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Gaining Self-Control — Katy Milkman

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 Katy Milkman, the James G. Campbell Jr. Assistant Professor at the Wharton School with a secondary appointment at the Perelman School of Medicine, both at the University of Pennsylvania.  She has been recognized as one of the top 40 business school professors under 40 by Poets and Quants, and was voted Wharton’s “Iron Prof” by the school’s own MBA students.  Katy uses “big data” to examine the choices we make and how self-control, or the lack of it, affects those choices.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation. And here’s the complete podcast.

Full Podcast with Katy Milkman

Stew Friedman: There may be a tendency to see self-control as personal issue.  Why is self-control important for performance and effectiveness at work?

Katy Milkman: Katy MilkmanMaking deadlines, avoiding distractions, focusing; these all require self-control. Self-control is linked with higher I.Q and with greater productivity. Also having self-control effects health and being healthy means you can perform better at work

SF: What’s the association between self-control and IQ?

KM: Waler Mischel, the Stanford University psychologist who originated the marshmallow test back in the 1960s, told children that they could either eat the marshmallow now or, if they waited they’d get a second marshmallow.  Then he observed to find out how long they could wait, delay gratification. He found that those who were able to wait longer ultimately attained higher IQ later in life, and higher SATs, too.

SF: So, is the ability to delay gratification, to have self-controllearned or are you born with certain propensities? What’s your take on this?

KM:  Both.The example that I use is that it’s like a muscle. You can exercise it and strengthen it to improve outcomes and health.

SF: How did you personally get into studying this?  It’s a bit unusual for a business school professor.

KM: It’s “me”search. You have to be passionate about what you study. I always struggled with food cravings, going to the gym, focusing at work (not checking Facebook and Twitter), and my sweet tooth. I struggle with self-control.  Studying it, I could see that, “Oh, it’s not just me, others struggle, too.”  Studying this phenomenon allows me to contribute to the literature on it, increase knowledge for others, not just for myself.

SF: So what are the big insights? How can we avoid temptations?

KM: Uncertainty is bad for self-control. If you don’t know if you’ll have a job, or if you’re waiting for results from a medical test, or something like that, if there are these “incidental uncertainties,” then there’s a tendency to reach for the Ben & Jerry’s,  low-brow magazines, and the like.

SF: So, anxiety, or worry, interferes with our capacity to stay focused on tasks; to exert self-control?

KM: If something is unresolved, that’s when self-control diminishes.  When are the moments that we are most motivated to have self-control? And how can we encourage workers to go to the gym, to have flu shots? Google asked these questions about its own employees. When’s the best time to deploy incentives? How about the New Years’ Eve effect?  This is when there’s a fresh start, a new year, people start diets at a higher rate, go to the gym more. There are many fresh start moments, not just New Year’s Eve.

SF: Does the beginning of the day count?

KM: Yes, in hospitals, people sanitize their hands more at beginning of day. Within the day, yes, there are fresh starts. The start of a new week, or month, following birthdays and holidays – these are other fresh starts. They break continuous flow of time. My past failures are behind me; I can restart this month, have a fresh start, a new semester.  Except on the 21st birthday!  People search more on Google for diets at beginning of the month, for example.

SF: Religions do this, denote time.  This wisdom has been around for a while through religious rituals using the architecture of time.

KM: Is there a higher rate in the Jewish population of greater self-control after Yom Kippur? We’re studying it!

SF:  What did Google do with what it learned about timing? Is there extra messaging and are there more incentives offered when people are ripe for fresh start at the beginning of the week or month?

KM: You can’t send messages out all the time.  So, yes, they now target them at those fresh start moments.

Caller from Minnesota, Molly: I only have so much energy and then it breaks down. Willpower is like a muscle, it gets tired.  What can be done?

KM: “Temptatation bundling” helps with things like struggles to get to gym and watching too much low-brow TV.  What if you only watch low-brow when you’re at the gym?!   Time flies at the gym and you’re anxious to go to gym; you look forward to it, there’s an incentive. Temptation bundling harnesses the power of the temptation of the low-brow. You only let yourself go to the burger joint when you’re with a difficult colleague, or get pedicures when responding to email. So you give in to the indulgence and you find that you have available willpower storage, so you don’t exhaust or deplete the reserve.

SF: What has the biggest impact?

KM: Prompting people to form concrete plans about when they’re going to follow through. Let’s take an example with onsite free flu shot clinics, which are important because they decrease absenteeism, reduce costs, and yield happier and more productive employees.  So, how can a company increase free flu shot use?  We did a mailing, and we did the same mailing plus a prompt for the employee to write down a date and time when they would come to get the shot.  They didn’t have to reply, they were simply asked to write this down for themselves. There was a big effect; flu shot use went up 13%. And attendance more than doubled (with the writing-it-down group) when there was only one day flu shots were being offered.

And we’ve discovered the same effect with getting a colonoscopy – which is a lot more to ask!  Same thing. Write it down. Same with voter turn-out.  The prompt is free and yields big effects. It’s a way to overcome forgetfulness and procrastination.

Katy Milkman is the James G. Campbell Jr. Assistant Professor at the Wharton School and has a secondary appointment at the Perelman School of Medicine, both at the University of Pennsylvania.  Her research relies heavily on “big data” to document various ways in which individuals systematically deviate from making optimal choices. Her work has paid particular attention to the question of what factors produce self-control failures (e.g., undersaving for retirement, exercising too little, eating too much junk food) and how to reduce the incidence of such failures.  To learn more, follow her on Twitter @Katy_Milkman

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.



