September 24, 2014

The new work life balance: We're not working more, just differently

The longer I write about work/life balance, the more I hear and see that technology challenges are universal. From CEOs to sales persons, today’s workers are trying to build balanced lives by battling the impulse to stay connected 24/7. Checking work emails on our tablets or smartphones in bed or at a bar makes us feel like we’re working all the time.

The reality, though, is more complicated.

While we are logging onto work outside of traditional work hours — from our bed or a soccer practice — we are also taking time for our personal lives during our workday. Almost everyone, from the office secretary to the store manager, makes a personal digital escape thoughtlessly throughout the day. We tell ourselves: “I’m just going to buy Beyoncé’s new single on iTunes and go right back to work.” The problem, however, is that it doesn’t end there.

While at work, we’re checking our fantasy football results, browsing our Facebook feeds, shopping on Amazon, playing Candy Crush, catching up on news, talking to friends on Twitter and texting constantly during the day.

Work and home no longer are separate spheres. Blurred lines are the new normal.

Researcher Laura Demasi says we aren’t working more, we’re working differently: “For every moment we give away to work outside of traditional work hours ... we claw back when we’re officially at work.”

Countless new apps and the roll-out of improved smartphones make the blending and blurring of our life roles increasingly challenging. Flexibility has become an integral part of daily life thanks to our devices.

We balance our personal demands by leaving early, arriving late, or slipping out of the office during the workday and then ironing out details of a business deal on our laptop once the dinner dishes are cleared.

Demasi says technology has transformed work into something we do, rather than only a place we go.

Miami Stonegate Bank executive Erin Knight feels empowered: “There are no more traditional business hours. I can keep deals moving along and take phone calls on the go, wherever I go.” At the same time, she can deal with family issues from her office. Through text messaging, she was able to get her mother an emergency doctor’s appointment with a client. “It took a few minutes to arrange, and she would have been suffering in pain.”

Of course, it has become more common than ever before to find yourself staying later at the office because you spent more time than expected on Facebook. Maybe we need to ask ourselves whether technology is to blame for overwork or our inability to set boundaries that's the problem.

Do you find that the blurring of lines has made your work life balance more stressful? Or do you think that being able to deal with work and personal issue both in the workplace and at home makes juggling life's demands easier?

 

September 19, 2014

How to Ask Like a Man

Askforraise

Let's say you are a high level executive and you get a great offer to serve on a corporate board. There is a ton of prestige in a board position and you really want to say yes. But first, you need your CEO to give his approval, particularly because the board position involves a substantial time commitment.

So, what do you do? Do you go ask your CEO if it's okay for you to take the board seat?

Apparently, that's the tactic some women have taken and the result hasn't been favorable. The CEO's answer was a pretty swift "no" followed by "we need your attention here at our company."

The lesson...it's all in the ask.

A few days ago, I moderated a panel of search executives who spoke about how important it is to frame the way you ask your boss for something.

Bonnie M. Crabtree,  Managing Director of Korn Ferry's Miami office, said the way the women executives SHOULD have asked their CEO is the way men tend to ask when they want to take board seats....not really seeking permission but explaining the benefits and making the CEO feel it would be bad business not to agree to it.

It's the same approach women should take when they are asking for a raise or a flexible schedule.

Listen to a successful businessman ask for something from the boss and it usually goes like this: I'm going to do it and it's going to benefit you too. We both are going to prosper. (There's really no permission seeking involved)

Sheryl Sandberg tells women to stop showing self-defeating behavior in the workplace. If we're going to do that, we need to master "the ask." Let's say we want more money. Rather than ask for a raise, Sandberg explains, tell your boss the reasons you should get more money and how it is in his interest to give it to you. 

Not knowing how to ask, and not asking well, can cost all of us money and opportunity. Simply put: our boss wants to feel like a winner. So if you're going to ask for something, keep that in mind and make yourself a winner, too.   

September 12, 2014

How to help a co-worker who is burning out

One day at work, one of my co-workers put her face into her hands and screamed. It was bizarre. All of us just watched, not really sure how to react. After a few minutes went by, the screaming got louder.

She was having a HUGE meltdown and it felt like acknowledging it might make it worse. I know that burnout happens. But watching it happen feels awful. For weeks, this co-worker, a single mother, had complained to me about having too much on her plate. When I arrived at the office, she was there. When I left, she was there.

Burn out has ended more than a few careers. But is it possible to help prevent a co-worker or even a boss from burning out?  In most companies, hard work is rewarded with more work. Should anyone step in when they see someone who can't seem to strike a work life balance? 

