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Success and why the process matters — Joel Brockner

Contributor: Jacob Adler

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

Joel Brockner is the Phillip Hettleman Professor of Business at Columbia University Business School and author of The Process Matters: Engaging and Equipping People for Success and a leading authority on a variety of psychological issues in the workplace, including managing change, leadership, decision-making, and cross-cultural differences in work behavior. He spoke with Stew Friedman about how to engage employees.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stewart Friedman: Our society, our business world, is driven by measurable outcomes, data, and results. Now we’ve got the horserace of an election and the analysis and meta-analysis that’s happening around that. You’ve done decades of really important research on decision-making and most recently, about the process by which decisions get made, the fairness inherent in that. Why do you pursue that and why does it matter to us?

Joel Brockner: Joel BrocknerThat’s a great question, because we hear a lot about how the outcome matters. We live in a results-oriented society; you hear expressions like the bottom line. I love good outcomes, I’d rather win than lose, but my basic argument is that if you want your organization to be sustainably successful you have to care about outcomes but you also have to care about the process through which you arrive at that outcome. In the long term we need to get there and we need to get there in the right way. I always get nervous when managers say to their people I don’t care how you get there, just get there. They’re giving people liberty to do things in the way that they see fit, but it’s also a potentially dangerous statement, because among other things it might invite unethical behavior.

SF: There have to be some limits and restraints on behavior because we know that to be really clear on the ends and flexible on the means for achieving them is a recipe for engagement and motivation of teams and employees. We want to give people freedom but you’re suggesting that there’s a right way and wrong way to do that?

JB: I’m suggesting that the expression I don’t care how you get there, just get there can be taken too far, in which case people don’t pay attention to the way in which they get there. Doing things in a fair and humane way, there are a couple ways to talk about the process, what do we mean by a high-quality process.

SF: Yes, please define that for us.

JB: Partly it has to do with what I would call attributes of the process, so, for instance, if the process is fair. A lot of things go into a fair process: are people allowed to participate in decisions, were the reasons for decisions explained to them, were the decisions based on accurate information, was it transparent, was it a level playing field?

SF: Those are the crucial ones, whether people are able to provide input, whether they understand the rationale for decisions, if decisions were made on the basis of accurate information, and that there was a level playing field. What you mean by “level playing field?”

JB: Everybody has an equal chance for being successful, the same standards are being applied to everyone. The principle is known as consistency.

SF: So those are the elements that produce a fair process?

JB: Yes, and there are other ways to talk about a process being done well besides fairness. We can focus on not so much attributes of the process, but how it makes people feel. A process is a good one, for example, if people on the receiving end felt like their sense of esteem was bolstered, or it affirmed their identity, or gave them a sense of control. Those experiences that we have that are very motivational so that if a process is done in a way that enables us to feel in those ways, then that’s also a high-quality process.

SF: We know that all of those translate into positive outcomes in other domains of life by way of spillover, so if you know that people have a sense of esteem at work, and this has been traditionally more true for fathers than mothers, their kids do better. If your dad is feeling good about himself and his role at work, he’s going to be a better father. That probably doesn’t surprise you.

JB: That would make perfect sense. To give an example, what I meant by a process that affords people a sense of esteem, a typical way that companies will bring people in, the on-boarding process as it’s called, you might say to the new employee this is what we stand for, these are our values, this is what we’re good at, and this is why you should be happy to be here as a new member of our organization. That’s all well and good but a recent study suggested that if at the time that people are brought in, if they’re given an extra hour to just articulate what they are good at, what are their signature strengths and how they would imagine enacting those things on the job, not that people are given license to do anything they want, but at least their views are being seriously considered. The study shows that extra hour showed six months later higher customer satisfaction and a lot less turnover. This was in an organization with a lot of turnover and they found it fell dramatically. Just by spending an extra hour during that socialization process, they enabled people to feel a sense of esteem or affirm their sense of identity and it had huge positive payoffs months later.

SF: So when we talk about the process we’re talking about a sense of fairness, we’re talking about how the decision and the way things are make people feel in terms of their esteem, their sense of control over their lives, and their identity and by that you mean what exactly?

JB: It allows them to feel that the decision process recognized them for who they were. Again, this idea of identifying your signature strengths. A strength speaks to your esteem — it’s what you’re good at — but a signature strength is something that you in particular are really good at. It affirms your sense of identity as well as affirms your sense of esteem.

SF: Important in that element of how people feel as a result of the process is being seen as a unique individual that has a particular value and differentiated from the value that other people bring.

JB: That’s why I say it’s not simply a function of attributes of the process, like fairness of the process, it’s however they’re doing it, are they doing it in a way that allows people to have these psychological experiences, which make people feel good about themselves but it also makes them more productive, more satisfied with their jobs and as you implied with the whole purpose of your show, it allows for an overall better life experience.

SF: If you feel good about yourself, and you feel valued as an individual contributing in a unique way, and have a sense of control over the things that happen to you, all of those aspects of a work experience are going to spill over in a positive way to the other parts of your life. We focus a lot on the show about creating work arrangements that enable flexibility and control. I wonder if you could speak to how your model of understanding the importance of the process by which decisions get made, how it speaks to listeners who are looking for some guidance on how to negotiate a more flexible work arrangement that would allow them to be successful not just at work but in the other parts of their lives?

JB: There is interesting work by one of your colleagues at Wharton, Adam Grant, of the study on what’s called job crafting. The basic idea here is that you have a job description but people are allowed to take up their jobs in a variety of ways – the extent that you can be given input into what gets done or how things get done or when things get done. You’re allowed to craft the contours of your job, and that’s one of these experiences that allows people to have this experience of esteem and identity because you’re given control, you’re allowed to have input in how things are going to get done. The other thing is if people are given some license about their work arrangements, they’re probably going to be bringing more of themselves into it, so that’s the identity aspect of it. Sometimes, a little bit can go a long way. It doesn’t require organizations to change things all that dramatically in terms of time, money, and all those other kinds of resources. Sometimes just making small tweaks in how things are done can allow people to have these experiences of esteem, identity, or control and as a result have much better work experiences. More productivity, more morale, all sorts of good things.

SF: And it doesn’t cost a lot. We’re talking about small changes that can have a really big impact – having people feel better about themselves, uniquely contributing to some larger goal, and feeling a greater sense of control, and how important that is in bringing the whole self to work, which is what we’re trying to help people understand how to do. Can you give an example of how that has played out, in your own experience or what you have seen?

JB: It’s not just in the workplace, it’s in other kinds of organizations as well. There was a famous study done a number of years ago with residents of a nursing home, again this is the idea of how a little bit can go a long way. It was a very simple study, the staff was trying to do right by everybody there and in one group they were given a little bit more control. One group was told here’s a plant, and we’d like you to care for the plant. You have to water it, make sure it gets enough light. We’re not talking about a big responsibility, but it was more the symbolism of it all. They were given some responsibility. Another example would be they were told you’re going to be able to watch a movie one night this week. I want you to select the night of the week you want to view it; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, it’s your call. The other group was given the same plant and the staff said you don’t need to do a thing, we’ll take care of it for you. In terms of that movie, we’ll decide. You don’t need to exert the effort to figure out what night to watch the movie; we’ll do that for you. There were very small differences, and when you followed those two groups for weeks and months afterwards, they found that the people who were given more control were more alert, more physically active and in better health, and actually there was some evidence that over the long haul, a couple year period, the death rate was lower. Small things can go a long way in work organizations and other kinds of organizations.

