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Culture And Purpose Are Their Own Reward: Tom Gardner, The Motley Fool

Contributor: Liz Stiverson

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 The Wharton School. 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 Tom Gardner about the qualities that make great corporate culture and the rewards top performers really care about. Gardner is the co-founder and CEO of The Motley Fool, a financial services company designed to “educate, amuse, and enrich,” which was recently named by Glassdoor the #1 best place to work among United States companies with 250-1,000 employees.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Starting from the beginning – the founding idea – what’s the secret sauce to Motley Fool that makes it the best place to work?

Tom Gardner: Tom GardnerMy older brother and I founded The Motley Fool in 1993. It was the result of our father’s teaching us how to invest in stocks as kids and teenagers – we were really taught that investing is a game. We weren’t taught Greek alphanumerics or obscure terminology.  We weren’t even taught that much about risk. We were taught how to follow companies we loved, how to learn a little more about them, how to recognize that corporations aren’t a monolithic structure on the edge of town that you could never really know about.  They’re run by every-day people around you in society who are making good or poor choices, which lead to results for shareholders and employees. We saw a human face to business at an early age, and that has had an impact on all that we’ve worked on since.

SF: You’ve said that the two main success factors for any company are the commitment of its founder and CEO and its culture. What do you think a great work culture is?

TG: I think a great work culture requires that the organization genuinely cares about every individual working there. That gets harder as the company scales, but there are certainly unbelievably great companies that have succeeded in maintaining culture as they scaled, and I’ve learned so much from studying those companies. I would cite as an example the Brazilian company Semco, which has 3,000 employees and less than 1% turnover. Ricardo Semler, the founder of Semco, wrote Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace almost 20 years ago, and a few years ago, he wrote a follow-up called The Seven Day Weekend: Changing the Way Work Works. Among the principles in that book, that seemed preposterous but that we are experimenting with, with some very serious early success, is the idea that every day is Saturday.  We say to employees, “Today is Saturday. What do you want to do today?” If you tried to do that in a single day with an entire organization, it would be a revolution that would lead to chaos, so we are gradually introducing that concept over time, starting with the highest performers, and starting with more specific questions like, “How much flexibility do you want to have? Is it important to you to be in the office from nine to five every day, or would you like to alter your hours? Redefine your role – what is your ideal job description?” When the highest performers get that kind of freedom, everyone else starts to see it and think, “That looks great. I’d like to get that too.  I want to be a high performer as well.” Through performance, teams gain more freedom and flexibility, more opportunities and challenges, and more financial rewards. Financial rewards in most companies are the first reward offered with the assumption that the highest performers would like to be paid a lot more money. The reality is that the highest performers would like more challenges, more purposeful work, a freer work schedule, and more opportunities to define their own jobs.

SF: How did you implement that idea?

TG: We started with our highest performer for the longest time – Max, who had worked at the Motley Fool for 15 years and has done great work. We said, “Max, how do you want to work? You tell us. Take the week off and outline your job description – everything from the work hours you’d like, to where you’d like to be working, to the challenges you’d like to take on.” Some people can readily do that, and others need to be coached through how to think about it. I think the longer term your high performer is, the easier it is for them to define their role.  They’ve been with the company for a long time and they understand the business’ purpose and strategy. In many cases, the modifications they offer are just tweaks. They’ll say things like, “Could I have one three-day weekend every month, just to have some family time?” We often respond, “Why don’t you take two?” Because if you’re already performing at an elite level, we don’t have to baby-sit you in the workplace. As we move down and across the entire organization with that approach, we’ve found significantly enhanced results across all of our metrics and all of our stakeholders.

SF: What are the metrics that tell you this is an idea that works? And what happens when you get to the people who are at the lower end of both tenure and relative performance?

TG: In terms of tracking, some of that data comes from 360-degree feedback, some comes from measurable goals outlined in job descriptions, and some comes from an intangible connection to the overall results of the business. And as we move to lower performance zones, we’re coaching individuals about what it means to be a high performer, with increasing amounts of evidence from other high performers at the company.  