The Online Collision of Our Work and Personal Lives: Ariane Ollier-Malaterre

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 Ariane Ollier-MalaterreProfessor of Management at the University of Quebec in Montreal, where she conducts research on and teaches about work and life around the world.  Her recent work focusses on the impact of technology on our work and non-work lives.  The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: How did you get involved with and intrigued by the question of how life online collides with the rest of life?

Ariane Ollier-Malaterre: Ariane Ollier-MalaterrePrior to my life in academia, I was in the business world.  There I observed that, though we all have multiple identities and commitments in life, employers don’t seem to recognize or tackle this issue.

SF: What do you mean, they don’t tackle it?

AO: Most organizations operate under the myth that we leave our private lives at the door. But in truth, as your work demonstrates, Stew, when you come to work you come to work as a full person,  with history and with emotions and it’s a challenge to behave as if you are a professional robot.   Employers expect employees to behave in only a professional way, bounded by the physical space (the office) and the time (the work day).

SF: You’re saying that theboundaries are often ignored to detriment of both parties. So what about the research you’ve been doing onsocial networks with my colleagues here at Wharton, Nancy Rothbard and Justin Berg?

AO: Facebook has 1.3 billion active users, when last I checked, and half are on every day. On social networks, people average 130 connections including 16 co-workers, and sometime supervisors. So interactions at work extend to cyber space, online. But you also have personal things happening online. You may have supervisors, coworkers, clients, friends, family; all online.  People forget who has access, they disclose too much to their “invisible audience.”

SF: So what happens when these professional and personal worlds collide online?

AO: Cyberspace offers opportunities to connect with colleagues and broadcast information, for example to market a product or book.  But it also creates challenges. In real life we have boundaries. We can segment time or space.  We can have different email in-boxes for different categories of connections. We have mental fences to help us simplify complex realities and remind us of social scripts. In the real world, as opposed to cyber space, you come to work in attire appropriate to the work setting and you use appropriate language, you behave in ways appropriate to your professional setting.

SF: In the real world there are markers, reminders: clothes, mores, norms, codes of conduct.

AO: Yes, you know not to wear a bathing suit to work. But you might post a family beach vacation picture in which you’re wearing a bathing suit.  What about if your Board of Directors sees that picture of you in your bathing suit on Facebook? They might be open to it, but their perception of you will change.

SF: With what consequence?

AO: We’ve found that there are important consequences in terms of respect and liking. If you share many personal pictures, people might like you more because they know you more. They may also like you less, if, for instance, you have a different political opinion than they do.

SF: Better to avoid politics in cyber space?

AO: Yes. That’s part of the content strategy. If you feel the need to re-create the boundary that you don’t have in cyberspace, just share neutral material. And don’t share goofy comments.  the other thing is the audience approach. Try to control who gets to be connected to you and who gets to see your information.

SF: With whom should you connect? Supervisors? Peers? Subordinates? Should LinkedIn be for professional circles and Facebook for friends and family, for example?

AO: It depends on the goals. You can try to re-create some boundaries. If you do nothing to create separation, that’s an open approach, and you might disclose too much which can have serious consequences to your professional reputation. An example of an infamous social media disaster: “The Infamous Africa tweet” by Justine Sacco, a communications executive with IAC, who was on her way to South Africa and posted a tweet “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding.  I’m white! She spent 11 hours on the plane while the tweet ricocheted around the internet and when she landed, she was fired. Funny is hard; it’s risky. You can’t judge the audience so that you can make adjustments.

SF: So, is the open strategy is to be avoided? Should caution rule? What’s your advice?  What does the evidence indicate?

AO: It is best to try to do something about the collision of the worlds.  Ignore people or don’t accept their invitations.  But then, of course, you might offend people who, while colleagues, consider themselves friends of yours. But it is best to try to re-create boundaries. Make mental fences.  And be careful about content. Avoid politics, sexual orientation, and religion.

SF: So, avoid hot content. But what about invitations from colleagues and coworkers?

AO: Bosses who ask to be connected ask are intruding. And there can be consequences to team dynamics. What if boss is friends with one or two but not with others?

SF: Are there any benefits from cyber connectivity, bringing different parts together?

AO:  You get to connect with people with whom you work and that helps your charisma.  Mixing the professional and personal makes you seem authentic.  Creating different Google circles is an option.

Ariane Ollier-Malaterre is Professor at University of Québec in Montréal (UQAM), Canada. Her research investigates how individuals articulate professional and personal identities and responsibilities and how organizations address changing career and work-family issues in different parts of the world. @ArianeOllier

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.

A Champion for Change: David Thomas

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 David Thomas, Dean of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, about the state of diversity and inclusion in corporate America.  The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: How did you first get into this topic of diversity in corporate America?

David Thomas: David Thomas (by James KegleyI wasinitially interested in three topics: how organizations change, how people manage their careers, and the influence of race on opportunities. In the early 80s I was studying the dynamics of mentoring in large corporations under differing circumstances – mentoring within the same race and across race, mentoring with the same gender and across gender. This was in the context of an organization trying to change its culture.  It was so far ahead of its peers. I remained passionate about this for leaders, society, and for organizations.

SF: How wereyou personally shaped by mentoring relationships?

DT: I grew up in Kansas City MO, born in 1950s; a very segregated time. At younger than five years old when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “President.”  Only later did I say I wanted to be “the first black President.”  It’s interesting to say this now, as I’m sitting blocks from the White House which is occupied by our first black President. What’s interesting is that at five I wanted to be President, but only later, with the realization of my group identity, did I say “the first black President.”   Later, when I was not yet eight, I said “I’m going to be a lawyer.” By then I’d realized a black man couldn’t be President.  A lawyer was the next best. I saw the civil rights movement – preachers and lawyers. One went to jail, one got them out of jail. I wanted to be a lawyer.

