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More Money, More Problems — Scott Schieman

Contributor: Morgan Motzel

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

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Scott Schieman, a Canada Research Chair and Professor in the sociology department at the University of Toronto. His research focuses on the social psychology of inequality, with a special emphasis on work and stress in the work-family interface. He is currently leading a national study of over 6,000 Canadian workers to understand the factors that contribute to stress across a broad sample of the working population.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Tell us about your research, Scott—give us the headline on what it is that you’ve been working on with respect to stress and status.

Scott Schieman: scott scheimanIt all started back in 2004 when I became really interested in emotional inequality in the population.

SF: Let’s define that phrase first. Emotional inequality—what is that?

SS: From a sociology and mental health perspective, emotional inequality refers to the ways that the classic features of distress, such as anxiety, depression, and anger, are distributed in the population. Rather than being randomly distributed out there, we’ve observed that it is socially patterned, and that it is very often linked to the way we organize our lives and our social roles within work, family, elements of the community, and so forth. Emotional inequality means that not everybody experiences stress in the same way; it is an exploration of the patterns associated with those feelings. In some ways, it’s a social epidemiology for everyday stress.

SF: And how stress is associated with social roles?

SS: Looking at the key social roles is really the crux of my research—those are the roles that put demands on us and that give us the resources to deal with those demands.

SF: For example, what are those critical roles?

SS: A classic one is overwork, including long hours, excessive pressure, twelve hours of work and eight hours to do it. On the flip side of that, family-related responsibilities, such as caring for young children and caring for elder parents, can be big drivers as well. The competing pressures and demands in those roles, and how people cope with them, is what I’m most interested in.

SF: You were talking about how you got interested in this topic. Tell us more about that story.

SS: I was particularly interested in this idea of the stress of higher status. I made a discovery where I found one particular stressor seemed to occur more as you moved up in certain indicators of status (education, job security, income, etc.), and that stressor was work-family conflict. Sociologists and public health specialists often talk about how stressors tend to hurt people who are clustered in the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. For some drivers, that’s definitely true—noxious work, economic hardship, etc. But what I started observing was that as people crept up the socioeconomic ladder, certain stressors in particular—job pressure and work-family conflict—were amplified.

SF: So you found those were increased in those with high status?

SS: Not necessarily just those with high status. I’m not just talking about how people at the top have it—people who we might call the 1%. We actually find that even when you move from no job authority to some job authority, there’s a tick up in particular stressors. Now that’s not to say people would or should give up those higher positions. It’s the same thing with income. If you look at income differences, where you really see a blip up in stress is right around the $50,000 to $70,000 mark of personal annual income. They’re not necessarily just coping with their stress—you could argue they have more stress, but they also have more resources to deal with it.

SF: They have more stress and more work-to-family conflict…

SS: Right, and there’s an assumption that that’s okay because they can deal with it more money.

SF: That if you have the resources to handle it, then it’s okay?

SS: Correct. But that’s not what we’re seeing in the data. What we are seeing seems to be more money, more problems—at least to some degree.

SF: In terms of how the stressors play out, what are you seeing in the outcomes for people’s lives and how it affects them on a daily basis?

SS: First, you see a lot of problems with sleep, which we’re currently exploring—people cutting back on sleep, people not getting as much sleep as they’d like to, the quality of sleep being harmed. The stress of higher status also plays out in things like life satisfaction, where instead of saying, “I’m very satisfied with life,” it just brings it down a notch to “I’m somewhat satisfied.”

In other words, it seems that, were it not for the stressors, they’d actually feel more satisfied and happier. They’d have fewer symptoms of anxiety. They’d describe the quality of their time with their kids as richer. It’s almost as if you could imagine a slight dampening on how people feel.

SF: So the higher the status, the worse the life circumstances in terms of feelings of stress and strain?

SS: Not the worse necessarily, but if you could imagine that all other things were equal, there seems to be a dampening in quality of life. People aren’t worse off, but they’re not as healthy or happy as they could be. That’s what I mean by emotional inequality. Often the discussion can focus on the rich and the poor. In my research, I look at what happens in the middle or middle-upper range. It’s like the classic “middle squeeze” tracing the lines as to how that plays out for health and well-being. The takeaway point is that these things detract from what could be a better quality of life through the middle and middle-upper social classes.

SF: “These things” being more hours, more interpersonal conflict…?

SS: Sure, and being overworked, having more responsibilities… Being held responsible for things out of your control certainly ticks up. These seem to be smaller things where people wouldn’t trade in those higher status positions to eliminate them, but they become an associated cost.

SF: So you might say complexity breeds stress and strain, which spill over into family life. How do you study and measure these things? What are you looking at to assess work-to-family conflict, for example?

SS: In Canada, we took a large, random, national sample across all occupations and sectors and looked at various dimensions of their work. Dimensions included work autonomy, schedule control, flexibility, challenging work, and complexity of work, but then also the pressures, the hours, being required to work overtime with little advance notice, etc. We’re not just looking at specific occupations and status, but at what it is about their work that would be related to psychological functioning and what might be causing problems or stress in the work/family or even the work/non-work interface, which would include things like friendships, leisure, and community engagement, for example.

We’ve also done in-depth qualitative interviews with about 65 individuals from dual-earner families and with kids younger than 18 at five different times points over the next decade to measure changes. We’re asking them about multitasking, doing work-related and family-related activities at home, who’s doing it, why they’re doing it, and how they think their family feels about it.

SF: Tell us! What are people saying?

SS: In a nutshell, it seems as though when women do more paid work hours at home they’re significantly more likely to engage in work-family multitasking. The implication is that you’re not in either role fully. A lot of people will talk about how good that is—they need to do that—and the reason they say they need to do that is because there are too many pressures and work that are spilling over.

SF: Right, so at least this way they stay connected and engaged and responsive to the work demands. But, it sounds like there’s a “but” coming…

SS: There’s a big “but” coming. It often makes people feel guilty, especially women, for not really being fully engaged and fully attentive. A huge issue related to this, for men and women, is the sending and receiving of work-related communications after whatever people define as “work hours.” That gets people into trouble. We’ve heard stories in the qualitative data of marriages having problems with this behavior.

SF: You can be physically present and psychologically absent, and that’s the critical nature of quality connection: being attentive with your mind as well as being physically in the same space.

SS: People will assert that they are in control and that they are deciding this for themselves. We sometimes ask, “Are you sure you’re in control?” if you feel like you need to respond to that email at 9 p.m. on a Sunday night when you could be doing something else with your family. “Can it really not wait until Monday morning?” We try to engage in that dialogue in our interviews with the families.

SF: How do you attain that sense of control and pursue the things that matter to you? How can you be helpful to the people that matter when they need you? You’re saying that people will assert that they have control, but they are really just rationalizing?

SS: To some extent, yes. You hear people say, “It’s my decision—I am on vacation, but I’m going to go to Starbucks and check my email for a couple of hours.” But in those moments, they’re not on vacation. You’ll hear people say that they need to do it just to check in and make sure everything is okay. Except there’s evidence that suggests being fully disengaged and taking breaks does ultimately improve your productivity. And really, what’s the worst thing that could happen if it waited until you got back from vacation? Those are the kinds of the things we confront when we probe our interviewees which helps them see that maybe they’re not in control.