SF: How do you share what excellence looks like in a Motley Fool-ish way, speaking the truth without making anyone feel uncomfortable?

TG: In general, we find – and the Stanford Graduate School of Business’ Advisory Council reached the same conclusion, which affirmed this view – that a leading quality of great performers and great leaders is self-awareness. Our highest performers are pretty consistently able to say something that might sound like, “I have a lot of ideas, and I love working with people, but I’m not very organized and I don’t plan well.” Or, “I have a lot of ideas and I’m great at testing, but I don’t scale things very well, and I like to work on my own – I’m not great in teams.” They know what they’re good at and they know what they’re not good at. By establishing that, anchoring them on their strengths and pairing them with people in teams who complement those strengths you create a safe environment for someone who may not be performing at a high enough level. In cases where we’ve had performance issues, it has often come because someone feels very strongly that they have a talent which they have in fact mis-assessed, and their work doesn’t express what they think it does. Working with those people to see where their core competency really is and how to apply it on their team, we often end up switching their roles. It is true that there are some limited circumstances where someone we hire just doesn’t work out, but we’ve found that moving people into different roles can unlock interests and capabilities that didn’t show up in their first job as a Motley Fool-er.

SF: How does the social mission of Motley Fool – “helping the world invest better” – affect the motivation of employees and, more importantly, their lives beyond work?

TG:  Here is a ranked order of the rewards The Motley Fool promises to every employee: 1. A salary that allows you to live in the area of our offices with reasonable comfort. 2. Purposeful work, and a company purpose you can believe in. 3. Challenges every day, week, and month that are exciting, interesting, and that you look forward to. 4. The people you work with, you love. 5. The flexibility to do your best work on your own terms. 6. Financial upside. Wall Street moves financial upside to the top of the list – we believe, as Steve Kerr and Dan Pink have written about, that financial upside is important enough to be in the top six rewards, but it’s near the bottom of those six. You asked about purpose:  Everyone who works at The Motley Fool is connected to our purpose and accepts it as a reward for working here. A primary criticism I have in reviewing a company is a purpose that’s not fundamentally true to what they produce or do. If I’m looking at a fast food company, I want to know that the CEO is eating there most days. The simple check on whether we’re helping the world invest better is that we know our friends and families are subscribing and investing on the basis of our ideas, and we as employees invest based on our own ideas. We definitely have an eat-your-own-cooking, skin-in-the-game mentality.

Tom Gardner is the co-author of several books on investing, including The Motley Fool Million Dollar Portfolio: How to Build and Grow a Panic-Proof Investment Portfolio. Hear more from him on Twitter @TomGardnerFool.

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

Liz Stiverson Liz Stiversonreceived her MBA from The Wharton School in 2014.


Give People Freedom and They Will Amaze You: Prasad Setty

Contributor: Liz Stiverson

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 The Wharton School. Every Tuesday from 7 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 Prasad Setty, Vice President of People Analytics and Compensation at Google – Fortune Magazine’s number-one company to work for – about how Google uses rigorous data to make hiring, promotion, and development decisions that keep Googlers the happiest they can be – and working for Google for as long as possible.

The following are edited excerpts from their conversation.

Stew Friedman: What exactly is “people analytics,” as a field?

Prasad Setty:Prasad Setty Broadly, our mandate is to make sure that all the people decisions we make at Google are based on good data and information. An organization our size makes thousands of people decisions every year – who we should hire, who we should promote, how we should pay people. In a lot of cases, it seems like those decisions are based on emotions, instinct, or perhaps politics; we want to try and make them more rigorous. At Google we are all about innovation and we believe that innovation comes from the smart, talented Googlers we hire. Therefore, we think that people decisions are no less important than any other business or product decisions we make so we want to base those decisions on data.

SF: Do your colleagues on the executive team at Google agree with this view?

PS: They actually do. Right from the beginning, that’s been something I’ve been really happy about. Even before I joined Google, there has always been a perception that we need the best talent, and we need to keep them happy.

SF: What have been some of the really important things you’ve learned from your scientific inquiry in people analytics research that you’ve converted into practice at Google?