SF: You wanted to liberate people.

DT: Yes, I wanted to try to create change, to make the world a better place. And I found my way into organizational behavior.

SF: How did you go from wanting to be a lawyer to the field of organizational behavior?

DT: In college I was a student leader around black identity in black community. At Yale, I studied the African movement in 1970s and stumbled on an organization behavior course relevant to student leadership work. I realized these were concept and tools that could change the world. There’d be lots of lawyers but few that had knowledge to make organizations better. So I went to grad school at Columbia and then back to Yale.

SF: You’ve been an observer of race, diversity, inclusion in organizations for decades — what has changed and was hasn’t?

DT: What has changed is that the gates of opportunity have opened up in a way so that no child can say that anything is impossible in the way that it was for me when I was a little kid; at that time it was not possible for a black kid to aspire to be President. That’s the positive. If you are black you can be President, a CEO, a senator, a CFO, a Corporate Board member. But still, when we look at the Fortune 250 there are only five black CEOs and the number of African Americans on Boards of Directors has been stagnant. The percent of African Americans in these elite ranks have remained about the same for two decades. There’s a sense that opportunity is not expanding and yet lack of representation is still connected to stereotypes. There is a great body of work on unconscious bias. I think this is the explanation, not intentional discrimination.

SF: Unconscious bias – define that for our listeners. It’s more pernicious than explicit racism.

DT:  Unconscious bias is the automatic reactions we have to particular people or demographic groups that are out of our awareness and that don’t necessarily represent what our intentions are. The major research findings are, for example, that people are more likely to associate women to family and men to career. People more quickly and easily make those associations.  What happens is that if boss has to send a subordinate on the road and both subordinates – a man and a woman — had a baby recently, the boss is more likely to walk over to male to assign him to being on the road of for two weeks. Unconsciously the boss has concluded that the man would be more likely to be open to this assignment. Fast forward two years, and these gateway assignments add up, the she’s lost out and he got the experience. She wasn’t even given the choice.

SF: You’re saying the manager didn’t intend to discriminate but his actions had a discriminatory effect. So what are we doing to deal with gender and race stereotypes in corporations and elsewhere?

DT: First, we know that because the expression of these biases is not intentional, if people can slow down they can become aware of the bias. For instance, the manager could walk in, describe the opportunity to both subordinates, and assess their willingness to take the opportunity.  Then it’s more conscious choice. The boss is more likely to make the choice based on task factors versus based on an unconscious set of assumptions.

SF: So, this is a more mindful approach to inclusion and diversity.

DT: Yes, you have to work with leaders and managers to help them become more mindful. It starts with acknowledging and then taking responsibility for the fact that they’re not immune to bias. Companies that are unwilling to accept that they may be susceptible to some kinds of bias are a problem.

SF: So how do you address this?  People believe and say “I’m not racist, I’m not sexist, so why blame me?”  How do you break into this?

DT: There’s a great tool, a self-administered test to assess whether you possess unconscious bias.. The Harvard Implicit bias test examines issues such as race, gender, skin color, age, gay straight, religion.  You can see where your own susceptibilities lie.  We all have biases that have been socialized into us. There’s been real success with students and with companies. The self-administered test opens people up to the fact that they’re not immune.  But also we are not destined to perpetuate biases.  Once they’re aware they have choices about how they act.

SF: We’re all products of our culture and local familial heritage.  To evolve we have to address these unconscious biases. What’s the most import step for schools and companies to be more inclusive and fairer?

DT:  Wittingly or unwittingly we exhibit bias.  Leaders need to take responsibility to create a diverse and inclusive workplace. I’m the chief diversity officer because I’m the CEO, I’m the Dean. You have to be willing to change processes that create unearned privilege or hindrances for groups of people. For example, a finance company used credit scores to help select employees. Because of differences in wealth, people of color have less wealth, so using a credit score perpetuates inequality. The company did away with using that criteria and used others related to the work. And, they did an experiment and found no relationship between credit scores and employ performance. Also credit scores go up with stable employment.

SF: Using the credit score as an entry requirement perpetuated the structural inequality. So, what does the future hold?

DT: I’m hopeful. I see many companies that are reinvigorating and reinvesting in diversity and inclusion. I am most concerned about unconscious bias in small and medium size companies, especially in tech companies. And tech is where the future lies. In silicon valley African Americans and Latinos are woefully lacking. Women, too.

David Thomas, Dean of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, is a recognized leader in the field of diversity in the workplace and author of Breaking Through: the Making of Minority Executives in Corporate America. To learn more about his ideas follow him on Twitter @ProfThomas.

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.

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.


Thriving at Work — Gretchen Spreitzer

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 Gretchen Spreitzer, Professor of Business Administration at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan about her research and teaching on thriving at work, part of the Positive Organizational Psychology scholarship.

Stew Friedman: How did you come to studying thriving at work, engaging with the work, and being productive at work?

Gretchen Spreitzer: gretchen spreitzerSeveral colleagues and I were talking about how much we loved our work and how meaningful it was, but also that it’s the type of job that is never ending; there’s always something to be done. We wondered how we could avoid burnout, but still be on the cutting edge. What we’ve found is that people thrive in their work when they feel energized, have vitality, feel alive at work, and feel as though their learning, growing, getting better.

SF: So what’s the impediment to this? Why doesn’t everyone feel energized and alive at work?