SF: One of the points you make in your book is that there are tons of solutions out there that don’t cost a lot and these are good examples. Can you say more about the importance of opening up your frame of mind as a manager to those low-cost solutions that can have a big impact on your people?

JB: You hit the nail on the head. Managers need to be more open-minded. We understand that they’re busy, we understand they’re operating in a constrained environment. Sometimes it’s not so simple, sometimes it’s a bigger intervention that is needed, but sometimes even those bigger interventions will pay for themselves, so it’s a little bit of pay-now-or-pay-later. I’ll give you an example. I oftentimes speak to groups at Columbia Executive Education programs and other places, private clients as well, and I’ll be talking about change management. The book also talks a lot about what we mean by well-managed change process, and lots of people have written about this. We’re talking about managing change, there’s a fair amount that goes into handling that process well. I’ll oftentimes lay those things out to managers whom I’m working with and they’ll say this works out on paper but we don’t have time for this and they’re quite right. It does take time to explain why and involve people in decision-making and to train them for new behaviors and perhaps give them some advance notice and plan things. It really does take a fair amount of time, this is not one of those small tweaks.

SF: Some investment is required in a good process.

JB: What I often hear when I say why don’t you do more of this is that they don’t have time for it. My answer to that is with all due respect, it does take time, but if you don’t do these things well now, you’re going to create a bigger mess for yourself in terms of people being resistant, dragging their feet, and not being on board with the change effort. Tell me, do you think you’re going to have the time later to correct things to remedy things that you didn’t do right in the first place? I would say, Stew, that it’s not so much a matter of pay-now-or-pay-later, I think the expression that comes close to it is an ounce of prevention and a pound of cure. Let me put it this way: you’re going to have to do a lot more later to do the process well if you don’t do it right in the first place.

SF: Because the process matters in terms of motivation, engagement? You’ve been asserting, and I know based on evidence and common sense that when you engage with people, when you make them feel good about how decisions are getting done that they’re going to feel better, but what do we know, if you could sum up the essence of the research evidence, how indeed that does ultimately affect organizational, group, team, and perhaps family and community outcomes?

JB: It’s not simply about making people feel good. It’s about bottom-line productivity. Productivity is the bottom line for organizational psychologists. When people are engaged with the change process, an organization needed to downsize for example, or needed to grow, whatever the change happens to be, to the extent that they are embracing the change, engaged with saying things like this is great, we should have done this a long time ago. That’s not just about making them feel good, although that’s certainly a good byproduct. That means they’re more on board, they’re working on behalf of organizational goals and the importance of that is immeasurable.

SF: What are some of the other obstacles you have people telling you? What should people and managers know in terms of the obstacles they might face in improving their decision-making process and how to improve them?

JB: It’s sort of a puzzle. If we know this, how come we don’t do it? One answer is that sometimes it’s not as obvious as it might seem. The small-tweaks-can-go-a-long-way sometimes is not so obvious. Sometimes it’s a knowledge gap. That’s why I think, not just plugging my book but reading others’ studies like other books and articles similar to the point, I think helps managers be more informed and they have a richer understanding of just how much the process matters. Sometimes it’s a matter of what I call skill, the interpersonal skill needed to pull things off. A number of years ago, I was doing a presentation at an organization that was downsizing for the very first time and the pain in the room was palpable. I could feel everybody’s pain and I hung in there and tried to give them some guidance, but I could understand how the urge people have to hide when others around them are feeling depressed or angry or anxious. You want to hide sometimes to cope yourself, and that’s the worst thing that managers could do, when they feel that temptation to run away, when they need to make themselves more accessible, but that’s hard. It’s risky and you have to have the courage to stand up and make yourself available to tell someone that you’re very sorry but you’re going to have to lay them off. That’s one of the really difficult challenges for managers. To have the emotional intelligence or social skill to pull that off gracefully is not easy, and that’s another obstacle. We have lack of time, sometimes the lack of knowledge, sometimes the lack of interpersonal skill needed to pull these difficult processes off, and then sometimes there are other factors or motivational reasons. It’s not a matter of I can’t do it, I don’t want to do it. For example, oftentimes you have to allow people to have input into decisions. Some people would say if I give them input, then they have more power and I’m reducing my own power.

SF: One might be reluctant to engage employees in providing input on a decision.

JB: It could be philosophical or it could be this view of a win/lose, zero-sum view. The more authority I give to others, the less authority I have for myself.

SF: In your book, what can readers find to help them, both managers as well as employees, to produce a better process in the decisions that they are facing?

JB: The essence of it is we’ll give ideas about what goes into a quality process. We’ll talk about the obstacles. There are also a bunch of inventories in the appendix of the book that allow people to assess themselves about where they come out on the very factors that we’ve been talking about throughout the book. I always encourage readers to turn to Appendix C, for example, to look at how good you are as an agent of change. Well, here are a bunch of process dimensions and fill out this instrument and see where you come out. Even better, get other people to rate you on the very same dimensions and you’ll have a more informed view of not only what makes for a healthy process, but where you come out on those dimensions.

SF: And that, of course, can form your development and growth as a leader, as an employee, perhaps as a father, brother, friend in being able to produce outcomes that are better for the process by which they were achieved.

About the Author

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

Deep vs. Shallow Work with Cal Newport

Contributor: Ali Ahmed

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

Cal Newport, an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, and the author most recently of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, a book which argues that focus is the new I.Q. in the modern workplace, and So Good They Can’t Ignore You, a book which debunks the long-held belief that “follow your passion” is good advice.  He spoke with Stew Friedman about the importance of emphasizing deep vs. shallow tasks.

Excerpts below. Full podcast.


Stewart Friedman: Distraction is a huge topic on this show. We’ve had many guests talking about distraction —  Catherine Steiner-Adair, Jenny Radesky, Ned Hallowell, Bridget Schulte, Maggie Jackson —  and others who have talked about the problem of distraction in the digital age, and how much it is causing all kinds of health problems and productivity issues. What you’ve done is flip the question and look for ways that we can find focus, deep focus to be able to pay attention to the people and projects that need us, and that require full attention when they need us.  Give us a brief overview. What is it that you have discovered? What is this thing that you call deep work?

