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)

Fear–Challenging Work+Life Fit Roadblocks (Day 3)

Raise your hand if you’ve muttered or thought “Yeah, but…” or “What if…” as you read the posts from Day 1 and Day 2 of the “Work+Life Fit in 5 Days” series.  If you did (and chances are that you did), then you’ve officially hit a fear roadblock.

Fear roadblocks litter the work+life fit process from beginning to end.  Whether big or small, they will sneak up and derail you unless directly challenged.  Today, Day 3, we tackle your work+life fit fears.

If you’re stuck behind a “Yeah, but…” or a “What if…,” I can’t simply tell you not to be afraid, especially in this economic environment.  It won’t work.  And I can’t say that all of your fears are completely groundless, but I can help you challenge them as they come up, by:

  1. Showing  you “how:” I will give you a process for challenging the validity of a particular fear as being real or imagined so you can keep moving forward and
  2. Sharing and challenging the most common fears: There are three common work+life fit fears that have come up consistently during my 15 years of helping companies and individuals partner to develop and implement work+life flexibility strategies.  You will probably recognize them.

“How to” Challenge Fear Roadblocks

Excerpt from Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You

“I was once part of a corporate work/life consulting project in which more than 100 employees who successfully found a better way to fit work into their lives were interviewed.  We asked them what advice they would give to others.  Much of their advice reinforces the strategies put forth in this book, such as redefining success, making the business case, and taking the lead on your own behalf to find the fit you need.  But many also added, ‘Tell them to just go for it.’  Go for it.  Sounds like something you’d say to someone who’s about to jump off the high dive or climb a mountain for the first time.  What exactly were these people trying to say?

Well, they’ve been in your position—wanting a better work+life fit, but feeling very afraid.  And they know that it feels like a leap into the unknown.  But they also know that once you have a well thought-out proposal, then you have to ‘get past the fear and just do it.’”  (Click here for more, and to print or download the PDF).

Takeaway Action Steps to Challenge Work+Life Fit Fears

#1–Create a solid, well-thought out plan that considers your needs as well as the realities of your job.  And, once implemented, review and adapt regularly.

My experience is that most people don’t do this, for a few reasons:

First, they don’t know how. This is why when I develop a flexibility strategy for companies, one of the keys to successful implementation is giving employees a process that let’s them take the lead and create a work+life fit plan that makes sense not only for them personally, but for their job.

The how-to highlights I’m sharing in this series are from the same Work+Life Fit process that we tailor for our corporate clients.  It is the same process outlined in my book.  Knowing how to partner with your employer to flexibly and strategically manage your work+life fit as personal and work realities change is a skill set that we all need, but that most of us still don’t have.

Second, we expect our manager to come up with a solution. And they can’t. To start, if you need to change your work+life it, chances are your manager has no idea.  He or she can’t read your mind.  And in this environment, they’re probably focused on other issues, so it’s not on their radar screen.  Even if it was, your manager can’t tailor a workable plan for you because he or she doesn’t know your work and personal realities well enough.  Your manager can support the conversation, but you need to start the discussion and present solution.

Third, we think corporate flexible work arrangement policies are the solution. Even with more policies, we’d still need to present a plan and have a discussion.  For years, experts–including me–thought top-down policies outlining the different types of flexibility were the answer.  The truth is even if there is a policy officially sanctioning a certain type of flexibility (e.g. flextime, telecommuting, reduced schedules, compressed workweeks) you can’t simply check a box and expect the arrangement to survive day-to-day reality.

I’ve seen plenty of employers with great flexibility policies and no usage because it’s not supported by process that tailors solutions to the person and the business.  And I’ve seen companies with no policies, but with an inherently flexible way of operating where unique work+life fit solutions are organically created.  The power of a policy is to show what’s possible.  But it’s the work+life fit process that creates a workable plan that’s a sustainable win-win for all parties.

Finally, we think getting a new job that’s more flexible upfront is the answer. Even then, you still need to actively manage and coordinate your work+life fit on an ongoing basis for that flexible job to succeed.

#2–Challenge each fear to determine if it’s based on facts or on assumptions that need to be clarified.

The step-by-step “challenge the fear” process is outlined in the book excerpt above.  There’s also an example of someone following the process and moving beyond a concern that she realized wasn’t valid.

In my experience, approximately 80% of the fears that keep us stuck are based on misunderstandings, misperceptions and a lack of information.  The remaining 20% of concerns, are valid on some level, but in many cases can be addressed.  For those that can’t, you still have choices.

#3–Dig down deep into yourself and find the courage to go for it. You do have the power, as long as you know how.

