Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘work/life’

Work Doesn’t Have to Be Awful

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerI’ve gotten a lot of email through the years. And most of it has been difficult to read—people who were cruelly fired, who are being hassled by coworkers or who have done something truly stupid (just this morning I just got an email from a woman who told me about how she sent her resume and cover letter to her current boss).

If you have a particularly macabre sense of humor it is possible to find my mail funny. But mostly it makes me sad.

So given the negative nature of most of my correspondence, the last few weeks have been a revelation for me. I’ve been working on a new business venture and I’m part of a team of four people putting together a business plan. One guy I’ve worked with on my last two books, so we have a bunch of history working together. The other two people were total strangers when we started. I barely knew either of them either personally or professionally. Another complicating factor is how different our expertise, world view and just general make up are from each other (that’s make-up in terms of approach to the world and not our use of rouge).

If this column had a sound track, you’d probably be hearing Steven Stills in the background singing “Love the One Your With.” (Don’t recognize it, then just ask the nearest boomer and they can hum a few bars for you).

Please note, I didn’t say that we were all singing “Kumbaya.” No this is a room full of Type A personalities. The key is as remarkable as it is simple. We all listen to each other. In fact, I can think of multiple areas where we all had hard and fast rules for what we wanted. We listened to the other people involved and either modified what we previously thought was essential.

I can hear what you’re thinking. It’s like a committee that produces lowest common denominator work. Not at all. We are actually able to draw the best from each person and then make it even better through our brainstorming.

One simple trick, we call it placeholders. When we have a name or idea that is good, but its clear to at least some of us that we could probably do better, we call the existing best effort our placeholder. We use it, but we’re always on the lookout to make it better. This is just one technique we’ve developed to not settle for okay, but to push for the best.

This experience has given me hope. It is possible to work with people who you like and respect and accomplish a lot in the process. You better sit down before you read this next sentence—not only is it possible to find colleagues that you can work with, I believe there are even a few sane bosses out there. The challenge is to find ‘em.

Okay, I’m sure that most of my regular readers think that either this blog has been hijacked or that I’ve lost my mind. It’s hard to argue with the latter argument, but after year upon year of horror stories from the cubicle world, I want to take a moment to report that work can be uplifting, collaborative and fun and not just a long process of letting all of the air out of your tires.

I’ve decided to go positive. I’ve learned from Allan, Shari and Jon that collaboration is a wonderful thing. Sure there are tough times, but the more brains you have at the table the better the quality of the work and the more fun you’ll have.

A few words for those stuck in a less than great working environment. I understand that people have mortgages, orthodontist bills and families to feed. That said, I’m hard pressed to say that there are just some jobs that are better to have in your rear view mirror. A paycheck just isn’t worth daily bouts crying, being yelled at or just feeling miserable. Hopefully this blog can play a small role in reminding you that there are saner possibilities out there.

I’ve also heard through the years from people who’ve taken a bad work environment and turned it around. Mostly through “random acts of kindness,” or building community, trust and support in a place where none exists. It’s not easy, but like flowers growing up through tiny cracks in a sidewalk, it happens.

There is a saying from an old court case, “Work time is for work.” But that doesn’t mean that it has to be a prison sentence—something to be endured. Work can have meaning, collaboration and, dare I say it, fun. But it probably won’t just fall in your lap. You’ll have to seek it out, but it’s out there.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Also check out his newly revised best-seller “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]

New Report: Working Caregivers as a Protected Class?

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Finding a manageable work/life balance is something many of us struggle with a great deal–and the stakes only get higher for Americans who work full-time and have caregiving responsibilities at home. Whether that means taking care of children, a sick partner, or an elderly loved one, holding down an ambitious career while still taking good care of those that depend on you at home can be a daunting challenge.

While I’d like to be able to tell you that employers are universally understanding of their employees that struggle with juggling a full-time job while being a caregiver, we all know this simply isn’t true. As if layoffs due to our ailing economy weren’t bad enough, employers discriminating against employees based on their caregiving responsibilities is on the rise–and it has a name: Family Responsibilities Discrimination (FRD).

Before you stop reading this post because you’re thinking “such a wonky-sounding term can’t possibly affect me,” I beg you to take another few moments and keep on reading. Family Responsibilities Discrimination can occur in any number of unfortunate–but very real–workplace circumstances. Such as….

  • when a new mother is denied a promotion NOT based on her job performance, but because it is assumed she will no longer be as committed to work once baby enters the picture.
  • when a man’s employer refuses him paternity leave because “his wife should do it”
  • when a worker is fired for not meeting work goals while he is on legally protected family and medical leave to take care of a sick parent.

A new report by the Center for WorkLife Law’s Stephanie Bornstein & Robert J. Rathmell provides us with information about additional worker protections under local laws about which most people are not aware–like the ones described above. Take this true situation cited in the report, for example:

In Chicago, a single mother of two who filed a complaint for parental status discrimination under the city’s local ordinance was recently awarded over $300,000 in damages. The woman had been fired from her job as a medical services salesperson after rescheduling a meeting because her daughter was ill.

The report finds that while no federal law and only a few state laws expressly prohibit discrimination against working caregivers, at least 63 local governments in 22 states do. The findings also demonstrate that while the scope of local laws may seem limited, their impact can be pretty significant.