Cal Newport: Cal NewportThe point you just made is a great one. It’s that we spend so much time worrying about distraction and it’s an ambiguous worry because these things that distract us also have benefits. It’s confusing and what are we supposed to do about it? We don’t spend enough time talking about what’s so good about its opposite. And that’s what I call deep work, when you focus without distraction for a significant amount of time on a cognitively demanding task. And the simple summary is that this tool, deep work, is incredibly valuable, but almost no individuals and no organizations are actually focusing on it. I think that this is a great opportunity if you’re one of the few who actually focuses on building their ability to apply deep work. So, if you prioritize focusing without distraction for significant amount of time on cognitively demanding task being at the core of your workplace or the core of your organization, I think there’s huge advantage to be gained.

SF: Competitive advantage is what you’re getting at.

CN: Yes, this is an economic opportunity. It’s something that’s becoming more valuable, this skill, at exactly the more time it’s becoming more rare.

SF: I don’t know anyone who doesn’t need to develop this skill.  In my work here people complain about this all the time. They’ve tried various methods, some quite successful and some probably consistent with what it is you’ve discovered in the four rules for how to make deep work happen, which I want to get to in just a minute. But before we do, let me just ask you to clarify. When you say a significant amount of time, can you quantify that, please?

CN: It’s got to be more than an hour, and probably at least 90 minutes before you’re getting the full benefits of depth.

SF: Alright, so that means doing one thing for at least 90 minutes?

CN: Yeah, that’s right one cognitively demanding task. And I have a zero-tolerance policy for distraction. It doesn’t work, even if you just quickly glance at your inbox every once in a while. Even that glance is really going to impair the amount of work and quality of the work you are able to produce.

SF: Right, because we know, and we talked a lot about this on the show, that there is no such thing as multi-tasking. When you switch, there’s a cost to switching from one task to the other.

CN: Yes, and it’s important because we have shifted on from the behavior we had from the late 90’s when people literally tried to multi-task, where they would actually have multiple windows open at the same time. We’ve moved on from that. So, now people will single task, but switch quite a bit. You’re working on something hard, and maybe you take a glance at your inbox, and you think, “I’m doing a good job, I don’t have it open, I don’t have notifications on, so I’m doing the right thing”. But actually, research makes it clear that that’s not the case. It’s exactly what you said about switching. Even a quick glance at something like an email inbox leaves a cognitive residue, which could actually create a relatively significant cognitive impairment for quite a long time to follow. So, really the worst thing you can do, if you’re trying to use your mind at its maximum limit, would be what almost everyone does, which is let me just take a quick glance at the phone, or the web, or my email every ten to fifteen minutes. That’s like working with a significant cognitive handicap.

SF: Because there’s a residue of what it is you are switching over to look at that requires you to process it so that you can start up again when you switch over to the task you were working on or the new one you were just checking out very briefly.

CN: Yes, the actual term that comes out from the studies is ‘cognitive residue’. That’s what they actually call it.

SF: Yes, I chose that term intentionally. I have read some of that research. It’s a great term too because it really helps you to see or envision the idea that it’s sticky when you go from one thing to the other there’s no on-off switch. There’s something there that resides that you have to deal with even though you are not necessarily conscious of it. So, better not to even get a little peek of what’s coming up on your email screen.

CN: In some sense that can be worse because to see an email that’s important and you know you have to answer, but you don’t have time to do it then, that’s really going to leave a residue. So, even the very quickest of glances can actually be the worst because your mind says, “wait a second, I just fell upon something that I’m going to have to do. I have got to pay attention to this.” You can try to bring attention back to that really hard memo you were writing or computer code you were writing but now you are thinking about this new information, too.

SF: I’m very curious about what you’ve learned about deep work. Let’s just jump to that, and then we’ll get back to how you got to this, especially how you got to it as a professional computer scientist. What’s a computer scientist doing thinking about psychology anyway? First, tell us Cal, what are the guidelines that you’ve developed from your research about how to create deep work in your life?

CN: I broke it down into four guidelines. So, the first I call the rule work deeply, and at a high level, what this means is you have to be relatively aggressive about protecting time for deep work, having rituals and routines that surround your deep work to make it as effective as possible. The second rule is to embrace boredom, which captures a point I think is important, that deep work is a very hard skill to get good at. We all assume we know how to focus, and it’s just a matter of finding time. But actually it’s a skill that requires practice. And if you want to be serious about using to deep work to get ahead, you’re going to have to get serious about training your ability to focus. My third rule is controversially titled, as it turns out. It’s called quit social media.  If you want to be serious about your ability to really to focus and get all of the benefits that that can give you, you need to become much more selective about what you let into your attention landscape. And the final rule drain your shallows means you have to be careful about all of the non-deep work obligations on your plate. Eliminate a lot more than most people do, and be much more efficient about what remains.

SF: Sounds easy enough, Cal. Let’s dig into these. So, it’s work deeply, which means aggressively bounding time for specific tasks, embracing boredom – I have to learn a little bit more about that, quitting social media – why would anybody object to that? –, and being more disciplined about cutting non-deep work obligations. I think the last part might be the hardest one. Which do you find people struggle with the most?

CN: People think they are going to struggle with the quit social media, but as someone who has never had a social media account I can tell you that nothing bad happens, and people who do cut back figure out that that is actually the case.

SF: You’ve heard of FOMO?  Do you not suffer from FOMO? Fear of missing out?

CN: I guess I miss out a lot, and I don’t realize it.

SF: So you’re blissfully ignorant.

CN: I guess so. To me it’s important to recognize that companies that provide these social media platforms have done a very good job of marketing this technology as somehow being at the cornerstone of civic life in the 21st century. But the reality is that they’re media companies that sell advertisements and hire people who are very highly trained at figuring out how to grab and distract as much of your attention as possible. Someone like a serious athlete is going to be very careful about what they eat, I think someone who is a very serious mental athlete, someone who makes a living using their mind to do skill-based labor, should at least be wary about voluntarily and regularly using services that are really meant to make them worse at that type of work.

SF: That’s a great way to put it. Very persuasive. So how do you deal with people who are addicted to social media or feel it’s necessary perhaps because of FOMO or other reasons? How do you help them? Or do you have guidelines for how to quit because that seems like a daunting task, especially for certain people in certain industries who rely on feeds and social media?

CN: There are certainly people for whom social media makes sense. What I actually presented was a new way to make that decision about whether or not you should use these different tools. My inspiration for this process might be unexpected. I talked to a farmer. And the way I thought about it was this:  farmers use tools, but they have to be very selective, right? They only have so much money. They are very careful. The farmers I’ve known are very careful about tool selections. So, I sat down with a farmer and said, “Walk me through how you decide which tools you use in your life and which tools you don’t.” At the crux of the decision making process was this idea: Every tool has some benefits and wouldn’t be offered for sale if it didn’t have some benefits. I’m very careful about bringing into my professional life the tools that are going to have positive benefits that will substantially outweigh the costs. And I think that’s the same way that people should think about tools, like social media. Of course, some things you might miss, but the question is do these tools bring substantial benefits to the things you care about most that substantially outweigh the negatives upon grabbing your time and attention? And I think for some people, the answer is yes, but for many more people than we see today the answer really would be no.

SF: So, it actually pays for them to quit, and what they really need to do think through ‘is this a tool that’s helping me’?