Challenging the Most Common Work+Life Fit Fears

Fear #1 – They will say “no.” This is the top fear that keeps most people from presenting a plan that adjusts their work+life fit.   The specific ways to challenge this fear are covered in the chapter excerpt above; however, here are a couple of things to consider:

  • Are you a good performer?  If you are, by all means put together a plan, especially if you are getting ready to quit to find a better fit.  I wish I had a dollar for every manager who said to me over the years, “They should have said something before they left.  I would have considered it.”
  • The worst thing that can happen is your manager says “no.”  Then you are back where you started and no worse off.  But my experience is that nine times out of ten, you at least get a fair hearing as long as you have a well-thought out plan.   And if you are really concerned, start out by proposing a relatively small adjustment in your fit, and work your way toward more.

Fear #2 – It will hurt my career. I covered the advancement roadblock yesterday (Day 2), but you have to ask yourself, what happens if you don’t find a better fit?  Are you going to leave?  Will you become so unproductive and unhappy that it begins to hurt your health and/or your performance?  Would finding a better fit actually help your career in the long-run?  How would it benefit your employer?

Fear #3 I will lose my job. In today’s economic reality, I understand the instinct to keep your head down and just work harder, faster and longer. You don’t want to make any wrong moves that put your job in jeopardy.  That being said, your employer benefits from helping you flexibly manage your work+life fit.  You’re more productive.  You’re less distracted.  You’re more creative.  You can provide more coverage.  You’re less stressed.  You stick around.  If you work fewer hours, they save money.  All good stuff that should be front and center in any plan.

While there are always exceptions, my experience has been that if someone with flexibility loses his or her job, it’s not about the flexibility specifically.  It’s either:

  • The individual wasn’t performing overall (I would argue that person shouldn’t have had flexibility in the first place).
  • He or she wasn’t willing or able to adapt the type of flexibility they had to the changing realities of the business.  That’s why it’s so important that any work+life fit plan is a flexible, ongoing dialogue with your manager and not just a box checked on a benefits form.  You want to be in the loop when circumstances change, or
  • There were broader layoffs impacting many people in many different circumstances, including those with flexibility.  But not only those with flexibility.

What are the “Yeah, but…” and “What ifs…” keeping you from flexibly managing your work+life fit in a way that meets your needs and the needs of your job?  Have you challenged your fears?  If yes, what did you do?  If not, why?


Entire “Work+Life Fit in 5 Days” Series:

Day 1: What is Work+Life Fit? / Seeing the Possibilities

Day 2:  Challenge Roadblocks — Redefine Success:  Money and Prestige / Advancement and Caregiving

Day 3:  Challenge Roadblocks — Fear

Day 4:  What Do You Want? / Your Internal Guidance and My Story

Day 5:  Creating Your Work+Life Fit Plan–Making It a Win-Win

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Stop Talking About Work+Life Flex Solely in the Context of Women…Really, Seriously, Once and for All

I waited.  I knew it was coming.  As expected, shortly after the release of The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything the calls and emails began rolling in, “What do you think?”  Earlier this year, I’d dodged that question when Womenomics was released.  At the time, I thought I didn’t need to add my voice to the mix because of course by now most people understood that work+life flexibility was an issue for everyone.  Not just women.  Future efforts would certainly discuss the issue from an inclusive, gender neutral, business based perspective.  I was confident this would be the last high-profile, big media launch of a book or program that focused on work+life flexibility primarily in the context of women.

I was wrong.  The launch of A Woman’s Nation was even bigger and bolder.  So, for what it’s worth and because people keep asking me, it’s time to answer the question, “What do I think?”  First, let me say a couple of things.  Like Womenomics, The Shriver Report is well done and well intentioned.   In fact, two of my favorite thinkers, Brad Harrington of Boston College’s Center for Work and Family, and the writer/feminist, Courtney Martin, contributed excellent chapters.  Issues such as pay inequity, lack of representation in senior levels, and sharing of care responsibilities are all important issues to discuss specifically as they relate to women, but

We really, seriously, once and for all, need to stop talking about the need for work+life flexibility solely in the context of women!

Why?  Four reasons:

It’s not true that women have the greatest need for flexibility in work and life

Both men and women do.  More flexibility for men means more flexibility for women.  And it doesn’t include the multiple ways businesses benefit from making flexibility in how, when and where work is done part of the day-to-day operating model including:Impacts graphic

I fear it inadvertently reinforces the Motherhood Penalty

As Kanter award-winning researcher Shelley J. Correll of Stanford University found in two separate studies: Evaluators consistently rated mothers less competent and less committed to paid work than non-mothers, and childless women received 2.1 times as many callbacks as mothers with similar credentials.  There’s a deep, entrenched bias in the system that says if you hire a mother, it’s a problem.  So don’t hire her.  (Check out the work of Harvard’s Mahrazin Banaji for more on entrenched bias—hat tip: Maryella Gockel, of E&Y).

When a book, report or press conference is entitled Womenomics or A Woman’s Nation, no matter how much you say, “It’s not just about women,” it is about women.   By linking the need for greater work+life flexibility so directly and publicly to women and mothers, I’m afraid it perpetuates this inaccurate perception that mothers are the only ones who can’t make it work without extra accommodations.  It doesn’t challenge or change the prejudice.

