeing her friends every couple of weeks is enough.  But for Mark, three days a week mentoring new sales people is perfect, because he can delay retirement for two years and see his grandchildren more.   Work+life fit is like snowflakes.  I’ve never heard the same fit twice, but balance
  4. Infers that there’s a “right” answer. There isn’t.  If the work+life fit reality for each of us is completely unique then there’s never going to be a “right” way.  I’ve met an investment manager who runs a tree farm on the side, an accountant who’s a mom and a competitive ballroom dancer, and an entrepreneur who gets home twice a week for dinner with his kids and tries to slip in time to surf during his 80-hour workweek.  They’ve all found a work+life fit that works for them in the context of their unique jobs and personal realities.  No one is right.  No one is wrong, yet balance…
  5. Leads us to judge others, often unfairly. Honestly, we need to give each other and ourselves a break.  We have no idea what’s going on in someone else’s life or in their job, but we can learn strategies from each other.  “How does an entrepreneur get home for dinner and surf?”  “How do you manage investments and run a tree farm?”  “How does a mother work as an accountant and find time to be a ballroom dancer?”   Instead of judging, we can inspire, but balance too often…
  6. Results in unproductive guilt. If each of us has a unique work+life fit, then there should be no (or at least less) guilt.  If that fit works for your unique work and personal circumstances, rock on; however, the trick is to understand that not everyone can do what you’re doing. This is the missing piece.  How can create a culture that allows all of our unique work+life fit realities to coexist together?  Circumstances will change.  One day you’re able to work 80 hours a week, then because of unexpected eldercare responsibilities you can work no more than 20 hours, but balance…
  7. Suggests that the goal is a 50-50 split between work and the other parts of your life. In today’s competitive, service-oriented, global economy there are very few jobs where a consistent amount of work will be done on particular days within certain hours all of the time.   Even 15 years ago, you could count on a pretty reliable schedule.  And you could walk out the door at the end of the day and not have to reconnect to work until you walked back in.  No longer.  To find a fit that works for you and your job, acknowledge this inherent work flow inconsistency and connectivity.  Plan as best you can to create boundaries around technology and to accommodate the inevitable work+life ebbs and flows.    But balance…
  8. Leaves no room for periods where there’s more work and less life, and vice versa. If you want flexibility in your workplace to succeed, then you need to be flexible with it.  In other words, if an unexpected project has to be completed and you’re supposed to leave at 4 p.m., occasionally step to the plate and stay without complaint.  The unanticipated will happen.  Conversely, maybe you’ll experience a chronic illness (like when I had Lyme two years ago).  Suddenly there’s a lot more life than work, but balance…
  9. Ignores the constantly changing reality of work and life. When your goal is “balance” any and all changes will throw you off.  My experience is that very few of us know how to think through, plan for and adjust our work+life fit in response to the personal and career transitions we know are happening, much less the events that happen unexpectedly.   And, we need to because balance…
  10. Will never be taken seriously by corporate leaders.  When you say “balance,” all that corporate leaders hear is “work less” and the conversation goes nowhere.  But, the minute I start talking about the goal in terms of work+life “fit,” these same leaders engage.  They see that they too have a work+life fit that matters to them, but also that there’s a business benefit to giving everyone more flexibility to work smarter and better in today’s economy.

So escape the tyranny of balance.  Focus on how to optimize your work+life fit and you’ll:

  • Talk about what you could have
  • See solutions
  • Know  we’re all different
  • Realize there’s no right answer
  • Stop judging yourself and others
  • Lose the guilt
  • Embrace and plan for the ebb and flow of work and life day-to-day and throughout your career, and
  • Increase the likelihood of that your boss will support greater flexibility in the where, when and/or how you work and, in turn, manage your life.

Tell me…what steps will you take to escape the tyrannies of work-life “balance” and find your fit?  I really want to know!

I invite you to connect with me and continue the conversation on Twitter @caliyost and on Facebook.  Also, sign up to receive FSG/WLF updates.

(For those of you who have followed my work for some time, you will recognize this is an updated version of a post I originally published in 2011.  I’ll reblog and reblog until the work-life “balance” Google alerts in my inbox slow to a trickle!)


Fix Top Open-Office Productivity Drains

 

I think it’s important to note when you see a trend.

At this moment, every corporate client we’re working with has at least one group transitioning from high-walled private cubicles and closed-door offices to open, collaborative work configurations.

While the business case for this open office shift is well-defined—increased employee density equals lower overhead costs—the more subtle impacts on productivity are less clear.