GS: People tend to learn from difficult situations; a crisis jolts people out of their complacency.  And it propels people to do better. We took the opposite tact. We wondered What about when there’s no crisis? How can we be pro-active?  How can people pro-actively manage rather than wait for a crisis?  How can we learn to turn on a light bulb to help people get more out of work and life?

SF: So what’s the key?  How can people take control and pro-actively find ways to thrive at home and work?

GS: We designed a study that asked people to report incidents when they are thriving at work and report when they feel they’re thriving outside of work. We found that those two correlated. When I’m thriving at work I’m doing things that create energy, not deplete energy. When they finished their day and went on to other activities, they had energy.

SF: It’s what social psychologists call “positive spillover” from one life domain to another. Feelings from one domain spillover to other domains; it’s not an either/or, it’s not a zero sum game.  It’s possible to have both, indeed it may be likely.

GS: We call it a “virtuous cycle.” It produce more resources rather than using up resources.

SF: Have you found that people in business are open to this idea that they can feel vitality at home and at work, or are they skeptical?

GS: Many people say they want that, but that they have too many other pressures and constraints that prevent them from making changes.

SF:  They feel trapped, they feel as though  they can’t make changes, that they can’t control their circumstances.  What can they do?

GS: With Jane Dutton I’ve written How To Be A Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big ImpactWe encourage people to figure out what small steps they can take to kick start a change in the right direction.

SF: This is similar to the Total Leadership approach I started at Ford Motor Company in the late 1990s.  We asked people to experiment with things that were under their control to create demonstrable and measurable change at work, at home, in the community and for their private self; what I call four way wins. And in doing this weekly radio show I hear the same thing each week from CEOs, practitioners, researchers. So why don’t more people do this?

GS:  We are kindred spirits. My point of view is that we need to look for the psychological pre-conditions that allow people to feel empowered, not the external factors. Self-empowerment includes four things: a sense of meaning or purpose in their job — a personal connection, a sense of competence, self-determination or autonomy, and impact. Being self-empowered is not about whether they are in an empowering situation.  An individual can feel self-empowered by finding ways to have meaning and purpose, for example helping customers or having strong connections at work.

SF: It’s relatively easy for us professors.  We have comparative freedom and resources. What about others?

GS:  Everyone can do this.  Our Center for Positive Organizations has developed a Job Crafting Tool.  It helps you figure out what are the parts of your job where you can still do the core work, but where you can make subtle changes, for instance in how, how frequently, or with whom you do different tasks. For example, how can a cook craft a job so it’s more meaningful, more energizing? What small changes around the edges can be made while still doing the core work? Maybe you can design a presentation on the plate so it’s more creative. The tool takes you through the process to find levers to make small changes even if you have little autonomy.

SF: What’s your advice for leaders in organizations, for managers, for small business owners?  How can they help to create an environment that supports and supports self-empowerment?

GS: If you are a leader you can be proactive, take the initiative, be transparent, minimize incivility in order to enhance high quality connections, provide performance feedback, and play to your own strengths.  If you are striving to be the best you, you are likely to thrive at work and elsewhere.

Gretchen Spreitzer is the Keith E. and Valerie J. Alessi Professor of Business Administration at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.  Her research focuses on employee empowerment and leadership development, particularly within a context of organizational change and decline.  Her most recent research examines how organizations can enable thriving.  This is part of a new movement in the field of organizational behavior, known as Positive Organizational Scholarship (www.bus.umich.edu/positive).   To learn more, go to http://howtobeapositiveleader.com/.


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.

Act Like a Leader — Herminia Ibarra

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 Herminia Ibarra the Cora Chaired Professor of Leadership and Learning and Professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD in France about creating meaningful change by acting your way into the future rather than by analyzing your options

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Before we talk about creating change by acting vs. analyzing, let’s talk for a moment about what the caller brought up –networking and social capital and the importance of asking for help.

Herminia Ibarra: Herminia IbarraNetworking is about getting to know other people, finding out what’s out there.  You may not even know what kind of help you need yet.  One of the great things about networks is they can give you help that you weren’t even asking for.

SF: What do you mean by networks helping in unanticipated ways?

HI: You maynot have great insight into what you’re facing. For example, with people who change careers.  A lot of times people will know what’s not working, what’s not satisfactory, but part of why they feel stuck is that they don’t know what they’d rather do. So, they don’t know how to search for it.  And sometimes they meet someone who’s doing something that they find fascinating, but they never thought about. So it’s a piece of information that comes their way, but they weren’t looking for it, they didn’t know to ask for it. If they didn’t have a network that reached out broadly they would never have learned about it. This happens constantly, especially with people who are trying to innovate.  They bump into someone who’s doing something that has part of the elements they’re looking for. So, I would back-track to the pre-help asking stage. And in those exchanges you learn how helpful you can be to other people. So then you’re not so shy about it when you actually need it yourself because you’re part of this exchange.

SF: You’ve observed that the more people provide help to others the less likely they are to be inhibited about asking for help themselves?

HI: Yes,because they see that that’s how it works. When you’re inhibited it’s when you feel you have nothing to offer. Why should they help me, I could never reciprocate. I’m being selfish. Back to direct asking for help when you need it. It’s a great principle, but it does need qualification. In my work on helping people build better networks there’s a few classic mistakes.  One is that you ask to a level that is not appropriate to the level of the relationship. If you don’t know someone very well and you ask them for a huge amount of time. It’s important to moderate it and ask for something commensurate with the nature of the relationship. Ask for something bite-sized.  Get your foot in the door.

SF: What’s another classic networking gaffe?