CN: Exactly. Not only does it have any benefit, but do the benefits substantially contribute to the things I find most important in my professional and personal life?

SF: Right. Most people probably tell you, “Oh, I can’t do that,” right?

CN: Yeah, what I suggest is quit for thirty days. And after thirty days you have to ask yourself two questions. One: Was your life substantially impoverished? Would you find yourself missing out on things in your professional/personal life? And two: Did anyone else notice or care? I think part of the loop of self-regard that keeps people connected to social media is you can begin to develop this idea that I have this audience out there, and they need to hear what I have to say. So, it can be a usefully humbling experience to realize in that thirty-day experience no one noticed you weren’t sending out your insightful tweets.

SF: Part of my work is to help people try out intelligent experiments for about a month or less that are intended to make things better in the four different parts of their life: work, home, community, and the private self of mind, body, and spirit. And I call these four-way wins. And people do these experiments a lot.  They look to see where indeed is the benefit in each of the different parts of their lives?  In fact, I just launched my Total Leadership course here at Wharton this afternoon, and next month I’m going to have these Wharton MBA students do a digital detox for a day where they shut down all their systems and see what happens when they discover the world beyond their screens. And what I typically find is that most people feel liberated by that process. Is that what you’ve found?

CN: I have. And that’s why I was hinting before that most people think that ‘quit social media’ is going to be the hardest chapter or rule in this book, but a lot of people have the same experience you’ve seen with your students, which is that if you get a little bit of distance from this thing and you can realize how much of a hold it has had on your time, attention, energy, and sense of self. And there is a sense of liberation.  Alot of people find that that ends up being one of the easier rules to put into effect. When they let go of these tools they’re not missing them. It’s not like quitting cigarettes. It’s like quitting a bad habit you never liked in the first place.

SF: All right, so that one was pretty straightforward. Let’s talk about embracing boredom. What does that take?

CN: This is where people actually have the trouble. And the underlying idea here is that the ability to really focus and get the full advantage of deep work is something that you have to train. If you haven’t trained your mind to concentrate, you’re going to have a hard time, even if you are able to clear off your schedule. You’re going to have a hard time reaching the level of concentration that allows deep work to be this tool that provides fantastic productivity. So, I argue that most people actually have to train their mind just like an athlete would train a muscle to prepare to do deep work. A big part of that training is you need to be worried about the lack of boredom in your life, and I’m talking about even outside of work.

SF: Worried about the lack of boredom? So the goal here is boredom?

CN: Exactly.  The reason I’m asking you to embrace boredom is because if you live your life in such a way that at the slightest hint of boredom – that is, the slightest lack of novel stimuli – you whip out a phone and immediately start looking at something that’s a little bit more entertaining. If that’s how you live your life, you’re basically weakening your executive center’s ability when it comes time to focus to remain focused. So, actually embrace boredom to re-teach your mind that it’s ok to not have novel stimuli, to have it be used to the state without novel stimuli. So that when it’s time to sit down and work deeply, you’re going to be much better at it.

SF: Interesting. So you have to condition your mind so that you’re kind of at rest. Is that it?

CN: Well, the way I think about it is you have analogies as part of your executive center, which is like a bouncer at the nightclub of your attention. If you just let everything in there, you’re weakening the authority of that bouncer. So it’s really hard when you do want to lock those doors down to actually do it. What you do out of work has an impact on your ability to work deeply. So, people who take deep work seriously also take boredom seriously. They’re happy to have long periods of time where there’s not a lot of excitement or novel stimuli coming. They’re able to take long walks. They’ll go places without their phone. They’ll even stand in a checkout line, and just stand in the line. It might seem like, “why do we want to do it?” But actually this is like cognitive calisthenics when it comes to your ability to focus.

SF: The first rule, work deeply, means basically bounding time to be able to focus, right?

CN: Right, putting aside time. How you schedule that time is your schedule, and what you do surrounding that time to get the most out of it. All those types of factors are involved there.

SF: What have you found is the greatest challenge in being aggressive about establishing those rituals and boundaries that enable you to have that hour, hour and a half, or two hours of undistracted activity at one time?

CN: People sometimes feel guilty about protecting that time. When other opportunities come up, maybe a meeting or call, they say ‘yes’ because that seems more concrete. And they feel bad about turning that down. They feel guilty. Also, deep work is not business in a publically visible manner. If you take the phone call, if you go to a meeting, people seeing you doing it. You’re doing work. You are like, “look I’m doing work. I’m busy.” Deep work is a very private, solo endeavor. You sort of don’t get immediate credit for it, but I think it’s important to emphasize that we have this backwards. So, as we’re in this age of increasing automation and outsourcing, the jobs that survive, the jobs that are going to remain, become increasingly complicated and increasingly cognitively demanding. That’s where the pressures are in the job world. But we often get this backwards. When we think about the stuff that we can actually do to think really hard, to put our skills at their highest level, to apply it at work, to work deeply, the stuff that we can do and that’s valuable we see that as something that might be nice, but not for now. And we define real work to be all the other stuff we do, which is mainly talking about work. We spend all of our time sending emails and going to meetings and hopping on calls and preparing powerpoints together, and we really have that backwards. Today it’s the deep work that matters. It’s the deep work that creates massive amounts of value that can’t be automated, can’t be outsourced. And yet, we spend by far the vast majority of our time – and I mean the average knowledge worker – on these shallow tasks that would be easily replicated. We act like human network routers instead of actually sitting there and doing the deep thinking that’s our one competitive advantage. So, people do have a hard time protecting this time and saying no to the other things, but I think we have that completely backwards.

SF: How do you get over that because the pressures are enormous to be immediately responsive to your online and your face-to-face world? People want your attention. How do you bound it and protect it?

CN: Well, there’s two cases. If you’re not in a big organization, if you don’t have a boss so that you have control over what’s in your life, then be less connected be less responsive,  just push things to the side. Prioritize deep work and try to fit as much of the other stuff as you can as it fits. People who don’t have bosses sometimes over-estimate how much connectivity they need to have or how important these easy tasks are. I recently wrote an article that contrasted two popular bloggers and podcasters that were both having real trouble with the amount of email coming in through their websites. The first blogger hired a high-end executive assistant who works with him full-time just to help him keep up with the email. That was his solution. The other blogger took down his email address and said you can write me a letter if you want to contact me. And it turned out nothing bad happened when he did that. Nothing happened to his traffic. Nothing happened to his revenue. But suddenly he had massively more time available to write better content, and it was good for his business. In a lot of cases, we think we need to be really connected, we need to be doing these emails, we need to be saying yes to everything, but the reality is if we ran the type of experiments that you recommend we would realize, “wait a second, maybe 80-90% of the stuff that’s eating up my attention is nice, but not that important.”

SF: What if your manager isn’t okay with the deep work plan?

CN: Yes, so this is the other case. What I recommend here is actually you need to open a dialogue about deep work. I have this suggestion that you talk to your boss or manager about what your ideal deep to shallow ratio should be.

