No Such Thing As Work-Life Balance?

“There’s no such thing as work-life balance . . . There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences,” proclaims former General Electric Co. Chief Executive Jack Welch. The Wall Street Journal reported Mr. Welch’s comment made to the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference in New Orleans on June 28.climbing-ladder

Mr. Welch added that he knows the women who have reached the top of Archer Daniels, and of   DuPont, and that they’ve had “pretty straight careers.”

One female CEO quoted in the article commented that women can “take a couple of years off,” to raise children and still become CEOs. “But if you take a decade off, you probably aren’t going to make it to the top.”

None of these observations is particularly shocking. It’s not surprising that most current female CEOs have had “pretty straight careers.” Nor should it be a barn-stormer that someone who spends ten years out of the work-force—male or female—is unlikely to make it to the highest possible rung on the corporate ladder. I would expect that anyone who makes it to the CEO level has had to make tremendous sacrifices in their personal life to get there. Obviously, those who make it to CEO are a unique breed in many respects.

For anything short of CEO, however, to the extent “straight career” means full-time with no time out of the workforce whatsoever, one would hope companies are learning that’s not the only way to get from point A to B. When a woman takes time off or slows down her career for family reasons, it may take her longer to get to the top, but her cumulative experience should be what counts. Her path to get there—whether straight, jagged, or curvy—should not matter.

To read more posts on work-life balance, see:

Maybe It’s Not All Gloom and Doom for Work-Life Balance
Editor’s Note: A Moment for Reflection
Looking a Flexible-Schedule Gift Horse in the Mouth

Employee Theft Is More Common than You May Realize

theftNearly 60% of terminated or  laid off employees steal proprietary company data when leaving, says a new study released by the Ponemon Institute, an Arizona-based research company.  Most employees take hard copies or paper documents but they also admit to downloading and saving data and sending information as attachments to personal emails. Continue reading

Delaware Employers Face a Rising Obesity Rate*

apple, redDelaware has the 17th highest rate of adult obesity in the country, with more than one in four adults classified as obese, according to a new report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Employers bear many of the indirect costs of this obesity rate, including higher disability costs, more sick days, and increased workers’ compensation claims. The report indicated that Delaware’s obesity rate increased significantly in the past three years—a sign that current health and wellness policies aren’t cutting it. Continue reading

Maybe It’s Not All Gloom and Doom for Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance and its place in the current economy is a familiar topic to this blog (see “The “Sandwiched Generation”, Work-Life Balance Issues At Risk in the New Economy?, and Should Gen Y Abandon Any Hope for Work-Life Balance?).  Law 21, which describes itself as “Dispatches from a Legal Profession on the Brink” recently posted a well-written and thought-provoking blog on this topic, which concluded that “we’ll soon be closing the book on one of the legal profession’s most-work_life_balance_signused and least-understood phrases of the last decade: “work-life balance.””

Most commentators in this area seem to agree that—at least in the legal profession—any discussion or concern about Work-Life Balance is a thing of the past.  A past when the economy was good, attorneys were in great demand, and law firms competed for the best and brightest by offering whatever they could to attract them.  This included at least engaging in discussion of, the now-verboten Work-Life Balance topic.

Few would disagree that economy drives this discussion.  Law firms (or any employers, for that  matter) are never going to promote Work-Life Balance because of their generosity or genuine concern for the well-being of their employees. However, they will consider it when they believe it ultimately benefits their bottom line. In good economic times, some employers bought into the notion that promoting Work-Life Balance (or at least uttering the words during the hiring process) would make them competitive in recruiting the top candidates. And that retaining these qualified employees would also mean saving on the bottom line by not having to retrain new employees to replace those who might decide to leave the workplace as a result of inflexible work policies.

What is being overlooked in the current Gloom-And-Doom forecasts, however, is that “flexible” (or reduced) work-schedules can also benefit the employer’s bottom line in a very direct way. Typically, reduced or flexible schedule means reduced compensation.  In the legal world, reduced work-schedules means the attorney is “off,” or at least seriously derailed from, the partnership track. Nobody wants to share the partnership pie in these trying economic times for firms. The old model of law firms who desired associates willing to do whatever it takes, in exchange for partnership on a 7, 8, or 9-year track, is no longer such an appealing one.

At the same time that people are declaring the end of Work-Life Balance, law firms are delaying start dates for new associates, paying associates a portion of their salary to take a year off to spend time with their family or pursue non-profit endeavors, and some are even apparently considering reducing attorneys to four-day work-weeks.  While these employer-driven, sometimes mandatory reduced schedules with accompanying reduced pay is certainly not ideal for many, it beats the alternative (layoffs).  And in the end, it continues to redefine the “model” of the perfect lawyer.  When the economy begins to improve, I believe this rethinking of the old standard will help, not hurt, the Work-Life Balance cause.

Editor’s Note: A Moment for Reflection

Regular readers of the Delaware Employment Law Blog may have noticed the lack of postings in the last few weeks. The inactivity was not a result of my being too busy with client work, personal obligations, or vacation (fancy the thought). Instead, I have not being posting because I was recovering from a nasty case of pneumonia. For a little more than a week, I was rendered powerless by the illness, which has given me an opportunity to stop and think.

