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Thriving at Work — Gretchen Spreitzer

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Gretchen Spreitzer, Professor of Business Administration at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan about her research and teaching on thriving at work, part of the Positive Organizational Psychology scholarship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Walking Away from Wall Street — Sam Polk

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Sam Polk, a former trader for CSFB, the head distressed trader for one of the largest hedge funds in the world who left Wall Street because he wanted to live a more meaningful life, founding Groceryships, a non-profit that helps low-income families struggling with obesity, about what it takes to break addictive habits that keep you from leading the life you want and bringing your heart and soul to your work and career.

Stew Friedman: Sam, I learned about you when you wrote a much-talked about opinion piece in the New York Times For the Love of Money.  You described your evolution for Wall Street hedge fund trader earning $3.6M in bonus money at age 30 (and being disappointed with the small size of the bonus), your confrontation with your addiction, as you called it, to money, and your scary decision to leave this lucrative, but for you, empty and deadening life.  You ultimately founded GroceryShips, a company that feeds the hungry.  The reason I wanted to talk with you is that your story is such a compelling (and extreme) example of someone who was able, through a crucible, to find a way to truly live an integrated life.   Can you share with our listeners your story?

Sam Polk: Sam PolkI went to Wall Street when I was 22 years old, just out of Columbia. I remember going onto the trading floor and everything I wanted in life was right there.  I grew up sort of middle class. My dad read about successful businessmen in the paper every day and being successful was ingrained in me.  When I walked onto the trading floor, I could tell just by looking at the clothes people wore – their haircuts, their suntans (you could tell they played golf) – that I’d never seen people as wealthy as this.  And it was everything I wanted.

After the article I got hundreds of letters from college kids more or less asking me to help them get a job on Wall Street.

SF: But wait, the article was about you leaving Wall Street because you found that it wasn’t meeting your inner needs, though it was more than meeting your financial needs.  And they were asking you to help them get jobs on Wall Street?!

SP: I understand why. They hear that success is all about being rich, powerful or famous and these kids are insecure, they don’t have any of these things.  I was like that at 22 and just graduating. They’re getting strong cultural messages.  I think 3% of our cultural dialogue says “don’t be a money lender” and “money doesn’t bring happiness,” but 97% says “get as much money as you can, as quickly as you can” and Wall Street is the place for that. I feel compassion for these college kids, the culture says you’re important if you start a tech company and make a $1M.

I had a black car waiting for me when I landed, I went to countless World Series games, sat in the 2nd row at the Knicks games whenever I wanted.  It’s a tremendous feeling of power. I was living the life.   Making money feels good.  You come home and show your girlfriend, “look at this, I’m proud of this.”

The college kids want to be Lloyd Blankfein (CEO and Chairman, Goldman Sachs). I was like that.  They feel envy and I did too.  No matter how many millions I made. Trading was the coolest thing in the world. So I understand why these college kids are writing to me wanting to be on Wall Street and hoping I’ll be able to help them get a job there.

SF: So what happened? What changed for you? Why did you give it all up? Was there a moment? An epiphany?

SP: I began to realize that the stuff I was doing every day didn’t matter, even though I was being so well compensated.  There were so many moments including one during the hedge fund crisis.  Other brokers were against any new regulations on the industry, and I said, in a meeting in front of my boss, “but isn’t this better for the system as a whole.” And my boss said, “I can only think about what’s good for our company.”  My dream was to a billionaire; a billionaire was a hero.  The fact that my boss (who was a billionaire) was self-seeking made me realize that there was no end point. I have enough, let me go do what I was meant to do.

Kids wrote saying, “I just want to travel, take care of my family, I just want $6M.” I don’t have that.  And most people don’t.  If you get to $6M, you want $12M.  Money, power and prestige fill that hole.

SF: So, what about that void that you wrote about? You weren’t able to truly bring your whole self to work as a hedge fund trader, but now your personal passions fuel your work.

SP: I was trying to fill this hole inside me, this sense of worthless. The only way I thought I was valuable was Columbia, millions of dollars, a big loft apartment on Bond Street; those things you get when you are on Wall Street. Then I realized the hole is still there. We have this brief life and if you play out the Wall Street story all the way, you get $100M and the world thinks he’s successful.  But he’s spent his whole life getting money and accolades for himself.

SF: So how did you get out?

