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Make America a Better Version of Itself — Jerry Jacobs 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).

In the second hour of Work and Life on February 25, Stew Friedman spoke with Jerry Jacobs, Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and founding President of the Work and Family Researchers Network. His research focuses on aspects of employment, including authority, earnings, working conditions, part-time employment, and work/family conflict, especially for women in the workplace. Friedman and Jacobs discussed differences in the challenges people face in work/life integration across countries and demographics, and how government should contribute to improving work/life conditions in America.

Stew Friedman: Tell us a bit about the Work and Family Researchers Network. What was the inspiration?

Jerry Jacobs: Jerry JacobsThe Network is an interdisciplinary, international scholarly association. When it was created, a small number of us signed up and said we would be the founding members, but we had no idea how big the audience was going to be. I wanted to make sure we had at least two or three hundred people at our first meeting, but the first meeting completely blew past our expectations. We had 800 scholars and researchers from 33 different countries join us in New York in June 2012. It was terrific – I had an email conversation with a British scholar, and she brought 11 people she knew from seven countries. It wasn’t a matter of me working day and night to generate interest – there was such a latent demand. It has been wonderful to see how much people have been learning from one another through the Network. Work/family issues are obviously different in Scandinavia than they are in the US; there are also differences by discipline, by approach, by personal versus business versus public policy issues.

SF: What are some of the important national differences you’ve observed from your perch as Executive Officer of the Network?

JJ: Social policies are very different across countries. The United States has a smaller welfare state than many other countries do; you can tell because the words “welfare state” don’t sound good in many people’s ears. A welfare state is a whole package of policies – not just about work and family, but about income security, job protections, early childhood education, provisions for the elderly. The US government is less involved in those things. It’s just different. Many people in the work/family area advocate stronger government involvement, but I think we have to be realistic and try to work at the margins with the traditions we have in the US to build in areas that are important. We’re not going to become Japan or Sweden or France. We have to be a better version of the United States as opposed to trying to copy what somebody else does.

SF:  What does it mean for America to be a better version of itself?

JJ: I think there are a lot of little things we can do, and I also think there are a lot of things that are happening in the work/family area already that are not always recognized as work/family policies. In New York City, for example, there’s a lot of discussion of early childhood education. That’s not on the list of work/family sessions we’re going to have at the next Work and Family Researchers Network conference, but in fact, early childhood education has a big impact on work/family. It enables women to go back to work earlier, to have more time to spend with their really young children, to level the playing field between parents who have more resources and parents who have fewer resources. So whether we’re talking about after-school programs, which were a major addition to the US landscape about a decade ago, or early childhood education, or various things happening in elder care, simple things would make a lot of difference. In France there’s something called l’école maternelle, which is early childhood education. It’s partly to improve the educational opportunities for children, but it’s also partly intended to be a policy that facilitates mothers going back to work. The connections with work/family are there, but when you hear, for example, Mayor de Blasio talking about these issues in New York City, he’s really been focused on the poverty and educational aspects and the question of who’s going to pay for it; it’s not labelled as a work and family policy.

SF: You’ve made a career in part investigating how these issues play out in different parts of the labor market. What’s been most interesting to you about the diversity of interests across different labor markets as people in those markets struggle with the question of how to integrate different parts of their lives?

JJ: So many people in this area focus on the issue of overwork – people having trouble getting everything done that they want to do, having long and demanding hours at the job, but also a lot of family responsibilities at home. But there’s another part of this story that doesn’t always get as much attention: underwork. A lot of people need more income than they have. Where a lot of affluent couples find themselves with both partners’ hours and work week very long, scrambling to keep everything together, a lot of people with less education, fewer job opportunities, and lower salaries and wages are looking for more work than they’re able to get. The work/family issue is not only about having enough time – it’s also about having enough financial and flexibility resources. For example, a lot of people in blue collar jobs can’t just take off the afternoon to go to a parent-teacher meeting. Part of that’s cultural, and part of that is technical aspects of their work. The highest priorities for many low-wage workers may be more job security and more economic opportunities.  A lot of low-wage workers work in the evenings, at nights and on weekends – it’s not only a matter of how many hours, but which hours. Working conflicting shifts is a very difficult challenge for families. I pass an overnight daycare center on my way to work every day, which is there to provide some childcare for parents who work in the evenings and overnight. Helping children with their homework has to happen in the evenings, getting the kids off to school has to happen in the mornings; that’s not necessarily the first thing that comes to people’s minds when we talk about work/family.

