November 24, 2014

Should I let my son come along on date night?

As my kids get older, I feel more grateful when they want to spend time with me. With one in college and the other leaving next year, I'm clinging to my 13-year-old because I know the time he wants to spend with me is dwindling. 

So, this weekend, instead of date night on Saturday evening, my husband and I took our son out with us. By coincidence (or not) he sat right between us at the movies and then between us at the counter at a sushi restaurant. The seat choice was his both times.

My husband and I looked at each other, smiled, and decided to say nothing to him about it.

We probably wouldn't have responded that way with our two older children. Until now, we have guarded our alone time. In our struggle for work life balance, date night is an important ritual in protecting our relationship. Now, all of a sudden, we find ourselves torn on sticking to this ritual. We realize we have lots of together time ahead and less time to spend with our son, especially while he still wants to hang out with us. 

With our son munching on popcorn in between us, we find ourselves coveting him and yet already seeing the inevitability unfold. Tomorrow my daughter will return home from college for the Thanksgiving holiday. While balancing work and family is easier now, I never imagined when she was first born the sense of loss that I would feel each time she returns to school. 

As your children grow up, you realize that the time will come sooner than imagined when you are compelled to release all that you have held fast to for so many years. And with the benefit of hindsight, you understand your world continues to shift.

Holding fast to date night every week, once a critical component of my work life balance, seems less neccessary. Suddenly, my husband and I see no harm in letting our youngest sit between us or venturing out with him in tow because now we can see our future table for two much more clearly than we ever thought possible.

Do you agree with our parenting decision to let our son come out with us on date night? Have you changed any of your parenting rules with your youngest child?

 

November 20, 2014

How to Get on a Corporate Board and Why it's Worth Doing

This morning at Women Executive Leaderhip's Corporate Salute, I listened as a handful of powerful women talked about how they landed a board seat at some of the biggest companies in America (McDonald's, Cox Communications,Pennzoil-Quaker State Corporation)

Being on a board not only pays well, it can allow someone to influence corporate strategy at a company they patronize. Yes, it is a time commitment, but it comes with a great deal of prestige, a chance to exert a strong voice and an opportunity to meet influential people.

Some key strategic moves:

Get connected. Hearing these women speak, it dawned on me what these board directors had in common: they knew the right person who advocated for them. While these women were qualified, they got the position after being recommended by someone with an in. Chances are you have the right connections, too. You just have to use them."I can't stress enough the importance of networking with other women in power," said Terry Savage,  a nationally known expert on personal finance, the markets, and the economy.

Put the word out. Last week, when I was out at Perry Ellis International and spoke with CEO George Feldenkreis, he told me that women are often low key about their skills or interest in being on a board. You have to make yourself visible to sitting board members, and you have to make them aware of your strengths and skills, he told me.

Gain the confidence. You also have to believe that you have what it takes to serve on board. "It's amazing to me how prepared women are without knowing it," said Lynn Martin, former U.S. Secretary of Labor who has held numerous board seats.

Make an action plan. Stephanie Sonnabend, co-founder of 2020 Women On Boards, advises creating an action plan that includes deciding what companies or industries you want to target for a board position, inventorying your skills to fill the gaps and preparing your resume, bio and elevator speech.

Get past work life concernsMy Miami Herald column goes more in depth about the status of women in the boardroom in Florida and nationwide. I found these comments by Korn Ferry's Bonnie Crabtree right on point:

To land board seats, you need to go after them and get past the real or perceived work/life balance concerns or lack of confidence that holds you back.

“Women say they would love to be on a board, but that isn’t enough. They must research what boards are looking for, their own experience, and work to close the gaps.”

Crabtree said qualified women need to believe they can do the job and step up for consideration. “Women worry more about travel or the time investment to be on a board or getting permission from their CEO, and they unconsciously take themselves out of the running.”

Do you think you have what it takes to land a board seat? Having diverse boards makes good business sense. Are you willing to help prove that point?

 

 

WEL2-1

(Cindy Goodman, Michelle Eisner, Stephanie Sonnabend and Shari Roth at Women Executive Leadership's Corporate Salute)

 

 

November 18, 2014

Never bring your boss a work life balance problem

This morning, a male friend called me with a management issue. He wanted my thoughts on how to handle a situation with one of his female employees who is struggling with a work and family conflict. 

