October 06, 2014

Can a workaholic really retire?

I remember the exact moment when the smile crept across my face. My friend, senior news editor Pat Andrews, was explaining to me that her husband was insisting they take a cruise. Pat knew exactly why he was proposing an at-sea vacation and she wasn't at all happy about going. 

As I listened to Pat, I tried to picture her at sea, floating in the middle of the Atlantic, miles away from the Miami Herald newsroom, basking in the sun on a lounge chair and trying to unwind. I just couldn't hold on to that vision. It was difficult to picture Pat anywhere other than the newsroom. 

Pat andrewsIn the newsroom, Pat is alive with delight -- a rare combination of fiery energy and reassuring calm. When news breaks, Pat doles out tasks with authority and gusto. Some might call Pat a workaholic. I call her a woman who considers the news business her calling. She has confessed to me:  "I have only one speed I roll on, I don’t recommend it to others." 

Last week, on a visit to the newsroom, I stopped by Pat's desk to catch up. She hit me with a bombshell.

"You know I'm retiring," Pat said. "Next Friday is my last day."

After 35 years at The Miami Herald, Pat, 62, no longer will be a daily presence.

As a business writer, I have interviewed CEOs, law firm founders and business owners when they announce retirement. With some, I have circled back a few years later out of curiosity. Those retirees who are most content are still engaged in some type of volunteer or corporate work on a scaled back basis. They have found balance when they least expected it. 

Can Pat really retire? Can a workaholic shift from one speed to a stop?

For days after Pat broke the news to me, I felt unsettled. I just couldn't get my head around the thought of Pat's work life balance tilting entirely toward a focus on her personal life. 

I prodded Pat to tell me more. Why, why, why? I wanted to know.

Pat explained to me that she recently lost her step-daughter to cancer. Natalie was only 37. Over the years, Pat had mentored Natalie, encouraging her to excel in her career. Having collected all the fine things in life -- the great job, the amazing boyfriend, the beautiful apartment and expensive car, Natalie had neglected something more important: her health. By the time Natalie went to the doctor, she learned she had advanced stage cervical cancer.  While Pat was by her side, the disease rapidly took Natalie’s life.

Watching Natalie's last days come to an end gave Pat a jolt. "I lost my zeal, my mojo for my job, and I just couldn't get it back," she explained. 

When I have spoken to retirees on their first day without an office to go to, they spoke of disorientation.  It’s an odd adjustment for them to shed a former identity and find new balance. At some point, almost all of us will confront that scenario. 

I asked Pat what she plans to do when she doesn't have to sit in on morning meetings or edit a story on deadline. "I don’t have the answers to where my journey will take me. I don’t have a map,” she said. "For now, I want to exhale and get bored. I don’t know what’s that like. I want to be away from the pressure of being 'on' every single moment." 

After Pat made it public that she planned to retire, current and former reporters and editors at The Miami Herald flooded Pat's Facebook page with tales of how she inspired them to stand up to government officials, guided them in their quest for the truth, and saved them from lackluster ledes.  Dozens even stopped by her desk to share memories of good times on the job or tell her how she made them better at what they do.

Now, that's a legacy to leave behind.

For most of us, our goal in striving for balance is to create a life where we've touched others in a positive way -- at home, in the community and in the workplace. Pat taught me this: Do what you do well, but teach others to do it, too. 

I don’t see Pat sitting idle for long. Going forward, she says she wants to do something to have a positive impact on the community, some type of volunteer work. "I want to do good," she told me. What her colleagues realize is that she already has.

October 01, 2014

Overwork in America: How to stay alive

When I read about someone dropping dead after intense periods of overwork, it makes me wonder -- did anyone try to step in?

In a society in which overwork has become the norm, and work life balance a constant struggle, is it our responsibility to prevent a co-worker, friend or employee from working himself sick.

It's tricky from a boss's perspective. A boss wants his employee to be superstar. It's a boss's  own best interest for someone to put in longer hours and get more work done. But at what expense?

As I wrote in my Miami Herald column today, on rare occasions, decisions to ignore or defy excessive work stress can reap unknowing consequences. There are a few horrific examples: 

-A Wall Street intern who worked through the night eight times in two weeks, including three consecutive nights, before he collapsed and died in his apartment in 2013

-A Skadden Arps associate who died in 2011 after months of intense pressure and rumored 100-hour work weeks,

- A copywriter for an ad agency who in 2013 suffered heart failure and slipped into a fatal coma just after sipping energy drinks and tweeting “30 hours of working and still going strooong.”

Because we live in a culture that applauds overwork, stories of people working themselves to death or collapsing of exhaustion force us to look at what has become the new normal. Employers are asking almost all workers to take on higher workloads. But when multiple 15-hour workdays get met with a pat on the back rather than a look of concern, we need to figure out our role in workplace well-being.

The signs of burn out are rather easy to recognize — hair loss, weight loss or gain, fatigue, the popping of stimulants to combat anxiety or exhaustion and extreme over-reaction or irritability.
 
Intervention can be complex. For some workers, getting ahead is their priority. It is not only what they spend the majority of their days doing, it represents a core part of their identities. They choose to tip the work life balance scale in favor of work.
 
