Employees Sense Weakened Commitment to Work Life Flexibility (INFOGRAPHIC)

The infographic, below, summaries key findings from our most recent national research report,“Ambivalence is Not a Strategy: Employees Sense Waning Commitment to Flexibility.”

Findings are based on a national probability telephone survey of 556 full-time employed adults conducted by ORC International during December, 2013.  The survey has a margin of error of +/- 4%.

Work life flexibility is defined as “having flexibility in when, where and how you work.  It allows you to flexibly allocate time and energy between your work life and personal life.”

Click HERE for link to infographic PDF:

NEW Research Finds Employees Sense Weakened Commitment to Work Life Flexibility / Lack of Training Contributes to Eroding Confidence

Things have been a little bit quiet on the blog for the last couple of months due to the overwhelming response to the first report we released from our study of full-time U.S. workers conducted with ORC International.

Today, we release the second report from the study.  We hope it generates an equally robust debate.   Be sure to scroll down and sign up for next week’s webinar “Intentional Flexibility,” because ambivalence is not a strategy!



New Research Finds Employees Sense Weakened Commitment to Work Life Flexibility 

Lack of Training Contributes to Eroding Confidence

More than 4 in 10 full-time employees surveyed reported their employer’s commitment to work life flexibility may have waned in the past year, despite the overwhelming availability of workplace flexibility, according to a new research report from the Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, Inc. (FSG/WLF).

The findings are based upon a national probability telephone survey of 556 full-time employed adults conducted by ORC International with a margin of error of +/- 4 percent. The FSG/WLF research, part of a biennial study first conducted in 2006, also found:

  • Almost all full-time employees (97%) reported having some form of work life flexibility in 2013.
  • But, a majority (57%) of employees did not receive training or guidance on how to manage work life flexibility.
  • A majority of employees (62%) continue to cite obstacles to work life flexibility with the number of employees noting their workloads increased/they had no time rising from 29% in 2011 to 37% in 2013. Women (44%) citied this as an obstacle significantly more than men (33%).
  • A higher percentage of respondents (85% in 2013 compared to 66% in 2011) believe employee loyalty, health and performance suffer in workplaces without work life flexibility.

“It’s not just Yahoo, Best Buy and Bank of America that have sent mixed signals on flexibility in the past year or so,” said Flex+Strategy Group CEO Cali Williams Yost, a flexible workplace strategist and author. “Despite the fact that almost all full-time employees had some type of work life flexibility in the last year employees see and sense employer ambivalence toward work life flexibility.

“Ambivalence, however, is not a strategy,” Yost warned. “Organizations need to be intentional and deliberate about what type of flexibility works for their business.”

The latest FSG/WLF research found respondents were equally split between the 46% who described their employer’s commitment to work life flexibility as strong and the 45% who described it as uncertain. Among those who described the commitment as possibly weakening, 20% said it was evident their company reduced flexibility, 5% said they heard rumors or noticed signs of a decreased commitment and 20% said their employers are committed for now, but that could change. Further, 8% responded they didn’t know.

One reason for this eroding employee confidence is that nearly 60% of respondents said they did not receive any guidance or training to help manage their work life flexibility compared to only 40% who did receive such guidance/training. Those who did not were more likely to say it was evident their employer reduced work life flexibility while conversely those who did receive guidance/training were more likely to say their employer had a strong commitment.

We can’t expect employees to effectively manage and leverage work life flexibility when most receive no guidance or training. It’s not enough to just offer the option or provide a laptop,” explains Yost. “A strategy to maximize workplace flexibility should be as important to a business as a strategy to develop new products or identify new markets.”

More than ever, the need for such guidance is critical as a higher number of respondents in 2013 – more than 8 in 10 – cited negative impacts of workplaces without work life flexibility. A majority agreed employee loyalty (68%), health (64%) and performance (64%) suffer.

The way we live and work is changing and how well we each manage that change can affect health, wellbeing and business performance. Work life flexibility, or fit, is not only key to employee health and wellness, but also an important factor in sustainable business success,” Yost explains. “With a better understanding of this new reality, employers can empower their people to take personal accountability and action and develop informed strategies that suit the unique needs of their business and their workforce.”

