Love this post from Families and Work Institute’s Lois Backon: hits the perfect note re: “Flex isn’t just for moms.”
At this new crossroads of my life, I find myself reflective, and grateful that I work for the organization that I do. I have always been the queen of flexibility.
I needed it: my husband always traveled, and I was essentially a single parent Monday through Friday. I used it: worked compressed workweeks, part time schedules, had daily flex leave for school conferences, paused my career, reentered the workforce. I valued it: I am one of the 87% of people who consider having flexibility to be extremely important when (if) looking for a new job. And I believe that having that flexibility allowed me to be a good parent and a good worker, while always aspiring to positions of more responsibility.
Confession 1: I thought that when I was at this point in my life, I would not need workplace flexibility anymore.
Confession 2: I need it more than ever. Why? Because I have learned, after being in the workforce for 30 years, that in order for me to the best worker, and reach my highest potential and productivity, I need to be whole in my life.
On a personal note, in order for me to be whole in my life, I need, and want to continue to be there for my daughters. I want to be able to move my older daughter into her first apartment, and go to Home Depot and Target, and construct the do-it-yourself furniture. I want to be able to take my younger daughter out to lunch in NYC this summer and hear all about her first corporate work experience. I want to visit my daughters during the year, (both of them are a 3 hour flight away) and be able to leave on a Thursday night, work remotely on Friday, and not have to jam a visit into a 48-hour weekend, because I am confined by the traditional work schedule of being in the office till 5:00 on a Friday and back in the office at 9:00 on Monday.
Is this selfish? Maybe. Who benefits? Definitely me, but I would also argue that my employer benefits just as much. I am loyal (been here 12 years!) and hard working; I’ve never missed a deliverable, and have supported my co-workers when they have needed to take time off for their personal lives. So, I am one of the lucky ones; I have had access to flexibility without jeopardy to my career or advancement.
As I travel around the country for the When Work Works initiative, and speak to different audiences, a key message I deliver is that workplace flexibility must work for the employer first, and then the employee. I am forever learning that workplace flexibility is needed and wanted by individuals for so many different reasons, and organizations are creating so many innovative solutions to this need, that yield positive business results .
So, I ask readers to share- What stage of life are you in? Do you need workplace flexibility? What types of flexibility would best fit your needs at this stage in your life? How would workplace flexibility help make you whole? And, are you one of the lucky ones? Do you have flexibility in your organization?
At the BlogHer Conference in New York City this weekend, I co-hosted a panel to discuss how bloggers can use their powerful voices to rally for more effective family-friendly workplace policies. You can read a summary of the panel here.
The whole conference was imbued with discussions about work-life. I spoke with several women from large corporations who enjoyed flexibility and great policies, but spoke of a fear of stigma if they took full advantage. I spoke with a lot of small business owners who supported care policies but found it difficult to manage both financially and logistically when their employees took leaves. Of course, when you get 2,400 ambitious women together you’re going to discuss our struggles to achieve work life fit! But I had several a-ha moments during the two day event.
1) The most urgent point that emerged during my BlogHer session was something I had not thought much about- but once it was raised, it instantly hit a nerve. An audience member raised the issue of what she referred to as the “ghettoized female teleworker.” The audience instantly jumped on this topic- again, not surprising in a room full of information workers. How do you manage to both work remotely and stay in the game? Does working from home diminish an employers’ sense of your ambition?
Another audience member asked, “What ARE the steps to convincing the world/companies/men believe that being at home isn’t “sitting at home eating bonbons?”
I shared some of my own tips: the first is to charge what you’re worth, and not diminish your salary even though you work remotely. The second is to be professional: hold calls and meetings on a quality phone line, be available, and pretend like you’re in the office when you talk to colleagues. Never make jokes about being in your pajamas! Finally, make time for face-time, even if it’s periodic.
“We need to shift the perception that telecommuters are lazy, undressed, and off the grid.” Another audience member suggested remote workers are even more available than office workers, since homeworkers are usually online. This, however, brings challenges too. Which leads me to point two.
2) In my session, we opened with the question: how many of you work flexibly? Almost every single hand went up. Indeed, at a breakfast with several senior women PepsiCo executives at the BlogHer Conference, The Chief Communications Officer of all of PepsiCo, Chief Marketing Officer of Gatorade, and VP of Global Design and Development all agreed they could take the time they needed for family. That’s not the issue: the issue is the unrelenting lack of boundaries that means any time they take away from the office needs to be “made up” at odd hours.
Gatorade CMO Sarah Robb O’Hagan referred to this as her personal “watchout”: everyone works flexible schedules, but they also work through the weekends. For professionals and professional services workers, the issue is not flexibility. It’s managing our own and others’ expectations of the sheer amount of time we spending working, if not necessarily at work.
3) From a public policy perspective, we had an interesting discussion (see CNN’s Eric Kuhn on the meeting here) with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Anita Jackson of MomsRising.org asked the Senator to share her thoughts on how to finally bring family friendly practices to every American business. Gillibrand started to reply with a rote answer on how businesses have to recognize that family friendly policies are good for business. I pushed the Senator: “you can’t just put the onus on companies and expect them to change everything.” She then shifted from platititudes to discussing her program to provide tax credits for employers to provide child care incentives.
