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Myths of Aging and the Workplace with Sarah Kagan

Sarah H. Kagan is the Lucy Walker Honorary Term Professor of Gerontological Nursing at Penn, Gerontological Clinical Nurse Specialist in the Living Well Program at the Joan Karnell Cancer Center – Pennsylvania Hospital. She’s Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Older People Nursing.   She is the recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship.  She spoke with Stew Friedman on his Wharton Sirius XM radio show Work and Life about aging, work and retirement.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Sarah Kagan: Sarah KaganI almost could not hold myself back when you asked listeners, “Are you aging? One of things I always like to start with is we’ve got to remember that aging isn’t an us/them thing, we’re all aging – biologically, psychologically, and socially – from the time we’re born. We call it development when we’re babies, but that’s an aging process.

Stewart Friedman: Sarah, are you saying there’s a bias about aging?

SK: If you’re talking about development across our lives, where we call it development when we’re young but aging when we reach some mythical point, that mythical point is a big topic for debate. Or, if we’re talking about how our careers will proceed, recognizing retirement is just a horrible idea for our health and wellbeing, and not so great for workforces because if we push older workers out, we tend to deplete the workforce of wisdom and experience.

SF: Why is retirement a horrible idea?

SK: When I talk about retirement, I talk about that mid-20th-century notion that “I’ve had my working life, I’m going to kick back and relax.” The minute you kick back and relax, you generally lose purpose and motivation and a lot of health problems actually start cropping up.  People think, “I’m so glad I retired,” but, in fact, it’s probably related to the stress of not working.  And then you have the issues of not having meaning, not having purpose, and not finding that balance and harmony.

SF: If work provides meaning and a sense of purpose and structure to one’s life, then it’s unwise to give it up as you get older even though you may have less energy and less stamina?

SK: I think there’s a bias in the idea that you lose energy and you lose stamina. Typically, what we’re finding is there are lots of studies pointing not to loss of stamina, loss of energy, loss of endurance, but rather that we’re not maintaining physical and mental health and wellbeing as we get into our seventh, eighth, and ninth decades of life. If we return to fitness, we find energy resurgence.  We find that stamina can be built over time.  I say to people, don’t think about a single career anymore. If your life expectancy at age 65 is another 20 years, do you really want to say ‘well, what lies ahead of me for these next two decades?’ That’s a lot of time, I’d suggest ‘where do I want to go next, what’s my next career, the next phase of my working life?’

SF: Do you think it’s a bad idea for companies to have retirement policies that require people to depart at a certain age?

SK: Being a nurse and not a businessperson, I’ll say yes. I really don’t think that makes a lot of sense if you think about mandatory retirement ages as opposed to different career options.  Someone with a particular set of experience or a specialized expertise can go on and do something that was different from what they’ve been doing for the past 40 years. It gives the company opportunities with a workforce that I think is much more robust.

SF: More robust than generally given credit for, is that what you mean?

SK: Absolutely, because if you think about our ageist assumptions about stamina and energy in later life, what we tend to think is that older workers are not terribly productive, but there’s a whole lot of science that says exactly the opposite.

SF: You’re saying as people age they become more productive?

SK: They become more productive or differentially productive. Depending on which industry you’re talking about and I’m not an expert on retirement, I tend to say to look at this science that suggests folks are contributing differently as they grow in their careers as they age.

SF: Sarah, you write a column called The Myths of Aging. What are the biggest myths?

SK: You’ve hit on one of them, which is it’s basically a process of physical decline. You’re going to lose strength, you’re going to lose energy, you’re going to lose endurance, but we have perhaps an even more pervasive myth that your mind will go, that you’ll become a dotty old person. How often had you had colleagues or acquaintances talk about a senior moment when they forget something? That longer processing time that many of us notice as we’re getting older is more akin to your computer’s memory being really full than it is about the health of your brain. It’s essentially that the older you are, the greater your fund of knowledge and the more time it takes to sort through the possible correct answers for what the question is, than it is a problem of brain function.

SF: And processing capacity, it doesn’t slow down with age like muscles and neurological connections in your brain?

SK: You can’t say that globally, mental function declines with age. There are certain changes that we notice. Slowed processing time is one of them, but it’s probably related to something that’s much more positive. The older you get, the more you know. You know too much, it’s going to take time to think through things. That’s not a deficit.

SF: No, especially when you have more wisdom and reason to consider all the different perspectives on an issue. When I think of a senior moment, I think of forgetfulness.

SK: Forgetfulness is typically more an issue of overload and multitasking. You know better than I the science that says multitasking doesn’t work well. It slows you down, it’s poor for production, and it degrades your sense of feeling good about yourself. There are lots of reasons not to multitask, chief among them it will be easier to remember where you put your car keys fi you’re not multitasking when you put them down at the end of the day.

SF: Of course, one thing at a time. We talk about that on this show, the myth of multitasking and how the brain really does only one thing at once and how costly it is to shift from one thing to another. Aren’t those costs greater for people who are older? I find that my short-term memory is not as sharp at age 63. I have a thought of something I want to do, like here’s a person I want to call. I go ahead and finish washing the dishes. And then when I finish washing the dishes, I know that there was something important I wanted to do before I started washing the dishes, but because I didn’t record it on my list, I don’t remember what it was!

SK: I do hear that from a lot of folks. Without getting into specifics of the neuroscience, that’s probably pretty normal. It is to some extent an age-related change and for any neuroscientists out there who study aging, forgive me because I’m treading into territory that’s not my specific expertise. One of the things that we don’t have definitive science about is comparing your 30-year-old self and what you were doing, the responsibilities you had, all the things that were going on in your life with where the 63-year-old Stew is, and how the competing demands on your brain’s energy are taxing you in that particular moment. While we’re more likely to say what was that I wanted to do next, more often as we age, that doesn’t seem to be pathological. There are specific indicators that you should consider when you do question if you have a brain problem, and those are easily located. My favorite resource for determining if you should check it out is the Alzheimer’s Association. I think their website is really fabulous and they have great resources, both for people who have questions about if one’s aging brain is healthy and for people who are dealing with dementia, and many families are. Many sandwiched daughters and sons are dealing with just that. It helps to answer those questions. If you’re worried about that, they have some great resources. I will also say on the flip side of that, try not to listen to the ad-hoc anecdotes. Those kinds of personal experiences, as well meaning as they are, tend to do something that I think distracts from our health and well-being as we age and that is they add to the list of things that we get stressed about. If you have a worry list about what to get stressed about as you get older, one of the first things I’d say to you is stress is probably not good as you’re aging and that includes digital stress, which is why I really love the idea of digital detox. Don’t sleep with the phone, folks. Turn the TV and the music off. Take the earbuds out and just be quiet. No matter what age you are, it’s really good.

SF: What are some more prevailing myths that are pernicious and destructive?

SK: This is particularly true for people who are health-conscious: if I don’t eat exactly right and exercise exactly this way, I will probably age really badly. Moderation, harmony, and balance are good in work and life. They’re even better in exercise and nutrition. Keeping your body in motion, eating a healthy diet that is not extreme and that you enjoy is a terrific idea. Food should be something that is really good. If you’ve ever had a loved one in the hospital or a nursing home and they’ve been given a nutritional supplement to drink and said blegh, folks will take the supplement and the taste is not there. People are supposed to enjoy food and not see it as work and medicine.

SF: One of the myths is that you need to be upgrading your diet. Reducing stress is a much more important goal.

SK: Taking stressors out of your life is so important. And that connects with a myth that as you get older you become socially isolated and feel lonelier and lonelier. What we know is that as we age, rewarding social connections make a huge difference, and that’s one of the reasons work is so important in later life.

SF: To stay connected to other people through the connections we have at work. What is the correct way to talk about people who are older? Is it senior citizens, elders, wise people? What do you say?

SK: My favorite one is people. PBS Next Avenue had a poll on this, and I had not checked their results about what was the favorite term. Depending on which audience I’m with, I’ll say elder or older person.  I’m talking about people 75 or older, and some prefer seniors. I’ll commonly ask which term the person likes. I don’t know how it’s going to look in 30 years. I think that while we speak about children and adolescents and now young or emerging adults, we do that with a particular eye toward capacity and encouragement. You’re going to grow into this. I’d like to think that we could have the same kind of notion that you’ll grow into the next stage of your later life in a positive way.

SF: Expansively rather than in a declining way. How do we do that? As a child of aging parents, how do I do that? As a boss in an organization where I have older people working for me, what are the kinds of things to make sure I say so I can be speaking expansively rather than decliningly about people growing older?

SK: Let’s start personally, because I think one of the best ways to connect with our own invisible ageism is to recognize when and where we do it. My mom’s 83 and I’m 30 years younger than she is. I’m pleased to say that she survived cancer, a stroke, and two hip replacements. She lives by herself as a widow of several years in rural Michigan with two dogs. She volunteers three days a week, drives herself, everything’s honky dory, and by that I mean my mom’s living a life that she loves. Part of what I’ve had to remember is there are times when people say to me, How can you bear to live hundreds of miles away from your mom?” My mother would be the first to say, “I’d rather be dead than live with you, you’re such a bossy nurse.” My mother, when she had her first hip replacement, fired me as her nurse. She said, “It’s alright dear, you have a lot of work to do in Pennsylvania.”

SF: It sounds as though your mom is doing well. What can others, individuals do?

SK: This idea that people are having to create their own paths through a maze of health and social care isn’t really working well for anyone. For anyone who’s interested in advocacy, business, and health policy in particular, we’ve really got to see shifts in how we’re thinking about things. We’re a society that separates healthcare and social care. For example, if mom needs a homemaker a few hours a week, you’ve got to pay for that privately unless you’re very impoverished. That’s a tough situation to be in because many of us actually need some help at home. We also are seeing increasing concerns about how far should I go and how far should I plan for the kind of care I need if I’m truly very ill toward the end of my life. People have a lot of anxiety and don’t feel comfortable in many cases speaking with their physicians and nurse practitioners about what’s possible and what they want.

SF: These are questions that you need to bring to your representatives so they can produce the kind of social policy that’s going to provide the support that people need. We’ve got Monroe calling from Washington, D.C. Monroe, welcome to the show. How can we help you?

Monroe: I have a suggestion for how to refer to older people. In IT, when you’re dealing with an older system, we call those legacies. We could call them legacy people, legacy employees.

SF: We’re nodding are heads here, that’s interesting. But legacy systems have already outlived their usefulness, correct?

Monroe: One of the things I wanted to tie into what she was saying about looking into all the options, it is hard. I’m 40 years old and I’m at that age where there are people whose parents are starting to pass. Between 40 and 50 years old, many parents are 70 or 80. You’re viewing this and for those who try to be there for their mom or dad, sometimes as they get older they start to revert and become children themselves. We’re talking about maybe looking at a care home as an option or in-home care, which is a big business nowadays, that’s expensive. There are so many ways this conversation could go. With all the ways the conversation could go, I’d love to know the family unit in the USA and how if there was a stronger family unit, how all of these different nuances and complications would come down to nothingness?

SF: It’s different around the world. Monroe, let me jump in here and ask Professor Kagan to see if she could respond to how the family unit has evolved in America and what problems that’s creating and how there is opportunity to change to strengthen the family unit across generations.

SK: The question is one that I hear very often, and I hear it in a lot of different places. I teach for the University of Pennsylvania in Hong Kong every year.  We have a lot of national caregiving data that shows that most families actually do care for their own. When we’re thinking about people in nursing homes, for the most part people are living in nursing homes or in other institutions in later life primarily because they’ve outlived everybody else. Occasionally, it’s because they didn’t have a strong family or social network. Recognize that only about three or four percent of our older American population, that is people over 65, are living in an institution at any given time. That number shifts a lot because folks will go into a skilled nursing facility after surgery for example, but it’s important to recognize that most families are actually doing most of the care for older people.  We’re seeing big trends in older people actually caring for other family members. We have reached a peak in the number of grandparents who are actually providing primary care to children in their families.

SF: More and more grandparents are being called upon because with dual-earner families, where you have both mom and dad working, who’s going to care for the kids? Without sufficient childcare being provided by either the private sector or the public sector, who’s there? Grandma and grandpa. How’s that playing out?

SK: It’s playing out in lots of ways that are related to overall level of family income, because a number of older people, folks in the silent and mature generations, lost a lot of retirement income in the economic downturn. The mature generation are those who fought in World War II or are of that age. The silent generation or the greatest generation were just after them, the folks who were children and remember World War II and the Depression pretty vividly but were not old enough to fight. They probably were in the Korean War. Those are generations of people who got hit hard by the economic downturn in 2007-2008. They’ve often had to return to work, not out of choice but because they’ve had to financially. Now they have these competing demands. That can take a toll on their health as they’re trying to take care of the grandkids and then all of the sudden I’ve got to keep working at least part-time.  Then when am I going to find time to take care of myself? We see that with sandwiched daughters as well, who will make choices to care for others rather than caring for themselves first.

SF: Of course, you can’t care for other people if you’re not healthy yourself. Put that mask on in the airplane before helping the people who need air around you. What advice do you have for families where the grandparents are primary caregivers?

SK: I like to encourage people to think creatively. Most of these families are relying on that economic foundation to ensure that everybody is taken care of, but getting together for a family conclave or a family meeting is often a good strategy to check in. Don’t make it a let’s not talk to each other in a big way until there’s a crisis, but let’s try to do some proactive planning. That means don’t imagine that you can have a one-and-done conversation when things get tough. Keep talking to each other, keep the lines of communication open. Say the stuff that’s difficult like, Thanks, mom. I couldn’t work without you taking care of the kids, but I want to know is there something I can do for you?Those kinds of simple statements can be very helpful.