On vacations, especially around the holidays, what ends up hurting people a lot are unclear expectations. In times when you’re going to be particularly stressed, it’s important to decide when it will be okay to ease off. One of the things that comes out of our research in Canada has been that when people have clear, open communication with their supervisors about those kinds of boundaries including hours and expectations with respect to workloads, those direct conversations really pay off. A lot of people find that they are afraid of drifting away from the norm of the ideal worker of seeming always eager and ready to work at a moment’s notice.

SF: I’ve found that most people have a lot to gain from asking what they should expect. It’s so important to clarify expectations in order to convey to other people that you respect what they have to say—that you’ve thought about it and that it matters to you—and it gives them a chance to correct you, showing them that you’re willing to be wrong. That conversation can save a lot of pain and angst.

You can find out more about Scott’s work on his website.  Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottSchiemanUT.

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

About the Author

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

Pioneers in New Roles for Men and Women — Cathy and Jeremy Schlosberg

Contributor: Andrea Yeh

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

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Cathy and Jeremy Schlosberg, work/life pioneers of the “role-reversal” family.  Jeremy was a stay-at-home dad and a freelance writer and editor.  Meanwhile, Cathy was the family’s primary breadwinner and a high-level executive.  She is the Vice President of Marketing and Channel Growth in Education at Aramark.  Together, Jeremy and Cathy have three children, ages 20, 24, and 27.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: We’ve had guests talk about changes in the roles of men and women in society, including the rise of stay-at-home dads and the trend toward many more women serving as the primary breadwinners in their families.  You two, however, started as pioneers in this movement more than 20 years ago in the mid-’90s.  How did this start for you?  Was it always your plan to work out your family relationships like this, or did it happen by accident?  Jeremy, could you give us the history?

Jeremy Schlosberg: I think it falls somewhere in between those two poles.   I don’t think it was completely an accident, but I also don’t think we sat down and had a big written plan.  I think it just naturally evolved.  I was a freelance writer, so I was working from the home anyway.  Cathy already had a trajectory of having a corporate job, and I vaguely remember that we said at one point that it seems like it would make sense if I stayed home and watched the kids or the new baby.

Cathy Schlosberg: Cathy SchlosbergThat’s right.  Ever since I got out of college in 1980, I have been working in a corporate setting pretty much all the way through.  In 1987 when our first son was born, we both determined that Jeremy was temperamentally suited to work from the house, and I was temperamentally suited to be in a corporation, so we evolved into it.  We had some daycare help, but it was only four hours per day for four days a week at the time when our oldest was three months old, and I had gone back to work.

SF: So Dan’s arrival meant you had support in terms of childcare?

JS:  Yes, we figured out a minimal amount of time that I could feel like I was able to get my writing done uninterrupted.  The joke was that I would work two 9-to-1 shifts: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. when he was in daycare and 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. when everyone was asleep.  I could get 8 hours that way, and it kind of worked.  I think I was also temperamentally suited to the role.   I was naturally nurturing and felt comfortable in that role emotionally.  It was awkward logistically at the time because in 1987 you didn’t see dads pushing strollers around the neighborhood or carrying kids on their backs, so it took a while to get over the feeling that I was only doing parenting. I felt self-conscious about it at the beginning.

CS: When your kids are young, you want to be together with other families with kids of the same age, so when Jeremy would be around during the week, he would pretty much be doing playdates with other kids along with their mothers.

JS: One of the things that gave me a foothold was that in our original neighborhood where our first son was born, there were oftentimes other dads in the playgroup.  I think that one week in particular, four out of five parent caregivers were dads.  There were some people living a little bit of the alternative lifestyle along with us.  That wasn’t common at all at the time, and, most of the time, people would think that I was babysitting when I was with a small child.  But in that playgroup, everyone was warm and welcoming, and it felt more like family.  It felt like a grounding place where I could feel less unusual.

SF: On this unusual day where there were four out of five fathers there, did you guys talk about what it was like?  Do you recall that day?

JS: There was often one other father because there were a few freelancers in the mix and others running their own businesses.  We probably commented on how there were four dads there, but I don’t think we got into a big session about what it was like.

SF: There was a time when you must have had to decide that it was okay and that you were going to be doing this.  What was the conversation like that led to your family resolving that this was a good way for you to be?

CS: Somewhere along the way we realized that this was just what we were going to do.  I was the primary breadwinner, and, as a result of that, we were both able to enjoy the careers that we wanted—Jeremy as a writer, and me in a professional setting.  We were getting some care and feeding from our careers while at the same time being able to do that juggling act that we all know is challenging in a dual-career household, regardless of what the situation is—balancing those quadrants of your life, which are work, your children, your marriage, and yourself.   After figuring all of that out, we just evolved into a place where it seemed like this was working okay.  We also had a good division of other labor in the household.  Jeremy always cooked.  I always did the laundry and most of the finances, except the checkbook.  It seemed to evolve into a place where—without a lot of conversation, without a lot of debate, and without a lot of argument—we both felt like we were doing okay.

JS:  Yeah, it never was really much of an issue.  It just seemed to be working.

CS: Prior to coming on today, we did end up asking our three children what their take on this was.

SF: So tell us; what did they say?

JS: They all pretty much had the same view.  It didn’t strike them as that unusual because by the time they got to a certain age, there wasn’t really a traditional model.  They didn’t feel like there was a “normal” that they were diverging from because everyone has something different going on in their house.  They realized that it was different, but it was really a non-issue for them.

SF: But you experienced something very different in the world outside, right?

JS: My biggest problems were in the earliest days when the kids were little.  By the time everyone was in elementary school and getting into middle school, I was pretty adapted.  There would always be situations where I was the only dad, but it stopped being an issue for me.

SF: But your kids didn’t experience that?  That’s what is so discordant here.  They didn’t feel that it was strange, yet you were feeling it, and Cathy, you probably were too.

CS: Right.  There were times when I would say to Jeremy, “Wow, wouldn’t it have been cool to have felt like I had the choice to stay at home?”   But it never really was a choice, and in the end it really seemed to work well for us.  I think it felt very natural for our kids because it felt very natural for Jeremy and me.  There were really no points of argument.  One of the things I tend to have a lot of strong opinions about was regarding how we raise our kids, but since Jeremy was taking care of the household, I essentially said to myself I was going to cede primary decision-making to him.  Where we had difficulties, we were going to talk about it, but I was not there, so I decided that I was going to let him run his show.

JS: It first started being something that was even being considered when there would be a movie like Mr. Mom.  You would see this ridiculous dad who was so clueless from start to finish—and yet, that had nothing to do with my experience.  It’s not really rocket science to do some of this stuff.   You have to be paying attention and be sensitive, but it wasn’t like the cliché that Cathy would go to work, and she’d come home to a mess.  As Cathy was saying, it felt like the household was working in a fairly ordinary way.  Maybe that’s what the kids ultimately felt.

SF: What else did you hear from your sons about what it was like for them?

JS: For the two older ones, it was even more in their distant past, so they really said that it seemed like a non-issue.  Our youngest did have some memories of when it first started to occur to him that it was somewhat different.  He did say that early on he might have felt uncomfortable talking about it because he didn’t want to seem different, but he mentioned that since he got into high school, he really took it more as a point of pride.