The problem is that each member of his staff takes a turn with a task that requires they stay late at the office one night a week. This one employee, a mom, has a young child at daycare and finds it impossible to rely on her husband or a family member to pick the child up when it is her turn to stay late.  She approached her boss and told him she couldn't continue to stay late once a week. 

"She's a good employee," my friend explained. "I don't want her to quit. But we are making everyone else take a turn at staying late."

My immediate response was to rattle off questions. 

First, why is this just this woman's problem? If there's a father in the picture, why isn't he working to find a solution, too?

Second, if she knows in advance she needs to stay late once a week, why can't she plan for it?

Last, and most important, why did she approach her boss with a problem, rather than a solution?

The number one rule in negotiation of a work life accommodation is bring a solution to the table.

I advised my friend to tell his employee to come back with a proposed solution to this dilemma. Then, she and her boss can negotiate from there.

If I were the frustrated mom, I might have asked my boss if there's a task I could take on early in the day in order to skip my turn on the late night rotation.

Long ago, I learned that bosses respond best to proposed solutions rather than problems. Because this woman's co-workers are single or have no kids, there is a possibility of resentment. As a manager, my friend needs to make sure whatever accommodation he makes for this working mom comes off as fair to all. 

We work in an era when the needs of the 21st Century workforce must be considered. In two-job families, men and women may both confront work life balance challenges. No one wants to lose his or her job over a child care issue. And, a good boss wants to keep a good employee. 

As I hung up with my friend, he said: "Let's see what she comes up with. I really want this to work out."

I pretty sure most bosses feel that way. 

 

November 14, 2014

Admitting you don't have work life balance

Today I had a conversation that I found refreshing.

Typically, I speak with women and men and ask them how they achieve work life balance. Usually they give me an answer about something specific they do such as "make alone time" or "work out during lunch" or "make my family a priority."

But today, when I ask Cheryl Scully, chief financial officer of AutoNation, about how she achieves work
life balance, her answer was simple and honest: "I'm not good at it," she admitted to me. 

Finally, someone who openly admits to be okay with working more than playing. 

Cheryl said she regularly works seven days a week. She recently began trying to take off Friday Cheryl-Scully-3405381-220 afternoons. Cheryl did say that she has more flexibility as a company officer than she had on her climb up the corporate ladder. She can leave the office for a few hours during the day when needed. But when she does, she usually stays late at night.

Cheryl is recently engaged and planning a wedding. Because she doesn't have children, she told me she is not the best person to speak about work life balance. Yet, to me, she is ideal. It's refreshing to hear someone openly say they lack work life balance. As she settles into married life, Cheryl may want to reclaim some of her personal time. But for now, she holds a prestigious position at a robust public company and has made pockets of time to tend to her personal needs. She has chosen to put time into a career and I respect her choices.

Balance is not only about work and family. It's about spending time in ways that you find fulfilling. If Cheryl enjoys work and puts a priority on that, more power to her. Rather than pretending she is trying to find balance, I like that she admits her scale is tipped in one direction. 

Often, people believe they need better work/life balance because someone else had told them they need it. Cheryl didn't seem the least bit stressed to me. In fact, she seemed really happy.

What are your thoughts on admitting to not having balance and being okay with it? Have you found yourself struggling too hard to achieve it when you could give in and enjoy how you're spending your time?

November 05, 2014

The Way Men Use Flex is Different

Flexibiilty at work. 

For many years, those three words have been associate with working mothers.

But quietly, working fathers are tapping flex, too.

Rather than making the formal flex arrangements that moms make, dads are using flex under the radar. 

Take Phil Ward, for example. Twice a week, Phil arrives at his Fort Lauderdale law office earlier than usual and plans his day knowing he wants to watch his son’s lacrosse practice at 6:30 p.m. If his wife can’t drop his son off at practice, Ward does some extra maneuvering of his schedule to leave his office earlier. He might work through lunch or log on later in the evening. 

How Men Flex, a newly released report commissioned by Working Mother, shows that seven in 10 men enjoy the ability to influence their schedule and do so without fear of negative consequences. But only 29 percent report that their flexible work schedule is a formal arrangement that repeats week to week. Men “flex” mostly as needed.

To better understand how men are navigating the flexible work and home terrain, the Working Mother Research Institute (WMRI), with support from Ernst & Young, surveyed 2,000 men and women about the impact of “flexing” on their lives. Researchers discovered that working dads, whose spouses now work too, increasingly want and need flexibility in their schedules as they partake in the juggling act once considered the exclusive domain of women.