SF: If you have a question about how to enlist your parents as sources of childcare and sustain them in that role — if you’re a single parent or a parent in a family where both parents are working and you want your parents to be a part of your own children’s lives — what can you do to make sure that the cross-generational source of support from your parents to your kids works? That’s an increasingly important aspect of success in our business world as more and more couples are both working parents.

SK: I’ll tie it back to being heavily-scheduled or over-scheduled and relying on lots of technology. Texting to organize things, particularly if you have a parent who, as a caregiver for your kids, is cool with texting, those are terrific opportunities. But one of the things to think about is that having your parents and your kids spend time together is an unmissable opportunity. Maybe the ballet lessons go, or the second baseball team or the traveling basketball team are things you say no to for a time because your kids are going to have an experience with your parents that they’re going to remember for the rest of their lives.

SF: That’s great advice. What else should people know as they’re trying to work through this, because I have heard, at least very recently, of one family where the grandmother and grandfather aren’t doing a good enough job with the child? What do you do in that situation? You want to sustain that relationship, but you don’t want it to go sour?


SK: So grandma and grandpa are finding that their schedules are too busy.

SF: It’s not as much that they’re unavailable, it’s more that the grandparents are not managing the child’s behavior in the way that the parents would want.

SK: There are a number of varying situational pieces there. What are the finances? What are the options for after-school care and other stuff? How do you sit down with your parents and say look, my daughter just loves spending time with her grandparents. She’s more your granddaughter than she is my daughter sometimes and I’m getting comfortable with that because I know that spending time with you is very important to who she is as a person. But, I also recognize that you have lives that are really important to you, so what do you think we can do here? I think that we forget that intergenerational communication is like any other conversation and negotiation. If you’re asking your parents to do something for you at the age of 45, you can’t go with the ageist assumption come on, you retired five years ago, what could be so important? Your parents and you have always been juggling your own needs as individuals. Aging doesn’t change that.

SF: I want to shift gears a bit here. Back to the workplace, what can companies do to create the kind of culture of respect for not just people who are growing older, but for those who care for them?

SK: I think that’s a critical question for us today because too often business has been, as the product of larger society, okay with implicit or even explicit ageism, stuff that says younger is better. I’ve spoken with people in different industries about what ageism is and how and when it happens in their industry and I’ve heard lots of different permutations of specific ages, particular tasks, and technologic currency. My first step is to unpack, to reflect, and then to say if I take an explicitly purposeful, positive approach like that expansive approach you mentioned earlier, what do I actually see. If I force myself to turn around from the assumption that aging means decline and incapacity and say what is it that the oldest people I know give, do, share, just list them and put it down, I think what you’ll find is you’ll discover things that weren’t readily apparent.

SF: What type of things will typically emerge from a conversation like that?

SK: Typically, I hear things like you’re right, because I have a friend in her nineties who’s taught me to be much more patient and in being more patient I’ve seen options in a work task that I hadn’t seen before. Sometimes I hear the older members of our team really set a tone for civility and inclusiveness. I find that many millennials have friends in the mature and silent generations. I hear, increasingly from my students at Penn Nursing, that they’ve grown up with people who are in their tenth and eleventh decades of life, so they see that as normal.

SF: That’s interesting. So how does that shape the attitudes of young people towards older people, who are going to be more common in the workplace? There was a piece in the Wall Street Journal which was about how older women are reshaping the US job market. In 1992, one in 12 women worked past the age of 65. That number is now one in seven. With millennials being more accustomed to relating to people who are older, how do you see these demographic shifts playing out?

SK: What I hear from many millennials is they’re just people. I grew up with my grandmother, I don’t think that age is a really big issue. I think that millennials are probably downplaying categories and are very interested in relationships. In fact, I’m working with my two Nursing Benjamin Franklin Scholars seniors (elite students at the University of Pennsylvania) and they’re doing a great job looking at intergenerational values in nursing and healthcare, surveying all of our students. What they have been talking with me about is that their generation is commonly misjudged as not being terribly serious, perhaps being flighty or going from job to job, but what they’ve emphasized to me is that they’re looking for sustaining and valued relationships in workplaces. That’s something that fits really well with an aging demographic.

SF: What can companies do to make those connections more active, alive, and mutually enriching?

SK: Think about the idea that in general, we don’t put age in our diversity plan. I think that age and generation should be in our diversity plan.

SF: It is for some companies, diversity and inclusion includes intergenerational.

SK: I look explicitly at partnering youngest generations with oldest generations seeing value. Typically, I stay away from these streams but I would like to see us put millennials together with matures and silents much more often because they’re going to offer innovation that the midrange doesn’t really see.

SF: Well there’s an idea for you if you are in some way influential in your organization and thinking of ways to create connections among people in your organization that aren’t obvious, linking the young and the old in ways that are mutually beneficial is something to consider. Professor Kagan suggests you’ll see benefits such as a more inclusive environment and more innovation. Sarah, what do you want to leave our listeners with in terms of the most important message?

SK: I’d like to encourage people to embrace aging, to stop thinking about aging as an us/them thing. The joke is that old is 10 years older than I am right now. We all hope to live a long, productive, and happy life, but in order to do that what we should consider is we’ll have to confront the internal ageism we have, that self-stereotyping that is probably an unaddressed fear of our future self. Love your future self, if that’s not too corny, and say how am I going to get to know you a little better. That will help you plan, that will help you be. Meditate, be peaceful, and avoid the crisis approach to oh my god, I’m old. What am I going to do now? I don’t know what to do —  whether it’s with my old eyes, my aging brain, or my tired body. Try to think about liking your older self and who you would like your older self to be.

SF: That is a wonderful piece of wisdom that I will certainly take to heart because it’s not the way I usually think. I could see how that bias is one that’s probably pretty common. People fear death as it gets closer.

SK: Yeah, and I think they fear that period that they imagine to be just before death, but if we spend just a little time then we might not be as fearful and we might be able to imagine what it is we do and don’t want.

To hear more from Professor Sarah Kagan and aging follow her on Twitter @SarahHKagan.

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 Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 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).

Syd Finkelstein’s Superbosses: Investing in People

Contributor: Jacob Adler

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 Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 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).

Sydney Finkelstein, Steven Roth Professor of Management at Dartmouth College and author of Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent. He spoke with Stew about how to invest in people and nurture talent.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation. Here’s the full interview.


Stewart Friedman: What separates good bosses from the best bosses from the superbosses?

Sydney Finkelstein: Syd FinkelsteinGood bosses will do some of the same things as a superboss, but superbosses will do everything more intensely. For example, mentoring is a well-known idea. If you have a good boss, they’ll give you some advice and help you navigate the organizational system. But superbosses are super mentors, mentors on steroids. They’re always engaged, always interacting with you.  And they do more things in a more intense way and also do some stuff that very few good bosses do.

Stewart Friedman: What is it that separates what you refer to as the superbosses from merely good bosses?

Sydney Finkelstein: There are a bunch of things and one is apprenticeship. That’s the way everyone learned their craft for centuries but its gone by the wayside over the past 100 years. What superbosses have done is resurrect the old apprenticeship model where you’re rolling up your sleeves and working with people on your team, you’re engaged with them closely, you’re not quite going as far as micromanaging, but you’re also not afraid to get in the trenches with them. You’re a teacher, you’re a coach, and it’s like the master/apprentice relationship. That’s something that’s maybe not as common as we’d like to see it, but superbosses certainly do that. One other thing that is a big highlight of what they do is they are big-time innovators. They innovate in their business work, whether it’s George Lucas with digital technology for film, whether it’s a Ralph Lauren in fashion and his innovations redefining what the lifetime of fashion could be, or Julian Robertson in hedge funds, they are big-time innovators in their business and how they think about people. I think that’s combination that’s pretty impressive and one we can learn from.

Stewart Friedman: You’re saying innovators, in terms of how they deal with people, lead them, cultivate them, in what ways are they innovative?

Sydney Finkelstein: One is how they find talent. Most companies have a model in place, and the model is let’s identify what we need, come up with a job description, and go through lots of resumes and interviewing and pick the person who checks the most boxes and is the most impressive in that process. It’s not that superbosses will never do that. In a large company, you have to do that for some of these norms. But superbosses do something different, which is they’re willing to create a job for someone who they think is the right person, and I know the shuddering that’s going on in the HR community hearing that, but that’s what they do. They’re willing to create the job, and there are a lot of good stories from Ralph Lauren finding a woman at a restaurant and getting excited about how she was getting dressed and thought about clothes. Next thing you know, he’s offering her a job. For Bill Walsh, the former San Francisco 49ers head coach, who really gave birth to many of the head coaches in the NFL and how he thought about drafting. He would create opportunities for people that wouldn’t fit the mold of what most people are looking at.

Stewart Friedman: The priority is given to potential for the expression of a unique talent rather than the fit in a particular role that’s already existing, is that right?

Sydney Finkelstein: That’s exactly right. They’re looking for people that have that flexibility. I call it extreme flexibility, that’s one of the things they care about because they want to move people in different jobs and they want to create opportunities for people.

Stewart Friedman: How did you identify this category of people? Who fit the description and how did you go about doing this research?

Sydney Finkelstein: I started off with an observation of something I thought was interesting. I’m a foodie and I’m into high-end restaurants, and there happens to be a place called Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. Alice Waters, what has she done? She’s reinvented the farm-to-table, local-food-sourcing of quality ingredients, everything revolving around the ingredients. It turns out that so many of the people that worked for her, went through that restaurant and became big names in the restaurant business themselves. I saw that, observed that, and said that’s interesting. I wonder if it’s true in another industry where there’s one person or a small number of people that have this outsized influence in the development of talent. That’s when I went to the NFL, because I like that as well, and it didn’t take long to realize it was Bill Walsh. The NFL is a good example because that’s an industry where you can measure very precisely, out of the 32 head coaches in a season, fully 20 of them were either working directly or indirectly for Bill Walsh. Then I thought to look at some other industries. I went from advertising, to hedge funds, to consumer packaged goods, to American comedy and fashion, and it wasn’t hard to find — by talking to a lot of people and doing a deep dive to what was going on in the industry — the one or two people that have this outsized influence on the development in a generation of talent.

Stewart Friedman: That was the criteria for selection, people who have had a huge impact on their field through the growth of talent in that field. Now that everybody understands how you chose these people, you then looked at what they do to have this outsized impact on the growth of talent in their field. Apprenticeships and creating roles for people to enable them to express their unique talents; I’m curious is there something that superbosses do that particularly invests in the person as a whole human being?

Sydney Finkelstein: I don’t know if it would be the same way that your work might indicate, but I’ll tell you a couple of ways I think that happens. Number one, people that work for superbosses are really engaged in the job, you know employee engagement scores are a disaster everywhere.  Superbosses create jobs where individuals can actually have an impact. They know that they’re important, as everybody’s important, and that’s a powerful thing in your life, to have that feeling. I know it’s one of the biggest motivators. That’s part of what superbosses do. The other thing they do is that they are in many cases even willing to help you move forward in your career, not just working for them but going outside of that team to another part of the company or another organization entirely. That’s a bit unusual, that you would groom talent. The subtitle of the book is mastering the flow of talent, so not just people coming in, not just what you do with them when they’re part of your team, but what you do as they move out, and in some cases, help them move out. It’s very counter-intuitive, but if you think about what’s really important for an individual, most individuals don’t want to perform for Mr./Ms. X for the rest of their life, they want to fulfill their own potential. That’s what the superbosses enable them to.

Stewart Friedman: I was an executive at Ford Motor Company for a few years from 1999-2001 as head of leadership development. I hired a lot of people in that role, and one of the critical elements of my interviews, and I did hundreds of interviews with people, was to explore what they would want to do next, what would success look like in their next job following their stint working in my shop. It’s question that many of them had not been asked before, but I really tried to make it a point of focus with the people who came to work for me that they would leave their time with me in a better role following that experience. The more I made that an explicit part of that hiring practice, the more the other people wanted to work for me.

Sydney Finkelstein: You’re right, and the term I use in the book, talent magnet, describes just what you’re talking about.

Stewart Friedman: It’s not that hard to do, and it’s actually a lot of fun. I know our listeners are eager to find out what can I do to enhance my capacity as a boss so I can have a bigger impact on the world through the legacy that I create through the people that I cultivate. What can people do?

Sydney Finkelstein: Everything that superbosses do is teachable and learnable, it’s not rocket science. It takes a lot of work. You don’t become Ralph Lauren or George Lucas overnight; there’s a lot you have to do. But if you’re willing to do it, it’s all possible.  I try to talk a lot about what specific steps you can take, even from what we talked about earlier about hiring somebody. You have your old method of hiring, but how about just experimenting and hiring one person, going out of your way to find somebody where you find the person before you find the job and back them into it. The sky’s not going to fall when you do it, and you’re going to begin that process of just opening your brain and mind to the possibility of finding talent in all other places. I think there are some really specific things as well that go far beyond that. I would look at your calendar. We’re so scripted these days, people have so many meetings and those meetings are killers. I don’t understand why we put ourselves through that in a job with so many meetings. Push yourself out of that world. Of course, it’s not going to disappear, but leave time for much more unstructured interaction where you arrive unannounced at the desk or cubicle of someone on your team and dedicate 30 minutes or an hour and digging in with him/her exactly what they’re doing. You push them and you challenge them and coach them and help them think about it a little differently, and certainly you enable them to learn from your own experience. It’s a little thing, but it actually makes a big difference.

Stewart Friedman: You can actually do it in smaller chunks. It doesn’t have to be a full hour or half-hour, or even 20 minutes. In 10 minutes or even five, you can have an interaction that really touches people and demonstrates to them your interest in their development. Right?