SF: Deep to shallow ratio – that’s a great concept.

CN: “I’m here forty hours. I measure my time very carefully. What should I be aiming for?” And you open up a conversation when you do this. But now when you have this agreement with a boss or a manager, you have a platform from which you can make stronger decisions. So, “the reason I’m going to turn down this meeting or I’m not here is because we’re way off of the ratio you said I should be meeting. I only got two hours deep work. That’s not producing value for this company. You don’t need me sending emails, you need me actually doing what I do best. So, how can we get more time?” I think the meta-point that’s important here is that there’s interesting research that says with these types of issues, once you actually open up a dialogue, a regular dialogue about these types of issues – “deep work is important to me. I’m not getting enough done.” – can uncover lots of different cultural things at your company that really aren’t that important to that the company and that the company can move past, or your group or team can get past. Once you start talking about these things, it’s actually enables changes to the culture that might’ve otherwise seemed hopelessly entrenched.

SF: Exactly. Indeed that is a part of the Total Leadership training that I do with my students in this program that I’ve been doing for almost twenty years now, and also with clients worldwide. After identifying what matters most to you, what projects and people matter most to you, you then engage in dialogue with the key people in your life about what’s important to them and what’s important to you, including the sort of terms of engagement and your expectations of responsiveness. It’s all about those conversations – stakeholder dialogues — because there are all kinds of assumptions we make about what other people need from us with respect to availability in response times. And often they are wrong.

CN: I think a good place to start is having the terminology right. Just by understanding that deep work, for example, is a specific type of effort that returns a lot of value for the company, that isolating it from other types of work is a great starting point. Because now you have a particular tool and you can say, “What do I need to do to prioritize this tool, and what’s getting in the way of using this tool?” To me it’s a productive way to go forward than to just think about the distractions in our lives and struggling with whether the good outweighs the bad.

About the Author

Ali Ahmed is an undergraduate senior majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior and minoring in Cinema Studies.

Re-Imagining the Work Place

Contributor: Arjan Singh

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

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Joshua Abram, a successful serial entrepreneur, founding advertising tech companies such as DStillery, and Integral Ad Science, before recently founding Neuehouse, a private workspace that is redefining the ideal work environment for today’s entrepreneurs and companies in the creative fields. Stew spoke with Joshua about how Neuehouse is not only creating a new work environment but also merging work with other aspects of life.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Joshua, you have been a very successful entrepreneur. What inspired this latest venture?

Joshua Abram: joshua abramI think that the businesses that my business partner, Alan, and I like to start are businesses in which we have tasted the problems ourselves. It’s a good way to focus the mind and avoid misadventure if you know the problem you are trying to solve. And in the course of starting companies with Alan over the past 15 years, we came to employ hundreds of people in New York and all over the world. Despite the companies’ prospering, one of the things we never felt that we got entirely right was that collision between the entrepreneurial moment and big city real estate.

SF: Can you explain what you mean by the collision between the entrepreneurial moment and big city real estate?

JA: For sophisticated entrepreneurs, the competition is no longer about raising capital. Money is available. The real competition is about talent and bringing brilliant collaborators to work with you on a project or at a company. And when Alan and I were starting these companies, we were recruiting people out of the great media companies – Hearst, Conde Nast, Google, Facebook. And the people that we were recruiting were not people who were jonesing for their corner office; that was never the discussion. They were people who cared deeply about the environment in which they worked and whether it was an inspiring company. And part of that had to do with the company, and the mission of the company.

SF: So what was missing from the typical environment in terms of it being uninspiring and what were people looking for in a space to inspire greatness?

JA: I think people are looking for a place to learn. And I think that as diverse as talented people are, curiosity is one of the distinguishing factors that characterize the kind of people that we have always wanted to work with in our companies. And we began to think about the environments that we wanted to create, not just for ourselves but also for others. We thought that, given changes in the economy and changes in the attitudes toward work, maybe it was time, independent of the companies we were starting, because we knew other people were facing the same situation, to take out a blank piece of paper and entirely re-imagine the ideal environment and experience for work for people not so much in technology but in the creative industries operating on a global basis.

SF: What is the distinction between the ideal environment and ideal experience?

JA: When we think of Neuehouse, we don’t think so much about a space. We think about what the experience is from the moment someone enters Neuehouse, from the moment their staff is at Neuehouse. What is experience of their visitors? How will the environment we are creating inspire them? How will it drive their success? How will it allow them to attract more interesting collaborators and more interesting clients? And how will it be a place where both the principals of the company and their staff can learn? We decided to focus on four things. One is that design matters in all of its forms. We are very focused on creating beautiful, inspiring environments. The architect David Rockwell, who is globally known, is our partner at Neuehouse. Another thing that interests us is hospitality. In our lifetime, there has been a hospitality revolution. We are all very aware of the power of hospitality.

SF: What’s the essence of that hospitality shift?

People want to be taken care of. They want to be in an environment where it’s possible to be your best-self. And hospitality can really drive that and influence that. So imagine the experience of being at your favorite boutique hotel and the experience of being there and the ease of living there was transported to your office. That is very active within Neuehouse and very much our focus.

The other thing that we focus on is an intentional community. Neuehouse is an office in which people are invited to participate. If someone is interested in what we are doing, we ask them to apply. And we took this membership-driven approach not to be rude or obnoxious, quite the contrary. We think that the magic in office and in any setting happens not when you have the same people doing the same things but when you have diversity. We never wanted to be a tech ghetto, a design ghetto or a fashion ghetto. The magic happens when those communities are in close proximity to each other and accidents happen. And frankly, if the accidents aren’t happening fast enough, we stir the pot a little bit to make sure the accidents are accelerated.

SF: So how do you intentionally stir the pot and connect the different members?

JA: We do it in number of ways. One is we think of this as being the host of a good dinner party. When you go to a good dinner party and have a great time, you probably have a host who has thought carefully about who will be there that evening with you. And that person tries to find people who were not doing the same thing. You want to meet people who are in different fields doing interesting things. To have a host who is not only convening you, but guiding the conversation and making connections between people that they know well in hopes that those connections will end up having a life of their own. We do that very actively.

The fourth pillar of what we focus on is programming, which at Neuehouse means “food for the curious.” Several nights a week, 100-200 members and their guests gather for conversations with leading tastemakers, opinion leaders, sometimes troublemakers from the creative industries. It might be Paul Smith, the English designer talking about his creative process, or the environmental artist Christo talking about thirty years of environmental art and innovation therein. All of our programming is always non-business related because we think that at the end of the day, in a commercial environment, the last thing that many of us want to hear about is purely commercial topics. It’s much more interesting to hear about things on the periphery of your expertise – it’s much more inspiring.

SF: What has occurred as the result of people convening to listen to someone who provokes their thinking, even if they are operating in different spheres?

JA: It bridges conversations in the community. It’s a shared experience outside of conventional silos of commercial life. It propels a conversation that leads to deeper relationships amongst our members. And also tangents that might lead them to engage in ways they otherwise might not have. It often leads to someone saying, “in the course of talking about what we shared together last night, we’ve come up with a new idea together. Let’s pursue that.”

