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Positive Psychology and Creativity — Scott Barry Kaufman

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).

Scott Barry Kaufman is Scientific Director of the Science of Imagination Project at the Positive Psychology Center at The University of Pennsylvania. The research is supported by a research grant from the Imagination Institute. He conducts research on the measurement and development of imagination, creativity, and play, and teaches the popular undergraduate course Introduction to Positive Psychology. Kaufman is author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined and co-author of the upcoming book Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind (with Carolyn Gregoire). He is also host of The Psychology Podcast, co-founder of The Creativity Post, and he writes the blog Beautiful Minds for Scientific American. Kaufman completed his doctorate in cognitive psychology from Yale University in 2009 and received his master’s degree in experimental psychology from Cambridge University in 2005, where he was a Gates Cambridge Scholar.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stewart Friedman: What led you here?

Scott Barry Kaufman: scott barry kaufman I think my whole life, especially as young as I can remember, I was really interested in human possibility and what people are capable of achieving in life. I felt personally like I was being held back. The first three years of my life I suffered from something called Central Auditory Processing Disorder, it’s a learning disability that made it very hard for me to process things in real time. I was placed in special education as a result, and I remember sitting there in special ed and I have memories as-young-as-can-be just sitting there and daydreaming, looking out the window, just thinking is there more that I’m capable of doing. Talking to my friends in special ed, all of us wondered if we could bypass these expectations or if we were prisoners of these expectations.

SF: So this was in elementary school you were having conversations like that?

SBK: Absolutely, I had this fascination. I think it was in large part the circumstances, where I was placed. Maybe I am who I am today because I was in special education.  I just felt there were a lot of greater possibilities. And this was before the field of positive psychology was even founded, so it resonates so much with me. I started to get into the science, trying to understand the standard metrics of intelligence. I wanted to learn everything I could about IQ testing and working memory, things like that. I felt like I reached a point where I got it, and I was like oh yeah, I get it.

SF: Was that because you were wondering about your own intelligence or what it meant to be open to possibility and exploring the world?

SBK: I think I just wanted to know what intelligence meant, what was it.  And I thought that my mission in life was to redefine intelligence. I thought, as a junior in high school, I had this moment. I applied to the Carnegie Mellon University and I wrote a long, personal essay about how I want to redefine intelligence and they rejected me because my SAT scores weren’t high enough to redefine intelligence and I said that’s ironic. But I was determined. And I auditioned for Carnegie Mellon’s opera program, and I got a scholarship to Carnegie Mellon for opera. The departments don’t talk to each other, apparently, because they just rejected me in the Cognitive Science program. I still went to Carnegie Mellon for an opera scholarship and then transferred to psychology, almost immediately.

SF: So you got to Carnegie Mellon, and what blossomed there?

SBK: When I got there, I took a course in cognitive psychology, and we were using Robert Sternberg’s textbook about cognitive psychology.  I remember we got to this chapter, I remember it so vividly. A lot of people I think, when they get their purpose in life, they can usually point to a moment.   Maybe these are just the narratives we make in our life looking back, but it’s a very vivid moment where you fell “this is it.” I remember sitting there on the sofa sophomore year of college, we were reading the chapter on intelligence in Robert Sternberg’s cognitive psychology textbook, one of the older editions, and I just sat there and said,  “holy cow, there’s a whole scientific field.” I thought in my head I was going to start this field; I didn’t know what existed. Sternberg and Gardner were the two biggies, and they became my idols instantly.

SF: How did they shape your experience both at school and beyond, and how did that get you to the particular realm of creativity?

SBK: I reached out to Sternberg.  I came up with this plan that I was going to redefine intelligence and I was going to study with Sternberg and came up with this plan to get into Yale for PhD. My cognitive psychology teacher, I told her this is what I want to do, and out of the goodness of her heart, and also I think she saw something in me, she took me under her wing and we came up with a concrete plan to get me into Yale to study with Robert Sternberg for a PhD. We talk about goal-setting a lot in our field, and I goal-set it up the wazoo. I set the goal of being admitted to the PhD program at Yale, and I ended up having an embarrassment of riches where I followed the plan so slavishly that I got into Harvard to work with Howard Gardner as well and I also got into University of Cambridge on the Gates Cambridge Scholarship. I had to actually make a decision between Harvard, Yale, and Cambridge. By the way, I say that and I sound so pretentious, but coming from the place that I was coming from and how much I wanted it, I remember when I got the news, Sternberg sent me this email and he said,  “you got in and I screamed in the hallway.

SF: That euphoria is, I’m sure, something that you’ll probably never forget. You probably had to overcome a lot of obstacles, starting as a special ed student to find out that you really were awake, alive, and obviously, very talented.

SBK: There were a lot of obstacles. Of course, not getting into Carnegie Mellon, but also in ninth grade –– I was kept in special education until ninth grade –– a special ed teacher took me aside and said, “I see your frustration. Why are you still here? Have you thought about trying something else?” I realized that nobody had asked me that question before.

SF: Your parents hadn’t?

SBK: No. By the way, this shows the importance of asking good questions. That one question changed the course of my whole life.

SF: The question that a ninth grade teacher asked you?

SBK: “What are you doing here?” She also said, “I see you and that was the first time I had ever felt seen in my whole life as well.  I became inspired to take myself out of special ed and see what I was capable of. I signed up for every class imaginable and I wasn’t necessarily good at everything, but I learned in everything and it was so exciting to be able to have the freedom to explore my identity. I think all I wanted was that freedom. I think we need to give people the autonomy to explore their identity.

SF: That’s exactly what we’re trying to do on this show and what I try to do with my work, too. It’s truly inspiring to hear how you did that for yourself, but with the help of people asking you questions that helped to liberate you, to free you to pursue the person you were to become. We can’t do this alone, can we?

SBK: You really can’t, and I think we also underestimate the extent to which one supportive word can change someone’s life, or even just looking at them and not through them.

SF: What was the deficit, and how did it keep you in special education through ninth grade? That’s pretty far along the track that it took that long for you to be unchained.

SBK: I should say my parents, I love them, they’re great, but my mom is a very overprotective Jewish mother and she just wanted to make sure nothing happened. I think she, like a lot of well-meaning parents, will overprotect in order to not see their child suffer at all. But by doing that, it really held me back.

SF: The overprotection became the prison in itself. Let’s get into what you write about and what you teach about. Your course is wildly popular around campus and I’d love to hear your brief synopsis of what it is you do, what is the purpose of this course that you teach in positive psychology, and why do you think students resonate so deeply with it?

SBK: I want to say that teaching the course has been one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever done in my life. Today was our last day; we had the final, and students lined up to hug me after class and to tell me their whole life has changed. I’ve been trying to think about what it is about the material that’s so transformative, because there’s a large percentage of variance that explains it’s not just my teaching style. There’s something about the material as well. I think that a lot of these students come into the class not realizing that having meaning in life matters. They go through the script that they’ve gone through, and it halts them for the first time in their life, and it makes them think, gets them off the train for a second, this nonstop train of standardized testing. It really gets them thinking about what really matters in life. This course is really about what matters the most in life and what does it mean to live a good life, what does it mean to live a happy life, and the science of all that.

SF: The science and the philosophy?

SBK:  We cover a lot of philosophy in the course and I’m very much influenced by the existential philosophers as well as the existential psychologists. Carl Jung was one of the first positive psychologists. Carl Rogers also was a major influence on me and Erich Fromm and humanistic psychologists like Viktor Frankl, paved the way for positive psychology to come into being.

SF: The whole humanist movement that came into real flourishing in the 60’s is the core foundation of this field.

SBK: Let me ask you a question. You said, “What do you think about Freud?” Do you think he was not?

SF: I think his goal, too, was human liberation. As I understand, the thrust of his work was to find a way for the innermost passions and drives that motivate us, to bring those into conscious awareness and to be able to channel that energy in a way that is constructive and towards a sense of harmony and meaning in one’s life and among the different parts of one’s life. He was helping, through the method that he discovered, the talking cure, to help people discover who they really were, and to find a way for that to be expressed and to give credence to whatever it is inside of you, to affirm that it is real and is to be embraced and understood and to be examined. Yes, I know there are differences between Jung and Freud, very important ones that we’re not going to be able to explore fully here, but I think they were both after more or less the same thing.

SBK: I think the big insight, the latest research that I pursued in my dissertation is the adaptive unconscious, how unconscious processing, or, what I studied in my dissertation was implicit learning, can be extremely valuable for creativity and self-fulfillment. I think Freud emphasized, I agree with everything you said about Freud, I think his blind spot was the unconscious. I don’t think he saw the full possibility of the unconscious.

SF: We could talk about Freud and Jung all evening, let’s get to your new book, Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind.

SBK: A lot of people we profile in this book, they’re not household names. There’s this one rapper named Baba Brinkman, a white rapper who raps about science. You should listen to his stuff; it’s pretty cool. He raps about evolution.  I was interviewing a bunch of people a couple years ago, running personality tests because I was curious what people are like. And I was looking at his profile and he was contradicting himself in every way. On one hand, his average narcissism score wasn’t high, which was interesting to have a rapper with average narcissism, they’re usually high. When you look at the actual facets, he scored high in some things that were actually adaptive for rapping, but lower on things like entitlement, which wouldn’t be adaptive.

SF: Adaptive for that role?

SBK: Exactly. He was all over the place. Once you start looking at the literature, you’ll find this is a very common pattern across most of the greatest creative geniuses of all time. They contradict themselves constantly and then it occurred to me, maybe it’s those contradictions which give birth to creativity. The tension, the inability to resolve these tensions, is a lot of what drives the creative person, and it also is what gives birth to creativity. We talk about Picasso. You look at Picasso’s creative process, especially his painting of Guernica, you see that he doesn’t look like he’s going through a linear trajectory when he’s painting these things. It looks like some drafts, he’s taken five steps back. If you just isolate one, it’s like he’s doing this blind, he’s doing random trial-and-error. That’s what it looks like from that perspective. You realize that that was actually essential for his career process, this nonlinear trajectory, so when I was interviewed by Carolyn Gregoire for a Huffington Post article that she did really well called 18 Things Creative People Do Differently, she asked me,  “What would you say is the one thing that in your research, describes creative people? and what came to mind was that they had really messy minds. That one quote just went viral, and I was thinking maybe people resonated with that.

SF: Messy minds – can you say more about that?

SBK: We focus so much in our society on efficiency. In elementary school, in high school, everything you’re doing, taking that one test, getting the ‘A’, making sure that on the SAT’s to get that one shot where you do perfectly. We have all of these societal pressures to be efficient. Creativity is not characterized by efficiency. Creativity is characterized by variability, and if we want to structure a society that is really conducive to creativity, we need to take that fact into account and we need to allow people that opportunity for trail and error and to get messy, but we have not set up structures like that at all, including business structures. I love the business world, and it’s important to take into account the messiness aspect for managers, for instance.

SF: Well, there’s a lot of work in innovation and creativity in the business world, that, of course, glorifies chaos and understands this concept of the need for messy thinking.

SBK: Well, there’s messy personality and there’s messy creative process. Creative people can harness deep daydreaming, they can harness mindfulness, their sensitivity, their resiliency. There’s constant contradiction. They have a very well-developed openness to experience, a well-developed intuition, a highly-developed rationality. That’s what I mean by creative personality. But when you look at creative trajectory, and there’s been some great analyses of art and literature, they found it conforms to the equal odds rule. The equal odds rule states that your chance of producing a masterpiece increases the more you produce something, regardless of the quality of what you’re producing. It turns out that the greatest people in these generations, those that make the history books, have a product or two that goes down in the history books, they also have a lot of things that go down as one of the worst things of their generation. They just have the most things that they produce.

SF: So producing a lot that’s going to be junk, and in the pile of junk there’s going to be something, that’s the pattern.

SBK: The constant pattern, almost a rule.

SF: Perhaps you could tell us a bit about how some of these activities help people to tap into the contradictions within in order to release their creativity.

SBK: I think creativity is the ultimate personal freedom. To me, creative expression is so intimately intertwined with self-expression. Creativity is not something that we teach in a course, where we say, “Today class, we’re going to force you to be creative. We’re going to give you a set of rules.” What we can do is we can help people find an identity that really suits them, that is harmoniously passionate. I think this is something that is very much in line with something that you do on your show. The field of positive psychology distinguishes between a form of passion called harmonious passion and a form of passion called obsessive passion. Harmonious passion, this is Robert Vallerand who’s done this terrific research, is when the activity that you’re involved in, you feel that it’s really well-integrated into the rest of your self. There’s no conflict there between work or other areas of your life that give you meaning. You’re engaged in an activity that makes you feel good about yourself, that is in line with your set of values. When we think about the self, a good way of thinking about the self is the self is an entire set of values that are important to you, that’s essentially what your self is. Because the self is constructed, with creativity, what you find is really creative people have a heightened sense of awareness, the self-awareness as well as awareness of the world. That’s where openness to experience comes in. That’s where mindfulness comes in. You’re a very keen observer of human nature, but you’re also an observer of your own inner-world.

SF: Draw the distinction between harmonious and obsessive passion.

SBK: Harmonious passion is an accord between your self and whatever you engage in. You feel good about your self, and you feel an inner drive to engage. You feel you’re in the flow of experience, which is a really important experience. The more you’re completely absorbed in your activity, and you also feel like you can disengage whenever you want. You’re engaged, but your life calls, and something else in your life that’s meaningful to you and you can put this work aside now. I can engage in this part of my life and gain this meaning. Obsessively passionate people, or obsessive passion, seems to be related to much greater levels of burnout, stress, injury. They’ve done studies on dancers who are obsessively passionate; they’re much more prone to physical injury. People who are obsessively passionate engage in their activity out of contingencies like self-esteem.

SF: If I get the prima ballerina status, I will be loved by all.