Sydney Finkelstein: You really could. How hard is that to do in the scheme of things? It’s only hard if we allow ourselves to adopt this idea that I’m so busy, I’m running here and doing this and that. We push that on ourselves, we constrain ourselves in so many ways, and I think that’s a mistake. Superbosses are looking for those opportunities. I also think we should think about how accessible we make it. How are the barriers that we’re putting in front of us that we might not know that make it difficult for people on our team to interact with us? There are a remarkable number of superbosses who place their desks, not in an office, not in a corner office, but in an open area where anyone can reach them at any time. It’s a symbolic thing, but it’s meaningful. You definitely can do that.

Stewart Friedman: I wanted to ask you whether superbosses are always nice. Is it possible to be a superboss who is scary or can infuse a work environment with a sense of fear while still holding people to really high standards and pushing them far?

Sydney Finkelstein: It’s a good question, because being a superboss doesn’t mean you’re a soft touch. The definition of a superboss is someone who helps other people get better and creates talent. There are a lot of ways to do that. While the superboss playbook, if you will, is very similar in terms of apprenticeship, innovation, and finding talent, the style does vary. In the book, I actually talk about three different styles, including one that is called the glorious bastard. It’s the manager, the Larry Ellison type, that personality that we’re familiar with now, they are really tough. They’re not exactly the happiest places to work, so it’s not for everyone, but if you can handle it, and you can absorb the learning that’s going on, the hyper-intense environment, then the opportunities are gigantic. You look at the legacy of a Larry Ellison, all the people that work for him from Mark Benioff, who now runs Salesforce.com, to lots of others, but it’s not an easy thing to do for those types of people.

Stewart Friedman: I wonder if there are lessons that you drew, whether in the book or just your own life about cultivating talent as a superboss and being a parent. Do you see any parallels?

Sydney Finkelstein: I found the more I got into the superboss world, the more you see that it applies to everything. In this case, I actually dedicated the book to my own mother and I called her the first superboss I ever had.

Stewart Friedman: What made her a superboss?

Sydney Finkelstein: For that you’re going to have to give me several hours on the phone. Certainly high expectations, but you just knew that this was someone that had your best interests at heart and wanted you to be successful but also was not going to just let you linger, was going to open a door to a world and say there’s nothing you can’t do. That turns out not to be true. I’m not an Olympic athlete, I never made the Montreal Canadiens hockey team.

Stewart Friedman: Is that what she wanted?

Sydney Finkelstein: She wanted me to have opportunities to fulfill my potential, and she opened the door to that. She did in a very subtle way, just by talking. There was no lecture going on here, it was maybe just being a good parent but it had a gigantic impact on me.

Stewart Friedman: How do you think that translated to your own parenting style?

Sydney Finkelstein: I have one daughter who’s now 25 years old. I have done many of the same types of things I thought I learned. What’s funny is that it’s only in doing this research for superbosses that I came to the realization of some of the things we’re talking about now. Things that are in you, there are stories I remember from my own life that happened to me with different people doing different things that were very impactful, but I didn’t appreciate, or fully appreciate, just how meaningful some of those things were. In thinking back and doing this research and talking about all these other people, it became apparent.

Stewart Friedman: Jessica is calling from Philadelphia. Jessica, welcome to Work and Life. How can we help you?

Jessica: I work in corporate America and I have a boss who goes by the laws of micromanagement. Every day, she asks where are you, what are you doing at this time of day. I’m in sales, so I’m usually in the office, but my question is what’s the best way to deal with that type of micromanagement?

Stewart Friedman: How do you change a micromanager to a superboss if you’re working for her?

Sydney Finkelstein: The problem with a micromanager is that she doesn’t come with a role that superbosses come with, which is delegator. They delegate and they are closely attuned to what you are doing, they do both. When you have a person who’s just on one side, you have a much deeper problem. Why do people do that, is what I think about. In my experience when a boss doesn’t truly trust the people on their team, they end up doing too much, not delegating as much or always checking and checking. Some of that could be internal to a person, and that person could benefit from some coaching on occasion, but sometimes it could be the subordinate in this example, Jessica. No matter how good she is, she might really need to sell up in a sense. We talk about managing up, what about selling up about how you’re adding value, how you’re creating value and a general deeper level of trust between boss and team member.

Stewart Friedman: Jessica, does that make sense to you to change the relationship in such a way that your boss can trust you more and be less micromanaging?

Jessica: Yeah, I think you’re right on with that. I think every time we have a conversation I’m reinforcing what I’m selling and adding to the company. My concern is because it’s a continuous relationship that I’ve had, how do I make it so that she trusts me? I think it does come down to trust and you’re right with that, and to your point I don’t think she trusts me or anybody on this team. How could I better work with her knowing that’s how she feels?

Sydney Finkelstein: That’s a tough situation. I think trying to demonstrate with your results your capability, what you can do. I don’t know if you know her well enough or can find a way to suggest that she work with a coach or some such thing. That could be a sensitive thing to ask directly, but maybe indirectly is a possibility. It’s a lot easier to say what I’m about to say than do it, but sometimes you don’t have the right boss and that boss is not going anywhere and you might want to look for an internal transfer of some other opportunity. Some people just will not change because of who they are, and some of these insecurities could be so deeply embedded in who they are that it started a long time ago.

Stewart Friedman: What’s the impact you’re hoping your book is going to have on the business world in terms of getting across certain ideas and tools that can help people cultivate talent and enrich their lives and working lives?

Sydney Finkelstein: At an individual level, and I mentioned employee engagement before, I find it an abysmal situation when so many people are at a job that doesn’t have any fulfilling sense so that they’re not engaged. Superbosses, even though they could be tough, they absolutely convey the importance of each person, they make you feel like you have an impact. The whole world of millennials, that’s what they want from the start, and the superboss approach is one that’s very meaningful. The second thing is from an organizational point of view, you look at where and how organizations have changed in the last 10 or 20 years. There’s been incredible innovation in supply chain management, manufacturing, technology, marketing, and sales. Where’s the innovation when it comes to HR? I know there are a lot of apps and software that help you run better meetings and you can figure out where everyone is, feedback mechanisms, and I’m not saying those are bad things. They all can have some value, but fundamentally, when you talk to senior executives, they’re saying the same thing. We need talent, we need to get better talent, and we need to solve our talent problem. But if they keep saying it, it’s still a problem. Year after year after year, it’s time for something new, even if it sounds a little scary. I hope the superboss approach is that something new.

For more information about Syd Finkelstein and Superbosses follow him on Twitter @SydFinkelstein.

About the Author

Jacob Adler , W’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, and Fake Teams.

Managing Boundaries on Paternity Leave From Vine– Jason Toff

Contributor: Jacob Adler

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 Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 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).

Wharton Grad ‘08 Jason Toff was a Product Manager at YouTube and Product Marketing Manager at Google and is now the General Manager at Vine, a part of Twitter. Jason and his wife just had their first child. Jason took a highly visible paternity leave.  He spoke with Stew Friedman about his experiences, at work and at home, as a new father, and about the Millennial experience in general, at work and the rest of life.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: In the run-up to your wife’s delivery of your first child, you were pretty public about taking an extended paternity leave and not only because you wanted to, for yourself and your family, but you wanted to set an example. What went into your thinking?

Jason Toff: jason toffThere were two major things that went into my decision to take the extended leave. The first one was just thinking about prioritization across life. A lot of people talk about family being most important, but if that’s truly the case then, at least for me, it was clear that I was going to take time off to spend with my son and with my wife during this really important time. This was the only first child we were ever going to have, so I wanted to spend time with them. The other factor is, as you alluded to, what message is this going to send to my team, a team of about 50 people in New York. Many of them have children, many of them are thinking about children, and I could tell them as much as I want about how much they’re able to take leave, but really they’re going to look at my actions to get a look at what’s appropriate and acceptable for them.

SF: What was the message you wanted to convey?

JT: Twitter has a great paternity and maternity policy, 10 weeks for fathers and 20 weeks for mothers, and the message I want to send is: family is valued and your relationship with your significant other and your children is important and is something Twitter and Vine respect and want you to value as well. So the message is: the policy is not just for show, it’s totally acceptable and normal.  Luckily for me, I was not the first dad to take leave at Twitter. There were many before me who did the same.  But it was important for me, for my team, to send that message to them.

SF: So that path had been traveled, and probably some lessons learned along the way.   Were those conveyed to you? Did people tell you about tips for how to manage this transition period, being away, and how to prepare and ensure that your team was going to thrive during the time you weren’t there?

JT: There had been a new moms group and they recently created a new dads group a few weeks before I took my leave. I met with a number of other dads at Twitter. Some had taken leave at Twitter, others had at other companies. It was interesting.  People had different approaches. Some said, “Once a week, I check in for a few hours.”   Others said that they disconnected completely. Some passed along tips about travel. Twitter is headquartered in San Francisco and it’s important to travel there occasionally, which is obviously more difficult with a child. We exchanged tips about which flights to take in the late evenings, in the mornings to maximize time with our children.

SF: Before we leave that topic, what specifically are the best practices for travel?

JT: One thing I heard a lot was that children will go to sleep pretty early, and if you take the red eye at night and come back the next day, you can actually see your children two days in a row and not miss too much of them. Basically, people like to take shorter trips more frequently when they have children, and that’s what I’ve done. I still make trips out to San Francisco as frequently as possible but do so briefly.

SF: Are you back from your leave?

JT: That’s right. Twitter gives you 10 weeks in total, and you can split those up within the course of a year or so.  I took five weeks immediately once my son was born, and I’ll take another five weeks at the end of this year.

SF: So during those five weeks following your son’s birth were you 100% disconnected? 90%, 80%?

JT: I did a couple of things: I decided that I would check in once a week on Fridays with a few of my direct reports, 30 minutes.   And then sit in on our weekly all-hands.   And throughout the week I would read emails, occasionally reply to those emails. In hindsight, I probably would have done it a little differently. I’m happy to talk more about that, but I say I was like 70-80% disconnected.

SF: What would you do differently? What did you learn?

JT: What I learned was that being 30% connected was, in many ways, worse than being 0% connected. I would send emails without having full context of what was happening.  It turned out that that it would have been useful for me to stay in the loop on some things, but this, actually, was destructive to some coworkers. Some of my team’s feedback afterwards was, and this might be surprising, “I wish you disconnected even more.”  In hindsight I can totally appreciate that feedback.

SF: Why would that be surprising? If you’re popping in without the full context and offering a slice of the picture, causing all kinds of confusion, I can see that it would be better to not have you involved at all.

JT: That’s fair. I think some of the concerns for some of my reports were, What’s going to happen with X, Y, Z while you’re gone?”   So the first response might be that if he’s available for questions that’s better than nothing, but in fact, it was not.

SF:  That five weeks is coming up sometime later this year. What are you going to do differently

JT: My plan was to disconnect; not do the weekly check-ins but really trust my leads. The goal is to be 100% disconnected. Obviously, if there’s some catastrophic event I will be available and I want to be available to my team.   But my goal is not to do the weekly check-in, not to check email, but actually disconnect this time.

SF: What was the reaction of the people on your team, and of your peers, men and women?

JT: Pretty uneventful, overall. To be perfectly honest with you, I think at this point there is a standard within tech, certainly within Google and Twitter, that it’s perfectly acceptable and normal for men and women to take extended leave after childbirth. That was true across the team, across men and women, older generations and younger generations.

SF: You’re signaling, as we talked about at the top of our conversation, to your people, people around you, that this is normal and what we do, and you should do it, too. You reinforce that message, but it sounds like that message really didn’t need a lot of reinforcing. Do I have that right?

JT: I think that’s right. There were a few dads before me on the Vine team who took some leave. I think I took more than they did. I think maybe people say, Oh wow, there are 10 weeks. I should only take seven or eight.”  I tried to reinforce that this is not just a pretend policy to attract talent but a true policy because Twitter values your relationship not only with your children but your significant others.

SF: There have been some studies that show that men who take leave are stigmatized. They’re seen as not fully-committed, quote-on-quote feminine, as they don’t compare to those who are traditional model of the ideal worker, 24/7, 365, wholly committed. So you didn’t experience any of that and you don’t think that’s part of the culture of the company you are a part of?

JT: I don’t think so. I think if you ran this study with younger generations or tech, you at least would see a different result. I can’t say for sure, I can’t read the minds of everyone on my team, but the main feedback I heard was not that I wasn’t committed but was that I should disconnect even more next time.

SF: That’s so interesting, that the cleaner break would have been better, probably for you, too on the home side.

JT: Absolutely. It’s difficult when you are trained to carry this device around in your pocket, which buzzes whenever you get an email.   It takes a particular type of un-training in order to actually focus on what matters, your child in front of you.

SF: How did you do that? What kind of un-training did you concoct or what emerged as you had to learn how to ignore that thing?

JT: One of the tactical things I did, which sounds small but was actually pretty effective, was there’s a setting on your phone for the mail app that says,  Don’t show that red number badge that says how many new emails you have.”  I turned that off for all of my new emails and then every time I looked at my phone, I wouldn’t see the number of emails that were mounting. I could check in when I had a free moment but I didn’t have a constant urge to make that number go to zero.

SF: Jason, I forgot to ask you at the top. What is Vine and what are you doing there in terms of the next year or so, what’s your primary goal with the next phase of Vine’s growth?

JT: The short of it is that Vine is a video entertainment network. We have over 200 million people every month watching Vines. Vines exist in our mobile apps.    They exist across the web. You’ve probably have seen Vines embedded on sites across the Internet. We are trying to build the best entertainment platform.  We see tremendous Vines come onto our platform every day from people who are filing whatever is happening around them, to Vine stars.   There’s a growing number of people who have become celebrities within Vine. Our goal for the immediate future, or even long future, is to be the best entertainment platform.

SF: Within the six-second timeframe that Vines now live within?

JT:  We’re not religious about any one aspect of Vine; no one at Vine would tell you that they work on a six-second square looping video, for instance. But we believe there’s a lot of value in this short format that we invented and we’ve seen amazing response from our users.