SP: I had a spiritual teacher, a Native American women, for whom I more grateful than anything I can imagine.  Three weeks into first internship I was dating this girl so out of my league; I was punching outside of my weight class.  She dumped me three weeks in. First love. I didn’t see it coming.  It was a devastating heartbreak. I could barely eat or get out of bed. But I had this internship, and besides this girlfriend, that was the most important thing to me at the time. I needed help. This girlfriend had brought me in to couples counseling with this Native American spiritual teacher who was the only counselor I knew.  I went every week. No Ph.D.  No Ivy League.  No thank you, was what I thought then. She had a completely different perspective from the one on Wall Street which was all about hierarchy, bigger, and more being valuable and important. Wall Street was all about the chase to get the top. And she said, “No, there is no hierarchy.  We are all equally valuable and that the value of the life is in the inner character, not in outside achievements.  It’s about treating people with compassion.”  I thought she was wacko. I wanted to know how can I get over the breakup so I can make money. At the beginning I believe her 10% of the time and I believed in the Wall Street philosophy 90% of the time.  But over 8 years it shifted, little by little until the balance went in the other direction; I believed her philosophy 90% and I believed in Wall Street’s 10%.   It was like in The Matrix, taking a red pill and seeing how the world really is.  On Wall Street people refer to other people by the size of their bank account; he’s a $100Millionaire. Money is the signifier.

SF: So, what happened when you left?

SP: I left when I was 30 and it was the hardest thing I’d ever done until then. (I know other people have it harder in life, but for me, that was the hardest thing I’d done.)

SF: What was the reaction?

SP: I heard, “I’m sorry you’re leaving.  I think y could have made a lot of money”

SF:  A bonus of over $3.5M was not already a lot of money?

SP: I had to give back half that year’s the bonus because I left. I gave up almost $2M to walk away. And I was in contention to be head of trading.  I’d been so focused on making money my whole life.  A lot of people didn’t agree. My Dad didn’t agree.  But I didn’t seek his counsel. There were different cultural values. My Dad was this guy focused on money and on himself and his extra-curriculars and not on me. As a kid I was desperate to impress him. Wall Street and my bosses were my dad. I was trying to impress my boss.

SF: So how’d you go from there to founding GroceryShips? And what is GroceryShips?

SP:GroceryShips is a health program for low income folks struggling with obesity. We go into a community, get applications from families, select 10 families who will receive food scholarships. We provide healthy cooking classes, emotional support groups, education about food, how to read labels, how to manage stress, deal with mental health, talk about childhood trauma if it’s affecting emotional eating. And we provide incentives. For example, if you and your family eat 5 fruits or vegetable a day or lose weight, we provide money for healthy food.  The support for these folks comes not just from GroceryShips but from each other.

SF: How did you come up with this idea?

SP: My family struggled with obesity. Two people in my family had bariatric surgery (stomach stapling). I went in the other direction with wrestling. But food was always in issue in my life. When I walked away from Wall Street one of the things that I was able to see is that in this hierarchy we on Wall Street we step over people as we strive to get to the top.  There’s waste in their backyards, highways in their neighborhoods; these folks are seen as not as valuable to those of us on Wall Street.  I spent my whole life climbing the rungs. And, of course, obesity exists in wealthy communities, but it mostly affects the poor. Groceryships focuses on equality, not hierarchy, and on reciprocity. We focus in people who need help, but we treat them as equals, with total respect. Reciprocity is the structure of the organization.  We’re a non-profit with an extensive nutrition and health curriculum.  We’re expanding into corporate wellness, and using those earnings to pay for low income in surrounding areas.

SF: Why would an organization hire Groceryships for their wellness programing?  What do they get out of it?

SP: if they’re looking for a wellness program, we’ll bring one plus their money will go to low income communities in their surrounding areas.  I believe that people are good and if you are faced with two choices and one has a social good component and it’s good public relations, then it’s an easy choice.  Companies use Groceryships both for corporate wellness and for civic engagement and for P.R.

SF: The changes you’ve made in your work and your life are quite dramatic.  What advice do you have for others?

SP:  First,Wall Street is not evil; it’s just that something was missing in my life. I now haveintegrity in the way of everything works together.  I work just as hard, but all with one thing in mind.   I’m living a life in line with my principles.  My life not perfect.  But there is no dissonance inside me.

When I left most people congratulated me, and said that they wished that they could do the same, but that they couldn’t do it yet. The idea is that they’ll do it as long as they can, to get the most money out of it before they can move on to what they really want to do.

So, I say to others: Respect where you are.  It’s hard to make a change like this.  If graduate from Wharton, for example, you can expect to make more than $400K/year in the next few years and then maybe about $3M or more per year if you go to Wall Street. That’s the straight and narrow, “right” path.  The left side is path you can’t see.  Inside every one of us is the unique compilation, the one path that no one has taken before.  It’s your gift to the world.  You can’t go right way, but you have to go left.  I made one huge trade that combined all my years of training, education and experience and expertise and in one trade I made $5M and I thought that with all these gifts, and talents, and opportunities, I could be doing something else. Take your Goldman Sachs or take a different path.

SF: What is your gift to bring to the world? How can you ask for help?  How can you explore and learn about other paths that will help you lead the life you want?

