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Parenting Unfiltered helping Working Parents

Contributor: Jacob Adler

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

Ben Mand is Senior Vice President of Brand Marketing & Innovation at Plum Organics where he’s been instrumental in strengthening Plum’s core mission, developing the brand campaign, and the launch of more than 30 new products, helping to accelerate the brand from the #3 to the #1 organic baby food company. Prior to joining Plum, Ben worked in Marketing and Innovation roles at General Mills and Johnson & Johnson. While at General Mills, Ben made an impact as a change agent, driving improvements in health, sustainability, and social impact while delivering consistent sales and profit growth for well-known brands, including Progresso, Pillsbury, and Yoplait. He spoke with Stew Friedman about Plum Organic’s Parenting Unfiltered program and more.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation and the full podcast.

Stewart Friedman: Can you give us a brief introduction to the Plum Organics Parenting Unfiltered Campaign?

Ben Mand: Ben MandI have a nine-year-old and a six-year-old and so Parenting Unfiltered was very near and dear to my own heart as well as for my teams. One of the things that struck us as we thought about our brand and our role as a partner for parents, and as we looked at the marketplace, marketing, and what parents were posting on social media, was that a lot of those picture-perfect moments – and they’re something we all really enjoy and they’re great when the entire family is all facing camera, all smiling – are so rare when they actually happen.

SF: And this is one of the problems of social media; we’re all feeling bad about ourselves because everybody is else projecting the perfection of their lives.

BM: That’s exactly right. You see on social media an image of when you go to the Giants game, or the Phillies game, or whatever it might be, and that is a great moment. Those moments need to be embraced and cherished, of course. Our point was that’s really one percent of what really goes on. Our thought was to share and celebrate the realities of parenting – the good, the bad, the downright smelly, whatever it is – to reveal what’s real and embrace that. Our philosophy is there’s something real and amazing that comes from the other 99 percent as well. You bring up a really important point. You look at those perfect images, whether it be a marketing ad or things that are put on social media by other parents and you think that that is the norm. You see that as the standard and you reflect on the morning you had with your family, or the last week, and that picture perfect moment is such a rare moment. The other times it’s running late out the door and the kids haven’t finished their breakfast. There’s the myriad of things you faced as a family.  And what I think is important to recognize, and what I want parents to recognize, is what we see oftentimes in social media is just the one percent of what really happens and we all have our challenges. There’s so much to this parenting thing. If you love your kids and you’re doing the best you can, then chances are you’re doing a great job.

SF: The video, which is fantastic, comes in a couple of different lengths.  Where can people see it?

BM: You can see it on ParentingUnfiltered.comYouTube or on our Facebook page. Those are easy places to see it.

SF: So it’s Plum Organics Parenting Unfiltered. What is snapshot of what this video does?

BM: We spent time thinking of all the different moments that are really real, that cut through the classic, cliché beautiful moments, that are challenges, that we wanted to bring to life. Whether it be pumping at work for a mom, or that evening where you just sat down as a couple and you have a glass of wine and you’re just about to start doing some work and the baby monitor goes off and the baby is crying. You just look at each other and figure out whose turn it is. It’s just bringing to life those moments, which can be challenging.

SF: It brings to life the hard part, which is of course where so much of the sublime pleasure ultimately comes from. Your campaign is really a breakthrough in cutting past the gloss out there that makes so many people feel bad about themselves for failing to have the perfect family life as seen on Facebook. Where did the motivation come for this campaign and what’s the impact been?

BM: The motivation came from two places; business and personal. There are so many brands that have come out in the marketplace and how can we at Plum Organics stand out and be different? There was that functional business aspect of it. As we talked about it as a team, what really pained us, and this is definitely true for me, there’s so much judging that goes on and there’s so much guilt that goes with parenting and we wanted to be able to reveal that and tell parents that they’ve got this and that they shouldn’t feel like such failures. There was a personal element for us as well. We know that we’re not the only ones that feel this way. It was very therapeutic as we developed the campaign to recognize that it was really rewarding for us and helped unlock something inside. We felt there was an opportunity for us to do this with parents across the country as well.

SF: I’d love to hear more about how that unfolded, the dynamics among your team. You said it was therapeutic, can you say more about how “revealing the real” and somehow enhancing your acceptance of the real was useful to your team?

BM: As we were thinking through the different situations, we talked about things that often aren’t talked about in the workplace. You might, with one of your close colleagues, talk about these challenges or funny moments or challenging moments, but rarely in a bigger forum, and we talked about the challenges that comes with it.

SF: How did you do it? How did you make that happen with your colleagues?

BM: I think it comes from a leader standpoint. It had to come from me. I set the tone as to what is acceptable. Whether I recognize it or not, people take their cues from me. I do have a natural bias for being very transparent, so I shared these things and there are times where I’m late for work or I have to leave early, whatever it may be, and I’m very transparent about those situations. As we were discussing those things, I was pretty transparent with some of these challenges. When I talked about the husband and wife on the couch, it hit home hard for me because my wife and I have had those challenging moments where we both are trying to balance careers and being great parents. There are times where we figure out who needs time in front of the computer most. These were very real and raw resonant moments for me.

SF: By talking about the reality of tensions in your own family life and being able to fit all the pieces together, which is always a challenge, and encouraging and modeling that behavior for others, while you’re developing the campaign to display this, what are the kinds of things that other people shared that helped you to create the video? I’m also really interested to know how that changed how you worked together?

BM: I’ll start with how the elements came together for the video. As I think about, and this is not something I’ve personally had to deal with, but certainly pumping at work and how you store that even when you travel, I know my wife goes through it, that one was a no-brainer to be in the video because it was a real pain point. It is that very visceral challenge of on some level you need to be there for your little one and you want to be there for your little one, but you’re using this device and where do you do it. There were stories of being in the bathroom or various locations, there’s not always a great location to do it. If you’re traveling, how you store it and all those challenges. Those were some real moments for the team. Honestly, for me and for the team, our ability to talk about it really stems from the type of organization that we are. Our philosophy is to bring your own self to work. It actually has to start with universally being a real culture and having real conversations. When you have that as your foundation, it’s easier to be candid about the challenges of parenting.

For me, when I first started at this organization, this was the company I wanted to work for. One of the challenges of moving to the Bay Area is that it’s incredibly expensive and it’s tough to break into this market. We had two kids and one car. I rode my bike to work or took a bus or ran, which is kind of funny. I could use that run right now, as I do not work out nearly as much. I had to leave everyday by about 5:30 so I could catch a bus to get home so I could get the kids from the aftercare program, which closed right at 6, and usually I would have a couple minutes to spare. When we’re a small startup and we’re struggling to get by, I did often have these feelings that I was coming across as somehow letting the organization down or that they didn’t feel that I understood how much we had to do as an organization to survive.

SF: Was that in your head, or was that real for other people?

BM: It was in my head. I had a number of people, who after a while, pulled me aside and thanked me for doing that because they were struggling with the same things. For me, it was that I had to out of necessity. I had to pick up the kids and there were no two ways about it. It was good that it was forced that way. As a parent, I always struggle with being a great dad and doing a great job for my company and for my team. Those people were somewhat surprised that I would walk out the door at 5:30. One colleague told me that she had written and email but she would set it so that the email would not go out until 10:30 at night to signal she was burning the midnight oil, which never dawned on me. That’s the wrong behavior because it perpetuates what others feel that they have to then do. This campaign and how we’ve approached it has let us get real. Frankly, for some folks, they would say as you strive to have that integration and balance, how do you get things done? I would argue what it does is it takes the stress and guilt and it doesn’t take them completely away, but it certainly minimizes and reduces that. I think the performance is just as good, if not even stronger, because we’re honest about it and have provisions and flexibility so that parents can attend to the things that they need to and want to outside of work. When they’re able to do that, everyone is so much more committed. I’m far more productive and I feel the team is far more productive when they can be their whole self at work and know that they did the things they needed to do. This morning, I was in my daughter’s class and I worked on reading with her class. It was something I did before work, so I got to work 20 minutes late.

SF: How did that help your performance at work? Why would the people at Plum Organics be happy to know that you were doing that?

BM: One, I make every minute matter during the day and I find I’m much more productive. Two, I find ways to do the things I need to do and I’m also more selective in just making sure I’m present or participating in the things I need to participate in.

SF: You’re more focused and conscious of your real priorities, and of course, that helps everybody around you and it probably helps them to do the same.

BM: I think it does. I do see a change in behavior. I think it’s something you have to continually remind folks of, you have to be that positive role model as you much as you can, but I do see things change as an organization. I care about the long run, so I don’t want people to burn out. I want people to have the right kind of balance, and it’s different for each person. For some folks, if they have a longer commute then they’re working from home more days. For other folks, they want to come in super early and leave early. That’s fine. I find with each person it’s important to understand their situation and what means what to them, and find a solution that works for them and the organization.

SF: This is the work we’ve been doing at Wharton for 25 years, is to help people learn through our research, teaching, and practice, how to pursue what we call four-way wins. That is action that you can take that benefits your work, home, community, and yourself personally. One of the core ideas is that everybody’s different and everybody requires a different customized solution but everybody is also thinking about what they can do to make adjustments that are going to work for them personally for their families but also us as an organization. When you take that approach and you try to make it reality in your organization, you get exactly what you’ve been describing with your wonderful and really exemplary role model. You get enhanced commitment, you get prioritization, and people feel good about themselves at work. They’re more confident, they’re more able to innovate.  Congratulations on making that a reality and it’s so wonderful how you’ve woven that into this remarkable campaign. I wonder what sort of impact you’ve had on the marketplace in terms of your brand with the Unfiltered Campaign. What feedback and reaction have you gotten?

BM: It’s been overwhelmingly positive. A number of organizations that hold awards have awarded us with best social, best video campaign of the year. That’s because it’s so resonant; it actually addresses something that’s very real for parents. That certainly has been positive. For me, I found it really rewarding looking through the comments and reading what people are saying, it really is positive that they see themselves in this and they recognize that this is what parenting is. It’s endearing to see couples sharing it back and forth. Knowing that at the end of the day, we’re partners and advocates for parents and our job is to make each step better and easier for them. We do that from a product standpoint, but certainly we want to do that from a soul, mind, and body standpoint.  So if we can take some of that judgment away and help them understand they’re in the same boat as all the rest of us, then we’re successful.

SF: It’s such a powerful idea and it’s incredibly well-executed to make people feel less guilty for not being the perfect parent, and making normal the messiness. It’s a wonderful public service and it seems like such a natural and brilliant way to convey what you brand is about. I congratulate you and have great admiration for what you’ve done with this campaign. What’s next for Plum Organics? How are you going to build on this?

BM: We feel it’s an ongoing conversation. We started this journey a year ago and we’ve done a number of different things, and we’re going to continue the conversation. There are a number of smaller moments, conversations — Mother’s   Day, Father’s Day – we have some great ways to break through with parents and continue this notion of Parenting Unfiltered to bigger moment that we think will come later in the year.

About the Author

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


Genentech’s purpose-driven culture

Contributor: Jacob Adler

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

Nancy Vitale is the Vice President of Human Resources for Genentech and Regional Human Resources Head for Roche Pharma North America. She leads a team of nearly 200 HR professionals dedicated to creating a great place for the organization’s 14,000+ employees to do their best work.  Before Genentech Nancy held high level HR positions at Gillette, P & G, and Deloitte Consulting.

The following are edited excerpts of her conversation with Stew Friedman. Full podcast.

Stewart Friedman: Genentech often lands on the Best Places to Work for lists. What’s the secret to your success?

Nancy Vitale: Nancy VitaleWe make medicines to treat some of the world’s most challenging diseases. This includes discovering, developing, manufacturing medicines. This year, we’re celebrating our 40th anniversary. One of our secrets to the success of being a Best Place to Work for is our culture. That is the secret sauce. We’ve been dedicated to creating a connected, inspiring culture for the 14,000 employees who come to work everyday and deliver on that mission to help people who suffer from serious diseases. We’ve been pushing scientific boundaries for almost 40 years, and given this, we’re also aware that success as an organization is tied directly to engagement and resilience of our employees.

SF: A lot of companies talk about creating a culture that engages and supports people, about resilience in the face of adversity, and about things like the capacity to persist, be creative, and diligent in getting important work done. Let’s drill down a little further on that.  Nancy, if you could tell our listeners some of the things that you do to ensure that you’ve got the kind of culture that does have that kind of impact.

NV: A lot of companies will point to programs and benefits and specific offerings, but I’d say the thing that is most meaningful to us is clarity of mission and purpose. It’s actually one of the most fundamental components, in my opinion, to building a great place to work and a healthy culture. For us, people who can anchor to our mission, focus on creating, discovering, developing medicines that can treat individuals, they feel passionate about that. Our employees absolutely feel passionate about the work that we do. It helps them to remain engaged, find joy in their work, it’s very much part of the fabric of who they are, even in times of change and uncertainty. For us, it’s clarity of mission. It’s always focused on being science-driven, patient-centered. These are important pillars to our culture and we know that inspires our employees.

SF: What’s so interesting about that is that you demonstrated that in your first words to me. The first thing you talked about was the purpose of your company and what you do, so it’s clear to me in the way you spoke about it that you take this seriously and personally and it did seem to infuse your words with a sense of pride.

NV: No matter who you would ask, they would point to that. It could be a manufacturing technician, it could be a scientist, or a business partner. I think that’s what binds us all, is this community of individuals trying to deliver on our mission each and every day.

SF: It’s such an important element of what makes for a culture that truly does draw on the passions and interests of people.  Having worked in this field for 30+ years, I can recall in the mid-80s that many of the leading firms that were in the vanguard of change – thinking and acting differently about work and the rest of life – were in the pharma business and it’s in part for this very reason. There’s a direct connection between the mission of providing life-giving services and treatments with the inspiration that people look for at work. It’s not surprising that you find that in the pharma industry.

NV: I think you’re right. For me, I’ve worked at Genentech almost 10 years and it’s the longest I’ve worked at any place. I think that speaks to the personal level of connection that people have with our company.

