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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.

Claiming Your “Onlyness” – Nilofer Merchant

Contributor: Alice Liu

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

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Nilofer Merchant, an educator and sought-after speaker known as “Jane Bond of Innovation,” for her distinctive ability to solve impossible problems, about the topic of her new book – “onlyness” – what you alone bring to work. Merchant discusses the importance of “onlyness,” how to own and claim it, and how it is a vital driver of growth in our modern ideas economy.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: What does “onlyness” mean? Could you define the term for us?

Nilofer Merchant: Nilofer MerchantI was writing an economics, business book, and I was trying to describe how the way we create value has changed, and I was trying to say “that thing that only you do.” I was twiddling with words like “uniqueness” and “distinctive,” but none of them told the full story, so I said let’s make up a word. It refers to that spot in the world that only you are standing in. It’s such a distinctive point of view. It’s your creative source. It’s the perspective that allows you to challenge convention. It is that idea that only you have.

SF: What is it about work that denies onlyness, and why is onlyness so essential to our economic vitality?

NM: People were cogs in a machine and meant to be disposable because that’s largely what the economic capitalists were about. It didn’t matter how unbelievably talented you were or the set of ideas you had. But nowadays we are working in an ideas economy – sometimes called the connected economy or the social economy. The reason you have the idea that you have is a function of your history, experiences and vision. A woman wrote me a lovely email today, and she said, “Until I listened to my own voice for what I knew was right for my daughter instead of just following along, thinking the doctors must know what’s right, I didn’t the right thing.” Think about what she’s saying. She’s saying the doctor used to be the expert, but he’s not an expert on her child. I think that’s going to be the lesson of the next 20 to 50 years. It’s recognizing that each of us has a wisdom, and we have to bring that to the table. We’ll realize how much untapped opportunity there is when people do that.

SF: It’s something I see with students and with clients; a keen desire to be more confident, competent and courageous enough to express that which is uniquely “me.” In your work and in the book that you’re writing, what is it that you offer in terms of ideas for action for people to celebrate their “onlyness?”

NM: You first you have to decide that you’re okay just as you are and that no matter how other people define you or label you, it doesn’t change who you are.

SF: Is that part of what you’re writing about in your new book.

NM: I want to help people think about how to own and claim their onlyness. How do you find the people who are more like you? How do you use that onlyness to make a dent in the world?

Merchant is the author of two books on collaborative work, The New How and 11 Rules for Creating Value in the #SocialEra. She was recently awarded by Thinkers50 the designation of “Future Thinker” – the person most likely to influence the future of management in both theory and practice.  To learn more about her work, visit her website or follow her on twitter.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday, July 1 at 7:00 PM Eastern on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Sarah Kagan and Michael Rashad.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Alice Liu Alice Liustudied Management at The Wharton School and English (Creative Writing) at the College of Arts & Sciences. She graduated in 2014.

Flexibility for Dads — Scott Behson

Contributor: Liz Stiverson

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

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Scott Behson, author of the blog, Fathers, Work, and Family and Professor of Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, where he researches work-family balance and high-involvement work practices.  They discussed unique challenges fathers face in the workplace and steps working dads can take to increase their autonomy and freedom, for the benefit of both their jobs and families.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: What do you make of the recently-reported findings that fathers especially benefit when employees are given more autonomy over their time at work?

Scott Behson: ScottIt’s not surprising to me. I find that there are two stigmas fathers face in trying to accommodate their work to their family lives. The first cuts both ways, for men and women – that if you accommodate your work to your family life, you’re seen in the workplace as less committed and not all-in. The second stigma which keeps men from using flexibility as much as they would like, or hiding it when they do, is that they’ll be seen as violating a gender norm by being less manly than society expects.

SF:  The Journal of Social Issues Special Issue of Flexibility Stigma (edited by Joan Williams, a former guest on the show) was all about the flexibility stigma with a number of pieces on how it plays out with men.  So, how do you counsel individuals and organizations to overcome these stigmas and experience greater autonomy and freedom?