SF: Thank you for that explanation. It’s an amazing product and I’d like to now return to what we were just speaking about before that, which is what you learned to do to maintain your physical and psychological presence in the same place, which was at home with your new baby. What else, aside from your shutting off the red button that says you have 975 unread mails.   What else did you do?

JT: Another important thing was just empowering people at work to take over responsibilities that I previously had and being very explicit about those.    And setting up an out-of-office message to direct people to one of those individuals.   Also reminding myself on a daily basis of this great opportunity I had.  I had so much time with my first-born in his first weeks of life, those were the major things.

SF: You reminded yourself, how did you do that? Did you wake up and think, “Ah, I get to spend a day with my son today?”  What exactly did you do to keep your mind focused, because you are, as you said, trained. You have this habitual interest in connecting via your smartphone, or whatever device, to the people at work and beyond. That’s a tough habit to unlearn. We’ve been talking a lot about that on this show. What else did you do to hold that boundary?

JT: Honestly, it was pretty hard for me, being so connected. The way I experienced it typically was I’d find myself looking at my phone, getting an email, starting to stress out about something I didn’t have too much context on but enough to be stressed out about.  I’d need to stop myself and talk to myself for a moment and say, “What am I doing here, put this away, prioritize my wife and son.” Truthfully, my wife was a big contributor in getting me to stop.

SF: How did she do that?

JT: My wife has a talent to be very frank with me, and was very frank about my being here. I can’t say I was perfect at it but that was certainly a help.

SF: You need that. You need the social environment that’s going to hold you accountable to what you believe in. What you say is important because these habits are incredibly powerful and the draw is so strong, so I appreciate your candor in that. Having your significant other, your wife, reminding you about what was important, that was really helpful.

JT: Absolutely, enormously helpful.   And honestly just witnessing all that goes into childbirth, leading up to childbirth, and in the weeks after, I had an enormous amount of respect for my wife before,  but after seeing just the physical trauma alone of childbirth, it’s such an insane thing to happen to a human body and something that we don’t talk that much about or that I hadn’t heard much about, I had so much respect for her that the least I could do was give her my attention and help her, especially those first few weeks.

SF:  It’s a profound transformation of the human body to carry and deliver a child, that’s for sure. So the least you could do was to get off the phone!

JT: Obviously, I have the easy job in that I need to help out, so that was a good reminder to myself.

SF: But you needed that reminder. So I’m wondering if that’s something that you can help other people to understand as a result of your experience, some tips for the people around you. Is that a part of the conversation at Vine and Twitter, sharing best practices and dealing with this really important and critical question that you have been so candidly describing here about maintaining that boundary and focus on the baby in front of you?

JT:  Absolutely. There’s a group chatroom at Vine, and soon after I returned, we started a dads chatroom and just in one-on-one conversations with people.   We talked about what worked and didn’t work. And truthfully, it depends on the person and situation. There are some people who might go insane if they completely disconnected or, depending, in some rare instances, their job function, it actually would be better for them to stay connected in some way.  But I certainly learned the lesson and would pass it on to anyone on my team or anyone – to disconnect as much as possible. There’s only one time in my life, in anyone’s life, that they will have their first child. Just truly appreciating those moments is … it’s hard to compare anything to that.

SF: It’s probably too soon to tell, but how do you think becoming a father has affected your thinking about your career?

JT: Funny enough, within a couple weeks of returning, I was actually promoted.   So early signs seem to suggest that it hasn’t had a negative effect on my career. Again, I may be lucky to be in the tech industry, where this is normal, but I really don’t think it had any negative impact on my career.

SF: I was thinking it would have had a positive effect, so I don’t know why you’d assume that I was thinking negative!

JT: If anything, it’s given me perspective and helped me understand that sometimes things at work seem like tragedies, life-and-death experiences, and sometimes they are, but for most of us it’s not, and having that added perspective has allowed me, I think, to do my job a little bit better.

SF: Can you say how?

JT: Previously I would get very stressed out, which is not good for anyone on my team, about small issues.  I think on the whole I am less likely to do so now with that added perspective.

To learn more about Jason Toff and Vine go to their website https://vine.co/ and follow on Twitter @Vine and @JasonToff.

About the Author

Jacob Adler , W’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, andFake Teams.

How To Raise an Adult Who’s Ready for the Work World — Julie Lythcott-Haims

Contributor: Jacob Adler

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 Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 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 spoke with  Julie Lythcott-Haims who served as  Stanford University’s Dean of Freshmen for a decade, where she received the Dinkelspiel Award for her contributions to the undergraduate experience. She’s a mother of two teenagers and has spoken and written widely on the phenomenon of helicopter parenting. They spoke about her book, How To Raise An Adult and about how parents can manage the start of the school year with hectic schedules filled with new activities while helping to teach children about, instill in children, a sense of valuing what’s truly important to them and their families 

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stewart Friedman: As a former dean of freshmen at Stanford and as a parent of teens yourself, you’ve been sitting in the catbird seat watching helicopter parents and overwhelmed young adults. Parents and students are now starting the new school year, which is always filled with a flurry of all new activities, meetings, carpooling, after-school commitments, and more, what should parents do, or avoid doing, to start the year to really pursue the ideal of raising strong, resilient individuals and competent young adults?

Julie Lythcott Haims: Julie Lythcott HaimsI’ve got a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old here in Palo Alto, California, which is a high-pressure, high-stakes environment. My kids are in high school, a freshman and a junior, so I’m right there in the thick of it with any parent listening. My son is the elder, he is 16, and my daughter is 14. I moved from being a college dean who was worried about the encroachment of parents into the life of college students, which is happening on my campus at Stanford, and happening nationwide as well. Tier-one, -two, and -three, four-year institutions have been noticing that more and more parents are feeling the need to be very involved in the lives of their college-aged sons and daughters.  Over the years I began to appreciate the link between what those parents were doing and what they were fearing and why they were so involved. I began to see the link between that and childhood itself. I realized I was on track to becoming one of those parents who couldn’t let go.  I was doing so much for my kids when they were quite young.

SF: What did you discover about what motivates these parents to be over-involved?

JLH: We’re motivated by fierce love for our kids and we want the very best for them. If we are affluent, if we are middle-class or beyond, we have a tremendous sense of our own ability to control outcomes. We think the world is scary and unsafe and we believe that we can be our children’s bumpers and guardrails; that we can protect and prevent every bad thing from happening. We’ve lost sight of the fact that usually our job is to prepare our kids for that unfortunate but inevitable day when we’re gone.  Yes, it might help them achieve a short-term win if we are always smoothing the path or arguing with a teacher or a coach or doing their homework for them – all the things that over-helping parents do these days. But long-term, children end up feeling incapable of making their way without a parent’s help, and that messes them up psychologically. It means they’re ill-equipped for a workplace that wants them to know how to make a plan, how to take the initiative, how to think two and three steps ahead, and how to lead. I saw, that with the best of intentions, with a lot of love but also a lot of fear, fear of things like strangers, and fear of things like elite college admissions, we’ve become over-helpers.  When I first wrote about this issue 10 years ago in an op-ed for Chicago Tribune all I had were my good hunches as a freshman dean that this looks problematic. I’m working with young adults, they look very impressive in a GPA, transcript and resume sense, but they don’t seem to have a sense of self. They’re constantly checking in with mom or dad for guidance on what to do, how to do it, how to resolve a situation, and I thought what’s to become of them and more importantly, what’s to become of us at a societal level, if this generation of adults can’t take the mantle of leadership, what will become of all of us? If they have not got the ability to think and do and speak for themselves, if they can’t recover from failure? One of the very important critiques that’s come since my book was published almost three months ago is that this is only pertaining to the affluent. As I said at the top of the show, this happens in affluent communities where parents have the disposable time and income to spend on cultivating their kids’ every moment, and hovering on the sidelines of their every activity. But I wouldn’t dismiss it as a non-problem. Kids who are raised this way end up with higher rates of anxiety and depression, because they haven’t had the chance to form a healthy psychological self if mom or dad has been doing the hard work of life for them.

SF: Which is much less likely in lower-income parts of our society where people have to become more self-sufficient because of their economic circumstances, right?

JLH: That’s the beautiful irony. As dean, I could tell that my students who were from poor and working-class backgrounds had a greater sense of self, a greater sense of ‘I can apply my effort to achieving these outcomes,’ I can figure this out. They had made it to college. Those kids, as many educators are prone to saying these days, might actually leave their more affluent counterparts in the dust. If a poor or working-class kid gets a decent education and a good mentor, their life experience has given them important grit, resilience, perseverance, all of that stuff they’re going to need to succeed.  Whereas their more affluent counterparts who have been hand-held and maybe coddled too much are what one Massachusetts superintendent called ‘veal.’

SF: Could you give us an example of a difference between helping, supporting, and giving other opportunities for growth, and helping too much? Where is that line?

JLH: The line is present in almost every moment. Philosophically, what we really need to get into our heads is that our job as parents is to put ourselves out of a job and raise our offspring to independent adulthood. We’ve succeed if they are capable. We pretend our kids are only going to ever live within a one-mile radius of us and that we will always be there to solve their problems.  It’s loving and it’s helpful in the short-term, but it really cripples them long-term.

SF: How does this play out in everyday life?

JLH: Childhood will prepare a kid for independent adulthood if we’ll let it. Here’s an example: There are communities which are particularly focused on a kid’s performance in school and their activities. We tend to absolve kids of chores. All a kid has to do is say, ‘I’m busy, I have a test tomorrow, I have a lot of homework,’ and we let them off the hook for dishes and garbage.

SF: The resume is more important than the reality of contribution to everyday family life.

JLH: We think that but we’re wrong. One of the things lacking in young adults that harms them in the workplace is they don’t have life skills. They don’t know how to wake themselves up, they don’t know how to keep track of deadlines, they don’t know how to make meals, they don’t know how to help clean the house, so they’re not learning to take care of themselves and pitch in for the good of the whole, which are the traits they will be valued for in the workplace. We need to give our kids responsibilities around the house, we can’t treat them as little academic machines who only need to produce A’s on tests and quizzes and homework. They also need to be helping us clean up, helping us maintain the house, helping us make meals, and helping us clean clothing.  In my book there is a whole chapter on teaching kids life skills.  Many parents, including me, are shocked when reading a list of what two- and three-year-olds are capable of, and four- and five-year-olds are capable of, and so on.  There are many, many cultures in the world where, in the absence of affluence where so much in the work of life is taken care of by someone you hire or a machine, kids actually develop hard skills that teach them to be capable human beings.

SF: In the moment when I’m deciding ‘am I going to let her off the hook and she doesn’t have to do the dishes so she can be ready for that exam so she can get a higher grade thereby increasing her chances of getting into a good school’, how do I resolve that? How do I even know as a parent that I’m wrestling with that dilemma?  How do I become conscious enough to be able to make an intelligent choice about raising an independent, resilient child?

JLH: I think if you are frequently letting them off the hook, frequently saying, ‘you’ve got so much homework, therefore you don’t have to do the dishes or you don’t have to go to bed,’ these are indicators that our priorities are out of whack. We’ve let school become this tyrannical force that gets to dictate how much homework our kids will do in order for our hoped-for outcome, which is that they get the right grades. Kids in communities like mine aren’t getting enough sleep, and pediatricians are screaming at us to pay attention to that because it’s a really strong indicator of mental health problems and worse.

SF: Not to mention attention and their capacity to actually withstand a whole day of school.

JLH: Again, the philosophy is that our job as parents is to put ourselves out of a job by raising a kid to independent adulthood. Here’s what we can stop doing if we’re over-parenting. Number one: stop saying ‘we’ when you really mean your son or your daughter. We are really prone to saying, ‘we’re on the travel soccer team, we’re doing this science project, we’re applying to college this fall,’ and we’re not. In some ways it’s revealing just how intertwined we are with our kids’ lives. This linguistic change might help us to become more mindful of the fact we are too intertwined. These are our sons’ and daughters’ efforts, accomplishments, and achievements. Say ‘my daughter’, not ‘we’. Number two: stop arguing with every adult in their path. We’ve decided we can and should control and perfect every outcome, so we are much more likely as parents these days to be all up in a teacher’s face, a principal’s face, or with a coach or a referee. These folks are under siege from well-meaning but over-involved parents who don’t trust that their kid can possibly have that conversation on their own behalf. So we teach them that authority is always to be argued with, and of course we’re a free-thinking democracy, we don’t want to just follow some arbitrary rules, even if they come from a teacher or a coach. We have the right to question, but we mustn’t always question. We have to teach kids that adults are to be respected for the most part, but when something does need to be raised, for example, ‘I’d like more playing time, I didn’t understand this concept, I think you graded this essay unfairly,’ we’ve got to teach our kids to advocate for themselves or else we’ll be those parents who are calling up the professor.

SF: How do we do that?

JLH: You sit down with them and say, ‘okay honey, I know you worked on this essay, how are you feeling about it?’ ‘I’m not feeling very good, I didn’t get a very good grade.’ ‘What do you want to do about that?’ ‘Well mom, what do you think I should do?’ You as the mom or dad can say, ‘Go and talk to your teacher and say I got the essay back, I’d like to go over it with you.  I’d like to understand what it is that you’re concerned about, how I might have made a better effort.’ We want to teach our kids, through trial-and-error, that they can continually improve. We can coach them about how to have a conversation, rather than do it for them, because if we do it, they will never have the skill.  And I’ve seen that in 18-22 year-olds and it looks really unfortunate.

SF: What do you mean?