SF: How do you make clear the purpose and mission in such a way that each and every one of those 14,000 people feels like it’s his or her own?

NV:. There are banners that greet employees in every campus that they go to. We bring in patient speakers that are a regular reminder of why we come to work, speaking to the employees about the impact that the medicines have had on them. Our scientists are expected to publish papers and to share their research openly, so there is clear evidence of what we do and how we keep those elements of the culture and mission in front of the workforce.

SF: You bring in patients that have benefitted from your medicines?

NV: That’s right.

SF: To talk to research scientists, to talk to HR people?

NV: Everyone. In fact, every other year we have an event where anyone can sign up to attend and we bring in about a dozen different patients who are being treated with a number of different medicines that we make. But many functions, when they have a town hall or a big event, will bring in a patient speaker for that particular one. It doesn’t matter the function you’re in, it’s a long-standing practice that we have.

SF: What an awesome idea, and it’s one that must seem very natural to the people in your organization now.

NV: Typically, there’s not a dry eye in the audience because going back to your comment, the emotional connection that people have when they feel that they’re part of something bigger. They understand that their efforts are contributing to something bigger and having a big impact on society at large.

SF: Everybody wants that and we know especially young people today are demanding that in their workplaces.  So you find organizations of all types – financial services companies, tech companies, manufacturing companies – all trying to do what you’re doing. How do you translate this idea of clarity of mission and purpose to impact and significance of the work itself? How would you transfer that to other organizations where it’s not so obvious?

NV: I think going back to this notion of culture, there is no right or wrong recipe for a great corporate culture. For individuals outside of biotech or pharma industry who may not have that view of what it is as a patient they’re serving, I think going back to an understanding of what is our specific mission, understanding the values, the customs, the creations, the achievements and failures of the different individuals within that organization that really do define the culture. I think companies evolve. Some of the lessons that we’ve had might be applicable to other folks in other industries as a leadership team to take a self-examination of what is the culture you’re aspiring to versus the culture you are experiencing in the day-to-day and understanding what you need to do to nurture the culture, the work environment. That’s instilling a mission that resonates with your people. What is the purpose that unites all the employees that make up a particular organization? Inspecting that culture for cracks in the foundation, where are we missing in terms of expected and actual culture? For us, a lot of that has started from the top. We’ve had conversations at our executive committee about the type of culture we want, recognizing that we also need to evolve that culture, and rewarding employees for the behaviors that reflect the culture that we aspire to. Those would be the few applicable lessons that I would say apply to any industry.

SF: Absolutely, but not easy to implement. The idea of focusing in any kind of organization on why we are here, what we stand for, the impact that we’re trying to have on making the world better in some way and being super clear about that and as you said, inspecting for cracks in the foundation, I think that’s a powerful, marvelous idea, but one that requires a serious commitment, time and energy, to look at and to be willing to be wrong or find problems and invest in not only finding them but to fix them. Most companies would find it difficult to sustain that sort of commitment. What drives your company to take that issue so seriously?

NV: It’s a recognition and acknowledgment of what’s the secret to Genentech’s success. I think there’s a clear acknowledgment from our founders 40 years ago that it was about the people, it was about the individuals that come to work everyday. One of our founders I think once said the greatest asset of our company walks out in sneakers everyday at the end of the day and I think that has carried thtrough. But I think that you’re right, it is a discipline. It’s the rigor and discipline that goes into that inspection. We’ve looked at a number of different sources of information and we constantly examine those different sources of information, whether it’s engagement surveys or external surveys and recognition that we receive, or information on a site like Glassdoor that might inform in a simple way. Is there a crack in the foundation? Is there an opportunity, something that needs attention? And you’re right. It is a discipline, but I think it’s part of who we are for the 40 years that we’ve been a company.

SF: When you think about how you want your employees to live and to work, what’s your conception for how you make real the value proposition of embracing the whole person and investing in who each individual is and what they can bring that’s unique to them and also enables them to live the kind of life they want to lead?

NV: I think you raise a very important point. In order for people to do their best work, we need to support them as a whole person … in their work and life so they can bring their best self to everything that we do. One of the things we’re continuously reinforcing is these wellbeing pillars that we have adopted from a book called Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements by coauthors Tom Rath and Jim Harter. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that work, but these pillars are centered around career well-being and social wellbeing, financial wellbeing, community and physical. These five pillars encourage people to understand their own level of wellbeing within each area of focus, because this can be something very much personal to the individual. How do I seek my own level of wellbeing? It’s about providing resources for people to explore that, a framework where people can better understand for themselves how they’re doing against these five areas of focus.

SF: You’ve also done some investment in facilities that provide resources for people to take care of themselves, is that right?

NV: That’s right. Our headquarters is in San Francisco, California and we’re actually building an expanded employee center. This center will house an expanded medical clinic that people can go get primary care services, preventative screenings, an expanded fitness center, so gym memberships are free to every Genentech employee. They can go in at lunchtime, before work, after work, whatever is convenient for them. There is also a career lab, which is an actual lab where people can explore their development desires, career development aspirations, they can have one-on-one consultations with a career coach.

SF: That’s cool. So that’s part of the wellness center?

NV: It’s part of this employee center, which is this anchor around wellbeing. We’re trying to touch upon each of these five elements within this one center, but the biggest part of it is the physical wellbeing.

SF: Yes, because that is core to everyone’s vitality and sustainable engagement, right?

NV: Right, and I say for us specifically, as we’ve been looking at this in taking a particular look at total healthcare strategy for our organization, we found that as a healthcare company, less than half our employees were getting the preventative screenings that they should get. One of the things that is challenging for that is people will say they’re too busy to go get the screenings. We’re trying to put convenience in the equation, and if you can get to the employee center readily, it’s easy for you, we anticipate that we’ll see more adherence to people getting preventative screenings.

SF: Of course, that reduces your total healthcare cost structure, right?

NV: Yeah, I’d say that’s not a major driver, it’s more centered around improving the overall health of our employees. It’s also centered around addressing the healthcare needs of employees. And you’re right that doing it could potentially reduce the overall cost.

SF: I actually wasn’t surprised by the relatively low participation rate in the total healthcare offerings because that’s typical for many companies. What else are you doing besides convenience to ensure that people take advantage of health screenings and services?

NV: There’s a lot of different theories on how to approach this notion of wellbeing and wellness and as I said, the journey of each individual is very personal. Interestingly enough, I discovered my own journey last year and some of the challenges that I experienced. Last year, I was diagnosed with very early-stage breast cancer, and it was caught during a routine mammogram screening. Early diagnosis is one key in treating a disease like cancer, and after a successful surgery, I’m going to frequent screenings, hormone therapy, and I’m doing really well. What this taught me is that my own cancer diagnosis made me think about our employees and ask this question about why aren’t people putting as much time and energy into their own health as they do the health of the patients we serve, going back to the mission. This last year, we’ve take on a renewed focus on this physical wellness component and people getting preventative screenings. One of our efforts has been in people sharing their own stories and leaders talking about their own wellbeing. I just did with you but I did with the masses at Genentech last year and had a feature story in our company intranet. The point of me doing that was to spark action by sharing my personal story and the impact it’s had on me. I don’t have any data to say we’ve jumped up that number from 50% to 80% but I think we’re on a good trend. Anecdotally, I had an employee reach out to me and say because you shared your story I went in for an overdue mammogram. She was three years overdue and something was uncovered, she was diagnosed with an early-stage breast cancer, and she said you made a difference in at least one person’s life. That was the point.

SF:  Why do people undervalue their own health, as a business issue? Why is it that people are so reluctant to invest the time and energy needed to take care of themselves?

NV: It’s a great question, and part of it is that we get caught up in the day-to-day. The frequent thing that we neglect is our self. It does take a commitment as a parent, as a partner, to focus on others. As a leader, I’m focused on my employees. But I think what we neglect to realize is that fundamentally, the first person we should be taking care of is our self, and we’ll have a lot more to offer to others. That’s why I think sharing personal stories and being open about this as a topic and role-modeling the behaviors that we desire is so important for us as leaders.

SF: For sure, and if you go a little bit further, what is the main inhibitor or barrier for people to take seriously the commitment to their own health? What do you see as the most important issue there?

NV: I think people will point to time and convenience, and that’s part of our focus and my hope is that other employers will focus on it as well. How do you create convenience for people to take care of themselves, how do you create flexibility for people to take care of themselves, how do you expect that people will take care of themselves, and how do you role-model that? Those are the things, when you talk about programs and offerings that can have a meaningful difference, is helping folks to focus on that number one person, and that’s themselves for their health.

SF: As you look to the future, what’s the most exciting to you as you think about how your company is going to evolve over the next five years in terms of its culture?

NV: As I said, this year we’re celebrating our 40th anniversary and it’s exciting for us to look and see what are the things we need to continue to nurture. So 40 years of successful history, how do we continue to nurture those elements but how do we also continue to evolve as an organization. What’s most exciting to me personally, as I think about our workforce, is how energized and passionate I know our people are about the company’s mission. I see that growing with the evolving healthcare landscape. For me, I’m excited about the possibilities as I think about our pipeline and making medicines that will help people facing these very daunting diseases.

About the Author

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

Success and why the process matters — Joel Brockner

Contributor: Jacob Adler

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

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

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

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

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

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

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

SF: Yes, please define that for us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SF: Some investment is required in a good process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

Myths of Aging and the Workplace with Sarah Kagan

Sarah H. Kagan is the Lucy Walker Honorary Term Professor of Gerontological Nursing at Penn, Gerontological Clinical Nurse Specialist in the Living Well Program at the Joan Karnell Cancer Center – Pennsylvania Hospital. She’s Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Older People Nursing.   She is the recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship.  She spoke with Stew Friedman on his Wharton Sirius XM radio show Work and Life about aging, work and retirement.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Sarah Kagan: Sarah KaganI almost could not hold myself back when you asked listeners, “Are you aging? One of things I always like to start with is we’ve got to remember that aging isn’t an us/them thing, we’re all aging – biologically, psychologically, and socially – from the time we’re born. We call it development when we’re babies, but that’s an aging process.

Stewart Friedman: Sarah, are you saying there’s a bias about aging?

SK: If you’re talking about development across our lives, where we call it development when we’re young but aging when we reach some mythical point, that mythical point is a big topic for debate. Or, if we’re talking about how our careers will proceed, recognizing retirement is just a horrible idea for our health and wellbeing, and not so great for workforces because if we push older workers out, we tend to deplete the workforce of wisdom and experience.

SF: Why is retirement a horrible idea?

SK: When I talk about retirement, I talk about that mid-20th-century notion that “I’ve had my working life, I’m going to kick back and relax.” The minute you kick back and relax, you generally lose purpose and motivation and a lot of health problems actually start cropping up.  People think, “I’m so glad I retired,” but, in fact, it’s probably related to the stress of not working.  And then you have the issues of not having meaning, not having purpose, and not finding that balance and harmony.

SF: If work provides meaning and a sense of purpose and structure to one’s life, then it’s unwise to give it up as you get older even though you may have less energy and less stamina?

SK: I think there’s a bias in the idea that you lose energy and you lose stamina. Typically, what we’re finding is there are lots of studies pointing not to loss of stamina, loss of energy, loss of endurance, but rather that we’re not maintaining physical and mental health and wellbeing as we get into our seventh, eighth, and ninth decades of life. If we return to fitness, we find energy resurgence.  We find that stamina can be built over time.  I say to people, don’t think about a single career anymore. If your life expectancy at age 65 is another 20 years, do you really want to say ‘well, what lies ahead of me for these next two decades?’ That’s a lot of time, I’d suggest ‘where do I want to go next, what’s my next career, the next phase of my working life?’

SF: Do you think it’s a bad idea for companies to have retirement policies that require people to depart at a certain age?

SK: Being a nurse and not a businessperson, I’ll say yes. I really don’t think that makes a lot of sense if you think about mandatory retirement ages as opposed to different career options.  Someone with a particular set of experience or a specialized expertise can go on and do something that was different from what they’ve been doing for the past 40 years. It gives the company opportunities with a workforce that I think is much more robust.

SF: More robust than generally given credit for, is that what you mean?

SK: Absolutely, because if you think about our ageist assumptions about stamina and energy in later life, what we tend to think is that older workers are not terribly productive, but there’s a whole lot of science that says exactly the opposite.

SF: You’re saying as people age they become more productive?

SK: They become more productive or differentially productive. Depending on which industry you’re talking about and I’m not an expert on retirement, I tend to say to look at this science that suggests folks are contributing differently as they grow in their careers as they age.

SF: Sarah, you write a column called The Myths of Aging. What are the biggest myths?

SK: You’ve hit on one of them, which is it’s basically a process of physical decline. You’re going to lose strength, you’re going to lose energy, you’re going to lose endurance, but we have perhaps an even more pervasive myth that your mind will go, that you’ll become a dotty old person. How often had you had colleagues or acquaintances talk about a senior moment when they forget something? That longer processing time that many of us notice as we’re getting older is more akin to your computer’s memory being really full than it is about the health of your brain. It’s essentially that the older you are, the greater your fund of knowledge and the more time it takes to sort through the possible correct answers for what the question is, than it is a problem of brain function.

SF: And processing capacity, it doesn’t slow down with age like muscles and neurological connections in your brain?

SK: You can’t say that globally, mental function declines with age. There are certain changes that we notice. Slowed processing time is one of them, but it’s probably related to something that’s much more positive. The older you get, the more you know. You know too much, it’s going to take time to think through things. That’s not a deficit.

SF: No, especially when you have more wisdom and reason to consider all the different perspectives on an issue. When I think of a senior moment, I think of forgetfulness.

SK: Forgetfulness is typically more an issue of overload and multitasking. You know better than I the science that says multitasking doesn’t work well. It slows you down, it’s poor for production, and it degrades your sense of feeling good about yourself. There are lots of reasons not to multitask, chief among them it will be easier to remember where you put your car keys fi you’re not multitasking when you put them down at the end of the day.