Yost advises organizations to analyze how, when and where employees are working and then develop a strategic approach to work life flexibility tailored to those findings. This includes providing guidance and training that helps employees do their best both on and off the job while helping the business improve productivity, reduce costs and increase employee morale and engagement.

Yost will discuss her latest research in more detail and describe the critical elements of Intentional Flexibility in a 45-minute webinar Wednesday, May 21 at 2 p.m. EST. Register HERE.

Links to the summary report of findings and the infographic are below and can be found, along with previous FSG/WLF research, at www.worklifefit.com/research:


Want to be a part of our research?

Contact us to learn more about how we might be able to work together.

NEW RESEARCH: Reveals Major Telework Myths and Growing Open Office Struggle

As we approach Telework Week 2014 (March 3-7), new national research from the Flex+Strategy Group / Work+Life Fit, Inc. shatters common myths about who is working where and reveals new realities along with new struggles about how full-time employees get their work done.

Key findings from the research, which looks both at telework and the growing open office trend, are outlined in the press release below.

More Women Put in Hours at the Office and in Cubes While More Men Telework

Men outpace women by a wide margin when it comes to telework – doing work from home, business center or another location – while women are more likely putting their hours in at their employer’s office according to new research that dispels long-standing telework myths and explores the increasing struggles of the open office trend.

The Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, Inc. (FSG/WLF) found that among a national probability survey of 556 full-time employed adults nearly one-third (31%) do most of their work away from their employer’s location, and nearly three out of four of those remote workers are men.

“Failure to understand how and where work gets done and by whom, and failure to support these operational strategies with the attention and resources warranted – including training and guidance — can compromise the optimal performance and wellbeing of both organizations and employees,” explains flexible workplace strategist and author Cali Williams Yost, CEO, Flex+Strategy Group.

Telework Stereotypes Don’t Match Reality

FSG/WLF’s research dispelled several telework stereotypes. The typical full-time remote worker is:

  • NOT a woman: Among those that telework, 71 percent were men.
  • NOT a parent: There is no significant difference between remote workers with or without kids.
  • NOT a millennial: There is no significant difference in the age groups of remote workers.

“Almost one-third of the work that gets done today gets done from home, coffee shops and other locations, yet too many corporate leaders treat telework as a disposable option, as in the case of Yahoo,” Yost explains. “Telework is not a perk and it’s certainly not just for moms and Gen Y. Rather, it’s an operational strategy. Think of it as anything less and organizations ignore what has become a vital part of their business and the way their people actually work.”

Open Office Spaces Take Toll on Work Life Flexibility

Back at the employer site, respondents reported doing most of their work either in a private office (30%) or a cube or open office space (33%) with women (43%) significantly more likely than men (27%) to work in cubes/open spaces. Overall, cube/open office workers struggle the most.

  • They were the largest group reporting less work life flexibility now than at this time last year (42%) when compared to their remote and private office colleagues, and of those who feel they have the least control over their work life flexibility, cube/open office workers were the largest percentage.
  • They were significantly more likely to say they didn’t use or improve their work life flexibility because “it might hurt your career/others think you don’t work as hard” when compared to remote workers. Yost believes worries about a “mommy track” stigma may be one reason why fewer women work remotely.
  • They received the least amount of training to help them manage their work life flexibility. Remote workers (47%) were significantly more likely to receive such guidance compared to those in cubes/open spaces (35%).

“As organizations continue to squeeze more people into less square footage, they will be increasingly confronted with the limitations of open office plans and forced to accept that work life flexibility is a solution to where, when and how employees can get their work done with greater focus and performance,” Yost says. “Whether they work remotely or together on site, we need to help employees develop the critical skill set needed to manage their work life fit so they can successfully capture the best of collaborative and remote work environments.”

More about the survey:

FSG/WLF’s latest biennial research was made possible with support from Quest Diagnostics, the world’s leading provider of diagnostic information services, a premier provider of lab-based employer wellness services, and an award-winning healthy employer of more than 40,000 people.