Sam Polk is the Founder and Executive Director of Groceryships, a former trader for Bank of America and the head distressed trader for one of the largest hedge funds in the world. After eight years on Wall Street, he left because he wanted to live a more meaningful life. He founded Groceryships, a non-profit that helps low-income families struggling with obesity. In January 2014, he published an OpEd about money addiction on the front page of The Sunday Review section of The New York Times. To learn more, go to www.Groceryships.org and follow on Twitter @GroceryShips, and Sam on @SamPolk

Join Work and Life  at 7:00 PM ET on Sirius XM Channel 111. Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests and a roster of past guests.

The Building Blocks of Productivity — David Allen

Contributor: Liz Stiverson

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

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with David Allen, the best-selling author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity and Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life about the five steps in his method to maximize what you accomplish by being focused and present wherever you are, and the habit that can change the culture of productivity in an organization.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: You’ve developed and refined a method that helps people to be present in the moment. For the uninitiated, can you give us a brief synopsis of the essence of that method?

David Allen: david allenThe one sentence version is both very simple and practical and pretty sublime. It is: You need to pay appropriate attention to what has your attention; otherwise, it will take more of your attention than it deserves. What has your attention? How many things are on your mind? “I need to get cat food.” “I need to find God.” “I need a career.” “I need to talk to my aunt.” “I need to answer those ten emails.” If you don’t handle those things appropriately, you are inappropriately engaged with your email, with your cat, when you are at work, or with your family. Here’s the big secret: getting things done is not about getting things done. It’s about being appropriately engaged with your life. I figured out the algorithm for being appropriately engaged. There are five steps. First, you have to capture the idea, identify what’s on your mind and record it; do something to get it out of your head. Second, decide what it means to you and what you’re going to do about it. Third, park the results of that decision somewhere you’ll see them at the right time. Fourth, look at the results of those decisions – the things you need to get done – when you need to get them done. And fifth, engage appropriately with doing those things. It isn’t rocket science, but it is something most people haven’t yet truly implemented.

SF: What do most people struggle with, in your experience?

DA: They try to keep everything in their head. If you’re going to try to go somewhere, you need a map – an orientation tool – and a place to store it. Most people are trying to use their psyche, inside their head as an orientation system, and it’s not designed for that. Your psyche is a terrible map, and a terrible office. Since my first book was published, in the last decade, a lot of neuro- and social scientists have validated a lot of the underlying principles I’ve talked about, including that your head is for having ideas, not for holding them. Evolutionarily, your brain was not designed to remember anything. It was designed to recognize patterns, but not to recall them. Once people get stuff out of their head, they have a much better sense of control and focus about what to do next. Everyone has at some point felt overwhelmed or confused, sat down and made a list, and felt better. Once you reverse engineer that and ask why you felt better without anything actually changing, you’ll never keep anything in your head for the rest of your life.

SF: And it doesn’t matter where you gather the ideas you’ve captured – you’re impartial to the tool as long as there is one.

DA: You can’t beat a pen and paper – that’s my basic collection tool. I carry a notepad in my wallet and tear sheets off for my in-basket, which I can then empty out. I think digital is dangerous for that reason – out of sight, out of mind. The problem with the digital world is that it gives you so many opportunities to put anything anywhere – in files and folders all over the place. You have to keep the collection buckets as simple as possible and empty them as often as possible. Once you’ve gathered the ideas, the next step is to clarify what they mean. Is this something to act on? If it is, what is the action? What outcome are you committed to?

SF: If you have 85 things in your collection place, how do you start?

DA: Pick up one at a time. You can’t prioritize until you’ve been through the whole list – number 84 could be more important than number two, and if you only have ten minutes, your highest priority is to accomplish something that will only take ten minutes. Until you know what all of those 85 things are, you can’t make that judgment. You need your whole inventory.

You have to work at the habit of doing this. For some reason, we don’t seem to be born with these behaviors that seem obvious. People fall off because they have a habit of keeping things in their heads. People also avoid making decisions – someone may write “Buy Mom’s birthday present” and put it in their in-basket, but then pick it up and put it back down over and over saying, “I don’t know what to get her.” You have to decide the next action and make a commitment to what you’ll do. That’s how you get things done, but those questions are not obvious – your brain doesn’t automatically think in terms of outcome and action. “What am I trying to accomplish?” and “How do I move toward that?” are the zeroes and ones of productivity. For companies, for teams, for families, beginning the conversation with “What are we trying to accomplish?” and ending with “What did we decide, what are the next steps, and who’s responsible?” can change a culture.

David Allen has been recognized by Forbes, Fast Company, and Time, and has delivered a TEDx Talk on his method. Hear more from him on Twitter @gtdguy.