HI: Some think that if they ask for help they’re showing their boss that they’re not competent.  And there to you have to calibrate.  Of course, you need to ask for help when you need it but you need to carefully consider who should ask first and what you should ask. So, sometimes it’s better to go to your network, rather than a senior person in your organization so you don’t have to worry about how you’re being evaluated. A senior person in your organization might think that you’re asking for help shows a lack of initiative so it may be better to come equipped with some ideas. So, it’s ok to ask for help, but it’s also important to do your homework.

SF: So look outside the hierarchical chain to minimize risk.  What else have you learned in your extensive work on networks?

HI: The biggest thing is that most of us have networks that are much narrower than the ones we need. One network is one you need in order to get things done.  That’s the direct reports, boss, suppliers, service providers, customers, clients, etc on whom you need to rely to get things done.  That’s easier than what I call a strategic network which is going to help you advance your career, to change your game in some way. The strategic network needs to be a lot more widespread, diverse, external, and cross-boundary (outside your immediate function, team, or business unit). Because sometimes you don’t know what you’re looking for.  You need a much more helicopter, big picture view of what’s going on in your organization, in your industry, and people’s views.  You need this to develop good ideas and to help you understand the direction of changes.  It’s one thing to have mentors who you can turn to for help.  It’s quite another thing to have a network that’s broad and wide enough to help you to understand possibilities that you don’t even know about.

SF: The narrow network is easy and comfortable, populated by people like you.   You don’t have to do the work of learning new codes of conduct, new languages, new norms. How can people broaden their networks?

HI: Whatyou just described I called the Narcissistic and Lazy Principle of Networks. To broaden your network and make it a strategic network you have to think about things and things to do is because the first step is to have a common experience or context before you can use your network to ask for help.  So, easy examples are projects in your company, cross-functional group, task force, anything that mixes it up so you’re not dealing with the usual suspects. Extracurricular activities; people join clubs, industry associations, professional conferences, LinkedIn groups. Those are all ways to get to know people you have something in common with but aren’t in your everyday path.

SF: Let’s talk about other insights from Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career, the title of your most recent book.  You’ve already discussed a few, but what were the other teaching points?

HI: There were three bits. How do you create experiments that allow you to test careers in some smaller, less committed forms, without burning any bridges. The second was how do you expand your network so you are more likely to get new ideas, leads, and inspiration for an alternative career.  And the third was how do you learn to tell a story about why this makes sense and that’s a story that’s going to convince you yourself because you need to convince those who might hire you or fund you.  The big picture message is that when you’re looking to change into something completely different, you can’t go about it in a methodical, analytical way.   You can’t map it out.  You know what you’re moving away from but you don’t have a clear enough view, yet, of where you want to move to.

SF: Change is non-linear. So what happens when people shift careers?

HI: It’s hard to plan and strategize and spreadsheet it because you really don’t know what you don’t know.  So you need to engage in a process that I call experiment and learn as opposed to plan and implement.  It’s a much more discovery-driven process. The bad news is that it’s long, it’s not time efficient and it can be kind of messy and chaotic. But there’s really no other way.  Coaching, and testing, and introspecting doesn’t help you to really learn what’s the next best job for you. The process needs to be trial and error and often involves serendipity and that’s where the importance of your strategic, broad, diverse network comes in.

Herminia Ibarra is the Cora Chaired Professor of Leadership and Learning and Professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEADand the author of Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career.  She’s an expert on professional careers and leadership development who directsThe Leadership Transition, an executive program for managers moving into broader leadership roles. She is Vice-Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Women’s Empowerment and Chair of the Visiting Committee of the Harvard Business School. Thinkers 50 ranked Ibarra #9 among the most influential business thinkers in the world. She has a new book coming out, Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader (February 2015)

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.


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.

Marriages Now More Fair and More Passionate — Stephanie Coontz

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 Stephanie Coontz, the Director of Research at the Council on Contemporary Families, and the author of seven books on marriage, family life, and male-female relationships, including her most recent A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s. Friedman and Coontz spoke about the evolution of men’s and women’s roles and their expectations for parenthood, and the way progress on those fronts also presents new challenges.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation and a few questions for the reader, at the end, which we invite you to respond to in the comments section below:

Stew Friedman: What do you think about the recent research which found that people in their sixties and seventies are frustrated that their children are not having children of their own, which is creating tension in families and increasing pressures on the workplace to create environments in which people can have children while working, if that’s something they want?

Stephanie Coontz: Stephanie CoontzI think that’s an interesting example of a well-documented trend in international studies.  At a certain point after women enter the workforce in large numbers, the national fertility rate tends to drop. Social conservatives in the United States have suggested that if as a society we don’t make childcare easily available, women will be forced from the workplace and go back to having babies, but evidence suggests that the opposite is actually true.  When you make it harder for women to combine work and family, women don’t start families. If you want, as a society, to have more kids, you need to make it easier for women to combine work and family. Countries like France and Sweden are doing better in terms of maintaining fertility because they have instituted such polices.

SF: In Baby Bust, our study comparing Gen Xers and Millennials at the time they graduated from college, 20 years apart, we found that one of the main reasons young people today are less likely to plan or adopt children of their own is that they feel pressure to be fully engaged on the domestic front. They anticipate a greater conflict between their work and family lives, and therefore think, “I don’t see how I can do it, so I’m not going to try.”

SC: I think there are tremendous pressures that are further amplified by growing income inequality in our society. Historically, people wanted their career to be a competence. They didn’t want a fortune – they wanted something that would allow them to competently live their lives. There’s been a hollowing-out of jobs that allow you to have a comfortable life and still be secure; parents and even potential parents feel as though they have to engage in a competitive race to get ahead in the workplace and in life, and if they have kids, they also put pressure on themselves to constantly enrich their kids to give them the same competitive edge. That becomes a very wearing process.