SF: You have talked about the fuzziness between work and life, and that you see Neuehouse as being designed for that fuzziness. Can you explain what your thinking is? And how your design is uncovering this fuzziness or this blending or mutual enrichment of work and other parts of life.

JA: It’s a really big focus for us at Neuehouse. I think one thing that strikes most people who visit us in New York – and we are about to open in Los Angeles and soon London – is that Neuehouse does not resemble a typical office. When you walk in, frankly the first thing people tend to say almost in unison is “what is this place?” And we love that ambiguity because it signals that we are not just tweaking the office, but fundamentally reimagining its terms. And your question suggests that we are merging different parts of life that have traditionally been separated, although arbitrarily. And one of the things that people say about Neuehouse is that it feels like a beautiful home and that it feels domestic. And we have been very careful to use a design language that much more resembles a home, a home of a curious person, a sophisticated traveler who has seen a lot of things and had a lot of experiences and brought back those experiences and represented them in their home, whether through books, objects, art — which is an important part of the agenda at Neuehouse. So we focus on this domestic setting. And Neuehouse tends to be a place where people come in the morning, and stay through the evening.  They work during the day and then in the evening they invite friends over for the programming, to share a glass of wine and maybe stay for dinner.

SF: Do children become a part of the experience?

JA: It’s so funny that you ask that today. I was at Neuehouse at lunch and I was so glad to see that a member had brought in her two children, ages 6 and 8,  and they were having lunch together. I think it suggests that this is an extension and an integration of their whole life and it signals to me that we are getting something right.

SF: I’m interested in your market. Is this concept one that is just for an elite group of creatives who can afford such an environment? It has to be for a particular niche in the commercial market. What is your vision for how to take that model and scale it

JA: We’ve already begun to do that. We opened in New York 18 months ago. We opened in September, and by December, we were oversubscribed. When we first took this 50,000 square foot lease in New York, it felt like a big gulp, but with a great team, we were able to make it happen. We feel that we have tapped a very strong demand that exists in creative capitals all over the world, and that many cities – New York, Los Angeles and London included – will have more than one Neuehouse. We have a long waiting list in New York. Heterogeneity is very critical to us. We’re focused on the creative industries, so typically film, fashion, music, design. We’ve made the decision that 50% of the companies at Neuehouse will be led by women. And that is indeed the case. It tends to appeal to a fairly cosmopolitan group. 40% of our members in New York have a European passport.

To learn more about Neuehouse, visit them online at neuehouse.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.

About the Author

Arjan Singh Arjan Singh (2014_02_10 08_00_04 UTC)is an undergraduate junior at the Wharton School.

Addressing Our Poverty of Imagination – Kathleen Christensen

Contributor: Shreya Zaveri

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

On Work and Life Stew Friedman spoke with Dr. Kathleen Christensen, Program Director of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Working Longer Program, and a pioneer in the field of the work-family research. Dr. Christensen has been involved in the planning of the 2014 White House Summit on working families as well as the 2010 White House Forum on workplace flexibility. She is also the author of several books including, most recently, Workplace Flexibility: Realigning 20th Century Jobs for a 21st Century Workforce.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: You are one of the pioneers in the field. Back in 1994, you did research on home-based work during the eighties, and you were recruited from your academic position to join the Sloan Foundation where you established and led what would become its Workplace and Working Families program. Tell us about some of the major changes in the field of work and life over the last few decades.

Kathleen Christensen: Kathleen ChristensenThe greatest change is that there is much greater involvement by the research and academic communities to understand what has happened to the American family. This has extended not only to the stages where children are born and reared until the time they leave home, but also looking at the later stages of life. We have begun to conceptualize work-life as spanning all the decades of one’s life, beyond the decades of productively working and managing caregiving responsibilities. There’s a much greater understanding of what’s going on in the family and how responsibilities can change as families age.

The key to the entire notion of work-life is the way work is organized in time and space; the demands of work in the global economy affect the adult worker as well as the other members of the family. What became clear in the research that the Sloan Foundation funded in the mid-1990s is that there was a structural misalignment between work organization in time and space and in the needs of an increasingly diverse workforce.

SF: Can you explain where the structural misalignment was seen?

KC: The workplace as we know it is an artifact of history. Henry Ford was seen as a genius in the early 1900s when he decided to cut the workweek to 40 hours and which was put into law in the 1930s with the Standard Labor Act. That was really the last time that there were any structural changes in the hours of work and in worker protections as to when and how they work. By the late 1990s, the workplace was still a legacy design of a time when most of the workers were male breadwinners. In the 20s and 30s, there was the notion of the family wage. Women were not to work, and the husbands and fathers were to earn enough to support the family. Working full-time all-year-round made sense for the male breadwinner then, but by the late 1990s it was a different situation. The workforce was increasingly mixed, but the workplace had kept the same structure. The notion of someone taking a leave was seen as deviant. We did not have laws allowing for short- or long-term leave. It could be done at the privilege of the employer, but there wasn’t a structure in place for it. As a result, the research showed a great deal of fallout for the family. The long hours made it difficult to schedule time with the family for school events, for example. There was a need for a structural change in order to meet the needs of a more diverse workforce—for men and women across ages.

SF: What has been the biggest impact of the various centers the Sloan Foundation has sponsored over the last few decades in terms of generating new and useful change in the structure of the workplace?

KC: First, it really built the case that we had a very different workforce. We saw that working mothers compared to mothers not in the workforce were losing almost a night’s worth of sleep per week. We saw that men who retired abruptly in their late sixties or early seventies had much greater health problems. If a man went at age seventy from full-time work to full-time retirement, his odds of greater illness and mortality were increased compared to men who were able to phase into retirement. It would seem that the loss of identity plays a major role in that, but it’s difficult to prove causality. We were able to understand and document some of the costs that were being experienced by employees and families because people were working longer. We launched a campaign in the early 2000s to increase voluntary employer adoption of workplace flexibility. I would say one of the major legacies of our efforts was to put workplace flexibility in the front and center of public consciousness—to make it a legitimate area of discussion within the workplace and to make it a topic of conversation in Washington so that in policy circles there was recognition of the needs of American families for greater flexibility in the workplace.

SF: What’s your assessment—how far have we come and how far do we still have to go?

KC: We had two goals at the launch of our campaign in 2002. The first was to make flexibility a compelling national issue, and the second was to make it a standard feature in the workplace. Great strides were made for the first. One would be hard pressed to look at the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, or even academic journals and not see the workplace flexibility issue in one form or another. It’s a public topic now. But it’s still not the standard in workplaces. If you asked how much control a given employee has for when, where, and how they work, you would see major holes. Virtually every large corporation has flexibility on their books and maintain that they value it. Some really walk the talk and make flexibility a core feature of their work. We may even see pockets within a firm where employees are able to negotiate with their supervisors, but that flexibility may not be widespread throughout the firm. We also see many other organizations of different sizes that are in favor of workplace flexibility, but just don’t know how to implement it.