It further isolates men, who want to be part of the conversation but won’t participate is something they perceive to be a “women’s thing.” (Really, you can’t blame them.)

Today, work+life strategies are ghettoized outside of the day-to-day operating model of business.  In many organizations work+life issues are discussed, if not solely, then primarily as part of the women’s initiative.  In the media, coverage of the topic is confined almost exclusively to women’s magazines or articles focused on women.  Even though research shows that men suffer from higher levels of work+life conflict than women, and are just as interested in work+life strategies.  But they are usually left out in the cold.

My experience is that if you make the discussion gender neutral, and get senior line leadership support, the men will flood in.  A couple of years ago, I conducted a series of work+life fit strategy seminars at an investment bank.   The first two sessions were sponsored by the company’s women’s leadership group.  Although men “are encouraged and welcome to attend,” not surprisingly, the majority of attendees were women.  A few brave men were scattered about the room.  Curious, I stopped one of the men at the end of the session and said, “If this wasn’t sponsored by the women’s group would more guys show up?”  Without hesitation, he responded with a smile, “Of course, most men don’t go to a chick event.”

I suggested to the HR leader in charge of the series, “Why don’t we get individual business unit leaders to sponsor the remaining three sessions, and ask the women’s leadership group if they would become a silent partner?  Maybe we’ll get more men to show up.”  The head of the women’s group thought it was a great idea, but the HR leader wasn’t so sure, “Well, okay, but don’t be surprised if only a few attend.”  P.S. the last three sessions were so popular that they added a fourth session.  And more than half of the attendees were men.  The HR leader and the male business leaders who sponsored the seminars now understood that work+life flexibility wasn’t just a woman’s issues, but an issue for everyone.

It allows us avoid the hard work we need to do to make flexibility part of the way business operates and individuals manage their lives.

Isolating work+life flexibility as a women’s issue is a feel-good, red herring.   What we really need to do is fundamentally rethink how we all work, manage our lives and run our businesses.   That’s going to require innovation and creativity which is not easy.  Today, rapid change and uncertainty are the norm, making flexibility and resilience imperative if we are to thrive.

Hopefully A Woman’s Nation is the last public, high-profile media event that so directly and publicly links work+life flexibility and women for all the reasons I listed above.  Going forward, let’s focus money, firepower, effort, and exposure on the truth that it’s about all of us, which, in turn, will help women more.  What do you think?

Taken Down by a Tick

It seems my absence from the blogosphere over the past few weeks here and on my Fast Company blog has not gone unnoticed.  I am touched.  To everyone who has inquired into my whereabouts, thank you and let me explain–I was taken down by a tick.  Or rather by the Lyme disease transmitted to me by said tick. Fotolia_7763673_XS

The good news is that I am well on the road to recovery, and even relaunched my Fast Company blog, the “New Work+Life Flex Normal” this week.  But it has been an interesting, frustrating and sometimes scary experience.  Here is what I’ve learned:

  1. Take Lyme disease very seriously. I didn’t.  When I was first diagnosed with the standard “bulls eye” rash earlier in the summer, I didn’t finish the four weeks of antibiotics because they upset my stomach, and  “I feel great!”  Bad, bad idea.  They aren’t sure if this was a recurrence of the initial Lyme that wasn’t fully treated or a reinfection, but horror stories I have heard since sharing my diagnosis are alarming (including this one about another tick borne illness in The New York Times).  Thankfully, I was undiagnosed for only about three weeks, but that was long enough.
  2. Sometimes, you just have to say you can’t do it…and you survive. For two weeks,  I dragged myself to work thinking I had a virus that would go away eventually. It  wasn’t until I landed in the hospital three weeks ago and was given an initial diagnosis of  Lyme that I finally begrudgingly admitted I needed to take time off.I work for myself.  If I don’t work, I don’t get paid.  Not to mention the fact that I love what I do and it takes a lot to knock me out of the game.  I’m lucky that my husband has a job; therefore, my family will eat and the mortgage will be paid.  Not everyone who works for themselves has that luxury (not to mention everyone else who doesn’t get paid sick days, but that’s another post for another day.)  Still, it’s tough to cancel speeches, reschedule client meetings, pass on a great blog topic and ask your amazing, busy team to take on your work too.  But sometimes you just have to say you can’t do it…and you, or rather I, survived.
  3. Thank goodness for antibiotics, Twitter and Facebook–An interesting non sequitur, but all played a role in my recovery.  I’m three weeks into another four week cycle of antibiotics and, as was the case with my earlier diagnosis, I’m feeling better.  Only this go round I’m taking every last little blue pill until all Lyme spirochetes are dead and gone.   Thank you, thank you to the smart people who discovered antibiotics.While I didn’t have the energy to blog, Twitter and Facebook let me stay somewhat connected in between naps.  I didn’t think it was possible, but I appreciate the power of social media even more than I did before.   Thank you, thank you to the smart people who thought of Twitter and Facebook.