SF: So you’re saying economic pressures have an influence on how parents approach the joys and challenges of rearing their children? That they might feel, because of economic insecurity, an obligation to produce a child who is going to be able to thrive in a competitive marketplace?

SC: People in the the upper middle class – people who are educated and looking forward to professional or managerial careers – have new options and opportunities now. There’s been a hollowing-out of the wage structure, and the advantage of being educated and in a professional job is much greater than it used to be. Less educated, less skilled workers have experienced drastically falling real wages over the last 30 years. But we’re also seeing increasing inequality not just between groups but within groups – for example, college confers a great benefit if you go to the right college and if things work out for you, but you can go to college and still fall behind. I think that leads to a lot of pressure for students who feel as though, “It’s not like I can get into an organization with a clear job ladder and know there will always be a place for me. I’ve got to be the best or I might be nothing.” I think this is a particularly intense problem in America, where there is a lack of a social safety net. Since the early 20th century, America has boasted more opportunities for individuals to buy things for themselves, but fewer opportunities for individuals to rely on public investment in spaces like hospitals and playgrounds. That trend has been accelerated and exacerbated even more within the last few years – there’s a frantic sense that, “If I don’t do this myself, I won’t have it at all.” Countries that have broader investment in healthcare systems and other social safety nets may have parents who feel less likely to hit the jackpot for themselves or their kids, but also less scared of losing everything.

SF: What’s your take on how the media is shaping notions of what family life is, and what it should be?

SC: Many people mourn the way media has motivated a change in values, but I think changes in values are complicated. I’ve been known to mutter things like “the fall of the Roman empire” when I catch glimpses of reality television, but on the other hand, you have to step back and understand that there are some ways in which our values have really improved since the 1950’s and 1960’s. We’re far less tolerant of racism and much more accepting of same-sex couples and women’s personhood. Some of the changes are surprising and seem on the surface to be contradictory – for example, we’re much more tolerant of a range of pre-marital and non-marital sexual behaviors than ever before, but we’re much less tolerant of infidelity and non-consensual sex than ever before. Since the 1970’s we’ve seen a rise in pornography and the glorification of violence, but the rates of rape and sexual assault have declined a stunning 68% since we started keeping accurate records. I think that’s attributed to the changing relationship between men and women – the more egalitarian power dynamic. Some of the things Millennials do are ruder than I’m used to, but on the other hand, a Millennial would never say, “Oh, here comes a cripple,” which was very common in the 1950’s and 1960’s, when people’s attitudes toward Jews, women, homosexuals, the disabled, and many other minorities were much less tolerant. One of the things that fascinates me as a historian is the notion of trade-offs. Almost every historical gain opens new challenges and problems in its place. For example, in my research on marriage, I find that when it works, marriage has become fairer, more intimate, and more passionate – it delivers more benefits to all members of the family than ever before in history. But the things that have allowed it to do so – for example, the fact that it’s a choice for both parties because women have other options and can set ground rules as equal partners – also create more points at which it can become unsatisfactory and break down. I think we see this in almost every element of life; some of the cultural problems we look at today are the flip-side of some important cultural gains we wouldn’t want to give up.

Coontz sees a link between the government’s provision of social services and young people’s plans to have children.  The decline of the one-job-for-life model has meant the rise of the many-careers-in-a-life model – should government support it?  Were your decisions about whether and when to have children – or, if you haven’t yet made those decisions, will they be – motivated by the growing range of choices available to your generation or by fear of not being able to fully commit to family life? Join us in the comments section below with your thoughts and experiences.

Join Work and Life Tuesday, May 6 at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Peter McGraw, Dir. Of the Humor Research Lab at the Univ. of Colorado and author of The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, and Cali Yost, CEO and Founder of Flex+Strategy Group. 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.

Work/Life Integration is About Culture Not Time: Alyssa Westring on Work and Life

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). 

Alyssa Westring is an Assistant Professor of Management at DePaul University, where she studies work/life issues and women’s careers, and director of research for Total Leadership.  She spoke with Stew Friedman on Work and Life about recent research that reveals the surprising factors that influence work/life satisfaction. Following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: You just published an article on the HBR Blog Network about how the culture of work matters at least as much, if not more than, the actual time spent at work in determining work/life satisfaction. Tell us more about this research and what it means for people and organizations.

Alyssa Westring: alyssa westringIn general, when people study work/life topics, they either study big, high-level organizational policies like parental leave and flex-time, or they focus on the individual level and the strategies and techniques that best help people own their work/life balance. My research team was really interested in what’s happening in the middle, when individual people are managing work and life in a specific department or division at work, and how the nature of the work environment impacts their experiences. Not surprisingly, we did find that people who worked longer hours tended to have more conflict between their work and family lives – it’s a lot harder to manage everything if you’re working 80 hours than if you’re working 40. But we found that it also really depended on the work environment itself. The study looked at women in academic medicine, and found that if women were in a department that was really flexible and supportive of women’s careers, they could work longer hours with less work-life conflict.

SF: This helps explode the myth that work/life integration is all about time, and it sheds light on other factors that influence whether we experience conflict here, specifically factors that are within our realm of control. What were the cultural factors in departments or divisions that made a difference?

AW: The first was whether the department supported employees’ work/life balance; whether there was a shared understanding that there’s more to life than work, and whether it was okay to talk about those other elements of life.

SF: Is this mainly about how your supervisor treats you, or is it something broader than that?