SF: Do you think it’s a matter of education then, and not just economics?

KC: I think the phrase ‘We don’t know how to do it’ covers a multitude of issues. It can mean ‘we don’t really care’ as well as ‘we don’t understand.’ Unfortunately, in many organizations, supervisors and employees see each other as a problem with when it concerns flexibility. Supervisors think employees are too entitled and that flexibility is not a right, whereas employees think that managers simply don’t understand. There are a number of ongoing efforts that make it clear that workplace flexibility can be a win-win—for example, the Society of Human Resource Management does a good job of articulating this. Anyone who’s seen the incredible results in organizations that really understand the power of flexibility has seen that the outcomes really prove themselves. But particularly in the last few years of tough economic times, organizations have hunkered down on new initiatives like these.

SF: They’ve retrenched, yes. I’ve seen some research that shows that the universal flexibility standards were scaled back in the wake of the Great Recession.

KC: If you talk to any of the leading companies, they recognize that as the economy gets stronger and job creation, wages, and salaries increase, they have to keep their best and brightest. As the economy gets stronger, and they are unsatisfied with their workplaces, many employees start looking around.

SF: Do you predict then that we’ll see more investment in workplace flexibility going forward?

KC: My instinct is yes. There are four generations in the workplace now. Supervisors need to handle the needs of Gen-X, Gen-Y, Boomers, and some of the Great Generation too. My sense is that flexibility is a very low-cost way of recruiting and retaining a solid workforce as well as the simultaneous effects of reducing costs and increasing productivity and revenues.

SF: What’s the key to moving the needle on this lack of knowledge and this fear of letting go control of the how and when of work?

KC: We have to reframe the conversation about flexibility. We have to translate from a rigid to an agile, fluid workplace. The term ‘flexibility’ is not making it to the C-suites; it’s not a term that has a lot of business imperative to it, perhaps because work and life are still seen as a tradeoff game where the employer gives something up to provide for the employee’s family life. It’s also seen as a gendered issue. As the workforce ages, it will come to be seen less as a women’s issue (especially because older workers are wanting to keep working, but only part time), but I’m still seeing flexibility referred to as a women’s issue. It you look at the surveys, men have just as high of needs for flexibility as do women.

SF: I’m personally aware of that, but people in my audiences often say yeah right [laughs]. Our research at Wharton shows this sentiment that your mentioned—that young men, in particular, anticipate as much workplace conflict as young women.

KC: Recent research from Harvard says that by mid-career, people who don’t have flexibility begin to get worn down. Men’s careers come into more prominence as women’s careers take a backslide. So while flexibility is a good transitional term, I think now we need more business-oriented language to continue the conversation. I’m still working on that new language. People are as committed to work as they’ve ever been but are increasingly dissatisfied.

SF: It’s a ubiquitous cry—a sense of being overwhelmed and under-fulfilled. Tell us what the main objective of the Working Longer program is.

KC: Our objective is to build a research base that is understanding of the aging workforce in the US. People are increasingly working beyond retirement age. In the mid-1990s, the trend towards early retirement began reversing itself. College-educated workers, even more than high school graduates, are working beyond conventional retirement age. However, the demand side, the employers, have not recognized in the US as they have in, say, Germany, how to handle and harness the productivity of the aging workforce. The major priority here is graceful exits, which I think is misguided. I hope to ultimately see a greater understanding on the demand side about the contributions of an aging workforce and to inform a policy discussion on the matter. Our labor and employment laws were written 85 years ago; they need to be able to keep pace with an aging workforce.

SF: So what can listeners do?

KC: Have a conversation and start telling their stories. There’s oftentimes a poverty of imagination. People can’t envision working differently, but when they have the opportunity to think collectively and creatively, they realize there can be many ways to organize work. We’re just beginning to tap into that.

SF: Yes. It’s an age of experimentation and revolutionary change in our field.

To find out more about Dr. Christensen’s book, Workplace Flexibility: Realigning 20th Century Jobs for a 21st Century Workforce, and the Sloan Foundation, you can visit them online or follow her on Twitter @K_E_Christensen.


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

About the author

Shreya Zaveri Shreya Zaveriis a junior in the Wharton School studying Management and Marketing and OPIM with an International Relations minor. She also serves as a vice president for the Work-Life Integration Project Student Advisory Board.

You Can Go Home Again — James Joseph

Contributor: Sathvik Ramanan

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

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with James Joseph, a business professional who spent 18 years in sales and marketing at global giants such as Microsoft, 3M, and Ford. He’s the author of God’s Own Office: How One Man Worked for a Global Giant from His Village in Kerala. He is also the founder of Jackfruit 365. Mr. Joseph spoke with Stew about how he was able to discover a work-life harmony by working from his home village.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: On this show, we talk about how you can make changes in your life to better align what you care about with what you do. You’ve written about moving back to your home village where you could have a work life with responsibility, impact, and resources to get a lot done, but your children could have an opportunity to grow up in a way that was similar to your own upbringing in a small village. How did you make that change happen? It must have been very risky.

James Joseph: James JosephIt was risky, but I think I planned the change really well; it was possible because I had the global exposure. I could work with anyone around the world, I already had global expertise. I had proven myself in three different continents, and I could fly out at any time to perform my job and then fly back to live in my little village.

SF: What did you have to do to be able to make such a radical shift for you and your family?

JJ: It was definitely tough. It took a lot of negotiation at Microsoft for them to agree for me to be able to leave the city and move back to a remote village. I put myself on a business case where I started to travel seven to eight days a month across all cities in India – India is large geographically, like the US – because the firm’s work happens in all different cities. Even though I was based in one city, only one-fifth of my time was spent in that city. Most of the time, I had to fly around and go for meetings with all my clients. It took me 90 minutes to go from my house in Bangalore to the airport and another 45 minutes to go through security. Then once I got to my destination, I was wasting a lot of time in traffic in the cities in India because, as I’m sure you know, the traffic situation in India is horrendous. Now, if I do the same thing from my village in Kerala, it takes me 10 minutes to get to the airport and 5 minutes to go through check in!

SF: So you made the business case to your colleagues and the decision-makers at Microsoft that you could save a lot of money and time by living in your home village?

JJ: Correct. And additionally, because an average employee in a city spends at least two hours every day in commuter traffic, but in my village, since I worked from home, I saved two hours every day. Half of that time I gave back to work, and half of it I devoted to my life – everybody wins. My managers said that since I felt so strongly about it, they would give me a six-month trial period, and if my performance went down, I’d have to come back to the city.

SF: That’s a great model, and it’s something we talk about often here on the show: designing experiments that have a time limit to them and, after which, all parties who have a stake in the outcome get to have a say in whether or not they feel the experiment is working. It’s not like you’re doing this forever; it starts out as a trial.