PS: I’ll give you one example that’s worked out really well for us. It’s an effort we internally call Project Oxygen, and it’s about people management. We felt there was a perception, especially among our software engineers, who pride themselves on having very creative, independent careers, that people managers are bureaucrats who stand in your way. Very early on, before I joined, Google ran an experiment where they removed all the middle layers of management, so all 500 engineers working at the time reported to the head of Engineering. It was a short-lived experiment because the head of Engineering got very busy. But the sentiment about bureaucracy persisted.

A few years later, our team started to look at the question of whether people managers matter at an organization like Google. Using a lot of data, including surveys of people who worked for managers about their managers’ performance, we found there were differences. There were some managers who were able to make their teams more productive and reduce attrition, and other managers who weren’t. We wanted to know whether this was a matter of random chance, or whether these apparently great managers were actually doing something consistent, specific, and thoughtful. So we ran a double-blind study to see if we could figure out what differentiated effective managers from ineffective ones. From that study, we were able to codify eight behaviors we saw great managers doing and poor managers not doing – those are the Oxygen attributes.

The attributes fall into two broad categories. Half of them are about whether the manager helps the team drive business results – Do they set goals? Do they share information? Do they make sure their employees get the resources required to complete tasks? The other half is about how well they treat each person as an individual – Do they act as a good coach? Do they help with career development? My team developed an upward feedback survey which is being sent to every Googler twice a year to enable them to review their managers on these eight attributes, and each manager then receives a consolidated report on what they do well and where they can improve. The next step is what made this really interesting for our organization. People Development, Google’s internal training and development group, took these behaviors and built custom programs for managers to improve on each attribute.

SF: So the feedback is connected to behavioral interventions and training that can help?

PS: That’s exactly right. We track whether managers sign up for the classes, and six months later, we’re able to see if the classes have had any impact. We’re constantly getting feedback, trying to make our development programs better, and trying to help our managers improve, and we’re really happy with the results. On average, Google managers’ scores have increased 5-10 points over the last several years. But more importantly, the scores of the bottom ten percent of managers have gone up an average of 20 points.

SF: What is it about Google that it is fundamentally different from other companies with respect to how work and life fit together for your people?

PS: We want people who are amazingly capable and talented, and we want to keep them happy – we want them to be healthy and have long, sustainable careers here. In our annual employee surveys, we regularly measure this notion of well-being. How satisfied are Googlers, and what are the things that might affect their overall well-being? How can we improve those things? We find there are many dimensions to well-being – employees’ ability to handle stress and their workloads, flexibility in arrangements around where and when they work – and we look at all of those areas. We also look at how people managers support the efforts of employees, and that feedback is very important to managers. When we started making reports available to individual managers, we gave them the option to share their scores with their teams. Many managers came back to us and said, “What I’m missing is a button that will allow me to share it with everyone at Google.”

SF: That’s certainly consistent with Google’s philosophy of sharing information, right?

PS: That’s exactly right – we try to live that internally as well. Transparency is one of our core cultural values, and generally, we think that if we give people freedom, they will amaze us. That means we need to give them lots of information so they can make good decisions.

SF: What’s on the horizon for you as you think about the next big project for people analytics at Google? What are you working on that could be applied to other organizations?

PS: We are working on a 100-year survey we call gDNA – Google DNA – which will track several thousand Googlers over the course of their entire careers to understand how careers evolve and what role work plays. We hope it will help us uncover deeper connections between what work and life means. Broadly, we want to track people’s life happiness and what work contributes to that life happiness as they progress in their careers.

SF: Do you have any theories as to what will be the key drivers of life happiness?

PS: At this point, we are looking at certain personality traits for some of the nature-versus-nurture differentiations. Then, we want to look at how careers evolve – some people have very high career trajectories – is that something that’s conducive to more life happiness? Other people slow down at some stage in their life and have other priorities that make work secondary – does that kind of optimization result in greater overall life happiness when they look back decades later? I hope that as an organization, we are able to adapt and make Google conducive for employees to best lead their lives. That’s the commitment we’d like to make to Googlers – we want Google to be the kind of place where you come in, have impact that shapes the world and hopefully live longer because you worked here. We think that would be the best employee value proposition we could ever offer.