AW: Supervisory support for support for women’s careers is another dimension, but this is independent, and speaks to shared assumptions in the department.  You could have a supervisor who thinks work/life integration is great, but if your colleagues are judging you when you leave work early to tend to family, or if it’s not okay to talk about those things, that’s a separate factor.

SF: So it’s really about group norms and the cultural values of the group, independent of your specific supervisor’s attitudes.

AW: Exactly. The supervisor impacts those group norms, but they have an independent effect on how women experience their work environment. The third dimension was tolerance or intolerance for subtle gender biases – ideas that women aren’t as effective as leaders, or that their input in meetings isn’t taken seriously when they speak up. No one reported overt sex-based discrimination, but this more subtle and insidious gender discrimination is a factor in the work environment that impacts the culture for women. The final dimension was women’s equal access to resources and opportunities. In a medical department like the one we studied, this might be size of lab space or prestigious committee assignments, but this idea can be translated to any kind of work environment.

SF: Are these factors truly more important than the amount of time one works in determining work/life satisfaction?

AW: At a certain point, work hours overwhelm everything. Once you get to about 75 hours a week, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in a supportive environment or not. But before that point, it makes a difference. You’re much better off in a more supportive culture across the range of work hours. In our study, the women who worked 65 hours in a supportive environment reported less conflict than the women who worked 45 hours in a less supportive department.

SF: What could people even in mid-level positions do to enhance the quality of their work environment and create a culture that supports life beyond work?

AW: By challenging unhealthy, unsupportive cultural norms, you could shift the way your department treats women. This is true for women and for men as well. If you see unequal distribution of resources or you hear people being shamed for having life outside work or discussing things that are not work-related, you can and should say something.  I’ll give you an example from my own life. One time, I posted something on Facebook about the types of novels I like to read, and asked for suggestions for future reading. The first comment I got was, “How do you have time to read novels, Alyssa?” My first instinct was a need to justify – I read when I’m on the bus, so I have more time for reading than someone who drives a car. But my second reaction was to stand up and be proud, to say yes, I do have time to read. It’s relaxing and healthy, and I’m not going to pretend like I don’t do other things in order to seem fully committed to my job.

SF: The key insight is that time at work is certainly important, and you want to try to contain the amount you devote to work at the expense of other parts of your life, but it’s also important to target those aspects of your work environment that you can influence by making them more supportive, not just for yourself but also for your colleagues.

Westring’s research highlights nuanced cultural dynamics that can have a big effect on the workplace experience, but it may also over-simplify what it takes to speak up.  Subtle gender inequalities, for example – women’s leadership taken less seriously, or men given less latitude than women to miss work for family commitments – are hard to prove and easy to defer or explain as differences in competence. Have you witness or experienced circumstances like these in the workplace? Did you speak up, and was it effective? Join us in the comments below with your experiences and perspective.

You can read more about Westring’s study on the HBR Blog Network and follow Westring on Twitter @alyssawestring.

Join Work and Life on Tuesday, April 1 at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Roger Schwartz, author of Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams: How You and Your Team Get Unstuck to Get Results, and Stephanie Coontz, Director of Research and Public Education for the Council on Contemporary Families. 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.

Strategies for Success for Baby Boom Women — Connie Gersick on Work and Life

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 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).

Last week on Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Dr. Connie Gersick about her research on how women can implement three key strategies to lead the life they truly want. Gersick is currently Visiting Scholar at the Yale University School of Management and was a professor of Human Resources and Organizational Behavior at UCLA’s Graduate School of Management for seventeen years. Her research for over a decade has centered on women’s lives and careers.

Following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: You carefully examined the lives of 40 women in a recent study – tell us a bit about it.

Connie Gersick: Connie GersickThe work that I did on how women manage tradeoffs throughout their adulthood is part of a larger study of women’s adult development. We’re used to thinking about child development. We’re not used to looking at the whole of adulthood as a time when people continue to grow, develop, and evolve, to arrange and rearrange their lives. How does that happen? What are some narratives that give a sense of what adult development is like? That was the context for the study as a whole. In total I talked with 40 women, but first, in the initial pilot study, we interviewed 10 women who were all top executives in a global financial services company.

SF: What really grabbed your attention in the initial pilot study?

CG: Talking to women who looked, on first meeting, so polished, so in command, so unruffled and finding the pathos of their stories – how much they did that they never thought they would do. There was a lot of adventure in their lives, and I wanted to learn more. I wanted to talk to women in very different settings so the other occupations I picked were executives in social service agencies, artists, and women who were running their own family businesses. I also wanted to include women of color so 10 of the 40 participants were women of color.

SF: What was the age range of these people?

CG: The age range was 45 to 55; they’re part of the baby boom generation. These women were at the front edge of graduating college having grown up in a culture that said, “You are going to get married, your husband should have a good career, you’ll have kids, you’ll stay home, and you’ll keep the floor clean.” Imagine standing on the brink – you’ve graduated college, you grew up thinking you’re going to get married and that was it, or maybe you thought that you were going to be a teacher and take time off when the kids were little. There were very few occupations that women ever anticipated, and then all of a sudden things were opening up, colleges that hadn’t been were becoming co-ed and people were wondering if women could do anything men could do. Would women be able to handle a career while taking care of the home and family? Because if a woman was not taking care of the home and family, something was wrong with her. There were a lot of people thinking it couldn’t be done. So it was an adventure, a challenge and a dare.

SF: Was the dare emanating from within them or from society?