Jose Hernandez-Solaun, president of a Miami real estate firm, notices that most men who need informal flexibility — in jobs where it is possible — negotiate it on the fly, and get it. Yet, “flex” comes paired with expectations, he says. “If I need you to produce spreadsheets and a presentation by Friday and you ask to leave early because you need to be with your kids, you better produce that information. It’s really about accountability.”

Hernandez-Solaun, a father of young children, says the expectations are two-sided: men expect leeway in their schedule and, in return, bosses expect a certain level of availability — even at home or on vacation. “Ten years ago, that wasn’t the case.”

Going beyond informal flexibility gets trickier for men. Most men fear that formal arrangements — such as a scaled back work schedule, telecommuting from home or leeway in starting times —  create the impression that they aren’t fully committed. 

For men in particular, there is a real fear of the stigma, too. “The No.1 concern … is that men feel the moment they step out or step back, they become dispensable. That’s the greatest insecurity of every man I know,” says Mike Tomas, a South Florida entrepreneur.

Like women, men with access to flexibility are more likely to say they are happy at work, productive, loyal and have good relationships with co-workers. And, those men who do flex — even informally — report higher levels of satisfaction with their relationships with their children.
 
The men surveyed say the ideal mix is working in office but from home occasionally as needed. To do that regularly, requires a workplace that allows that type of schedule. It looks like slowly, with more managers doing the balancing act, we're moving in that direction. Working moms may have paved the way, but men are quickly learning that flexibility has benefits.
 

October 31, 2014

Should we care that Apple CEO Tim Cook is gay?

Tom cook

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, has announced he is gay. 

We should be saying who cares about someone's sexual preference. But we're not. We've turned his public outing into big news because unfortunately, it's still news. Cook is the most high profile CEO to openly say he's gay.

Some will say this is a turning point in the evolution of business, that this announcement expands economic opportunities for LGBT poeple. 

To me, it's a signal that the lines between personal and professional are gone. We bring our whole selves to work -- we're moms, we're dads, we're grandkids, we're domestic partners -- and no one should care. Today, we trouble shoot our home life from the office and our office life from home and it's all good. Cook says he's been open in the workplace about his sexual orientation and that it doesn't make a difference in how his co-workers treat him. It shouldn't. I don't care if my boss is gay. I just care if he or she is a good boss.

I asked my teenage son what he thought of Cook's public announcement about being gay. My son quickly replied "what's the big deal if he's gay?" That's the outlook of the next generation: a big "who cares" about someone's sexual preference.

The highest level corporate executive to come out of the closet has signaled that there is a place for all in the business world. He's shown that we don't need to hide who we are outside the office.

We're still going to buy Apple products. We're still going to apply for jobs at Apple. We're still going to want to work for Tim Cook because we like his management style.

Should we care that Tim is gay? We're getting much closer to the day when society's answer will be no. 

October 29, 2014

The High Cost of Caregiving

My friend called me this morning to vent. She just learned her mother has an illness that needs ongoing treatment. She's worried she can't balance her demanding job, her kids and now her sick mom.

I've been there and it isn't easy. 

My friend is considering asking for a leave from her job as an inhouse recruiter at a big company. It's a job that requires face time and has little flexibility.  "What do you think I should do?" she asked me.

"That's a difficult and very personal decision," I replied.

I told her that experts say proceed with caution when pursuing this work life balance path. A few months off can turn into much longer and have serious impact on your finances.

Met Life found that for someone over 50 who leaves work temporarily to care for a loved one, the average lifetime setback is $303,880, including lost wages and retirement benefits.The total estimated aggregate lost wages, pension, and Social Security benefits of these caregivers of parents is nearly $3 trillion.That's a huge number!

Should you need to lean out for a while, it's possible to keep damage to a minimum with these smart moves published in Money Magazine

1. Plan ahead when possible and re-do your budget by setting aside funds for essential expenses first.

2. Check federal and state leave laws regarding paid and unpaid leave.

3. If you need to quit—but wish to return—make the case ahead of time for a comeback. 

Chances are that almost all of us will face what my friend is experiencing. The number of people who provide personal care and/or financial assistance to a parent has tripled over the past 15 years. MetLife's study found daughters are more likely to provide basic care and sons are more likely to provide financial assistance. (No surprise there!) Both scenarios, though, come with their own costs.