SF: Of course, one thing at a time. We talk about that on this show, the myth of multitasking and how the brain really does only one thing at once and how costly it is to shift from one thing to another. Aren’t those costs greater for people who are older? I find that my short-term memory is not as sharp at age 63. I have a thought of something I want to do, like here’s a person I want to call. I go ahead and finish washing the dishes. And then when I finish washing the dishes, I know that there was something important I wanted to do before I started washing the dishes, but because I didn’t record it on my list, I don’t remember what it was!

SK: I do hear that from a lot of folks. Without getting into specifics of the neuroscience, that’s probably pretty normal. It is to some extent an age-related change and for any neuroscientists out there who study aging, forgive me because I’m treading into territory that’s not my specific expertise. One of the things that we don’t have definitive science about is comparing your 30-year-old self and what you were doing, the responsibilities you had, all the things that were going on in your life with where the 63-year-old Stew is, and how the competing demands on your brain’s energy are taxing you in that particular moment. While we’re more likely to say what was that I wanted to do next, more often as we age, that doesn’t seem to be pathological. There are specific indicators that you should consider when you do question if you have a brain problem, and those are easily located. My favorite resource for determining if you should check it out is the Alzheimer’s Association. I think their website is really fabulous and they have great resources, both for people who have questions about if one’s aging brain is healthy and for people who are dealing with dementia, and many families are. Many sandwiched daughters and sons are dealing with just that. It helps to answer those questions. If you’re worried about that, they have some great resources. I will also say on the flip side of that, try not to listen to the ad-hoc anecdotes. Those kinds of personal experiences, as well meaning as they are, tend to do something that I think distracts from our health and well-being as we age and that is they add to the list of things that we get stressed about. If you have a worry list about what to get stressed about as you get older, one of the first things I’d say to you is stress is probably not good as you’re aging and that includes digital stress, which is why I really love the idea of digital detox. Don’t sleep with the phone, folks. Turn the TV and the music off. Take the earbuds out and just be quiet. No matter what age you are, it’s really good.

SF: What are some more prevailing myths that are pernicious and destructive?

SK: This is particularly true for people who are health-conscious: if I don’t eat exactly right and exercise exactly this way, I will probably age really badly. Moderation, harmony, and balance are good in work and life. They’re even better in exercise and nutrition. Keeping your body in motion, eating a healthy diet that is not extreme and that you enjoy is a terrific idea. Food should be something that is really good. If you’ve ever had a loved one in the hospital or a nursing home and they’ve been given a nutritional supplement to drink and said blegh, folks will take the supplement and the taste is not there. People are supposed to enjoy food and not see it as work and medicine.

SF: One of the myths is that you need to be upgrading your diet. Reducing stress is a much more important goal.

SK: Taking stressors out of your life is so important. And that connects with a myth that as you get older you become socially isolated and feel lonelier and lonelier. What we know is that as we age, rewarding social connections make a huge difference, and that’s one of the reasons work is so important in later life.

SF: To stay connected to other people through the connections we have at work. What is the correct way to talk about people who are older? Is it senior citizens, elders, wise people? What do you say?

SK: My favorite one is people. PBS Next Avenue had a poll on this, and I had not checked their results about what was the favorite term. Depending on which audience I’m with, I’ll say elder or older person.  I’m talking about people 75 or older, and some prefer seniors. I’ll commonly ask which term the person likes. I don’t know how it’s going to look in 30 years. I think that while we speak about children and adolescents and now young or emerging adults, we do that with a particular eye toward capacity and encouragement. You’re going to grow into this. I’d like to think that we could have the same kind of notion that you’ll grow into the next stage of your later life in a positive way.

SF: Expansively rather than in a declining way. How do we do that? As a child of aging parents, how do I do that? As a boss in an organization where I have older people working for me, what are the kinds of things to make sure I say so I can be speaking expansively rather than decliningly about people growing older?

SK: Let’s start personally, because I think one of the best ways to connect with our own invisible ageism is to recognize when and where we do it. My mom’s 83 and I’m 30 years younger than she is. I’m pleased to say that she survived cancer, a stroke, and two hip replacements. She lives by herself as a widow of several years in rural Michigan with two dogs. She volunteers three days a week, drives herself, everything’s honky dory, and by that I mean my mom’s living a life that she loves. Part of what I’ve had to remember is there are times when people say to me, How can you bear to live hundreds of miles away from your mom?” My mother would be the first to say, “I’d rather be dead than live with you, you’re such a bossy nurse.” My mother, when she had her first hip replacement, fired me as her nurse. She said, “It’s alright dear, you have a lot of work to do in Pennsylvania.”

SF: It sounds as though your mom is doing well. What can others, individuals do?

SK: This idea that people are having to create their own paths through a maze of health and social care isn’t really working well for anyone. For anyone who’s interested in advocacy, business, and health policy in particular, we’ve really got to see shifts in how we’re thinking about things. We’re a society that separates healthcare and social care. For example, if mom needs a homemaker a few hours a week, you’ve got to pay for that privately unless you’re very impoverished. That’s a tough situation to be in because many of us actually need some help at home. We also are seeing increasing concerns about how far should I go and how far should I plan for the kind of care I need if I’m truly very ill toward the end of my life. People have a lot of anxiety and don’t feel comfortable in many cases speaking with their physicians and nurse practitioners about what’s possible and what they want.

SF: These are questions that you need to bring to your representatives so they can produce the kind of social policy that’s going to provide the support that people need. We’ve got Monroe calling from Washington, D.C. Monroe, welcome to the show. How can we help you?

Monroe: I have a suggestion for how to refer to older people. In IT, when you’re dealing with an older system, we call those legacies. We could call them legacy people, legacy employees.

SF: We’re nodding are heads here, that’s interesting. But legacy systems have already outlived their usefulness, correct?

Monroe: One of the things I wanted to tie into what she was saying about looking into all the options, it is hard. I’m 40 years old and I’m at that age where there are people whose parents are starting to pass. Between 40 and 50 years old, many parents are 70 or 80. You’re viewing this and for those who try to be there for their mom or dad, sometimes as they get older they start to revert and become children themselves. We’re talking about maybe looking at a care home as an option or in-home care, which is a big business nowadays, that’s expensive. There are so many ways this conversation could go. With all the ways the conversation could go, I’d love to know the family unit in the USA and how if there was a stronger family unit, how all of these different nuances and complications would come down to nothingness?

SF: It’s different around the world. Monroe, let me jump in here and ask Professor Kagan to see if she could respond to how the family unit has evolved in America and what problems that’s creating and how there is opportunity to change to strengthen the family unit across generations.

SK: The question is one that I hear very often, and I hear it in a lot of different places. I teach for the University of Pennsylvania in Hong Kong every year.  We have a lot of national caregiving data that shows that most families actually do care for their own. When we’re thinking about people in nursing homes, for the most part people are living in nursing homes or in other institutions in later life primarily because they’ve outlived everybody else. Occasionally, it’s because they didn’t have a strong family or social network. Recognize that only about three or four percent of our older American population, that is people over 65, are living in an institution at any given time. That number shifts a lot because folks will go into a skilled nursing facility after surgery for example, but it’s important to recognize that most families are actually doing most of the care for older people.  We’re seeing big trends in older people actually caring for other family members. We have reached a peak in the number of grandparents who are actually providing primary care to children in their families.

SF: More and more grandparents are being called upon because with dual-earner families, where you have both mom and dad working, who’s going to care for the kids? Without sufficient childcare being provided by either the private sector or the public sector, who’s there? Grandma and grandpa. How’s that playing out?

SK: It’s playing out in lots of ways that are related to overall level of family income, because a number of older people, folks in the silent and mature generations, lost a lot of retirement income in the economic downturn. The mature generation are those who fought in World War II or are of that age. The silent generation or the greatest generation were just after them, the folks who were children and remember World War II and the Depression pretty vividly but were not old enough to fight. They probably were in the Korean War. Those are generations of people who got hit hard by the economic downturn in 2007-2008. They’ve often had to return to work, not out of choice but because they’ve had to financially. Now they have these competing demands. That can take a toll on their health as they’re trying to take care of the grandkids and then all of the sudden I’ve got to keep working at least part-time.  Then when am I going to find time to take care of myself? We see that with sandwiched daughters as well, who will make choices to care for others rather than caring for themselves first.

SF: Of course, you can’t care for other people if you’re not healthy yourself. Put that mask on in the airplane before helping the people who need air around you. What advice do you have for families where the grandparents are primary caregivers?

SK: I like to encourage people to think creatively. Most of these families are relying on that economic foundation to ensure that everybody is taken care of, but getting together for a family conclave or a family meeting is often a good strategy to check in. Don’t make it a let’s not talk to each other in a big way until there’s a crisis, but let’s try to do some proactive planning. That means don’t imagine that you can have a one-and-done conversation when things get tough. Keep talking to each other, keep the lines of communication open. Say the stuff that’s difficult like, Thanks, mom. I couldn’t work without you taking care of the kids, but I want to know is there something I can do for you?Those kinds of simple statements can be very helpful.

SF: If you have a question about how to enlist your parents as sources of childcare and sustain them in that role — if you’re a single parent or a parent in a family where both parents are working and you want your parents to be a part of your own children’s lives — what can you do to make sure that the cross-generational source of support from your parents to your kids works? That’s an increasingly important aspect of success in our business world as more and more couples are both working parents.

SK: I’ll tie it back to being heavily-scheduled or over-scheduled and relying on lots of technology. Texting to organize things, particularly if you have a parent who, as a caregiver for your kids, is cool with texting, those are terrific opportunities. But one of the things to think about is that having your parents and your kids spend time together is an unmissable opportunity. Maybe the ballet lessons go, or the second baseball team or the traveling basketball team are things you say no to for a time because your kids are going to have an experience with your parents that they’re going to remember for the rest of their lives.

SF: That’s great advice. What else should people know as they’re trying to work through this, because I have heard, at least very recently, of one family where the grandmother and grandfather aren’t doing a good enough job with the child? What do you do in that situation? You want to sustain that relationship, but you don’t want it to go sour?


SK: So grandma and grandpa are finding that their schedules are too busy.

SF: It’s not as much that they’re unavailable, it’s more that the grandparents are not managing the child’s behavior in the way that the parents would want.

SK: There are a number of varying situational pieces there. What are the finances? What are the options for after-school care and other stuff? How do you sit down with your parents and say look, my daughter just loves spending time with her grandparents. She’s more your granddaughter than she is my daughter sometimes and I’m getting comfortable with that because I know that spending time with you is very important to who she is as a person. But, I also recognize that you have lives that are really important to you, so what do you think we can do here? I think that we forget that intergenerational communication is like any other conversation and negotiation. If you’re asking your parents to do something for you at the age of 45, you can’t go with the ageist assumption come on, you retired five years ago, what could be so important? Your parents and you have always been juggling your own needs as individuals. Aging doesn’t change that.

SF: I want to shift gears a bit here. Back to the workplace, what can companies do to create the kind of culture of respect for not just people who are growing older, but for those who care for them?

SK: I think that’s a critical question for us today because too often business has been, as the product of larger society, okay with implicit or even explicit ageism, stuff that says younger is better. I’ve spoken with people in different industries about what ageism is and how and when it happens in their industry and I’ve heard lots of different permutations of specific ages, particular tasks, and technologic currency. My first step is to unpack, to reflect, and then to say if I take an explicitly purposeful, positive approach like that expansive approach you mentioned earlier, what do I actually see. If I force myself to turn around from the assumption that aging means decline and incapacity and say what is it that the oldest people I know give, do, share, just list them and put it down, I think what you’ll find is you’ll discover things that weren’t readily apparent.

SF: What type of things will typically emerge from a conversation like that?

SK: Typically, I hear things like you’re right, because I have a friend in her nineties who’s taught me to be much more patient and in being more patient I’ve seen options in a work task that I hadn’t seen before. Sometimes I hear the older members of our team really set a tone for civility and inclusiveness. I find that many millennials have friends in the mature and silent generations. I hear, increasingly from my students at Penn Nursing, that they’ve grown up with people who are in their tenth and eleventh decades of life, so they see that as normal.

SF: That’s interesting. So how does that shape the attitudes of young people towards older people, who are going to be more common in the workplace? There was a piece in the Wall Street Journal which was about how older women are reshaping the US job market. In 1992, one in 12 women worked past the age of 65. That number is now one in seven. With millennials being more accustomed to relating to people who are older, how do you see these demographic shifts playing out?

SK: What I hear from many millennials is they’re just people. I grew up with my grandmother, I don’t think that age is a really big issue. I think that millennials are probably downplaying categories and are very interested in relationships. In fact, I’m working with my two Nursing Benjamin Franklin Scholars seniors (elite students at the University of Pennsylvania) and they’re doing a great job looking at intergenerational values in nursing and healthcare, surveying all of our students. What they have been talking with me about is that their generation is commonly misjudged as not being terribly serious, perhaps being flighty or going from job to job, but what they’ve emphasized to me is that they’re looking for sustaining and valued relationships in workplaces. That’s something that fits really well with an aging demographic.

SF: What can companies do to make those connections more active, alive, and mutually enriching?

SK: Think about the idea that in general, we don’t put age in our diversity plan. I think that age and generation should be in our diversity plan.

SF: It is for some companies, diversity and inclusion includes intergenerational.

SK: I look explicitly at partnering youngest generations with oldest generations seeing value. Typically, I stay away from these streams but I would like to see us put millennials together with matures and silents much more often because they’re going to offer innovation that the midrange doesn’t really see.

SF: Well there’s an idea for you if you are in some way influential in your organization and thinking of ways to create connections among people in your organization that aren’t obvious, linking the young and the old in ways that are mutually beneficial is something to consider. Professor Kagan suggests you’ll see benefits such as a more inclusive environment and more innovation. Sarah, what do you want to leave our listeners with in terms of the most important message?