SF: So he wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed that his parents were different, but rather he saw this as a source of pride.  What was he proud of?

CS: I think it might have been pride in the unique situation and having come through being a part of that.  I used to worry since we raised our kids in a different way.  I would wonder: Are our kids going to be fine?  Are they going to be normal at the end of this?  Are they going to be able to make their way on their own?  What are their attributes going to be?

I have since talked to a lot of young women that I mentored in their careers.  When women now are facing the decision of whether they should work, stay home, or work part-time, I, having been all the way through this, am able to say that I took only three months off with three pregnancies and basically worked my entire career.  I have three kids (20, 24, and 27), and, if you have a supportive family situation, that model is very doable.

SF: What do you say when they say, “Well yeah, you had your husband?”

CS: I would say that ultimately every couple and person needs to make their own decision.  I think they have to weigh the pros and the cons.   I can only speak from my own experience, but I know that the secret to my ability to have peace of mind in my career and work was the fact that Jeremy was there and that he wanted to be there.

SF: So maybe it was luck.  Maybe it was that you chose each other wisely or that you had conversations about this as it was evolving in terms of what was working and what adjustments you needed to make.  What was it like for you at work back then, Cathy?

CS: It’s really interesting that you bring that up.  I think that back in the day you would say to your management that you were coming back right after having the baby and literally they didn’t believe you.  In fact, I didn’t tell my office that I was pregnant with my first son until I was five-and-a-half months pregnant.  I kept it to myself for that amount of time because the environment was such that you might get put on a different track.

SF: The slow track.  So it was in your professional interest to keep it secret?

CS: That was my perception.  It may not have been the reality, and, in fact, it didn’t turn out to be the reality in my career once I showed back up after I had children and demonstrated that it wasn’t interfering with my ability to do my job with excellence.  I found that the companies I have worked with throughout the course of my career have been highly supportive of family.  The balance issue is not just a female issue though—it’s everybody’s issue.

SF: Were there particular issues that you had to face because you were in an unusual family structure the given the political and cultural environment.

CS: I don’t think so.  I think once I demonstrated that when I was at work I was focused on work, the companies I worked for were very supportive.  It was no different than if I was the husband at work.  I had the same situation at home, so it was accepted.  I find that now many different women who have raised children and have two-career families had to have very good support systems at home to reach senior levels in an organization.

SF: Yes, of course that’s necessary, however you structure that.  So you didn’t face any stigma of having a stay-at-home dad as your partner back then?

CS: No, I don’t think so, but when we would go to the holiday party for the company, there might be some joking around about that.  Do you have any memories of that, Jeremy?

JS: My memories are just vaguely not liking to go to these gatherings.  The concept of the stay-at-home dad wasn’t even a phrase back then.  I would talk about my writing, and it was only when my kids were almost in college that I realized that this is what I do.  At the same time, I started getting some more positive feedback on my professional work, so I was able to embrace that uniqueness three-quarters of the way through my stint as a stay-at-home dad. If I had gone into these things with more confidence, I’m sure I would have been fine.

SF: Reflecting back on this experience, what advice do you have for young people when they’re facing questions like these? Cathy, reflecting on your personal experience, what’s the big idea in terms of lessons learned that people can use now?

CS: I feel that I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had Jeremy.  It’s really a gift that he’s given to me, and, Jeremy, hopefully you feel that raising the kids and being the primary caregiver was a gift to yourself as well ultimately.   What I would say is that when you have children, you have to forge a new approach to how you’re going to manage that within the context of your relationship and your career.  And my situation would not be everybody’s situation.  We always said to one another that we didn’t want to have our children with other folks for 40 to 50 hours a week.  So when I was home, I was fully present, and when I was not, Jeremy had them at home most of the time.  My advice is just to know that a number of different situations can work if you’re both committed.

SF: Committed to whatever it is that you decide to do together?

CS: That’s right.  There are many different scenarios, but it should be a discussion between a couple regarding how you want to do this.  I think it’s important to have that conversation and to continue to check in about how it’s going throughout the course.

SF: Jeremy, how about you?  What’s the upshot in terms of your wisdom now with a little speckle of gray in your hair?

JS: Now I don’t feel that people need as much advice.   The networking and camaraderie and even the community of stay-at-home dads seem to be much more present—things which I certainly did not have at the time.  I think that the retrospective advice speaking to myself would have really been to just embrace it.  Most of the time I was pretty good at this, but it’s really true the whole childhood goes by really fast.  So when you’re in it, be in it—don’t be elsewhere with your mind and elsewhere with your intentions because it’s a precious time.

I look back and mostly feel okay with having been present, but I wasn’t as embracing of the role as I could have been to give myself more comfort.  I didn’t grow into it as quickly, and I wasn’t able to own it as early on as I might have.  I don’t think it’s as much of an issue for people now because it all had to do with feeling that it was a little too unusual. It was only when I had done it for about fifteen years that I realized that the writing really was only a part-time job.  I always thought that it was my full-time job, but it really wasn’t.

SF: But you still felt like you had to cover?

JS: Yeah, that’s an important point.  There was that pressure to be productive in the eyes of the world.  Now I don’t think it’s a problem as much.

SF: We are in world where there is greater freedom and in part thanks to pioneers and great role models like you.

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

About the Author

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

 

 

When Flexible Schedules Hurt — Dan Clawsen and Naomi Gerstel

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 Dan Clawson and Naomi Gerstel from the Sociology Department at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. They’re co-authors of Unequal Time: Gender, Class and Family in Employment Schedules and they spoke about the problem with flexible schedules at work.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: What are the pernicious problems of flex-time that have you two discovered in your research?

Dan Clawson: The rhetoric and the practice is that flexible schedules will liberate us. But many employers have appropriated the language of flexibility and changed it around. Increasingly what flexibility means is that workers come in whenever the employer wants them to and are sent home when demand is slack.  It’s putting employers’ demands first. And if that’s what flexibility means, then workers aren’t very happy with it.

SF: It’s flexibility for whom, right? And if it’s not for the employee, then what’s the point?

DC: For an employer you’re paying only for those hours that you most need the workers and any time that you don’t need them, you send them home.

SF: So that means less control and predictability for employees.

Naomi Gerstel: It turns out that there are a lot of employees in these circumstances: young, old, salaried, working class, women, men.  Unpredictable hours are growing and they’re very painful for people.  And not only painful in the workplace but also outside. If they have children or elderly parents that they care or other family or personal obligations, it makes it hard.

SF: How extensive is flexibility solely at the behest of the employer? How widespread is this problem? And is this part of a pattern of change over the last decade or so?

NG: We don’t have data over time, but we do know that the economy is changing now. There’s technological development and changing views of workers that means that employers are increasingly staffing lean so that enforce these unpredictable hours. And we know that there are changes in families which are themselves sources of increasing unpredictability. There are more single mothers, there are more dual-earner couples, so there’s lots of reasons to believe that it’s increasing. People have just begun to collect data that show that it’s a very common problem.

SF: You mentioned that it’s not just people at the low end of the wage spectrum. How is this affecting people at the high end of the economic ladder?

DC: We interviewed one doctor and when we asked him how often he had to unpredictably had to stay late he responded, “Every night, according to my family.”  And we found that in a high end nursing home with a stable number of residents, one out of every three shifts was one that had not been scheduled in advance. So there’s a high level of unpredictability across the spectrum.