SF: What can we predict or expect for roles of men and women in society over the next couple of decades in terms of who plays what roles in the domestic world, the business world, and the social world?

JJ: One trend that seems pretty clear is that jobs are not as stable as they used to be. People have to be much more flexible over the course of their lives – they’re not going to have one job and inch their way up the corporate ladder over a 20 or 30 year period. There are people who are in those situations, but it’s just not the norm anymore. Jobs are dynamic, flexible, and uncertain. One of the things this underscores is the importance of a social safety net provided by the government. The notion of a “safety net” was Ronald Reagan’s way of describing social assistance for people; he wanted to emphasize that it was temporary and not a right or an entitlement, but there if you fall. As we move into an era where there is so much more instability in people’s lives, the metaphor of a safety net makes more and more sense.

I was just reading a book by Ruth Milkman and Eileen Applebaum, Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work/family Policy, which is an evaluation of California’s paid family leave policy. The United States’ Family and Medical Leave Act provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but a lot of people are unable to take advantage of it because they can’t afford it. California has a more limited paid leave policy that supplements the national unpaid leave policy, with income replacement at 55% of the employee’s salary. It’s paid for by workers who contribute to a pot of basically insurance money. It’s not something employers wanted, but they found it very easy to adjust to, it was very popular among workers and made a really big difference in people’s lives. As we see evidence come in that these kinds of things are workable, practical, and don’t have a negative economic impact, we could build on them. There are two other states now moving in that direction on this issue, Rhode Island and New Jersey. That’s the kind of way in which things spread in our country – we try something in one city, and if it works, another city, and then a state, and if all goes well, we make some progress on a national scale. With any luck, we’ll have broader diffusion of this kind of policy.

Jerry Jacobs is the author of several books on work/family issues for demographics across America, including The Changing Face of Medicine: Women Doctors and the Evolution of Health Care Across America and Putting Poor People to Work: How the Work-First Idea Eroded College Access for the Poor. Visit his website for more information.

Join Work and Life on March 11 at 7 PM on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Alyssa Friede Westring and Ashley Milne-Tyte about how young professionals manage multiple roles in work and life, and how women navigate the workplace for success. 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.

The New Dad — Brad Harrington 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 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).

Brad HarringtonOn Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Brad Harrington – research professor and Executive Director of the Center for Work and Family at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management – about the substantive shift in the role men play in their families from financial provider to equal caretaker, and how organizations can support The New Dad.

Following are edited excerpts of Harrington’s conversation with Friedman.

Stew Friedman: What are some of the major similarities and differences you’ve observed between mothers and fathers immediately after the birth of their first child?

Brad Harrington: The major differences are probably going to come as no surprise. First, becoming a father was more of an incremental experience than was becoming a mom. I remember Carol Evans from Working Mother once said that no matter how well-prepared you are, how much thought you’ve put into it, how many books you’ve read, nothing can quite prepare a woman for the experience of having a child. When that child arrives, all of a sudden all bets are off, and a woman has to re-think what she really wants to do with her life and how the work-family interplay will trade off. For men, the experience is more gradual. We’ve seen in multiple studies that men take only a few days off following the birth of their first child; 16% of men say they didn’t take a single day off.

SF: Is that because they didn’t want to, or because they didn’t feel it was legitimate for them to do so?

BH: It’s some of both, but I would put more onus on the men than I would on the organizations. The majority of men, 76%, took a week off or less, and 96% took two weeks off or less. Only one out of 20 men are spending more than 10 working days at home with their newborns. That contrasts, of course, with the experience of women, who on average take 12-14 weeks, and can often stretch a maternity leave to six months. There isn’t paid leave in most organizations, and there certainly isn’t paid leave across the board in the United States. Although we might say these men would have to take some time off without pay, that’s a sacrifice women have been making for years. One of the ways in which men and women are different is that women spend much more time in the first months of the child’s life bonding with the child, flying solo as a parent, really connecting with that little person. Men don’t have an opportunity to do that, and once they miss that initial opportunity, they are already moving down the path of being a supporting actor to the mother as primary player within the first few weeks and months of the child’s life.

SF: What can organizations do to really make a difference and move us forward on this front?

BH: If organizations can get a data point on where men are these days in their attitudes about work and satisfaction with their careers as well as professional aspirations and their role as parents, they would be quite surprised about the reality of the stereotype they hold about men and their career motivations.  In particular, that men have a singular focus on their contribution to the family as the provider is a stereotype that is outdated. When we surveyed men at four major Fortune 500 companies, we looked at six criteria on being a good father and asked which was most important to them. One of the criteria was being a good financial provider. Of the six, that criterion came out fifth in the rating of importance to being a good father. More salient than being a good provider were being present and visible in the child’s life, being a good coach and role model, being a good mentor, and providing love and emotional support. If these new paradigms for young men were apparent to leaders in organizations, they would start to say, “Gee, we might need to really rethink our assumptions.”