If you've confronted this scenario, what would you advise my friend? What are steps you've taken to minimize the financial and emotional toll of caregiving?

October 27, 2014

How to be less forgetful

I-lost-my-keys-joke-of-the-day

 

 

You regularly rack your brain to remember a book a friend recommended. You were on you way home from work and you can't remember the errand you were supposed run.  You suddenly can’t recall the name of your kid’s teacher. Sound familiar?

It does to me.

I feel like I have too much on my brain in my struggle for work life balance. Increasingly, I find I have to write even simple things to remember down them. And still....

Fear not: most forgetfulness isn’t anything serious, says Majid Fotuhi, MD, PhD, founder and chief medical officer of NeurExpand Brain Center in Luterville, MD and co-author of The Memory Cure.

Here are surprising things that impact your memory in not-so-good ways, according to an article in Time Magazine.

1. Thyroid. “People with high or low thyroid levels—which are very common in women—may have difficulty with memory and concentration,” he says. Ask your doctor for a simple thyroid test to determine if it’s the culprit behind your memory problems.

2. Hot flashes. “The more hot flashes a woman experiences during menopause, the worse her ability to remember names and stories,” says Dr. Fotuhi. “Fortunately, hot flashes don’t damage the brain in any way. Memory improves once the hot flashes subside.” 

3. Lack of Sleep. “Individuals with sleep deprivation a. Don’t stop taking your (potentially life-saving) medications, but talk to your doc if you believe any drug you’re on may be messing with your memory.nd sleep disorders not only suffer from impaired memory but also daytime fatigue, impaired attention, and reduced reaction time.” The standard recommendation of eight hours of sleep a night doesn’t necessarily work for everyone.

4. Stress. Do you worry  -- a lot? Worrying can affect your memory, several studies show. Prolonged periods of everyday stress increase cortisol levels in the brain, which causes our brain cells to lose synapses (the bridges that connect our brain cells to one another), and make it more difficult to create and retrieve memories. Researchers found that repeated stress reduced receptors in the part of the brain that’s connected to thought processes.  Finding ways to relieve stress may help. 

5. Pharmaceuticals. Check your medicine cabinet: many common prescription drugs can make you feel forgetful. Don’t stop taking your (potentially life-saving) medications, but talk to your doctor if you believe any drug you’re on may be messing with your memory.

Here are things that can help with memory:

1. Green Tea. How much green tea has not yet been determined, Dr. Fotuhi says in Time Magazine. He recommends combining green tea with other healthy habits such as exercise for greatest memory improvement benefits.

2. Exercise.  Dr. Fotuhi recommends 45 minutes of aerobic exercise four days a week for the best memory boost.

3. Vitamin B12.  In addition to fatigue, loss of appetite, constipation, and weight loss, a B12 deficiency can also lead to memory problems. Your doctor can give you a blood test that determines whether you should be taking a vitamin B12 supplement.

4. Keep lists. Getting things off your brain and on to paper makes a huge difference in what I'm able to remember. Paula Rizzo is a master in helping people create lists that help them remember things. Her new book,  “Listful Thinking: Using Lists to be More Productive, Highly Successful and Less Stressed” is will be coming out in January and it's on my to do list to buy it.

5. Visualization. Need to memorize a list of terms or names? You'll have a better chance of being able to recall them if the words are associated with an image, according to The Huffington Post. For example, if you have to remember a meeting at 4:30 p.m., try remembering your favorite quartet (The Beatles?) and a 30th birthday cake. It may sound silly, but you'll be grateful when you're right on time.

6. Label. Franklin Roosevelt was known to have a memory that would put most of us to shame -- he could remember the name of someone he met just once, months ago, seemingly without difficulty. His secret? Roosevelt was able to remember the names of everyone on his staff (and everyone he met) by visualizing their names written across their foreheads after being introduced to them. This technique is even more effective when the name is imagined being written in your favorite color marker, CNN claims.

7. Pay attention. Perhaps the best (and arguably most difficult) memory boost of all is simply paying attention to the task, conversation or experience at hand. Distraction makes our memories weaker, and consequently we are more prone to forget things.