SF: And this, of course, wreaks havoc on schedules at home. What have you observed about the impact of unpredictable hours at work on workers’ families – stability, health, relationships?

NG: The effect on families depend on the economic position of the worker. Among professionals, like doctors, a very high proportion of them, men who work very long hours tend to have wives who are home or who work part-time.  They can pick up the slack when they don’t show up or can’t show up because they’re working for pay. And with nurses we see the reverse pattern. The nurses are insisting that the organizations allow them to take time to take care of their families. And they’re able to do that because nurses are in short supply. We did hundreds of interviews with nurses, doctors, nursing assistants, and emergency medical technicians and one nurse manager said to us, “You know, they’re always FMLA’ing us.” FMLA is the Family and Medical Leave Act and she talked about how so many of the nurses knew about the FMLA and took advantage of it which was rarely true for the less well paid, less well educated nursing assistants.

SF: So, it’s partly a matter of knowing your rights. So how can we help educate people about the protections that are offered, even though they are still so much smaller than those offered in other developed countries?

NG: That’s an understatement. There aren’t a lot of protections in this country! The only one is the FMLA at the moment.  But in some states paid leave is beginning to appear. But we have found that most people don’t use it or they aren’t allowed to use it especially as you move down the class structure. They don’t know about it, they don’t use it, and they’re not allowed to use it. The law is broken all the time.

SF: In the medical profession?

NG: Both in the study reported in our book, Unequal Time, but also in the national study more generally.

DC: At the nursing home where we got the records of who worked when in a 6 month period, there was only one day over that entire 6 months that was charged to a Family and Medical Leave Act. The policy at this nursing home – they had 6 paid sick days per year – was that the 1st time that somebody called out they were given a verbal warning, the 2nd time a written warning, the 3rd time a stronger written warning and the 4th time they were fired. Few states have legal protections. The clock re-set every 90 days so the director of nursing didn’t think the policy was strict enough. But that meant that if you were a single mother with two kids and something was going around and first one kid got it and then a week later the other kid got it and then a week later you got it, then if anybody was sick in the next 2 ½ months you’d be fired.

SF: Where are we going as a nation with work/life policies and practices? Is there any reason for hope?

NG: That’s a very good and a very hard question. There’s certainly a fair amount of movement, activism, to create more predictable schedules, to offer people leaves and paid leaves.  But the country is increasingly moving away from helping those who have less. We talk a lot about the growing wealth inequality but we what we worry about is that the growing time inequality is accompanying that wealth inequality. So that time, like wealth, is becoming a perk of the few. That’s the fear.

DC: All of that is absolutely true and that’s the main dynamic. But the counter movement is that at the state level and at the city level we have seen places pass laws that guarantee everybody the right to get paid sick days (or unpaid sick days depending on the size of the employer). And we have also increasingly seen movements to provide paid family leave.

NG: San Francisco just passed a bill that requires businesses to set schedules two weeks in advance so there are all sorts of movements to try to provide leaves and predictability. So it’s not as though it’s been only backward motion, but so far the gains have been relatively small.

SF:  The title of your new book is Unequal Time: Gender, Class and Family in Employment Schedules, so how does gender factor into unequal time?

NG: Gender interacts with class. Among those who are relatively well-off, the doctors and nurses, they tend to “do gender” in fairly conventional ways. Men do relatively little family work; their spouses and sometimes their nannies do it for them. And female nurses are the reverse, they tend to care of families.  But when we turn to low wage workers whether women or men we see that they “undo gender.” Sometimes this is because they have no other choice because the wife (the certified nursing assistant) becomes the primary breadwinner. And with working class men, the emergency medical technicians, tend to do far more of the work of the home than do professional men.

SF: How do you explain that?

DC: They don’t have a choice. The male doctors are earning 87% of their household’s income. For the emergency medical technicians it’s a much lower percentage and a much higher percentage of their wives are working and are working full-time so they need that income.  It’s not something they can do without and therefore they need to juggle childcare.

NG: Often their wives, who make a fairly high proportion of the family income, insist that they do.

SF: So the more equal the income contribution of partners the more likely it is that they’ll have egalitarian gender roles at home?

NG: Yes, but that’s only part of the story because the [female] nurses tend to earn a relatively high proportion of the family income and in a fair number of cases, more than their husbands. And yet they still do more of the domestic labor.  So, it’s both money and culture that shape what people do.

SF: Again, what pattern do you see over time and what do you anticipate in the future?

DC: I think there’s much more awareness of the issue now than there was when we began working on this book. But there isn’t yet a kind of unified awareness or language. It’s analogous to when, in the 1960’s Betty Friedan wrote that there was “a problem with no name.” Union negotiators, for instance, told us the negotiations would be boring and technical. And the technical turned out to be about unpredictable schedules.  There wasn’t yet an awareness of this as a problem among unions, of the connections between vacations and over-time, and being sent home unexpectedly. I think this consciousness is developing.  There are many more news articles about it.  The question is whether this growing awareness will grow into a movement to make real changes with respect to the importance of predictable schedules for our families.

NG: People have a tendency to think about their hours that there’s something wrong with them that they can’t keep control over their time. What we’re trying to show is that this isn’t simply a personal issue, that it’s a social and political issue.  As people start to understand that it’s politics and structures and that countries elsewhere do it differently they can start to fight for the right to control their time and the right to have a life outside work.

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.

 

 

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.

 

The Quest for Real Value: Investor Guy Spier

Contributor: Andrea Yeh

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

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Guy Spier, author of The Education of a Value Investor: My Transformative Quest for Wealth, Wisdom, and Enlightenment.  He writes about what really matters in work and life and why these questions are important for a successful investor.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Let me just start by asking you about what is probably your greatest claim to fame: having bid over $650,000 for a lunch with Warren Buffett.  That’s more money than most people on this planet make in a lifetime.  Why did you spend so much to spend lunch with Warren Buffett?

Guy Spier: guy spierWell, I should say that I got to buy in at discount.  I was one-third of that, and my bidding partner Mohnish Pabrai was two-thirds of that.  I went with my wife, and Mohnish went with his wife and two daughters, so I was one of six guests.  If you think of the numerous amounts that we’ve given to charity, where all you get is a plaque or your name on a building but you don’t get to hang out with somebody who’s unusually interesting, then it already puts a different light on it.  Mohnish understood more than I did at the time that to spend time in the company of extraordinary people is – if you can afford to do it – very, very worthwhile, even if you have to spend a lot of money on it. There are a small number of people who’ve figured out an awful lot more than we have, and while studying them from afar is good, being in their presence can be an extraordinary growth accelerator.

SF: One of the things you point to in your book is the importance of surrounding yourself with people whose values are aligned with yours.  That’s the case with you and Buffett, right?

GS: Absolutely.  Here’s what happens when you spend time with Warren Buffett.  You learn how little time and energy he spends doing things he doesn’t like to do.  One big thing about being authentic is that it just takes up less energy.  When you are authentic with yourself and with the world, you waste less energy trying to be different things to different people.  We often try to present one mask at work and another mask elsewhere.  We can do it, but it just takes so much energy– energy that could be used more productively.