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

About the Author

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

Act Like a Leader — Herminia Ibarra

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Herminia Ibarra the Cora Chaired Professor of Leadership and Learning and Professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD in France about creating meaningful change by acting your way into the future rather than by analyzing your options

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

SF: What’s another classic networking gaffe?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Contributor: Liz Stiverson

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

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

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

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

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

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

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

SF: How did you implement that idea?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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


Successful Companies Support Working Families — Dave Lissy, Bright Horizons Family Solutions

Contributor:  Meaghan Casey

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Dave Lissy, CEO of Bright Horizons Family Solutions, a leading provider of employer-sponsored family care services including child care; back-up care for dependents of all ages; educational advisory services; tuition assistance program management; and work/life consulting.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Your Company, Bright Horizons, just released a study, the Bright Horizon Modern Family Index, which revealed very important – and rather disturbing findings – about the state of working families in America. Would you share with us the headlines?

Dave Lissy: Dave LissyOver the years we’ve been committed to shining a light on issues facing working families, and from time to time we do studies like this. The goal with the Modern Family Index was to test where’s people’s attitudes are – in 2014 – about how employees think about these work and life issues. The survey produced some really interesting information.

Some results were startling, for example even in 2014 working parents still fear many things related to trying to balance work and life. They fear, in the worse case, that their family responsibilities could get in the way of them getting promoted, achieving their career goals, or even continuing their employment. Even in 2014, we found that some of these attitudes of fear still exist.

On the other side, the study showed us the difference it can make for employees who are fortunate to work in supportive workplaces with employers that really get this. And most importantly, the study showed us the difference it can make for employees who work for supportive bosses. What our data shows us is that company policies are extremely important and that the tone from the top is really important but it’s really the attitude of one’s direct supervisor that makes a difference. The age-old adage that people tend to quit their boss and not their company relates a lot to this issues facing   working families and how supportive one’s direct supervisor is or is not.

SF: Let me just briefly recount some of the data. 48% of working parents fear loosing their jobs because of family obligations. 39% fear that they might be denied a raise because of family obligations. 26% fear being demoted and 19% fear being excluded from important meetings because of their family responsibilities. Those are scary numbers.

DL: Yes, those are scary numbers. It shows that even in today’s world – with all the progress we’ve made – that this fear still exists and there’s still a lot of work to do on the dialogue between employers and employees.

SF: And that’s part of the work you are doing. I believe that 80% of 100 best companies to work for, at least according to Working Mother’s annual study, are clients of yours. Is that accurate?

DL: Yes, 80% of the Working Mother 100 Best Companies to Work For are clients of Bright Horizons as are many others that are recognized on lists such as Fortune’s 100 best companies to work for in America are our clients as well. The most interesting piece to me is that when you look at some of these lists, there has been work done to research the financial successes of these organizations that have been recognized for supportive workplaces. And they tend to outperform the S&P and other benchmarks over time.

We’re proud to have relationships with many leading employers, almost 1,000 leading employers in every industry.  But I am also very proud that the work that we do has translated into financial benefits for many of our clients.

Dave Lissy is the Chief Executive Officer of Bright Horizons Family Solutions, a company which works with nearly 1,000 of today’s leading employers, including more than 130 of the FORTUNE 500, to provide benefits that yield improved productivity, job satisfaction and engagement, and overall well-being for their employees. To learn more about his work, go to their website: http://solutionsatwork.brighthorizons.com/ and follow them on twitter: @BrightHorizons.

If you would like to access the findings from the interesting and important Modern Family Index Study we discussed on the show, please visit:http://www.multivu.com/mnr/7227551-bright-horizons-modern-family-employees-struggling-responsibilities.

Join Work and Life next on August 5th at 7:00 PM ET on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Monique Valcour.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Meaghan CaseyMeaghan Casey is an MBA candidate WG’15.


Real Family Values: Ellen Bravo on Work and Life

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Ellen Bravo, Director of the Family Values @ Work Consortium about what individuals and employers can do to bring family values – paid sick days and family leave – to organizations to help working families.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Last time I saw you was a week or so ago at the White House Summit for Working Families, where you had the honor of speaking directly after President Obama’s stirring speech.

Ellen Bravo: Ellen BravoI was so glad to be able to thank him and to bring the stories of the “experts” that we brought with us.  These are people who have found themselves fired because they wouldn’t let a special needs child stay home alone when the schools were closed because it was too cold or had their pay docked because they insisted on being with a kid with sickle cell anemia, or taking care of a dad who just had eye surgery. These are people who have taken that personal pain and hardship and are standing up together and trying to change policies so that what happened to them does not happen to them again and does not happen to others, either.

SF: Tell us about Family Values @ Work.  What do you do?

EB: Family Values @ Work is a network of coalitions in 21 states that work for policies like paid sick days, paid family leave, fairness for pregnant workers, fair schedules, policies that value families. It’s local groups that form broad and diverse local coalitions.  Restaurant owners and restaurant workers.  We have business partners, labor partners, people who care about kids and people who care about seniors, people who want to end poverty.  All of them come at this from the point of view that we know what works, when 40% of the population doesn’t earn a single paid sick day, when only 12% of workers get paid sick leave from their employers, we know that that’s bad for families. And it turns out it’s also bad for the economy and bad for businesses.  We are way behind the rest of the world. What we’re trying to do is modest, some might say meagre.  I think President Obama was shocked and horrified when he heard that we were one of only 3 countries in the world that don’t offer at least some form of paid leave.  Most employed women have to cobble together vacation days.  It’s a great joy to have a child, but it is not a vacation.