What I don’t see are honest discussions about open offices and productivity. These conversations aren’t happening for two reasons. Either people assume they’re the only one struggling to focus, or they aren’t aware of small, simple changes that can make a big difference.

Here are five common open-office productivity drains and quick, flexible work tweaks you can make the fix the problem.

1. Problem: Distractions from conversations at neighboring desks.
Flexible Fix: Wear a set of noise-canceling headphones that cover both ears.

2. Problem: Interruptions when you’re in the middle of a call or thought.
Flexible Fix: Establish a clear “rule of engagement.” For example: “When I have my headphones on or when you see a Do Not Disturb note on my computer, please come back later.”

3. Problem: Noise from groups meeting in close proximity.
Flexible Fix: Even when no one says anything, assume noisy group meetings bother others. Find breakout spaces to hold spontaneous group meetings or reserve a meeting room in advance.

4. Problem: Lack of focus for work that requires deep, unbroken concentration.
Flexible Fix: Work from a remote office (home, library, coffee shop where you don’t know anyone) as needed.

5. Problem: Inability to have private phone conversations.
Flexible Fix: Plan calls in advance as much as possible, and reserve a breakout room or use an empty office. If you have a number of calls, work from a more private remote location as needed.

How do you stay productive in an open office space? I’d love to hear your tips in either the comments section or on our Facebook page.


“But, Mom, What About the Dog?”: A Personal Tale of Work+Life Fit Imperfection

For those of you who follow the weekly Tweak It Practice, you know that step #1 every seven days is to sit down and celebrate what you DID get done the previous week.

That means if you scheduled 10 “tweaks” or small, meaningful actions into your work+life fit and only accomplished 5, give yourself credit for the 50% you did do.  Celebrate success!

Perfection isn’t the goal; however, in the moment, that can be hard to remember…even for me.

For the past few years, we’ve been very lucky.  My husband’s job didn’t require a great deal of travel.  When I was out of town, I could rely on him to be with the kids in the evening.

But he recently changed jobs and for the first time I was scheduled to speak at a conference when he wasn’t going to be home.

My babysitter offered to stay overnight; however, because it’s the summer, both of my kids were invited to sleep over at a friend’s house.

The week before the speech, I meticulously scheduled all of the logistical planning “tweaks” into my work+life fit so that everything would be set while I was out of town.  Or so I thought.

A couple of hours after my speech, as I sat in my hotel room feeling pretty good about how I’d coordinated all of the pieces of our new work and life puzzle, my daughter calls to ask, “Mom, I’m getting ready to go over to Kate’s house, but what about the dog?”

The dog. Oh goodness, I’d forgotten to figure out who would feed and walk the dog if no one was going to be home overnight! Ugh!

Expected at a cocktail reception and dinner hosted by my client in 30 minutes, I now had to find a dog sitter!

Over the next 20 minutes, I frantically texted and called neighbors to see who had a key and who would be available to take care of Honey (pictured above in all her glory!).

Finally, I found someone and made it to the client event, but I had to laugh.  At the exact moment I’d started to give myself credit for 100% work+life fit perfection, the universe quickly reminded me, “perfection is not the goal.”

Something always comes up, but instead of beating myself up for forgetting about the dog and thinking, “Ah, I can’t do this,” I sat back and took a moment to celebrate success.  I gave myself credit for everything else that did go well.

Can you relate?  When have you forgotten to plan a key logistical “tweak” into your work+life fit and dropped a ball?  How did you respond?  Did you focus on what you did or did not accomplish?

I’d love to hear.  Share your story in the comments section below, on Twitter cc. @caliyost, or on our Facebook page.

 


What Happened When Silicon Valley Tackled Family Caregiving

“The vast majority of health care is actually provided by families, not by health care professionals.”Catalyzing Technology to Support Family Caregiving

Last year, I presented at a conference where the luncheon keynote speaker was the CEO of a non-profit hospital chain.

As we ate, the CEO excitedly shared how her organization was radically rethinking the delivery of medical care at all levels, including post-treatment convalescence.

She explained how more and more of their patients are convalescing at home, which means the patient is discharged as soon as possible after a surgical procedure. They recuperate at home under the care of family and friends with the support of periodic nursing visits, and remote monitoring.

She continued “we have found patients prefer this arrangement, and it has allowed us to dramatically reduce costs while continuing to provide high quality care. We, and other hospitals systems, see this as the model for the future.”