SK: I’d like to encourage people to embrace aging, to stop thinking about aging as an us/them thing. The joke is that old is 10 years older than I am right now. We all hope to live a long, productive, and happy life, but in order to do that what we should consider is we’ll have to confront the internal ageism we have, that self-stereotyping that is probably an unaddressed fear of our future self. Love your future self, if that’s not too corny, and say how am I going to get to know you a little better. That will help you plan, that will help you be. Meditate, be peaceful, and avoid the crisis approach to oh my god, I’m old. What am I going to do now? I don’t know what to do —  whether it’s with my old eyes, my aging brain, or my tired body. Try to think about liking your older self and who you would like your older self to be.

SF: That is a wonderful piece of wisdom that I will certainly take to heart because it’s not the way I usually think. I could see how that bias is one that’s probably pretty common. People fear death as it gets closer.

SK: Yeah, and I think they fear that period that they imagine to be just before death, but if we spend just a little time then we might not be as fearful and we might be able to imagine what it is we do and don’t want.

To hear more from Professor Sarah Kagan and aging follow her on Twitter @SarahHKagan.

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

Syd Finkelstein’s Superbosses: Investing in People

Contributor: Jacob Adler

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

Sydney Finkelstein, Steven Roth Professor of Management at Dartmouth College and author of Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent. He spoke with Stew about how to invest in people and nurture talent.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation. Here’s the full interview.


Stewart Friedman: What separates good bosses from the best bosses from the superbosses?

Sydney Finkelstein: Syd FinkelsteinGood bosses will do some of the same things as a superboss, but superbosses will do everything more intensely. For example, mentoring is a well-known idea. If you have a good boss, they’ll give you some advice and help you navigate the organizational system. But superbosses are super mentors, mentors on steroids. They’re always engaged, always interacting with you.  And they do more things in a more intense way and also do some stuff that very few good bosses do.

Stewart Friedman: What is it that separates what you refer to as the superbosses from merely good bosses?

Sydney Finkelstein: There are a bunch of things and one is apprenticeship. That’s the way everyone learned their craft for centuries but its gone by the wayside over the past 100 years. What superbosses have done is resurrect the old apprenticeship model where you’re rolling up your sleeves and working with people on your team, you’re engaged with them closely, you’re not quite going as far as micromanaging, but you’re also not afraid to get in the trenches with them. You’re a teacher, you’re a coach, and it’s like the master/apprentice relationship. That’s something that’s maybe not as common as we’d like to see it, but superbosses certainly do that. One other thing that is a big highlight of what they do is they are big-time innovators. They innovate in their business work, whether it’s George Lucas with digital technology for film, whether it’s a Ralph Lauren in fashion and his innovations redefining what the lifetime of fashion could be, or Julian Robertson in hedge funds, they are big-time innovators in their business and how they think about people. I think that’s combination that’s pretty impressive and one we can learn from.

Stewart Friedman: You’re saying innovators, in terms of how they deal with people, lead them, cultivate them, in what ways are they innovative?

Sydney Finkelstein: One is how they find talent. Most companies have a model in place, and the model is let’s identify what we need, come up with a job description, and go through lots of resumes and interviewing and pick the person who checks the most boxes and is the most impressive in that process. It’s not that superbosses will never do that. In a large company, you have to do that for some of these norms. But superbosses do something different, which is they’re willing to create a job for someone who they think is the right person, and I know the shuddering that’s going on in the HR community hearing that, but that’s what they do. They’re willing to create the job, and there are a lot of good stories from Ralph Lauren finding a woman at a restaurant and getting excited about how she was getting dressed and thought about clothes. Next thing you know, he’s offering her a job. For Bill Walsh, the former San Francisco 49ers head coach, who really gave birth to many of the head coaches in the NFL and how he thought about drafting. He would create opportunities for people that wouldn’t fit the mold of what most people are looking at.

Stewart Friedman: The priority is given to potential for the expression of a unique talent rather than the fit in a particular role that’s already existing, is that right?

Sydney Finkelstein: That’s exactly right. They’re looking for people that have that flexibility. I call it extreme flexibility, that’s one of the things they care about because they want to move people in different jobs and they want to create opportunities for people.

Stewart Friedman: How did you identify this category of people? Who fit the description and how did you go about doing this research?

Sydney Finkelstein: I started off with an observation of something I thought was interesting. I’m a foodie and I’m into high-end restaurants, and there happens to be a place called Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. Alice Waters, what has she done? She’s reinvented the farm-to-table, local-food-sourcing of quality ingredients, everything revolving around the ingredients. It turns out that so many of the people that worked for her, went through that restaurant and became big names in the restaurant business themselves. I saw that, observed that, and said that’s interesting. I wonder if it’s true in another industry where there’s one person or a small number of people that have this outsized influence in the development of talent. That’s when I went to the NFL, because I like that as well, and it didn’t take long to realize it was Bill Walsh. The NFL is a good example because that’s an industry where you can measure very precisely, out of the 32 head coaches in a season, fully 20 of them were either working directly or indirectly for Bill Walsh. Then I thought to look at some other industries. I went from advertising, to hedge funds, to consumer packaged goods, to American comedy and fashion, and it wasn’t hard to find — by talking to a lot of people and doing a deep dive to what was going on in the industry — the one or two people that have this outsized influence on the development in a generation of talent.

Stewart Friedman: That was the criteria for selection, people who have had a huge impact on their field through the growth of talent in that field. Now that everybody understands how you chose these people, you then looked at what they do to have this outsized impact on the growth of talent in their field. Apprenticeships and creating roles for people to enable them to express their unique talents; I’m curious is there something that superbosses do that particularly invests in the person as a whole human being?

Sydney Finkelstein: I don’t know if it would be the same way that your work might indicate, but I’ll tell you a couple of ways I think that happens. Number one, people that work for superbosses are really engaged in the job, you know employee engagement scores are a disaster everywhere.  Superbosses create jobs where individuals can actually have an impact. They know that they’re important, as everybody’s important, and that’s a powerful thing in your life, to have that feeling. I know it’s one of the biggest motivators. That’s part of what superbosses do. The other thing they do is that they are in many cases even willing to help you move forward in your career, not just working for them but going outside of that team to another part of the company or another organization entirely. That’s a bit unusual, that you would groom talent. The subtitle of the book is mastering the flow of talent, so not just people coming in, not just what you do with them when they’re part of your team, but what you do as they move out, and in some cases, help them move out. It’s very counter-intuitive, but if you think about what’s really important for an individual, most individuals don’t want to perform for Mr./Ms. X for the rest of their life, they want to fulfill their own potential. That’s what the superbosses enable them to.

Stewart Friedman: I was an executive at Ford Motor Company for a few years from 1999-2001 as head of leadership development. I hired a lot of people in that role, and one of the critical elements of my interviews, and I did hundreds of interviews with people, was to explore what they would want to do next, what would success look like in their next job following their stint working in my shop. It’s question that many of them had not been asked before, but I really tried to make it a point of focus with the people who came to work for me that they would leave their time with me in a better role following that experience. The more I made that an explicit part of that hiring practice, the more the other people wanted to work for me.

Sydney Finkelstein: You’re right, and the term I use in the book, talent magnet, describes just what you’re talking about.

Stewart Friedman: It’s not that hard to do, and it’s actually a lot of fun. I know our listeners are eager to find out what can I do to enhance my capacity as a boss so I can have a bigger impact on the world through the legacy that I create through the people that I cultivate. What can people do?

Sydney Finkelstein: Everything that superbosses do is teachable and learnable, it’s not rocket science. It takes a lot of work. You don’t become Ralph Lauren or George Lucas overnight; there’s a lot you have to do. But if you’re willing to do it, it’s all possible.  I try to talk a lot about what specific steps you can take, even from what we talked about earlier about hiring somebody. You have your old method of hiring, but how about just experimenting and hiring one person, going out of your way to find somebody where you find the person before you find the job and back them into it. The sky’s not going to fall when you do it, and you’re going to begin that process of just opening your brain and mind to the possibility of finding talent in all other places. I think there are some really specific things as well that go far beyond that. I would look at your calendar. We’re so scripted these days, people have so many meetings and those meetings are killers. I don’t understand why we put ourselves through that in a job with so many meetings. Push yourself out of that world. Of course, it’s not going to disappear, but leave time for much more unstructured interaction where you arrive unannounced at the desk or cubicle of someone on your team and dedicate 30 minutes or an hour and digging in with him/her exactly what they’re doing. You push them and you challenge them and coach them and help them think about it a little differently, and certainly you enable them to learn from your own experience. It’s a little thing, but it actually makes a big difference.

Stewart Friedman: You can actually do it in smaller chunks. It doesn’t have to be a full hour or half-hour, or even 20 minutes. In 10 minutes or even five, you can have an interaction that really touches people and demonstrates to them your interest in their development. Right?

Sydney Finkelstein: You really could. How hard is that to do in the scheme of things? It’s only hard if we allow ourselves to adopt this idea that I’m so busy, I’m running here and doing this and that. We push that on ourselves, we constrain ourselves in so many ways, and I think that’s a mistake. Superbosses are looking for those opportunities. I also think we should think about how accessible we make it. How are the barriers that we’re putting in front of us that we might not know that make it difficult for people on our team to interact with us? There are a remarkable number of superbosses who place their desks, not in an office, not in a corner office, but in an open area where anyone can reach them at any time. It’s a symbolic thing, but it’s meaningful. You definitely can do that.

Stewart Friedman: I wanted to ask you whether superbosses are always nice. Is it possible to be a superboss who is scary or can infuse a work environment with a sense of fear while still holding people to really high standards and pushing them far?

Sydney Finkelstein: It’s a good question, because being a superboss doesn’t mean you’re a soft touch. The definition of a superboss is someone who helps other people get better and creates talent. There are a lot of ways to do that. While the superboss playbook, if you will, is very similar in terms of apprenticeship, innovation, and finding talent, the style does vary. In the book, I actually talk about three different styles, including one that is called the glorious bastard. It’s the manager, the Larry Ellison type, that personality that we’re familiar with now, they are really tough. They’re not exactly the happiest places to work, so it’s not for everyone, but if you can handle it, and you can absorb the learning that’s going on, the hyper-intense environment, then the opportunities are gigantic. You look at the legacy of a Larry Ellison, all the people that work for him from Mark Benioff, who now runs Salesforce.com, to lots of others, but it’s not an easy thing to do for those types of people.

Stewart Friedman: I wonder if there are lessons that you drew, whether in the book or just your own life about cultivating talent as a superboss and being a parent. Do you see any parallels?

Sydney Finkelstein: I found the more I got into the superboss world, the more you see that it applies to everything. In this case, I actually dedicated the book to my own mother and I called her the first superboss I ever had.

Stewart Friedman: What made her a superboss?

Sydney Finkelstein: For that you’re going to have to give me several hours on the phone. Certainly high expectations, but you just knew that this was someone that had your best interests at heart and wanted you to be successful but also was not going to just let you linger, was going to open a door to a world and say there’s nothing you can’t do. That turns out not to be true. I’m not an Olympic athlete, I never made the Montreal Canadiens hockey team.

Stewart Friedman: Is that what she wanted?

Sydney Finkelstein: She wanted me to have opportunities to fulfill my potential, and she opened the door to that. She did in a very subtle way, just by talking. There was no lecture going on here, it was maybe just being a good parent but it had a gigantic impact on me.

Stewart Friedman: How do you think that translated to your own parenting style?

Sydney Finkelstein: I have one daughter who’s now 25 years old. I have done many of the same types of things I thought I learned. What’s funny is that it’s only in doing this research for superbosses that I came to the realization of some of the things we’re talking about now. Things that are in you, there are stories I remember from my own life that happened to me with different people doing different things that were very impactful, but I didn’t appreciate, or fully appreciate, just how meaningful some of those things were. In thinking back and doing this research and talking about all these other people, it became apparent.

Stewart Friedman: Jessica is calling from Philadelphia. Jessica, welcome to Work and Life. How can we help you?

Jessica: I work in corporate America and I have a boss who goes by the laws of micromanagement. Every day, she asks where are you, what are you doing at this time of day. I’m in sales, so I’m usually in the office, but my question is what’s the best way to deal with that type of micromanagement?

Stewart Friedman: How do you change a micromanager to a superboss if you’re working for her?

Sydney Finkelstein: The problem with a micromanager is that she doesn’t come with a role that superbosses come with, which is delegator. They delegate and they are closely attuned to what you are doing, they do both. When you have a person who’s just on one side, you have a much deeper problem. Why do people do that, is what I think about. In my experience when a boss doesn’t truly trust the people on their team, they end up doing too much, not delegating as much or always checking and checking. Some of that could be internal to a person, and that person could benefit from some coaching on occasion, but sometimes it could be the subordinate in this example, Jessica. No matter how good she is, she might really need to sell up in a sense. We talk about managing up, what about selling up about how you’re adding value, how you’re creating value and a general deeper level of trust between boss and team member.

Stewart Friedman: Jessica, does that make sense to you to change the relationship in such a way that your boss can trust you more and be less micromanaging?

Jessica: Yeah, I think you’re right on with that. I think every time we have a conversation I’m reinforcing what I’m selling and adding to the company. My concern is because it’s a continuous relationship that I’ve had, how do I make it so that she trusts me? I think it does come down to trust and you’re right with that, and to your point I don’t think she trusts me or anybody on this team. How could I better work with her knowing that’s how she feels?

Sydney Finkelstein: That’s a tough situation. I think trying to demonstrate with your results your capability, what you can do. I don’t know if you know her well enough or can find a way to suggest that she work with a coach or some such thing. That could be a sensitive thing to ask directly, but maybe indirectly is a possibility. It’s a lot easier to say what I’m about to say than do it, but sometimes you don’t have the right boss and that boss is not going anywhere and you might want to look for an internal transfer of some other opportunity. Some people just will not change because of who they are, and some of these insecurities could be so deeply embedded in who they are that it started a long time ago.

Stewart Friedman: What’s the impact you’re hoping your book is going to have on the business world in terms of getting across certain ideas and tools that can help people cultivate talent and enrich their lives and working lives?