SB: To some degree, you have to live in the world as it is, and also try to create change when you can. My first piece of advice to fathers is to really understand what you’re up against. What are the attitudes of your supervisors and coworkers? What is your company culture like? What are your hang-ups about it? I find that a lot of men put this on themselves – even when supervisors might be more supportive than feared, people are afraid to ask for help. In reality, most managers are trying to be good people. They might not fully understand how to get there, but they want what’s best for their employees; if we don’t give them the opportunity to respond, we’re only hurting ourselves. Secondly, I think it’s important that individuals understand what their priorities are. If that means going for the brass ring – the C-suite job or the partnership – that’s great, but you should understand what tradeoffs that will mean in the rest of your life. Conversely, if your highest priority is to be a very involved dad and to be there for much of your children’s childhoods, that’s another set of tradeoffs. However, I would counsel someone struggling with even an unsupportive supervisor or culture to look for smaller, hidden, less formal ways to build in more flexibility.

SF:  This is exactly what we’ve been doing here at Wharton and elsewhere with Total Leadership.  First, diagnose what’s important to you, next dialogue with others, and then discover new ways of integrating work and life by doing small experiments. Can you give some examples from your work?

SB: Even in a company where everyone tends to come in at 8:00 or 8:30 in the morning, colleagues probably wouldn’t look too askance at it if you came in at 8:45 or 9:00, if that means you get to be part of the morning routine with your kids. You could run errands during lunch, or slink out of the office when you can and bring some work home at night. A lot of employees do those invisible things; hopefully, however, we don’t need to keep them in the closet all the time. If you build up a reputation as a good employee, now may be the time to start spending some of that earned cash, saying to a supervisor, “My last three reviews have been great, and I will continue to be great, but let me go home at 3:00 on Thursdays.” A good friend of mine is a top executive at a large accounting and financial firm, and negotiated Daddy Wednesdays for himself much earlier in his career, about 10 years ago. He arranged that he didn’t have to come in until 12:30 or 1:00 on Wednesdays. He kept up every other aspect of his job, but he got to spend the whole morning with his preschool-aged kids on Wednesdays. His corporate culture wouldn’t have liked it, but it wasn’t widely known – he worked it out with a great supervisor.

SF: What I’ve found is that central to this is creating small experiments in ways that are geared toward making other people successful – particularly your manager, who has control over your time and money. The solution has to work for others not just for you.  Have you found this to be the case?

SB: Absolutely. It really jumped out at me in the study you mentioned at the top of the hour on autonomy that the work week got a little shorter and autonomy increased, but productivity was the same. Being able to assure your supervisor of that is really important. You could even do this through a semi-formal contract which says, “Let’s try this out for a month; I’ll give you progress reports of what I’m doing every week, and if you’re not happy with how things are working out after a month, we’ll revisit it.” Normally things work out well after a month – in most white-collar, professional jobs, one third to one half of the work can be done in places other than the office and times other than normal work days and hours. You just have to prove that supervisors’ fears about performance are baseless.

I don’t mean to sound pessimistic – I see a lot of dads prioritizing family without paying too much of a price for it, or regretting the tradeoffs. I’m convinced that the more we talk about work-family issues for fathers, the more evident their importance becomes. I would encourage dads who have job security, or a spouse with a stable source of second income, to be brave – be the first person to take paternity leave in your company, or the first person to ask your boss about part-time telecommuting. Maybe they’ll say yes, and maybe someone will see you ask, and decide to ask, too. And it’s important to have social support – I like taking my son to the school bus stop in the morning because I get to chat with other dads in the neighborhood. If you have friends or neighbors, get together with them; inevitably, you’ll talk about work and your families, and realize you’re not alone.

Behson offers more tips on increasing flexibility on his blog. Hear more from him on Twitter @ScottBehson.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday, July at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Michael Rashid and Sarah Kagan. 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.

Connecting Best and Brightest Women — Janet Hanson 85 Broads

Contributor: Alice Liu

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 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 Janet Hanson, former CEO of Milestone Capital and founder of 85 Broads, a global network of women whose founding members worked at 85 Broad Street in Goldman Sach’s New York office, about her rise to success at Goldman Sachs and the exciting network that she created to empower women, connect them to each other across all stages of life, and connect them to companies who are looking to recruit the best and brightest.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman:Janet, you started as a 24-year-old associate at Goldman Sachs in fixed income sales and trading. Then in 1986, you became the first woman in the firm’s history to be promoted to sales management.  What did you find to be the pros and cons of being one of the lone women succeeding at Wall Street back then?