At that moment, all I could think was, “Hold the phone. Who exactly are these family members and friends who are now expected to oversee the recuperation and convalescence of their loved ones at home from often major surgical procedures? Does this CEO understand that most of these people work?”

So I raised my hand and asked the question.  Not surprisingly, the CEO didn’t have an answer because that’s not her primary concern. The challenge this CEO is solving for is how to deliver the highest quality care to the most people in the most efficient and cost-effective way. On that dimension, she and other healthcare leaders are succeeding.

How can technology help us to deliver care on top of everything else we have to do, on and off the job?

This means that more and more of the burden to deliver all but the most acute level of care will fall to loved ones–family members and friends, most of whom will have to provide that often medically complicated care while continuing to hold down and perform at their paid job (70% of caregivers to be exact–Pew).

How is that sustainable?

With this question in mind, I jumped at an invitation from the National Alliance for Caregiving to participate in a unique day-long roundtable with twenty-two other experts from government, Silicon Valley, caregiving advocacy organizations, and researcher institutions this past April.

This diverse, committed group spent hours at the Institute for the Future offices in Palo Alto tackling these questions:

“Until now, technology has made only modest contributions to supporting caregivers.  Can technology play a more meaningful role in helping caregivers? And how can we accelerate innovation in developing new applications to support caregivers?”

The thought-provoking result of our collective effort can be found in the just-released report,  “Catalyzing Technology to Support Family Caregiving” (and press release) and is synopsized in this model:

Specific recommendations include:

  • Create better “concept maps” and find more appropriate language to describe the varied and complex caregiving landscape. The way we currently talk about and think about caregiving is too simplistic. For innovation to occur, we need more accurate, complex models and maps of what caregiving actually entails.
  • Continue to collect extensive data about the prevalence, burden and impact of caregiving. Again, for technology to support the caregiver, we need more and better data showing the diversity of caregivers and growing complexity of caregiving responsibilities.
  • Spur a broad national conversation on caregiving.  Quite simply–we need to talk about the growing challenge of the working family caregiver much more than we do. As we learned from our Silicon Valley colleagues, entrepreneurs won’t invest if there isn’t widespread attention on the topic because they don’t see the market, even though the market is huge.
  • Develop a compelling business case for employers and healthcare providers to support caregiving.  In other words, help the leaders like the hospital CEO, and those that employ the increasingly overburdened family caregiver to understand the business case for offering smarter and better supports.
  • Inspire social conversations about caregiving to encourage more learning and support within families and communities. Basically, we aren’t talking to and supporting each other when we find ourselves knee deep in family caregiving responsibilities. How can we leverage and scale existing in person and virtual caregiver support models like CareGiving.com?

And last, but not least, the recommendation I am particularly passionate about because of the work I do with employees and employers…

  • Provide caregiving coaching as an integral component of all solutions. My main contribution to the dialogue was to point out that any technology solution developed to help the family caregiver has to be simple and usable. Also working caregivers need help learning how to fit that technology into all of the other, often chaotic, responsibilities they are frantically trying to manage, on and off the job.

How to make an “Intelligent Family Care Assistant” part of your work+life fit?

For example, one of the technology solutions the group proposed was called an “Intelligent Family Care Assistant,” a system to keep track of and coordinate the family’s care tasks.

The challenge, of course, remains what type of coaching does a family caregiver need to learn how to integrate that technology into their already busy work+life fit? And who would provide that coaching (e.g. hospitals, employers, doctors), and how (e.g. live, in-person, virtually)?

An exercise that the roundtable group completed gave me hope that we are close to knowing what that coaching model looks like and how to deliver it.

In this joint exercise, the group spent about 20 minutes identifying all of the activities and priorities a family caregiver has to deal with only once, then yearly, monthly, weekly, daily, nightly, etc.  We wrote each priority and activity on a post-it note.

On pages 16-18 of the report, you will see pictures of post-it notes we then put into columns labeled labeled Medical, Wellness, Movement, Home, Social, Finance, Legal, Emotional and Personal Care, by level of frequency.

Essentially what the group did together in 20 minutes was complete a more complex version of the Tweak It Practice, with each post-it representing not only a “tweak” but also the inputs a caregiver would put into a care app like Unfrazzle. In other words, “contextualizing” coaching and support models like Tweak It and Unfrazzle exist, now it’s a matter of continuing to innovate and scale.

What do you think it will take encourage the innovation required to support the growing ranks of family caregivers (one of which will likely be us someday)?

Also, I invite you to connect with me and share your thoughts on Twitter @caliyost and Facebook.