Sydney Finkelstein: At an individual level, and I mentioned employee engagement before, I find it an abysmal situation when so many people are at a job that doesn’t have any fulfilling sense so that they’re not engaged. Superbosses, even though they could be tough, they absolutely convey the importance of each person, they make you feel like you have an impact. The whole world of millennials, that’s what they want from the start, and the superboss approach is one that’s very meaningful. The second thing is from an organizational point of view, you look at where and how organizations have changed in the last 10 or 20 years. There’s been incredible innovation in supply chain management, manufacturing, technology, marketing, and sales. Where’s the innovation when it comes to HR? I know there are a lot of apps and software that help you run better meetings and you can figure out where everyone is, feedback mechanisms, and I’m not saying those are bad things. They all can have some value, but fundamentally, when you talk to senior executives, they’re saying the same thing. We need talent, we need to get better talent, and we need to solve our talent problem. But if they keep saying it, it’s still a problem. Year after year after year, it’s time for something new, even if it sounds a little scary. I hope the superboss approach is that something new.

For more information about Syd Finkelstein and Superbosses follow him on Twitter @SydFinkelstein.

About the Author

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

New Attitudes About Gender, Work, and Family — Kathleen Gerson and Jerry Jacobs

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


Jerry Jacobs is Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and Founding President of the Work and Family Researchers Network, an interdisciplinary and international scholarly association that focuses on work and family issues. His research with Kathleen Gerson was honored with the Rosabeth Moss Kanter Award for Excellence in Work-Family Research in 2002, and led to the publication of The Time Divide: Work, Family and Gender Inequality, published by Harvard University Press in 2004.

Kathleen Gerson is Collegiate Professor of Sociology at NYU, where she studies gender, work, and family change. Her most recent book, The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work, and Family, is an award-winning study of how new generations have responded to the gender revolution of the last several decades. She is now conducting a study about the challenges facing today’s adults, who must build their work and family lives amid the increasingly insecure economic climate of the new economy.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation. Full podcast.


Kathleen Gerson: kathleen gersonOur findings seem to provide one more piece of the puzzle of how dramatic change has been. Jerry [Jacobs] and I continue to be baffled that so many people are skeptical that these changes have occurred. I think in some ways our private lives have moved forward in a way that public discussions about them simply haven’t caught up.

Stewart Friedman: Can you elaborate on what you mean by that?

KG: There’s a bad news orientation in the media and, to some extent, in our political discourse, in which people tend to be quite skeptical about social change. If I were to sum that up, I would say two opposite arguments are being made. First, nothing is really changed, we’re going back to the old ways, women are still facing these huge barriers and men continue to be resistant to these changes. The other side of the story, which ironically or paradoxically presents the opposite picture, is women have changed so quickly that men are being left behind and this is not good for society and men and women are unhappy about this reversal. What Jerry and I have found is that neither of those stories is true. In fact, what’s happening is men and women are converging in terms of not only how they want to live their lives and what they want to get done in their lives, but also in terms of their views about what other people’s choices should be, and how we as a society should allow people to make those choices. Even though the political discourse is very contentious, what Jerry and I have found is that ordinary Americans, across a very broad spectrum of demographic and social categories, support the idea that gender, in fact, should not be the primary driver of who does what, at work or in the home. These decisions should be driven by what people want, what people prefer, and what’s best for their families, and how they can do the best in a very increasingly uncertain and difficult situation.  What we really need is to relieve the difficulties that families are facing to allow them to develop the strategy they prefer.

SF: To produce greater human freedom, after all, right?

KG: I would underline the world human.  It would be nice if we could move beyond these categories of women and men, and talk about human beings, parents, workers.

SF: Creating options and choices for people, then produces the kinds of roles they want to create with the support that they need.  But there’s so much here to unpack.

Jerry Jacobs: Jerry JacobsBut before you unpack, let me explain a little more specifically what we did. There’s a body of research that talks about gender role ideology, and it shows that a lot of people are much more flexible in terms of their views on what women’s and men’s role should be. It also shows there’s a substantial minority stuck in the old ways, committed to traditional, standard gender ideology.

SF: That is, of course, the model of the single-earner dad with a mom at home taking care of kids;  caregiving and breadwinning split by men and women doing one or the other roles.

JJ: Our concern about this research is it doesn’t really say very much about situations and specifics. One of the motivating factors behind what we did is we asked ourselves, if we give the average person, respondents chosen at random, a national random sample, if we give them specific stories, specific situations regarding men’s and women’s choices, what will turn out to be more important: the situations or commitment to gender ideology? The question is are people stuck in a set of blinders that basically say women belong in the home no matter what, or does it depend? Does it depend on if she likes her job? The other thing we specifically looked at was whether her family depended on her income. We have remarkably powerful evidence to suggest that situations are more important than anything else, than whether you’re a man or a woman, whether you’re single or married, it’s not that the patterns are identical for fathers and mothers, but the situations were more important than gender.

SF: Why is that so important, as an observation about our society? I think most of our listeners are less interested in sociological literature, but of course those two are related, what’s the so what there in terms of what people in business as well as public policy makers ought to be thinking about as a result of what you observed?

KG: it’s important because what it tells us is is that ordinary Americans, women and men across ages, races, and situations, are far more sympathetic to the particular situations that individuals families are facing and are far more flexible in their views about what women and men should do than either our political discourse or our public policy or our workplace policies, even for private workplaces, recognize. If both our government policies and employers would pay more attention to this, then I think that would not just improve the way we talk about these issues but could make a real difference in the lives of men and women, mothers and fathers, and children.

JJ: If we could make childcare more affordable and higher quality, our data suggests that more people would support women working, or more people would support mothers of young children being in a labor force.

SF: How does that equation work? Why is the advent of a greater daycare support going to lead to greater support of women in the workplace?

JJ: One of our key findings was that when mothers are satisfied with the childcare that they’re getting, people are more supportive of her working. They’re much more skeptical of mothers’ employment if there’s a feeling that the childcare that they have access to is inadequate or unsatisfactory.

KG: Another finding is that if women can earn enough to support their families, there’s enough support for fathers staying home with their children, especially if those fathers are dissatisfied and unhappy with their jobs and their families don’t feel they have adequate childcare. In a sense, the implications for public policy are both about the childrearing and family side but we need more support, both for employment of mothers and fathers, and also for gender equity at work.  If mothers and fathers have access to well-paying and secure jobs, it gives them more options about who can do what in the home.

SF: It’s clear that the more men lean in at home, the more women can lean in at work and enjoy the fruits of their productive output in the labor market contributing to society through their work.  But it does mean that men need to be not only supportive but really given legitimacy in the role of caregiver. It sounds like your evidence suggests that the legitimacy is out there.

KG: I think that was one of the more uplifting and surprising findings. It’s not really surprising to find out that people support single mothers working, for example, and it’s even less surprising that they would support married mothers with good jobs and good childcare working.  But I think it is definitely worth noting that they also support fathers who don’t have good childcare and aren’t happy with their jobs and aren’t providing necessary income, that they support those fathers being more involved at home and being the primary caretaker.

SF: I, too, find it uplifting Kathleen that men be seen as legitimate in the role of caregiver, that is something that we found in our study comparing the Gen Xers with the millennials here at Wharton and that men’s and women’s roles are converging and how they think about what’s valid and true. I also got an email yesterday from someone who attended one of my workshops on leadership from the point of the whole person, where people look at what’s important to them, who is important to them, and they make creative changes based on those diagnostic analyses and here’s what she wrote to me:

While doing the exercises in the book and discussing with my coaches we discovered a great way to improve my whole self and my life has dramatically changed. Prior to this change, I was working 26 hours and my husband was working 40 hours in a job he disliked that was too far from home. We discovered a solution that led me to coming back to work full-time with a flexible schedule and location and my husband now doesn’t have a paying job; he takes care of the house. If nothing else, I’d like to thank you for putting this information out there and let you know that you helped me change my life for the better.

Of course, I hear this type of thing all the time from students, but they don’t necessarily thank me, but I hear these issues a lot. You’re finding research evidence that this is common, that people are making choices on the basis of economics, the need for childcare, and not whether it’s the man or woman doing the caregiving at home.

KG: I think one thing that is important for us to point out is that this study was really asking people what their opinions and beliefs and attitudes were, but we shouldn’t gloss over the fact that implementing those beliefs may be a lot harder than having them. That’s where I think we’re lagging behind and not giving people real options to implement those beliefs, rather than having them but not feeling they’re socially legitimate or even logistically possible.

SF: It’s something that’s at issue in the presidential campaign. Some of the people who are wanting to be our president are talking quite strenuously about this issue and I think it’s going to be one of the platform issues that’s going to draw a lot of attention, because it will be a stark contrast between the Democrats and Republicans, right?

KG: It’s certainly something that Obama has put on the agenda in the last several years of his presidency as well.

SF: What you two have done here is to advance the knowledge about what is fundamental to any kind of real change and that is the legitimacy of this shift and simply acknowledging that people’s attitudes really have changed, and that’s very powerful. What’s been the reaction to this work?

JJ: There’s been a lot of interest, and we got some very interesting feedback in our New York Times piece. Among our colleagues, there’s a lot of engagement in these issues and trying to see how we can probe further into the aspects of work that are most essential and the aspects of family life that are most important. In a sense, this is a first step in that area, but the feedback we’ve been getting is very positive.

SF: What are people saying?

KG: One of the more important reactions has been not simply about the findings themselves but also about the way we went about asking the question, because part of the problem, as Jerry pointed out earlier, is I think we’ve been asking the wrong questions up to this point. We’ve been asking questions like is it alright for a mother to work and will their children suffer and those questions already start to presuppose an answer, you almost have to disagree with the assumption of the question, which is hard for people to do to give a more accurate answer, but they also focus only on women and mothers. If we have any larger effect on even the way that these questions are phrased, I think that will be important, not only because we’ve included fathers as well as mothers.   And we’ve also taken account of the fact that not everyone is married and there are all sorts of family forms and patterns these days that were not prevalent 30 or 40 years ago.  We’re asking people not just a global question, but rather given this particular situation where these parents are facing these constraints and these opportunities, what do you believe is the appropriate action. That’s very different from just saying this blanket statement about whether or not it’s good for mothers to work.

SF: It seems so obvious that we should have been doing that all along, so how did you come up with this better method?

JJ: It’s an experiment. We had an opportunity to do a controlled experiment in a survey setting, which is kind of unusual.  A number researchers around the country and around the world are thinking about how they can replicate what we’ve done, extend what we’ve done, and that’s always exciting.

KG: We had this opportunity to use this method where you’re actually setting the stage before you ask people questions and then seeing how people might respond differently depending on how that stage is set differently. We’re able to add all these different situations, which is very hard to do if you’re asking everyone the same questions. Part of what happened is we began to realize from our own research how misleading some of these surveys that were asking questions formulated 30 years ago were. Because we know 40 years ago most people lived in a particular kind of family and a certain set of beliefs were prevalent.   But we’ve gone through a revolution since then and we began to ask ourselves how we can begin to formulate questions for the 21st century that don’t make the assumptions that might have been reasonable to make in the 1950s. For example, if someone is faced with bad childcare, and this is something else we looked at, they have a set of choices. They might stop working, but they also might decide to get better childcare. Same with a job. If you were unhappy with your job, one option might be to pull back from work but another option is to look for a different job. We wanted to give people realistic options rather than forcing them to give answers that really didn’t fit with the realities Americans face today.

SF: Randy is calling from Texas. Randy, welcome to Work and Life. What’s on your mind?

Randy: I was thrilled when I heard this topic. In my family, my husband and I had a very heated discussion about this exact same topic over the weekend. It seems like the research is focusing on do we think it’s okay, is there a societal shift in the belief that it’s okay for men and women to do something that’s not sticking with a gender stereotype. My question is was there any look at a non-binary question so is there an impact if you choose a non-gender-specific role, do you face consequences in the workforce, specifically thinking about men who choose to make family a larger priority than work, are they then experiencing negative consequences in the workforce because we aren’t willing to accept it in practice?

JJ: We work with companies all the time and talk to corporate leaders and try to encourage them to promote workplace flexibility and to give working parents the option to work less to pursue lots of different creative choices. You’re absolutely right that there’s a reluctance with many people because they’re concerned that there are real consequences. There is often some income loss in the short term, but I think people worry even more about the long-term consequences for their careers, and that’s both men and women. I think you may be right that there’s still more of a sales job that’s needed for men to convince everybody that this is a legitimate choice.  Kathleen and I are arguing that we’re moving toward convergence. Neither of us feel that we’re there yet. I think there’s an understanding that there are costs for both male and female employees, and that’s one of the reasons we want to move toward more explicit, systematic policies like paid leave so that it’s more institutionalized and accepted.

SF: And available for both men and women. It’s clearly not just a women’s issue anymore. Your research really helps to move us past that debate of is work and family a women’s issue. It’s a human issue, as we said earlier.

KG: There is research by others that does show that there is a stigma attached to taking advantage of the family leave policies that companies offer, and ironically I think to some extent, is greater for men than for women, because we still have a ways to go in terms of thinking about these as issues that men and women both care about and face.

SF: The data from that research is probably five years old now.

KG: Let’s hope that current and future research shows that’s declining. The more we talk about it, I think the greater chances are that it will. In the past, I think we’ve talked too much about the clash between women and men and perhaps the way we need to start talking about this now is the clash between workers’ needs and workplace policy. That will help us begin to reduce the stigma and actual career and long-term economic consequences.

JJ: Randy, what kind of choices were you considering —  cutting back or opting out of the labor force for a spell?

Randy: For the longest time, we were both equals and we had a nanny, which was wonderful. Through changes in the economy and one of our companies closing, we had the opportunity for one of us to stay home. It was me, and that’s what we decided to do. There’s a whole host of issues with that for me, but for my husband, career continues to go up and mine doesn’t go anywhere. Part of that was it’s socially acceptable for me to opt out for period. It would be harder for him to opt out even when we were both equals.   But if there was push-comes-to-shove with a family requirement, I was always the one that figured out a way to make things work because it’s okay if I leave to take someone to the doctor and not okay if he leaves to take someone to the doctor.