Janet Hanson: I thinkJanet Hanson they were really all pros – the business and the people who were coming to the firm at that time were so exciting. It was like a giant lab.

SF: What was it like being one of the few women there at the time?

JH: The key to my success was really understanding what the partners cared about. They cared deeply about their firm and how they were viewed by their clients. I learned everything I possibly could about the firm’s history and the firm’s clients, and so when I would have the opportunity to speak with a partner it was about the business. I always tell people, if you want to be taken seriously you have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the company that you work for.

SF: So you’re successful in your role, despite being in the minority as a woman. Fast forward to twenty years later, you found 85 Broads. What lead you to that?

JH: I left Goldman in 1987. After 11 years in a pressure cooker atmosphere, I was pretty burnt out. My thought was just to take a leave of absence. I was 34, and I had focused 100% on my career. I really wanted to reevaluate what my life plan was, because up to that point I didn’t have one.

I was lucky. I got married in 1988. My daughter, Meredith, was born shortly thereafter. My son, Chris, was born in 1990. I found myself knocking on Goldman’s door one more time and was invited back to the asset management division for about two and a half years, and then I bailed because my career really wasn’t going to go anywhere. I had pretty much taken myself out of the partner track when I left in ‘87. I was totally okay with that, but I knew I wanted to do more things with my life and build more things, so I launched Milestone Capital, an asset management company, from scratch in 1995 and built that into a very successful business, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how hard it had been to be at home with two small children full time and how I wanted to reconnect with my colleagues and peers at Goldman and that was quite frankly impossible. I spent a great deal of time thinking about how sad it was that great firms like Goldman Sachs didn’t have alumni networks, because I thought to myself, clearly there’s a role that I could still play in benefiting the firm.

SF: You were feeling personally disconnected, but you also saw that it was a lost opportunity for the firm.

JH: Yes, but I could tell that so many other rock star women that I had worked with and known during my tenure at the firm felt the same way. One day I was out walking my dog in 1997 and I came up with the name 85 Broads, which I thought was hilarious. So I approached Goldman, and I said, “What do you think about creating an alumni network?” They didn’t get it. They didn’t see the need to have a formal connection with people who had made a decision to leave the firm so we were really ahead of our time, because this was just when the internet was starting to be something.

SF: What happened next?

JH: Well the most exciting thing happened. I’d been invited to Harvard Business School to come and speak about being the CEO of Milestone Capital in February of 2000. As I was speaking to 75 to 100 women about what it was like to build an asset management business, I stopped and said, “I don’t want to talk about Milestone anymore, I want to tell you about 85 Broads. This is the coolest thing I’ve ever done, and these are the coolest women I’ve ever met and gotten to know.” Then, a girl raised her hand and said, “I don’t mean to be rude but if you look around this room, most of us are not going into banking and even fewer of us are going to Goldman Sachs so you’re talking about a network that the vast majority of the women in this room can’t join.” So I stopped for a second, and I said, “Well I guess that’s over.” Literally like that we opened the network to the women at the leading graduate business schools.

These women were so excited about joining this network. Back in the early 2000s, the markets were exploding so there was a lot of excitement around hiring the best and the brightest. That was when I got recruited by Joe Gregory, who was the President and COO of Lehman Brothers, to use the 85 Broads platform to bring more fabulous women to Lehman. Joe told me that my job was to make sure that we never lost another great woman to Goldman Sachs, who he considered to be their number one competitor. So I got to meet extraordinary women all across the United States.

In 2012, Hanson was named to Fast Company’s “League of Extraordinary Women” and Forbes’ list of “Women Changing The World.” She is the author of More Than 85 Broads and is featured in the just published book, Nothing But the Truth So Help Me God: 73 Women on Life’s Transitions. 

Join Work and Life next Tuesday, June 24 at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Cary Cooper, Distinguished Professor and Tom Gardner, CEO The Motley Fool. Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Alice Liu Alice Liustudied Management at The Wharton School and English (Creative Writing) at the College of Arts & Sciences. She graduated in 2014.