Why the Federal Government’s Telework “Policy” Won’t Achieve Flexible Work Success

I was originally booked on Federal News Radio’s “Federal Drive” morning show to discuss how TWEAK IT can help individuals can find a better work-life “balance.”

But, the segment quickly turned into an opportunity to reinforce the link between work flexibility AND the skills and tools people need to capture that flexibility and use it to be their best, on and off the job (which, ultimately, is what TWEAK IT is about).

Below, you will find a link to the lively 13-minute discussion I had with hosts, Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.  Some of the key points we covered included:

  • Like in any organization, the government’s telework “policy” is not enough to create a successful culture of flexibility that meets the needs of the organization and its people.
  • In an environment with more duties and fewer resources, we can’t keep working harder and faster. We have to work and manage our lives smarter and better.
  • Telework is not a “program,” it is a way of operating in this “do more with less” environment that requires a partnership between the workplace and the person using it.
  • The skill set individuals need to play their role in that flexible work partnership includes the ongoing small, meaningful  “tweaks” to manage their everyday work+life fit and the “resets” that involve a more formal flexible work plan.
  • Truth is that not every type of job or level supports the same type of work flexibility. Good news is the everyday work+life “fit” how-to in TWEAK IT applies to everyone, regardless of the flexibility your job supports.
  • Technology allows more flexibility, but it has also caused us to become more reactive. We need to set better boundaries throughout the day but don’t know how.
  • We have to learn how to test expectations. Sometimes we think we have to respond immediately when we get a late night email or when we are on vacation.  But that is not the case.  Yet we don’t ask.

And there is much, much more.  Let me know what you think in the comments section.

And, if you haven’t already, I would love to connect with you on Twitter @caliyost and on Facebook and continue the conversation.


Students Challenge Singapore to “TWEAK IT” with Contest and Clever Video

Here’s an experience to file under “You never know the impact of your words.”

This week I’ve shared highlights from my recent trip to Singapore (here and here), but nothing prepared me for this fun surprise!

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a group of students in Singapore who attend Wee Kim Wee School of Communications and Information at Nanyang Technological University.

They were inspired by my “Tweak It” message , and wanted to encourage people to capture the power of small, deliberate actions to find a better “fit” between their work and the other parts of life.

They asked if they could launch a “Tweak It” Singapore awareness campaign.  I said, “Go for it!”

Check out the smart, clever short animated video they created “5 Things Work Life Balance is NOT.” I love it!

Go TWEAK IT (sg)!


Simple, Universal Advice to Help Parents to Find Success, On and Off the Job

One of the most interesting aspects of my trip to Singapore was observing the government’s active stance on work life issues.

Unlike in the U.S. where private industry often fights any attempt to legislate work life supports (e.g. paid sick leave days and parental leave), corporations and government agencies in Singapore have formed a true partnership.

Most likely, the motivation for this coordinated effort is the country’s critical labor shortage. Regardless, it was fascinating to watch.

My host, Lim Yit Siang, who is the Assistant Director of the Family Education and Promotion Division, Ministry of Social and Family Development (pictured here putting me on my 21+ hour flight back to the U.S.) asked me to answer a question frequently posed by parents (particularly mothers) about how to “do it all” and have success, on and off the job.

My response is universal and applies to anyone who has tried to fit work, kids and life together…no matter where you live!

“I am a full-time mother with 2 children in primary school. My workload in the office is rather heavy and I find it difficult to make time for myself and my family. What can I do to improve the situation? Is it really possible to “have it all” – a fulfilling career as well as an enriching personal and family life?”

When you are a mother who works at a busy job and has two young children, it can be overwhelming. Not only do I understand professionally, but I can relate personally. I am a working mother of two, as well!

That being said, my research and experience have proven that if you regularly follow a few simple steps, you can find a “fit” between your work and personal life that let’s you be your best (not perfect, but your best), on and off the job.

First, stop trying to find a perfect “balance” or to “have it all.” All you can achieve is your unique work+life fit based on your work and personal circumstances on a given day, week, month or year. This relieves some of the pressure to get it “right,” and helps you focus on the possibilities for you, your job and your family based on your realities now.

Next, harness the power of small actions to achieve your work+life fit goals. I call these small, meaningful actions “tweaks,” and in your case it sounds like the tweaks you want to make happen involve self-care and your family. Too often we think big changes are the only way to address our challenges, when really small actions, if taken consistently and deliberately, make all the difference.