 
But there are ways to help. Here are a few approaches:
 
  • Push it. Leah Carpenter, CEO of Memorial Hospital Miramar says as the company leader, “you have to push it a little,” with those who may not realize they need work-life balance. I tell them, “We are no good to the patients we treat if we don’t take care of ourselves.”
     
  • Set an example. “I have to put myself in check so they won’t follow.” Carpenter says she won’t send out emails past 9 p.m. and she conscientiously takes vacation days: “I don’t want to send the wrong message about expectations.”

     
  • Show a general concern. If pointing out a lack of balance or extreme overwork leads to resistance, workplace expert David Torrance, CEO of Renaissance Executive Forums Dallas, recommends another approach: a more generic show of concern such as, “Hey, are you doing OK? I see you’re working long hours. I’m concerned for you. What’s going on?”

 

  • Use good judgment.  In most workplaces, co-workers are most tuned in to a peer’s exhaustion or anxiety and often reluctant to get involved. “At first blush, it’s no different from me going to a colleague and saying, ‘Not married yet, what’s going on with that?’” said Nikki Lewis Simon, a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig in Miami. “Working around the clock is a personal decision, not unlike the decision to have kids, marry, be openly gay. Some people don’t know what to do without work. If you forced them to go home, they would be in a funk.”

 

  • Offer to pitch in.  Simon said she would show interest as a friendly overture: “I might say, is everything OK? I see you’re working hard, is there something I could do to help?”

 

  • Point out health concerns. Sometimes it takes a health practitioner to convey the message that changes behavior. While balance can be a struggle for all, Simon says people need to need to be told: “You must unplug and rejuvenate because your body will not forgive you forever.”


 

 

September 30, 2014

In Search of an Uncluttered Life

Has there ever been a time in your life when a message seems to come to you from every direction?

For me, that message is  "Clear the clutter!"

Over the weekend, I read William Zinsser's On Writing Well and the book spent an entire chapter on clutter. When I finished reading it, I became fixated on unneccesry words that clutter emails, articles and even recipes. I began eliminating clutter from my sentences and seeing the power that simplicity can produce.

Today, I woke up and noticed one of my favorite columnists, Ana Veciana-Suarez wrote an article about uncluttering her garage in an effort to simplify, simplify. "The older I get, the more I realize how little I need for a truly satisfying life." So true, Ana.

I think we all know, it's excrutiatingly difficult to live clutter free.  I've acquired way too many items that promise to help me do things better, faster, easier.  From apps to appliances, my screens and shelves overflow with things I really don't know how to use well enough that they make me more productive.

So, like Ana, I am going in search of a more simple, uncluttered life. 

Breda Stack, the Declutter Therapist, says: "Decluttering goes beyond cleaning, organizing, or putting broken items in the bin. Clutter is anything physical, mental or emotional that doesn't serve us. It's letting go of anything that doesn't enhance our life." She says decluttering makes us feel happier and in control.

When I tidy my desk, my inbox or my garage, I feel lighter, happier and more balanced.

Like Ana, I'm shifting priorities, shedding stuff I don't use, and opting for experiences, over items, as the cooler air begins to flow in and holiday season looms.

Here's to ending 2014 with much less clutter in my life. Will you be joining me in the quest for simplicity?

 

 

 

 

September 29, 2014

Must you work overtime?

Last week, I was talking to a CEO who said to me, "I am not going to hire anyone anymore who can't work overtime."

He explained that at certain times of the year, he needs to ramp up, usually for only a few weeks at a time. But when an employee can't put in longer hours ( even if paid extra) it creates a problem for all.

I responded by telling him that many people have outside responsibilities that could prevent them from coming in earlier or staying later. That's understandable," he said. "But I have a company to run so a job at my company would not be for them."

There in lies the clash of business needs with real life responsibilities of many of today's workers. This is a complicated issue: Even if someone signs on for occasional overtime, what it his life demands change? Should a worker be allowed to say, ' I don’t want to work overtime and would rather go home?' And,  when does occasional overtime become more than “occasional”?

Allison Green at Ask A Manager says this:

* Generally, you should try to be flexible and accommodating when you’re asked to take on something at work outside of your normal work schedule, particularly when it’s temporary, but there’s a point beyond which it’s reasonable to push back. Certainly sleeping at work and working 18 hours days falls well over the line of reasonable (unless you knew you were signing up for that, such as if you were working on a political campaign).

* Your employer can require you to work whatever hours they want, and can change it at any time, unless you have a contract that states otherwise.

* A reasonable manager will work with someone who isn’t able to take on additional work hours, particularly when it’s many extra work hours, and particularly if the employee is willing to be flexible to the extent they can be.

* Not every manager is reasonable. But plenty are.

The CEO I spoke with said he  is upfront about expectations. His position on it made me wonder:  If overtime is mentioned during the interview process, could it eliminate your ability to get any flexibility on this issue in the future? 

Here's what you should know: There’s no federal law on the number of hours someone can be required to work or the length of a break (or even requiring any break at all); that’s all up to individual states.

CEOs have their eye on the bottom line and the health of the business, and they may forget that employees are persons with real needs and real responsibilities. I find it unrealistic for this CEO to think he can hire loyal employees who will be willing to work overtime at any given point in time. In life, complications arise with kids, parents, friends, community commitments -- even our own health. There will be some who will jump at the job because they want the opportunity to earn overtime pay. But will they stay long term?

 

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 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 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 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.