SBK:  Yes. That’s the difference between engaging in what you do in life because it makes you feel good about your self, your value system, what you want to contribute to this world versus you’ve engaged in an activity because it bolsters your self-esteem, your ego. Scientists have shown that they do have implications for well-being, for a sense of vitality.  Harmonious passion is correlated with a greater sense of your life, and ultimate performance. They’ve looked at actual performance in music and sports, among psychology undergrads for instance, and it matters.

SF: So this is something that I know a lot of people are searching for, want more of in their lives. What kinds of things do you teach about or write about that help people develop further a greater experience of harmonious passion in their own lives?

SBK: I wish everyone could take a course in positive psychology or maybe there are some books with exercises because a lot of these exercises are designed to help you ground yourself and what matters to you and what matters the most in life. Gratitude is a really important thing. There’s an activity we do in class where you write down three things that you’re most grateful for at the end of your day, and it’s good to do that before you go to bed and sleep on it. You’ll wake up in a much more positive mood.
SF: Seriously?

SBK: Yeah, there’s research on this.

SF: Before you close your eyes and take those last few deep breathes and lose consciousness, think about a couple things that you’re grateful for. What about if people say, “I can’t think of anything, Scott. There’s nothing.  Everything’s terrible.” What happens then, if you’re in that mindset?

SBK: Keep a journal and I imagine you can at least think of one good thing. No matter what the life is, you need to reframe what is a good thing. Seeing a beautiful flower can be a good thing.

SF: So it might be something really small.

SBK: The thing about gratitude as well as keeping a journal about the stuff is you want to look for patterns of why you are alive. Life is so short. What are you doing this for? You realize, you start to see the larger patterns and you see things that really do give you a lot of meaning and gratitude in life. I’m so appreciative for this and that helps to actually hone your sense of self. Mindfulness is another thing. I start off a lot of my classes with a mindfulness meditation.

SF: I know; my daughter, a Penn undergrad, was telling me. She is huge fan of Scott Kaufman and when I asked how the class was going she said,  “We start by meditating at the beginning of each class.” How do you do that, Scott?

SBK: Don’t tell the students but there’s a part of it that’s also for me, because I want to get into a really relaxed, calm state in order to teach. I don’t think I’ve told them that. I want to make sure that I’m really there and present with them as well for that hour and 20 minutes. We start with mindfulness, allowing all sorts of thoughts and daydreams to enter consciousness and you don’t try to suppress it. You don’t try to return to the breath.

SF: Most meditation is all about breath. Remember your breathing and that’s the thing that matters now, and you’re present because you’re breathing and you’re alive because you’re breathing.

SBK: But the thing is that recent research suggests the return to the breath meditation is negatively correlated with creativity. There are different kinds of mindfulness. There are different stages of the creative process, different ways of thinking are going to be important. If you’re in that stage of the creative process where you want to generate lots and lots of ideas and you don’t want to narrow it down just yet, you want to brainstorm, this open monitoring mode of meditation is going to be very valuable.

SF: Can you please explain what that is again? Open monitoring, your mind wanders and…

SBK: You allow that to happen and you’re okay with that. First, you start off with being very comfortable and getting in touch with closing your eyes, getting in touch with your emotions, how you’re feeling, what does my heart feel. But then you really want to get to this level of consciousness where you are intensely focused on your daydreams. I call it mindful daydreaming. It’s very important for getting in touch with your deepest self and understanding the patterns of unresolved issues in your life and there’s continuity between our nighttime dreams and our daydreams in that sense where we constantly have these constant themes. We have a very open-minded thought process. A lot of creative ideas don’t come through conscious deliberation of trying to solve it; they usually come in altered states of consciousness.

SF: Like the shower?

SBK: Yeah, and I’ve done the research with showers, where we found that people get more creative inspiration in their shower than they do at work. We found that worldwide, and it’s because relaxing lets us be mindful to our daydreams. It allows our mind to wander, but we’re also in this relaxed state where if some sort of great connection does arise, it will reach that threshold of consciousness.

SF: So you have to be relaxed and open and non-monitoring to allow the creative impulse to come to the surface of consciousness. Eileen is calling from Orlando. Eileen, welcome to Work and Life. How can we help you?

SBK: When I was younger, I was very creative. I’m wondering if creativity is like a muscle, where if you don’t use it, you lose it, because I really do feel that over the years I’ve lost my creativity and I’m wondering can I get it back?

SBK: It is like a muscle. We’re seeing this at the neurological level. We see some neuroscience studies where you’re really not building those levels of imagination and creativity if you’re not exercising the thought process. I think a good way for you to get it back, and by the way hope is not lost for you, you can definitely get it back, a lot of it is committing yourself to a creative lifestyle. I really do see creativity as a way of being in the world, a way of relating to the world. Every time you are questioning the assumptions of something and saying every time you do something in your life that scares you, every time you brainstorm multiple possibilities that could explain something you’re seeing, any one of these things is a way of being. That’s getting you back to exercising those muscles so you can make that decision in a second to start doing all of these things.

SF: It’s pretty easy to continue to develop that muscle, as Eileen called it.

SBK: It is, and we talk about these ten habits that creative people do differently. I think these things are accessible to everyone and some of it is maybe going to get people out of their comfort zone, especially if they haven’t done it in a while. Another one is we talk about post-traumatic growth.  People aren’t aware of this emerging field in positive psychology called post-traumatic growth where we can really take our trauma, we’ve all had trauma to some level, recognizing that we’re all suffering as well as having joyous moments, we can reframe our experience as potential opportunities or tools for creative growth, and channeling that into great works of art, great works of literature, starting a new business. A lot of people have had great business ideas based on a great need they saw based on their suffering.

SF: Creativity is often rooted in suffering?

SBK: I think so. When I said earlier creativity, creative expression is very intimately tied with self-expression, our self is a very vulnerable thing. We shouldn’t hide that. One of the findings in the book is that Frank Barron, when he studied all of these really creative people, he found something that stood out; they were very comfortable with becoming intimate with themselves and their whole selves, including their dark side, their negative emotions, and they integrated it. We’re going back again to this integration thing, but that’s such a common theme among creative people.

SF: That really is the point of what this show is about, to help people integrate the different parts of their lives, including the dark side. This gets us back to Freud, but I don’t want to go there in too much depth because we don’t have the time to do that, but the exploration of the full range of who you are and bringing that into your everyday life, that is something that is frightening, to accept those aspects of your self that are dark and to allow that to be accepted as a part of your self. You talked about very creative people, and that’s what we’ve been talking about, but doesn’t that contradict what you’re asserting about all of us being creative and that creativity is the ultimate form of self-expression?

SBK: Let me clear up something; I don’t think everybody’s creative. I think everybody has the possibility of being creative. There’s a difference there. I don’t think, at this exact moment, everyone has the same level of creativity.

SF: But we all have the potential for it?

SBK: Yes, we all have the potential of living creatively as a way of being. There are people that are fundamentally transforming their field on a larger scale. Mark Zuckerberg: it would be a lie to say everyone is at Mark Zuckerberg’s level because that’s obviously not true. What I argue is the thought processes he applies are things that you see at every level of creativity.

SF: Chris, calling from Michigan, how can we help you?

Chris: How does my son get his creativity back? He’s 27, he used to be very brilliant, very creative, and he found out he had Asperger syndrome and other issues, and he lost his self-esteem.

SBK: I can really resonate with that from a personal perspective. It’s very easy to lose your sense of identity, especially when people’s expectations of you are a certain way. I think something that’s really important for him to recognize and for society to recognize as well is a lot of these learning disabilities have an upside to them, and we can get lost too quickly as society condemning it or viewing it, because it’s different, as somehow less than, when the reality is not less than, it’s just different. There is a bunch of research coming out showing that people with Asperger’s have a lot of these hidden strengths, really good at pattern detection, really good at detail-oriented thinking, good at visual/spatial reasoning, lots of things. I would recommend he and the listeners go to take the VIA Test, the character strengths survey. It’s a free, online test that anyone can take and I would recommend that your son take it and identify his top three character strengths. The great thing about this test is that everyone has strengths. I spent many years before anyone really showed any positive aspects of who I was.   Ruminating on the negative aspects, of course, that’s detrimental to the self-esteem. But it’s really amazing how resilient the self-esteem is and how you can shift things around once you shift the focus of attention. I would really have him identify those character strengths and see what his kind of mind might be best suited for in applying those character strengths.

SF: You can find it at VIACharacter.org. Scott, if there is one thought you wanted to leave our listeners with about how to mine the creativity within and cultivate it in their lives, what’s the big idea that you’d like people to keep in mind and to explore further?

SBK: I think that the number one personality predictor that I’ve found in my research over and over again that predicts a personally-fulfilling creativity as well as lifelong creativity is openness to experience. That means being open to being vulnerable, being open to potential suffering, being open to taking risks, taking chances, to being intellectually curious, and being open to beauty. All of these things have been found to correlate and to form this idea of openness to experience in relation to creativity.

About the Author

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




Family Relationships in the Digital Age – Catherine Steiner Adair

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).

Catherine Steiner-Adair, a psychologist in private practice who is also a research associate in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and affiliated with Mclean Hospital, has written The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age  which examines the ways in which technology and media change how children learn and grow,
and shows parents how to balance the benefits of tech while reducing the potential risks they pose. She identifies ways to strengthen children’s social and emotional development to help them grow to be responsible, resilient, confident, and capable young adults.  She spoke with Stew Friedman about her current work which focuses on the impact of technology on the boundaries between work and the rest of life.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stewart Friedman: What prompted you to write The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age?

Catherine Steiner-Adair: Catherine Steiner AdairThe first thing that prompted me was my own struggles as a mom. My 30-year-old son was a very quick adopter to gaming and I didn’t know what to do or how to handle it. I had to set appropriate limits.  He ended up going to business school and he works in the technology industry.   He had a couple years in Wall Street and didn’t like that. He was able to combine his love of finance and technology, but it was rough going when he was gaming.

SF: What was rough about it?

CSA: I’m trained as a developmental psychologist.   And this was a long time ago when games were real games you could beat.  He was beating these games and I felt like it was so stimulating for him and really creative and clearly he was into this with real intellectual gusto.   But I also felt like something was going on between his brain and the computer that was very unlike anything I had seen but there was no research then.

SF: You were worried about that?

CSA: I was absolutely worried about it. This is a kid who would come to dinner politely, except when I said, “Stop playing.  Get off your computer.”  Then he was much angrier and it took him a while just to transition into being present at the dinner table.   For a great conversationalist, it was very noticeable. Now there’s tons of research, and the thing that’s really hard is to listen to the research because we’ve all fallen in love with tech, our lives now revolve around it, and it’s very hard to push the pause button and reboot. The other thing was I was really curious to interview kids about what it’s like to be a child growing up in the digital age. What’s it like for a four-year-old, a 14-year-old, or a 24-year-old with a parent who has a laptop and iPad? I was very lucky, I was able to go to 30 schools around the country and interview 1,250 kids.

SF: What did you discover?

CSA: The thing that really blew me away was how frustrated and exhausted kids of all ages are trying to get their parents’ attention. It was really sad to hear children using the same adjectives —angry, sad, madly, lonely, frustrated — at every age. We’ve got to outsmart our smartphones.   The work-family boundary is gone with technology. As wonderful as technology is, and it is here to stay, it makes it really hard to know when you can disconnect from work and when are the moments to be totally present to your family.

SF: I would say that it’s not that the boundary is gone, it’s just that now has to be managed intelligently, consciously,  and deliberately given the fact that we’ve got our work with us all the time.

CSA: Well, that’s what I mean. You could, ostensibly, now be at work 24/7. It used to be that you come home from work, and now work travels in your back pocket with you wherever you go.

SF: Yes, and we’re just learning as a species how to manage this new technology. Tell us more about what you discovered. I thought you were going to say that what you discovered was that kids themselves were having trouble with their ability to pay attention.

CSA: The book is full of stories about that, and I expected to find that.  But it’s very rare to listen to kids at four and 14 and 24, when asked a question, all go to the same answer. They all had the same thing to say for every problem, and that’s what shocked me.

SF: The 24-year-olds were saying, “I can’t get my mother’s attention because she’s on her smartphone?”

CSA: You bet, and they had the same examples. For instance, six- and seven-year-olds would say things like, “I hate it when my mom says ‘Can’t wait to see you after school, honey. I’ll be first in line at pickup,’ and then I get in the car and she’s talking to grandma.” And then the 24-year-old or 26-year-old would say, “It’s so annoying, it makes me so mad, and it actually feels really hurtful when my parents are so excited to pick me up and they meet me and they say they’ll be behind TSA and we get in the car and they ask me something really important like ‘Which job are you going to take?’  or ‘Did you really break up with your girlfriend?’ and three seconds in, they were taking a call to make a golf game or dinner reservations.” We ask them a serious question, and then we say, “Oops, just wait a sec.”

SF: The message conveyed is that there’s something more important in my life than you.

CSA: That’s right, and that’s what kids are really struggling with.   That’s a message I got from my parents, and that’s fine. It’s about how often they get it. Since smartphones have come out we’ve created a new cultural norm. When you step back and reflect on it, it’s pretty staggering; the norm is that it is okay to be in a conversation with your husband, your wife, your partner, your kids, and at the sound of a ping or a little vibration of your phone you ask them to freeze in time and you turn your attention elsewhere. You don’t even know who it is that’s calling, but whatever it is, the message is that this matters more, this is more important, I’m leaving you in the moment.

SF: But it doesn’t have to be that way, does it?

CSA: No, of course it doesn’t have to be that way. We have to be a lot more thoughtful. Right now we’re sort of at the whim of phones.

SF: So how do you help people to detach in a way that allows them to pay attention to the people who matter when they need to be attended to?