Then, follow a simple weekly work+life fit practice to put your “tweaks of the week” into action. Twenty years ago, clocks and walls told us where work ended and the other parts of life began. But as technology exploded and the global economy expanded the clocks and wall disappeared. We all became much more overwhelmed trying to figure out what to do when.

I spent a number of years studying the people I’d meet in companies who seemed to effortlessly manage to fit their work and life together. I call them the work+life “fit” naturals.

I learned that they follow a few simple steps that I translated into a weekly practice found in my new book, TWEAK IT: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day. The practice entails spending about twenty minutes each week:

1) Celebrating success. Give yourself credit for what you have accomplished at work, in your personal life and in your career for the week. It’s often more than you think.
2) Reviewing what you need to get done in the coming week. What you’ve already committed in at work, in your personal life and with your career development. And identify open slots in your work+life fit that you could fill with some additional, meaningful “tweaks” in areas that are important to you right now.
3) Pick the “standard tweaks,” or habits, you want to make part of your work+life fit over the next seven days, but also think about any “unique tweaks” or special, one-off actions. In your case, the standard tweaks you might pick include spending 15 minutes of one-on-one time with each of your children in the evening, or cooking a special meal together on a weekend night. A unique tweak could be celebrating a friend’s birthday one evening. Over 50 work, personal life and career experts offer their advice.
4) Record your “tweaks of the week” in your combined work and personal calendar and priority list. Try not to keep two separate calendars/ “to do” lists. Combine everything into one and create a complete picture of what you want to accomplish on and off the job.

By regularly following these simple steps, you will build a solid foundation of well-being and performance that will help you feel more in control and less overwhelmed personally and professionally. Remember, just “tweak it!”

What would you add?

I invite you to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost and on Facebook to continue the conversation!

 

 

 


Three Companies Can Resolve Challenges with Flexibility, But People and Business Have to Partner

One of the highlights of 2013 was my visit to Singapore to keynote their national work life conference.

Here I am pictured with some of my hosts from the Singapore Employer Alliance, a group that brings employers and government together to address a range of work life issues.

 

 

My main message to the conference?  For flexible work to succeed, employers and employees have to meet in the middle.  In most cases, this partnership doesn’t exist, but it can be created by following these steps.

What do these employers have in common?

  • The division of a global biotech company projects 25% growth over the next three years. The number of products they offer will increase from seven to twenty-five, which will require a radical realignment of job descriptions and global markets. To sustain engagement during this period of rapid change, the company encourages employees to use day-to-day flexibility in how, when and where work is done to be their best, on and off the job.
  • An insurance company transitioned to an open office space configuration. The move would result in a significant reduction in real estate overhead; however, leaders and employees resisted the change. They questioned whether they could concentrate on the complex documents and projects that make up a large part of their work without cubicles and offices. When it became clear the project would move forward in spite of these concerns, the head of HR decided to encourage employees to use telework, as needed, to maintain focus and productivity.
  • A home improvement retailer wants to expand its operations, but faces a significant talent shortage. To find and keep the qualified people they need to grow, they create flexible work options that are more attractive to non-traditional staffing sources, such as students, stay-at-home parents and older workers. They redesigned the traditional part-time retail job to include more recognition and rewards. They also revised the standard full-time retail employment model reducing the typical workweek from six days to five days.

These organizations used strategic work and life flexibility to address unique business challenges—rapid growth, a shift in workspace design, and a talent shortage. But, in all three cases, the key to successful execution was an active partnership between the business and its employees. The business could offer flexibility in the way work could be done, but their people had to:

  • Use that day-to-day flexibility to stay engaged and be their best, on and off the job.
  • Use that targeted, strategic telework to focus and remain productive.
  • Use that enhanced part-time and a revised full-time schedule to reenter and remain in the retail workforce.

There are three key factors that build an employer-employee partnership for flexible work success:

First, create a shared vision of what flexibility will look like once it is implemented. How is the work getting done better and how is life outside of work being managed smarter? What are leaders, managers and employees doing? How are they behaving? Cascade that vision as widely and deeply as possible through the organization touching all key stakeholders. This visioning process is one of the most powerful ways to create buy-in and understanding, especially among middle managers.

Second, train managers in the basics of good management. Then, add a layer of targeted flexible workplace strategies. When everyone had to show up to work at the same place at the same time everyday, organizations could get away with not training managers in the fundamentals of good management. It wasn’t as critical to know how to give consistent feedback, to task work fairly, to set clear goals and objectives, to provide adequate resources, and to use technology. “Presence equals performance” was the default.