CG: I think from both. The Carnegie Mellon Commission published a study in the late 60s on the status of women, and the conclusion was that we really don’t know how this is possibly going to work. There was tremendous uncertainty. We wanted to succeed and have all this excitement, but we were afraid too – afraid of what we might lose, afraid of failing, and afraid of being alone.

Imagine a map. On one side of the map there’s a highway with cars zooming along, and they’re all being driven by men. On the other side there’s a neighborhood street, and the homes are all inhabited by women. There’s a huge territory in between. You thought you were going to go on the neighborhood street and your husband was going to go on the super highway. Now, how are you going to make some kind of path through that territory in between that bridges both? The women in this generation had to invent a new kind of adulthood for women.

SF: What did you discover about how they somehow managed to find their own road to travel?

CG:  One of the important findings is that there is an incredible amount of diversity in how women organize their lives. One of the women I talked to had kids when she was in high school, got married, and was on welfare. Another woman I talked to had adopted kids when she was 40. One woman found her career when she was a child. Another woman finally found something that she loved when she was 50. That’s very different from the way men’s lives had gone. Men’s lives were linear and predictable – you knew when you were on track and when you were off track.

SF: So did you find patterns in what you observed about these life stories?

CG: Yes, I did. Initially, I made the mistake of first looking to see what everyone did in her 20s, 30s, 40, etc. and I found that that just didn’t work at all. What eventually saved the day was to look more in terms of what are the important tasks and dilemmas that the women shared even though they may have encountered these tasks and dilemmas in different ways and at different times.

SF: What were those developmental challenges? What is the quest all about?

CG: One was a task having to do with authority, and the dilemma was independence versus dependency. At the time the idea was that a woman needs to find a man to take care of her. The dilemma was how am I going to make my lifestyle and survive? Am I going to take care of myself, or do I need to find someone who will take care of me? Another central task has to do with relationships. The dilemma was, especially for women, if I’m in a relationship, I’m expected to take care of that person, so how do I reconcile my responsibility to myself with my responsibility to others? A third issue was achievement and vocation. Am I going to be ambitious and pursue my work goals, or do I need to be flexible and follow a husband? Then there’s the issue of putting the pieces together in life. What pieces am I going to select, what commitments am I going to make, how am I going to put that package together?

SF: You also determined from your analysis of these women’s lives that there were different strategies that people used to resolve these questions, particularly the last question of how to make choices that are well informed and that are congruent with one’s values. Could you tell us what those three main strategies were?

CG: One was Prioritize and Limit. For people who know what their priorities are, they pick a small number and say, “I will do without the other things. I need to really devote myself for life to this vocation, this calling, this art, whatever it may be.” Another, I call Sequencing: “I can have everything, but I can’t have it all at once. There are three things that I want to do. I will let them take turns.” The third I call Add and Delegate: “I am not going to be told by someone else when I can do what I want to do. I am going to have everything that I really want, although I recognize I can’t do it all myself – I will delegate and share the overflow at work and at home.

SF: What are the pros and cons of each one?

CG: Prioritize and Limit is especially wonderful for women who know that they care very deeply about one or two things in life and that they can do without some of the other things. Being able to combine two things instead of feeling like they are competing with each other is particularly wonderful. The pitfall with Prioritize and Limit comes if, in fact, you don’t want to do without those things that you gave up.

The Sequencing approach works especially well with commitments that have a natural ebb and flow. For example, with children, you know that they are going to get older and need you less, so there could be a confined time in your life when you’re devoted to them, and then a time will come when you will be freer to do other things. It’s helpful when you have the control you think you have, and you’re able say to yourself, “I’m going to do X until I’m satisfied, then I’ll turn my attention to something else.” The risk with sequencing is not having enough time. Something that you postponed may be lost, because it was postponed. The joy is that if you are able to have the pieces that you want, you can invest as much as you want into them in turn.

The Add and Delegate approach is really the hardest for the women that I talked with. The benefits are having a very full life and a very full cup, but the pitfall is that if you add another drop, the cup will run over. It becomes too much – you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re not satisfied with the attention that you’re paying to anything, you feel guilty, you’re not enjoying all the things that you wanted.

SF: As you look at the body of your work, do you have a recommendation about which path or strategy works best?

CG: No, and the reason is that the best path is the one that suits you and is the best for the way your life is at present. You need to look at the three strategies and see what resources you have to make each one of them work. It’s not that you’re standing apart from your life and making a calculation. It’s thinking really hard about what you are okay with giving up and what matters to you at this stage in your life. A lot of times women have changed their strategy – it’s certainly not an issue of choosing one strategy for life.

SF: Which is the path that you chose?

CG: I chose Add and Delegate. My husband and I made it clear at the beginning of our marriage that we wanted an equal partnership. The partnership at home was very important for me to be able to add what I wanted when I wanted.

SF: Which of the people you interviewed to your estimation turned out to be the most gratified with their lives?

CG: Each of the three strategies had people who were thrilled, each of the strategies had a few people who weren’t thrilled, and each of these three strategies had a few people who ended up changing their strategy and making their life better. It’s a continual process of self-discovery.

Gersick is preparing a series of articles on women’s adult development, based on the life histories of 40 women leaders in business, social services, and the arts. She has also written a piece titled “Careers Outside the Narrow Path” for the Wharton Work-Life Integration Forum. To learn and read more about her research, please email BusinessRadio@siriusxm.com to be put in touch with Gersick.

Tune in to Work and Life on Tuesday, March 18 at 7 PM Eastern on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Erica Dhawan (W’07), Founder and CEO of Cotential, about how to harness the power of people at work, and Allison Karl O’Kelly, Founder and CEO of Mom Corps, about women and work. Visit Work and Life for a 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.