Mission Driven! Neil Blumenthal, Warby Parker

Contributor: Liz Stiverson

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 from 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 Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker, an industry-disrupting lifestyle brand that offers designer eyewear at low prices and ties every purchase to the donation of a pair of glasses to someone in need. Blumenthal, a Wharton alumnus, discussed the genesis of Warby Parker and why a mission employees can believe in is critical to a company’s success.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: What was the motivating idea for Warby Parker, and how did you bring it to life?

Neil Blumenthal: Neil BlumenthalThe idea behind Warby Parker was that glasses are too expensive.  Jeff, Andy, Dave and I had just started our MBAs and were sitting in a computer lab at Wharton, complaining about how expensive glasses are after Dave lost his $700 glasses in the seat pocket of an airplane right before school started. We thought, “Could we do something about this?” Andy had a great idea to sell glasses online; we had seen category after category move online, from Blue Nile selling engagement rings to Zappos selling shoes. And before business school, I had trained low-income women to start their own businesses selling glasses in the developing world with Vision Spring, so I knew a little about the industry. I knew we could design our own frames and manufacture them ourselves. Selling online gave us the ability to go direct to consumer, so we could sell glasses for $95, below wholesale prices, instead of $500, because we could bypass the middleman.

SF: You also had the idea to tie each purchase to a donation, which became a very important aspect of your model.

NB: What ultimately excited us about this idea was the do-good factor – the fact that we were going to sell $500 glasses for $95 and therefore transfer billions of dollars from large, multinational corporations to normal people. This was going to be a job where we woke up in the morning and instead of turning over and hitting the snooze button, we would be excited to come to work. We built the company with that mindset, and it was with that mindset that we realized that there are seven million people on the planet who don’t have access to glasses. Even at a $95 price point, we could afford to give away a pair for every pair we sell.

Like many people, we were motivated to have a positive impact on the world, and the question was just what the best way to do that would be. We could volunteer for a couple hours a week on weekends, or we could spend 40, 60, maybe 80 hours a week – everything we do, all our time – having a positive impact. I believe the most effective use of my time is to use my specific tools and skills – general management, user experience, customer service, financial acumen – to have the biggest positive impact I can.

SF: Your idea is one that is certainly held by most people of your generation and the generation following you.  You must get tons of people wanting to work for you. So why aren’t more companies taking your approach?

NB: I think they’re starting to. Certainly the vast majority of new start-ups have baked values- and mission-thinking into their DNA, and I think a lot of Fortune 1000 companies are waking up to the fact that they need to be doing the same. That’s not to say that Fortune 1000 companies weren’t founded to do great in the world – I think most businesses inherently do good in the world. But I think as a company gets bigger, scales, and goes public, it’s easy to start focusing more on optimization rather than on growth or solving problems. And when you’re optimizing and trying to maximize profit at all costs, thinking more for the short term than the long term, you can lose sight of having a positive impact.

SF: What do you and your colleagues at Warby Parker do to be sure you don’t lose sight of what’s important?

NB: We try to incorporate our stakeholders in every decision we make. When I say stakeholders, I’m referring to our customers, our employees, the environment, and the community at large. For example, from day one, we offered free shipping and free returns to our customers. We thought that’s what customers wanted, it’s what the four of us as consumers wanted, and we thought it was fair and appropriate, so we decided to we would find a way to make it work financially. For our employees, research has shown that people leave their jobs because they’ve stopped learning or they don’t like their boss. So we do quarterly 360-degree reviews, monthly informal feedback sessions, workshops, and outside speaker sessions, to build great managers and provide plenty of learning opportunities.

SF: How can the idea of incorporating stakeholders to shape corporate culture in ways that influence the world be replicated in other settings, especially those where the traditional model has held sway for so long?

NB: The first step for individuals could be doing their own jobs with a stakeholder mindset. In situations where you do have decision-making authority, how do you think about the impact of your decisions on the environment and the broader community? Another step is to become an advocate within your organization, and explain things in mission-driven terms. We believe that every company and organization is dependent on talent, and in order to win the talent war, we believe we have to be mission-driven. To be customer-first, you have to be employee-first, and to be employee-first, you have to be mission-first.