Working caregivers shouldn’t end up unemployed because of their responsibilities at home–but the fact is that they sometimes do. While we may not be able to legislate employer attitudes, we can take responsibility for knowing our rights. Read the report here: “Entitled Caregivers as a Protected Class?: The Growth of State and Local Laws Prohibiting Family Responsibilities Discrimination.”

For more information about each local law collected in the survey, visit www.worklifelaw.org/pubs/LocalFRDLawsDetail.html.

Additional findings of the report can be found after the break.

  • The sizes and types of employers (whether public or private) covered by local FRD laws vary, but most apply to private employers, with some covering businesses as small as those with only one employee.
  • While the vast majority of states have no explicit protections against FRD, laws or regulations in Alaska, Connecticut, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia are the exceptions to the rule.
  • States including Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Oregon, and Pennsylvania have the most protections under local FRD laws, increasing the likelihood that a business or an employee in that state may be covered.

Local governments that have explicitly banned Family Responsibilities Discrimination also include:

• Tucson, Arizona • Atlanta, Georgia • Cook County, Chicago & Champaign, Illinois • Boston, Cambridge & Medford, Massachusetts • St. Paul, Minnesota • Kansas City, Missouri • Tacoma, Washington • Milwaukee, Wisconsin

*This post originally appeared in the SEIU Blog on December 17, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Kate Thomas is a blogger, web producer and new media coordinator at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a labor union with 2.1 million members in the healthcare, public and property service sectors. Kate’s passions include the progressive movement, the many wonders of the Internet and her job working for an organization that is helping to improve the lives of workers and fight for meaningful health care and labor law reform. Prior to working at SEIU, Katie worked for the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) as a communications/public relations coordinator and editor of AMSA’s newsletter appearing in The New Physician magazine.

What Will First Lady Michelle Obama's Work-Life Balance Efforts Look Like?

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

We have heard for some time that Michelle Obama’s pet concerns on the campaign trail, which she hoped to be able to continue while in the White House – and will indeed be able to after last week’s dramatic election finish for her husband, President-Elect Barack – are helping families create a healthy work/life balance and easing the struggles for military families.

It’s no wonder the former is an issue that’s close to Mrs. Obama’s heart.  This article from the UK-based Telegraph newspaper talks about her own work/life balance struggles, in three distinct phases of her life: while growing up on the South Side of Chicago and seeing an ailing father continue to work hard, and leave business matters at the office; while herself transitioning from the legal field to civic and community work after marrying Barack and having their two daughters, Malia and Sasha; and most recently while Barack was on the campaign trail.

Mrs. Obama even wrote a heartfelt essay on the topic of work/life balance last month on the popular BlogHer community of women bloggers.  Here’s how she spells out the plight for working women:

As we all know, our country is in the midst of a major economic crisis.  And we’re all feeling the effects.  …

And folks are feeling it at the workplace.  Because right now, thousands of women across the country don’t have family leave at their jobs.  And those who do can’t afford to take it because it’s not paid.  And 22 million working women don’t have a single paid sick day.

That’s just unacceptable.  Families shouldn’t be punished because someone gets sick or has an emergency.

This is from the employee perspective, but Obama’s cause has direct implications for small and midsize business leaders.  Morra Aarons-Mele, a graduate student specializing in women and leadership, framed this exceptionally well recently on The Huffington Post,

Why should we care about “work life” issues when our savings and retirement funds are literally halving by the day?  Because “work life,” as nondescript as it may sound, is the stuff that keeps American families afloat.  Work life refers to issues ranging from sick leave to health care to early education and child care.  It also encompasses flexibility and better work-life balance, which have strong effects on companies’ bottom lines and employee productivity.

So what would organizations’ employee engagement activities geared toward helping workers achieve a more harmonious balance look like – ideally – four or eight years from now?  Obama hinted at this during a plenary address she gave at our annual small business leadership conference two years ago, when she spoke about creating relationships between businesses and the community.

Community organizing didn’t just help Barack become President-Elect; it has also helped his wife use resources at her present employer, the University of Chicago (and later its Hospitals) to transcend both entities from simply a “name” in their neighborhood to a visible, tangible source of inspiration and assistance.

As we spelled out in our article summarizing her remarks at our event, Obama pointed to the creation of such initiatives as school “Principal-For-A-Day” and community fitness programs as ways to not only bring the University’s and Hospitals’ employees out in the open, but to better connect their passions to their work.

This model has been readily adopted, to great effect, by some of the firms we’ve since honored as Top Small Workplaces.  For instance, 2008 winner The Redwoods Group, an insurance provider for YMCAs and Jewish Community Organizations that’s based in North Carolina, requires its 100 employees to volunteer 40 hours of service annually to nonprofits.  A condition of their employment, the company argues this has contributed directly to their steady employee growth (27% over the last two years) – including the ability to recruit cost effectively – and industry-low turnover (less than 6% on average the last two years).

So one plausible – again, ideal – work/life balance scenario is the government serving an encouraging, perhaps advisory role in helping small business leaders adjust their employee engagement best practices so employees can focus their passions on helping their communities, while at the same time benefitting the organization through enhanced workplace team building and lower rates of absenteeism and presenteeism.

Do you concur?  Or do you see Obama’s work/life-related efforts playing out differently?

Cross posted at Winning Workplaces

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