JLH: They’re chronologically adult but they’re still reliant on mom or dad to have that conversation on their behalf. The term I’ve coined is ‘existential impotence.’ You don’t want that for your kid. When they’re 20, I don’t care how beautiful their GPA is or how impressive their SAT score is. If they don’t have what it takes to make a plan on their own behalf, make a choice between competing opportunities, go and seek help when they’re struggling, contend with disappointment, sit with their own unhappiness and mull it over and come up with a solution and a way forward, what hope do they have? Stop doing their homework. It sounds obvious, but parents are over-helping. Parents are correcting the math problems so the kid gets a better grade, but the kid never learns. All the kid learns is that my mom or dad always needs to correct my homework, I’m not actually capable. It damages them. We might get the higher grade for them, but, number one, it’s unethical and number two, the teacher doesn’t know what the kids in the class are actually understanding. Number three, the kid thinks, ‘I can’t do it without my mom or dad. ’

SF: Let me offer an observation. We did a study a couple years ago comparing the Class of 1992 to the Class of 2012.  We surveyed the students when they were graduating seniors here in 1992, and we did the same thing for the Class of 2012, so we have a 20-year longitudinal study. One of the startling things we found was that young people today, men and women, are much less likely to plan to have or adopt kids. It was 79% that said yes to that question in 1992 yet only 42% said yes just a couple years ago. It’s a complex story and I’m not going to get into the details of it here, but one of things that I’ve heard while going around speaking about this to college students and others is that, and this really took me aback, is that one of the reasons that young people today fear having children is that they feel pressure to produce a high-achieving child. They don’t want to be in a position of having failed to have produced a child who gets into Harvard. That pressure is being felt by young adults today and it’s turning them off from the whole concept of even becoming a parent. So what do we do about that problem?

JLH: We have to make adulthood look a lot more attractive than we’re making it look. This gets to your earlier point about if we can back off our kids and not hover so much, we free ourselves up to live a rich, vibrant adult life, which by the way, shows kids that adults do live rich, vibrant lives and that adult lives are not simply spent shuttling children around and standing on the sidelines. For their sake and for ours, we need to get our own lives back and stop being so obsessed with cultivating our kids every moment. I’m guessing that not only is there the pressure of cultivating a perfect child, we’ve just made adulthood seem terribly unattractive.

They’re refusing to claim the adult label for themselves.  We started calling college students ‘kids’ in the prior decade. When you and I were in college, we didn’t refer to ourselves as kids, we didn’t call a 25-year-old a kid either. You were a man; I was a woman. If we’re going to let 18- to 25-year-olds of affluent families off the hook and call them emerging adults, or not really adults, or adults who still need a whole lot of hand-holding from mom or dad, we have to completely rethink the way we run the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. We’re happy to say to a kid for whom those are the best choices out of high school, ‘go fight and die for your country, you have what it takes.’ We’re happy to call them adults, but somehow we’re letting college kids off the hook when it comes to responsibility and accountability.

SF: What do you want to leave our listeners with as your best advice?

JLH: I’m in this with you, I’ve had these tendencies myself. We’ve been duped into believing that there are a small number of colleges that are the only ones we can be proud to send our kids to, and that’s what motivates a lot of our crazy behavior. US News and World Report college ranking is wrong.  There are probably 140 fantastic schools in this country, most of which don’t have cutthroat admissions rates. Be willing to look into those, be willing to embrace those and you’ll discover your kid’s high school experience is far happier and less stressful, and your life will be less stressful as well.

To learn more about Julie Lythcott-Haims visit www.HowToRaiseAnAdult.com and follow her on Twitter @DeanJulie

About the Author

Jacob Adler, jacob adlerW’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, and Fake Teams.

Out for Business – Rena Fried and Vivian Chung

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 Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 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 current Wharton MBA students Rena Fried and Vivian Chung, a same-sex couple getting married this year. Rena is the co-President of Wharton Women in Business, following her employment at Business Council for Peace where she provided business consulting and training to entrepreneurs in Afghanistan and Rwanda. Prior to Wharton, Vivian spent 6 years working in principal investing and investment banking at the Macquarie Group and Goldman Sachs in New York. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Queer Asian and Pacific Islander Alliance. Stew spoke with both women about the challenges facing the LGBT community in bringing their authentic selves to the workplace.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: The issue of “being out for business” vs. “covering” at work is something the LGBT community has had to deal with for a long time, as I discussed with Kenji Yoshino and Christie Smith on a previous show. Norms are changing rapidly but there is a huge cost personally and in terms of productivity that comes with having to invest energy into figuring out how to navigate with a heavy mask on. Vivian, what did you see as the costs when you were “covering” or “closeted” at work in your career on Wall Street?

Vivian Chung: Rena Fried Vivian ChungI think the main cost was not letting people understand what I was concerned about, what my interests were, and what I cared about. I spend a ton of my time working for LGBT communities in the non-profit space, but when I have to hide and say, “No, I have something later tonight,” “I have to run now,” and so on, people might think I’m wasting my time, getting my nails done, or going to the movies when really I am spending my time working on a cause I really care about. They don’t really get to see that side of me. Or, for example, if it’s my anniversary or Valentine’s Day, and I have to go to dinner tonight at 8, my boss might be pissed because he or she doesn’t understand why my leaving by 8 is so important. But I can’t really say I need to leave because it’s my second anniversary.

SF: So you had to cover.  Why should it matter to your boss that you had to come up with that excuse or find a way to make what you were doing seem urgent and normal?

VC: It’s hard to say exactly where and who it hurts the most, but I think it does impact my career and in some way prevent my achievement. When I am closeted, people don’t fully understand what I’m about, but they should understand what I’m about because they’re paying me to work for them.

SF: There’s also value that you are creating for them in the things that you do outside the office. A central idea in my work is how to capture value from one part of your life and bring it into another part of your life, so that what you do in your family, what you do in your community, and what you do in your private time can bring a positive impact in your business life. If you have to shut off all of that, then you can’t really bring it into your business in terms of reputation, building networks, and understanding different kinds of markets. There is a very real business cost to the work of having to disguise yourself.

How and why did you decide to come out?

VC: It’s a new time. If anyone googled me or looked on Facebook they’d easily see that I was on the board of several LGBT groups. Since the information was essentially public and since I realized that this really shouldn’t matter or be an issue for any organization that I’d want to work for, I made the decision not to hide who I really am.

SF: How does being out now affect your job search and the interviewing process?

Rena Fried: We look at what policies and regulations they have in place. We want to be in a place that has equal health care. We’re looking at living in San Francisco; California will recognize a marriage. And we look at culture, whether they have an LGBT Employee Resource Group (ERG), or, if it’s a smaller place, then is it a place where people have photos of their partners on their desks or talk opening about being gay. And it’s not just about LGBT issues, when I look at the Executive team, is it racially diverse, are there women in leadership? I wouldn’t want to work in a place where there isn’t diversity. I think that’s core to the success of a business.

SF: And for you, Vivian?

VC: It plays a role in my wanting to leave finance and go into tech. It’s friendlier.

SF: What can companies do? What are they doing?

VC: It’s an attitude of acceptance of difference. At my summer internship at Amazon, for example, there were badges on the internal Facebook pages for “quirkiness” which sends the message that you can come to work as yourself.  It indicates and builds a culture that allows people to be different. Whereas on Wall Street the dress code, for instance, is strict and narrow.

SF: It sounds like this was a culture that not only accepted but encouraged people to be themselves. What about the Wharton culture in terms of its openness to variation and diversity?

RF: One of the reasons we chose to come to Wharton was because of the LGBT community.  Wharton has, by far and away, one of the largest LGBT communities and one of the most vocal communities.  And not just the number of people that are in “Out For Business” – our LGBT group – but also Wharton has many more queer women than the other schools.

VC: The group has about 800 people – which includes “allies” – so it’s about half the school. Most in the group are allies, which means they support the LGBT community.  During Rainbow week we give everyone mini flags and it’s exciting to walk into a classroom and see so many flags, to see so many people are accepting and welcoming and has a visible sign to say that this is a welcoming classroom.  Little signs like that make a real difference.  Companies can initiate small things like this too to create a climate of acceptance.

SF: Rena, what do you see as you look to the next five to ten years of change in the social environment of this nation and of the world in terms of a broader embrace of diversity with respect to sexual orientation?

RF: The repeal of DOMA (The Defense of Marriage Act) and nationwide legislative action on gay marriage have been great steps in the right direction which have been meaningful for us

VC: I agree that policies can change somewhat quickly, but minds don’t change as quickly. There are a lot of prejudices that still exist, and I think it’s going to take a long time for a fair amount of prejudice to undo itself.

SF: What can our listeners do to help speed up the process? What advice would you have?

RF: On a day-to-day basis, the best thing that helps me as an LGBT-identified person is when other people speak out when they hear something that’s not right. Rather than leaving it to the LGBT person who is being targeted to speak up for themselves, folk who hear something discriminatory or rude or simply offensive could stand up and say this isn’t right and why it’s not right. That simple act can go a long way in reducing discrimination and prejudice.

To learn more about the leadership organizations Rena and Vivian are involved in, visit the websites of Wharton Women in Business and the National Queer Asian and Pacific Islander Alliance.

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.


Plant, Scan, Pilot — Jenny Blake’s Pivot Method

Contributor: Morgan Motzel

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 Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 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 Jenny Blake, author of the forthcoming book The Pivot Method: A Blueprint for Becoming More Agile in Work and Life (Portfolio/Penguin, 2016), and the founder of the Life after College online blog and program. As a career strategist and international speaker, Jenny helps smart people organize their brain, move beyond burnout, and build sustainable, dynamic careers they love. Jenny spoke with Stew about how individuals can find greater meaning in their work and offers suggestions on how to successfully navigate work and life transitions and uncover your values in order to make deliberate choices.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Jenny, I just shared with our listeners a quote I love from Anne Frank: “No one has ever become poor by giving.” In what ways have you been enriched by giving in your life?

Jenny Blake:Jenny Blake I love that sentiment because I think it’s really at the root of careers. Often career change is a question of how can I best be of service? Your question is one that I ask my clients a lot. For me, it’s how can I turn my challenges and struggles into something helpful for other people. That’s not to say that any of us would ever welcome really terrible times, but we recognize that they can be transformed and shared. We all get this level of compassion and depth from going through adversity that makes us stronger. I think sharing one’s own experience by telling your story is a great gift which has no monetary association at all, but it can be really key to helping each other through transitions or times of need. Sometimes I think life can be sort of like a seesaw: someone is up and someone is down. I think being able to help pull each other through confusing transitional times in our life is a huge gift.

SF: Jenny, that’s what you’ve been doing, and that’s what you’ll be writing about in your next book. Let me back up here though—you spent five years at Google on the Training and Development team and a couple years before that at a tech startup. How and why did you transition to career coaching?

JB: At Google, I was doing AdWords product training. I learned that I loved being in front of a classroom every day, but I was more interested in the people who were sitting in my classroom than in the material. I had a coaching session that really changed my life, in which the coach asked me what my life purpose was. Nobody had ever asked me that before! It’s certainly not the go-to thing to discuss. Typically with friends, for example, I find we’re often complaining about one thing or another, and not really asking those big questions. I became very fascinated by the person behind the career and understanding that person’s hopes and dreams and fears. I wanted to know how I could help them facilitate their desires and navigate through challenges, so that’s really what led me to coaching. I was 24 when I started going through coaching training, and people looked at me like I was nuts: What are you doing here? Why do you think you can be a life coach? What do you even know?

SF: Seriously though, what does a 24-year-old know that puts them in a position to give life advice to other people? How did you respond to that criticism?

JB: I just did the best that I could. I chose to work with college graduates where I felt I could at least be of service to them. I wasn’t trying to tackle the whole world, but I also felt strongly that one of the beautiful things about coaching is learning a skill set such that coaches don’t have to be the expert in every single person’s life or in each specific challenge. It’s about listening and empathy and encouragement and cheerleading. Yes, some of it is about life experience, but I think so much of it too is about being a presence for other people—something we can all give.

SF: Certainly—our presence, our attention, our devotion, and our concentrated awareness of the other. How do you see presence as a gift, in terms of the impact it can have in a coaching exchange?

JB: I think presence is rare. Of course people today get a bad rep for looking at their phones or being distracted or not making eye contact, but beyond that I think it’s very rare for a person to have one whole hour to talk through what’s going on in their lives—what they really want to create and what challenges they are facing. Presence to me is such a gift because if the person listening can remove themselves from the equation for a minute, and not try to give advice or to judge, but really just ask a few big questions—studies show that we actually create new neural pathways in our brains when we’re asked to answer a question we’ve never heard before. Clearly, someone doesn’t have to be a trained coach to do this. At upcoming parties or family get-togethers you can ask, what are you most excited about this year? What are you most proud of from 2014? What’s the big, wild, and crazy thing you would do if time and money weren’t an issue? Go outside of the box a little bit and just listen. Hear what people have to say.

SF: I think those are three really good questions that people should be asking each other around this time of year. That’s great advice that we can all do to be informal coaches to our family members and friends.

JB: I also love asking questions like what did you learn this year? What are the three biggest lessons that you learned? Or even what was the biggest blessing in disguise? That last one I especially love because it takes something which, at the time, could have seemed like a really bad situation, and then it asks a person to find the good in it.

SF: Back in 2005, your book Life after College came out, which you wrote as a shortcut manual to guide college students through a major time of transition into the working world. Could you give us the one-minute version of what insights you distilled down about creating simplicity out of complexity?

JB: I would say the biggest thing is taking the time to ask yourself what do I really want? That’s not to say that we can have everything we want, and we can have it tomorrow; it’s not about being entitled. It’s about uncovering what is important to you and what are your values. What do you want to create in the next year, in terms of your career? Your friendships? Your family relationships? Your home environment? Your physical activity? What rejuvenates you? In my book, there’s a chapter dedicated to each of these main life areas—I provided tips, quotes, questions; a whole hodgepodge of resources.