Findings and analysis are solely FSG/WLF’s and are based upon a survey conducted by ORC International with a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

LIVE WEBINAR: Cali Yost and experts from Quest Diagnostics and Citrix will discuss these findings in a 30-minute webinar Thursday, February 27th at 2 p.m. EST. Register HERE.

Media Contact: Pam Kassner, pam@superpear.com, 414-510-1838

Fast Company: Quarterly Earnings Kill People-Based Innovation…

Do a quick search in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and you will find numerous articles by very smart people pronouncing that only “innovation” will lead to an economic recovery.

Yet, it’s ironic to read these articles at the same time that Hewitt releases its most recent quarterly global employee engagement survey. In the first quarter of 2010, the trend lines of companies reporting increases and declines in engagement converged and crossed. For the first time in 15 years, the companies experiencing declines far outpaced those reporting improvement. Houston, we have a problem. As Hewitt correctly states in their report,

“This highlights the growing tension between employers—many of which are struggling to stabilize their financial situation—and employees, who are showing fatigue in response to a lengthy period of stress, uncertainty and confusion brought about by the recession and their company’s actions.”


Now we could argue the point about employers are “struggling to stabilize their financial situation” when 3,000 non-financial firms hold an estimated $1.6 trillion (yes, trillion with a “T”) in cash and equivalents, but I want to focus back on one simple question:

How do companies across the globe expect to innovate on the backs of an increasingly demoralized workforce that’s stressed, overworked, undercompensated, unrecognized, lacks career opportunities, and doesn’t trust leadership?

As I said before, how do we square this circle?

Now, I’m not an expert on innovation strategy, but I’m pretty sure that it’s not, “Be sure to overwork and undercompensate your employees. Make them really afraid. And then, when they no longer trust you, put everyone in a room and let the magic begin!”

So, what’s the answer?

Let’s go back to the articles begging for more innovation written by those very smart people. What do they say?  (Click here for more)

Why Is U.S. Work+Life Public Policy So Weak: Entrenched Floors and Ceilings

At the end of January, the highly respected Center for American Progress and UC Hastings Center for Work Life Law published a comprehensive public policy call to action entitled, “The Three Faces of Work-Family Conflict: The Poor, the Professionals, and the Missing Middle.” The stated goal of the report is, “to persuade policymakers and the American people that sky-high levels of work-life conflict reflect not just a personal problem but also a failure of public policy to provide for all Americans.”

Before I’d opened the report and read that last sentence, I’d hoped and prayed that it would be different from other public policy treatises for change.  But, as I feared, the report held firm to the broad, comprehensive package of heavily subsidized and regulated work+life supports that researchers and public policy advocates believe represent the minimum, acceptable standard, or floor.  And, beyond more enforcement, it didn’t offer new ideas for how to increase the support of business in the development and implementation of new public initiatives. This historical lack of employer support and engagement forms a very low ceiling that limits the access to and effectiveness of rules and regulations already in place, such as FMLA, much less new ones.

We continue to bang up against the entrenched floor and ceiling.  They are the reason the U.S. is the only industrialized country without some form of paid leave or paid sick days.  We need a new path that is open to lowering the floor and raising the ceiling if we hope to make much needed progress.  The Three Faces report offers a glimpse into what that new path might look like, and it presents a powerful business case for more supports that I hadn’t heard before.   But before I get to that….

How intractable are the high floor and low ceiling?  Based on my experience, very.

Last year, I participated in a small gathering of academic, public policy and corporate representatives to discuss the current state of work+life policy. This was the first time I’d been part of such a direct exchange between these groups.

I was part of a panel discussing innovations in work+life flexibility.  As the last person up to bat at the end of a long meeting, I listened as others shared their research and proposals ever mindful that I wanted to add a new perspective to what was already covered.  I quickly realized that there are two camps: 1) academic researchers and public policy advocates and 2) those working mostly with corporations.   Each group brought very different agendas and perspectives to the table regarding what’s needed, what’s possible, and why we need to do it.

The academic researchers and public policy advocates at the meeting spoke passionately about the need for generous, publicly-subsidized child care, elder care, paid sick days, and paid leaves, as well as government mandated schedule consistency and flexibility in hours.  The rationale for this high floor of support ranged from “social justice,” “the common good,” and “the right thing to do.”