SF: It’s a topic that we’ve been talking about a lot on this show lately –the masks that we wear and the costs of having to disguise who we truly are in the workplace.  It’s just so much simpler and more elegant to be who you are, but it takes a lot of courage to do that, and you had to muster quite a bit of courage to find who you really were in your work, didn’t you, Guy?

GS: My book was useless until I got the courage to be honest with the world and write about this horrible place where I worked straight out of business school.  The funny and strange thing about courage in the work-life business environment is that it seems that when we have the courage to be honest, people respect us for it.  I remember the first time I felt as though I really had courage in my fund world.  I was in an investor meeting, and somebody asked me, “So Guy, you’ve talked about the things that you buy.  Could you tell us what your sell discipline is?”  I mustered some courage in that moment to say, “You know what, I’ll be honest with you.  I suck at selling.  I don’t have a good sell discipline.  Let me tell you why.”  There was a sort of sharp intake, a gasp of breath with some people – at least that’s what I sensed.  I walked out of there with that really horrible feeling that I was going to get all these redemption requests the next day.

SF: So you thought people would want to sell your funds rather than stay with you?

GS: Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of, but instead I was given respect.  People understood more about who I was, and I attracted more of the right kind of investors into my fund as a result.  You asked me about spending time around the right people.  I had this lunch with my friend Mohnish and he mentioned various books to me.  One of the books that he mentioned was the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi.  So after this meal, I went out and bought the book, but it sat on my shelf for two or three years before I read it.  When I finally read it, I discovered that Mahatma Gandhi, in his autobiography, talks about his experiences with prostitutes.  My jaw dropped.  It was utterly shocking to me that he would do that, and that was an incredible example of the power of authenticity.

SF: Is that what gave you the courage to declare as much as you did about your early days post-MBA?

GS: I think that that was part of it.  It was this determination to be honest with the world and that I had to do it at this point in my life because if I didn’t do it now, I might never do it.  But it wasn’t just Mahatma Gandhi.  Warren Buffett is extremely honest with the world.  Charlie Munger, the vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and the person who Warren Buffett thinks of as his partner, has a great line: “It’s better not to lie.  Then you don’t have to remember what you said to whom.”

SF: That’s a core principle of the great leaders I have known and admired, and it’s wonderful to see how you have demonstrated it.  I want to step back here and ask what the essence of your idea in the book, The Education of a Value Investor, is?

GS: I think you could actually bring it down to the idea that it was only when I became authentic with myself that my career and my life really got started.  It was only when I became authentic with my shortcomings as an investor and around money that I could really start to go about conquering my drawbacks, and that made me ultimately far stronger.  The ultimate message is to really find ourselves in finance or with our own finances and with investing.  The ultimate answers all lie within ourselves; they don’t lie outside.  When we’re experiencing difficulties in the world in our careers, the real place to look is in our own backgrounds, foibles, and weaknesses.

SF: And how did you come to understand that?  This is ancient wisdom in modern language and modern times.  For you personally, in your journey of self-discovery, what led you to this recognition?

GS: I think one thing that was really important was the realization that the answers did not lie in economics, finance, or the capital asset pricing model, so the first thing was to know where not to look.  I was living in New York City at the time.  While New York City is a vortex for all sorts of reasons, it’s also a great place for people who are on a journey of discovery.  There’s every different type of psychotherapist under the sun, and I must have tried them all.  I started on a reading program of reading dozens of different kinds of books.  Somebody who had a deep impact on me was Joseph Campbell, who wrote the book The Hero of a Thousand Faces.  He’s got this idea of seeking your own bliss and that we should each be heroes of our own journey.  When I read that and had that idea in my mind, I suddenly realized why things like the Iliad and the Odyssey are great stories that we continue to read in western civilization.  The key point is that Odysseus is somebody who we should try to be like.  He overcame his difficulties, and we have our own difficulties to overcome.  We shouldn’t look at him as the hero and us poor humans as so useless.  As is written in the literature of ancient Greece, he’s doing these epic battles, and for each and every one of us, there is an epic battle going on as well.  It’s just that simple shift of mind – seeing ourselves as heroes – that gave me a lot more resources to start confronting my fears of writing about my horrible experiences in an investment bank.  Now I had Odysseus by my side.

SF: I want to return to what lessons you want to try to impart to others who might be struggling.  I know that there are people listening right now thinking, Gee, how did he do that?  How did he just get off the treadmill of the very attractive and perhaps seductive world of finance to find his own path that was closer to his own values?  How, in a nutshell, were you able to make that transformation?

GS: I saw myself as this investment banker at this bucket shop, and seeing Warren Buffett with shining lights on the hill, I had no clue about how to get from where I was to something closer to what he was.  I think of the people who climbed Everest for the first time.  Before he climbed Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary did not sit around saying, “Well I don’t know if I’ll ever make it to the top of Everest.”  He said, “If I want to climb Everest, what kind of equipment do I need?  What kind of training do I need?”  And then he asked himself as he was going up, “Am I closer to the summit, or am I further away from the summit?”  I think that that simple thinking is what I started applying in my life.  I started asking myself, If Warren Buffett was sitting at my desk at this firm, what would he do?  So I summoned the powers or the presence of these people who were heroes to me, and I started making modifications.  The truth is that if Warren Buffett had been in my shoes, he would have walked straight out of there, and I didn’t do that.  But the process doesn’t have to be perfect; it can be gradual.  We need to make incremental steps.  We need to never lose the dream, and we need to keep introducing things into our lives that might get us closer to that dream.  I think it’s a lifelong process.  When the time is right – I don’t think I’m a religious person, but there’s a sudden religious quality to this –the universe opens up to us, but it only opens up to us if we’ve been spending all of our time preparing, working really hard at it, and nibbling away at it.  Now if you have somebody who’s sitting in a job earning money that their family may need, I don’t think that it is in any way practical to tell that person that he needs to make all these radical changes and that everything will work out fine. I don’t think it’s fair to tell them that it’s so simple.  It’s not simple.  The struggle is hard.  That’s why we should consider ourselves as heroes.  Odysseus didn’t make it home in a day.  He had so many battles that he needed to fight, so many fears that he had to overcome.

SF: And what about you?  Let’s get back to your story. Can you give us an example of a misstep that you made where you learned something useful in retrospect?

GS: My situation at that investment bank reminds me of the scene in the Titanic movie when the rich guy with the gun is trying to chase the guy who’s gone off with his fiancée, and he realizes that the ship is sinking.  He suddenly notices that he’s focusing on the wrong thing.  He should be focused on saving himself.  There I was at that investment bank deeply embedded in the machinations of trying to win credit for the deals I felt I was bringing in.  I was participating in the politics and incapable of standing back and seeing the bigger picture.  I couldn’t see that I was never going to win in that environment and that winning in that environment would have compromised my soul to a horrible degree.  That was just such a waste of time.  That brings me to the one big misstep that I was going to share with you.  So there I was – I had managed to start my fund, but I developed deep, deep envy.  At the time, I was running a perfectly respectable fund with about $50 million in it, which was more than anybody needed to run a fund and to live a successful happy life.  However, I was surrounded by classmates who were managing a hundred times the amount of money that I was managing.

SF: Making you feel puny, perhaps?

GS: As I write in the book, I felt like my very manhood was in question.  I would have never admitted it to you or anybody else at the time, but what I was experiencing was the green monster.