CSA: When it comes to kids, I think there are certain times in the day that it’s really important to be tech-free.  You need to have it in your head that you’re not going to even take out your phone, it’s just an off-time.  Get up a half-hour earlier than your kids so you do all your email and then know for the next 45 minutes, you’re off-line because it’s a frantic time getting out the door and kids need nice parents, not cranky parents to get annoyed because the parents are texting. And then, in the car on the way to school, especially for little children, playing Candy Crush makes the ride easy but it’s not what they need psychologically or neurologically.   And kids of all ages hate hearing their parents talk on Bluetooth. Another time that’s really important is when you come home from work. Stand in the rain, stand in the snow, but do not walk in your house in a conversation because you’re not coming home from work, you’re bringing work home.

SF: And everybody knows that.

CSA: They do, and kids of all ages, six and 16 say, “I never run and hug my father when he walks in the door anymore because all I’m going to get is ‘Hold on, honey. This is really important; I really want to see you in just one sec.’” Technology has really changed how we think about time and how we think about what’s important.  Many adults have this new habit of mind that they walk in the door, they say a quick “Hi” to everybody, and the next thing they say is, “I’m just going to go check my email,” and then they’re gone for 25 minutes, two hours, they’re checking out.  So one of the things I would suggest you ask yourself is: Is there any reason, is there anything absolutely urgent that means you cannot come home, walk in the door, and have whatever it is, 45 minutes, an hour-and-a-half, where you are completely offline. I also interviewed 500 teachers and 500 parents.

SF: So you spoke to teachers in your research?

CSA: Teachers had very similar things to say. I’ve actually just come back from six weeks on the road, and teachers everywhere say the same things .They’re seeing kids can’t self-regulate as well.

SF: What does that mean? Can you translate that?

CSA: They can’t calm themselves down.

SF: You mean they need their devices?

CSA: They need their devices. They’re jittery, they’re twitchy, they’re so used to the fast pace, instant gratification, the automatic start, the device gets you to the next level. You think about the difference between playing dress-up in real life and playing dress-up on an iPad, the iPad has nothing to offer a child. Dress-up is a great thing to play for coordination if you are a little person walking around in big boots and stuff, and it’s great for your imagination. You’re making up a story, and you have your own internal vision of what a warrior or a princess or whatever it is you are, instead of abiding by these gender stereotypes. Most of all, the biggest thing that they see kids giving up on so quickly is their own imagination. It’s called the capacity for deep play. When you’re playing and you come to a quiet spot and you realize hey, I have a new idea. When kids play computer games all the time, the computer spits out one idea after another, and not that it’s not creative sometimes, some things kids do on computers are amazing, but when you do it a lot, and it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, junk or great stuff, the pace of it, the stimulation of it, because it’s a neurological stimulant to the brain, for some children starts to make play in real life seem slow and boring and like more work. That’s something we have to be careful about.

SF: Roger, calling from British Columbia. Roger, welcome to Work and Life.

Roger: Mr. Friedman, you made the comment that we’re the first generation to have 24-hour work, and I wanted to interject into the argument that farmers have had 24-hour work in their life, forever, and so have hunters and other people who make their living off the land, and they haven’t had any problem separating their kids from their life and vice versa.

SF: I would say, Roger, that it’s a great point, but for farmers, when the sun goes down or when the seasons change, there are times for rest and there are times for reaping, times for sowing, that are conditioned by the natural order of things, by the natural world. With digital devices, there are no such cycles of the sun that can tell us when to rest and when to work, so it is a little different. It’s true that we’re not the first generation to be working around the clock, but it’s a different order of things when the sun doesn’t matter anymore and you can be connected all the time, any time.

Catherine, you mentioned that teachers are seeing a reduced capacity for imagination, the need for that twitchy hit to give students something to keep them attending.

CSA: When you play computer games, every time you do something, you match lowercase ‘a’ to uppercase ‘A’, there are butterflies, there are sparkles, there are little tweety birds who sing to you, and that in-and-of-itself is a reinforcement and it’s a stimulant so kids start to expect teachers to say “great job all the time. The other thing is kids interrupt more. They can’t stay calm. That’s what self-regulation is all about.

SF: What does this portend for our future?

CSA: I think one of the things that’s really tricky is we’ve fallen in love with the great aspects of technology.  We’ve got schools heavily invested in iPads and you’re sending middle-schoolers and high-schoolers home with homework on an iPad but they’re not just doing their homework on the iPad, they’re doing two or three different things and they’re not developing the same capacity for focus and attention and deep thinking, and that’s a challenge everybody’s grappling with, everywhere.

SF: What more can parents do? You talked about the importance of turning it off, being conscious, thinking about if you really need to take this call and what’s the cost to you, to your family life, to your future family relationships. These are things that anybody can do.

CSA: I think every house can have an understanding that in the family room, for example, no one’s got a screen of any kind. How about designating it like a smoking room;  have a designated space for people who are on their devices, but make sure you have a screen-free place because what typically happens is you’re all hanging out in the living room and suddenly one person takes out their phone and instantly — it’s contagious — everybody else follows suit.

SF: What do you do when, people are addicted now? You’re talking about cold turkey?

CSA: Well, it depends. We use the word addicted here with lowercase ‘a’. They use the word in Asia with capital ‘A’ because they have over 300 treatment programs for 5-to-18-year-olds who are what they have medically diagnosed as addicted to technology. We don’t have that medical classification yet.

SF: Are you sure? I thought the DSM 5 had it.

CSA: It’s considering it for gaming. But in Asia they have technology addiction. They have different ways of talking about and their approach to treatment is very harsh. If you want to see, it was very moving to me, watch Web Junkie.

SF: What happens there?

CSA: At this particular treatment center in China, the way they work with teenagers who are clearly addicted to technology is they put them in solitary confinement. We hardly put anybody in solitary confinement for any kind of mental disorder in America. What we do here, and more and more programs are popping up, is that we send kids and adults into the wilderness on programs like Outward Bound for extended amounts of time.  Nature’s a beautiful place for families to go on vacation, or to make sure on the weekend you all have time off of technology, or to make sure every day your kids’ brains have a rest from technology. You have basically until eighth grade to teach your kids how not to have their devices in their bedroom when they fall asleep. This is a critical issue that kids learn not to depend psychologically on having a computer and smartphone in their bedroom when they sleep because they don’t sleep as well and therefore they don’t learn as much because sleep is so important for health and learning. There are all sorts of habits we want to reconsider, and parents can do a lot both for themselves (and it’s not good for couples to have iPads in beds. It’s not good to read that way, and people often feel ignored) and for their children.

SF:  That’s also true with reading books in bed, no?

CSA: Yes, but your brain doesn’t interact with a book nearly the same way as the light of a screen from a computer which disrupts your brain’s ability to produce melatonin. It’s much easier to fall asleep reading a book or even watching TV than it is to fall asleep on a computer.

SF: Why is that? Why is TV better than a computer?

CSA: It has to do with the intensity of the light, with the way your brain interacts.

SF: I imagine many parents would face all kinds of resistance to enacting some of the suggestions that you have offered. How do you manage the process of change?

CSA: It’s very hard, and this is something I had to go through with my own kids. I talk in the book about having a family responsibly use disagreement, and it’s something you revisit all the time. I think the best thing to do is really sit down with the adults, whoever they are in your household, and really try to think about whether we are creating the family life we want? Do we have a quality of conversations we want? Are we playing enough together as a family? You want to make sure you have fun together as a family. Kids love it when their parents play with them. That was another thing, four-year-olds and 18-year-olds say, “My daddy’s smartphone is a stupid phone because he said he was going to read to me and he didn’t,” and the 18-year-old version of that is, “I love my dad. He works so hard and I’m so proud of him. He has this amazing job and we get to go on these amazing vacations, but I hate it and it makes me so angry and so hurt when I have to say ‘Dad, do you really have to text on the ski lift? Is there any time family comes first?’” Our kids grow quickly, and you really have to protect those moments, and those cumulative moments and experiences that create the foundation of a family.

SF: Absolutely, and protection is such a great word for that because there is this kind of incursion that modern life is making on our intimate lives through these devices, wonderful and powerful and incredibly liberating as they are, but we’ve got to rein them in.

CSA: We do, and we can. There’s nothing here that we can’t do. Is it good to text your kid to come to dinner? No, it’s not. Go knock on their door, and even if they bark at you, you know what’s going on for them in that moment, and kids really like it when we make the personal effort to go get them. On the other hand, teenagers will text their parents things they’re afraid to say face to face. That’s a wonderful thing; anything that helps a child tell a parent something that they’re scared about is a beautiful thing. There are times to use these wonderful tools and there are times not to, and it’s really a matter of being more thoughtful about it.

SF: I ask the students in my Total Leadership class to think about the key people in their lives and how they communicate with them — through what media? They learn to become more thoughtful about, “I’m spending a lot of time texting with this person, face-to-face with that person. Maybe I should switch it up and use different forms of communication with different people.” I also ask them to detox, to take six hours sometime this week and shut down and then reflect on what happens. Of course, what they discover is that flowers are beautiful.

CSA: So true, and that should be part of a way of life, a “Tech Shabbat”. We can all think about whether we give ourselves 24 hours? Six hours is great, but try for more.

SF: I’m going for something that’s doable for an MBA student!  What’s the last thing that you want to leave our listeners with?

CSA: For the next couple days, email or text everybody in your family and try and get a group conversation about how you’re going to handle Thanksgiving and digital media. It’s a really hard thing because families have different rules for their children, people have different expectations. The goal is to try and come up with an agreement before you arrive at your destination, and it will make things much better. If you can’t get an agreement, try and respect differences.

About the Author

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

Friend and Foe — Maurice Schweitzer

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).

Maurice Schweitzer is the Cecelia Yen Koo Professor of Operations, Information and Decisions, whose research focuses on emotions, ethical decision making, and the negotiation process. He has published in the leading journals in Management, Psychology, and Economics.  Schweitzer is an award-winning teacher and, along with his co-author, Adam Galinsky, he has a new book out, Friend and Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both.

The following are edited excerpts of his conversation with Stew Friedman. Or check out the podcast:

Stewart Friedman: You note that one needs to find a balance between being a friend and being a foe; each chapter ends with a helpful summary of things you can do. Can you expand on this, before we get into what your research has to say about work and the rest of life?

Maurice Schweitzer: schweitzerThe fundamental premise in Friend and Foe is that in all of our relationships — with our kids, with our spouses, and at work with our colleagues, our bosses — we’re constantly going back and forth as friends and foes. We’re not constantly foes, we’re not constantly friends, rather we’re really doing both. And once we understand this, we can begin to see things like comparisons. In the first chapter we talk about how we’re driven to compare ourselves with other people, and these comparisons can make us motivated, they can make us happy, but they can also make us perfectly miserable, and in each chapter we talk about finding our balance, so you can figure out a way to harness the benefits without succumbing to some of the drawbacks.

SF: Social comparison is a crucial concept that you spend a lot of time explaining up front.  We are social creatures and wither in social isolation; we need other people.  Yet people can make us miserable as well enliven and enrich our lives. Tell us more about why social comparisons are so important.

MS: They’re really critical in part because we can’t get away from them. When we’re trying to make judgments about things in our lives, we’re drawn to make comparisons. So if I were to ask you, “Do you make a good salary, do you need to upgrade your kitchen, do you drive a nice car?”  It’s so hard for us to make these judgments.  And some are really quite important, like:   how are my kids doing? Rather than making these judgments in a vacuum where there’s no objective yardstick, we’re drawn to comparisons. And so we might come back from a vacation feeling rested and great and we go on Facebook and we look at other people’s vacations, and we realize that by comparison my vacation was kind of ordinary.

SF: So, stay off Facebook is one of your major suggestions.

MS: One of the things I’m suggesting is when we’re drawn to Facebook some of the things that we do on Facebook — and if we’re constantly checking, we’re constantly comparing ourselves — there are ways for us to become miserable, particularly when we’re looking at people who have done better. And when we post things on social media, we’re typically not posting the worst things that have happened to us, but often the best things that have happened to us. Everybody’s posting…

SF: … Only the good stuff, and that’s just a vicious circle, isn’t it?

MS: It’s sort of like talking to your brother-in-law about stock-picking. People don’t talk about the stocks they pick that just tank, it’s the couple that have done well, and you’re like, “Wow, I don’t know how to pick stocks, everyone else seems so gifted at this.” The same thing goes for vacations, as we’re drawn to make comparisons, we’re trying to search the world for these comparisons.  And sometimes we can do this in a really beneficial way; we might help out a charity, we might help people who are less advantaged than us, we might tutor other people. We can do things to help other people, and part of what that’s doing is also engaging us in a comparison that can make us feel pretty good. But I think we can harness it in a way that we can be motivated by people that are doing better than us if we see a way to also advance and do well.  But when we’re constantly making comparisons, and one of the things we make a point of is how we use new information. You learn that somebody just got a bigger bonus than you, somebody got a promotion you really wanted.   New information can turn friends of yours into foes.

SF: Because of envy.

MS: Right. We’re most drawn to envy people who are similar to us, so people who are in the same cohort, they started the same year as us — our college roommates, siblings, people who are similar in a self-relevant domain, a domain that we care about. So if I think of myself as an engineer or an artist or musician, that’s the domain that I’m going to care about, and when somebody outperforms me in those domains, the domains I really care about, that I see as reflecting myself, that’s what’s most likely to trigger envy.

SF: One of the ideas I think that’s very important about this, and that you develop in the book, is choosing the social comparisons that are going to be most fruitful for taking you in directions that you want to go; you don’t have to pay attention to everybody. What is implied in terms of practical solutions for keeping out all the social information that makes you miserable or that makes you want to pursue things that aren’t in your real best interests.