And thanks to everyone for their understanding and good wishes.   I’m diving back into the blogsphere full speed and look forward to continuing the vibrant, important process of rethinking life, work, and business in this new work+life flex normal.  And I am forever humbled by the power of a small tick to take me down.

Jack Welch is Right “There’s No Balance,” But His Reasoning Needs Updating

As reported in The Wall Street Journal‘s The Juggle blog, Jack Welch was quoted at a recent SHRM conference as saying “There is no such thing as balance.”  While his comments set off a firestorm of response, fundamentally, I believe he is correct–there is no balance.   However, his explanation of “why” needs updating.

He’s right that we need to stop talking about “balance.”  The sooner we discontinue thinking that there’s a right answer or “balance,” the quicker we will see that every one of us has a different work+life fit at different times in our lives.  There isn’t one  way to make work and life fit together.  Only what works for us and the realities of our jobs.

But here’s where the “why” behind his argument needs to be updated:

Update #1: He, along with almost everyone else, is stuck in the land of  the “all or nothing / CEO or stay at home parent” which is not where most of us live: Unfortunately, Jack Welch and many of those responding to his comments online are still stuck in the all-or-nothing, all work-or-no work dichotomy. This  keeps us from seeing the many creative, flexible ways to manage our unique work+life fit that exist between the extreme all-work reality of a CEO like Jack Welch, or the no-work reality of a parent who chooses to leave the workforce for an extended period of time to care for their children.  That doesn’t mean work-primary CEOs or life-primary stay-at-home parents are wrong.  Their work+life fit choices work for them–but most of us live somewhere in the middle along that continuum.

Image how different this story would be if Jack Welch had responded to the question, “Look, I chose to become the CEO of GE therefore I had to give 100% of my time and attention to work.  That was my choice; however, that isn’t the only way of managing work and life if your goal isn’t to become the CEO of a multi-national company.”

Update #2: It isn’t just about moms and women. To be fair, Jack Welch was being interviewed at the SHRM conference by Claire Shipman who just wrote a book Womenomics, therefore, chances are the conversation was about women which is why he answered it in that context.  However, the fact of the matter is we need to stop talking about work+life issues as women’s issues.  In today’s economy, we all–men and women–need to strategically manage our individual work+life fit choices day-to-day and at major life and career transitions such as partnering, parenthood, elder care, and retirement.

Update #3:  It’s also about flexibly redefining success. Just as there’s no one right way to combine work and life, there is no longer one rigid, linear definition of success.  Welch did reference the fact that if you take a career break “you may be passed over for a promotion,” and “that doesn’t mean you can’t have a nice career.”  What he’s saying is there are many different ways to define success personally and professionally, at different times in our lives.  Yes, you may choose to pull into the slower lane from the fast lane when passed over for a promotion but that doesn’t mean later when your circumstances change you won’t raise your hand and pull back into the fast lane (as you define it).  Remember, Welch was a CEO; therefore, anything less than that would probably be a “nice” career to him, but a very successful career to everyone else.

Bottom line,  it’s work+life fit, not balance.  There is no right answer.  It’s not all-or-nothing, either be a  CEO or a stay at home parent.  There are countless flexible, work+life fit options in between which is where most of us live.  And that’s where we need to focus our discussion and problem-solving.  It’s not just women, it is all of us at all stages of our lives.  The sooner all of us, including Jack Welch, realize this, the faster we will begin to have a productive, up to date dialogue that moves us forward.

Thanks, Jack Welch, for keeping this important “there is no balance” debate on the radar screen.  What do you think?

(Update: Since writing this post, I’ve learned that Jack Welch is recovering from a very serious spinal infection.  My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family for a full recovery.)

White House May Not Be “Family Friendly,” But It Is Work+Life Fit Aware

You could read the recent New York Times article,“’Family Friendly’ White House Is Less So for Aides,” one of two ways.  As a commentary on the disconnect between what the Obamas say about managing work and life in the White House and what is actually happening.  Or, and perhaps more accurately, as an innovative case study on the possibilities and limits of flexibly managing your work+life fit in a high-pressure organization.  Here’s what I think the article has to tell all of us:

Our language needs to catch up with our present-day work+life reality if we are to avoid misunderstandings. Part of the problem with the Obama Administration’s efforts is the language they are using.  “Family friendly,” and “balance” are outdated terms that aren’t used by most work life experts because we’ve learned that they don’t accurately describe reality.  Think about it, what exactly does “family-friendly” mean?  Does it mean mothers, or all parents?  Does it include people with eldercare responsibilities?  And what about people who consider their pets to be members of their family?  And what exactly does “friendly” look like?  What looks friendly to me might look very unfriendly to you.

It is much clearer to talk about a flexible work environment that allows people to manage their work and life in a way that meets their needs as well as the needs of the business.  Notice I didn’t say “balance.”  There is no balance, especially not in a global, 24/7 organization like the White House that’s dealing with a major recession and two wars.   So instead of saying the White House is “family-friendly,” President and Mrs. Obama could say, “we support giving people the flexibility they need to manage their important jobs with their responsibilities at home in the context of what it means to work in the White House.”