Becky (caller from California): My husband and I have two daughters, a 22-year-old and a 19-year-old, and when they were born in 1991 and 1994, it was not very popular to have reversed roles. My husband and I reversed roles out of necessity – I had a standard job with retirement and benefits, and he was self-employed. We faced stigma and lost family and friends who said, “How dare he stay home and babysit while his wife works.”

BH: That stigma is very real, and sometimes it comes from the people closest to the men affected. Their parents and friends say, “You’ve dropped out of the workplace to stay home with your kid? When are you going to get back to your job to make money to support the family?” But usually, over a period of time, more people get up close and see how well this arrangement is working not only for the wife but for the husband and the children. After that people are much more accepting.

As one of my colleagues said, it isn’t about gender, it’s about competence. When women entered the workplace in large numbers in professional and managerial roles 30 years ago, we looked through a lens of “Can women make it? Can women be successful? Are women ambitious enough?” Over the past 30 years we’ve come to realize that it wasn’t gender, it was competence. When women were able to display their competence in leading, negotiating, facilitating, and analyzing, people stopped talking about whether women’s gender allowed them to be good enough in the workplace; it was simply about whether they were competent.

So often – especially in the media – we talk about men in the context of the family in disparaging ways. “He’s 100% committed to his career,” “He wouldn’t know what to do if we left him at home with the kids,” “He’s babysitting today,” “A man could never possibly fix his daughter’s hair or get her ready for school, or find clothes that match for his children.” If we talked about women in the workplace the way we talk about men in the home, we’d be sued for that, and rightly so. The jokes women had to put up with 30 years ago are the jokes men are still putting up with today. We see commercials where men sit around and drink beers with their friends when the wife leaves her husband at home alone and chaos ensues; we don’t see very many commercials of men being competent at caregiving and parenting.

SF: What is the most important advice you would give your kids so that they can have the opportunity to create lives for themselves and decide how they’ll contribute to the world?

BH: Don’t get stuck in a paradigm and assume the way things are is the way things need to be. It’s all about individual choice and having the courage to follow your convictions.

Brad Harrington is the author of Career Management & Work Life Integration: Using Self-Assessment to Navigate Contemporary Careers; learn more about his research in his 2013 white paper The New Dad: A Work (and Life) in Progress.

Tune in to Work and Life next Tuesday, February 11 at 7 PM Eastern on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Jessica DeGroot (WG ’94) and current Wharton MBA students Pamela Freed, Nohemie Sanon, and Meaghan Casey on how couples can share caregiving to mutual advantage and how women planning business leadership roles see their future work and family lives. 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. 

Separators, Integrators, and Cyclers — Ellen Kossek on Work and Life

Contributor: Alice Liu

Work and Life is a two-hour radio show hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111.  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.

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Dr. Ellen Kossek, the Basil S. Turner Professor of Management at Purdue University and Research Director at the Susan Bulkeley Butler Center for Leadership Excellence, about focusing on high-value tasks, setting boundaries, and taking small breaks to recover and enhance long-term productivity at work and at home. Following are edited excerpts of Kossek’s conversation with Friedman.

Stew Friedman: How did you first get into the field of work and life?

Ellen KossekEllen Kossek: I was a PhD student at Yale. I had been married about three years, and right in the busiest time of my fourth year of school, I was pregnant and about to have my first child. If I had taken any time off, I would have been stigmatized and I would have lost my fellowship, so I stuck it out. I think a lot of our choices as leaders stem from what happens in our own lives. I became passionate about wanting to make organizational changes to help others. I focused on this in my dissertation, and I never looked back.

SF: What is a healthy organization?

EK: A healthy organization provides social support to employees on the job. I think managers and workers need to support each other both with daily tasks and with recognizing when people have to handle their own difficulties. It’s actually family-friendly if you have a boss who is very clear about what matters most for high-value work. There are some things that really add a lot of bang for the buck to the company.

SF: Focusing on high-value of tasks can make a big difference. Is that something you see happening in your work?

EK: Very much so. If we feel like we have to redesign our whole life or change the company’s whole culture, change will never occur. One of the other things I’ve looked at is boundary management.

SF: What exactly do you mean by “boundary”?