CareerCast.com says "We usually reach the point of being burned up when we try and tough out unpleasant work-related situations without an effective strategy. We ignore the signs of unhappiness, make excuses for the miserable way we feel on the job, justify staying on the job with any number of reasons, and gradually fall into a downward spiral where our motivation to change the situation is gone and, running on fumes becomes running on empty."

While it may be hard to recognize in ourselves, burn out could be easier to recognize in our co-workers. So, if we see some like my co-worker on the verge of a meltdown, what should be do about it?

CareerCast.com offers these suggestions:

 

  • 1. Urge your co-worker to seek help from a trained mental health professional who treats work-related problems.

 

  • 2. Step in with a gentle suggestion before the problem becomes so severe your co-worker loses his or her job or burns bridges.

 

  • 3. Urge your co-worker to consult a career counselor to find out if he or she has other career and work interests at a new and possibly different type of job, profession or career.

 

  • 4. Let your co-worker know that just because he or she is burned out on a current job or in a current role, doesn't mean it will necessarily be the same on a new job or new position. Circumstances change and, with it, a different job could lead to increased energy and a more positive frame of mind.

 

After my co-worker's complete crash, she was encouraged by her boss to take a long weekend. When she came back to work, she was offered a  less stressful, lower paying position at the same company. I encouraged her to take it, although it meant she has to live more frugally. 

A year later she seems much more in control of her work life balance and happier at work. 

Lot of us see co-workers every day who can't or don't make time for a personal life. Sometimes it is by choice. Sometimes he or she feels the company expects a 24/7 commitment.

Have your ever witnessed a co-worker burning out? Do you feel a responsibility to say or do so something? 

 

September 08, 2014

Would a pay raise improve your work life balance?

 

                                   Pay raise

 

 

What would you do with a raise?

Would you make changes that would make your home and work life easier? Would you buy a more reliable car to drive to work?  Or how about hiring someone to care for your elderly parent while you're not home?

My son gets minimum wage as a bus boy at a local pizza restaurant. He works like a dog for each cent he brings home. Still, he doesn't think a small increase would make a big difference for the dishwasher who works a second job to support his family. I disagree and have told him that every penny counts when you are living paycheck to paycheck.

Across the country, fast food workers have been rallying for higher wages, trying to get food businesses to pay at least $15 an hour. Now that's a significant increase from the $7.93 a cook at a Miami fast food joint says he makes. The cook says that extra $7 an hour would  allow him to pay rent and have enough left to buy an ample supply of food for his family.

White collar workers are struggling, too. In some workplaces, staffers haven't seen a pay jump in at least five years -- even if they are busting their butts.

The good news is U.S. employers are planning to give pay raises averaging 3 percent  in 2015, on par with the 2.9 percent average raise in 2014 and 2013, according to a survey of nearly 1,100 U.S. companies by compensation consultant Towers Watson.

A small raise is better than no raise, right? But what if you feel like you're working harder than your colleagues?

Who gets a raise and why can create major contention. Employees believe that employers are falling short in how pay decisions are made, and that there is much need for improvement,'' says  Towers Watson managing director Laury Sejen. Only half believe they are paid fairly. Their big gripe is that employers are not differentiating pay for top performers as much as they have been in recent years.

The median annual salary among the nation's 106.6 million workers is now about $40,560, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"Base pay is the No. 1 reason why employees join a company or choose to leave,'' Sejen told USA Today.  "So there's value in companies making the effort to improve base pay."

Would a pay raise make a difference in your work life balance? How significant a raise would you need to see a real different in your lifestyle?

September 05, 2014

Work Life Balance Joan Rivers' Way

                                                 Joan

 

Life was not always easy for Joan Rivers, but in her struggle to balance her life as a comedian with her role as a mother and wife, she had one thing going for her. Joan liked to laugh.

It was humor that took her through the toughest times in her life.

Humor. 

Joan made jokes about issues that others considered taboo: Her husband's suicide. Her plastic surgery. Her weight. Her so-called lack of sex appeal. Her husband's one leg. 

For Joan,  it was work that fulfilled her, the pursuit of laughter. Joan never relaxed, always looking for the next and better punchline, according to her obituary. It was a trait that kept Joan in the limelight --  even at age 81.  

During a brief time in the 1980s, Joan's career seemed in shambles.  She even became estranged from her daughter. Struggling with grief, Joan made jokes: "Think positive. Make a list. One, I don't life in Bosnia. Two, I never dated O.J."

In the end, it wasn't just Joan's ability to laugh at herself that I found admirable. It was the close relationship she eventually formed with her daughter, the way she eased Melissa into show business and the way she was proud for the world to see her as a mother and career woman. 