SF: Can you explain that connection?

NB: A recent World Economic Forum Study showed that 80% of Millennials put mission ahead of compensation when deciding where to apply for jobs, and it was a global phenomenon, not unique to the U.S. We’ve hired over 350 people in the last three and a half years; my co-founder and I have interviewed every one of them, and our social mission always comes up. When we ask, “Why do you want to work here?” they say, “I love the brand, I love the buy-a-pair, give-a-pair program, I love the idea of a disruptive company trying to do good in the world – I want to be part of that.” Our mission – to demonstrate to the world that you can build a scalable, profitable business that does good in the world without charging a premium for it – helps us recruit and retain the best people, and we think that’s only going to accelerate in the future.

Blumenthal is one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, and one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders. Hear more from him on Twitter @NeilBlumenthal.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday, June 24 at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Cary Cooper and Steven Klasko (WG’ 96). Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Liz StiversonLiz Stiverson received her MBA from The Wharton School in 2014.

Small Steps to Take Control: Cali Yost

Contributor: Morgan Motzel

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

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Cali Yost, CEO and Founder of Flex+Strategy Group and author of Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day. Yost discussed the challenges today’s organizations face in creating fair workplace policies for a diverse group of employees,  and how individuals can take charge and make incremental schedule changes to yield long-term gains for their work-life integration.

Following are edited excerpts of Friedman’s conversation with Yost:

Stew Friedman: What is your group doing to help people to think about the most important priorities so that they can perhaps gain more control and greater flexibility in their lives?

Cali Yost: Cali YostAs you know, Stew, it really has to do with giving people a simple framework to begin to think through how their work and life fit together and helping them be as intentional as they can about that fit, both day-to-day as well as through major life transitions. It starts with understanding what flexibility is available in their lives and what makes sense for their jobs, and then within that context, thinking about what they could do to be, work, and live smarter and better. One of the most fascinating things I’ve seen in my work is an ongoing struggle to get people to understand that there’s more that they could do to live better.

SF: Do you find, as I have, that people have more freedom than they think they have?

CY: Yes.  For example, if I survey people coming in to one of my sessions, trainings, or speeches, and I ask them, do you actively and deliberately manage your work-life fit day-to-day in an intentional way? 75-80% of the people would answer that question “yes” – agree or strongly agree. Most of them already think they’re doing as much as they can.

SF: But they’re deluding themselves? Is that where you’re going?

CY: Honestly, I really don’t believe people understand what intentional management looks like until you start walking them through the steps and showing them the possible impact if they just made some minor adjustments in what they’re doing. If they did, they’d probably realize, “Oh my gosh! Wait, I’m not doing that!” They’d understand that if they just did what you call an experiment or two, they would begin to see “Wow, there is more that I can do.”

SF: So, tell us what’s the process that you take people through? What are the questions that you ask?

CY: Well, I study this group that I like to call the “work-life fit naturals.” These are the people I estimate make up about 15-20% of the population in most of the organizations that I work with. They’re the people who just seem to be able to fit it all together and not break a sweat. I’ve always been fascinated by these folks. About ten years ago, I started to study them because I wanted to understand their secrets – what do they do that’s so mystifying to the rest of us? My goal was to ultimately come up with a very simple get-started practice for people – to jumpstart this process of individuals thinking about their own work-life fit. What I found was that the secrets of the naturals are really quite simple.

I broke the findings down into their simplest components. It starts with celebrating success each week – giving yourself credit for what you do, and not focusing on what you don’t get done because it’s never perfect – and then making what I call “tweaks”: small, meaningful actions in your day-to-day work-life fit. If you’ve planned ten of those tweaks for the week, and you only get six done, then celebrate the six, and don’t worry about the four. The naturals spend a lot of time thinking about what they do get done and don’t worry so much about what doesn’t happen. They always feel like there’s next week, so they don’t beat themselves up.