Prasad Setty describes himself as first and foremost a numbers guy; he started his career in management consulting and discovered his interest in connecting data and people topics at Capital One before joining Google in 2007. Google’s vanguard approaches to people management are profiled often, including studies of Project Oxygen and a recent blog by Laszlo Block, Google’s SVP of People Operations, on the implications of gDNA.

Join Work and Life on Tuesday, June 3 at 7:00 PM EDT on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Shannon Schuyler, on the payoff for socially responsible action, and with Liza Mundy, of whom we ask these questions – Who are the breadwinners? Who are the caregivers?  And why does it matter?  Visit Work and Life for our full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Liz StiversonLiz Stiverson received her MBA from The Wharton School in 2014.

Every Moment a Touchpoint for Building Trust — Doug Conant

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 Doug Conant, current Chairman of Avon Products and former President and CEO of Campbell Soup Company from 2001 to 2011. Conant discusses how to create positive company culture, where such a culture stems from, and what it means for the lives of the employees and the business performance of the company.

Following are edited excerpts of Friedman’s conversation with Conant:

Stew Friedman:  What do you do to engage and retain employees?

Doug Conant: Doug ConantWell the founding principle here—and it goes way beyond Campbell’s—is you can’t expect employees to value your agenda as an enterprise until you tangibly demonstrate that you value their agenda. So I think you have to lead by leaning in and tuning in to what your employees are looking for.

SF: How did you do that?

DC: We did it on an organized level, but I think as a leader you have to do it on a personal level. At a high level we surveyed our organization every year for ten years and basically said, “What’s working, what’s not, and what do we need to do differently?” We empowered over 600 work groups around the world to make the changes they needed to make to help build a better company. We asked them to just take on three things at a time, but over ten years, each group took on thirty things and made them better. As a company, we also took on thirty big things over ten years and made them better. We went from having the worst employee engagement in the Fortune 500 to having the best, and as the employee engagement got better our business performance got better.

SF: What was key to making that happen? I’m sure following through was critical because many companies do pulse surveys, collect the data, and have meetings to discuss what this data might say but nothing happens, which results in the employees thinking, “Well you might as well not have asked in the first place.

DC: I couldn’t agree with you more, and this is true throughout society. It’s episodic leadership. It’s the program of the day. It’s well intentioned. It starts well. It hits bumps. It loses momentum. It drifts away. You have to be a dog on a bone with this, and you have to persevere. The operating notion that guided us at Campbell’s is that you can’t talk your way out of something you’ve behaved your way into. I think as a culture we’ve behaved our way into a place where families are feeling a little bit abandoned, and we’re going to have to behave our way consistently back to a place where we are really truly valuing the family. In our case, we made this a ten-year odyssey. We had the ten-year goal of going from worst to world-class engagement. We got to world-class engagement in six years and got to best-of-class engagement at the end of year ten.

Conant discusses how he was able to turn around Campbell’s employee engagement levels from worst to best by addressing employees’ agendas first and foremost. If you are an employee, what is on your agenda? What would you like to see your company do better? Join us in the comments section below with your thoughts and experiences.

Conant is also Chairman of the Kellogg Executive Leadership Institute at Northwestern University, Founder and CEO of ConantLeadership, and New York Times best-selling author of TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments. To learn more about Conant’s work, visit his blog, follow him on Twitter @DougConant, or visit his website.

Join Work and Life on Tuesday, May 20 at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Janet Hanson and Nilofer Merchant. Visit Work and Life for our schedule of future guests.

About the Author

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

How You Think is How You Lead: Roger Schwarz

Contributor: Liz Stiverson 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 The Wharton School. Every Tuesday from 7 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 Roger Schwarz, who is CEO of Roger Schwarz and Associates, where he helps leaders and organizations attain better results by changing the way they communicate and work together. Friedman and Schwarz welcomed callers and talked about how great teams make work and the rest of life richer.