MS: I think what’s important is to recognize, first of all, we’re drawn to make these comparisons. That is, we find it intrinsically interesting to know what’s happening around us with other people.  A second to recognize, “When I do go on Facebook or other social media, I’m going to engage in comparisons and some of these comparisons are going to change how I feel.”  Sometimes it can be motivating. Stew, I can look at your profile and say, “Wow, here are all these things I can be doing. I wish I could shine as bright as you.” There are exemplars and I can say here’s a role model, here are positive things you’re doing that I can incorporate in my life and make these constructive changes. That can be a positive experience.   But it could be that I compare how well your book is selling to how well my book is selling, and if I keep making these comparisons, it’s going to make me perfectly miserable. There are some kinds of comparisons we should really exit and pay much less attention to.

SF: That then requires a kind of consciousness about the comparisons that we’re making and a sense of agency or choice in selecting social references.  How do you get to that point of being smart enough to know what to ignore and what to pay attention to in the social world you inhabit?

MS: A part of that is to recognize that there are going to be some activities like tutoring other people or hanging out with a different group of friends, they are choices we can make that can drive the comparisons that we’re going to experience. It could be as simple as going to dinner with these friends rather than those friends, or deleting some of these people from my social media feeds in a way that guides my attention. We should be paying attention broadly, but as we’re micromanaging the information that comes to us.   And there’s a lot that we can do to change the kind of exposure that we’re getting to all the comparison information.

SF: Such as?

MS: You want to make sure your kids are doing okay, but you don’t need to constantly check in with every other parent to find out how everybody else did on each test, on each quiz. You can think about the kind of parent that you want to be and chart a path forward. I think there are many domains at work, when bonuses come out, when promotions come out, we’re going to have some successes and we’re going to have some failures. We have to recognize that people speak less about their failures than normal. After the US Women’s Soccer Team won, Carli Lloyd, who scored the hat trick in the incredible game, one of the things she said —  she’s the star, the icon, the paragon of athleticism — was we’ve all been cut from teams. To hear that the best and greatest athletes have been cut from teams, to use some of those reference points, to recognize we’ve all fallen short in ways even though we don’t see that information. We don’t see all the rejection; that’s not what gets put on people’s résumés.  Recognize that there’s a selected set of information that we’re seeing but there’s other information. If you listen to people like Carli Lloyd talk about it, or you listen to other people that will share the setbacks they’ve had along the way, I think it would motivate us and make us feel less susceptible to all the unpleasant social comparisons we’re likely to engage in.

SF: What you’re saying here is when you tell your story, don’t just focus only on the good stuff?

MS: We can learn a lot from failures. When we fail, for many people it can be crushing and we often don’t know what to do, where to go.  It’s important to recognize that there are many people who have suffered similar fates and what you have to do is pick yourself up and go forward. It’s easy to be very self-focused. Volkswagen is reeling from this cheating scandal but rather than picking themselves up and going forward, they’ve been incredibly self-focused.   They’ve hunkered down, they’ve shared very little information, and they’re denying everything.   They’ve done almost everything wrong in trying to regain the trust of customers and regulators. What that does is reflect a sense of “I don’t know what to do.”  Rather than figuring out that many people have suffered from problems like this and let’s figure out how to go forward, they’re just reveling in this failure.

SF: How do you know when to compete and when to cooperate? When do you know what the right timing is when you should be sharpening those elbows and other times when you should be opening those arms and embracing?

MS: As a general rule, I would recommend starting off with cooperation, but not revealing everything. For example, in negotiations, the idea is you want to start off cooperatively, but you don’t want to reveal all the information that you have. You might share some of it and then wait to see if people reciprocate or not. So if people are reciprocating your cooperation, you can continue to cooperate. If people stop cooperating and start competing, then sometimes the right thing is to compete back.   And there are many cases where as you escalate competition, you can actually get to a better place.

SF: How’s that?

MS: Well, it could be that in a negotiation setting, for example, you start making more and more extreme demands, you start yelling at me. The cooperative approach would be to hand over resources and make concessions, but I would argue no, what you want to do is be competitive. If I take a much tougher stand, if I fight back and I say that’s not acceptable or I walk out of the room, that more competitive approach might actually bring us back to the table as equals in a way that we can get back on track for cooperation.

SF: So it’s not good to yield to super demands?

MS: Yes, as a general rule. It depends, of course, on the specific situation.  My generic advice would be that when someone’s acting unreasonably — and some people in negotiations will use aggressive anger and excessive demands as a tactic.  Sometimes people will just compete.  Not wanting to ruffle feathers, not wanting to express anger or being competitive themselves, what I’m suggesting is sometimes that competition can end up being constructive.

SF: Another one of the important ideas in your book is the notion of priming for power. I’d like to first ask you to describe what that is. I’d love to know how you personally prime for power and why that’s such an important and easy thing to do and how effective it can be. What is priming for power?

MS: Power is the ability to control resources. It turns out when we can control resources, it makes us feel differently. We end up taking up more space, we feel more confident, we’re more likely to approach a problem. When we feel powerful, we feel like we’re on top of the world. So one of the things we talk about in the book is that when you feel powerful, we actually care a little bit less about other people. We take their perspective less well. But in general, feeling powerful gives us confidence and enables us to act and achieve more. One of the ideas that we talk about in the book is sort of like getting a manual car into gear. We can actually gain power by feeling powerful, projecting a sense of power, we’re taking more control, more agency and people treat us as if we have more power.

SF: And there are ways that you can push the car that’s in neutral down the hill until it kicks into gear.

MS: So how can we throw ourselves into gear and get this feeling of power? It turns out that some of these feedback loops can be really helpful. I mentioned that when we feel powerful, we take up more space. If you practice taking up more space, you have what some people call a power pose that might make us feel more powerful. The approach that I particularly like is a recall task. When we recall things, they can actually bring us back to that place. This is true with emotions, so if you recall a time that made you angry and you write about it, you think deeply about it, you can become angry. Same thing about happiness.

SF: That can serve you well in certain instances.

MS: We talked about negotiations before. In negotiations, sometimes being angry is helpful. The same is true with power. You can recall a time where you had power, you think about it deeply, you write about it, and if you really get into that scenario when you had power, that feeling bleeds into the next thing you might do. You might be going into an interview or an important presentation and feeling powerful, it could be a totally unrelated time, but you bring that feeling in with you and you’re going to project confidence, agency, and it can be very successful.

SF: And you recite research which demonstrates that this is in fact true. When you recall that feeling of power, simply by recalling an experience in the past, it changes your identity in that moment and how you feel about yourself and you bring that to the task at hand. If I may askwhen you prime for power, how do you do it?

MS: We talked about two different approaches. The one that’s more physical, just taking up more space, putting your hands on your hips, I like the writing task, the recall task better. It’s been better validated by research and it’s the one we recommend more strongly in the book. It’s a little bit more effortful but I think it’s more likely to be effective. I like the writing task, bringing yourself back to a time where you had power, thinking about that, spending about 10-15 minutes thinking about it before you go into another setting where that feeling is going to come with you.

SF: Can you share with us where you bring that into situations personally when you want to prime yourself?

MS: I’ll think about different periods in my life: Sometimes as a customer, when I’ve been somewhere very nice and people are treating me with great respect and I have a lot of control. Dealing with subordinates — I work with students or research assistants — and I generally think of us as colleagues, but that’s easy to do when you’re in a more powerful position. When people are relying on you and when they really need your help, those are positions where you have a lot of power. To just reflect on that experience, when somebody needed my help for something and I had the power to deliver it; I was important. To recognize here’s a situation when I had power over other people, they needed my recommendation or my help, and I think about that and realize this is a situation in which I had power, here’s how I felt, here’s how the experience went, here’s how things worked out, and after thinking deeply about that, I can go into something totally unrelated — t could be another meeting, it could be an important presentation — and I bring that with me and it builds a sense of self-confidence.

SF: That carries over and influences your performance in that entirely different situation. That seems like a relatively simple way to change your important life outcomes.

MS: We talk about cases where colleagues of ours did that before job interviews, and it really made a profound difference for them. We’ve done a lot of experiments that have really replicated that finding that there is something psychological behind feeling a sense of power and confidence and we can change how we feel.

SF: Simply by recalling a time when we felt powerful. In brief, what are the one or two most important elements behind coming up with your own power recollection story, your priming story?

MS: I would pick a time when it was clear you were in control, where you controlled resources, people needed you. You were in charge, and it could be when you were leading the Boy Scout troop, it could be when you were in charge of deciding how to split up some sum of money, when you had the expertise, when you had the resources, when people needed you. It’s a time when it was clear, that worked out well, and if you take yourself back to that time what you’ll find is you probably felt great in that moment. You felt important and in charge and that confidence can carry over and give you that agency, the confidence to pursue something, to take action and have an approach mindset when sometimes as we’re careening through the day, we feel a little less confident, we’re not likely to take that chance, we’re not going to call that client, we’re not going to approach that customer, we’re not going to do that tough thing on our to-do list. When we feel powerful, we’re more likely to approach and tackle those things that we needed to do.

SF: What’s the story with hierarchy?

MS: I started by saying that throughout history, every human society is characterized by hierarchy, and it’s not just true of humans, it’s true of animals as well. We’re hardwired for hierarchy. When we go out to dinner with our friends, there’s hierarchy. In our families, there’s hierarchy. At work, there’s certainly hierarchy. Some companies like Google started off with a holacracy, and Zappos has tried to move to holacracy, often that move to holacracy really fails because we’re just pretending. That is, if we say there’s no hierarchy, what that means is that we’re leaving it as an exercise for us to navigate that whoever speaks the loudest or takes the first crack at something is going to create a hierarchy and we’re going to end up with a hierarchy that is less explicit. The first idea is that we’re hardwired to fall into a hierarchy, and hierarchy can be extremely functional. It allows us to coordinate our actions, it allows patterns of deference, so we can accomplish things together, and some of the most hierarchal organizations are also some of the ones that have lasted the longest. Organizations like the Army, organizations like the Catholic Church, very hierarchical and very robust. The Roman Empire, super hierarchical: not permanent forever, but very strong and very impressive. Hierarchy coordinates many people in a way that allows them to accomplish things that are much, much bigger than what an individual could do. However, hierarchy is not perfect. Hierarchy sublimates the individual will and the ideas and goals for the larger collective, and what we lose in a hierarchy is the creativity, the contributions of people lower in the hierarchy. The comparison I like to make is if you go to the Army, it’s incredibly hierarchical, but the Army created one subset of fighters that’s less hierarchical and those are our Special Forces. Now those Special Forces, they have less hierarchy, their junior people can challenge senior people, they have more space, more voice. We can tap the creativity, ideas of those lower-ranked people and it allows us to harness that creativity. It only works with a smaller group. It works with a more creative, more highly-trained group, where we want to tap all that intellect. You can think about the nature of a task. Is a task more mechanical, are we in manufacturing? Or is the task creative, like trying to create new products? If it’s creative, we need to tap the creativity of the highly-trained people around us, and then we’re going to want to do things to break down that hierarchy, so we can tap the knowledge of everybody else.

SF: In order to do that, in any kind of organizational setting, this phenomenon of psychological safety has to be there. People have to feel safe enough to offer their ideas and to take the risk and make the courageous act of saying what they think, especially if the idea seems a little off the wall, a little different, or if they themselves feel different. Perhaps it’s a woman in an all-male environment or a person of color in an all-white environment. It gets harder and harder. What can be done based on your own research and what you’ve written about in Friend and Foe? What do you do to create that condition of psychological safety so you can feel powerful enough to bring your ideas forward?

MS: Imagine there are three separate tasks we’re trying to do. One task is we’re trying to generate ideas. A second step is to criticize ideas. A third step is to execute those ideas. The execution step needs hierarchy. There, we need to snap in a hierarchy, it’s a more mechanical kind of task. Those first two steps, generating ideas and criticizing ideas, that’s where we need psychological safety. That’s where we need people with divergent opinions, maybe they have less status, maybe they’re outsiders, maybe they’re somehow different from the rest of us. We need to create a place for those people to feel safe to challenge the other ideas. We can do that in a couple of ways. Now with technology, we can do this with computer-mediated systems that allow us to anonymously submit ideas. We can all sit around the table, we all submit ideas and they pop up without attribution on the screen.

SF: It might be the bosses; it might be the secretaries.

MS: Exactly. Now, the problem is that when the boss speaks, everybody else now has two different objectives. One is to find the best solution, and the other is to manage impressions, advance their career and not upset their boss. Life is better when our boss likes us, although life is better when our boss thinks we’re really brilliant. We often think that our boss is going to think we’re brilliant if we’re championing their ideas. And so one way to stifle ideas is for the boss to come in and say: “here’s what I think, what are your reactions?” Instead, we can either do this computer-mediated idea, or the boss could exit the meeting and say: “why don’t you generate some ideas and I’ll step in in 20 minutes or a half an hour” or “I’m going to be in this meeting but I’m not going to speak first and I want everybody to speak first.” Or the boss might say, “Hey, I’m not sure what to do. There are a lot of different approaches we could take here, I’d love to hear what ideas the rest of the group has.”

SF: The key is to be really genuinely asking and inquiring and following up with inquiry:  “Tell me what your view is, why do you think this way, what’s your rationale.” Are there other things beside removing herself from conversation that a boss can do to ensure that her people are comfortable enough to offer unfiltered critical input or the creative input that the boss requires for the best output?

MS: There a couple of other ideas here. One is to create rules. It could be rules like no interruption, or in this idea generation stage, we’re saying for the next 45 minutes we’re going to generate ideas, and as we generate ideas there’s no criticism. There’s rules against criticism for 45 minutes, then we go to the second stage and we can critique ideas. We can impose rules like that. Part of the problem stems from the following idea. When we’re in a position of power, we think differently, we act differently, but we don’t realize how differently that experience of power is.

SF: From the subordinates’ point of view?