For the employer-employee flexible work partnership to succeed, these basic management skills are a requirement. Once they are mastered and contextualized for their application in a flexible workplace, then a manager can add on the tactics that enhance the performance of a flexible team, such as schedule coordination and remote worker recognition. But the basics have to be there first.

And last, but not least, train your people to capture the flexibility offered and use it to manage their work+life fit, everyday and at major life transitions. Knowing how to flexibly manage your work+life fit, deliberately and intentionally, is a modern skill set we all need to be our best, on and off the job. But very few of us know how because we are not taught. To learn more about the complete work+life fit skill set, please refer to my recently—released book, Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day, and my first book, Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You. Also, you can find information about the everyday work+life fit “how to” at www.tweakittogether.com.

Work and life flexibility can be a powerful strategy to address many of today’s organizational challenges. But successful execution requires skilled managers to partner with their people in ways they didn’t have to when “work” was clearly defined and separate from life.

I invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment and connecting with me on Twitter @caliyost and Facebook.


Top 10 Tips for Work+Life “Fit” Success in 2014

Preparing to participate in the TODAY Show’s #DoingItAll series with Maria Shriver, made me think about the tips I’d want to share with everyone to help them be their best, on and off the job, in 2014.  So, here they are!

1) The goal is work+life fit, not balance. A perfect 50-50 split between your work and your personal life doesn’t exist.  And, for many people, “integration” is not the solution. It is the problem. They want work and life as separate as possible. Whether blended or separate, lots of work or a little, find your work+life “fit” or the way work fits into your life based upon your unique work and personal realities at a particular time.

2) Your employer can’t give you your work+life fit. Whether you have flexibility and support in your workplace or not, you still need to make your everyday work+life fit happen as deliberately as possible. And our research continues to prove most of us aren’t following the simplest steps that would make a big difference in our personal well-being and professional performance.

3) You have to learn how to manage your everyday work+life fit, flexibly and intentionally. It’s a modern skill set we all need to succeed, but few of us have. We are not taught how to put small, strategic boundaries up and allocate our time, money and energy across all the areas of our life. And we need to learn. What does that skill set look like? The Tweak It practice is one example of an everyday work+life fit how-to, while Work+Life is a process to create a formal flexible work plan that resets your work+life fit.

4) See all of your work, career and personal “to dos” as a big, beautiful buffet of possibilities.  We are too reactive to everything that comes at us daily. Reframe all of those endless “to dos” and see them as part of a big, beautiful buffet.  You can’t eat all of the dishes at once, even though most of us try to.

5) Set aside 20 minutes each week to reflect what you need to do and want to do at work, in your career and in your personal life.  This is where you will figure out how many servings you can take from which dishes on your work, career and personal life buffet to be your best over the next seven days.  Again, our research shows most of us don’t ask these simple questions.

6) Take small, meaningful actions, or “tweaks,” to close a gap between what’s happening in your work+life fit and what you want to have happen. Too often, we think a huge change is required to resolve the everyday overwhelm we feel. When the truth is a cup of coffee with a friend, doing your grocery shopping for the week online, or getting your haircut can make a big difference. But, once again, our research shows most of us don’t do this.

7) Keep a combined work and personal calendar and priority list.  You’ve identified the small, meaningful actions, or “tweaks,” you want to make in key areas over the next seven days. Now add them to a calendar and priority list that displays both your work and personal “to dos” for the week in one place. That way you are making decisions throughout the day based on a complete picture of what you want to accomplish on and off the job.

8) Good time management, or “what” you are going to do “when” is not enough. You have to think about “where” and “how” you will complete a particular tweak if you want it to happen.

9) Help each other! Life is way too fast-paced, and complex to think that we can go it alone and achieve success and well-being without any help. We have to work together to achieve our unique work+life fit goals in a mutually beneficial way. Want to try to walk for 30 minutes at lunch three times a week? Ask a colleague to cover for you, and then offer to cover for them if they have an important “tweak” they want to accomplish.

10) Celebrate success. If you choose seven additional work, career, or personal life tweaks for the week, but only accomplished five because of a customer crisis at work, and then your daughter got sick, celebrate the five you achieved. Perfection is not the goal. Life happens. Celebrate what you do get done, because it’s probably more than would have happened if you didn’t choose at all.

Here’s to a 2014 full of personal and professional success!

Related article: Fast Company–5 Insanely Simple Work Life Balance Shortcuts from People Who “Have It All” 

I invite you to connect with me and add to the list of “tips” in the comments section, on Twitter #worklifefit or on our Facebook page.