I'm confessing that over the weekend, I said "nice to meet you" to the mother of my son's friend. She sounded annoyed and told me we've met before. Being forgetful is so embarrassing!

Do you think we're getting more forgetful as a society? Do you think it has something to do with all the information coming at us? What's something you've forgotten recently and do you have any tricks for ensuring you don't forget the small stuff?

 

October 24, 2014

When wearing a halloween costume to work gets ugly

The costume shops will be crowded this weekend with last minute shoppers. If you're one of those shoppers trying to figure out whether to dress up at work for Halloween and what to wear, be smart about it.

Wearing a costume to work could help you shed your stuffy image --  or it could make you come across as unprofessional.

A lot depends on where you work, what you do for a living, and what costume you wear. A beefy guy in a ballerina costume in a conservative workplace? That might be frowned on. Dressing up as a hooker or sexy cat? That just gives grist to the office gossip mill. Years ago, one of my co-workers dressed as a penis. What was he thinking? It became the reason he was called Dick the rest of the year.

I once had a boss who wore a cat suit to work. He thought he looked cute but the costume revealed way too many bulges and he looked bizarre. That was a tough image for me to shake -- even when he wore his business suit the next day.

On the other hand, dressing up (tastefully) shows you have a fun side and you're more than just business. People like that in their co-workers and bosses.

If your workplace encourages dress up, then you probably should participate. One guy quoted in the Chicago Tribune said  "It really wouldn't look right to see some people doing it and others being completely uncooperative." 

If your workplace doesn't encourage dressing up for Halloween, I think it's okay to wear something fun without it being an entire costume...maybe a fun hat, wig or glasses.

 A new Harris poll shows half of U.S. adults (51%) feel Halloween is an over hyped holiday and one-third (32%) believe only children should dress up for Halloween. That's two-thirds of adults who don't think they should dress up! Because Halloween falls on a Friday this year, I think you will see more people dressing up at work -- Fridays tend to be casual days anyway.

Fess up...are you planning to  wear a costume to work? Would you think any less of a co-worker for wearing a costume or not wearing a costume to work on Halloween?

Smurf_Costume_Party 

 

 

October 23, 2014

Friends at work, but how about outside the office?

My daughter is having a great time in college. She has made a ton of new friends. Listening to her talk about her social life reminded me how hard the transition is from college to the workplace. Suddenly, a few months after being around people your own age, having a social life takes much more effort. It helps though, when you make friends at work.

Workplace friendships might seem like our personal business, but our social connections have become our employer’s concern too. Research shows employees who have close friends at work are more engaged, more likely to stay, and more likely to say they love their companies. 

But there seems to be a gap what expectations are around workplace friendships.

Younger workers view the workplace as an ideal venue to look for people to have dinner with, to catch a movie with and hang out. At the same time, many Generation X workers, the mid-level leaders who are in their late 30s, 40s and 50s, want friends in the workplace but aren’t as interested in socializing with them outside the office. 

The challenge for managers becomes how to encourage those bonds and balance a workplace that young workers see as a venue to expand their social network and older generations see as a separate from their personal lives.

Some companies organize social activities that will get their entire staff engaged. Some do nothing and the office morale reflects it. Some employers try another approach -- empowering their younger staff to come up with ideas. 
 
Marston, president of Generational Insights, which consults businesses on generational trends in the workplace, says the more successful companies encourage young workers to take charge of creating the camaraderie they want at work. “Young people are saying we want a happy hour or we want a cooking class and we would like to organize it.” Marston says. “Employers are then facilitating those activities by giving millennials space on the bulletin board or Intranet to promote those offerings and not frowning when requests are made.”
 
Luis Vega, 25, a new hire at Grant Thornton in Fort Lauderdale says he is excited about the possibility of a company kickball team, but Vega says he would be as happy going to dinner with his team after a long day of work: “It doesn’t have to be a firm-scheduled event. It would be great just to socialize with people on my work team who have the same hours.” 

Marston says older generations are going to need readjust their attitude and  make more effort to connect with their team on a personal level if they want to keep their workers happy: “Millennials are saying I don’t feel connected to my workplace or my boss.” 

To be fair, Marston says that most people, regardless of generation, want friends at work: “It’s just a matter of how far that friendship goes.”

What are your thoughts on workplace friends?  Do you think it makes a difference in the workplace when people are friends outside the office, too? Has having a good friend at work ever affected your decision to stay or leave?