Those with a more corporate perspective spoke of business cases and bottom line considerations.  They urged caution about any new regulations or additional costs.  The rationale for this low ceiling of support focused on the burden to business and potential loss of jobs.

Good news:  all agreed something needed to be done.  Bad news: completely different ideas on what the solution looked like.

As a researcher and corporate consultant, I’m a hybrid of the two parties and an anomaly.  I decided to try to bridge that gap and move toward mutual understanding using my experience making work+life flexibility a meaningful part of an organization’s operating model and culture.

I started my speech by noting that when I first entered the work+life field, I believed top-down, flexible work arrangement policies were the answer.  But, early on, I realized that “policy alone wouldn’t be enough to make meaningful change happen.”  I continued explaining that in my experience, policies related to formal flexible work arrangements dictated the rules, but often didn’t translate into intended action because no one took the time to change the hearts and minds of those in charge of implementation up front.

When initiating broad, fundamental, costly change we need to a better job getting buy-in from all of the stakeholders, developing the business case, and explaining the underlying “why” behind the change.  By creating readiness, strategic flexibility is more widely embraced.  I closed my comments by reiterating that, “Using policy alone to drive change in how, when and where we work and manage our lives to match today’s reality will have limited impact. We need a consensus-building process that brings all of the stakeholders together to create new solutions that meet the needs of the business and the individual.”

Warning:  Land mine!  Land mine!  Too late…

Not only did I not bridge the gap with my speech, but I experienced firsthand what happens when you challenge the validity of either the entrenched floor or the ceiling.  How intense was the reaction?  Let’s just say it was as if I’d ended my comments with, “And then after dinner, I throw kittens into the fire.”  In fact, one researcher asked me if I also advocated the reversal of all child labor laws.  What?  Um, no.  Clearly, I’d stepped on a land mine.  This was not going to be easy, and it was becoming clearer why the U.S. is unable to make meaningful progress related to work+life public policy.

Undaunted, I tried valiantly to reach a common understanding.  I pointed out the strong, viable business cases within the proposals that went beyond simply “common good.”  For example, after talking with one researcher who advocated national regulation for a minimum number of hours per shift (which I knew corporations would fight and defeat), I realized that her findings proved that most scheduling in retail environments is relatively stable.  Therefore, her research could help businesses commit to more standard, predictable shifts even without regulation.  She was unmoved in her belief that better and more policy is the only answer.

New path—lower the floor, raise the ceiling

We weren’t able to lower the floor or raise the ceiling at that meeting.  And since then Federal and state governments are even more aggressively cutting budgets, overhauling the mandates we already have, and debating much-needed spending on job creation.

If we want to pass some form of work+life policy, we need to take a new path.  We need to consider lowering the floor of minimally acceptable supports if required.  And we need to raise the ceiling of business buy-in by proving the fact that helping everyone, including families, manage their work and life organizations will be better able to compete strategically in the global economy.

Some clues as to what a lower floor and higher ceiling might look like can be found in the Three Faces report.  For example:

  • Give people some slack. At minimum, what many of the poor, middle class and professional parents and elder caregivers profiled in the report need is some slack.  The vicissitudes of care giving will inevitably rear their ugly head, whether it’s a late babysitter, or a sick child.  We need to challenge the validity of unnecessarily rigid attendance keeping and shift scheduling.  Why are they in place?  How can the process be managed differently to allow for a reasonable amount of flexibility around the margins of a person’s schedule without risking job loss?
  • It’s not just mothers. The report was full of examples of fathers, elder caregivers and grandparents facing the same work+life challenges as mothers.  Organizations need to understand these issues affect a much broader part of their population than they realize.  The negative impact in terms of stress, turnover, absenteeism, distraction, and errors is not limited to an isolated group of women who have children; therefore, the cost of not offering supports is widespread.
  • How much paid leave COULD we support? Yes, five sick days and six months of paid maternity and paternity leave would be amazing, but if that is too much for the government and corporations to support in the current economic environment, what would work?  And use the following powerful business case from the report to frame a serious discussion amongst all stakeholders:  In the global economy, the lack of work+life supports puts the U.S. at a distinct competitive disadvantage between Europe with a generous package of government supported initiatives and the less developed world where work+life supports are provided by an almost unlimited amount of extremely cheap labor. Pretty compelling call to action.

