Tag Archives: Work life balance

A trying time: whether and how to help your employees

There is a comic that I saw online of two people walking down the street, and one person was telling the other, “My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane.”

These headlines about police aggression and resulting retaliation are incredibly distressing, especially because social media provides a platform for people to wage keyboard wars over extreme positions. What can leadership do for employees during such tragic and sorrowful times? Should we do anything? Must we keep separate work and anything outside of work? Do we ignore the controversies swirling right outside our door and expect the employees to do the same?

You may not be able to push off deadlines or change company operations in any way, but here are some ideas to inject some sensitivity into your work environment.

  1. Acknowledge that it’s a stressful time.
    • Even the simplest gathering to acknowledge that it’s a tough and scary time can relieve some tension. Acting as if nothing is happening sometimes prevents people from releasing the burden of their own thoughts.
  2. Allow more breaks and time-outs for people to clear their heads and get back in the game.
    • Distracted employees will only introduce inefficiency and poor work quality. Let people clear their minds more often if they need to, and something as simple as taking walks outside might help employees dive back into their work with more focus.
  3. Do not make judgments on how employees decide to use their earned PTO.
    • Most companies have personal time off (PTO) as a benefit. Sometimes we need a mental health day to collect ourselves. Let your employees use their PTO benefit however they choose, with no judgments. It doesn’t have to be reserved for sickness or vacation. They earned it – they can determine when and how to use it.

We don’t have to compromise our business goals when dealing with external controversies, but a little sensitivity with our employees can go a long way.

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If I see one more irresponsible gender wage gap article, I’ll scream!

Link: These are the 30 office jobs with the biggest gender pay gaps

The link above is from Business Insider, but there are a ton more totally superficial, uninformed, and infuriating articles like it. (And from reputable sources. See Fortune, and USA Today, and Washington Post.)

Is there a reduction in income when women take time off to have kids? Sure! No one (I hope) debates that. But I’m not sure it’s such an awful thing. Articles use words with negative connotations, like motherhood “penalty” or “tax” to describe it, and some articles and organizations promote the idea that adjustments should be made to make up for the lost income. I don’t agree. If someone is paid appropriately for valuable contributions in a job, and that person takes time off and gives up experience and opportunity to do something else, I would not expect that person to be paid equally upon return to the work force. Simply put: value in = pay out.

Many oversimplify the issue by pointing to the woman who took five years off to raise kids and not work professionally at all during that time (which by the way, is probably rarer these days than people think given the economy and what it costs to raise a family). However, I think a large part of the gender wage gap explanation that isn’t discussed is about the woman simply choosing to work more flexibly (off hours, fewer hours) which translates to less pay. And that’s OK. I’m not sure that’s a “problem” that needs to be “fixed” as many (including President Obama in his State of the Union speech) argue.

Put it this way: If you asked me whether I would prefer (a) a job that will always pay exactly what my male colleagues get for valuable contributions but allows very little flexibility, or (b) a job that will pay for my valuable contributions but gives me all the flexibility I want, I will pick (b) every time. And I bet if you asked around, most women – especially moms – would do the same. And they do.

Gaps in pay are generally attributable to some common-sense factors, and these include things like experience, skills, educational background, standard of living where the job is, and risks involved with the job (hazard pay).

Beyond these factors, however, there is one other that helps to explain the gender wage gap that these frustrating articles never talk about: gender wage differences exist in jobs with the highest degree of what Claudia Goldin out of Harvard calls “temporal flexibility” – jobs in which women can control their hours more, still do valuable but scaled back work, opt out of certain traditional office hours in order to work off-line earlier or later, and so on. Goldin found that a lot of professional jobs where the wage gap exists do, in fact, allow for people to run individual practices or otherwise be self-employed, and it is in those types of professions where that temporal flexibility exists.

Here is a great interview with Goldin from Marketplace’s Freakonomics series:

http://freakonomics.com/podcast/the-true-story-of-the-gender-pay-gap-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/

The temporal flexibility concept is very hard to control for in studies and analytics because (1) the data collection systems do not account for it, and (2) it is difficult to define appropriate proxies in the existing data to try to account for it. Really, all I would like to see is the mere mention of this very real factor in the reporting of the “flat” income numbers that are thrown out by the media all the time!

 

Mommy Wars to the extreme

In Germany, the Mommy Wars are taking a turn for the worst.

Regretting motherhood’ debate rages in Germany

When the societal pressure to keep up a ridiculous standard of motherhood, in large part defined by men who are biologically incapable of having children, becomes the norm, something just isn’t right.

The notion that children’s well-being depends on their mothers and not on the society around them or their fathers, is deeply entrenched in Germany and creates real obstacles to women’s careers. … A mother who returns to the office without taking maternity leave for a year — or often three — opens herself up to being branded a “Rabenmutter” (raven mother) — women who dump their kids in childcare so they can pursue their personal goals.

Women regretting having children because they feel they can’t do it the way they see fit? It’s a sad day.