SF: You have been uniquely effective in advocating at the local, state and federal levels to help make our nation a more caring society. So what fuels your passion? How did you get into advocating for social change for families?

EB: My sons are in their 30s. I had two unpaid leaves. When the second one was born I hurt my back, the doctor said I needed to be flat on my back.  My husband could not take off.  We had no money.  I asked how I would do that with a toddler, too? He said, “Oh, just have your mother or your housekeeper take care of you.” We didn’t have a house much less a housekeeper and my mother worked full time. Then when the kids were 1 and 4 we moved to Milwaukee and one of us needed a job with health insurance.  So I took a job with the phone company which had health benefits and the person who hired me said, “You can’t be sick for five years” and she said, “I know you’re thinking how the hell am I going to do this.” I remember being surprised that she used that language because she was very prim and proper. She said, “Well you just have to.  We’re a public utility. We need you here every day.” And obviously what happened is that people came to work sick and they made each other sick and they stayed sick much longer.  And I thought this doesn’t make sense.  I was already an activist and I realized that I needed to actively address this issues; that family values cannot end at the workplace door. And I found the group 9 to 5 that was focused on low wage women and this was one of their key issues. We worked for and won family unpaid leave in Wisconsin and then in the nation. But we knew we needed to find a way to make it affordable.  We have to make sure that we don’t fire people for following doctor’s orders by staying home.

SF: And yet people still do live in fear of having to take time away from work to meet family responsibilities. But how did you win your first big victory?  Tell us about what you did in Wisconsin.  What did you have to do and what did you accomplish.

EB: The way we won was kids.  The governor had said he’s only sign a maternity leave bill and only a 30 day bill.  We knew we had to establish the principle of family leave; it’s not just new babies who need their parents and it’s not just mothers whom they need.  We put together a group of children each of whom had a reason why their family needed leave. One was a kid who’d had cancer when he was five; he was now nine and he remembered both his parents would be in the room with him when he got treatments.  One to hold him and one to tell him a story. He said the kid in the next bed didn’t have parents there during the day.  What he didn’t know then when he was five, but what he knew then was he was nine was that they would have lost their jobs and their health insurance if they had been with him.  There was a kid who had been adopted for the first time at the age of 12.  He was so happy to have a family but his new mom had to put the kids to bed at 8 PM because the adoption agency required that she be home during the day, but work wouldn’t give her leave so she had to work the nightshift. My younger son, he was seven at the time but when he was five he got hit by a car and had to stay overnight in the hospital for a concussion, which for him was two days.  But the idea that you would have to go through that without your parents there was unimaginable to him.

They all told their stories.  They met with the Secretary of Employment Relations for the State of Wisconsin. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry because they were very moving, but cute, as well. He said, we’re so used to meeting with lobbyists we sometimes forget about the people are impacted by the bills we pass. The Secretary asked if anyone had any questions, my little son, the youngest in the room, asked why wouldn’t the Governor sign this bill. The Secretary said, I promise that he will sign some version of the bill.  So, we quickly had a press conference and made this announcement, the kids all told their stories again.  The headline read: Children Lobbyists Win Lawmaker Hearts. The Governor said, it’s because of the kids that I’m signing this.

SF: So is this the modus operandi, to bring the voices of children in?  Or are there other strategies to influence policy-makers?

EB: There are many ways. So, California had won paid family leave in 2002.  We knew that there were other places that could do it, but they needed resources. We went to funders asking for seed money to create a new model where we work to raise money, but we share it among many groups, especially those working at the local and grassroots level. And our funders really liked this idea. So we started with eight states and now we’re in 21.  People can go to our web site www.familyvaluesatwork.org .  You can sign up on our web site and we’ll find ways to help you get involved in one of those states.

SF: So, what’s the business case for family leave, paid leave?

EB:  We’ve collected a growing body of evidence that shows that these policies are really beneficial. The majority of businesses now support these policies they find that it’s a non-event.  It cuts down on turnover costs. Advertising, screening, and training new hires is one of a businesses biggest expense.

SF: What have the states that have enacted enacted paid leave learned about what works or what doesn’t?

EB: For example Herb Greenberg of Caliper in NJ says for him this is a no-brainer because it helps him attract and retain people. He’s talking about the NJ Family Leave Insurance Fund. In the three states that have it, it’s all employee-paid. So it’s a cost savings for the employer because they don’t have to pay the person’s salary while they’re out, and they get them back. And they do what they want to do which is to help that employee be a good family member.