Finally, reaching consensus: Workplace Flexibility 2010 is a great example of a multi-stakeholder, consensus-building process to replicate.  Years of careful effort raised the ceiling of buy-in to a legislative approach to flexibility as high as possible while maintaining an acceptable floor of support.

Can we move past our entrenched interests and expectations?  Or are we forever stuck behind the traditional high floor and low ceiling blocking meaningful work+life public policy?  How can we craft workable solutions?  What do you think?

Top Posts of 2009, and Blog Goals for 2010–More Breaks, Direct Challenges, “How to”

This month my blog officially turns 4 years old (cue the applause!).   Yes, I will admit…this is the first year that I’ve tracked metrics.  I know, I know, experts will argue that not tracking metrics from day one is a sacrilege against all core blogging norms and values.  But for the first three years it worked for me.

Initially not tracking metrics allowed me to build my following while writing what I wanted to whether one person or 100 people read it.  It gave me the space to comfortably find my voice and groove.  But in January, 2009, after I was quoted in the Huffington Post’s Complete Guide to Blogging, I decided it was time to start keeping track, and signed up for Google Analytics.

One year later, the data offer a fascinating glimpse into what resonated with you and what my goals for 2010 will be.  First, here are the top 10 blog posts for 2009:

1. Stop Talking About Work+Life Flex Solely in the Context of Women…Really, Seriously, Once and for All (10/22)

2. I am a (blank) and sometimes I put my career before my family (10/16)

3.  Getting Started with Flexible Downsizing – Manager and Employee “How To” (3/13)

4. Jack Welch is Right, “There is No Balance,” But His Reasoning Needs Updating (7/4)

5. Tame the Tween Texting Beast with Great Parent/Child Contract (10/29)

6. Personal Branding, Today and Post-Recession—Me 2.0 by Dan Schawbel (3/19)

7. Work+Life Fit ‘Tipping” Point (10/8)

8. Sun-Times Column by BDO CEO and WLF–Work Life Flex Reduces Costs & Keeps Jobs (3/13)

9. Test Your Perceptions  vs. Work+Life Reality—NSCW Implications (5/4)

10. Where is Work+Life Flex on SHRM’s National Conference Agenda?  Essentially Missing. (12/18)

Here’s what I noticed and how those observations will inform what I write about in this blog and for Fast Company over the next 12 months:

Taking a break (voluntary or involuntary) can lead to better blogging. Three of the top five posts were written in October, 2009 right after I returned from an involuntary four-week blogging hiatus caused by a severe case of Lyme disease. Not only were the topics timely, but I’d given them a lot of thought while I was flat on my back recovering.

While I hope to remain healthy throughout 2010, I’m building periodic two week blogging breaks into my schedule every few months.  As one of my favorite authors, Maggie Jackson, points out in her book, Distracted, there are benefits to deep thought we need to build in to our wired world.  The evidence is in the stats above.

Direct challenges to conventional wisdom about work, life, and business get attention. If you follow my blogs, then you know that I very strongly believe that we have to stop buying into the old, tired models we’ve used to manage our lives, our work and our businesses for that last 50 years.  They just are not working anymore. As I pointed out when I relaunched my Fast Company blog in the fall, we are in a New Work+Life Flex Normal.

According to the list of top posts, you are looking for and responding to my most direct challenges to yesterday’s conventional wisdom. You want new ideas and “how to” strategies based on today’s reality.  I will continue to deliver new approaches as I find them.  And I will directly challenge the obsolete work+life status quo in 2010, because recent research released by Career Builder, Watson Wyatt and Harris Interactive confirms the prevailing post-recession state of work, life and business remains grim for many.

There are new flexible ways of operating businesses and managing life that lead to growth, innovation and improve work+life fit and performance.  I welcome your comments, links, research, and case studies.  This is a conversation we ALL need to be part of.