A leader can set the tone, but he or she can’t give us the answer because our realities are completely different. Kudos to the Obamas for setting the cultural tone related to work+life issues.  They freely talk about how they try to manage their work+life fit, which makes it okay for us all to discuss.  They encourage the use of laptops to support flexibility (only for parents so far, however, I would advise expanding to everyone as soon as possible), and they walk the talk in a way that works for them.  Unlike other aides and staff members, President Obama works from home when he is in the country which does allow him greater, spontaneous access to his family.

While others are still trying to figure out their fit, they report a number of “small wins” such as accompanying a daughter on a field trip, or seeing soccer games.  If I could give them all expert advice, it would be to keep focusing on those small, flexible, day-to-day victories.  They make a huge difference.

Some are making adjustments to accommodate realities of their high-powered jobs that can’t be changed.  In-laws and spouses are taking on more.  Additional support is being hired.  Babysitters are bringing babies to work for a visit.  It might not sound appealing to everyone, but all that matters is it works for them.

Admittedly, there are those that still have a way to go in terms of finding their White House work+life fit.  Nighttime school visits and sightseeing aren’t going to work long-term.  But, it’s only been seven months, so testing the waters is to be expected; however…

This is a big job with long hours and sometimes it isn’t going to work for everyone. As the article noted, these are “prestigious posts that offer a chance to make an impact and unparalleled access to the President at time of recession and war.”   And the work is never, ever going to be done.

These are smart people.  They knew what they were getting into. The United States Government is a global, always on, always changing entity that’s currently guiding a country under great stress. Not surprisingly, a couple of staff members have already decided that it wasn’t going to work and have resigned.  Maybe they have a child or parent with an unexpected special need.  Maybe their partner got a new job.  Or, maybe it just wasn’t what they wanted after all.  They tried and realized it wasn’t for them, which shouldn’t be an indictment of the entire effort.

While it might not be everyone’s definition of “family-friendly,” there’s no doubt that this White House is much more work+life fit aware and supportive than previous administrations.  Is it perfect?  No.  Will they need to keep innovating?  Of course.  A year ago, would we have seen so many male senior administration officials talking openly about their work+life fit challenges?  I don’t think so.  That’s progress to celebrate.

The Administration is trying to create a culture that gives everyone as much flexibility as possible to manage their fit.  But in the end, they all still work for the White House.  And for some, that’s a fit that’s just not going to work.

What do you think?  Do you feel the White House work-life efforts are hypocritical, or do you see them as helping us all make the flexible management of our individual work+life fit part of the day-to-day operating model?

Fast Company: American Revolution’s Pamphleteers, Today’s Bloggers and Twitterers

The celebration of our country’s independence this past weekend made the harrowing Twitter and blog posts of the resistance movement in Iran even more poignant. As they continue to challenge the legitimacy of that country’s elections and crack the foundation of the theocratic regime, it’s important to remember the role of “social media” in our own painful, violent birth. Iran’s bloggers and Twitterers are the modern-day offspring of the American Revolution’s pamphleteers.

More than 230 years ago, ordinary citizens across the colonies printed and distributed the passionate words of “amateur” writers to shape public opinion and galvanize the independence movement virally. Like the Iranians, these colonial social media pioneers faced violent suppression from a powerful ruling class.  But their simple pamphlets proved to be even more powerful.  They offer hope not only to the courageous Iranians, but to anyone interested in harnessing the collective for change.

My grandmother first introduced me to the bravery of the American Revolution’s pamphleteers through stories about one of my ancestors, Samuel Loudon.  In addition to publishing the newspaper The New York Packet, he was part of the underground network that printed and distributed pro-independence pamphlets This included the a popular response to Thomas Paine’s Common Sense for which, legend has it, he was tarred and feathered.

This description of pamphleteering from 1940 by Homer Calkin for The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, could be about the blogs of today, “From the sixteenth to the eighteenth century the pamphlet was the chief instrument to carry one’s ideas to the public…The pamphlet, forerunner to the newspaper, was well adapted to this use because it was small and cheap and could reach ‘a larger audience than the orator in the House of Commons.’”

These childhood tales of how Samuel Loudon’s pamphlets changed the world may have helped me recognize the potential of blogging in early 2006 when I started my Work+Life Fit blog, way before most people even knew what a blog was.  At the time, I was frustrated.  For more than a decade, I’d been part of a vibrant, dynamic field that helped organizations and individuals partner to flexibly and creatively manage work and life.  Yet the broader world had no idea the field existed much less how our work could help them. I wanted to change that.