It starts with celebrating success, and then sitting down and reflecting each week to figure out what you want and what you have to get done over the next seven days, both in your work and in your personal life. Then comes really planning in those habits, not only the habits or the standard tweaks that you’re going to do week after week – exercising, checking in with your family, balancing your checkbook, taking a walk at lunch – but also leaving time for those special moments – having coffee with a friend who’s in from out of town, going to your son’s science fair, researching a vacation – things that don’t happen over and over again but are still very important to schedule in periodically. Finally, you put all of them into a combined calendar and create a priority list system.

This is one of the key differences between the naturals and the rest of us:  they run a combined work and personal calendar and use a priority list system. It’s all one, so they’re making decisions throughout the day based on a complete picture of their commitments. But what my research has shown is that most of us don’t do that – most people keep separate calendars and priority lists that they don’t refer to together throughout the day. Or actually they don’t even keep any kind of calendar, which is shocking to me.

SF: Because then you tend to be a lot more reactive and it’s hard to remain focused on the priorities – what really matters to you.

CY: Yes, exactly. So the tactics of work-life naturals that I just told you are not hard. And yet my research has shown that most of us don’t do any of those things.

SF: I guess that’s because the pressures from work seem much more intense, and we tend to give it priority, because the demands are greater. Why do you think that people don’t have calendars that represent all the commitments of their lives and instead tend to segment them and just have one for work?

CY: Here’s my theory: I think 20 years ago, when there were clocks and walls that separated work and life and clearly told us where work ended and other parts of life began, you could get away with thinking about the two as separate spheres. You could sort of skate by, and you’d be fine. You’d say “Okay, this is when I work, and this is when I take care of everything else.” But those clocks and walls are gone – technology and global competition have taken care of that. It’s just really hard for people to figure out where those boundaries are now. That combined calendar and priority list, though, is actually a way to begin to put some control up.

SF: Yes. Too many people are just reactive. The boundaries between work and the rest of life are created and managed now, in large measure, by ourselves, as opposed to by the clock on the wall.

CY: I think the problem of work overload is real. I think people are being asked to do a lot more. I think resources are tight, and I do not want to minimize that – however, I do think part of the challenge is that we as individuals have to start saying “yes,” intentionally, to more small things that are meaningful to us, which would help us be able to say a deliberate and thoughtful “no” where we have to.

Yost’s research illustrates that how we plan and prioritize our commitments can play a role in determining how in-control we feel over our work-life satisfaction. How do you schedule your responsibilities to your job, your family, your community, and to yourself? Are there certain segments of your life in which you feel the returns from your time input are more tangible and quantifiable, and therefore more immediately attractive? Are there any adjustments you can make in the way you plan and prioritize your commitments which might lead you to feel a greater sense of peace and accomplishment? Join us in the comments below with your thoughts and experiences.

To learn more about Yost’s work, you can check out her blog, read her book, or visit her organization’s website.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday, June 10at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Nancy Rothstein, The Sleep Ambassador, who’ll be talking about sleep and the lack of sleep affects work, and Sarah Sutton Fell, Founder and CEO of FlexJobs and 1 Million for Work Flexibility. Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Morgan Motzel Morgan Motzelis a rising undergraduate senior in the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business at Penn focusing on Management and Latin America.

 

Bring Your Humor to Work: Peter McGraw

Contributor: Morgan Motzel

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

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Peter McGraw, Director of the Humor Research Lab at the University of Colorado and author of the new book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny.  McGraw discussed insights from his research on the purpose and utility of humor in universal human interaction and shared proven strategies for using comedy to promote affinity, harmony, and innovation in the workplace.

Following are edited excerpts of Friedman’s conversation with McGraw:

Stew Friedman: How does the use of humor translate into the workplace? What was the most interesting insight you discovered about humor and its effect on work settings?

Peter McGraw: Peter McGrawFor one, I have come to the realization that work and play are not opposites – they are complementary. It’s certainly not the case that you could have a workplace that resembles the playground during recess, for example, because nothing would get done, but there’s good evidence that humor complements many of the things you want to get done in the workplace. One thing, for instance, is that people want to enjoy where they work. Good predictors of workplace retention are questions like – Do you have a best friend at work? Do you have a good relationship with you supervisor? Those kinds of things are facilitated by being able to have a good time and being able to have some fun. Workplaces are often stressful places, so being able to enjoy a few jokes along the way can help us get through the difficult times. Some of the work that we’ve been doing in the Humor Research Lab looks at “humor as complaining.” You take a situation that you are trying to complain about and instead you make humorous complaints about it. That tactic seems to be largely beneficial, especially when it comes to the idea of having other people support you.