MS: And we don’t take their perspective. When we’re low-power, we feel it. We’re constantly monitoring the environment, we’re trying to figure out what that person thinks. We’re constantly trying to feel out other people’s perspectives. As we gain power, we quit early. We don’t invest that effort to take someone else’s perspective, probably because we don’t have to. Here’s the problem: when it comes to tapping other people’s creative ideas, it’s easy to mis-assume that people are going to be candid and forthright.

SF: Why should we be afraid of me?

MS: Right. As bosses, we have to work extra hard to realize how our power comes across. And this is why I suggested sometimes leaving the room can be helpful, because like it or not, we can be really intimidating to other people. That’s one idea. The second is to be very careful with criticism in that first stage. Really let people run with ideas. And sometimes you can even do things like throw out a bad idea. Say: “Here’s a crazy idea, but I’m sure you could do better.” This creates psychological safety that makes it easy for other people.

SF: Others might then feel safe enough to say, “That is stupid, boss. Let me tell you what’s wrong with that.”

MS: Or the boss could say, “Here’s my idea. I don’t think it’s very good and you can probably come up with something better.”  We often think of our leaders as if they’ve had some perfect career path, and if you look at their résumé it only has successes.

SF: One step up the ladder to the next rung.

MS: Here’s where I took two steps back, here’s where I got fired; we don’t put that on a résumé. We just have this carefully manicured picture and it’s helpful for people to realize we have foibles, we’re not perfect, we need help from others.

SF: That really needs to be conscious and deliberate because it’s so easy to be ignorant of how you’re coming across. This notion of creating psychological safety is something that people in power really have to be mindful of if they want those around them to feel comfortable enough to be challenge them. What about for parents who are in that position of authority, how can we cultivate in your children a sense of safety so that they can both feel confident in themselves and also enrich the family by adding their unique perspective to the mix?

MS: The ideas are similar, and I think as parents, we often fail to appreciate how powerful we really are and how our kids not only love us in a familial way, but they’re also incredibly reliant on us. It could be scary to disagree, contradict and feel like we’re going against a parent. Even for a rebellious kid, it sometimes can be scary.  So first, think about criticism. When we criticize our kids, that criticism has an amplification effect. That is, the criticism can sound very harsh in a way that we don’t intend it to. The way I think about criticism, it should be scarce. Criticize when it is appropriate, when things really might go off the rails. Second, criticize only one-on-one. When we criticize in front of other people — and the worst thing for teenagers is if you criticize them in front of their peers — there are few things worse than that. Third, think about ways to give them more agency, give them more controls. You might say, “Here’s a problem. I’m not sure what to do with this. You have some experience with this technology or something else, maybe you could help me try to figure this out. Or, “Here’s a family vacation. There are a bunch of things we could do, I’d love to hear your ideas.Again, in that idea generation stage, there’s no criticism. Say, “Why don’t we all sit around and come up with ideas? Let’s hear your thoughts.” We can take these steps and I think the psychological safety is really important because there’s a creativity we want to nourish, there’s self-confidence we want to build. And we can do that by giving our kids space, and as parents, we feel that’s bad parenting, but sometimes stepping back is actually the best way to help them go forward.

SF: Just as it is for bosses at work. One of the things that we talk a lot about on the show is how to create flexibility in your life, particularly at work, so you have room both psychologically and physically for the other things that matter to you. Do you have any thoughts about how to encourage that kind of conversation and create the psychological safety that’s required for subordinates to feel empowered, to negotiate for conditions of work that enable them to lead the lives they truly want?

MS: I think I would start by asking this question: what’s most important? What is it that we’re trying to accomplish? As a boss, what’s the most important objective for us? As employee, what’s the most important objective? I think there’s a lot of intersection that I think the traditional answers — “I need you here 9-to-5” or “I need you at your desk whenever I need you” — those traditional answers miss the bigger picture. That is, if we figure out what is our key objective, really, then I think we can figure out and begin to look for that intersection where the underlying objectives could be something that allows us to think differently about the work, think differently about the process that we go about achieving those goals.

SF: So if you’re an employee and you’re looking to create flexibility in your schedule, what’s a way to approach your boss to get at the critical objectives that you’re both aiming for?  How can we create a shift in my schedule or my availability that enables me to provide the value that you expect of me?

MS: Here, I’d offer two ideas. One is to take the perspective of your boss.  What makes your boss look good, what helps your boss get the work done? What is it that they’re trying to do? Second, think about how I can my help my boss achieve those goals. And it could be that what they need to do is staff this one project or they need to develop this report, and if you say, “I could pull over my colleague Sue from this other section” or “I could access this other resource,” or if I could figure out another way for me to address those needs more completely, I might approach my boss and say, “Help me understand the goal here. My thinking is that we need to get this report done and we need it to be of this quality and have these components, that’s my understanding. What am I missing?” So make sure you really understand the full picture of what needs to happen and then begin to offer an approach.  Say, Here’s another idea for achieving that goal, here’s why this would really meet these requirements and even exceed what you’re looking for, and here’s what would help me feel enthusiastic, motivated, and excited about this work. Here’s something that’s important to me, and I think I can balance these things in this way. I’d love to hear what your thoughts are for a way to make this work.” Those are the two ideas I’d suggest.

SF: Starting with what’s critical for the other and what your shared objective is. I’d love for you to talk in these last couple minutes about what you see as the main purpose of this work that you’ve put together in Friend and Foe, what you’re trying to achieve with it and what listeners ought to know about its essence.

MS: At its core, this idea that we’re navigating this balance, we’re friends and foes. With our spouses, with our siblings, with our kids, we’re incredibly good friends, but our interests are not perfectly aligned all the time. We have different opinions, we have different goals, and we need to navigate our relationships as friends and foes. Things like this perspective-taking idea that we were just talking about, we talk about this in one of the key chapters in the book. I think perspective-taking is an incredibly important tool. It helps us understand others better. Also, as we talked about before, as we gain power, we take other people’s perspectives less well, and there are many things that make us better and worse at taking perspective, and it’s important for us to think through how we can understand our relationships as friends and foes better and how we can navigate those relationships. The goal isn’t to be very effective foes all the time, it’s to be friends and foes in a way that allows us both to get more of what we really want.

About the Author

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

Enlightened Management Practices > Profits: Barry Schwartz

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).

Barry Schwartz Barry Schwartzis a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College where he’s been since receiving his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1971. He’s the author of 10 books and 100s of articles and is well known for both his scholarship and his ability to bring complex sociological and psychological research to bear on the practical matters we all face in our daily lives at work and at home.  Schwartz has written The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, named one of the top business books of the year by both Business Week and Forbes and, with Ken Sharpe, Practical Wisdom about which he gave a TED talk viewed by more than 2M peopleHe discussed his most recent book, Why We Workwith Stew Friedman.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation. Or listen to the podcast here:

Stewart Friedman: Your new book is called Why We Work and you dig into the question why indeed do we work? Give us the brief synopsis of how got into this piece and what was the primary discovery when you sought to answer this question.

Barry Schwartz: This question has a long history with me. I was trained in the psychology of B.F. Skinner. Your listeners may not even know who that is anymore.  He was a prominent psychologist from the 40s to roughly 1970, invented the so-called Skinner box and his view was that if you understood how rewards and punishments work, you’d understand everything, and this is especially true of human beings. The answer for him to the question why we work is the rewards and punishments. I thought this was a way too limited and reductive view, it didn’t seem to describe me or most of the people I knew. Nonetheless, it seemed pretty much to characterize the way workplaces were organized.

I started talking to a couple of philosophers at Swarthmore soon after I arrived, and they got me to read people like Adam Smith. I’m embarrassed to say I hadn’t read him before, and Smith, the father of classical economics, had essentially the same view. He said people are basically lazy, they’d rather be doing nothing than something, so to get them to do something productive, you have to make it worth their while and that means you have to pay them. And once you pay them, it doesn’t much matter what you have them do, because they won’t like it anyway, no matter what it is; they’re working for pay. So the assembly line, his famous pin factory where you take something that’s pretty simple to begin with and then you make it even simpler by dividing it into six or seven or 10 different components to make straight pins, that’s his model of efficient production. You’ll ask, “Would anybody like to be just putting heads on pins 10 hours a day, five days a week?” And his answer would be, “Of course not, but it doesn’t matter.”

SF: Because we’re machines.

BS: Yes, because we’re getting paid and we’ll do whatever we have to do to get paid.

SF: So the metaphor of the worker was as an extension of the machine.

BS: Absolutely.   And then 100 years later there was this movement called the scientific management movement that tried to take the metaphor seriously by doing meticulously time-and-motion studies so that you could create assembly lines where people expended the least possible effort and produced the fastest possible production.   They experimented with different ways of paying people to see what kind of pay schedule would get people to work the hardest, for longest. So the answer to the question of why we work was people work for pay, full-stop. That’s the economic model and it’s the industrial model, and I think that economists, when they wrote in this way, never really believed that it was true, because they didn’t think it was true of them. There’s us and there’s them; the people who wear white shirts and ties and the people who wear blue shirts and work boots. And for us, other things matter, but we are just a small fraction of the population and for them, everybody else, it’s just about the paycheck. I know this is an inaccurate depiction of work.  But I think what’s really important is that if you create workplaces in the image of this model, it will become true.  If the only work available to you is soul-deadening, repetitive, mechanical work then indeed you will work for the paycheck and nothing more, because there isn’t anything more to be done.

SF: So your soul is indeed dead and crushed, and you might rebel.

BS: You might rebel, but you have to put food on the table, you have to have a roof over your head.   We started with a false understanding about what people care about and then we made it true by creating work structures that were consistent with that false understanding.  This is what I call ideology, which is a term that Karl Marx used to describe false ideas about human beings that become true when they get institutionalized. And you can see this happening with schools.  Everyone is wringing their hands about how bad the public school system is, but increasingly, the attitude toward teachers, which is only being resisted because the teachers won’t stand for it, is that they’re basically cogs in the machine. You give them scripts, detailed lesson plans, and then you make their pay and bonuses and tenure contingent on how well kids do on standardized tests.   What happens when you do that is the good teachers leave and the not-so-good teachers never have any occasion to get any better, and then they start cheating. They teach to the test or they change answers, so test scores go up but kids don’t learn any more than they did before. So it’s not just blue-collar factory workers, this is really spread throughout the workplace.

SF: As a model for how we organize work, and of course it’s very destructive.

BS: It is very destructive. Doctors are incredibly unhappy with the way they practice. It’s becoming a national problem. They’re leaving the profession, they’re clinically depressed.   Lawyers have been the unhappiest profession for years, and I think it’s because we’ve basically sapped work of anything that people might aspire to, aside from a paycheck. If you’re a doctor or a lawyer, you’re getting a big paycheck, but that just doesn’t cut it.

SF: Back in the 60s and 70s, there was a humanist revolution of sorts that tried to counteract the destructive powers of this ideology and to create a new way of thinking about work, which I studied at the University of Michigan in the early 80s.  But in the 70s the University of Michigan was really one of the centers of the social movement to reimagine work as something that could be ennobling and enriching of the spirit and to create a sense of meaning, purpose, and real consequence.  And it seems to me that your work comes out of that tradition, which hasn’t really taken hold in the way that we would have hoped.

BS: There aren’t any ideas in my book that have not been articulated periodically before. You picked one time, but there are others times, even earlier on, where people acknowledged this, but somehow it never sticks.

SF: But maybe now the time is different.

BS: I’m hoping it is for a couple of reasons. One is that there’s research indicating that women care more about meaning and purpose in work than men do. As more and more women enter the workforce and companies have higher and higher proportion of employees who are women, managers may find they won’t be able to keep good employees unless they give the people working there some sense that they’re working for a purpose.

SF:  This was one of the things we found in our longitudinal study comparing the Class of 1992 to the Class of 2012 at Wharton when we asked hundreds of questions to the Class of 1992 when they graduated and did the same in 2012, so we have a true cross-generational longitudinal design. One of the important findings in the study was how the need for having a positive social impact through your work has grown for both men and women but especially for women.

BS: Right, but that’s the second thing. The aspirations of millennials, at least while they’re young, are quite different from what has preceded. I just think that if you run a business and you want to attract talent, women and young people, you’re going to have to show them that at the end of each work day they’ve made the world better in some small way. So I’m somewhat optimistic.  As these young people move up the organization, they may actually transform the organization.

SF: I have the same hope and expectation. How does what you write about in Why We Work help us understand this movement and what people can do to advance it?

BS: I try to talk about what things to matter to a person besides the paycheck. They want some control over what they do, some autonomy. They want some variety in what they do. They want to be challenged. They want a sense that they’re growing, learning on the job.  They want social engagement with coworkers and respect from supervisors and coworkers, and most important, they want this sense of meaning; that there’s a point to what they do aside from simply paying their rent. We know what you need to add to a workplace to get people to feel satisfaction.  I also show in the book that workplaces that are structured in this way are the most profitable workplaces in their industry across a wide variety of industries, which makes it even more puzzling that this is not more widespread.

There’s a management researcher named Jeff Pfeffer at Stanford who has a book The Human Equation, in which he reviews evidence from banking and other kinds of financial industries, manufacturing, a lot of service industries.  In every case, the most profitable companies are the ones that have the most enlightened management practices. The most profitable companies are the ones that invest the most time in training and personnel development. You might argue that work ought to be organized in this way as a social good, because why should people have to spend half their waking lives doing something they hate when they don’t have to? But then the boss would say, “That’s not my problem. I’m here to make a profit.” You turn around and say that it turns out that here’s a case where you do well by doing good.

SF: So why don’t we see this more?

BS: That’s the total mystery, right? Why are all these companies leaving money on the table?  The only answer I can come up with is that the grip of this ideology about why people work, the implicit answer that everyone has to my question, just closes them off to the possibility that if they had a richer thinking, if they gave their employees more credit, the employees would be happier, the employees would do better work, and the company would be more profitable.

SF: Credit?