Almost four years later, both my original blog as well as my expert blog for Fast Company have exceeded my expectations in terms of helping to rethink work, life and business. Without fail, after every post, at least one person contacts me to say, “That made a difference.”  Huge.  And a few of my long time work+life colleagues have started excellent blogs including Families and Work Institute’s blog, Kathie Lingle’s Blog at the Alliance for Work Life Progress, and the Sloan Work and Family Network.  Further expanding the community.

Now, Twitter.  It’s been six months since I joined Twitter (@caliyost), and I’m equally as impressed by its power to share information, create community and drive change.  Tweeting for the pamphleteers of the Revolution would have meant printing and distributing eight to ten short 140 character statements daily.  Impossible.  But that’s what’s different about Twitter—it’s quick. It’s fast. It’s real-time.  It doesn’t replace the thoughtful, longer form writing of a blog post.  Twitter augments it by allowing you to: (Click here for more)

Fast Company: As Recovery Simmers, Limit Lagging Layoffs with Flexible Downsizing

Great news… 90% of economists in a recent survey by the National Association of Business Economics predicted the recession will over by the end of 2009!  But hold the champagne.  These same economists saw unemployment rising as high as 10.7% in the second quarter of 2010, plus:

  • The Congressional Budget Office’s projected a jobless rate of 10% in 2010, and
  • During the week of May 16th, “the total number of people collecting benefits rose to 6.66 million, a record reading for a 16th straight week, and a sign companies are still not hiring.”

Historically, jobs lag behind a recovery as employers wait until the last possible moment to ensure the rebound is sustained.  As a recent Hewitt Associates study of 518 HR leaders found, even though most believe an upturn will start by year-end, many are “contemplating additional cuts.”

In other words, we are not out of the woods in terms of layoffs; therefore, it’s a perfect time to revisit flexible downsizing strategies to minimize job cuts.  As I’ve pointed out for more than a year in numerous posts (20 Reasons to Promote Flexible Alternatives to Layoffs) , reduced schedules/salaries, furloughs, unpaid vacation, job sharing, sabbaticals, telecommuting and compressed workweeks allow companies to manage labor and operating costs without having to let as many people go (for specific examples check out the recently updated Downsizing Flexibility Champions Honor Roll).  If a recovery is starting to simmer, it makes even more sense to try to hang on to your people, rather than scrambling for talent when business begins to pick up.

According to a recent Watson Wyatt survey, U.S. employers increased their use of reduced workweeks and mandatory furloughs; however, as with any innovative approach to tackling a problem, there are challenges to the wisdom of these flexible alternatives.

Concern #1:  Employees won’t go for it.
When I started writing about flexible downsizing to reduce job cuts in early 2008, the first response was, “Sounds good, but employees won’t go for it.”  So, I decided to find out by including questions in our nationally-representative 2009 Work+Life Fit Reality Check survey of full-time employees conducted by Opinion Research Corp at the end of March (+/- 4% margin of error).

We found that 9 out 10 full-time employees said they would be willing to accept a change or reduction in their schedule, or take a pay cut to avoid layoffs. Here’s the breakdown of the specific flexible downsizing options from which respondents could choose (there was no statistically significant difference between men and women):

78%     Four-day workweek, but the same amount of hours worked
59%     Add additional unpaid vacation days to the year
59%     Take one to two weeks unpaid leave, known as a furlough
48%     Share your job with another individual
47%     Reduced hours with reduced pay
41%     Work on a project basis as a contractor
41%     A pay cut, but the same amount of hours worked
31%     Take a month or more unpaid sabbatical
5%       None of these

Are people going to jump for joy when their schedule changes or if they make less money?  No, that’s unrealistic. But, I find there’s a pragmatic understanding that these are extraordinary times.  And most people, perhaps begrudgingly, will make trade-offs to keep their jobs. One conclusion from the data is that not everyone is interested in the same option.  Therefore, organizations might want to include a broad range of cost saving flexibility in any downsizing strategy and let managers and employees choose the options that work best for the individual and the business.

Concern #2:  You don’t save money and you will lose your top talent, therefore, the answer is to cut poor performers.

Grey’s Anatomy’s Dr. Bailey Pulls into the “Slower Lane,” (and I missed Michelle Obama)

One of the keys to actively managing your work+life fit is flexibly redefining success.  Think of your work+life fit as a highway.  Too many of us see only the fast lane or a stop at the side of the road.  But the truth is there are three options—a fast lane, stop at the side of the road, and a “slower” lane.  The countless work+life fit possibilities involve moving back and forth across all lanes over the course of a flexible career between the fast lane and the slower lane, and sometimes pulling off the road for awhile.  We all know about the fast track, and about taking a break.  But we don’t hear much about what it means to move into the slower lane.  What does it look like?  How do you do it?

Notice I didn’t say “slow” lane, because no self-respecting high-achiever ever wants to admit to being in the slow lane.  But the slower lane…perhaps.   In theory, it may not sound bad at all, until you look back over into the fast lane.  What’s happening?  Someone is passing you by.  That can be very difficult.  But sometimes we have no choice.