Basic “How to,” and “Get Started” information appreciated. Chip and Dan Heath point out in their bestseller “Made to Stick” that one of the pitfalls experts face is they forget what it’s like to be a novice.  I read their book early in 2009 and tried to be mindful to bring the strategies and concepts I discuss down to the applied basics as much as I could.

Ideas, concepts, and research are important, but at the end of the day “What’s in it for me” and “How do I do it” will win the race.  Again, in 2010, I will do my best to keep it real and applied.  Call me out as soon as I lose you for too long.  The fundamental changes we need to make collectively are not going to happen if you can’t take action based upon what you read here.

My three words for 2010 are “Help” “Thank You,” and “Reach.” For four years, this blog and my Fast Company blog have allowed me to do all three.  But this year the helping, the thanking and the reaching will be especially conscious.  If you haven’t already, please consider doing the following:

  • Comment on my posts!  The conversation is always better when more people are involved.
  • Sign up for the RSS Feed for this blog
  • Sign up to receive weekly email links to the best of my Work+Life Fit and Fast Company posts in the above right hand corner of this page (we promise to never share your email with third party vendors)
  • Follow me on Twitter @caliyost — I am always sharing real-time information related to all aspects of strategic work+life flexibility
  • Tell me what you are doing, thinking, finding and I will share it as best I can.
  • Let me know what else you want to learn and hear about in this blog that I’m not covering.

Finally, thank you for joining me here and at Fast Company each week.  I appreciate your interest, your commitment, your thoughts and insights.  Happy New Year!

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?

Work+Life “Fit” Tipping Point

It’s been a big two weeks for the term work+life “fit,” a more flexible and expansive way to think and talk about work and life.  For over ten years, in my consulting, speeches, blogging, and book, Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You (Riverhead, 2004), I’ve diligently explained the concept of “fit” to all who would listen.  So, imagine the sense of validation and excitement when recently:

With these two research powerhouses joining the effort to shift the way we think and talk about work and life toward “fit,” we may be approaching a critical tipping point.  To explain why this is so important, here are some key milestones, or “ah-has,” from my work with business leaders, managers and individuals that led me to understand the power behind this change in language and mindset:

Ah-Ha #1Business leaders can get behind work+life “fit,” whereas they glaze over when they hear “balance.” I found that whenever I explained the broad impacts of strategic work+life flexibility to a business leader, his or her eyes would physically glaze over at employee work-life balance.  Finally out of frustration, I began to ask what caused this reaction.  A few brave souls confessed, “All I hear when you say balance, is work less.  And we can’t afford to have everyone work less.”

While I knew I wasn’t saying, “Everyone will work less,” that’s what they were hearing.  So I began to consider different ways to articulate the impact of flexibility on employee work+life reality.   How could I explain that in some cases, yes, it’s about working less, but mostly it means working differently, more flexibly, smarter and better?

After numerous failed attempts, one day I heard myself say in a meeting, “It’s about helping everyone in this organization–including you—manage their unique work+life fit.  And doing it in a way that meets the needs of the individual and the business.”  Jackpot!  Instead of visibly shutting down, the business leader got it.  Not only did he get it, but he began to share what his work+life fit looked like.  And he acknowledged that indeed his work and personal realities were unique and very different from many people in his organization.  He began to see why greater flexibility in work and careers was a strategic imperative.

With the shift to “fit,” the innovation and problem-solving continue.  The conversation doesn’t shutdown.    Leaders can better understand that one of the goals of strategic work+life flexibility is for all of the different work+life “fit” realities to coexist in their organization as effectively and productively as possible in good times and bad…including their own.

Ah-Ha #2To most people, balance” was a deficit model, or that-thing-no-one-has.  This made it almost impossible to find solutions. Here’s a perfect illustration.  At the beginning of a speech, I asked those who had work-life balance to raise their hands.  Approximately 10% of the group held their hands up. Then I said, “Keep your hand up if you’ve maintained that balance for an extended period of time.”  About 1% of the hands remained in the air.  By the end of the speech after I’d introduced the work+life fit process, I asked “How many of you now think it’s feasible to find a better work+life fit?”  Almost every hand in the room went up.  Shifting to “fit” unearths the possibilities.