SF: But you were able to get past that somehow.  As the twenty-seven year old you were at that time, were you capable of the kind of insight that you’ve now gleaned over time to see that the person who matters most is the one that you look at in the mirror, not those who have ten times or a hundred times what you have in the bank?

GS: In my case, there were no big breakthroughs.  It was about constantly exposing myself to opportunities to introspect through psychotherapy and YPO and entrepreneur forums.  My view is that humanity is infinite, and therefore there are an infinite number of ways to introspect.  I don’t think that any one way is better than any other way.  It can be whatever works for you at the time, be it going to yoga classes, practicing meditation, taking part in your religious tradition, or exploring a new religious tradition.  I think if I get it down to their core, a big part of what do religious traditions try to do is to preserve environments and conditions in which human beings discover their capacities to introspect.

SF: That’s what those rituals are all about, isn’t it?  It’s about taking time to reflect on what matters.

GS: Absolutely.  They’re this sort of vessel, but what’s really important is what’s being carried in the vessel.  I think there’s a bias that books have.  In a book, you get edited down, and so much has to be excluded, so you end up talking about the three big ideas or the one big idea and sometimes it’s not three or one big idea, it’s hundreds of small ideas.  In my case, I think there was no one single thing that enabled me to suddenly see that I was consumed by envy.  At some point, there was a painful realization, but there was something good on the other side. Once I realized it, I could clean it up pretty quickly. But exactly how I got there had something to do with surrounding myself with people who were better than I was.  If you surround yourself with people who are slightly better, more honest, more authentic, and more capable of introspection, that’s going to rub off on you, and I think I was doing that.  And it didn’t happen in three or four weeks or even five or six months.  It was more like a decade of pushing in that direction.

To learn more about Guy Spier, visit www.aquamarinefund.com, or follow him on Twitter @gspier.

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

About the Author

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

The Power of Community Engagement: Laura Kohler

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 Laura Kohler, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Kohler Group, one of America’s oldest and largest privately-held companies and a global leader in kitchen and bath products. Laura also leads the Kohler Stewardship, the Group’s Global Corporate Social Responsibility Programs, which drives ethics, engagement, and community partnership.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Kohler is a family business, but you weren’t always a part of it. When and why did you decide to join?

Laura Kohler: Laura KohlerI have an undergraduate degree in political science and a master’s in fine arts from Duke University. After managing a theatre company and traveling all over the United States, I landed in Chicago and worked a number of other jobs including teaching in public schools and auditioning for theatre. At the time, Kohler Foundation, an arts- and education-related foundation, needed an Executive Director. I never thought I’d move back to Kohler, Wisconsin (where I was raised), but they needed someone with an arts- and education-related background, and I happened to fit the bill, so I interviewed for the role. The CEO of the company at the time happened to be my father, and he asked me why I wanted to return to Kohler!  I was the queen of part-time jobs at the time—I was a waitress, an actress, and running around to schools.  It was tiring pulling together a lot of different jobs to make ends meet. I was about to turn thirty, and I decided I wanted one paycheck. I knew that I was good at managing because of my touring company experience, so I decided to put my acting career on hold. I took the Executive Director job, and I did that for about two years. Next, I was the Director of Public Affairs, and then Vice President of Communications globally, which involved managing advertisements and PR for Kohler. Because of my work with people and teams, I was tapped to run HR when the head at the time exited. It seemed an odd choice at the time, but as I said, I did have a background working with people, especially in education. One of my former part time jobs was with Outward Bound. Long story short, that’s how I ended up in the people part of the business. Service is a big component of our work at Kohler. We drive engagement, attraction, and retention through stewardship and giving people the opportunity to give back.

SF: Tell us more about how you give people opportunities to give back and how that not only enriches your business but also your employees’ lives and communities.

LK: The talent today really wants to be in an environment where they can make a difference in their jobs and also in the world in some way. We give them the opportunity to do so, whether it’s pushing for sustainability and clean environment practices, driving food bank contributions, doing volunteer activities, or creating their own fundraising initiatives for local organizations.

SF: How does that help the rest of their lives?

LK: I think your life becomes more integrated. Your job isn’t separated from your philanthropic work and your ability to serve and give back. My mother had a quote: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” I really think that those of us who are working at the company are blessed to be a part of stimulating work—we’re growing and thriving—and it’s time to take some of that energy and channel it into giving back and strengthening the communities that we work in.

SF: That’s an inspiring vision and certainly one that’s becoming increasingly common among the business landscape. How do you scale that? How many people work at Kohler, and how many can see the direct line of sight between what they’re doing every day and some means of giving back?

LK: We have about 32,000 people globally. The way we narrow our impact down is that we focus on the areas where we work and live—the communities surrounding our plants, our manufacturing environments, and our offices. We’re not trying to affect all of New York City or New Delhi. We are trying to have an impact, say, on the schools that feed our local offices.

SF: And how do you affect the schools?

LK: Well, for example, if we’re in Gurgaon, India, a suburb of Delhi, which is where our India office is, we’re working on bathrooms in local schools. We found that young middle school girls stop coming to schools if the bathrooms aren’t clean and private. It’s not acceptable that girls of thirteen and fourteen years of age just stop coming to school. We’ve jumped in and started to innovate and help schools improve their bathrooms.

SF: Wow. How did you find that out? What inspired that innovation?

LK: Well, we’re a sanitation company. We focus on the bathroom as one of our key product lines. Our teams were researching the key needs of the Indian community, and we found that sanitation was obviously very important. In other communities we focus on libraries and books, helping schools get back on their feet. They might not need bathrooms, but they need library volunteers, technical centers, or computer labs. We tailor our efforts to the needs of communities that are connected in some way to where our businesses are.

SF: I’m curious how that affects how your employees feel about the company, who they are, and their place in the larger world, especially within their families and communities themselves.

LK: Interestingly, we’re seeing more and more interview candidates ask about how they can plug into one of those initiatives to make that kind of difference. We actually interviewed a very high-level executive who wanted to talk to our head of stewardship before he made the final decision. So we are seeing that become a determining factor for people choosing the company. We also find that once they’re in the company it helps to drive engagement. You can lead a more integrated life if you don’t have to step outside of work to give back. When you are more satisfied and engaged, you are more productive.

SF: Do you see evidence of that?

LK: Oh yes. We do engagement surveys every other year, and our stewardship questions—about a respectful workplace, giving back, ethics, and service—are some of our highest scoring metrics about why they stay with Kohler.

SF: So it drives retention. What about engagement?

LK: We are seeing our engagement scores kick up with each passing year as we become more intentional about stewardship and give people the opportunity to be part of that story.

SF: What’s on the horizon now? What are some other ways you’re growing the stewardship initiative, and how is that creating value for your business?

LK: I think it’s important for companies to give freedom to their employees to allow them to plug into their communities in their own ways.  If they’re coaching or tutoring, for example, it’s important to allow for workplace flexibility and trust that employees will do their job at a certain point in the day, but they may need to leave the office at some point to make their contribution. We are trying to continue to be flexible and trust and respect that the employees will honor the work when they need to. The workplace is changing and becoming more fluid.

SF: I’m sure that journey requires some flexibility on the part of the supervisors as well. How do you manage letting go of some control?