I would say the real value is actually to be had when a reader writes in the book. I say on the front: This book is not precious, please write in it! I think that actually goes for all books—write in the margins, circle things, dog-ear it—make it your own, and own it. It’s not about the author, and I’m not an expert up on a pedestal; I’m not perfect by any stretch. The real value comes when you can read someone’s work and get a hint of inspiration and then take a small action.

SF: Let’s get into successful career transitions. What are the key ingredients? What must people be mindful of as they’re thinking of changes in their careers and how those changes will affect the rest of their lives?

JB: The first thing I want people to remember is that there’s nothing wrong with you. We’re going to change careers much more frequently than previous generations. The mid-life and quarter-life crises are, in a way, relics of the past. We can expect that feeling every few years, so “pivot” is the new normal. We talk about startups pivoting and changing direction, and now people are going to have to learn the skill as well—at least the ones who are going to be the most agile and flexible.

The way to pivot is to think like a basketball player and have a three step process: plant, scan, and pilot. If you can picture a basketball player, they start by rounding down in their plant foot. Your planted feet are your strengths, your networks, what you love, and what you’re good at. Essentially, it’s what’s already working. I think so often we forget what we already have so much under our belts, and we’re so overwhelmed by what we don’t have or what’s not working. You really have to start from that grounded foundation—what are my strengths, what do I know—and then scan just like the basketball player with one foot grounded. Scanning the horizons should actually be fun: talk to people, see what’s out there, and identify your options. Then the third step, pilot, is all about taking the pressure off to have the next perfect career move. Pilot implies small experiments, just like a pilot TV show is one episode to see if the whole show is really going to catch. In your own career, what small, tiny experiments can you run to just assess, do I like this thing? Am I good at it? Is there more where that came from?

SF: Can you give us an example of that?

JB: Sure. When I was at Google doing AdWords product training, I started to realize that I was mostly interested in people. I had an idea that I wanted to make coaching as easy for Google employees to sign up for as a massage, one of the favorite perks of the company. I created a Google 10% Project with a friend to make coaching accessible to all employees, not just executives. Up until that point you had to get approval for coaching from your managers because career coaching is quite expensive. We created a program called Career Guru, and it ended up becoming a global program a year-and-a-half later, when a career development team was formed at Google. I was well-positioned to get a role on that team, but if I hadn’t done my little pilot and started with that 10% Project, I may not have gotten on the team when it was eventually created.

SF: That’s a great example. I’d love to hear you talk about how that enriched the rest of your life. That’s really the focus on our show here: how changes in work and life can influence the other parts of your life and vice versa.

JB: Stew, I love the idea you talk about regarding having that dance between work and life and a healthy integration between the two. I also love the idea of piloting as being a scientist in your own life. I think the enrichment extends far beyond work: what hobbies bring me joy? Maybe I take one cooking class, and it leads to a whole flurry of activity, but it has to start with just one little experiment to see if you’re going to like the thing you’re trying out.

I think the same goes for relationships too. We put feelers out. In careers, for example, there’s a lot of pressure to find a mentor, but I’ve always found it awkward to just go up to someone and say, will you be my mentor? The pilot approach, on the other hand, would be to just schedule one phone call. If you hit it off, great, and if not, that’s okay too. Over time you can let it develop into something.

SF: That reduces the pressure by making it lower risk, and, as you mentioned before, there’s a lot to be learned in that encounter, especially if you’re paying close attention to what that experiment might yield.

JB: Absolutely. I think the spirit of always piloting is that you’re never done. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t ever have to have all the answers. I think we humans like a challenge, and we like complex problems, so if we knew exactly what we wanted next in our careers and in our lives we would be bored! There’s definitely some element of just celebrating the confusion.

SF: Earlier you started talking about how Millennials should begin to see pivoting as a regular part of life and perceive the “new normal” to be one of continual transition. What do you see in the millennial generation specifically in terms of managing the relationship between work and the rest of life? How is that playing out, and what advice do you have for people starting out now regarding that crucial relationship between work, home, community, and the private self?

JB: In a way, people are wanting to integrate these dimensions of their lives now more than ever. Work is no longer something that we just leave at the office. I think there’s a real sense today that people are willing to forgo some amount of financial compensation in exchange for more meaning in their work. Right from the get-go, Millennials are not trying to be entitled, rather they just want to contribute. They want to give, they want to serve, and they don’t want to file papers because they want to have an impact. I think that’s wonderful.

The question becomes, how can you start at the entry level—where you likely don’t have the perfect job yet—and still add meaning anyway? If your job isn’t 100% integrated into your life the way you would like it to be, or it isn’t your most-soul connected job, then do what you can do on the side. That’s not to say that I think everyone needs to create a side-business, but even if it’s just one hour per week of writing or volunteering or joining a professional association, I’d invite you to create the solution that you’re seeking. It doesn’t all have to happen from your day job.

SF: Find some small piece of what you’re doing that’s going to give you a sense of purpose that will inspire you. That seems to me also to be the single defining feature of the Millennial generation: this desire to create meaning and to heal the broken world that we’re living in, in ways that the previous generations haven’t really taken as seriously.

JB: Right. I find that, first and foremost, Millennials want to feel that they’re growing. If they’re not growing within an organization pretty quickly, they’ll be antsy, and rightly so, because they don’t want to become obsolete. The other side of the growth, however, is impact. People of all ages who are very growth-oriented individuals and enjoy learning feel most engaged when they are personally learning and growing. After that need is met, they want to focus on making a bigger impact. The question is when you do hit a plateau in your career, what skills would be most exciting to cultivate? And how can you build a bridge from where you are now to where you want to go and the impact you eventually want to have?

SF: So it’s finding time to complete those small steps toward an idea that inspires you and allows you to give in ways that you’re not able to right now?

JB: Absolutely. And building a long-term bridge drops the need for credentials. Stew, back to your original question, regarding one small thing we can each do to add value to someone’s life? Listening does not require any extra credentials than you have now. Anyone can do that.

Jenny is the author of the forthcoming book, The Pivot Method: A Blueprint for Becoming More Agile in Work and Life (Portfolio/Penguin, 2016), and Life After College (Running Press, 2011), which is based on her blog of the same name. Today you can find her at JennyBlake.me, where she explores systems at the intersection of mind, body and business. Jenny is based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @jenny_blake.

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.

About the Author

Morgan MotzelMorgan Motzel is an undergraduate senior in the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business at Penn focusing on Management and Latin America.


Wharton Men Talk About Work and Life

Contributor: Andrea Yeh

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 Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 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 current Wharton MBA students Dan Geoffrion and Josh Johnson about how Millennials plan to integrate work and life after they graduate.  Dan Geoffrion is a Yale graduate and former BCG consultant focusing on healthcare.  He is the head of Wharton’s Christian fellowship.  Josh Johnson is from Harlem and graduated from the University of Michigan.  At Wharton, he is deeply involved in social initiatives and serves as co-director of community service and social impact for the Wharton Graduate Association and as community service co-chair of the African American MBA Association.  Both are members of 22s, the inaugural group of male allies of Wharton Women in Business.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Dan, let me start with you.  You are the head of the Wharton Christian Fellowship.  I imagine that those who are consciously and deliberately considering their inner lives while pursuing a business degree might have a more holistic view of business, so I wonder if you’ve seen a difference between those in your club and other religiously-affiliated organizations versus those who are not so affiliated in terms of how they approach these kinds of questions.

Dan Geoffrion: Dan GeoffrionI think that at Wharton, so many people really want to find meaning in their work and have a full life.  For me to say that just one group of people is focusing on it more than others seems a little too simplistic, but it is true that every week in our small groups we think about how we can live lives that have meaning and purpose, not just about doing good on the weekends or sending money to a charity, but asking, What does that mean for my career choice?  What does that mean for the ways that I interact with my coworkers?  What does that mean with respect to what I pursue and what I prioritize at Wharton?  For many people with religious backgrounds – and I know especially those in the Christian Fellowship –we really want to understand what the intersection of faith and work is, and what that means in our lives in a practical way.

SF: So you talk on a weekly basis about why being kind to your fellow employees is an important part of how you want to represent yourself as a business leader?

DG: You can think about it in a lot of different ways: What does being a kind person who loves his neighbor look like in a work situation?  How does that serve you professionally, and how does that help you be a better employee?  But also how does that hinder you?  Maybe you’re not as focused on productivity in the way that someone who is single-mindedly focused on just their work product is.

SF: You think so?

DG: I think it can go either way.  In Adam Grant’s book Give and Take, you find that the givers are both the best producers but also the worst producers – they’re much more extreme either way.  You don’t find a lot of them in the middle.  So if we are people who are very kind and considerate and who are making good connections and who are really trying to take in the greatest number of perspectives, we can be some of the best employees.  At the same time, someone might be a really nice person who listens to people’s problems throughout the day, but then doesn’t do any of their own work!  That’s a major liability, and that’s not really using our work and our gifts to serve others in the way we might want to.

SF:  So you can’t be a doormat, to use Adam Grant’s terms.  And you’ve got to be able to ask for what you need help with, especially when you’re asking for help in the service of other people.  That way others are going to know why they should help you.  Now Josh, you’re a married student.

Josh Johnson: Joshua JohnsonYes, I am – happily and proudly.

SF: Happily and proudly?  Proudly – what does it mean to be married and proud?

JJ: Well, I’m still basking in the rose-colored glow of newly-wed-ism.

SF: How long has it been?

JJ: A year and two months.  We got married two days before I started my Wharton MBA.

SF: Yikes.  So Wharton is like your honeymoon.

JJ: Pretty much, pretty much.  I guess you could say that.

We relocated here for the MBA experience, and it’s really been interesting growing in our marriage and growing in our relationship as a couple, and at the same time I am kind of growing in this experience of being a Wharton MBA.

SF: So she’s not a student here?

JJ: No, she’s not.  My wife works for a local not-for-profit here in Philadelphia, so while she is working during the day, I am studying during the day.  There’s always this tension between the time that she has off after work because the student’s day doesn’t necessarily end at 5.  There are extracurricular meetings, academic meetings, and lots of different requirements you have to fulfill, so there’s always that tension of us maintaining the sanctity and growth in our relationship while at the same time satisfying the two different career tracks that we’re on.

SF: So how do you do that, Josh?  What are you learning about that that you can transfer into the world beyond school?

JJ:  I am very, very, very protective of my time, especially on Sundays.  My wife and I are also members of the Wharton Christian Students Association, so Sundays are our day to go to worship service, have brunch, and have family time.  My wife works with children, and anyone who’s ever worked with children knows that their time is in flux when the children have needs.  So Monday through Saturday, both of us are kind of running around.  We see each other usually later in the evening when we’re done with the day or done with our requirements, and Sunday is usually the only day that we have to spend time together.  The learning that I’ve had from this is that you have to be fiercely protective of the time that you have given the priorities that you hold dear.  For me, my wife, our relationship, and our marriage are priorities, so I don’t do any schoolwork, meet, or do phone calls on Sundays. That’s my red line, so I will stay up late or travel down to Center City to meet on a weekday to keep that time sacrosanct.

SF: And that’s something that you think you’ll be able to carry forward into the next phase of your career working in a company, assuming that’s what you’re going to be doing?

JJ: I don’t necessarily think that exact structure will hold.  Maybe the day is not a Sunday; maybe it’s a Saturday.  Maybe it’s not necessarily that one day, but one time of day.  But the overarching theme is that you have to erect hedges around the time that is allocated to the things that you prioritize.

SF: That’s for sure, because I guarantee you nobody’s going to do that for you.  That’s something that you must do for yourself and do in a way that’s going to work for the people around you.  So having that boundary and keeping that time and space sacred helps you to be a more productive employee, I would argue.  Would you agree, Dan?

DG: Absolutely.  I, too, sort of keep Sabbath and don’t work on Sundays.  When I was working as a management consultant, I typically worked all the time, but I was able to tell my team that I was off Sundays during the day, and that allowed me to recharge, refresh, and renew so that by the time the workweek started, I was really able to dig right in and ready to work hard.

SF:  So how did that work out for you, in terms of your team and how they responded to that?

DG:  It worked out well.  BCG wants you to have as much sustainability as you can in the very intense environment.  Like Josh, I worked hard during the week, and because I was open about it, they were able to be very flexible to my needs.  They knew that Monday through Thursday, I was theirs, but then during the weekends, as much as possible, I was able to recharge.

SF: So as you’re thinking about the next steps in your life after graduation and beyond, what are you considering?  How does what you’re thinking about match with what’s out there in terms of the employers that are attractive to you, Josh?

JJ: Well, the second overarching theme I have in my life is that if I’m not really passionate about something, I wouldn’t put myself in the position to do it.  My real passion is helping people.  That’s the common theme of all that I’m involved in here at Wharton. I’ll be rejoining McKinsey and Company after graduation.

SF: How do you think your needs and interests as a person beyond work are going to be seen – either embraced, rejected, or somewhere in between – by your colleagues at McKinsey?

JJ: I think that those things would be embraced.  That was the experience that I had over the summer.  There was always someone to talk to about any kind of interest that I had in any part of my life, from my marriage to different professional arenas.

SF: How about you, Dan?

DG: I had somewhat of a different experience.  While management consulting was a great job for a few years before business school, I knew that in the long term I couldn’t live the holistic kind of life that I wanted to in the consulting world.  I looked at the lives of the partners.  I saw how much they traveled and how they were working even on weekends and flipping through all of the presentations that people made for them offering comments all throughout the weekend.  I know that I really want to be involved in my future family, and I’ll also really want to be involved in the community around me, so I chose a firm that I think is going to be a much better fit.  I’m going to work for Medtronic after I graduate, one of the largest medical device companies in the world.  There, they have a really good culture in terms of work-life balance.  They also have a very mission-oriented culture, in that their mission is extending life, alleviating pain, and restoring health. Not only do they do that through all of their products, but there are also a lot of volunteer opportunities and a very generous matching program.  They see you as the worker but also a community member, family member, and someone who has an interest outside work.  That’s what I prioritized when looking for an internship, and I was able to receive an offer and will go back full-time after I graduate.