EK: Well, we have psychological and physical boundaries in how we organize our roles and parts of our life. Even when some of us are physically at home, psychologically we might still be at the office. For example, if we are at dinner, we might see that email coming in on a smart phone. The small thing I’ve tried to focus on is to be in the moment, especially for high-value tasks. We know we shouldn’t text while we drive – why do we think we can look at our smart phones while we are listening to a friend or our family member?

SF: But people are expecting immediate responses to emails and texts, so isn’t creating that boundary particularly challenging in today’s digital age?

EK: Part of it is setting expectations and filtering. Most of the time we can wait a little bit. When people go away on vacation, sometimes they’ll send a message saying, “I’m out of the office for the holidays, if this is an emergency, contact me. Otherwise, I’ll talk to you in January.”  I think we make ourselves more important than we need to be. We might be less stressed and get more done if we didn’t keep moving back and forth.

SF: So how does this relate to your study of boundary management?

EK: There are three different ways that we manage boundaries. First are “separators” – these are people who like to manage boundaries by working in chunks. For example, I’m trying to teach myself to be more of a separator by not sneaking a glance at my email on the weekends when I am taking a break.  Another group is the “integrators” – people who are switching back and forth between personal and work all the time, and it’s one big blur. Some of them are fusion-lovers and in high control, and others are reactors, always feeling pushed and pulled by different communications. The last group is what I call the “cyclers”. They’re people that switch back and forth in patterns. Sometimes they have periods of high separation when they would really like to be able to integrate more. Think about somebody going on a big business trip. They’re forced to separate at times when they don’t want to. And when they come back from that trip, all of their personal life comes down on them. They would like to have fewer peaks and valleys.

SF: So what do the “cyclers” do?

EK: Some of them get very depressed and have a crisis. I think sometimes if we don’t take little breaks we just shut down. If you feel stressed, if you feel cranky, if your mood is difficult, it may be time to take a small break. One way to do this is to take advantage of transition times. For example, a woman I spoke to who works at an East Coast bank has a seventy-five minute commute each day. She says, “I love it, because I put on National Public Radio and start planning my weekend.” Most of our transitions are shortening. We’re on the phone while we are commuting. The vanishing vacation ­– or the vanishing weekend – is one of the problems many people are facing.

SF: How do you advise people to manage the problem of the vanishing vacation?

EK: If you never take a weekend off, there are health effects. In fact, there have been studies coming out of Europe that show your productivity on a Monday morning can be higher if you’ve taken a break over the weekend. Making time to exercise or doing things that you love that make you feel relaxed, and can enhance your productivity. Having breaks can be linked to recovery. If everybody is slogging along with 60-hour work weeks, it can hurt your creativity and well-being.

SF: But to play devil’s advocate here, don’t you get more done if people are working longer?

EK: In the short run, yes, but in the long-run, you burn your talent out. To have long-term change, you need to train leaders.  You also need to have teams and co-workers and individuals relate to each other authentically and have conversations about how we are at work to support the company in a way that allows people to be all that they can be in their total life. Part of this dialogue is encouraging people to bring their identities to work, whether that’s mother, father, LBGT, older worker, married, divorced, runner, etc. and backing each other up.

Ellen Kossek has been among the most prolific researchers in the work-life-family sphere and is a mother of four. She is the President of the Work Family Researchers Network and the author of CEO of Me: Creating a Life that Works in the Flexible Job Age.

Tune in to Work and Life on Tuesday, February 4 at 7 PM Eastern on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Marci Alboher and Katrina Alcorn.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

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

The Class of 1992

Contributor:  Stew Friedman

This post is an invitation to the members of the Wharton Undergraduate Class of 1992 who participated in our study and to anyone else who might be interested in our findings and what they mean for individuals, organizations, and society. Welcome, and please comment.

In our extensive survey of the Class of 1992, we asked questions about career prospects and progression, personal values, family, views on the relationship of work with the rest of life, health and religion, civic engagement, and Wharton.  We asked these questions in 1992 and again in 2012.

If you are a member of the Class of 1992 and participated in our study you should have received a copy of your “Personal Time Capsule” by now, with your data and your classmates’, gathered in1992 and in 2012.  We also included what the Class of 2012 said in response to the same questions.  We welcome your comments in response to these questions below or on other reactions and ideas you might have.

  • To what did you react most strongly in this report?
  • What was most surprising to you?
  • What would you like to say to your classmates about what you read?

If you aren’t a member of the Class of 1992, here are two links with information from this study:

We’ll be posting more on the findings and implications of this research here and in other media in the future, so please subscribe to this Forum for more to come.