 

The “real” vacation

We are about midway through our family trip – it’s like every family road trip you’ve seen on TV and in the movies. Wild kids, exasperated adults, “Are we there yet?” when we’ve been driving for 30 minutes and have 3 hours left to go, crazy hot days tempered by swimming and more swimming in pools and at the lake, the too-many car stops along the way to look at and snap photos of the too-many uninteresting things just to get out of the stifling car where we are all getting on each other’s nerves, and cousins annoying each other and being best of friends in turns, while the adults yell pointlessly at them to settle down or don’t do that in between sips of beer or cocktails.

And it’s fantastic.

Lake Michigan sunset

Patience when on the road with inexperienced travelers

I travel for business. I have my TSA pre-check, my second set of toiletries that I just throw into a bag and go, my favored car service to and from the airport, etc. It is a beautiful thing, being prepared and having this travel thing down to a science.

And tomorrow, I will be traveling with a husband who only travels occasionally for vacation, and a 3-year-old. I’m already feeling my impatience pulsing through my veins, and we’re not even packed yet!

I’m trying to internalize the fact that a business trip is fundamentally different than a family trip, even the getting-there and coming-back parts.

No: priding myself on how closely in time I can make it to the gate before actual boarding occurs.
Yes: leaving enough time for the toddler to walk slowly and explore all the parts of the airport she will inevitably like to see.

No: throwing some travel-friendly stuff into a bag, and voila! Done.
Yes: thinking about kid gear, and helping my husband remember some things that infrequent travelers might be prone to forget.

No: zipping through the priority security lane.
Yes: going through the regular lane as a family.

That last one is a heartbreaker, but it’s important to my husband. I get it.

Patience, patience, patience!

“Just checking in on your sanity level.”

My coworker dropped by my office. He thought I was supposed to be on vacation.

I clarified with him that today is actually my last day in the office for 2 weeks, and I leave on vacation tomorrow. He said he wasn’t expecting me in, and he dropped by to check “on my sanity level.”

Translation: is work so burdensome that you must sacrifice some of your planned vacation?

What a fantastic coworker.

It prompted me to reflect that I felt like I started to be better at my job when I began to care more about the people than the firm. My first attempts at personnel management and professional development of others was, sad to say, a bungled attempt at times. It was because I tried to follow the party line, whatever my interpretation of that was.

As soon as I started to trust my instincts about what people needed, and listened to what people wanted, I felt I was able to find those ways in which both the individual and the firm could find common ground and be healthy. (Or, in the few occurrences in which that common ground could not be found, we were able to recognize it early, call a spade a spade, and move on with no hard feelings.)

My coworker reminded me that we can all look out for each other, even if we have goals for the firm that need to be met.

 

Embarking on a digital cleanse, and what it did for my life

Like many, I love my digital tools. I haven’t purchase a physical book in a very long time, and my e-reader and smartphone are my constant companions.

I read right before bed. It helps me get my mind away from the day’s stress. Naturally, I read from my bright Kindle. People advised that the bright digital light was not good for settling the brain and in fact, resulted in the opposite. I said, “That’s fine, but I actually don’t have a problem falling asleep when I read off my Kindle at night. I regularly fall asleep within 10-15 minutes, easy!”

After reading enough articles on the topic, and after suffering from terrible sleep for other unrelated reasons (hello, toddler!), I decided to take some of the advice of many experts in the field and put my digital tools away for a weekend, to see what happened. Here is what I did on my “digital cleanse”:

  1. Put all devices away after 8pm.
  2. No internet surfing or playing on apps or streaming videos at all.
  3. Check email once per day (!!) and send/receive only necessary calls and texts.

And holy hell… What. A. Huge. Difference.

Turns out, everything else being equal, I actually fall asleep almost immediately without opening up my Kindle. I have a Fitbit which I wear on my non-dominant wrist at night, so it captures my sleep patterns – when I’m awake, when I’m restless, when I’m asleep – so I can compare my digital cleanse time period with my pre-digital cleanse time period. Not only do I fall asleep faster, I am less restless during the course of the night.

This didn’t happen slowly over time. The effect was immediate, the very night I tried it for the first time.

Another observation during my weekend cleanse was how things played out before bedtime. Once the kiddo is down for the night, I usually get online, watch some streaming videos of my favorite shows… I figure, I’ve got another few hours before it’s time for me to go to sleep.

During the digital cleanse phase, I would pull out a “regular” book (my husband, a self-proclaimed Luddite, had a nice fiction book for me to read since I had no actual books to my name), and within 10 minutes of reading it, I was getting drowsy. It’s not because the book was boring (it wasn’t) but it was because my body so obviously needed to sleep earlier, and I was artificially forcing myself awake for hours every single night!

After my cleanse weekend, I went back to status quo Monday-Thursday the following week. It was an unmitigated disaster. My average sleep went from 7 hours and 45 minutes to just over 6 hours. Believe me, I felt it! I said, “Screw this!!!” and went back to my digital void after 8pm every night. Since then, my average nightly sleep has been 7 hours and 22 minutes. Every day this week, I’ve woken up before my alarm went off.

And did I mention I’ve been kicking ass at work as a result? Turns out being more efficient and effective during normal business hours means I don’t have to check email and write later at night. I can just totally unplug.

I’ve been eating better.

I’m less moody.

I’m … happier. All because of an extra 1-2 hours of sleep a night. Who knew?