Everyone knows that in an ideal world, on site childcare would be fabulous. But that will not happen anytime soon. Tax credits for large and small businesses who help provide free resource and referrals for childcare is different, and a more workable approach. For example, Senator Gillibrand supports a proposal to allow employers to deduct 20 percent of the costs for childcare resources and referral services. Currently employers can deduct only 10 percent of those costs. Senator Gillibrand also supports increasing the maximum deduction from $150,000 to $225,000.
For more on Gillibrand’s family friendly policies, click here. Tax credits alone won’t do much. But this specific policy focus reminded me that we must consider what Chrysula Winegar calls the “trinity” of elements that will bring about change: “It’s the holy trinity of individual knowledge and responsibility, corporate culture and policy and careful base-line legislation.”
Tuesday mornings at the park with Ace are literally worth an extra $100,000 per year in salary, I swear.
When I was starting my career no one ever said, how much is having time for you life worth to you? When do you want to have kids and what do you want your work to look like when you do? When you are 33, how much do you want to be working? How much money do you want to earn in comparison to how much time you spend in your office?
This Mother’s Day, I wish for all the future moms that you sit down and think about these questions as you’re planning your work life. The day will come quicker than you think, and you’ll want the option.
A few things really struck me at the first ever White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility today.
The first is that President Obama said “Workplace flexibility isn’t just a women’s issue.” Even if no public policy results from today’s session, the culture change that comes when people like Obama say things like that is big.
The President continued to stress the huge disconnect between the needs of our families and the demands of our workplaces. Many employers, he noted (and employees, I’d argue) see flexibility as a special perk for women rather than as a critical part of a workplace that can help all of us. How we treat our employees and each other at work “reflects out priorities as a society…raising the next generation and caring for our loved ones is the most important job you have. “ He asked the audience to spread the word and said, “my administration is committed to supporting efforts” to extend flexible workplaces.
Let me be clear that flexibility at work does not mean working part time. Flexibility means that workers have the right and ability to schedule their work hours and make time for their lives outside of work. This could be childcare or elder care. It means people can go back to school to continue their education or learn new skills. In some lucky workplaces, it means you can pursue your dreams or even work at the hours that suit you best (as Jim Turley, CEO of Ernst & Young said, flexibility means I can email you at midnight if that works for me. It also means you don’t have to answer the email until the morning). Study after study shows employers who provide flexible workplaces have lower turnover, higher employee productivity, and a stronger bottom line. A study released today by the Joint Economic Council contains hundreds of supporting figures.
The second remarkable thing is that the Federal Government –in the guise of the Office of Personnel Management–has hired Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler, founders of ROWE (and authors of a book called “Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It). ROWE stands for “results only work environment,” and it was pioneered at Best Buy a few years ago. When you work in a ROWE, you have no schedule, no PTO, and your time is pretty much yours as long as you get you work done. The OPM will be pioneering a ROWE project with 400 workers. I know that President Obama wants to make working for the Feds “cool” again. This would seem to be a good start.
The third issue is the thorniest and reflects the tenor of most debates these days. Are flexible work practices borne out of innovative businesses, or from public policy guidelines? There is no agreement on this issue, but there was much discussion today among the assembled business leaders (including the CEO’s of Ernst & Young and Campbell’s Soup), union leaders, and public policymakers.
Dr. Christina Romer of the Council of Economic Advisors led a roundtable discussion of leaders from all areas of work (such a cool room: Cokie Roberts to Joan Blades of MomsRising to Leslie Perlow of Harvard Business School and Ellen Galinsky of Families and Work Institute). Business leaders at firms can point to the innovative workplace practices among their roving teams of accountants and consultants and say, we’ll innovate ourselves because our assets are the people we employ. Flexibility makes sense for such firms. Their biggest problem, it seems to me, is controlling the overwork that accompanies technology and roaming offices. As Leslie Perlow of Harvard noted, it’s not that high-end workers spend so much time “at work,” it’s that they are always on- always online.
Those who represent low-wage workers tell a different story. 79% of low wage workers who happen to be women don’t get any paid sick days at all. Public policy protection in the name of paid leave and the right to request flexible scheduling provides a baseline of protection. Low-wage workers need support from policymakers- they have the opposite of workplace flexibility. They don’t make schedules- and as the President put it, they run on a highwire act. If one piece of the caregiving puzzle falls apart, they can easily be fired. If we are a society that believes in putting family first, said one union leader, we need to put family-supportive policy in place. We are behind 170 countries in terms of policy: the US has no paid parental leave, for example.
The First Lady noted that having her mother around made all the difference. She laughingly challenged the room, “We all need one of those, so can you figure that out.”
Isn’t that the truth? But how many of us have a grandma at home? At the end of the day, whether your workplace is supportive of your needs or punitive, you’re going to have to scramble for care. Most of us depend on a web of support, both paid help and family, to make it work. Mrs. Obama said when she was once in a work and childcare crisis she thought, “this shouldn’t be this hard.” It shouldn’t- but it usually is. Smart employers need to understand that we will give them more if we are allowed to take the time we need to manage our lives. It’s common sense. I’ll close with this comment from Lisa Belkin’s New York Times column. Does this sound like your workplace? Or do you have flexibility?
Ninety percent of my work could be done remotely if it were acceptable at my company. But face time is still important here. We use Web conferencing all the time to talk to employees in other offices, so why can’t we use them to conference wherever we are? Currently they get 8 hours of work out of me because it is 50 min commute (5 min to drop at daycare) – work – 45 min commute timed to get there before daycare closes.
How great would it be to do 5 min walk – work – 5 min walk back to home office?