The all or nothing, all work or no work, fast lane/stop at the side of the road mentality doesn’t reflect today’s work+life fit reality especially in this economy.  As we found in the 2009 Work+Life Fit Reality Check, a majority said they are less likely to leave the workforce to care for children or aging parents, and a majority now plan to do some type of paid work in retirement.  Taken together, we have to honestly examine what a shift into the “slower” lane involves, since it will mean something different for each of us.

Grey’s Anatomy’s Dr. Miranda Bailey Painfully Redefines Success…

The season finale of Grey’s Anatomy unexpectedly granted my wish for more examples of shifts into the slower lane.  Chief Resident, Dr. Miranda Bailey made the painful move out of the fast lane by turning down a prestigious fellowship for the less demanding position of general surgeon.  This well written and acted episode accurately depicted the conflicting considerations and emotions behind her decision.

For those of you who are not Grey’s Anatomy fans, here’s Dr. Bailey’s backstory:  Season after season, Dr. Bailey continued her determined ascent up the ladder.  She overcame professional setbacks, even if that meant periodically showing up at the hospital with her young son, William, in tow.  Although her marriage to her husband Tucker struggled, it had seemed to be back on track.

As Chief Resident, she had to choose an area of specialization.  While she liked general surgery, midway through the season it seemed she’d found her true passion as a pediatric surgeon.  She began to pursue a prestigious fellowship for two additional years of training, which would keep her in the fast lane.

But when Dr. Bailey receives the news she’d won the fellowship, she goes to the hospital’s Chief of Staff, Dr. Richard Webber. She asks him if there is still an opening for her as a general surgeon.  He says there is but admits he’s confused.  He’d supported her for the fellowship because he thought it was what she wanted, and with that she confesses, “It is, but Tucker said if I took the fellowship our marriage was over.  I need the consistency of a general surgeon’s schedule to be home at night as much as possible.”  She goes on to say that she’s decided to leave her husband anyway because that’s no way to have a marriage, and she catches her breath as she concludes, “I am now a single mother, and need to be home for my son…”

And then there’s the reaction of Dr. Arizona Robbins, the doctor who sponsored her, “You don’t turn down a fellowship like this!” Her response symbolizes the toughest part of pulling into the slower lane–the outside voices telling you what you “should,” “ought,” and “can’t” do.

So how does being a general surgeon put you in the slower lane?”  For Dr. Bailey, turning down that fellowship meant she had to redefine success.  She settled for a position she enjoys and will give her the work+life fit she needs right now, but it isn’t her passion and doesn’t have the same prestige.   To her mind and perhaps in the minds of her colleagues, Miranda Bailey is in the slower lane.

How I missed seeing Michelle Obama speak….

Actively managing your work+life fit and consciously redefining success doesn’t just happen at major life reset points, like a divorce or potential promotion.  It’s something we do on a daily basis, and it never gets easier…even for me.

The last three weeks my schedule has included more than the usual amount of travel (thus, the light blogging).  When I committed to the opportunities that took me to Boston, Chicago and then Lexington, Kentucky I knew there would be very little room for any last minute additions to my work+life fit—personal or professional.  Then I got an invitation to attend the Corporate Voices for Working Families conference in Washington DC.

The conference sounded wonderful, and I knew many of my favorite work+life industry colleagues would be there.  But looking at my calendar I saw that if I attended the conference I would have to fly from Chicago to Washington and be away for the last two days of my older daughter’s statewide standardized tests.  Because these tests partially influence her placement in Junior High School next year, she was more nervous than usual.  So I declined the conference invitation in order to be home.

I was disappointed, but happy with my decision, until the first day of the conference when I received an email from one of the attendees telling me about Michelle Obama’s fabulous speech! Michelle Obama?! Yes, Michelle Obama delivered an unannounced speech at the conference that I had consciously chosen not to attend!  (Click here to read the post by Ellen Galinsky of Families and Work Institute about her meeting with the First Lady).

I spent the rest of the day reading articles and blog posts about her speech.   I found myself thinking of what it must have been like for my “fast lane” colleagues who attended the conference to hear her speak about a subject many of us have spent more than 15 years studying and promoting.   Had I missed a once in a lifetime opportunity?  What had I done?  But all of my doubts were erased when I put my daughter to bed that night and she said, “Mom thanks for being here.  It made me feel better in my tests.”  I’d said no to the conference, pulled into the slower lane, missed Michelle Obama, and made the right decision.

Maybe I’ll see Michelle Obama another time, and maybe Dr. Miranda Bailey will get that fellowship in a couple of years.  But we both actively managed our work+life fit and redefined success in a way that worked best for us, for our jobs and our personal realities at a given point in time.  There’s no right answer.  Today, we pulled into the “slower” lane, as we defined it.  The next time the decision may be to put our blinker on and pull back into the fast lane again.  It’s not all or nothing…as hard as that may be sometimes.