JJ: I do think the world is changing. Mark Zuckerberg was very public about taking paternity leave. I think there are lots of men who get points for going to their kids’ soccer games and taking off for their kids’ softball practice.  I think as more and more examples become known, I think we’re chipping away with this. The other thing I want to add is we are also very interested in re-entry ramps, trying to make it easier for people to come back into the labor force.  Stay-at-home dad is not a perfect situation. It’s not as though dads are staying home for 16 years or 18 years, they’re often doing it for six months or a year, or a lot of times they’re just cutting back to part-time. It’s not that different for women. A lot of women opt out of the labor market at some point. A lot of times it’s not their choice, things happen at work, the company closes, the office moves to a different location or whatever, and one of things that we need to do is to facilitate the re-entry of people who developed tremendous skills and abilities and are able to contribute significantly to our economy. We have to create an economy for settings where it’s easier to get back in.

SF: To off-ramp and on-ramp and to use the assets that you obtain in the parental role. There are things that you learn as a parent or by managing a household that make you more effective in the workplace; it’s not that it’s down time. Jerry, you just mentioned Zuckerberg’s very visible paternity leave.  One of the things I didn’t like about his announcement on Facebook was that he talked only about benefits for his child, which is lovely of course, citing the importance of fathers in child development, but what he didn’t speak to were the business benefits of his doing this, and I’m sure he’s thinking about them. How do you see the argument unfolding in terms of these high-profile examples but also the shift in attitudes in America about the need for support for parental leave, whether paternity or maternity?

KG: It makes a great difference, especially when the leaders at the top set the example, because that sends a signal to the people below them that they’re not going to be penalized, and if they are, it would be completely illegitimate. I think the best example I can provide is from Norway. There, they develop a use-it-or-lose-it policy, which means all parents have the right to paid parental leave for six months, but it cannot be given to the other parent. If a father doesn’t use it, then he relinquishes it and the family loses that option. Surprisingly, what that’s done is up the percentage of fathers who take it to the point where that’s the predominant pattern. What’s interesting to me is the cultural spillover effect of that change. Now, the norm has generally shifted so if a father doesn’t take leave, that’s considered strange and that requires an explanation, as opposed to the situation here where if a father does take leave, that’s considered strange and has to be justified.

SF: And that’s all as a result of social policy change.

KG: It’s not just that cultural change can lead to policy change, policy change can cause cultural change as well and we need to keep that in mind when we talk about things like Zuckerberg providing a good example for his company. If he provides an example, it also means that it changes the signals that other men and fathers and mothers receive and it gives them rights they may not have thought they had before.

SF: It might also spur people to try to push for changes in policy.   We’ll probably not see a policy like Norway’s in our lifetime. Aside from knowing that attitudes are changing and there are these outcroppings of real progress in the corporate world and a push for changes in social policy that we’ve talked a lot about on this show and that we’ve been active in, what can an individual do based on your findings in this study? Are there any implications for fathers and mothers out there listening?

JJ: Kathleen and I had the great privilege of attending the White House Summit on Working Families. Not only were the president and Michelle Obama and the vice president and Jill Biden there, they were all speaking very frankly and from the heart about their own work/family challenges including Vice President Biden commuting back and forth everyday from Washington to Delaware on Amtrak when his kids were very young. Those were incredibly powerful stories, and talk about taking leadership from the top, their commitment to these issues I thought was very powerful.

SF: I was there, too, and it was truly moving to hear all four of them and so many others speak about this issue from the heart and from real experience just like the rest of us.

JJ: Getting back to individual choices, in job interviews, this is information to be asked about. What are your work/life policies? That’s something that people need to find out about. Many corporations are increasingly flexible, and technology is making some of that more possible like working from home one day a week or part of a day. Having flexibility, again that doesn’t work for every job, but it works for a lot of jobs. Having technological opportunities, they’re increasingly common workplace practices and this might sound optimistic, but there is some beginning evidence that we’re going to be facing a tighter labor market as unemployment declines and specifically for certain occupations that are increasingly in demand. Employers are going to be seeking out employees.

SF: This is what’s happening out in Silicon Valley. Kathleen, I know you were researching that. Jerry, as the Founding President of the Work and Family Researchers Network, what are these researchers doing?

JJ: The Work and Family Researchers Network brings academics and policy-makers and corporate HR practitioners together to discuss a very wide range of issues. We don’t only talk about sick leave policy and family leave policy but also about stress, eldercare, childcare, sleep, workplace productivity, and workplace flexibility. We have over 1,000 members from 40 countries around the world and we’re going to be convening again in June in Washington, D.C. Anyone who’s interested in learning more about our organization, we’re at workfamily.sas.upenn.edu. We have a website and we’d love to see some of your listeners join us at the conference.

SF: Kathleen, I understand you’re doing some work on changes in the technology world. What is it that you’re discovering or pursuing in that work?

KG: Let me follow up to the question about what you can do in your lives. I’ve been doing research in the Silicon Valley area and the New York metropolitan area, especially among people who are in technology and new economy jobs. The first thing I would say to everyone out there is you are not alone. The momentum is growing and I think we’re almost at a tipping point where the majority of people are wanting and pushing for the same thing, and don’t be fearful to speak up because you’re part of a much larger movement of people and the more we express these needs, the more they will be acceptable and legitimate. The second thing is we’re also in the midst of an enormous change in our economic fortunes and the nature of work. Increasingly, work for everyone, men and women alike, especially in these growing sectors of the labor market, is not so much about joining a labor organization and moving up the ladder and proving your loyalty, it’s really about managing your own career and integrating that with your other values and family life and private life. Therefore, it’s on employers to pay attention to that and it means that while uncertainty or change is always scary, it also provides enormous opportunities to build the kinds of lives we want to build. To think about it, but be willing to take the risks that matter to you to build the life you want, I think the more that happens the more that we will not only have support for the social policies we need but also for the workplace changes that employers are going to have to make in order to keep up with this new labor force.

SF: And to be competitive in the labor market. We’ve been saying this for years in the world of organizational psychology and sociology, but it really is happening now. If you come to the Wharton campus and you listen to the recruiting pitches, students are asking these questions and very much upfront, and companies are saying come to work at our company, have a whole life, have meaningful work, have a positive social impact, all the things that new entrants are claiming as rights. The companies that are going to be able to attract and retain those people are going to have to be able to adjust, and they are or at least saying that they’re trying to. Whether they are actually is really the rub, but it’s a long, slow process.

KG: Assuming we’re able to make these changes, let’s try to make them for everyone, not just those people that have the skills that are so desirable, but for people up and down the economic ladder who have less control over their work. We can institutionalize these changes, and everyone will have the power to create the lives they want for themselves.

Deep vs. Shallow Work with Cal Newport

Contributor: Ali Ahmed

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

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

Excerpts below. Full podcast.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SF: So you’re blissfully ignorant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

Gopi Kallayil on The Internet to the Inner-Net

Contributor: Jacob Adler

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

Gopi Kallayil is a Wharton alum and Chief Evangelist, Brand Marketing at Google.  Before joining Google, Gopi was on the management team of two Silicon Valley venture funded startups and a consultant with McKinsey.  Gopi earned his Bachelors degree in electronics engineering from the National Institute of Technology in India and his Masters in Business Administration degrees from the Indian Institute of Management and from Wharton. He spoke with Stew about his new book, The Internet to the Inner-Net: Five Ways to Reset Your Connection and Live a Conscious Life.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation. Full podcast.


Stewart Friedman: How did you get here – to be at Google – the nexus of technology – also connected to eastern thought and practice?

Gopi Kallayil: Gopi KallayilIt is a long story, but the short version is just the hunger and thirst to see much of the world and experience the fullest of life on the planet.  One of the paths that many people choose, especially from that part of the world [India], is through education and professional life.  Starting from a modest family background, the search for education, business school, engineering school, and then professional expansion of career, eventually directing my sights at coming to the U.S. and to graduate school here and working in Silicon Valley, is what led to that journey and why I had Hong Kong as an in-between stop. I would say that was really the end goal in picking what I thought would be a great life experience both in terms of educational and professional growth and eventually working in the Silicon Valley ecosystem. I knew early on that the field of technology was where I wanted to pursue my career.

SF: I’d love to hear a bit more about how you knew that, but first let me ask what was it that you learned from your early family life? It’s something that’s important to us all but you write so clearly about that. What was it that your parents and your grandparents instilled in you that gave you this sense of being on a quest for useful knowledge that took you to far-off places? How did they teach you that?

GP: I don’t think they specifically taught me a technique, but I do know that they came from a set of limited opportunities and they had to step outside of that and be adventurous. In a classic tale that is retold in many families, my dad leaves his family lived in a rice-farming community and with no formal education, no qualifications, no real skillset, he goes on and builds his career in small towns and other places around India. Eventually, and this proves his street-smarts, he went on to speak nine languages, which he knew would connect him to people. I would say a skill I learned from him was how to connect to people.  That emotional intelligence or social intelligence is a huge driver of success. He took himself out of his comfort zone and to new environments.  You can learn and teach yourself skills and there is a large body of human knowledge out there that you can tap into and the more you learn and apply it, the more you thrive in whatever you choose to do. But along the way, I think one key piece of wisdom that I picked up was that so much of our life is based on interdependencies with other people and therefore the network of relationships you build is so crucial in how you do in whatever you choose to do professionally.

SF: He taught you a lot through his own example about how to learn and continue to grow your own capacity through meaningful connections to people who are different than you.

GP: Absolutely, and that’s why as much as the internet is a great technology to connect with information and objects and people, there is this whole network of relationships you have to establish with other people at a very human level. That was one of my biggest takeaways, that in the midst of all the technology, our social connections with other people are fundamental and that is never going to change.

SF: So you had an early grasp of the importance of technology, and you gravitated to that field. How did you know that was something that was going to be important for you and for the whole world in terms of the emergent digital age?

GP: I wish I could say that I had a very clear idea of how the world would look, but I can safely say that even five years ago, I didn’t have an idea of how things would evolve. When I was at Wharton, the internet was just beginning to get popular.

SF: You were Class of 1998, let me just clarify that.

GP: Last January, for example, we hit an inflection point where the number of mobile devices in the planet is estimated to have exceeded the number of human beings, 7.2 billion estimated mobile devices. The fact that we would now carry in our pockets a handheld technology the size of playing cards that allows you to listen to music, order milk, check in for your flights, and take photographs…I would never have predicted that. [phone connection to Gopi got cut off]

SF: How ironic, that we were talking about basic human connection and the unfathomable power of this technology, and then we lose that connection. It’s great to have you back.

GP: It’s a humbling reminder that anything can get disrupted. Part of what these practices teach you to do is to be unflappable through the course of it all and bounce right back.

SF: That’s what we’re trying to do right now. You were talking about how much has changed over the last five years and that the transformation of our lives in this digital age that is so rapidly advancing is something you couldn’t have predicted. How can that be, that even over such a short period of time things could change so far, so fast?

GP: It is remarkable, and I think it’s a culmination of several factors. The first and foremost is there is this amazing energy that is manifest among human beings in terms of being innovative and creative and looking at different problems and situations and how human beings work and play, and trying to come up with very, very creative solutions. One example of that is Uber, as the story goes, one was frustrated he couldn’t hail a cab in the rain and saw a lot of cars going by in the same direction and imagined what if I could somehow communicate with that person and say give me a ride, since you’re going in that direction, and I’ll make a small donation. Out of that, just trying to solve that simple problem of occupying an empty seat in a car going in your direction is what led to this amazing service called Uber that more and more people are using and you can see popping up in more cities. That’s what I mean by there is this tremendous energy of human beings looking at these kinds of things and saying let me come up with a creative way to solve the problem. But supporting all of that, there is this powerful, underlying platform, a collection of technologies, we broadly call it the internet, backed with many other pieces from giant databases of information that is available, open sharing of standards and information, many things I can point to, that was simply not available to us three, four years ago. I think we’re just taking advantage of all of those pieces and there is this creative outpouring of fantastic solutions to various problems that human beings are having.

SF: It’s such an exciting time, and yet, it’s for many people a frightening time. Your wonderful book The Internet to the Inner-Net helps to remind us and really provides some guidance about how to continue to stay human in the context of the digital revolution. What do you mean by the inner-net?

GP: It is a play on the word, one of the most iconic words of our times, the internet, which most people understand. It is this collection of technologies that connects us to all of the world’s information, other people, other objects. In the midst of all this, I wanted to send a message that the most important connection that all of us have is the one with ourselves. As much as we get enamored with these amazing technologies, there is one technology that you and I and all of our listeners get to use every single day. I playfully refer to it as a technology, but in some ways I think of it as the most sophisticated, most complex technology that is known to human kind, and that is right there inside of our body. It is an important technology, if you’ll allow me to call it so. I see this highly complicated, highly sophisticated brain.  We’ve barely even began to understand it yet all we have to do is watch a three- or four-year-old learn language and learn rules of grammar before being taught formal grammatical constricts. We just watch a toddler pick up language and that’s fascinating. How does the brain work?  You realize that you are dealing with sophisticated computers and neural networks that you can’t imagine. All of our life experience is filtered through this particular technology, the inner-net, to use that word. If it’s a piece of food you eat, or if you’re trying to process this conversation you and I are having, or listening to a piece of music and that is making an imprint on your mind and your emotions, all of that is filtered by this inner technology called the inner-net. Therefore, understanding it, nurturing it, having a relationship with it, knowing how to fully use it is an important predicate on the quality of our life.

SF: Absolutely, and of course that is the question for all of us.  We all need to have as deep and rich an understanding of who we are and our connections to the rest of the world. Tell us a little more about these five ways that you write about in The Internet to the Inner-Net that help people develop that kind of consciousness and capability in today’s digital environment. And by the way, I think the analogy that you use is a lovely one and helps to bring it home. The five ways, briefly, what are they?