SF: I think that idea could be helpful when put into practice. Some of our listeners might be interested in specific guidance on how to be funny in a way that is truly helpful as opposed to distancing people or alienating them with humor that is inappropriate or offensive.

PMG: That is always a big challenge because one of the things that follows from the perspective of humor as a “benign violation” is that humor can fail in one of two ways. First, an attempt to be funny can fail because you bore people – you don’t create sufficient enough violations. The worse failure, and the one that’s particularly a problem in the workplace, is that you fail to make a situation benign – you offend people or upset people.

SF: So, it’s better to be boring than offensive.

PMG: Certainly in the workplace, that is the case. We actually have two different names for these strategies which we talk about in The Humor Code. One that you can employ we call the Seinfeld strategy, named aptly after Jerry Seinfeld, who makes comedy out of nothing. His show is a show about nothing, where he basically points out what is wrong in the world. One of the nice things about this approach – and I think part of the reason why Jerry Seinfeld is so wildly popular and really doesn’t offend people very much – is that when he fails to be funny, Seinfeld just hasn’t created a sufficient enough violation. Instead, he just creates a benign situation. We call the other strategy the Silverman strategy, named after Sarah Silverman.  She starts with the violations and then has clever ways in which she makes those situations benign or okay, often putting them to a fun song, or saying them in a non-threatening sort of manner. The issue with this strategy, however, is that when Sarah fails, she commits a hate crime, and that’s really not a good place to be in the work environment.

My advice for the person who is eager to expand their comedic repertoire at work, especially folks in a management or a supervisory position, is to employ self-deprecation. When you engage in self-deprecation, you are essentially pointing out what is wrong with yourself, and by virtue of you doing it to yourself, you’re making that okay. Self-deprecation has two main benefits, which you often see in stand-up comedy. A lot of stand-ups begin their set by joking about the things that the audience can plainly see that seems wrong or amiss with them.

SF: Like how stupidly I dress or how ugly I am?

PMG: That’s right. So, first, that gets an initial laugh because it fits this idea of wrong-yet-okay very nicely – it’s a safe joke. But then, second, it also provides you some license, in that if you’re willing to criticize yourself that allows you to be able to criticize others.

SF: I see. So if you start with an opening where you are putting yourself down, that gives you license you to then have a critical voice toward others?

PMG: Yes, especially if you’re actually successful in making people laugh because that has even further benefits – we like funny people, and now we’re in a good mood, and so on.

SF: So that is a strategy people should try to employ; begin by making fun of themselves?

PMG: I do think that’s one good one. Another is finding a common enemy. For example, who or what is it that we all can agree upon and all of laugh about together? The real key when you think about humor in the workplace is that you want peoples’ jokes to be inclusive rather than exclusive – you want to bring people together, not push them apart. A clear guideline ends up being knowing and understanding your target. Yourself is a good target for you to choose because we can all laugh about that. It’s when you pick another person in the room, and some people are laughing and some people are not, when you could find yourself in trouble. You may be getting some laughs, but you also may be doing more harm than good.

Peter McGraw zeroes in on the benefits that well-placed humor can have for workplace effectiveness. , Research also indicates that humor can play a positive role in individual mental and physical health as well. Where have you seen the benefits of jokes, comedy, and laughter in your day-to-day being outside of work? Who and what are the biggest sources of humor you interact with in your personal life and how have they had a positive influence on your well-being? Join us in the comments below with your thoughts and experiences.

To learn more about McGraw’s work, you can check out his research, read his book, or visit his website at http://www.petermcgraw.org/

Join Work and Life next Tuesday, June 10 at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Nancy Rothstein, The Sleep Ambassador who’ll be talking about sleep and the lack of sleep affects work, and Sarah Sutton Fell, Founder and CEO of FlexJobs and 1 Million for Work Flexibility.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Morgan Motzel Morgan Motzelis a rising undergraduate senior in the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business at Penn focusing on Management and Latin America.

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