BS: Credit for being responsible, serious people who want to do a good job. A lot of the reliance on micromanagement and incentives is a reflection of a lack of trust. If I don’t manage the hell out of them, they’ll just sit around doing nothing. They’ll take advantage. How do you combat that? You combat that by making it so if they do take advantage of you, you see it and they suffer. Trust your employees, give them the goal, and then trust that they’ll figure out a way to achieve the goal, or you give them the training so that they’re eventually in a position to figure out how to achieve the goal, instead of giving them recipes.

SF: Instead of micromanaging and telling them how to do things?

BS: Yes.  The problem is that with all this technology we have now the level of micromanagement that’s possible is just overwhelming. You don’t need to be standing there and looking over your employee’s shoulder, you can measure a million things.

SF: Yes, big data can be intrusive.

BS: So the tools for micromanagement are there and I’m afraid that managers can’t resist the temptation to use them.

SF: Because it gives at least the illusion of greater control, if not actual greater control. Just squeeze out all the human capacity for creative and ingenious effort that could produce great results.

BS: They have more control, but they get worse work. That, I think, raises another possible explanation, which is that managers hate the thought of giving up control.

SF: Well, some do. Why is that? What is the fear there? What’s the anxiety of giving up control and unleashing the human potential that’s there?

BS: Well, if you do that, what role do you play? Are you still needed? People can manage themselves.

SF: You’re perhaps needed to do something different, which is to guide and to help manage external connections and help to provide a sense of direction by having a bigger picture.

BS: It’s true, but there are an awful lot of people whose job is to make sure that an awful lot more people are just doing their jobs.  And if you had other ways of assuring that people would be doing their jobs, these people would have no roles to play.

SF: So you see the elimination of the middle management ranks in the office as people become more empowered, perhaps through big data, to be able to manage themselves?

BS: Well, it’s not out of the question that that could happen, but all I’m suggesting is that it may actually be one source of the resistance to the evidence that is plain and unambiguous.

SF: One of the things that we like to talk about on this show is the connection between work and other parts of life. What your thoughts on the connection between a greater sense of meaning and purpose that is plainly available, if perhaps difficult to implement for so many different kinds of organizations? What impact could that have on people’s lives beyond work, in their families, communities, and for themselves personally.

BS: You’d actually need to collect data on this, and I haven’t.  But what I suspect is that if you do work you value, you will be happy at work. If you’re happy at work, your relations with other people will go better. When you come home, at the end of the work day, your patience won’t be strained, you’ll be in a good mood more of the time, and the result is that your spouse and your kids actually find it tolerable to be with you.

SF: They might even enjoy it. The research on that is called positive spillover; when you feel good in one part of your life, it’s likely to spill over, in terms of your emotional state as well as the kind of behavior you demonstrate, in the other roles that you play.

BS: And we also have evidence, Barbara Frederickson’s provided this, that people who experience positive affect are more creative.  In the workplace the advantage of that is obvious. I haven’t thought much about the potential advantages of this when you come home at the end of the workday.  But it seems to me quite possible that being more creative means those problems we inevitably face in managing our, I don’t know, rebellious adolescent kids, we find that we have an easier time solving those problems if we can think about them more openly and creatively.  This might be more likely to occur if we come home from work feeling good about ourselves instead of feeling down, depressed, and miserable.

SF: There’s so many benefits to this.

BS: Let me just say there is one potential drawback that’s worth mentioning. I think this is a very small price to pay. There are some people who like the idea that when the work day is over, they leave their work and come home. They are okay with the idea that work is just for making a living, and they’re human in the rest of their life. And they don’t want to have to come home at the end of the day with work still on their mind.

SF: The so-called segmenters.

BS: Yes.  And the problem is, if you’re really engaged with your work, then you’re not going to stop thinking about it when it gets to be five o’clock, so you may be a little bit distracted. Could that happen? Of course it can happen. It certainly happened to me often enough in the course of my career.   My kids would ask me something, I’m looking right at them, and I’m not hearing a word that they say.

SF: I know exactly what you mean, Barry. It’s happened to me as well and I study this whole issue of boundaries – the psychological, physical boundaries that you need to be able to switch gears and attend to the people around you even when your mind is elsewhere.  It’s possible to learn how to control your attention, if you’re really focused on it, and to maintain focus on the people who are right in front of you when they need you. Those are learnable skills.

In Why We Work, what are the implications of your analysis for what we’re seeing in this presidential election season, which has begun and seems to last forever? The whole question of the economic divide, which has become such a pronounced issue in our society and in these debates — you’ve been in this field now for quite a while, as you look back retrospectively over the course of your career in psychology and thinking about work, what is different now aside from what you were saying earlier about millennials?

BS: The political debate is really quite disappointing because of the hollowing out of the middle class, all of the discussion, 100% of the discussion, is about compensation, job security, and benefits. No one is talking about the character of the work itself, except that the work has to be good enough that you can actually get a decent paycheck. If you find some way to get a decent paycheck to people working at McDonald’s, that would be fine. I think maybe that when times are hard, and there does seem to be pressure to fatten the pay envelope.   Then the kinds of things I’m worried about just recede into invisibility.   You need people to be flush for this to become an actual agenda item on somebody’s political platform. Maybe I missed it. Have you heard anyone talking about the question of what it is that people do when they work?

SF: Not so much as they have been, thankfully I have to say, talking about the needs of working families to have support that they need through family medical leave.

BS: But again, it’s all financial.

SF: Well, it’s about time. But it’s not about meaning.

BS: It’s about time, but it’s not just about time. It’s not about family leave, it’s compensated family leave. You can get some family leave, worse than any other developed country. Some of it’s available; it’s just not compensated.

SF: You see people in class everyday. What do you see unfolding if you were to look out at the next quarter-century or so? What do you think you might see in terms of how work is going to look?

BS: I’m optimistic because of the women and millennials at more and more workplaces will discover this not-very-hidden secret and give their employees a chance to find meaning and satisfaction at the same time that they get a paycheck. I’m hoping that by the time my grandchildren are entering the workforce, finding a wonderful job won’t be like finding a needle in a haystack anymore.

About the Author

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

Leadership Industry B.S.: Entertainment Vs. Enlightenment — Jeff Pfeffer

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).

Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business where he has taught since 1979.   He is the author or co-author of 14 books on topics including power in organizations, managing people, evidence-based management and author of more than 150 articles and book chapters. Professor Pfeffer has won numerous awards for his scholarly research.  He spoke with Stew Friedman about his just released book, Leadership B.S.:  Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time and what changes are needed in the “leadership industry.”

Stew Friedman: When I was in graduate school a fellow student referred to the articles we were reading in the premiere journal in our field, which is the Administrative Science Quarterly, as the “Administrative Science Pfefferly” to connote that in every single issue there was another profound article by Jeff Pfeffer. It’s a really great feeling to have him on the show.

Jeff Pfeffer: jeff pfefferIt’s a pleasure to be with you, Stew, and it is just a privilege to be talking to you this evening. Also, I’m privileged to be a signatory on the petition signed by many academics in favor of paid family leave. I think your work on the work family issue has just been outstanding, and it’s so important to make workplaces work for everybody.

SF: That’s really very gracious of you, and means a lot. You’ve been casting a keen and critical, evidence-based eye on organizations for so long, particularly on leaders. I’m curious to know, first, what inspired you to write Leadership BS? What has emerged recently that you just couldn’t ignore?

JF: That’s a great question because I had       not really ever intended to write this book or this kind of book. But the amount of hypocrisy and the cynicism that that hypocrisy spawns is just striking. You see these leaders, they come to Stanford and I’m sure they come to Wharton. They tell wonderful stories about themselves, and about how they would like to be seen and presented, which bear almost no resemblance of the realities of how they lead and how they conduct themselves.

SF: And everybody knows that, right?

JF: And everybody knows that. It provokes an enormous amount of hypocrisy and cynicism. In fact, as I began to think about this, it occurred to me that we have had decades – maybe five, or six, or seven decades – of this leadership industry talking about aspirational views of how leaders ought to be.    And I agree that leaders ought to be modest, authentic, they ought to tell the truth, they ought to do many things. But of course when you look at real leader behavior, it’s pretty much the opposite. And when you look at the condition of workplaces, not only in the U.S. but around the world, they’re in pretty dire shape. And so it occurred to me that the leadership industry had not only failed to make things better, but that by telling these stories that bear no resemblance to reality and having this kind of aspirational, feel-good quality to then, it was not doing anything to cause anybody to get off their butts and try to do anything to make the world of work better. And so it occurred to me if anything was ever going to be better, somebody had to look at what was going on and tell the truth about it.

SF: And you draw the very useful analogy to medicine a hundred years ago.  Explain how you came up with that idea and how it helps us to understand the argument you are making.

JF: We’ve known for hundreds of years that hygienic practices are important in preventing hospital-acquired or iatrogenic illnesses. And so we’ve done the studies that have shown that hand-washing is good for preventing illness.  Nonetheless the medical industry has done something the leadership industry has never done, which is to say, “We know hand-washing is a good thing, but let’s look and see how many doctors really wash their hands.”  When they found that many of them don’t wash their hands, instead of having more stories, or more admonitions, or inspirational talks, they looked at what interventions they might use that would cause doctors to do some of the things they ought to do, such as better hand-washing and other hygienic regimens.  The leadership industry does not have base rates. All these desirable leadership behaviors are occurring, and because we never measure the base rates, we can never evaluate any interventions as to whether or not those interventions are making things better or worse.  If you fail to do that, nothing is ever going to get better because if you don’t know if you’re getting better, you don’t know the success of what you’re trying to do.

SF:  What would it require to measure base rates? What would we have to do to establish that?

JF: First of all, the leadership industry needs to define the constructs more precisely. A chaired professor at Duke University, somebody who you probably know, Sim Sitkin, has written a very nice review on what’s wrong with charismatic leadership. And one of the problems with charismatic leadership is that the construct is defined in a way that makes it almost un-measurable.  But I still think you can define precisely what you mean by servant leadership, by serving others, by authenticity, and so on. The first thing you do is measure the frequency of such characteristics in the populations you’re using. If you’ve found, and this would be my guess, that they’re relatively rare, especially among senior leaders, then you need to ask the question, “why is that?” Why are desirable qualities that research has shown do lead to healthier and more productive workplaces, why are they so rare among leaders? And what might we do to increase their frequency?

SF: So, employee engagement and trust is low in the world today — in business and in societies, as you point out.  Aside the impact that improved leadership performance might have, what else do you see causing the problem of disengagement and low trust?

JF: Well, I think leader behavior is one source. I participated once on a panel in restoring trust in leadership with Mr. Edelman, the head of Edelman who does the trust index in public relations to restore trust. I’d do that by stop whining to people, which of course has gone on.   Companies increasingly see their employees not as assets, but as costs that have to be minimized, and so you have fewer employees being employed full-time. Fewer employees are getting health insurance from their employer than ever.  Companies have cut wages, they’ve cut benefits, they’ve laid people off over the years. All of this would lead to not just lower employer engagement, but adverse health consequences for employees who face enormous levels of economic insecurity and difficulties in accessing healthcare.

SF: Do you see this fraying of the relationship between labor and management as something that is increasing?  Where does leadership play a role in trying to strengthen the connection that employees do have or can have to their organizations and to their own personal health and their families and their communities?

JF:  The relationships are certainly fraying. As your colleague and good friend of mine, Peter Cappelli, has said in his book, New Deal at Work, and in the subsequent research, there’s a lot of data that suggests that job tenures are going down, and that the percentage of part-time and contract laborers has gone up. And as I’ve already alluded to, benefits are going down. There is certainly a lot of fraying of the relationship. Research done by our colleagues in the human resources management area, such as by Tom Kochan at MIT, has demonstrated that these are strategic choices made by companies. You do not have to outsource, downsize, or pay people nothing, in order to be successful. When Cascio did the study comparing Sam’s Club to Costco, he found that Costco is more profitable even though it pays more and offers more benefits. The so-called high road approach dealing with your work force has been written about by Tom Kochan, and Paul Osterman, and by a variety of people over the years. This is a strategic choice that some leaders have and it’s a choice that is motivated in part by the idea that people are indispensable. It’s interesting to me that we are very concerned with environmental pollution, and companies now report their environmental bona fides, how much carbon they emit in the atmosphere, how much recycling they do, and so on and so forth. I keep pointing out to people that in addition to environmental pollution, we ought to be concerned about social pollution.

SF: How would you do that?

JF:  It turns outs that there is a single item measure of self-reported health (SRH). It basically asks people on a scale of 1 to 10, how good they feel, from feeling horribly to feeling very good. And this prospectively predicts mortality and morbidity. And it does so almost as well as physiological measures, such as body mass index and so on and so forth.

SF: That’s easy to acquire – that information.

JF: It’s very easy to acquire. Part of this is we need companies to measure health data of their employees. Second, just as we now hold companies responsible for their environmental impact, I think we ought to hold companies responsible for their impact on the wellbeing and welfare of their work force. I mean Gallop, as you know, has partnered with Health Ways, and they do their wellbeing index, measuring how that varies across geographies, and so on and so forth.  That’s also very interesting data for us and another way of measuring this. But we ought to be concerned about human wellbeing. As I know, you are doing at the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project.

SF: I’d like to try to bring this back to what you have composed here in critiquing the leadership industry. There seems to be a missing link between what we are aspiring to produce in our leaders – which is people who can take us to a better place – and what we’re actually producing. We’re not really emphasizing enough what’s required to create a leadership cadre of people who are dedicated not just to economic outcomes, but to human and social outcomes as well.