GP: I thought of how do you incorporate these practices, because the way to find that moment to connect with these inner technologies is known to humankind and there have been elaborate practices and wisdom traditions that have been developed — meditation and various other practices.  But I kept asking myself how can I make it all work for me in a way that I will actually stay consistent with, and I came up with these five rituals that I practice on a regular basis.

The first one, I call it focus on the essential, meaning know clearly what is most important to you. If you know clearly what is important to you, you know what to say yes to and what to say no to. In living the kind of frenzied life that we live now with technology surrounding us, you’re constantly being pulled in different directions. If you know what is essential, you know how to say yes to a few things and say no to most other things. That’s one of the five rituals I tell people to be clear about it. In my own case, there are five essentials that I have come up with, and without getting into the details, I know what my top priorities are and I focus on them. I focus most of my energy and time on those.

The second ritual is as simple as do one thing at a time. It is incredible, the extent to which we go on in modern life thinking we’ll be the first generation in history to be able to do five things at the same time and be able to successfully execute. The thing with our brain is it’s extremely good when it’s focused on one task and if you ask it to do five things, it falls apart. Even with all of these people who have these debates about multitasking, and I ask this simple question: If you had to go for open-heart surgery, how would you feel if your surgeon said ‘hey, I’m also interested in baseball and the stock market, so in the operating room I’m going to have the TV turned on to two channels and simultaneously keep my eye on the game and the stock market.’ Would it make you uncomfortable? Where you see examples of peak performance, you don’t have multitasking. If you look at a musician, they never sit there rehearsing a piece while still watching something on TV. One thing at a time, simple idea, but it seems to help you get more things done.

The third thing I talk about is pick whatever it is that allows you connect to the inner-net, however broadly it is you may define it for yourself. It may be going out for a walk in the park or playing with your baby or reading poetry.  For me it’s yoga and meditation. I say commit to just one minute every single day, the idea being bring it out the lowest threshold you can’t say no to. Most people understand the wisdom behind it, but they’ll tell you they don’t have the time, they’re too busy or traveling. I stumbled across this idea of committing to just one minute a day when I told a good friend of mine at Google of my own struggle of finding a daily practice around yoga and meditation and he looked at me and said: “Gopi, why don’t you start with one breath?” Even if you’re trying to meditate for one full hour, it’s really 600 breaths strung together, it’s just one breath to get to the second and third. Since I’m a compulsive, neurotic overachiever, I said, “I can do better than that. I am going to go a whole minute!” That was the genesis of that.

SF: One minute a day to connect with what is inside of you.

GP: At least. I’m not saying stop at one minute, but at least one minute. The idea is there are 1,440 minute in a day, pick one to at least nurture some connection with your inner-net. What happens, at least in my case, now a week went by, two weeks went by, and for the first time in my life I could look back and say I did my practice every single day, even if it was for just a minute. But at least you feel you have integrity towards it. What came next was the delightful surprise, too, and that was on most days I would sit for a minute on the cushion meditating or commit myself to one minute of my yoga practice, coupled with some salutations, and the minute it’d go by, the next thing I knew my mind would be saying this is so wonderful, why rush to go do something else? What else can be more important? One minute can easily grow into five minutes and 10 minutes, so that was a way I could work over the hurdle.

The fourth ritual I talk about is among the 168 hours in your calendar, which we all feel gets hijacked by somebody else’s schedule, at least pick one non-negotiable slot every single week, once a week at the same time when you will commit to something that nurtures your inner-net. In my case, Monday at 5:30, I teach the Yoglers [yogis at Google]class and for nine years, if I am in Mountain View, I never missed a class.

SF: What is the last practice, just in brief?

The fifth one is even as I use social media to connect with thousands of other people, make sure you take time to friend yourself. Listen to the tweet from the heartbeat, listen to the chat request from your brain, and the status update from your body.

SF: How do you do that?

GP: By taking that one minute, at least to begin with, and finding whatever it is, that practice for inner-connection. For me, it is that time at the yoga mat or meditation or journaling or doing a gratitude practice, that allows me to step away from the noise and frenzy and the technology around me and refocus on what’s going on in my mind and my body and connect with my inner-net.

SF: It seems so simple, doesn’t it? And yet that’s sort of the point, isn’t it?

GP: It is very simple, but it is very hard to practice. That’s why you call it a practice, it takes an entire lifetime and a lot of work and mastery, but enjoy the journey of the discovery. You’ll fall off the wagon and fail, I fail every day, but just getting back and trying again and just making one tiny step forward is itself part of the process, part of the joy of establishing that connection.

For more information about Gopi Kallayil and his new book, visit his web site Kallayil.com

About the Author

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


Men and the Gender Revolution at Work and Home

Contributor: Jacob Adler

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

Richard Reeves, a senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, co-director of the Center on Children and Families, and editor of the Social Mobility Memos blog. Prior to Brookings, he was director of strategy to the UK’s Deputy Prime Minister.   Some of his other previous roles include director of Demos, the London-based political think-tank; director of futures at the Work Foundation; and principal policy advisor to the Minister for Welfare Reform. He spoke with Stew Friedman about his New York Times piece Men’s Lib! about how men need to catch up with women in the gender revolution.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stewart Friedman: What inspired you to write, with your co-author Isabel Sawhill, Men’s Lib!

Richard Reeves: ReevesIt came out of a conversation that Sawhill and I had been having for many weeks and months, and something we had both been working on for years. It’s really about the integration of some of those social and economic issues that you talk about so much on this show. Very often we’ll see this social side of life – families, gender, men’s and women’s roles, and so on – as one half of the coin. And then we look at what’s happening in the labor market with unemployment and the economy. But, of course that’s not how we all live. In practice, the lines between those things blur, and the implications of the connection between work and life, for both men and women, have become much more important. What inspired us to write this particular piece was partly a positive feeling and partly a negative feeling. The positive feeling was that there’s an important message here about how men can do better if they adapt to the world as it’s changing.  At the same time there is a real men need to step up problem.  There are opportunities for men in the new post-feminine, post-industrial world. The fear is that unless that adaptation happens, we’ll fall back into a pining for a world that’s gone. Even in some of these policy debates now you get a sense that people are kind of wishing things could go back a bit. You hear discussions about marriage and breadwinner men. You can sense there are those who fell that if we can go back to the way things were, we’ll be okay. We need to think really hard now about what it means to be a man and a working father as well as what it means to be a working mother.

SF: Those definitions are in flux now, aren’t they?

RR: Right, and it’s been true for women for quite some time. Part of the thesis of our article is that there have been really quite profound changes in women’s lives and in the range of options that have been available to women, but we are very careful not to say that the work of feminism is done. It may be that there are more women graduating colleges now than men in the US, but it’s still true that women earn less than men and that there are few women in boardrooms. But there hasn’t been an equivalent change in men’s lives in the last 40 years; we have seen an unbalanced gender revolution, a half of a gender revolution. For us to proceed now, most of the action is going to be on the side of men changing their roles and as we say in the piece, to become more like women in the way that women have become more like men.  They’re educated, they’re in the role of breadwinners, now we need men to do more on the home front, to think of themselves as working fathers as well as just fathers, and not to define a man and a father in that narrow breadwinning way, which is outdated anyway. It doesn’t work economically, even if we wanted it to.

SF: It’s just no longer the norm.  At Wharton we’ve studied the changes in attitudes and values of men and women with respect to work and family over the past 25 years.  I published a book a couple of years ago called Baby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women in Work and Family, and one of the main observations from that study comparing the Class of 1992 with the Class of 2012, is how very different both men and women feel about their roles, particularly in the domestic sphere, where there’s much more convergence now around the idea of there being a true 50-50 life that’s possible, an egalitarian world.  You write about that in your article about the move to greater egalitarianism.  Shared responsibility is necessary at home, if women are going to advance in the workplace.

RR: It’s a hard truth, but you can only have equality at work if you have equality at home. Otherwise you can only get one half of the workforce, where the other is at a disadvantage if they’re still expected to do most of the work on the home front.

SF: Which is how it’s been.

RR: I think you raise a good point that it’s a necessary part of completing the long journey towards gender equality. I guess the other thing we try to add to it is an economic agenda and analysis, too.   The economy that made the market that supported the old model just isn’t there anymore either. In effect, two things have happened. One, is there’s been the rise of women’s rights and feminism and a long and slow recognition of the need for gender equality.  Two, what’s happened is the economy has changed in such a way that particularly relatively modestly educated men can no longer earn a breadwinner wage in a manufacturing sector.  So you’ve seen both these social and economic changes that have hit men.  I think it’s important that we are sensitive to the fact that that’s a difficult change for a lot of men. It’s easy for men with high levels of education, like us and many of your listeners, to make those kinds of transitions. It’s maybe harder for men with less power in the labor market and less education. The evolution of more egalitarian attitudes towards what Michael Young called the symmetrical family has actually been the greatest among those with more education, and those with much more modest education have more traditional views.

SF: And that’s holding those men back from taking the initiative to transform their economic agency, their capacity to contribute in the labor market by moving into more of the H.E.A.L. jobs, the acronym that you use to describe health, education, administration and literacy.  They are remaining in the model of traditional breadwinner type of role.

RR: We look at which areas of the economy are growing and producing jobs, and we deliberately contrast the emphasis on STEM jobs and STEM skills, which is pretty well-known –science, technology, engineering, and math.  There’s been a big push to get girls involved and to get women into those, which is great and actually successful in some places. But what we call HEAL jobs, as a kind of contrast, in health, education, administration and literacy…

SF: Did you make up that acronym?

RR: Yeah.

SF: It’s excellent, because it not only stands for the major categories that you need to represent, which is about providing human service, the symbolic connotation – healing, caring – is also wonderful. Well done, Richard.

RR: It’s interesting the way you have seen more women moving into legal professions, dentists, even civil engineering has gone to 16% women when it was 3%, pharmacists now 48% women. You haven’t seen the same movement for men. Men are 22% of kindergarten and pre-kindergarten teachers, and that’s the same as it was in 1980. There’s been very little increase in the number of men in education. Pre-K is a growth area; early-years education is a growth area. 2% of those working in that area are men and it was 2% 35 years ago.

SF: Why is that? Is that because of the low wage rate or the stigma associated with doing work that’s traditionally associated with women?

RR: That’s a great question, and I don’t honestly know the answer. I suspect that they are wrapped up with each other because of the historic sexism in the labor market.  Women-dominated jobs did tend to be lower-paid in part because they were women-dominated. Their wages were seen as less-important, so the history of the gendered nature of some of these jobs is still visible in some of the wages. But even for elementary school teachers and nursing, there are fewer than one-in-ten male nurses. That has increased a little, but my point is that in some areas of education and health, the caring professions, from relatively low-paying jobs to middle-paying jobs, these are in the middle class, those jobs are being created in this service sector. But they are female-dominated. What you’re seeing, for whatever reason, is that men’s reluctance or inability to reorient themselves towards those jobs puts them at a disadvantage.  These sort of outdated views about what constitutes a men’s job, the person that that is hurting is men.

SF: So there are a couple different paths to progress here and I’d like you to try to address both, and you do in your article, to some degree. One is social policy and the other is what individual men and women can do to try and transcend, in order to move past traditional signals as to what is “appropriate” for one or the other gender.

RR: In terms of policy, using policy pretty broadly here, from public policy at national, state, local level through to corporate policy, the policies of different institutions ought to start with the do no harm principle. By that I mean don’t build in assumptions about gender and about men’s and women’s roles into your policies. Don’t have an asymmetric assumption about time off to care for kids.

SF: Let’s just define that for our listeners. Asymmetric being…

RR: If you can take more time off if you’re a mom than if you’re a dad upon becoming a parent or if the default is to call mom rather than dad.

SF: So that’s why we prefer the term parental leave to maternity leave or maternity and paternity, refer to parents.

RR: As a slight aside, it’s interesting t how often even when it’s formally called parental leave it very often immediately gets relabeled maternity leave by people who almost can’t stop themselves.  If there are going to be things like parental leave and family leave, just make sure that they’re going to be instituted in such a way that they’re equally available to mothers and fathers. Let’s not presume at the outset that this is going to be something that is for women, because that both adds to the inequality that you referred to a moment ago but also hampers men’s ability to reform. But there’s also stuff to do on the cultural and individual side.

SF: On the policy side, if we could just stay on that for one moment longer, part of your article gives a brief comparison a cross-national comparison of policies that really do create significant social and cultural change, especially the examples of Sweden and Germany. Tell our listeners, briefly, about that.

RR: In countries that have a national scheme of parental leave, which the US does not at the moment (it’s at the state level in certain states), sometimes the design of those actually makes part of a leave available only to men. So in a sense it’s use it or lose it, they’re actually not transferrable from the father to the mother.

SF: What’s been the impact of that kind of imperative from the government?

RR: Quite significant. People do respond to incentives. What you see is a significant increase in number of fathers who take that leave who then continue to be more involved in their kids’ lives. We know pretty well that fathers who are involved early in their kids’ lives were more involved later. In fact, some of the studies, the one in Quebec that I mentioned found a more egalitarian division of labor that lasted as far as the study went, which was three years after the taking of the leave. It did seem to recalibrate the family model.

SF: So people don’t revert to the traditional model of splitting caregiving and breadwinning along gender lines.  Mark Zuckerberg’s example: Now that his daughter’s arrived, he’s taking two months off. That sends a strong signal, doesn’t it?

RR: It does, and there is evidence as well from human resources literature that even in divisions of companies where the boss or senior figure takes paternity leave, the men who then subsequently become fathers are much more likely to as well. That is really a quite important cultural issue. I used to work in the UK on the Liberal Democrat side of the coalition government, but I was very proud that David Cameron, when he became Prime Minister, took paternity leave. These things do send strong signals.  When you’re running a company or a business, to send that signal is pretty important. People believe their eyes, not their ears.

SF: It does send the message that it’s not only okay, but that it’s a good thing to do.  That was a part of Zuckerberg’s announcement with which I was a little disappointed. He said that he’d be taking two months off because it’s good for his kid and for his family. He ought to have included that it’s good for his business as well.