Same thing with paid sick days. Makini Howell was one of the people who spoke at the White House Summit.  She’s a restaurant owner in Seattle, and she said, why wouldn’t small businesses do this? You attract and keep people and you don’t have someone coming to work and making other people sick, and it’s good in the community.  Her business increased since she became known as a leader in the fight for paid sick leave.

SF:  It’s good for her brand.

EB: Makini Howell also said, “I want to be the kind of employer that I’d want to work for.”

SF: What are the hurdles? What are the barriers to adopting these policies?

EB: The biggest hurdle is lobbyists who claim to speak for the business community when they often do a disservice to employers by making it seem as though they’re mean-spirited or have a knew-jerk reaction to simple regulations. Because of the role of money in politics, they sort of threaten politicians, we’ll say that you’re anti-business if you support this policy. So it’s made a lot of politicians nervous.  The good thing is our coalition has really helped to break the “identity theft” by having business owners speak their stories of success.  They say that they already provide this for their employees but they want there to be a floor, some minimum standard and that’s the reason for a public policy.  They also say to other business owners, your workers are my customers so if they don’t get a paycheck or if they lose their job because they were being a good parent or taking care of themselves it’s bad for the economy as a whole. This is what small business owners tell us all the time, sales is the number one problem.  They need people to have money in their pockets.  That’s why business owners are supporting higher minimum wage as well.


Ellen Bravo directs the Family Values @ Work Consortium, a network of broad coalitions working for—and winning—policies such as paid sick days and family leave insurance.  She’s the author of Taking on the Big Boys, or Why Feminism is Good for Families, Business and the Nation.  To learn more about her work go to the Family Values @ Work web site www.familyvaluesatwork.orgfollow them on Twitter @FmlyValuesWork.

Join Work and Life next on July 29 at 7:00 PM ET on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Gretchen Spreitzer and Kathie Lingle.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

Helping Employees Whose Dependents Have Special Needs: Debra Schafer on Work and Life

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Debra Schafer about what corporations can do to help their employees who need care for disabled dependents especially children with special needs or hidden differences.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: What inspired you get into this field?

Debra Schafer: Debra SchaferIt began with my son.  He developed some educational challenges.  I was an HR (Human Resources) executive at the time and I found that I needed more flex options than those that were available in order to attend to my son’s needs.  I had to make a choice.  And no parent should have to make a choice between their professional career and their child.

SF: Indeed, that’s what President Obama said last week at the White House Summit on Working Families – no parent should have to make that choice.  So, what did you do?

DS: I began reading federal and state special education law and then coaching parents in private practice.  It was clear from HR background I saw a gap and a need in terms of what can be provided to employees who have children with hidden difficulties.  And it’s often 12+ years between first diagnosis at age 2 and High School graduation.

SF: So what are the issues facing parents at work?

DS: There are chronic issues and crisis issues.  Chronic issues are, for instance, regularly scheduled, perhaps three times per week, appointments.  And crisis issues come up suddenly and you have to run. The challenge is to help organizations understand that their employees are raising the next generation of employees. And to help them to see, for example, that calls about the child will not stop and that parents should not have to choose bet being a good parent and good employee.

SF: So what do you advise the employer to do?

DS: Organizations and employers can help by normalizing these issues.  For example, lactation rooms were not spoken of previously, but now we hear about them.  Similarly, employers can start with a seminar or workshop with an expert such as a therapist.  The employees who attend look around the room and realize they’re not alone.  What I often see is that they reach out to fellow-workers saying, “I didn’t know you had a child who…”  Support networks are formed.

SF:  What’s in it for the employer?  Why should they being providing these supports?

DS:  Eight to 14% of the workforce is dealing with a child with special needs. Eleven percent of school age children are diagnosed ADHD, 19% of HS boys.  These are chronic issues and employees need to be able to speak to your employer in ways that the employer can understand.  Too many parents of children with hidden differences are leaving the workforce or turning down assignments.  If the employer wants to recruit and retain talent and if they want their employees to be productive, then they’ll need to understand that their employees are dealing with chronic problems and also with crises that take their time and attention.

SF: It is a distraction and a drain on productivity as I wrote a piece called The Hidden Business Cost of Mental Illness. So how can employees learn to talk about these hidden differences with their employers?  How can we address the stigma?

DS: Employee Resource Groups are useful.  But most employees don’t join because don’t want to disclose.  I always say, “If u have the crown, wear it with pride.” Having groups, seminars in the work place leads, as I said, to “I didn’t know you had a child with…” and then to naturally occurring support from co-workers. It normalizes these issues.

SF: So, the workshop on the job creates an environment where it’s safe to talk about it

DS: Yes, with education about the epidemiology – how many people are dealing with these difficulties – and statistics and stories.


