you want work-life fit? fight for it.

June 27, 2011

in change,culture,wellness,work-life flexibility

“you americans are crap at time off.”

from what i can gather, that’s what sir richard branson told 14,000 people gathered to hear him at the society of human resources management (SHRM) 2011 annual conference & exposition.

damn straight.

who doesn’t know we’re laggards when it comes to vacation time and maternity leave? you can forget paternity leave. that barely registers on our U.S. work radars. we’re also really poor on the work-life fit scale, despite the number of surveys that suggest we recognize how critical work-life flexibility is to 21st century success. SHRM credits the disconnect to a lack of trust by the employer and cries out for a culture change.

but you know what? we’re part of the problem. here are two prime examples, the first from an inc. article, why nice girls finish last:

“Interestingly enough, I had a conversation with an editor in New York the other day, and I know that she has three kids, and I know her company has flex-time. I said, ‘Do you work flex time so you can be with your kids more?’ She said, ‘No. If you ask for or take flex time, you’re marginalized. Instead what I do is when I need extra time off, I just quietly take it.’ I think that’s good advice because anything that sets you apart from your male counterpart—in terms of gender—is going to work to your disadvantage. Unfortunately, that’s still where we are. It’s unfortunate but it’s true. I’m not saying you can’t have a family if you want a career; you just have to decide what’s most important to you, what your values are, and how you’ll manage expectations around them.”

this next one’s from an article by cali yost, a woman i greatly admire:

“My advice would be not to get into ‘why’ you are leaving early/late or working from home, and simply let others know how the work will get done, and how you can be reached if needed. Go to the soccer game, meet your friend for coffee, get your nails done. Come in earlier, leave a little later, or catch up from home afterwards to make it happen. Just keep focused on the ‘how,’ and less on the ‘why.’”

i bristle at both of these articles, perhaps naively. and perhaps more so because gay marriage just passed in NY.

whether you agree with gay marriage or not, you can recognize that gay marriage didn’t pass in NY or elsewhere because people waited for it to happen or gave up when it didn’t. they didn’t keep their feelings, desires and legitimate needs to themselves. no. people championed for the right. they came back after being shot down. factions collaborated. and maybe most important, they made themselves visible—in all walks of life. more people now know they know someone who’s gay, including those whose votes mattered. that’s a game changer.

battles aren’t won without a fight, and achieving work-life fit is a battle. we need trailblazers and activists. i understand it’s a risky proposition for those who sign up. they can be labeled slackers, layabouts, GenY (!) and worse. but we need work-life flexatarians to come out of the closet. we need people, particularly those like the senior female exec with kids i mention above, to say it loud and say it proud, “heck yeah. i go to the gym during work hours.” perhaps we’ll strike a blow for better performance management at the same time.



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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Roche June 27, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Battles aren’t won without a fight. So true.

I’m glad when people go to the gym. I like them to take naps. (We need a better place to do it though.) And I really wish more people would be trailblazers and say “Here’s what real work/life balance is.”

When I was at Bad Consulting, all of us in Communication got a ceramic plaque that said, “Life’s a balancing act.” It was from our fearful leader, along with a note saying we all needed more work/life balance. The next day we all got a memo saying they needed us to increase our billable hours by 20%.

I sent out a memo (a very unpopular one, I might add) to everyone saying, “Work/life balance is for other people.” SHE WHO WAS IN CHARGE was not amused. But I was. I was sick and tired of the understaffing and the overworking of everyone. It’s okay to do that, but don’t be two-faced. And I say, get some time. I don’t take enough myself…and I’ll pay with shortening my life. But I wish better for everyone.


fran June 27, 2011 at 5:56 pm

i’m sure SHE WHO WAS IN CHARGE was shocked when she became SHE WHO IS NO LONGER IN CHARGE. leaving and doing it right is trailblazing.



Chris Ferdinandi June 28, 2011 at 8:54 am


Frank, is this your way of telling us you’re really Harry Potter!?!?


Cali Williams Yost June 27, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Hi Fran,
I feel your frustration, sister-in-change! And as I noted in the Forbes post, the best answer is tough to determine. My advice was targeted primarily to a newly-minted MBA student. I think they should still do what they need to do to manage their work+life fit but by focusing on the way the work will get done over the “why” reduces the chance that their work ethic and commitment are challenged. That said, I change my advice as people work their way up the power chain of command. Then I think, yes, tone at the top is important. I don’t think we need to necessarily tell everyone everything we are doing, but a well placed, “Taking the afternoon to chaperone the field trip,” goes a long way.


fran June 28, 2011 at 8:33 am

hey cali.

i recognize the wisdom in your advice, particularly for someone who’s building their reputation. i still grapple with the idea that to be perceived as an asset or a go-getter we must fit a conventional mold. also, as mental and physical habits get formed, how easy is it to switch tack later?



Cali Williams Yost June 29, 2011 at 11:29 am

Hi Fran,
I believe that the window in which newly-minted employees are going to feel constrained to disclose the reasons they might not be at work at a particular time/place is closing. In the not too distant future the legacy, face-timers will have retired and a new inherently flexible way of working and living will become the norm. However, even then, I still think the focus needs to primarily be on how the work gets done–disclosure or not–because if it doesn’t then nothing’s going to happen for anyone. This is an issue with many nuances but in the end everyone needs to do what is right for them.


fran June 29, 2011 at 3:20 pm

“how the work gets done” and not where the work gets done. i’m on board with that.



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