SF: Congratulations. Josh, what do you think about what Dan is saying about the life of the consulting partner?

JJ:  I think that we all have different objectives and different things that we prioritize.  I’ve had conversations about this with my wife – and she really has the keys to the kingdom with this – because, like I said, the first priority that I have is to be present in my family’s life as much as I should be and want to be.

SF: And as much as she wants you to be.  At some point, she may want you around more.

JJ: Well at that point we’d have to reevaluate whether or not I should be a management consultant and how the way that my current workload or the frequency with which I travel is affecting our marriage and what adjustments could be made to accommodate those things.  What’s going on in the opportunities that we have right now is not going to be same as those that are going to be there two, three, or five years from now.  So I think it’s constantly a process of reevaluation.

SF: It really is.  Certainly people I know have been successful at living full and well-integrated lives that enable them to be successful not just at work, and not just at home, but in the community too and also for themselves in mind, body, and spirit.  It’s a constant quest toward understanding what matters most for me, to the people around me, and then adjusting, adjusting, and adjusting, so that you can better serve those people who matter most to you while being true to yourself.  As I said earlier, nobody gives you that, and it’s something that you have to claim in a way that others see as valuable for them.

So you’ve both made choices about where you’re headed after graduation.  As you talk to your classmates and hear what they’re saying about how they are experiencing the labor market that they’re entering, what’s your take on how they’re addressing questions such as, “How do you be a whole person?” or “How do you contribute to the world in a meaningful way coming out of place like Wharton?”

DG: I hear them say that it’s something that’s really important to them when they’re a first-year and thinking about internships – making an impact, serving the world, or doing something meaningful.  But then it turns out that a lot of the firms that they feel like do that are not able to sponsor visas for international students, or they don’t recruit with seven different wine-and-dine events, or they just don’t hire a large number of Wharton MBAs. These are firms that people think about less, and they’re also much harder to find.  So flash forward to a year and a half later, and you have a lot of consultants and bankers.  Some of them see that as in line with their long-term vision to serve the world, and others don’t even mention it anymore.  They say, “Oh, it’s going to be really great training for a couple of years, and then I’ll think about all of those questions after I get to a certain level or a certain promotion.”  I see it making an impact as having a lot less significance to people as they actually get an offer and see the compensation or travel opportunities of the more lucrative jobs.

SF: Are people selling out?  That’s what it sounds like.

DG:  It does sound like that, but I think how they see it is that they’re borrowing time.  They’re just saying, “I don’t actually know what in the world that I really want to impact yet, so hopefully if I do this meaningful job where I gain great skills, I’ll be able to answer that question down the road.”  So I don’t think people see it as selling out for the rest of their career.  They see it as making an investment that’s going to help them do that kind of work later on, but then they don’t actually have tools or a way to call a timeout two years down the road and ask themselves, Now what?  They just get into the grind, and then the people around them say that what they need to do now is to get to their next level of promotion.

SF: It’s running around the hamster wheel, then.

DG: Exactly.

SF: So what you’re doing with your Christian Fellowship is that you’re asking questions about how you weave together the different things that are meaningful to you now, and I think that’s smart because the further along you get, the harder it is for you to step off.  Josh, what are you hearing in the hallways here in Huntsman Hall and elsewhere around campus about how your classmates are thinking about their future?

JJ: It’s hard to generalize across the entire student body, but the conversations that I’ve been having have largely been with people who are thinking, What investment am I making now toward the kind of impact that I want to have later on in life?  Maybe that’s not as clearly defined, to Dan’s point, as being able to say, “Well, I want to really heavily impact the education space in the United States.”  Or say maybe they want to tackle homelessness or whatever the specific cause that’s very close to their heart is. I see it more as people wanting to be strategic and trying to position themselves to maximize their impact.

One of the many hats that I wear is the WGA’s internal co-lead for community service and social impact.  One of the things that we did this year was to survey the Wharton MBA Class of 2015 and 2016 and try to identify the biggest areas that are meaningful to them in terms of volunteerism and social impact.  We found that people have a real passion for tutoring and mentorship and taking these analytical skills that they’re learning as MBAs and then using them to magnify the impact that they have.  I think that resonates with the other side of the argument that Dan’s talking about where students are still going into consulting and banking, these very traditional and not necessarily social impact-focused professions, on the front side.

SF: Are they going to be able to have the kind of positive social impact that they want to have when they get onto Wall Street?

JJ: I think that if you’re looking at it from the standpoint of whether they are going to be able to be in a soup kitchen, maybe not, depending on what they’re doing on Wall Street.  But they might be able to lead a foundation or sit on the board of a not-for-profit and magnify their impact.

SF: So you think those values are going to continue forward?

JJ: I think so.

SF: Are you hopeful about the future, Dan?  What do you hope to see?  What’s the big idea of how you’d like to see organizations change?

DG: I want to see organizations be better able to utilize the holistic part of who a person is – not only their work skills and their work abilities but also their community interests.   I want to see them figure out a way that they can structure jobs in a way that supports both of those.

SF: And what are you hoping to see, Josh?  As a business leader of the future, how are the great organizations going to look different down the road?

JJ: I think that the greatest organizations will find a way to embrace the whole person, so that there’s not this tension between being a businessperson and being a father, a husband, a partner, or any of those things.  Once that person is comfortable and feels that all of those other priorities are also met, that frees them to be their most engaged self in their work because they’re not worried about how that work is taking away from the other things that are equally important to them.

To learn more about the organizations Josh and Dan are involved with, follow Wharton Women in Business (WWIB) and the 22s on their WWIB’s website or Twitter (@WWIB) and visit the Wharton Christian Fellowship’s website


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.


About the Author

Andrea YehAndrea Yeh is an undergraduate junior majoring in Operations and Information Management and in International Relations.

Wharton Women Talk About Work and Life

Contributor: Morgan Motzel

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 Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 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 current Wharton MBA students Zinnia Horne and Abby Holmes. Zinnia completed her undergraduate education at Stanford and came to Wharton to pursue her MBA, after working at Google in California. She is a leader in the Wharton Graduate Association. Abby worked in consulting at Deloitte before coming to Wharton. She is a married student with a one-and-a-half year old daughter. Stew spoke with both women about how the next generation of business leaders are thinking about what matters most to them and how they intend to integrate the different parts of their lives upon graduation.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Zinnia, you work with the Wharton Grad Association which must give you a perspective on just how many students are involved in clubs at Wharton and what types of clubs have high enrollment and high engagement. When employers — who look like me, old, gray-haired people — look at young people coming up, what do they see? Do they see people who are self-interested, lazy, entitled, and distracted with technology? Or do they see people who are ambitious, committed, and eager to make a difference in this world? Or something in between? How do you see that?

Zinnia Horne: Zinnia HorneI think employers see students who are fresh and who bring new ideas. I think that’s really what they look to us for. We almost all have work experience, have taken two years out of school, and have really been inundated with a number of different ways to think about things. When employers are looking to the clubs to see who the rising stars are, I think they are looking for the people who are trying out new things and who are involved in a variety of different activities, so that they can get that new fresh perspective, and not only fresh, but also dynamic and a perspective that has a lot of variety.

SF: So if I were to ask the typical employer who comes to campus, “how might you characterize the MBAs in terms of their values and their attitudes?” what do you think they would tell me?

ZH: That’s a great question. While I can’t generalize across the entire Wharton population, I would say that people here want to achieve. We came here for a reason. That said, I’m definitely seeing more and more of a trend among students wanting to make an impact. Here, there are students going into different industries — from consulting to finance all the way to social impact — and they’re all thinking about ways they can make a difference in the world, and, even more so, what they can start in order to make a difference. So I’d say it’s a mix of thinking about making money for yourself, but also thinking about how you can see your impact on the community.

SF: On the community… what do you mean by that exactly.

ZH: Everyone defines their community differently. It could be a local community, it could mean pushing different ideas in terms of corporate social responsibility within a company. I think the spectrum is broad, from anyone starting their own business that does good, or working with a non-profit that does good, to going to huge corporations that may need a couple of fresh ideas and new perspectives to push the forefront of doing good for the world.

SF: That’s certainly a theme that we’ve seen evolving over the more than three decades that I’ve been here at the Wharton School. There’s much greater interest in having a positive social impact. In the study we did last year, now part of a book that I published through Wharton Digital Press called Baby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women in Work and Family, we compared the Class of 1992 graduating seniors with the Class of 2012 — same place, same school, same age, but twenty years later. One of the major trends we observed was a much greater interest, particularly among young women, in having a positive social impact, and your experience is certainly consistent with that study.

Abby, you’re a mom. How many moms are there in your class of 800 second-year MBA students?

Abby Holmes: Abby HolmesI can count them on one hand, so not that many.

SF: That certainly gives you a unique perspective. Your husband, if I have it right, is a teacher in Baltimore, and your daughter is a year-and-a-half, so you can’t be slacking very much to be managing all of that in your life! The perspective one often hears is that older people look at Millennials and think they’re obsessed with technology and really just interested in their own careers. How do you see it as a student-mom here in our school?

AH: I think Millennials are actually making a change in that a lot of people are more focused—especially women I would say—on having that balance between a family and a career. We are all trying to achieve in terms of a successful career and having that major impact, but I think we’re hearing more and more, both from employers trying to emphasize this during recruiting but also from students asking for this, that we want to be aware of a way to balance a career and a family. Being able to do that here at school is a challenge and being able to do that in the real world is also a challenge, but I think it’s definitely a hot topic among students and employers lately.

SF: How do you talk about this with a prospective employer? Especially in your personal story right now, when you can’t deny the fact that you have a child. Is that a liability for you, or an asset, or neither in your employment search right now?

AH: At times I’m worried it’s a liability. I want to be cognizant because I’m not trying to withhold that information, but at the same time I do hesitate to be as forthcoming because I guess I am worried that it is going to have a negative impact on the results.

SF: You think it could be held against you? Like, “how committed could she be really if she’s got a little girl at home?” is what they might be thinking.

AH: Yes, and obviously children do take away some of your time, so that’s less time that you could potentially commit to a company compared to a student who doesn’t have that type of commitment. It’s definitely in the back of my mind at most times, but I do try to be pretty open about my family situation and that I do have a child during the recruiting process.

SF: I wonder if there’s a way in which the assets that you develop as a mother—the skills that you have to cultivate, particularly with respect to managing time and boundaries well—if those can be presented as part of your repertoire of skills that you bring. Has that come up at all? Has that occurred to you or does it seem unrealistic?

AH: I mean I think it’s completely true, I just don’t know whether I would publicize it in that way. When I approach an interview, I’m thinking about being able to express skills that I’ve gained either through work or school. I don’t know whether I would voluntarily bring those skills up. I agree they’re very applicable, but…

SF: It be useful for you to do that. If I’m a prospective employer, and I’m a benign progressive person trying to change my organization to make it more hospitable to different kinds of people in all different kinds of lifestyle situations, I’m going to want to know who you are as a human being and what kind of skills you bring. If you have assets which you developed in another part of your life that are going to help me in my business and also help me demonstrate that this is a kind of place where anyone who is committed can thrive, then I’d like to know how you bring that.

What do you think about what I just said? Easy for me to say at 60 years old and my kids are in their twenties, so I don’t really have to worry about it in the same way.

AH: I guess I just don’t know if employers look at it in terms of those strengths outweighing what they might think is a liability. So I understand that it is a strength, and they do want to know and understand, but I’m still not sure.

SF: You and I both agree that this is a potential strength for you, Abby. Zinnia, can you weigh in on this?

ZH: Definitely. I do think it could be a strength from the management perspective. I definitely hear Abby’s concerns though: there are several strengths that she’s been developing as a mother, but how does that weigh against the potential needs of the organization in terms of her time? Questions might arise around after she leaves work—is she really leaving work at work? Depending on the employer that may not be as acceptable of a practice.

SF: Depending on the employer, I think that’s a very important caveat in that statement. Let’s talk a little bit more about that. I know students have been talking a lot more about this issue because it’s been the subject of a lot of conversations that I’ve been a part of here. How do those conversations go with a potential employer? Are you thinking in terms of choosing employers on the basis of whether or not they are indeed embracing the whole person? Is that something that is part of your calculus?

ZH: Definitely, given some of my future life goals. I was very privileged to work at Google when I left college, so I think that gave me a certain skewed perceptive regarding what certain employers are willing to allow in terms of flexibility in work schedules. Google is skewed fairly extremely in that way, based on my experience. Google would allow you to work from home if you needed to, to come in late or leave early if you had an appointment, etc. So even though I do not have a child, I could see that being a really helpful policy for a new mother or new parent. The flexibility around scheduling and your employers understanding that you can do the work if you have a computer and an internet connection is key. And you can do work for the most part with tech companies anywhere. That’s why I think Google, and increasingly other businesses, are becoming more flexible around their employees spending time in the office, and the perceived amount of work that they’re contributing.

SF: Are you going back to Google? Would you like to?

ZH: I’m definitely open to it. I think that later in life Google would be a great place to raise a family. They have wonderful policies for parents, so it’s definitely not a bad place to work.

SF: So is that eventually part of your plan to have children of your own?

ZH: That is something I’m still figuring out. It’s still on the table, but it’s not necessarily something I’m certain I want to do.

I mean having children is a bit terrifying to me personally. When I think about my future and what I want, I get concerned about the time and dedication you have to give to a child in order to raise it correctly.