LK: We’re still on that journey, but it requires trust on both sides and a track record of results. The employee needs to have demonstrated that they can handle the responsibility of personal community service efforts while showing results with their work. Then the supervisor has to let go a little bit. So it goes both ways, and when it works it is spectacular. When it doesn’t, it’s a tough conversation that has to be had, and usually it’s based on other underlying performance issues rather that their volunteer work.

SF: How do you manage the issue of people taking time and attention away from work to focus on their initiative? It does boost the brand, but it’s time spent away from work. What’s your policy on how to make decisions about how much time people can take?

LK: We don’t have a set policy. It depends on the job you’re in—some have inherently more flexibility than others. You may be on a phone call at night to another part of the world, so you can leave a little bit early that day to coach a team, for example, and then you come back at night. The flexibility of management depends on how work gets done and delivered. It is a completely different level of integration and challenge than ten years ago.

SF: It sounds like giving back through social action in your community is a key driver for your employees. Is there a fixed amount of time they can spend per year on community initiatives?

LK: No, it depends on the individual employee, and it is only constrained by whether we can still get the requisite amount of work done as a team while allowing the person to go out and do what they need to do. Not everyone wants to leave and participate, so it’s important to make sure that there is no resentment either way between the employees. Working on teams is important, and delivering the team’s objectives is also important. How we manage each individual’s flexibility and their work performance is, I think, a more sophisticated form of management.

SF: Do you have advice for others who are striving to take better care of the whole lives of their employees?

LK: I have found that when you ask employees what needs to be done to strengthen their communities, they are rich with ideas and energy. Helping them make those ideas happen will only enrich your company. As the community gets stronger over the years, so does your workforce.

SF: What a wonderful way to think about the role of corporations in society—both in terms of positive impact on their people and how that can ripple out by asking a simple question:  “How can we be helpful to the world?”

To find out more about the Kohler Company’s stewardship initiatives, you can visit them online or follow them on Twitter @Kohler. 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.

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

Contributor: Morgan Motzel

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

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

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SF: Can you give us an example of that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

 

Developing African American Leaders — Ric Ramsey

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 Ric Ramsey, Executive Director and Vice President of City Year Philadelphia, a national non-profit dedicated to fighting the national high school dropout crisis. Ric also spent a decade at the Leadership Education Development Program (LEAD), a national organization working to identify and nurture high potential youth of diverse backgrounds by developing them into high achievers and responsible leaders. Stew spoke with Ric on preparing young men and women from minority backgrounds for successful careers.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Why did you choose to use your skills to help those in the minority community – particularly men – to advance and contribute?

Ric Ramsey: Ric RamseyWhen I was doing an executive MBA program at NYU Stern, I began to think about what my legacy was going to be. I was in a conversation with some of my peers, and one of my colleagues asked me what my legacy was going to be. At the time, I was working in a traditional role within a corporation. I looked at him with a blank stare;   I hadn’t really ever thought about it. I had traveled around the world, worked in technology for a couple of years, and I was studying to get an MBA, when he told me I really ought to do something for the African-American male community. He felt that, at the time, I was pretty self-serving. I wanted to be the next great wealthy entrepreneur. But his comment led me to reflect and wonder, what if I went into the non-profit space for just one year? Well, here I am, twelve years later, because my soul was awakened.

SF: How did you discover that this was your calling?

RR: Self-reflection. I realized that I woke up every morning feeling alive at the idea of going to work, and I came to that feeling while running this small non-profit. Every day was a challenge, but the reward was always significant, and every day made me feel that I had a purpose. Now that I’m in City Year, we’re having an impact on 7,000 ‘off-track’ young people in 18 schools throughout the city, and my army of 255 Americorps members are working with them from 7 AM to 5 PM every day.

SF: Tell us about your mission and accomplishments with LEAD.

RR: The goal was to identify the nation’s most talented students of color and expose them to business, engineering, and the sciences and provide them a full view of what it takes to thrive as, say, a Wharton undergrad. So we would bring the students to Wharton for an entire month, and have them engage with professors on what it meant to be a student here – the academics as well as the socialization.

SF: I’m sure that’s such a crucial aspect of thriving here, and in the upper echelons of business society.

RR: Definitely. You discover how to thrive in a very intimidating environment. This institution has the world’s leading young people coming to it, and LEAD helps minority students navigate that environment. For that summer LEAD session we put students in colleges across the nation to gauge whether it might be the right environment for them and help nurture them as they enter some of the world’s most elite universities.

SF: What have you accomplished?

RR: When I joined LEAD twelve years ago it was very small, less than one-million-dollar organization. Upon my departure two years ago, we were a five-million-dollar organization on 14 different campuses. We started with Wharton in 1980, but we have since expanded, even internationally to South Africa, with plans to go to Canada and others. They’re still thriving without me.

SF: Well, that’s what you want to do, to leave behind a legacy where something is growing in your wake. What would you say was essential to your success in creating experiences that enable these young people to find themselves and seek out informed and intelligent answers to questions such as, ‘Do I fit here?’ or ‘What does it mean for me to fit here?’

RR: I think you start with the man in the mirror. I grew up in Denver, Colorado in a single parent family. We were on welfare, but I didn’t realize we were poor or think I was missing anything. I grew up in a loving household where I was taught that the sky was the limit. But, for example, my mother didn’t have a car so you’d always see me at a bus stop. And I thought it was great, because it was all I knew. I didn’t think there was anything negative about the way we lived. When I was engaged with the LEAD program and telling very bright young men and women of color that the sky was the limit, I knew I would have to educate them on the socialization necessary to achieve their goals without being deterred by words or actions of others.

SF: How did you do that?

RR: We asked them to define where they wanted to be, not ten years from now, but tomorrow. Students often get pressured about their five- and ten-year goals when we as adults know we didn’t have a strong view of that ourselves at the time. We asked young people, ‘Tell me what your interests are today. What gets you moving every day? And if that anchors you, why aren’t you doing more of that?’

SF: That’s the essence of what I’ve been teaching in my Total Leadership class for over 15 years. This is universal! The principles of being real and acting with authenticity by clarifying what means the most to you – that’s how it has to begin.

RR: You have to ask that question to yourself as well.  What is it that I want to be? Where do I want to be at this particular stage in my life?  And you also have to be grateful for the mistakes and the success along the way. I am true believer in the idea that you learn more from your mistakes than your successes. Every time I make a mistake I think, ‘this is going to be so great,’ because next time it’s not going to happen.

SF: Hopefully! So you start by asking people where they want to be right now. Is that an easy question for an eighteen-year-old to answer in an authentic way?

RR: We know our kids. I remember when I was speaking to Oprah Winfrey – if I can name drop here – and she said to me, ‘You know Ric, we all have our gifts.’ That resonated with me because my gift is to engage with people and have a true-to-life dialogue. I tell them that, as a mentor, I’m going to hold them to a standard of excellence that might be just a bit tougher than their family might hold them to. It allows teenagers to open up, and when I hear them lock into a more focused view of where they want to go next, I drill down and ask them to tell me more, and then probe making it cohesive with their plans. It opens up the floodgates, for example, when I ask them why they’re applying to a local college if their passion is travel.

SF: So you challenge them to focus on things that matter to them in a loving way by expressing a natural curiosity about their desires.