When your morning routine goes awry, your client gives you grief or you have an argument with your spouse, kid or boss, think about Joan. Would she melt down, or laugh it off? Would she say it is just too hard to overcome the setbacks that life throws your way? Or, would she turn up the raunchy humor and pursue on?

The New York Times says, that around Joan's 80th birthday when an interviewer asked her whether she planned to retire, there was no laughter in her voice as she replied, "And do what?"

Clearly, it wasn't fame and fortune that Joan was after. She drew fulfillment from an audience that enveloped her in laughter.

R.I.P. Joan and may we all incorporate the lessons you taught us into our work life balancing acts. If we follow your lead, we will know what fulfills us in life, use laughter to release stress, and never give up when the going gets tough.

 

September 03, 2014

Who to go to for advice

A few nights a week, my husband and I walk around the neighborhood for exercise and talk about our days. We often discuss work related problems that come up in a typical day. While neither of us asks for advice, it's natural to give it.  Often, we view the same scenario differently and give suggestions the other person never considered. 

Knowing how I interact with my husband, I often have felt that my boss' spouse had more influence on my future at a company than any other high level manager.  A new survey proves me right.  Most CEOs admit they consider their spouses the person they turn to first for advice on tough business decisions, more than senior members of their staff. 

According to a survey from the staffing firm Adecco, 37 percent of CEOs and business owners say the opinion of their spouse is what matters most to them. This is followed by their head of business development department (16 percent) and operations department (13 percent).  

“A spouse can be someone to discuss ideas or decisions off of without judgment or agenda. If you’re in a partnership with someone, you hold their thoughts and opinions very highly,” Joyce Russell, president of Adecco Staffing in the US told Business News Daily. 

For most of us, seeking advice is tricky -- particularly from a significant other. While I appreciate the business advice my husband gives me, at times, resisting it has created marital tension. Sometimes, when I just want to vent, he chimes in with a solution that I don't want to hear. 

My friend Jill, who owns her own business, says it has taken her a long time to ask for her husband's advice without feeling guilty if she doesn't take it or getting upset by his more practical appraoch to problem solving. She's convinced listening to her inner gut or her female mentor, rather than her spouse, has led to better business decisions.

Have you ever taken — or totally resisted — business advice from your spouse/significant other? Do you feel like your spouse knows you best and guides you well or doesn't asking for advice open the door to resentment or problems down the road?

 

August 29, 2014

Will you unplug on Labor Day?

Any big plans for the long weekend? Do your big plans include unplugging from your electronic devices?

Be honest. I bet your weekend plans don't include going device free.  I just read a Facebook entry from a friend who says she is going device free for the Labor Day weekend. She bid us all farewell until Tuesday. Good for her, right?

Of course, the rest of us can't bring ourselves to do it. We want to spend quality time just chilling out...but our mobile devices are sooo alluring.  As the Wall Street Journal points out:  everyone has a different pain threshold for disconnecting.

In a recent survey by CivicScience, 70% of U.S. respondents said they unplug from their gadgets once or week or less. Some 43% said they don’t unplug from personal electronics at all. That's a lot of people to say they never unplug.

A new AAA survey shows 34.7 million Americans — the most since Labor Day 2008 — plan to travel 50 miles or more from home. Sounds like a lot of you are planning for a fun weekend.

Think about it. If you can escape your electronic gadget, maybe you can bid summer farewell without thinking about work or staying up late surfing the web. Give it try. Maybe all of us can return to work Tuesday feeling refreshed.

Happy Labor Day!

 

 

 

August 27, 2014

Work Life Balance When Your Child Leaves For College

I just have experienced work life balance in a whole new way. I took my daughter to college hundreds of miles away from home.

The reality of this life event is something for which a parent never can fully prepare. It is bittersweet realization: I have one less child to cook for, one less lunch to pack for school and one less schedule of activities to coordinate.

As I kissed my daughter goodbye, I reminisced about the night I got stuck working really late at the office and cried because my babysitter had put her to bed before I had returned home. I felt guilty and crushed that I had missed an entire day of my infant’s young life. If only I knew then that work life balance was less about one day and more about the next 18 years.

The truth is I enjoy the chaos that has ruled my life as I have juggled writing deadlines with chauffeuring her to soccer practice, sleepovers and movies with friends. It was through that chaos that I built a bond with her that will only strengthen as it evolves.

Now, I face a new reality: My daughter becoming independent doesn’t just mean that I suddenly have more free time. It means that my entire home life has shifted in ways I had not anticipated. Walking past her quiet bedroom, the change is a tough adjustment. But watching her explore her passions in life is going to be exciting.