JF:  That’s exactly right. And it’s one of the conundrums I have highlighted in this book, Leadership B.S, but which I have not been able to solve.  Here’s the dilemma: the qualities that we claim we want in leaders – modesty, authenticity, telling the truth, taking care of others, etc. – are precisely the opposite of the qualities that actually make people successful. And by successful, I mean we know that narcissism (which I would argue is the opposite of modesty) has been reliably shown to be predictive of getting chosen for leadership roles, maintaining those roles, getting higher salaries, getting more successful, and some of the most successful leaders are narcissists. Michael Maccoby wrote this wonderful book called, The Productive Narcissist and talks about that.   The irony is then, there are a lot of reasons ranging from sociobiology to social psychology that explain this, but the qualities we claim that we want to see in leaders are exactly the opposite of the qualities we seem to be selecting for and exactly the opposite of the qualities that bring people individual success. So, there is individual success, which is often earned at the expense of the organization or social system’s success, and that is a conundrum or dilemma that denies so many.

SF: So, please go further with this issue of the disconnect between what we aspire to and what we do.  What ideas do you have for what organizations and individuals in organizations can be doing to ensure that they can start to produce those kinds of leaders that we would hope for as well as those that we actually see in the world today?

JF: Some years ago, when I used to write columns for Business 2.0 when Business 2.0 still existed, I wrote a column about lying, and as it occurred to me in the course of doing the work for that column, that a lie takes two people; the person who tells it and the other individual who wants to hear it. And so, in many ways we are our own worst enemy. We are complicit in many of the failures of the leadership industry. It is the consumers of the leadership industry’s products that want entertainment rather than enlightenment. It is the consumers of the leadership industry and the people who are selecting leaders who say we want leaders – I heard this story recently, even about the vaunted General Electric –who get good results, but only in the right way.   But then they are willing to make the tradeoff to get the good financial results, no matter the human toll that is exacted. So, it is we who are complicit.  In the Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld article that came out about Amazon recently, it’s just more controversy about this. One of the things I did in a Fortune column about that article is to look at the overlap between the most admired leaders and the most admired companies, and the best places to work. And not surprisingly, there is almost no overlap. Only four companies are on both those lists. So, we admire leaders who behave badly and exact huge tolls on their work force as long as they produce great financial results. That is something we are all individually and collectively responsible for.

SF:  There is something about those who seem to be the pinnacle of corporate society who have somehow belied this image of the grand and moral philosopher king that we all wish to have leading us to a better world, and that’s painful. So, as consumers what is available to us to start to deal more with that reality, that gap between what we wish for and what we’re actually paying for?

JF: First of all, we ought to do due diligence on leaders; we ought to do a little investigation. If I said to you tonight, I have discovered a cure for cancer and I’m going to sell it to you for $500 million, which by the way had I actually discovered the cure for cancer, that’d probably be the biggest bargain in history, before you write me a check for $500 million my suspicion would be you would do a fair amount of due diligence to figure out whether I knew what I was doing, and whether or not the cure that I have discovered actually had any positive therapeutic effects. When we make individual financial investment decisions or collective financial investment decisions, we do our due diligence. But when we listen to the leadership talks, the blogs, the TED talks, read the books, and hear the inspirational speeches, we want to believe. It’s almost like we want to believe in Santa Claus or something. So, we almost actively avert our eyes, as opposed to accepting the reality that every human being in the world is neither a complete saint nor a complete sinner. That there we’re all mixed individuals and have a combination of strengths and weaknesses, virtues and vices. So, we ought to be more clinical and do our due diligence on leaders. There are sites like Glassdoor. Many things are available now since every courtroom in this country is automated and you can find case filings. You can find information.  You can talk to people. And you can find out whether the stories you are hearing are true or not. And while it is uncomfortable oftentimes to confront the truth, my favorite movie scene is Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise in Few Good Men – “You can’t handle the truth.” I do believe that not only can people handle the truth, but we need the truth. Because the only way we’re going to get from where we are with this low level of employee engagement is to understand realities of the situation, why we are where we are and measure our progress toward improving things.

SF: And that means really seeing a person for who she is or he is, as a flawed human being who is perhaps aspiring to doing the right thing, but has limited capacity, limited ability to see the world from different perspectives and is going to make mistakes.  When I have guests come to class, I ensure that they speak as much as possible, if not solely, about the various ways in which they have screwed up because I find that’s what students are really interested in hearing about. Because they see the gloss, but if you cut through that with the real story I find that helps people to see Oz. There’s a human being – I can still be successful and be flawed. So, does this resonate with what you’re suggesting, Jeff?

JF: Absolutely. The idea of having leaders talk about their flaws, the idea of having people look deeply into how leaders are actually doing, and when you see people behaving in interesting and funny and difficult and maybe even problematic ways, to not say, which I hear all the time, “Well, this person is wealthy and so it must be ok,” or “This person is successful.”  “This person is on the most admired list and built this great company.” You see this with the CEO of Uber. You see this with the CEO of Amazon. You see this with many CEO’s, where people will say “well, yeah…” I just read this wonderful blog, which refers to my book, but also talks about the new movie about Steve Jobs;  Brook Manville, who used to be a consultant for McKinsey, said the interesting thing about Jobs is that Jobs had all these flaws and was not the nicest human being to work for, but people would say, you know, he built the iPhone, he built the most valuable company on the planet and therefore, the fact that he behaved hideously, in some respects at least according to some people, we’re going to give him a little pass on that. But we don’t do that in the environmental field. I mean I don’t say, “Well Stew, your running Freedom Enterprises and you’re producing a great product, but you’re fowling the water and the air, but I’ll give you a pass because you’re successful.”  We don’t give people a pass on that anymore. We say you need to produce a great product at a good price, but you also need to do it in a way that maintains the integrity of the physical environment. And I believe we ought to have the same requirements for maintaining the social environment.

SF: I could not agree with you more. Jeff, I am afraid we have run out of time here. There is so much more I want to ask you about, but I am afraid we must conclude. Your work on taking down the leadership industry or really getting us to see it in a fresh light and what it really means for us to be growing leaders who can make a difference in our society is really so important, so refreshing, so provocative, and so useful.

About the Author

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

Managing Boundaries on Paternity Leave From Vine– Jason Toff

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).

Wharton Grad ‘08 Jason Toff was a Product Manager at YouTube and Product Marketing Manager at Google and is now the General Manager at Vine, a part of Twitter. Jason and his wife just had their first child. Jason took a highly visible paternity leave.  He spoke with Stew Friedman about his experiences, at work and at home, as a new father, and about the Millennial experience in general, at work and the rest of life.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: In the run-up to your wife’s delivery of your first child, you were pretty public about taking an extended paternity leave and not only because you wanted to, for yourself and your family, but you wanted to set an example. What went into your thinking?

Jason Toff: jason toffThere were two major things that went into my decision to take the extended leave. The first one was just thinking about prioritization across life. A lot of people talk about family being most important, but if that’s truly the case then, at least for me, it was clear that I was going to take time off to spend with my son and with my wife during this really important time. This was the only first child we were ever going to have, so I wanted to spend time with them. The other factor is, as you alluded to, what message is this going to send to my team, a team of about 50 people in New York. Many of them have children, many of them are thinking about children, and I could tell them as much as I want about how much they’re able to take leave, but really they’re going to look at my actions to get a look at what’s appropriate and acceptable for them.

SF: What was the message you wanted to convey?

JT: Twitter has a great paternity and maternity policy, 10 weeks for fathers and 20 weeks for mothers, and the message I want to send is: family is valued and your relationship with your significant other and your children is important and is something Twitter and Vine respect and want you to value as well. So the message is: the policy is not just for show, it’s totally acceptable and normal.  Luckily for me, I was not the first dad to take leave at Twitter. There were many before me who did the same.  But it was important for me, for my team, to send that message to them.

SF: So that path had been traveled, and probably some lessons learned along the way.   Were those conveyed to you? Did people tell you about tips for how to manage this transition period, being away, and how to prepare and ensure that your team was going to thrive during the time you weren’t there?

JT: There had been a new moms group and they recently created a new dads group a few weeks before I took my leave. I met with a number of other dads at Twitter. Some had taken leave at Twitter, others had at other companies. It was interesting.  People had different approaches. Some said, “Once a week, I check in for a few hours.”   Others said that they disconnected completely. Some passed along tips about travel. Twitter is headquartered in San Francisco and it’s important to travel there occasionally, which is obviously more difficult with a child. We exchanged tips about which flights to take in the late evenings, in the mornings to maximize time with our children.

SF: Before we leave that topic, what specifically are the best practices for travel?

JT: One thing I heard a lot was that children will go to sleep pretty early, and if you take the red eye at night and come back the next day, you can actually see your children two days in a row and not miss too much of them. Basically, people like to take shorter trips more frequently when they have children, and that’s what I’ve done. I still make trips out to San Francisco as frequently as possible but do so briefly.

SF: Are you back from your leave?

JT: That’s right. Twitter gives you 10 weeks in total, and you can split those up within the course of a year or so.  I took five weeks immediately once my son was born, and I’ll take another five weeks at the end of this year.

SF: So during those five weeks following your son’s birth were you 100% disconnected? 90%, 80%?

JT: I did a couple of things: I decided that I would check in once a week on Fridays with a few of my direct reports, 30 minutes.   And then sit in on our weekly all-hands.   And throughout the week I would read emails, occasionally reply to those emails. In hindsight, I probably would have done it a little differently. I’m happy to talk more about that, but I say I was like 70-80% disconnected.

SF: What would you do differently? What did you learn?

JT: What I learned was that being 30% connected was, in many ways, worse than being 0% connected. I would send emails without having full context of what was happening.  It turned out that that it would have been useful for me to stay in the loop on some things, but this, actually, was destructive to some coworkers. Some of my team’s feedback afterwards was, and this might be surprising, “I wish you disconnected even more.”  In hindsight I can totally appreciate that feedback.

SF: Why would that be surprising? If you’re popping in without the full context and offering a slice of the picture, causing all kinds of confusion, I can see that it would be better to not have you involved at all.

JT: That’s fair. I think some of the concerns for some of my reports were, What’s going to happen with X, Y, Z while you’re gone?”   So the first response might be that if he’s available for questions that’s better than nothing, but in fact, it was not.

SF:  That five weeks is coming up sometime later this year. What are you going to do differently

JT: My plan was to disconnect; not do the weekly check-ins but really trust my leads. The goal is to be 100% disconnected. Obviously, if there’s some catastrophic event I will be available and I want to be available to my team.   But my goal is not to do the weekly check-in, not to check email, but actually disconnect this time.

SF: What was the reaction of the people on your team, and of your peers, men and women?

JT: Pretty uneventful, overall. To be perfectly honest with you, I think at this point there is a standard within tech, certainly within Google and Twitter, that it’s perfectly acceptable and normal for men and women to take extended leave after childbirth. That was true across the team, across men and women, older generations and younger generations.

SF: You’re signaling, as we talked about at the top of our conversation, to your people, people around you, that this is normal and what we do, and you should do it, too. You reinforce that message, but it sounds like that message really didn’t need a lot of reinforcing. Do I have that right?

JT: I think that’s right. There were a few dads before me on the Vine team who took some leave. I think I took more than they did. I think maybe people say, Oh wow, there are 10 weeks. I should only take seven or eight.”  I tried to reinforce that this is not just a pretend policy to attract talent but a true policy because Twitter values your relationship not only with your children but your significant others.

SF: There have been some studies that show that men who take leave are stigmatized. They’re seen as not fully-committed, quote-on-quote feminine, as they don’t compare to those who are traditional model of the ideal worker, 24/7, 365, wholly committed. So you didn’t experience any of that and you don’t think that’s part of the culture of the company you are a part of?

JT: I don’t think so. I think if you ran this study with younger generations or tech, you at least would see a different result. I can’t say for sure, I can’t read the minds of everyone on my team, but the main feedback I heard was not that I wasn’t committed but was that I should disconnect even more next time.

SF: That’s so interesting, that the cleaner break would have been better, probably for you, too on the home side.

JT: Absolutely. It’s difficult when you are trained to carry this device around in your pocket, which buzzes whenever you get an email.   It takes a particular type of un-training in order to actually focus on what matters, your child in front of you.

SF: How did you do that? What kind of un-training did you concoct or what emerged as you had to learn how to ignore that thing?

JT: One of the tactical things I did, which sounds small but was actually pretty effective, was there’s a setting on your phone for the mail app that says,  Don’t show that red number badge that says how many new emails you have.”  I turned that off for all of my new emails and then every time I looked at my phone, I wouldn’t see the number of emails that were mounting. I could check in when I had a free moment but I didn’t have a constant urge to make that number go to zero.

SF: Jason, I forgot to ask you at the top. What is Vine and what are you doing there in terms of the next year or so, what’s your primary goal with the next phase of Vine’s growth?

JT: The short of it is that Vine is a video entertainment network. We have over 200 million people every month watching Vines. Vines exist in our mobile apps.    They exist across the web. You’ve probably have seen Vines embedded on sites across the Internet. We are trying to build the best entertainment platform.  We see tremendous Vines come onto our platform every day from people who are filing whatever is happening around them, to Vine stars.   There’s a growing number of people who have become celebrities within Vine. Our goal for the immediate future, or even long future, is to be the best entertainment platform.

SF: Within the six-second timeframe that Vines now live within?

JT:  We’re not religious about any one aspect of Vine; no one at Vine would tell you that they work on a six-second square looping video, for instance. But we believe there’s a lot of value in this short format that we invented and we’ve seen amazing response from our users.

SF: Thank you for that explanation. It’s an amazing product and I’d like to now return to what we were just speaking about before that, which is what you learned to do to maintain your physical and psychological presence in the same place, which was at home with your new baby. What else, aside from your shutting off the red button that says you have 975 unread mails.   What else did you do?

JT: Another important thing was just empowering people at work to take over responsibilities that I previously had and being very explicit about those.    And setting up an out-of-office message to direct people to one of those individuals.   Also reminding myself on a daily basis of this great opportunity I had.  I had so much time with my first-born in his first weeks of life, those were the major things.