RR: Exactly. I never engage with young people as an ‘all-knowing elder.’

SF: What do you do once you discover that passion?

RR: I make comparisons. Not to other people, but to themselves in another lane. So I probe, and ask that student from earlier, what the equivalent is to staying in a local college but loving travel. I put a dichotomy out there for them to arrive at the realization themselves regarding what is keeping them from travel. It’s a game of providing the obvious to them so they can answer the questions themselves. I have a group of four mentees that I’ve been working with for about eight or nine years, and I ask these young men where they’re going to go now that we’ve discovered their passions. What will be the immediate next step? Where are they going to travel to? And then we create an action plan that’s still within view. You allow them to take ownership of then plan, and they say things like, ‘and then, I discovered…’

SF: How do you scale this? You’ve learned the craft of mentorship through a lot of trial-and-error. Tell me more about your army of 200 and the young people they directly touch.

RR: The 255 Americorps members are about 85% undergraduates or college grads, who work with about 7,000 students. Scaling begins with the little things I do at the office, which all goes back to the power of listening. More than an open door policy, I announce to the staff via email the new assortment of candy that I have in my office to encourage them to come in to say hello.

At City Year, these 255 Americorps members serve in 18 schools across Philadelphia for one-year terms. They provide support during the school day, and they engage with the students in math and reading interventions. The goal is to reach them between grades three and eight in order to reduce the dropout rate, based on research by Johns Hopkins Talent Development Group and Dr. Bob Balfanz, who did ten years of research showing that early warning signs indicating that a child is going to drop out can be addressed if they are focused during the right periods of this child’s life. These indicators include attendance, classroom behaviors, and literacy. Continuously intervening each year is what makes a difference. Teams of ten to twelve corps members are inside each school every day working with school staff with a focus on “off-track” students with plans to get them back on track.

SF: How are you doing with that goal?

RR: Very well. 72% of the students that we worked with from the list of “off track” students last year went up one assessment level in math and reading. When City Year intervenes, we consistently move the students back on track. We now aim to scale up to the entire city and then the entire nation.

Caller (Lee): Ric, I was wondering how we could apply your principles to perhaps retool veterans to society, seeing as they’re socialized to the army. As a veteran myself, I deal with similar challenges on how to find myself, where I want to go next, and what I want to do. Listening to the model that you have created, I want to hear your thoughts on how to create something like this to be appropriate for veterans?

RR:  In terms of retooling yourself, the hottest products on the market nowadays are veterans! My wife is a veteran and has shared the interest by corporations and other organizations including universities to bring more veterans in. If your goal is to develop your own non-profit to support veterans, my recommendation would be to start small, identify those entities that would be interested in engaging with veterans to get some form of organizational support, and then work with the business community to help you establish 501 (C) 3 or non-profit status. Know that as a veteran you are a pretty hot product in the market right now, and if you can leverage or communicate that fact to promote the launch of a business or non-profit, I think the market is ripe and ready for that.

SF: Lee, thank you so much for calling. Ric, what can you say to people about what employers could be doing to help your cause?

RR: In Philadelphia, we have a major challenge with the education group and their ability to fund organizations such as City Year. We’ve shared with the Philadelphia school district our plans for growth, and they are very excited about them, but we need the private sector to step in and support that. We can have an impact on up to 50% of the off-track students in this city over the next ten years if we are given appropriate funding.

Visit City Year’s website to learn how your corporation can get involved with City Year, either directly via employees or by engaging in schools. You can also follow @Cityyearphilly on Twitter.

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.

This CEO’s Got Your Number — Shelly Ibach

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 Shelly Ibach, president and CEO of Select Comfort Corporation, an innovative leader in sleep products and services and creator of the Sleep Number bed. She was recently recognized as one of the Girl Scouts’ Women of Distinction. Stew spoke with Ms. Ibach on creating a corporate culture that values the employee as a whole person and how to connect employees to a company’s mission and vision.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Tell us more about the connection between your sleep products and that end goal of individualizing the sleep experience and enriching it and how this affects what you do as a CEO to shape the company’s culture and its business strategy?

Shelly Ibach: Shelly IbachAs a mission-based culture, it was always important for us to establish a vision that was really big enough for the mission.  Our strategy and mission are consumer-based, and we are focused on innovation.  This means we need to have deep insight into our customers and be able to translate them into innovations that will solve sleep problems.

SF: So you have to be listening very carefully.

SI: Absolutely, and pay attention to trends. When you’re an innovator, it’s not only about the invention, but it’s also about the application. So the simplicity for the consumer is critical.

SF: Simplicity so that that they can understand what it is that you’re offering and how it’s going to help them?

SI: Exactly, and in the example of SleepIQ technology, all you have to do is get in bed and sleep. You don’t have to turn anything on; there’s nothing you need to wear, and it’s a full-body algorithm about you as an individual. And that information is there for when you want it. To be able to take an invention, like the sensor technology that comes with SleepIQ, and then move that into a consumer durable so that it truly is the inner net of things – that’s the kind of work that our team passionately pursues on behalf of our customers.

SF: What do you need to do to enable your employees to come to work every day, not only well rested, but also impassioned about this mission?

SI: We have to have an environment where everyone is clear on our goals, our strategic framework, and our vision. Our vision is to become one of the world’s most beloved brands by delivering unparalleled sleep experiences.  Everyone must understand how their role can specifically contribute to our strategic, long-term vision. People want to, and need to, be able to contribute and bring their whole self to work and be valued for their contributions.

SF: So How do you produce that line of sight between what I as an employeedo every day  and that inspiring end goal? What are the practices that help people see that connection?

SI: A big part of it is embracing diversity and striving to unleash each individual’s greatness. We have a number of recognition programs and one of our annual and most important recognition programs is called the Bradley Erickson Award. This is an award that is voted on by peers at headquarters. We seek to recognize a person or a team that has not only led innovation or collaboration across the organization, but also embraces the whole person, so it’s personal as well as work-related.

SF: So this is about recognition – it speaks to your values – and that’s certainly what you want to do with recognition programs. But on a day-to-day basis, how is it that you help people to see the connection between who they are as individuals and what you’re trying to do as a company?

SI: Our customer is at the core of everything we do. So at any meeting that we go to in our organization, you’re going to hear about “Sarah.” “Sarah” is our target customer. That helps connect the mission and the vision and the strategy. Everyone is thinking and making decisions on behalf of “Sarah,” and that’s a common thread throughout our organization.

SF: So “Sarah” is a fictional person who embodies the central brand proposition?

SI: Absolutely, yes. We get to know “Sarah,” not just from a demographic perspective, but from a psychographic one, and we strive to understand what she values and how our innovation can contribute to her life and improve not only her life, but her family’s life. That’s what motivates us.

SF: So as you talk to other CEOs, what do you share about your company’s practices that others find intriguing or try to adopt themselves? What should people who run companies or parts of companies be focused on as they try to figure out creative ways in their lives or in their businesses to connect the individual to the core interests of the end user – the customer, consumer or client?

SI: For us, it goes back to the customer. We do everything with our customer in mind. We’re a company that has a net promoter score, so we measure from our customer’s point of view whether they’re interested in repeating and referring. That’s the most important measurement we have. We believe that as we continue to evolve and focus on our customer’s experience, it translates to financial improvement as well.

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

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

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