How many lanes are in your work+life fit highway?  Have you even pulled into the slower lane as you define it, either by choice or circumstance?  What did that look like and what did it involve?

Distraction as a Cause of Recession; Why Recovery Will Require Paying More Attention (Plus: How I Finally Disconnected on Vacation!)

For the past few months I’ve pondered these questions:

  • Would people have made better personal financial decisions such as charging less to credit cards, and taking mortgages that they couldn’t afford if they’d paid closer attention to what they were doing?
  • Would leaders in financial institutions have seen the red flags sooner if they’d periodically stepped back, disconnected, and reflected on what their businesses were doing?

Upon reflection, it does seem that many of the choices and behaviors that contributed to the current recession all come back to a lack of attention.  Hindsight is always 20/20, and you have to be careful about too much Monday morning quarterbacking.  But, if we want to avoid making the same mistakes twice, being less distracted and paying closer attention needs to part of that post-recession work+life reality.

To get a better understanding of why paying attention in all aspect of our lives is so important and how a lack of it contributed to our current crises, I decided to go right to the source, Maggie Jackson, author of Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age.  Reading Jackson’s book last year was a revelation (click here for my review), and it caused me to rethink many of my personal behaviors and choices, as well as reconsider the way we were parenting our children.

A couple of months ago, I asked Jackson to share her thoughts with me about why distraction got us where we are today, and how paying more attention will be critical in the post-recession reality.  Here are highlights from our conversation:

CY: Is there a connection between a lack of attention and our current economic crisis?

MJ:  Yes, there is definitely a connection between our fragmented work styles and the economic situation, whether it’s the distracted bankers who didn’t understand what they were doing, or the individual American who checked out on the cost of their highly leveraged lifestyle.

There’s a rich body of research underscoring the cost of fragmented, interrupted time at work.  Whether it’s chopping up thinking with the constant interruptions of technology, or doing several things at once, when we fragment high-order thinking and problem-solving it leads to lower creativity, sub-par performance and a lack of innovation.

But more importantly for where we are today, it leads to a lack of vision which is extremely toxic.  We need to be able to have vision to see ourselves moving forward.  Intangible, abstract, higher order comprehension is needed to understand the future and to see warning signs.  Not having this is very corrosive, as we are seeing.

CY:  But we were “productive,” and had so much more information because of technology?

MJ: We need to rethink the meaning of “productive.”  We have information overload from skimming.  What we are missing is a deeper understanding, deeper connections.  Interestingly there is an SAT of Information Literary.  They are finding a dichotomy.  College students are quick to find information, but have trouble with the deeper analysis of that information. Yes, there has been a gain in terms of the access to information, but we need to really think about what is lost with that as well.

CY: Have you seen changes being made to reduce the amount of distraction and help people engage in deeper thinking and analysis?

Yes, I have and it’s very encouraging.  For example, there’s a hospital in Kentucky that trying to build in time for reflection, focus and awareness into the way work is being done.  IBM has instituted “Think Fridays,” where efforts are made to reduce meetings and other interruptions.

I’m also seeing a greater awareness about the importance of paying attention on the part of individuals.  They are ready to ask questions and find out more about it.  I was at a speech recently where the conversation turned to our relationship with “the machine.”  What the attendees meant was how we allowed  the machinery of life to take charge.  How we let computers take over and we just checked out.  “Machinery” became the norm, and we need to rethink that.  (Check out WorldatWork’s new study “Implications of Employer-Supplied Connectivity Devices.”)

CY: Thank you, Maggie.

For more on Maggie Jackson and her “attention movement,” check out these excellent interviews on The Huffington Post and the Harvard Business Review online.  And for my  prior posts on the subject of attention and awareness, click here and here.

Attention Case Study:  I Finally 100% Disconnected on Vacation!

I waited a couple of months to share my conversation with Maggie Jackson because I wanted to see if I could tackle one of my ongoing distraction challenges—not fully disconnecting from work during vacation.  After reading Jackson’s book last year, I understood why it was so important to take real meaningful breaks from work, vacation being one of them.  I’ve struggled with what I call my “vacation quandary” for years.  Specifically the push-pull between wanting to take a vacation, but finding myself for a variety of seemingly valid reasons to continuing to check in.  The brain research presented in Distracted finally convinced me I needed to commit to completely disconnecting.

Two weeks ago, I put my commitment to the test when my family went to on vacation for a week.  Even though I had my Blackberry (it’s my cell phone), I decided not to read or reply to emails.  I did not Twitter.  I did not check if there were comments on my blogs.  I checked my voicemail a couple of times, but did not respond because none of the messages were urgent.  So how did it feel to disconnect? Was I a more present while on vacation?  Did I feel clearer, better able to engage in critical-thinking when I returned?  I can categorically say yes to all of the above.  It did make a difference…and I had a lot more fun!

Are you attention-challenged?  How can you build in fewer interruptions, and reduce the level of distraction in your own life?  How do we create a more thoughtful, aware post-recession work+life reality?