Debra Schafer is the Founder and CEO of Education Navigation which she started after more than 20 years of management experience in human resources, work/life integration, and marketing communications and 15 years of special education consulting, coaching, and advocacy experience. Learn more about what companies can do to recruit and retain their employees who are parents of children with hidden difficulties and how to ensure that they are productive at work at her web site www.Education-Navigation.com and follow Debra on Twitter @EdNavigation.

Join Work and Life on Tuesday July 22 at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Herminia Ibarra and Sam Polk.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.


Aging and Work: Nursing Professor Sarah Kagan

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Sarah Kagan about the impact of aging on our work lives.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Stew Friedman: Why is aging an important issue for employers and employees?

Sarah Kagan: Sarah KaganWe’re seeing a big demographic shift.  We’re becoming much older as a society and all sorts of things cascade from that.  Your example of midlife women having to make choices about career and family responsibilities.

SF: And leaving the workforce because they feel compelled to take care of aging parents, disrupting their career progress and future earnings, as noted in The New York Times article at the top of the hour, For Women in Midlife, Career Gains Slip Away.


SK: You can see that as an economic cascade. It influences them financially but it also changes the workforce. We lose really valuable workers from a sector like education. How do we mentor and support younger teachers if everybody in that generation is busy taking care of mom, grandma, grandpa? All of a sudden we have a dearth of experience that has social implications, financial implications, families suffer financially and our economy suffers as well.

Around the world most elder care is direct care provided by women and the “instrumental caregiving” – organizing things, financing things is being done by the men in the family.  For the most part wives and daughters and daughters-in-law are doing a lot of direct caregiving which means that they have high absenteeism.  The work can’t be done remotely.  Unless you have a great deal of money you’re the one taking your father-in-law to the doctor.

SF: Wait. What about the man?  If it’s his father, why isn’t he taking him to the doctor? Why the daughter-in-law?

SK: Well, we still have a gender divide there.

SF: The study referred to in the article finds the burden is disproportionally borne by women.

SK: This means that stress is borne disproportionately by women, too.  If you’re caring for an aging parent with dementia, for example, it’s a big family stressor.  And if you’re facing that every morning it’s going to take a toll on you – the primary direct caregiver.

SF: What suggestions and advice do you provide for your students and others and what advice do you have for our listeners who might be in a similar situation?

SK: The first thing a recommend is to step back, even if only for one hour, take a breather and think about what really needs to get done and when, what’s a top priority, what’s a lower priority.  Then think about who needs to do it and what resources are available to relieve some of that load. And it helps to write out a plan and assess.

SF: But how do you do that when you’re in the throes of the problem?

SK: Sometime you need help to take a step back.

SF: But doesn’t everyone need that?

SK:  We’re social animals. We need to crush that myth of independence, and say, “hey, who can I reach out to?”  A friend, a neighbor, somebody in a similar situation who can help you step back and take a survey of the situation.

SF: So what more can this “sandwich” generation of women, especially, do to get help so that they can remain engaged in their work lives?

SK: After assessing, the next step is to think about other resources. And we have a tendency to think they have to do it alone. I recommend that people look for their local Area Agency on Aging.  And other people want to help.  Perhaps set up a meal schedule so you’re not doing all the cooking. Maybe the kid down the block who’s thinking about college would like some kind of service experience, resume builder, and something that brings generations together.  Put an 18 year old with an 80 year old and both of them are going to learn good things.

SF: So you’re thinking of the health benefits for teenagers and seniors for them to be working together.

SK: Real relationships not mediated by phones, computers, other technology and distractions and pressures.  Instead, slow it down.

SF:  What about FOMO?  Kids have a Fear Of Missing Out.

SK: I think we have to push back on that. FOMO should be replace by Slow-Mo.  Slow down and recognize that thinking about and caring about someone else, means we’re all stronger, we’re all better off.  The Druker Center for Health System Innovation at The Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) is doing some amazing work with “time banking.”  It turns out that social interaction is more important than physical activity for keeping your mind sharp.  They’ve created a “time bank” where people donate time to help with specific activities (driving someone to a doctor’s appoint,  garden clean up, piano teaching, driving to worship, getting to a friend) and others can use that time.  So it becomes a social exchange.

SF: It’s part of the new sharing economy.

Kagan is a MacArthur Fellow and the Lucy Walker Honorary Term Professor of Gerontological Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing who writes a column, Myths of Aging, and teaches a popular MOOC on Coursera, Growing Old Around the Globe. Hear more from her on Twitter @SarahHKagan and @OldGlobeMooc and read her Myths of Aging column at http://www.calkins.com/digital.html


Join Work and Life next Tuesday, July 22 at 7:00 PM ET on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Herminia Ibarra and Sam Polk.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.