RR: That’s right. He came across as a big policy wonk in that statement, as much as I admire him for doing what he did. What will happen is businesses will worry about some of these changes but the truth is, as Zuckerberg established, businesses worry about family leave, but businesses and capitalism are infinitely flexible and adaptable. They absolutely will adapt to men doing the same thing, too, and that will bring greater equality in terms of wages and promotion opportunities.

SF: Which makes it a more egalitarian world for us all. We’re seeing more and more examples everyday. Could you address briefly what you would advise people, men especially, to help them overcome the cultural and psychological barriers that might hold them back from entering sectors of the economy where they could really gain, create value, and start to be a part of this social movement to change the roles of men in society?

RR: I’d start with a three-word admonition — just do it.  I think that taking the step is always the most difficult. Talk to the women in your life about what they want from you, what they hope for and expect. I think that men will be pleasantly surprised to find that it will be good for them and good for their relationships to move into those places. I’m proud to say that I’m a working father.  And use the power that you have as a man, as a father, and as a worker, use that power not only for your own benefit by taking opportunities but also to create a world in which some of our daughters grow up to see both men and women as broad and flexible in the things that they can do. Take the idea of what it is to be a man and turn it on its head. There’s a way to do that that’s actually hugely empowering for men. This is not a loss. It doesn’t have to be a loss. Let’s just see this as something we can be proud of and feel like more rounded as individuals and as men, be better partners and fathers, better workers, if we’re able to take those leaps. You have just got to do it.

About the Author

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

Workplace Wellness by Design

Contributor: Ali Ahmed

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

Keith Perske is the Executive Managing Director of Workplace Innovation at Colliers International. Previously he was Senior Director of Global Workplace Innovation at Johnson & Johnson.  He spoke with Stew Friedman about Collier’s recent survey of wellness programs.

Keith Perske: Keith PerskeColliers is one of the largest global real estate services firms. We have about 16,000 people in 500 offices in 67 countries. And we help our clients with all of their real estate needs. My team and I help clients design work places, and programs to make people productive, and make their companies competitive.  We’re not a design firm, like an architecture or interior designer, rather, we help companies isolate their business objectives and their cultural goals and then, through good workplace design and programs to support those goals, clients can be more productive.

Stew Friedman: You don’t work with the people inside of Colliers so much as you do with your clients in the real estate world?

KP: That’s true. We’re doing work internally. Whenever we have an office remodeled, I am involved in that. We’re changing our offices as well, but most of my work is client-based.

SF: Got it. Tell us about this wellness study. First, why did you do it?

KP: I’ve been in the workplace conversation for a quite a while now, and the subjects kind of come and go. It used to be about mobility and then technology. And the topic that’s been coming up over the last five years has been wellness in the workplace. It’s about creating harmony, creating places where people can make choices about being healthy in the workplace. We wanted to know more about that. When we think about the workplace, we don’t think about it as panel heights and assignment of offices, we think about it as a more holistic system.

SF: Panel heights, you were referring to the panels that surround cubicles? Is that what you mean by that?

KP: Yes, a cubicle height and those kinds of things. It could be a big topic. We don’t talk too much about that. We think about the workplace as a place to craft experiences for employees that make them productive and engaged. So, by thinking of the employee at the center, then it makes us think about things like how do you connect them to the brand of the company? And how you enable the culture of the company through the workplace? And how do you make sure that wellness is part of this conversation?

SF: What motivated this now?  These things do go in phases? We were just talking to Professor Barry Schwartz about the history of how work is organized, and what’s needed now. What is it about the present moment that has given rise to this intense interest in wellness? Is it that people are so stressed out and overwhelmed by the 24/7 nature of work in the digital world? Or is it something else?

KP: I think there’s some of that and I think some of it is the millennial work force; they are approaching work a little bit differently. And I don’t want to lump them into a single category, but there are expectations that are different than, for instance, boomer’s expectations about work. There’s more of a sense of needing balance. There’s also this idea about being at work any time, not just between nine and five. By having different demands from this different work force, employers are having to pay attention to things like wellness, and things like balance.

SF: Tell us about the study. Clearly, there’s an interest in this topic. What was your motivation for the study itself and what hypotheses or hunches did you have going into it?

KP: We had been talking about wellness for a while. We went to 200 of our clients, a cross-section of large and small, and local and international firms.  We wanted to know what they were doing about wellness. We had this suspicion that it was part of the conversation. But what are people actually doing about this? We wanted to know about their motivation. What was causing this conversation to show up on peoples’ radars? And many said it was in the top three in their priority list of things they were really focusing on.

SF: Let me jump in here for a second, make sure we understand what we mean by wellness. Is wellness about physical wellbeing? Is it about having the capacity to be physically healthy, to be able to move around and eat healthy foods? Or is it also the psychological health of people, and their spiritual health too? What is wellness after all?

KP: We thought about it as the basics of disease assessment and management; heart disease and diabetes. We thought about it as lifestyle management; stress and substance abuse. And we thought about it as wellbeing; mental and emotional health. That’s how we defined wellness. It’s really not a normal topic in workplace circles. When you think about those things as programs that all together help an employee be healthier, it really is a workplace issue.

SF: Absolutely, work is where we spend much of our waking time.  It’s a societal issue as well because it affects the health of society and of course, that has all kinds of implications. How many people were in your study, companies, sectors? Give us a sense of the scope and then tell us what you found.

KP: It was 200 companies. We serve 200 companies around the world in all sectors: technology, pharma, finance.   We didn’t break it down by sector, we were looking at the holistic approach of how these companies were approaching this. Back to your previous question — what was really motivating companies to think about this? — the number one thing was employees were asking for it. Employees were asking for programs that help them live healthier work styles, help them stay healthy in an affordable way, and employers were responding to that because it’s really good part of their recruitment and retention. This is part of their choice matrix.

SF: You said it was top three among the issues that they worry about on the people side?

KP: They did and the reason they look for it is because employees were demanding it. The second reason they were looking at it was they were trying to keep up with their peers.

SF: Competition with the labor market?

KP: Yes, the competition with the labor market. Many people used this as part of their selection criteria when they are thinking about changing jobs.

SF: Right. So, what were the big findings? Give us the headlines.

KP: When we looked at the big findings, I kind of broke it down. The big one was we’ll give you a fitness center if we have a large facility. Smoking cessation and weight loss are the top three big ones, and that’s pretty normal. Stress management was right behind that and heart screening. The top five are some of the top five issues in our society. And the lesser ones would be chronic lung disorder, cancer, and depression was actually lower as well. We were surprised to find that so low.

SF: It could be under-reported because there might be stigma associated with that. People might be afraid of reporting it.

KP: That’s very possible.

SF: But please continue.

KP:   When employees have these kinds of choices for these kinds of solutions, they pick companies, all things being equal, who offer these kinds of options.

SF: Tell us more about what companies are doing. What are the cool things that are happening on the horizon that are starting to get traction across the different sectors of the economic landscape that our listeners should know about?

KP: I think the things for me that were exciting were things that people were doing with design in the workplace. Access to natural light and ergonomics and providing restorative spaces were big things.

SF: What’s a restorative space?

KP: Quiet spaces, spaces to retreat to. There was a client I was working with where we had a whole floor that was relatively open, but one side of the floor was quiet and the other side was open or more noisy. And they regulated themselves, but the idea was there were places you could go to during the day where it was very quiet and you could work and that was important for some people – I guess for all people, at some point. And by being mindful about how they laid out the space, having those restorative spaces, was really a good thing.

SF: And giving people choice about whether they can use them? Is that a part of the package? Because clearly some people like noise and others like quiet.

KP: And choice is actually a mental health issue as well.   Choice and control about how you plan your day and work your day. What happens if there’s a choice to go to a quiet place or a noisy place based on what was good for you? That was a really empowering thing and companies are starting to do that as well.

SF: You know, Dan, our engineer, used to work at Ikea. And he tells me they had a quiet room there where you could go and relax and take a nap if you needed to.

KP: That’s what we’re talking about. It’s a smart idea.

SF: What else did you see that was particularly exciting that you think our listeners would want to know about trends in workplace wellness?

KP: Another one was this idea about tall ceilings; studies have shown that people who work in places with higher ceilings feel more free and more creative and are better able to handle abstractions, which are all related to innovation. A lot of companies that we work with these days are looking for ways to create places for innovation and to motivate innovation. And there appear to be ways through natural lighting, different types of spaces, and tall ceilings that help promote innovation as well as wellness. That means higher ceilings make people feel freer and more open. One other things is access to greenery, to be able to look outside and see plants or see the ocean, to see natural colors.  That is shown to promote mental acuity and it has a calming effect.

SF: Let’s say you’re living in a city far away from the ocean and there’s nothing green around. Many of our listeners work in such companies. What do they do to try to affect some of these states of peacefulness that induce creativity?

KP: Plants on the interior are always a good thing. But colors are also helpful. Blues and greens and browns are attractive to our eyes. And at certain places being able to use that helps. Reds create angst and concern. Many companies’ colors are red, so there’s ways to make sure you don’t have some of that there because of the branding. Offsetting that with greens and blues and browns is a smart thing to do.

SF: What would you recommend that Target do, for example? Target, of course, has the red and white logo– very red and white.

KP: You have got to keep pictures of greenery, green accent walls, natural plants, natural light.

SF: How do people learn about how to manage workplace design in this way? Does your study inform people about the kinds of initiatives that seem to be most effective in today’s work environment?

KP: In a sense, the white paper goes over those things. It lists the key aspects to put into a workplace that help create wellness or senses of wellbeing.

SF: What else is in there that we haven’t heard about that you want to make sure our listeners can hear about now, and then go explore further at your website to read the white paper.

KP: Another one is this idea of a sit-stand desk. Desks that raise and lower by a crank or a motor because sitting as know has become – as a headline a few years ago said — “Sitting is the new smoking.” It was a great headline. The idea is that movement is very important, especially from sitting to standing positions.  Many companies these days are providing sit-stand work stations.

SF: So, movement, sit-stand desks, are all the rage.

KP: The other one is treadmill desk. If you remember that, it’s still around and people still use them, but not very much. And our surveys showed that was true.  When people deployed these treadmill desks that they just weren’t used very much. I was working with a client two years ago when we put one of those in the ground floor of a three-story building, and the VP on the third floor said, “Hey, we want one of those on our floor,” and I said, “we surveyed the units on the first floor and it’s not used very much. There’s capacity there.” And their answer was, “That’s just too far to walk!”

SF: Do people get too tired walking or is it something about the physiology of thinking and working that you can’t do it while you’re walking?

KP: I will say that people do use them – there is a treadmill that goes about 2 miles per hour and you can read email, you can work conference calls while you’re on it – people use them, it’s just not a big upgrade.

SF: Interesting. So, treadmills…not really happening? What is happening though?

KP: One of the things that was interesting was we asked if they were seeing reductions in healthcare costs. There’s a lot of ways to measure the effectiveness of these kinds of programs, like employee retention and satisfaction and reduced sick days. But the most capturable thing was what are your healthcare costs and are you seeing reduction? And about 60% of the firms we surveyed said they did see reductions in healthcare costs and they were attributing that to the wellness programs they were putting in place. But the curious thing there was that only 10% of them – only 10% of them – were reporting it and actually recording it.

SF: What does that mean? They were not reporting it internally or to externals?

KP: Or externally. They were capturing it. They were saying, “Look, we have captured the fact that we’re reducing our costs”, but they don’t broadcast it. They don’t talk about that. And the reason I think that’s important is these are enterprises. Anything that gets expanded, that gets really abstracted from the bottom line doesn’t have much of a chance of getting funded. Part of my job – and maybe yours too, I don’t know – is to try and draw cause and linkage between these programs and how they affect the bottom line. If you capture that, then you report it, then the next year when it’s time to get funding for you, you have a better chance of getting it.

SF: How do you help people do that? How do you help companies make that connection? I know there are critics of this field of inquiry who are asserting that indeed wellness programs might be costing more than they yield in terms of value. Are you familiar with those criticisms?

KP: I am, and I’m hearing some of that. I think you have to really be specific about where the criticism is. I do think that you can throw good money after bad at a program that’s not serving you. It’s important to figure out those that are working well. I think that blanket criticism of the entire idea of wellness in the workplace is false. But I would say that if you pick apart some of the pieces, there are places to get better. That’s for sure.

SF: I want to make sure that our listeners get some advice from you as to how they can proceed, whether they are a small company or an independent operator or part of a big organization, perhaps managing a part of a big organization. What is it you want to convey to people about what they can learn about how to make their workplaces more conducive to wellness?

KP: First, I would encourage folks to download the white paper. There’s a lot of information in that and it’s free, and you’re not obliged to anything.    There are a lot of studies that are going on these days. Harvard Business Review regularly releases studies about the positive financial impact of these kinds of programs. The American College of Occupational Environmental Medicine has a corporate health achievement award that shows that companies that have healthcare work forces are actually more profitable and make more money than the standard S&P 500. I’d say educate yourself, get the white paper, look at some of these studies that are available on the internet, and really think about the workplace as more than just panel heights and space layouts. It’s really a holistic system, and wellness is a part of it.

SF: And you really can have an impact on a person’s life in the way that you design your work setting can’t you?

KP: That’s what motivates me and my team. We help companies make money, and be profitable and maximize space. But we also help people.  That’s the important part of this. We spend so much time at work, and many work places are just dismal. If we can help pull those into a more modern type of work setting, it’s gratifying. You can really help people. And when you do, they thank you. They never go back. They love these new work places.

SF: If you are an employee looking to create a change in your work environment, what’s your quick important word of advice about how they ought to proceed?

KP: This usually relies on the HR area, the HR department. There might even be a wellness office in your company. Ask them. Start demanding these services. Bring information to them. But I think the more that employees speak up, the more employers are likely to hear them. So, make some noise.

SF: Make some noise, but keep it quiet for those people who want to have a quieter work environment, right?

About the Author

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