The following are edited excerpts from their conversation:

Stew Friedman: Roger, you work with clients in a model you call mutual understanding, which is based on a set of core values that are fundamental to the approach you bring to your work with leaders and others in organizations. What are those values?

Roger Schwarz: roger schwarzMutual learning is the approach that we believe makes for the most effective leadership in organizations and, I think, effective human behavior in general. The core values that guide mutual learning are transparency, curiosity, informed choice, accountability, and compassion. Everything we do as human beings occurs as a result of the values and assumptions from which we operate. What’s really in question is whether we are aware of the values and assumptions from which we’re operating, and how well they’re working for us.

SF: One of the things I find so compelling and powerful about your model of learning and change is that it really does apply to all aspects of human behavior in a social context, not just at work.

RS: It does. I almost always work with my clients in a work-related context, but I tell them that I don’t make a distinction between how I show up when I’m working with them as clients, how I show up when I’m working with my colleagues at Roger Schwarz and Associates or colleagues outside the organization, or how I show up when I’m simply being with friends or my family. That set of core values are ways I want to operate in the world at a fundamental level. I don’t draw boundaries about how I show up, even though I distinguish between work time, community time, and family time.

SF: In your work with clients, does the question of inconsistency about who they are or who they are not in different parts of life come up?

RS: When I work with clients, I’ll often give them a scenario that is purposefully ambiguous, where they’re in a conversation between two people about a presentation that didn’t go well. And one of the first questions clients almost always ask is, “Who reports to whom in this conversation?” I ask them why that’s important, and they say, “If Mike reports to Jennifer, I would do it this way, but if Jennifer reports to Mike, I would do it a different way.” That immediately brings up this idea that we should operate from different values depending upon the power dynamic in a relationship. That’s as opposed to saying – as we do to our clients – that if you’re operating from the same set of core values all the time, it’s essentially the same conversation whether the person you’re talking to has more power, less power, or the same amount of power as you have. If you have information to share, it’s relevant, irrespective of how much or how little the person opposite you has.

SF: Are you saying we should be speaking to our employees the same way we speak to our spouses and children?

RS: Yes. And when I say the same way, I mean that we should be transparent with them. We should talk with them in a way that helps them understand not only what we want, but how we’re thinking about the situation and how we’re feeling about it, so they understand what our reasoning is. We owe that to all the people we’re in relationships with. When you’re transparent by sharing your perspective and ask questions to see if the person opposite sees things the same way, you’re showing compassion by being curious and asking that person to be accountable for a response. If you come across with implicit or explicit judgment, it undermines your genuine curiosity, and makes other people respond defensively. Curiosity allows you to have conversations in a way that suspends judgment. Judgment is essentially taking information we already have and adding meaning before determining if that meaning is true. Suspending judgment is hard to do – the key is to first become aware when you’re making judgments.

SF: How can leaders and others in organizations get started on these conversations?

RS: I don’t think there’s one right way to do it – there are a number of ways that can work. You can take your staff to an off-site for a day, or you can add it to the weekly staff meeting agenda. I think the most important thing in either case is that your team understands why you’re trying to do this. You should be transparent with them about the fact that you’re trying to understand some of the instances where you didn’t get the results you wanted, and you’re willing to ask and answer questions. It’s also critical that you work from real examples. If you just talk in general terms about how you think you have different assumptions, you and your team will never really know if you’re talking about the same thing. Instead say, “Let’s take this situation we faced recently where we tried to make a decision or implement something and it didn’t go well, and let’s walk through it together and figure out how we got on different paths that led us to be ineffective.” Start by agreeing on the results you got – in terms of performance, working relationships, and individual well-being and work backwards from there. Mutual learning is a way of thinking that says, “I understand some things, and you understand some things. Let’s talk about what we understand, find where we see things differently, and learn about our differences and how we can use them to our benefit instead of being afraid of them.” It starts with thinking about the conversation – about what assumptions you, as a leader, have made, what values drive your expectations and how you feel – and approaching others with a goal not to try to convince them of anything, but to find out what they really think. Anyone can get better at this. If you have some inkling of curiosity as a human being, you have the wherewithal to develop compassion, transparency, and everything else you need for mutual learning.