With two children still at home, I am savoring the daily chores that I used to consider annoyances. I am packing lunches with a new appreciation and giving homework help with more enthusiasm. Suddenly, I see a future where my balancing act gets easier and my mom duties less needed. I’m not sure I will ever be prepared for that life transition. For now, I’m trying my best to shake off the feeling that my chest is a bit heavier and my house a bit emptier. 

 

August 19, 2014

Working parents biggest fears

I shouldn't say I'm shocked but I am. How is it that in 2014, at a time when most mothers and fathers work, we still fear that we will be fired when our family needs interfere with work demands?

It's interesting that men almost fear bringing up child care issues with their boss more than women do. A dad I know once told me I was lucky that I had a flexible work arrangement and said his boss would get angry if he asked for one. I urged him to ask but I don't think he ever did. 

A new Bright Horizons Modern Family Index survey of 1,000 working moms and dads with at least one child under 18 still in the home shows:

  • working parents fear family responsibilities could get them fired
  • fathers are just as stressed and insecure about work and family conflicts as mothers
  • 39 percent of parents fear being denied a raise because of family responsibilities
  • 37 percent of parents fear they will never get promoted while 26 percent worry about a demotion because of family responsibilities
  • 22 percent worry that family commitments will cost them key projects at work
  • 19 percent believe they won’t be invited to important meetings because of family obligations
  • Working parents are nervous to bring up key family-related issues with their employers

That's a lot of fear, isn't it? We all know that business is about making profit or showing performance but workers are the ones who make that happen. When we have to choose between leaving a sick kid home alone or going to work, that's a tough choice we shouldn't have to make.

Here's something all employers should note: . Those working parents who do feel supported by their employer report strong loyalty.

David Liss, CEO of Bright Horizons Family Solutions, said it well:  "it is clear that working parents throughout the U.S. are still struggling to manage all of their responsibilities, and many still feel that they cannot be honest with their supervisors about needing to be available and active in their family lives."

As a working parent, showing vulnerability to the wrong boss can be career suicide. And so, out of fear, we lie. In the survey working parents -- moms and dads --  admitted to lying or bending the truth to their boss about family responsibilities that get in the way of work. Some revealed they have faked sick to meet family obligations. Others said they lied about missing a work event because of a family commitment or the reason why they didn't respond to emails.

Again, all very pathetic but shockingly understandable.

Over my years as a working parent, I found a supportive boss makes all the difference in being a successful working parent and achieviing work life balance. If I hadn't had a supportive boss when my kids were really little, I couldn't have kept my job. The survey shows 41 percent of working parents agree with me.

Have you ever been fearful that family needs will get you fired? Do you think fathers get less of a break at work and have more reason to be fearful than mothers?

August 18, 2014

Back to School: A teacher's work life balance

As we struggle with work life balance and adjusting to new school routines, we think teachers have it easier than we do because they already are at school - and/or have school hours -  and can be involved in their kid's education.

 

 

Not so, says Kerri Medina, a former teacher turned college adviser who reached out to me. Below is her perspective as the new school year kicks in. I think you will find it insightful:

 

Kerri2 (1)

 I worked for the Miami-Dade County Public School System for 11 years and have a son who is 15 years old and starting his 10th grade year. In all of my time working for the school system, I was rarely able to attend his school events, shows, be a room parent, be active in the PTA, volunteer for school events, or anything else school-related because I worked the same hours the events were taking place.

I wasn't able to even do something as simple as dropping children off the first day of school, which for most parents is an exciting time with their children. Unfortunately, educators are unable to share in this experience. For me this was especially painful his first day of kindergarten. I always thought it sad and ironic that those involved in education in many cases can't be as active as they might like in their own child's school.

This past year I left the school system and became an independent college adviser at International College Counselors. This last year, for the first time, I was able to drop my son off the first day (and any day I needed, or wanted to), attend my son's school performances (he's a musician at New World School of Arts), go on any field trip I wanted to, serve on the board of the PTSA, and really feel like an involved parent at my son's school.

I am thrilled to still remain in education, but now have a better work/life balance through my company's flexibility. I noticed the same scenario of other parents who were involved in education, that although they were making a huge impact on other students' lives, they oftentimes couldn't be involved in their own child's school.  

For most part with my son, I still take a minimalist approach. I do what I need to do to make sure he’s on track. I have never rushed a project to school for the child who forgot it,because I couldn’t do it before. Now, I'm still letting my son take the lead when comes to school work.  

As a working, single mother, I am constantly balancing work and life in many ways. But now, as the new school year arrives, I can approach it differently and strike a better balance.