SF: Zinnia’s smiling at Abby now with admiration…

ZH: It is admiration. I don’t know how so many women do it! But clearly there are a lot of them that do.

SF: It is a scary proposition. And indeed, another thing we found in the study that I called Baby Bust was that many people in your generation, both women and men, are choosing to opt out of becoming parents because of what you just described. What do you think about that Abby?

AH: I think it’s definitely something you need to consider. Careers are certainly challenging in terms of your time, and you have to dedicate a lot to them. I think a lot of people—if they want to take on the responsibility of starting a family—know that it’s a huge time commitment. I don’t think people want to have to give in one way or the other, so if they don’t feel like they can do both really effectively, they might make that decision to hold off on one side.

SF: You decided not to hold off and how are you feeling about that now that your one-and-a-half year old is being taken care of by somebody else, right? I don’t see her crawling around the studio here

AH: Her grandmother, my mother, is taking care of her right now. That helps a huge amount. She’s actually from Baltimore where I’m from. When I need help during the week she’ll come up with me to Philadelphia. We have quite the arrangement. It’s kind of a long story, but my sister is an opera singer, and she works a lot of part-time jobs, so she usually watches my daughter when I’m in class. When she’s not available, my mom will travel with me up here during the week. I usually commute weekly.

SF: So you’re not here on the weekends? What about the whole MBA party scene? Is that not a big part of your life?

AH: Not a big part. Being a mother has forced prioritizing what I wanted to get out of my experience here.

SF: You’ve missed out on some of the social aspects of life here on the MBA campus. What’s been the upshot of that for you?

AH: I think it was actually good because a lot of students when they first arrive have an issue of trying to figure out where exactly they want to spend their time. They end up doing too much and getting stretched too thin.  I was forced to prioritize from the beginning. I didn’t waste too much time doing things that weren’t quite as valuable.

SF: So Zinnia, what do you think about that?

ZH: I’m a little envious of Abby and that she’s been able to focus like that.

SF: There’s a lot of research about focus that shows this to be true. A recent Federal Reserve Bank study actually showed that working moms are better at managing their time than other women. Abby, you’re shaking your head…

AH: It’s a necessity I think. You’re forced to.

SF: And Zinnia you said you’re kind of envious of the laser-like focus that a working mom has to have.

ZH: Definitely. As a student here you might have your plan and what you’re intending to focus on for that week or that semester or even the entire experience, but then other things always pop up. I think if I were in Abby’s position it would be a lot easier to say no to certain things, whereas I definitely feel pressure—it’s internal pressure in most cases—to always say yes and do those things and get the “most” out of this experience. Whereas I think in Abby’s case she’s definitely getting the most out of her experience in her own way.

SF: Abby you don’t experience FOMO? Fear of missing out? Which is ubiquitous on this campus, is it not?

AH: I think I did during the first semester. I felt like I was missing out on something—I wasn’t going to all the parties or doing every single Happy Hour—but I think I did start to find groups of people in my areas of interest, and I gained that social side in a different way. I think I got over that FOMO by the second semester, which was good.

SF: The more I hear the both of you speak about it, it seems pretty clear to me, Abby, that there are assets that you have as a working mom that you might want to consider how to frame in conversations. The evidence is on your side. Something that could help to create change in this world would be presenting that idea and perhaps shifting the perceptions of employers.

Let’s get back to our discussion of employers. How do you know which are the good companies to work for? What are you looking for? You mentioned Google, Zinnia, their extreme flexibility. Indeed, the investment banks I know are talking about, “Wow, we’re losing all of our top talent to Google—we need to do something.” Aside from Google though, how do you and your classmates think and talk about where you want to work?

ZH: One thing we certainly consider is what employers are saying and what they are touting when they come to campus. Is it their flexible work lifestyles, or is it daycare programs on campus to help working parents, what is it? Part of it is what they’re saying, but you have to look at what they’re doing because it could be different.

SF: Ah, so there might be a lot of rhetoric that might not match the reality? Do you tend to look skeptically at those pictures of daycare centers when companies pop them up on the screen?

ZH: In certain industries, maybe. I plan on going back into the tech industry, and I would give those companies a little bit more benefit of the doubt, in terms of what level of flexibility they’ll allow for their employees. But I think you also have to look at what they’re doing. What are employees actually taking advantage of? You could have ten programs for working parents, but if the employees aren’t taking advantage of them, that says a lot, too.

SF: How do you find these things out?

ZH: You have to talk to people. You have to ask, “Okay, on Fridays if I needed to leave early to go to an appointment, what would your manager’s reaction be?

SF: “Oh, we don’t want to hire her because she’s obviously not committed,” they might be thinking then. You’re not afraid of that? In doing your due diligence on companies, you don’t think you’re giving away an ambivalent commitment by asking questions like that?

ZH: I think it depends on the industry and the company. You have to be an active listener before you ask those questions. It’s definitely not the first thing you walk in saying, “When can I take off?”

SF: What’s your perspective on that Abby, in terms of how you find the right fit and what kinds of information are available to you as you’re scanning the employment market?

AH: I think the most valuable information, like you said Zinnia, is going to be through your personal networks. I find that I’m generally not getting that kind of information coming from the recruiting team, or trusting it if I am, but when I go through the alumni network or personal networks and try to get a real perspective to see, for example, if there are women there who have families and are able to manage it, then that says something. I think that’s where you’re going to get the most honest perspective about what is still tough about doing it at a given organization and what do they have that helps you. I think networks are the biggest resource in terms of finding that kind of information.

SF: So what’s going to be necessary to create meaningful change in today’s business world in which you both want to become leaders? What do you think is the most pressing issue that the business sector faces in terms of becoming the place where you, your friends, and your future children, would want to contribute?

ZH:  I think part of it is just openness. This relates to the points Abby and I just made about trying to get information to assess whether or not an organization is open to certain levels of flexibility. For meaningful change there has to be a shift in openness on the topic of work-life integration If we shift to a more open culture where people feel comfortable talking about these things, both from a top-down and a bottom-up perspective, and across industries, that could really drive meaningful change. I think it’s starting to happen over the past several years, but it still needs to be more open.

SF: Let’s say the recruiting department of IBM is listening to this show right now, what would you tell them?

ZH: I would say put the people in the organization who are doing a “good” job of managing their work and their life on your recruiting committees and put them talking to students, just to let them know that there is a shift in culture.

SF: And it’s important to see the good and the bad, right? I would want to know, “What are you wrestling with? What’s hard about trying to create meaningful change in the culture of your organization, and how are you dealing with that? Abby, what do you see as the great challenge facing companies trying to adapt to a new world order?

AH: I agree that a lot of it is having openness and transparency, but I also think that flexibility is essential. We are seeing much less traditional work models moving forward—women working, men staying at home, and vice versa Having that flexibility to be able to make it work for someone in your company, no matter what their situation, will be important. It’s first the openness and the conversation as to how to handle that possibility, but then also enacting that. I think there is a lot of talk about flexibility—especially in the more traditional industries such as investment banking or consulting. How are they really making things flexible for people? And how can they continue to exhibit that moving forward from the top down?

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.

About the Author

Morgan Motzel Morgan Motzelis an undergraduate senior in the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business at Penn focusing on Management and Latin America.

The Career Job is Not Dead: Matthew Bidwell

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 Matthew Bidwell, Assoc Prof of Management at the Wharton School whose research focuses on work and employment patterns.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Please tell our listeners about your research on the lives and careers of our Wharton students and alumni.

Matthew Bidwell: Matthew BidwellOur survey in 2011 asked all alumni, 30K of them, about what they have been doing, what jobs have they held.  I focused on those who graduated since 1990, but the whole sample includes some from as far back as 1940s. We looked at where they worked, what kind of jobs they held within their organizations and across different organizations. We were trying to understand inside vs. outside moves. We certainly move around more. Some have been in a firm 20-30 years. 10% of grads from 1990 spent their career in one place. But even with those who graduated in 1990 we found most moved across companies.

SF: Much is being written about how career paths and employment patterns are changing now, that Millennials especially stay in jobs for shorter tenures.

MB: We looked at titles,seniority, how many people they managed. We found that by the 2nd or 3rd job 80-90% were managing others which is a good proxy for are they moving up. Career jobs are sick but not dead. Most still stay within an organization and then move.  When people moved inside the firm they tended to double the number of people they managed. But when they moved across firms the number they managed stayed the same. Moving up the ladder happens within organizations. The new employer doesn’t know you well, so they don’t hire you for a higher level job. It’s too risky for the new firm.

SF: What can you predict?

MB: If you’re looking to climb the ladder, then stay internal especially if you’re doing well. If you don’t like your employer, if there are not opportunities within, then you can consider a move. But you may not be able to get a job with promotion; promotion occur within the company.

SF: So why is there so much mobility now?

MB: You move sideways when you move across firms. So why do people bother? More money.  When you move outside our firm the new employer tends to pay more, but the new job does not include a higher level title or increased responsibility.

SF: And what did you discover about life outside of work?

MB: Of the 30K who received the survey only 5 – 6 K responded. We asked about family situations – marital status and the like. We asked about how much they were working (number of hours), work/life satisfaction. MBAs report that they work a lot. The median reporting was 60+hours/week at graduation; investment bankers, 75 hours/week; consultants, a bit less.  Ten to 15 years later all report working 55 hours/week.

SF: In my study of the classes of 1992 and 2012, reported in Baby Bust we found that, at the time of graduation, the Class of ’92 reported working 50 hours/week on average while the Class of 2012 reported working 70 hours/week.  This seemed to be largely due to the funneling into investment banking and consulting.  What trends did you see?

MB:  We looked at how things differed for men and women. From the outset men and women looked at different jobs. They were not less likely to be offered high paying jobs, but women were less likely to apply for those.

SF: Why?

MB: Work/life balance factors. The higher paying jobs demanding greater hours per week were seen as macho, aggressive. Finance jobs scored lower for women.

SF: What’s the takeaway for the modern career?

MB: The career job is not dead. You shouldn’t plan on it, but there are real benefits of staying.

Matthew Bidwell, Assoc. Prof of Management at the Wharton School studies work and employment patterns including mobility, promotion, outsourcing, staffing and more.

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.


Millennials are a Great Source of Optimism — Lisa Belkin

Contributor: Alice Liu Work and Life is a two-hour radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday from 7 pm to 9 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 Lisa Belkin, recently named Senior National Correspondent for Yahoo! News. A reporter for social issues and trends, Belkin has shown herself to be one of the great chroniclers of the work-life revolution. She discusses the meaning and implications of the “opt-out” revolution, a term that Belkin coined in a New York Times story about 10 years ago. The following are edited excerpts of Friedman’s conversation with Williams.

Stew Friedman: You’ve been covering work-life issues since before everyone became part of the conversation. What’s changed since you first got into this game?

Lisa Belkin: Lisa BelkinSo much and yet not nearly enough. I think the biggest difference is that before, it was considered a mommy issue and a women’s issue, but now it’s considered a lot more of a worker’s issue for both genders.

SF: What are the big outcroppings in the world that give you confidence that such a shift really has occurred?

LB: Well about 5 to 10 years ago, men began to stand up about work-life issues and say, “Excuse me.” They have been saying it far more loudly recently, and they’re right. It wasn’t that men always had it all and women had to choose. Men had to choose too, but they often made different choices because society accepted certain options more than others for men. I have been correctly called out over the years for referring to “her” when really I should be referring to “us” – all of us: men and women.

SF: In your career chronicling the work-life revolution, what do you see as the greatest source of optimism?

LB: Millennials. I have great faith, or at least great hope, in Millennials. They tell pollsters that they are going to do things differently. They are going to select partners who want more equality at home, they are going to insist on more flexibility at work, they are going to choose jobs based on things that fulfill them and also allow them to have a life. They’ve seen their parents in positions where they realized that the job doesn’t love them back, and they’re determined not to fall into that trap, and to have a life outside of work. How they feel once they’re further down the road toward mortgages, children and responsibility is anyone’s guess, but they certainly have started out more determined to claim their own space in the world than any generation we’ve seen. At least they’re talking about it. My generation wasn’t, so I’m optimistic about what I see. There’s been some interpretation of this Millennial attitude as “entitled”, but I think that instead what we’re seeing is a new philosophy about the importance of work and family in their lives.

SF: In our Baby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women in Work and Family longitudinal study here at the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, we’ve found that Millennials are much less likely to plan to have children than the Gen Xers. One of the major findings is that so few people see a clear path forward with their careers that will allow them to have and take care of their children. Many of them are now consciously and deliberately opting out of parenthood.

LB: In a way that’s very sobering. I think that Millennials are probably looking realistically at the generation ahead of them and saying, “It was too hard, there is no role model for me – someone who did it and didn’t drive themselves insane in the process.” It makes me sad that there’s a generation that’s feeling trapped. However, I also suspect that in every generation until now we’ve had a good number of people who didn’t feel free to make the decision to not have children. It was an expectation, and although it has become less so with each decade since 1970, in some ways it is still an expectation. People still start looking at you and wondering “when” not “if.” But parenthood isn’t for everyone. In a way the Baby Bust: New Choices findings show that some people now feel freer to say, “Wait a second, let me take a realistic look at what I want out of life, as opposed to doing what I’m told I want out of life.” In that way it’s a good thing.

If you are a Millennial, do you anticipate opting out of parenthood or opting out of the workforce? If so, how do you plan on creating a new path that embraces both parenthood and work?  Join us in the comments section below with your thoughts and experiences.

Tune in to Work and Life next Tuesday, April 29 at 7 to 9 PM Eastern on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Prasad Setty, Google’s Vice President of People Analytics, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, President & CEO of New America Foundationand author of the ground-breaking article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” in The Atlantic.Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author Alice LiuAlice Liu is an undergraduate senior studying Management at The Wharton School and English (Creative Writing) at the College of Arts & Sciences.