Schwarz highlights a way of communicating that leads to strong relationships, but may be hard to implement in organizations or cultures with strong hierarchies or cultures where discussing feelings is not the norm. Have you had experiences talking about your values in the workplace? Did they help or hurt your progress and effectiveness? Join us in the comments section below with your thoughts and experiences.

Roger Schwarz is the author of Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams: How You and Your Team Get Unstuck to Get Results and The Skilled Facilitator: A Comprehensive Resource for Consultants, Facilitators, Managers, Trainers, and Coaches. Hear more from him on Twitter @LeadSmarter.

Join Work and Life tomorrow, Tuesday, April 29 at 7 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Prasad Setty, VP of People Analytics and Compensation for Google, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, the author of the ground-breaking Atlantic article that ignited a new national conversation on “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”. Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author: Liz StiversonLiz Stiverson is a 2014 MBA candidate at The Wharton School.

What I Wish I’d Known: Get Credit for What You Already Do

Contributor: Liz Stiverson

What I Wish I’d Known is a series in which MBAs offer lessons learned about integrating work and life in their first jobs.

“I will never forget my first bad review. I was an Analyst at an investment bank in Milwaukee, and at the end of my first deal, I sat down with the Vice President to talk about my performance. He opened the conversation by saying, ‘You’re doing good work, but I’m afraid you’re not putting in enough time on projects, and that could really limit your long-term potential here.’ I was speechless. I had been at my desk seven days a week, 14 hours a day for the past two months. When I said as much, my boss looked confused and asked ‘Why don’t I see emails from you on nights and weekends?’ I had assumed the polite thing to do was to respect his personal time and delay the delivery of all my emails until normal working hours unless it was an emergency. I was putting in the wrong kind of face-time – visible where he couldn’t see me and silent where he expected to hear me.”

— Joanna, 28, MBA candidate

Joanna’s is a familiar story.  For many people, it takes a lesson learned the hard way to realize that how you work can matter as much as the quality of the work you do. Here are two insights to spare you the same hard knocks:

Know the norms about communication on- and off-peak time.

Face time and flexibility mean different things in different organizations. Joanna assumed that what counted was being in the office, but what mattered to her boss was not where she worked but how much time he was able to observe; she could work anywhere she liked as long as he was aware that she was putting in the time.  After that first difficult conversation, she started working weekends from home, sending all emails immediately.  She was as productive but spent less time because she was saving time on her commute and she was now getting credit with her boss for the work she was doing.. Recent Catalyst research found that most high-potential employees have access to some kind of flexibility at work, in hours or location. When starting at a new firm, in a new department, or with a new manager, ask about these unwritten norms. If you don’t feel comfortable initiating that conversation with your boss, ask your office mates, other members of your team, or colleagues who have worked with your boss before. This will help you both deliver on the real expectations at work while allowing you to have time for the rest of your life.

Look for ways to work smarter, not more.

For a smart and motivated new hire, the easiest and perhaps most natural response to Joanna’s boss would have been a chagrined, “Sure, I can definitely put in more time.” Our bosses are also smart, motivated people who want to get things done, and most of us will be challenged at some point about how much time we spend at work completing specific tasks or projects. Another common form the question takes is, “Why do you think it will take to the end of the week to finish this? Can’t you do it by Wednesday?” Joanna did an important thing when she answered by giving her boss more information and asking clarifying questions. Rather than immediately offering more time – thereby trading off time for yourself, your family and friends, and your other interests – be sure you understand what’s needed. It might be simply better communication. Protect the time you spend not working by leveraging the work you’re already doing.

Not working for a firm that offers flexibility, or wondering what happens when face time is non-negotiable? Visit the Forum next month for a What I Wish I’d Known perspective on realistic expectations for work/life integration at the beginning of your career, and first steps you can take toward more flexibility.

About the Author

Liz StiversonLiz Stiverson is a 2014 MBA candidate at The Wharton School. Reach her in the comments section of this post.