Continue reading

The Myth of Multitasking

We can’t do it all. At least not all at once, says the author of a new book, Rapt:  Attention and the Focused Life.  The book’s author, Winifred Gallagher proposes that multitasking really is a myth and says she has the science to prove it.  According to Gallagher, our brains have a finite processing capacity at any given time.  And once that limit is reached, you can pretend to “multitask” all you want but the reality is that your brain is only getting some of the stimulus you’re feeding it.  checklist with green pencil

She says this is especially true with sounds, which is why she carries earplugs for use in particularly noisy or busy public places.  The next time you’ve got Dateline on the kitchen television while cooking dinner and talking to your spouse, think about which of those three activities is really being given the attention you intend.

In an interview with the N.Y.T., Gallagher offers some practical advice for tackling the constant stream of information most of us face. 

She recommends starting your work day concentrating on your most important task for 90 minutes. At that point your prefrontal cortex probably needs a rest, and you can answer e-mail, return phone calls and sip caffeine (which does help attention) before focusing again. But until that first break, don’t get distracted by anything else, because it can take the brain 20 minutes to do the equivalent of rebooting after an interruption.

Of course, this would be so much easier if we didn’t have so much to do.  But, such is the delicate balance of single-tasking and still “getting things done.”

Caregiver Discrimination: The “Sandwiched Generation”

Big_kidEEOC issued Employer Best Practices for Workers With Caregiving Responsibilities, a technical-assistance guide, last week.  Caregiver or Family-Responsibilities Discrimination, according to the EEOC, occurs when an employer makes an adverse employment decision based on the employee’s care-giving responsibilities.  Because this type of discrimination is a derivative of gender discrimination, the basic premises begins with parents of young children.  But it extends in the opposite direction, as well, to employers whose own parents are the ones in need of caregiving.  This second category is the less commonly recognized of the two forms of discrimination.  But there is a third type, as well.  A  dual-income household where both caregivers are working and care not only for children, but also for aging parents, is known as a “sandwiched” home.  The sandwiched generation are those who are at a very fragile point, having responsibility for multiple generations. Continue reading

Job Sharing as an Alternative Work Option

Flexible work schedules come in every shape and size. Job sharing is just one type of work arrangement that offers employees flexibility and, in turn, the opportunity for an approved work-life balance. But what exactly is job sharing?  It’s just what sounds like–employees share job duties as a way to reduce each person’s job duties. Essentially, job sharing is a type of part-time work. It involves two or more workers who are responsible for the duties and tasks of one full-time position.

Some job shares are set up so that each employee handles specific duties.  Other job shares have a less formal division of duties. In either set up, the employees coordinate their schedules so that the regular “shift” is always covered.  When one job sharer is not working, the other is.  There is usually some overlap in scheduling to enable the sharers to communicate.  The division of time can be split evenly but any assignment can be successful.

The most basic requirement for potential job sharers is a well-honed sense of teamwork.  An employee who tends to be controlling of his or her duties may have difficulty in letting go of that control to another employee.  Communication skills also are critical.  The job sharers must be able not only to work well together, but also to be able to communicate when things are going well and when things are going not so well. 

Making It Work When You Work From Home

Telecommuting has been on the rise for several years. Worsening economic conditions have increased the telecommuting trend more than ever, as employers begin to take notice of its potential cost savings and reduced overhead.   Many employees, though, worry that they lack the discipline required to telecommute effectively.  Working from home does require discipline. It requires the employee to be aware of potential distractions that are not issues in the traditional workplace.  people father and son at dad's workplace

But there are strategies to make working from home work for you.  If your employer has asked you to consider telecommuting or if you recently started working from home, here are a few tips to help you succeed at telecommuting:

1.  Stick to a schedule

By scheduling break and meal times, you can prevent taking too many breaks during working time.  If you have a set schedule for lunch, you will be less inclined to take multiple trips to the fridge to “grab a snack.”  And when it’s time for a break, really take it.  This time to clear your head is critical to continued clarity during working hours.

2.  Dress for success

Don’t work in your pajamas.  Get dressed for work as you would if you actually had to leave the house to go to work. We are so susceptible to visual clues that we’d be kidding ourselves to pretend that we don’t act the way we look.  So dress the part–it will help you remember that you’re not on a vacation day but, instead, need to get down to business.

3.  Set the stage

A similar strategy is to create an office environment that is dedicated just to work.  And when work is done, leave the “office” and join the rest of the family in the rest of the house.  If you are able to have a separate room where you will work during the day, leave the room and close the door at quitting time and don’t return until the next day.  The purpose of telecommuting is not to meld your working and non-working times into a single, undistinguishable 24-hour cycle. Just because your office and your home share an address does not mean that you’re on call at all times. 

EEOC Issues “Employer Best Practices for Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities”

eeoc_3Employers, the EEOC issued a new technical assistance document yesterday, titled Employer Best Practices for Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities. This document supplements the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Enforcement Guidance: Unlawful Disparate Treatment of Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities, issued in May 2007. Continue reading