Ah-Ha #3If there’s no right answer then there’s no judgment, only the “fit” that meets the needs of the individual and the business.  The result is more flexible innovation that works for all parties. One of the roadblocks I consistently ran into was people thinking there was a “right way” to manage their work and life. That there was a specific answer or “balance.”  Not only did this rigid, all-or-nothing thinking limit possibilities, but it resulted in unhelpful, often harsh, judgment of themselves and others (a la, the mommy wars.)

With “fit” there is less judgment and more creative problem solving because there is no right way to do it.  Everyone’s individual work+life fit changes daily along with personal and business circumstances.  It also resets at key milestones like finding a partner, having a child, caring for a sick parent, starting a business, getting laid off, accepting a promotion and/or retiring.  I have never heard the same work+life fit reality twice.  The focus becomes how do we flexibly adjust work, life and business to find a “fit” that is mutually-beneficial to the individual and the employer.   Not who’s right, and who’s wrong.  But what works.

Those are just a few of countless “ah-has” I’ve experienced over the years that reaffirm the need to shift our language and mindset.  We need to account for the flexible, ever-changing “fit” between work and life, especially in the new work+life flex normal.  Yes, a decade later, the work+life “fit” tipping point may have arrived.    Thanks to FWI and Phyllis Moen for adding their influential voices and unique perspectives of “fit.”  What about you?

(Con’t) Work Life Legacy Award Dinner

Ellen Galinsky–recounting the 20 year history of Families and Work Institute, she co-founded with Dana Friedman.  Now, Ted Childs the former Head of Diversity at IBM who helped create and support FWI from the beginning.  Urge us to ask the question–how does what we did stack up to what is possible?  Dreams are important.  Remembers advocating for IBM to be the founding member of FWI and initial funder of the National Study of Changing Workforce–right decision then, and right decision now.

Why have we not been more impatient for bold progress?  If that progress was our goal…life/work integration should be able to make more progress.   Lou Gerstner at the time said, “let’s focus on results…not face time”  people said that’s brilliant.  It was brilliant but it was a strategic mind who saw a need.

Now, Ted Childs sees two of six trends–1) ascendancy of women in labor force will be competitive advantage 2) work/life integration will define nations.   Shifting demographics will drive a response in public policy and business.  Companies still have control…but that is changing as governments recognize it in the country’s best interest to implement policies to address work/life issues.  Base line supports–child care, eldercare and flexibility–are now the baseline.

Leaders will have to look at game-changers that will make flexibility the way of operating/ change cultures.   Tool of effectiveness for workplaces that are able to compete.   Success will happen because of women.  Success will happen when reorient the workplace to make people successful; the people, not the leaders.

Ted is honoring Dana Friedman and Ellen Galinsky as co-founders of FWI (I am so proud at this moment to say I was a Senior Research Associate at FWI).  Now honoring the original founding board of directors of FWI.  Nine of original board members still serve today 20 years later.

Amazing to hear board member Dee Topel to talk about how new the industry of work and life was 20 years ago and how innovative FWI was at the time.  “Our baby reaches maturity.”  Looking back on FWI accomplishments, the creative  meaningful work of the field is even more important than ever.

Honorees tonight:  Michael Carey, former VP of HR for Johnson & Johnson and original FWI Board member.  Douglas R. Conant, CEO and President. Campbell Soup; James S. Turley, Chairman & CEO of Ernst & Young; Michael I. Roth, CEO and Chairman of Interpublic Group; and Willie A. Deese, EVP and President, Merck Manufacturing Division.

J&J employee shares her experience of work/life supports that helped her manage her work and life as part of her introduction of Michael Carey prior to his award.  Recounts how flexibility at J&J allowed her to work while her premature son was in the hospital in NYC.  Then when her son came home, and then J&J took an unpaid leave to care for son.  Then he was enrolled in the J&J child care center.   Then  three years later son diagnosed with a latex and food allergy, but the staff at the center he was able to  stay at center.   All these years later, the College Coach supports at J&J have helped her now grown son attend college in the Fall.

(Dinner so taking a break…)  Update: I had to leave before the final CEO panel started; however, I am told their message was clear: Work+life strategies will be mission-critical in the coming years.

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?

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