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Unifying the Work/Life Field — Kathie Lingle

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Kathie Lingle, an architect of change and  a leader in the Work Life field who led WorldatWork’s Alliance for Work-Life Progress (AWLP), was a member of the Conference Board’s Work-Life Leadership Council, for which she served as co-chair for several years, and who served as National Work-Life Director at KPMG.

Stew Friedman: How have things changed in the field of work/life?

Kathie Lingle: Kathie LingleWhen I started childcare was my field because the question was “who’s going to take care of all the kids of the women we’re hiring? We’re not in that biz.”  Now it’s morphed into something other than childcare – eldercare, the sandwich generation. We are now focused on new ways of doing work, workplace flexibility, not just childcare. Now it’s not just childcare and it’s not just about women. The power tool of the work/life field is flexibility, because the more flex-work options the business has the better they do financially.

SF: Better productivity?  Better retention?

KL: Yes, retention, productivity and engagement. Engagement came later though, initially it was called commitment. At the Alliance for Work Life Progress (AWLP) we called it a work/life portfolio of assets which includes health and wellness programs and policies, paid and unpaid time off, corporate culture.  If you invest in all these parts of the portfolio, you don’t just keep employees but it’s also excellent for bottom line.

SF: So, work/life policies provide a competitive advantage?

KL: Yes, companies are falling all over themselves to be named “employers of choice.” It’s not for fun and games, but to be attractive to prospective employees, to retain talent, to engage employees and ultimately to make money.

SF: You see this sentiment all over college campuses and employment boards.  People are talking about doing well by doing good.

KL: In the last five years universities are leading the charge. At our recent work/life forum, Stew, you were speaker, a university won our best in class; Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.  They were working their entire portfolio.  They had lots of policies. They understood that work/life is holistic; it’s about connecting the dots between one thing and another.  Some examples of their policies: giving money to employees to help them buy a home; providing job security; providing health and financial packages.

SF: What has changed and next wave of innovation?

KL:  We started wtih childcare as women entered workforce and need for care for their kids. So smart employers who want to attract, retain, and engage employees now use eldercare/dependent care, flex-options, community involvement, as well as programs that help provide caregiving for the caregiver – the sandwiched generation.  They provide affinity groups and financial support for workers who are pressured from both ends – caring for children and for parents.

SF: It seems as though the scope of the field has expanded, so what about competence in area of Human Resources and Work/Life?

KL: AWLP (founded 1996) had promised Work/Life certification from 1996 — exams, standards, minimum threshold of competencies. We have created a certification with real certification, with letters and designation. We felt as though we were building the airplane while flying. But inside HR associations, HR is not always Work/Life’s best friend. Within an organization there’s siloing and different HR functions (compensation, benefits, diversity, work/life, employee relations) and they are all different. Compensation and benefits operate behind doors and they are still bigger. The different functions are siloed and not pulled together in most effective way to get job done.

SF: What’s the biggest obstacle to getting everyone to pull together toward a shared goal?

KL: Mindset. Set of beliefs that lead to knee jerk reactions and statements such as “that’s the way things are done here.”

SF: What can be done to shift a mindset?

KL: One of the biggest elephants in room is that we haven’t cracked this code of overwhelmed so health and wellness is a big category. Our nation spends so much on healthcare and we’re getting too little bang for the buck. We are killing ourselves at work. We need to shift from teaching people to play the piano to teaching people about the language of music. We need to go from implementing flex work arrangements  to greater autonomy. Flex arrangements are tool whereas maximizing autonomy is the goal. We need to get to the point where I get what I need and so does my company. Universities are doing great job with career flexibility, but corporations are not. Corporations are obsessed with get “Mary” in at 10 AM so she can get home at 4 PM; they’re obsessed with scheduling. People need autonomy. The question is: Do I have all I need to get my work done from the top and from my colleagues.

SF: What are the most important levers for producing change?

KL:  We need to get into mindset of the leaders. This stuff is not really foreign to them.  Leaders have lots of flexibility themselves. They think they’re athletes, so talk to them in a language they understand — driving the firm, hitting the top of your game, winning, leading.

Kathie Lingle led WorldatWork’s Alliance for Work-Life Progress (AWLP) and has been a member of the Conference Board’s Work-Life Leadership Council, for which she served as co-chair for several years.  She directed AWLP’s Strategy Board for a dozen years and is a former member of the steering commitee of the Boston College Work-Life Roundtable. Prior to joining WorldatWork, she served as National Work-Life Director at KPMG LLP, where she was the primary architect of KPMG’s Work Environment Initiative, a multi-year culture change effort that continues to evolve.  To learn more,  follow her on Twitter: @WorldatWork @kathielingle


Join Work and Life next Tuesday, at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

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