Breadwinning and Caregiving: Liza Mundy on Work and Life

Contributor: Liz Stiverson

Work and Life is a weekly radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday from 7 to 9 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Liza Mundy, award-winning journalist and author of The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners is Transforming our Culture, about how breadwinning and caregiving roles have become gender-neutral and shared by all Americans, and the barriers to men and women embracing the roles that fit them best.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Tell us about your primary responsibilities at the New America Foundation.

Liza Mundy: Liza MundyI started at New America after receiving a fellowship from the Foundation to write my last book; it was a real source of intellectual stimulation and support and a wonderful community. Now that I’m taking over as Director of our work and family program, Breadwinning and Caregiving, the aim is to continue to reframe the conversation. I think this is a really interesting moment for these issues – there have been some significant books and articles, and a stream of research in the last several years. The more we can talk about work and family and bring these issues into the public domain, the more we can help people understand that we are all breadwinners and we are all caregivers at some point in our lives. Those two responsibilities are shared by every citizen, and I think it’s fair to say that our laws and policies haven’t changed to enable people to fulfill both sets of obligations, and the workplace is changing in ways that in some respects make it easier and in some respects make it harder to play both roles.

SF: A central question is, Who are the breadwinners and who are the caregivers?  You’re saying we are all breadwinners and caregivers. That’s a radical idea, to construe these roles in society as gender neutral. What do you think are the main barriers to people feeling a greater sense of freedom and opportunity to take up the roles that fit best – breadwinner or caregiver, whether man or woman?

LM: I’ll begin with one that may not be obvious – family members can be a real barrier. For my book, I interviewed any number of couples where the woman had emerged as the primary breadwinner and the man was taking a secondary role in terms of earnings. In many couples, this was working out extremely well, and allowed both partners to fall into patterns that were comfortable for them as a couple. And yet, they were met with a lot of resistance from in-laws who sent powerful signals to the husband that he is, in the words of one man, a parasite – not fulfilling the household role he should. These were often situations in which the grandparents were very proud of their daughter, but unable to see that one of the reasons she is able to be so successful and productive is her supportive partner. After my book came out, I found myself in many conversations with people who were parents of young adult children who were really troubled if, for example, their son made a career concession like moving to another job in another city for the sake of his girlfriend. It’s natural for parents who raised their children – male and female – to be super-performers to have a hard time when one of those children decides to be the lower-key member of a couple. And stigma doesn’t necessarily come only from in-laws.

It wasn’t that long ago that marriage was the only available avenue for women to feel like they had been successful; one way for a woman to telegraph her success was to say what her husband did. I interviewed a really successful young woman, an engineer at Georgia Tech, whose salary one year into the workforce exceeded that of her father, who was a construction worker, and who also made considerably more money than her boyfriend. Her boyfriend had taken the only job he could find that would allow him to be near her, as the manager of a fast food franchise. She told me that when she tells people what her boyfriend does, she doesn’t know quite how to say it. She kept telling me she wasn’t embarrassed, but she said she wasn’t embarrassed so many times that it began to signal that she actually was a little embarrassed by his job.

Women can be offenders in this regard and can perpetuate barriers. I also spoke with a gay man who worked as general counsel in a company and was a father who told me that when he adopted his son and took paternity leave, the women in his office threw him a baby shower and celebrated his leave, but a couple of days into his paternity leave, were calling him and expecting his help. They did not respect the boundary of his paternity leave the way they might have respected a woman’s maternity leave.

SF: What else did you discover in writing your book that you think listeners should know about?

LM: I try to make the argument – not everyone buys it – that young women today have a new opportunity to be the lead partner in their relationships – to be the primary earner, the person who moves to take a new job. I think there’s a willingness on the part of some young men to move for the sake of their girlfriend’s career, or to put their wife through law school with the understanding that she’ll be the lead earner going forward. Those are things women have traditionally done for men, and the fact that we are in a time when some men will put their female partners’ careers first is something women should be happy about. I asked a number of young women, “Would you consider marrying or partnering with someone who didn’t go to college or doesn’t have the same level of education you do?” And they were generally very resistant to that idea. They would often say, “I’ve got to marry a guy who’s on my level,” by which they seemed to mean equally driven and ambitious. That can work, but many women who marry someone they meet in law school or especially business school find that his career ends up taking precedence. In an ideal world, no one would have to work too hard, and we would all share responsibilities, but there is a new opportunity for women willing to seize it to enter into relationships where they will be supported and their career will come first.

Liza Mundy’s most recent book, The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners is Transforming our Culture, was named one of the top fiction books of 2012 by the Washington Post and a noteworthy book by the New York Times Book Review. She is also the author of Michelle, a biography of First Lady Michelle Obama, which was a New York Times bestseller. Liza Mundy writes and podcasts regularly for New America and other publications; visit New America for a list of her most recent work, and follow her on Twitter @lizamundy.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday, July 15 at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Ellen Bravo, Director of Family Values @ Work, and Dave Lissy, CEO of BrightHorizons Family Solutions. Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.


About the Author

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

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