JJ: And I appreciated that. I’m a manager so I know that a job has to be performed well.  So after six months I got a call from the manager who had to approve that move. Actually, I first got a call and afterward a text message which read check your email, and take a bow. I looked at my email on my smart phone, and saw that I had won the highest award of Microsoft Worldwide. It turned out that my performance had been significantly up since I moved back to my village because I saved so much time. Beyond that, I felt I had the best quality of life, and I enjoyed my work. I call this the work-life resonance. It goes beyond work-life balance because, to me, balance requires a compromise between two.

SF: I couldn’t agree more. I talk about this all the time – that it’s not just about balance. Say more about what work life harmony means to you.

JJ: When I was in college, I learned that resonance means when two objects are vibrating at the natural frequency, and their sum is bigger than the individual parts. Essentially, I felt my life was in its natural frequency, and my work was also operating at its natural frequency.

SF: That’s great. Has it still been going well for you since then?

JJ:  Yes, absolutely. One of the CEOs of Infosys, one of the largest firms in India, told me that I must document my experience so that more youngsters can get the courage to do what I have done.

SF: So that’s the essence of what your book is about? Let’s talk about the lessons that you teach in God’s Own Office. What do our listeners need to know about to better align what they care about with what they do.

JJ: There’s a couple of big things which I talk about. First, is that you must have a strong conviction that this is what you want in life. And second, you need a constant focus. In my case, as I went around the world and came back, I used my Windows login password to remind me of my conviction. When I was a child, I learned about the importance of naming your child in order to remind them of something which they should be conscious of. My Windows login password is what I get reminded of more often even than my own name.

SF: Your Windows login password is like a mantra for you and a reminder of what’s important. That’s a great idea. We can all think about using a password — something that we use all the time and words that we actually have to type in – to represent an idea that reminds us of what matters most.

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.

To learn more about James Joseph’s book, God’s Own Office, click here.

About the Author

Sathvik Ramanan Sathvik Ramananis an undergraduate freshman in the Vagelos Program in the Life Sciences and Management at the University of Pennsylvania.


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.

Giving Equal Footing So Everyone Can Perform and Succeed — Deborah Epstein Henry on Work and Life

Contributor: Morgan Motzel

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).

Deborah Epstein HenryOn January 21, the second episode of Work and Life on Sirius XM’s Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School, Stew Friedman spoke with Deborah Epstein Henry, an internationally recognized expert on workplace restructuring, talent management, work-life integration, and the retention and promotion of lawyers, with a focus on women. Henry is a sought-after consultant and speaker for audiences both inside and outside the legal profession. In her work both as a writer and an entrepreneur, Henry is striving to develop new employment models to improve the way professional services firms and clients interact and create shared value.

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

SF: Debbie, could you tell us a bit about the company you founded, Flex-Time Lawyers, and how it works?

DEH: It may help to give you a little context on how it evolved. It was very auto-biographical. I was practicing as a litigator in Philadelphia 15 years ago, and found that, as a working mom of two, I was really struggling with how to play an integral role in my kids’ lives while also being successful on partnership track at my law firm. When I spoke with other women professionals, I found that they were struggling with the same thing.  So 15 years ago I sent an email to six lawyers I knew saying, “I’m going to start a group focused on work-life issues for lawyers.  Forward the invite to anyone you know who’s interested.” Within a few days, 150 people responded.

SF: What did they say?

DEH: They said, “We need to be a part of this, and thank you for bringing this to the fore.” And it was really at that moment, as a third-year associate being flooded by these emails, that I knew that I had struck a nerve. I started running events in Philadelphia on different work-life issues. And the subject also morphed into different women’s issues, given the largely female audience. That’s how Flex-Time Lawyers; as a networking and support group for lawyers interested in work-life issues.  But after three years of running it pro-bono on the side as a litigation associate, I ultimately turned it into a consulting practice. Working with companies, law firms and non-profits in the U.S. and Europe on different work-life and women’s issues took off from there.

SF: You’re talking about both leaning in as individuals — learning the skills and developing the support to be able to progress, particularly as a woman, in a hierarchical situation or setting that has traditionally not been supportive — as well as making structural changes in organizations. Let’s say we’ve got a small law firm somewhere in the Midwest that wants to make its organization more attractive and hospitable for men and women. What’s the first couple of things that organization should be doing?

DEH: There’s a multitude of things that can be done, but the first advice I would provide to this firm is: any change you want to make in terms of making the environment more hospitable must be linked to the business. It must be linked to the higher deliverable of revenue and an economic benefit, because these are not charitable organizations, and good will is terrific, but unfortunately people really need to be convinced by their pocket book that they’re going to get a return on this. For example, clients are really pushing back about the billable hour model because the way the billable hour is structured, the more money a firm earns, the more a client loses. The conflict is that when a law firm bills a lot of hours on a case that is a disadvantage to the client – that means more money the client is paying. So you have a structural model where a client and a law firm’s interests are in direct conflict, which makes no sense at all. What I would talk to this firm about is looking at other ways to bill clients so that clients would improve their satisfaction and in turn potentially give more business to the firm.

SF: How could they change their billing from billable hours, which is what everybody knows and everybody complains about?

DEH: They could develop alternative fee structures, which is something that clients are demanding. That means lawyers would be valued based on quality of work, results and efficiency, as opposed to hours logged. That would benefit the client-law firm relationship, and in turn would also benefit the lawyers, because they would no longer be judged on the hours they log, but instead they would be valued on what they should be valued on.

SF: So what’s your dream? How would you like to see things evolve in the legal world in 20 years?

DEH: My biggest goal is two-fold: one is to make alternative ways to practice law the mainstream – to have a greater variety of options out there so that a lawyer can be successful outside of the linear, traditional, equity partner track. On the individual level, to have different ways to evaluate success. On the employer level, it’s really a reciprocal goal, to have different models that service client relationships, and move away from the traditional way of billing clients for services. It’s really unpacking the employment model and providing variety there, but also refocusing the career path and saying there are many ways to practice law in a fulfilling way, having individual satisfaction but also delivering better legal services to clients.

SF: What’s the first question the managing partner of a law firm or an in-house counsel needs to be addressing in order to start to create a model that works better?

DEH: The question for both is, “Am I running a business that is giving equal footing to everyone to perform and succeed?” More often than not, the answer is no, and then the next question is really, “What structural changes do I need to evaluate in order to make the environment one where everybody can thrive?” Doing that is going to mean increased revenue for the business – it’s not just the right thing to do, it’s actually economically the beneficial thing to do.

Debbie’s book Law and Reorder: Legal Industry Solutions for Restructure, Retention, Promotion & Work/Life Balance focuses on the needs of legal employers, lawyers, and law students, helping them to understand the new legal world of productivity and work-life integration.

Debbie is also the Founder of Flex-Time Lawyers, offering advisory, training, and speaking services on the workplace and talent in the legal profession, and Co-Founder of Bliss Lawyers, providing businesses with legal services on a full-time or part-time secondment basis.

Join Stew next time on Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Ellen Ernst Kossek and Brad Harrington on work/life interventions in organizations that improve both lives and the bottom line, and how Millennial Dads can lean in at home and win at work. Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

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