SF: You reminded yourself, how did you do that? Did you wake up and think, “Ah, I get to spend a day with my son today?”  What exactly did you do to keep your mind focused, because you are, as you said, trained. You have this habitual interest in connecting via your smartphone, or whatever device, to the people at work and beyond. That’s a tough habit to unlearn. We’ve been talking a lot about that on this show. What else did you do to hold that boundary?

JT: Honestly, it was pretty hard for me, being so connected. The way I experienced it typically was I’d find myself looking at my phone, getting an email, starting to stress out about something I didn’t have too much context on but enough to be stressed out about.  I’d need to stop myself and talk to myself for a moment and say, “What am I doing here, put this away, prioritize my wife and son.” Truthfully, my wife was a big contributor in getting me to stop.

SF: How did she do that?

JT: My wife has a talent to be very frank with me, and was very frank about my being here. I can’t say I was perfect at it but that was certainly a help.

SF: You need that. You need the social environment that’s going to hold you accountable to what you believe in. What you say is important because these habits are incredibly powerful and the draw is so strong, so I appreciate your candor in that. Having your significant other, your wife, reminding you about what was important, that was really helpful.

JT: Absolutely, enormously helpful.   And honestly just witnessing all that goes into childbirth, leading up to childbirth, and in the weeks after, I had an enormous amount of respect for my wife before,  but after seeing just the physical trauma alone of childbirth, it’s such an insane thing to happen to a human body and something that we don’t talk that much about or that I hadn’t heard much about, I had so much respect for her that the least I could do was give her my attention and help her, especially those first few weeks.

SF:  It’s a profound transformation of the human body to carry and deliver a child, that’s for sure. So the least you could do was to get off the phone!

JT: Obviously, I have the easy job in that I need to help out, so that was a good reminder to myself.

SF: But you needed that reminder. So I’m wondering if that’s something that you can help other people to understand as a result of your experience, some tips for the people around you. Is that a part of the conversation at Vine and Twitter, sharing best practices and dealing with this really important and critical question that you have been so candidly describing here about maintaining that boundary and focus on the baby in front of you?

JT:  Absolutely. There’s a group chatroom at Vine, and soon after I returned, we started a dads chatroom and just in one-on-one conversations with people.   We talked about what worked and didn’t work. And truthfully, it depends on the person and situation. There are some people who might go insane if they completely disconnected or, depending, in some rare instances, their job function, it actually would be better for them to stay connected in some way.  But I certainly learned the lesson and would pass it on to anyone on my team or anyone – to disconnect as much as possible. There’s only one time in my life, in anyone’s life, that they will have their first child. Just truly appreciating those moments is … it’s hard to compare anything to that.

SF: It’s probably too soon to tell, but how do you think becoming a father has affected your thinking about your career?

JT: Funny enough, within a couple weeks of returning, I was actually promoted.   So early signs seem to suggest that it hasn’t had a negative effect on my career. Again, I may be lucky to be in the tech industry, where this is normal, but I really don’t think it had any negative impact on my career.

SF: I was thinking it would have had a positive effect, so I don’t know why you’d assume that I was thinking negative!

JT: If anything, it’s given me perspective and helped me understand that sometimes things at work seem like tragedies, life-and-death experiences, and sometimes they are, but for most of us it’s not, and having that added perspective has allowed me, I think, to do my job a little bit better.

SF: Can you say how?

JT: Previously I would get very stressed out, which is not good for anyone on my team, about small issues.  I think on the whole I am less likely to do so now with that added perspective.

To learn more about Jason Toff and Vine go to their website https://vine.co/ and follow on Twitter @Vine and @JasonToff.

About the Author

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

What Kind of Country Are We? Time for Paid Leave — Ellen Bravo

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).

Ellen Bravo, directs the Family Values @ Work Consortium, a network of broad coalitions working for policies such as paid sick days and family leave insurance.  The network has achieved unprecedented victories,  such as paid sick days in Connecticut and California; San Francisco; Washington, DC; Seattle; Portland; New York City; nine cities in New Jersey; family leave insurance in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island; and paid parental leave passed in Washington state, with more wins on the horizon.  Ellen is the author of Taking on the Big Boys, or Why Feminism is Good for Families, Business and the Nation and a passionate, relentless, fun and funny advocate for families and children.

Stew Friedman: Since we spoke last year there’s been considerable progress at the state and federal level. Can you give us an update what’s new in the world of advancing policies and initiatives in our nation that are helping working families?

Ellen Bravo: Ellen Bravo 2As of today, more than 10 million people in the United States newly have access to paid sick days because of the work of our coalitions and their partners. It’s amazing how many people have paid sick days for themselves, but they can’t use it for a sick child or parent. Or they can take sick days, but they get demerits when they use it. Or they have them, but they don’t get paid for day one, and so many people just don’t take that time at all.  There are three states now that have family and medical leave insurance programs. And guess what? By the end of 2016, there may be three more. D.C. is the best place to have a baby, be sick, have parents. What a great way to summarize what it means to have access for paid leave.

SF: What are those three states?

EB: D.C., Connecticut, and New York all could win family medical insurance over the next year. There’s a number more where campaigns are growing: Massachusetts, Oregon, and a bunch of other places. Here’s what’s really exciting to us: our network formed because we knew that it was these boots on the ground that helped build the critical masses needed to get the national standard that we all need. We’re very proud of that. We’ve really helped create a network that looks at these local coalitions, deeply rooted in their own city or county or state, and helps them share their lessons, share their successes, and see themselves as part of a national movement by linking them all together.

SF: This also creates momentum, right? Because people see that it’s possible. That motivates others to get involved.

EB: I can’t tell you how important that is. We just wrote a booklet called “Why I Became an Activist.” It is profiles of twelve people telling how they became engaged in one of these campaigns, and what it has meant to their lives.  Another important part of life is people realizing that change is possible if we do it together;  what I couldn’t do on my own, we can do together. And it breaks through that disenfranchisement that so many people feel.  That sense of, “Who listens to me? Who cares about me if I don’t have money?” And it’s really showing people that there are solutions. That what happened to them wasn’t just one bad boss or one bad company. It’s something about the whole system. We can fix that by having these basic and common sense policies. It’s so exciting to see that.   Everyday I meet those people who’ve change their own lives and those of so many others.

SF: Is that part of your daily life, is meeting with people who are just getting involved in this, let’s call it a social movement?

EB: It’s one of my favorite things to do. I was invited to speak at the 20th anniversary of one of our anchor groups in Massachusetts called “Coalition for Social Justices, Fall River, Massachusetts”. It’s a $30 plate dinner. People there are ages 18 to 85 and very multi-racial. And someone gets up from New Bedford and says, “We talked 4,692 people. 4,062 of them became members of our coalition, and we went out in teams on election day. This is for the ballot initiative for sick time and we said go ‘vote yourself some sick time.’” It’s this very grass roots effort. They took a report one time when they went canvasing and there were people waiting on the porch saying, “I heard you were coming today. I had to tell you. This is my life. I’ve never had a paid sick day. This is what it means to me.” And just what you were saying talking about disharmony. What could be worse than you’re kid is sick and you have to decide do I lose my pay for the day to be with this child? Who do I let down? My family or my employer and my family again, because we need to provide for them as well as to care for them.

SF: And it’s a choice that America should not have to make, according to our president and so many other legislators. But it’s hard to get it through at the national level. Before we get to that very big question about how we create a national policy that works. Speak to the business interest at play here because many of our listeners are business people, first and foremost. Many of them have families and have people working with and around them who are committed to their families and want to be able to be engaged and supportive of the needs of the people in their families. Why is this an issue that businesses should really get behind?

EB: So, for both businesses and family medical leave insurance, the great thing is that every one of our coalitions has business partners. And those business leaders join in. First of all, many of them already provide these policies because they think it’s the smart, as well as the right, thing to do.

SF: Smart from a business point of view?

EB: Yes. It doesn’t take much thinking to say not one of us is as good on day one as we are on day 366. Everybody needs to get up to speed on their jobs. And so business owners invest in those workers. Whatever the kind of job, it’s a loss when they leave. So, we don’t want to put people in a situation where we say “get out” if you’re going to do exactly what the doctor tells you to do or what a good parent should do or good child should do for their parent. And businesses don’t want to be in that situation. They want people to have harmony in their lives, but sometimes they can’t afford to do it themselves. That’s what the family medical leave insurance does. It creates a pool of small contributions that help make leave affordable. That’s a real boon to businesses. Paid sick days is a much smaller investment and what the business owners who are partners of ours tell us is, “Look, I already do this, but I want everyone to do it. Because you know what? Other people’s staff, they are my customers.   And if they lose money because they are being a good parent or doing what the doctor said, they don’t come to my shop or store or whatever, that hurts me.”

SF: All those ripple effects that emanate from good policies that really support people so that they can stay in their jobs and be the kind of family member that they want and need to be. That benefits the whole ecology of our local economy.

EB: That’s exactly right. The great words are whole ecology. I commend you and the tremendous work you did to get a couple hundred of business professors who say, “yeah, this is smart business. Let’s do this. It’s time for our nation to do this.” You’ve done a tremendous service. I’ll tell you what one of my favorite things about the work we do is: there are people out there when we first started our network over a decade ago, the opposition tried to characterize it as workers versus business and they can’t do that anymore because we have so many business owners who said, “listen, those lobby groups don’t speak for me. I am the business community too. And I want this because it’s the best thing for our community and our nation. It’s good for me personally, but it’s also good for my community and that matters to me what kind of economy we have overall and what kind of nation we are overall.” And so, those divisions that people tried to legislate, we said you can’t do that anymore. We won’t let you. It’s identity theft. You can’t claim to be the business community when you speak against these modest little reforms like paid sick days or family medical leave insurance. You’re really speaking for giant corporate interests.

SF: And that’s an important issue.   Where is the resistance coming from and why? First, for our listeners, Ellen was referring to the fact that I helped author and was the lead signatory on a letter that came from 200 business schools’ faculty that we sent to every member of Congress in support of the Family Act, now before Congress. I have to tell you Ellen, it was so easy to do that, partly because of our partnership with Vicky Shabo with the National Partnership for Women and Families.  Also, once we sent it out to a couple of my business school colleagues, they sent it out to their colleagues and it spread rapidly because it’s a no-brainer for us to see how the current and future generations of business leaders want this and how we need it for our business and our society. So, back to where we were: where does the resistance come from?

EB:  Unfortunately, there are organized lobbies. Their job is to stand in the way of change. I think of them like the sheriffs in the doorway of schools when kids are trying to de-segregate. It’s a knee jerk reaction.  These lobbies are literally telling Congress, “Don’t tell us what to do. We don’t need any regulations.”  It’s the same thing got us in trouble with the housing bubble, the Exxon Mobil spill, and so on. Of course we need some common sense regulation and protection for people.  That’s what this is. The thing that amuses me is that you see that same arguments that were made before. I made this little quiz that says, “Who said this? Is it your local chamber of Congress? The National Federation of Independent Businesses?  The American Legislative Exchange Commission, or none of the above?” This is the quote: This law will destroy industry in the city and the state. It turns out it was from the head of the Real Estate Board in 1912 after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 148 women and kids. And for the first time ever, the city of New York said we might need some regulation. And you know what the regulations were?  Let’s have a fire escape, let’s have inspections, and let’s prevent employers from locking their workers in while they do their jobs. That’s all it was. Certain people said that will destroy industries. The same thing was said when we ended child labor and when we established minimum wage.  It’s unfortunate because it makes business owners look small-minded and narrow-minded. It’s a disservice because so many of the leaders in our coalition are business owners who have always been doing this and who see that it is a best business practice for them to be speaking out in support of a public policy to establish a voice for everyone.

SF:  Especially when the research on the impact of those public policies has shown that they support business goals such as the retention of great people. People are more likely to stay if they have this kind of support.

EB: It’s really mindset.  They view workers as inherently lazy and they need to be punished, or they view them as assets, the greatest assets actually. And if you invest in them, and take into account that they are whole people that need to integrate all the parts of their life, just as you said Stew, then your business will do better. Also, you’ll be contributing to a much better society.

SF:  It’s not just an economic imperative; it’s a moral imperative.  And there’s an accumulating body of research that demonstrates this. So, at the national level, when are we going to see real change? What do you think it’s going to take? The democrats are debating tonight for the first time. [Tuesday October 13, 2015.]

EB: I think it’s going to take just what we’re doing, continuing this growing number of wins. You see if you go to our website, the timeline of wins. You’ll see this growth in the number of wins each year. And there’ll be a bunch more in 2015, and then another bunch in 2016. And we need to do the same thing with family medical leave insurance. Get a critical mass of states over the next five years. That’s our goal. And I think that when we do that, we’re going to see changes in who governs and what they stand for. We’re already seeing that voters across the political spectrum and across every demographic really care about these things. They’re paying much more attention to where candidates stand on it. The more people see that this is good politics as well as good policies, that’s what it will take. But what you said is also true. If everyone adds to the growing body of evidence. Productivity goes up, morale goes up, retention goes up, and that’s just what we want. These are in sync, and it’s a disservice to say we have to decide – do we treat people well or do we do well in our businesses. Of course we do better when we all do better.

SF:  What can listeners do to learn more, and much more importantly spread their understanding of the stories of success that really do cut into these outmoded ways of thinking, which pit workers and their families against the interest of businesses, when in fact they are in sync, can be, should be, and must be. What can listeners do?

EB:  The easiest thing is just go to our website — familyvaluesatwork.org — and say I want to get involved and tell us a little about yourself.  If you’re in a state where we are, we’ll connect you to that coalition. There are local people who know the conditions and they know the kind of policies that will work best. And they want your help. And you can really help make the difference. If you’re in a state where there isn’t yet a campaign going on, you can help us speak out for these national policies. And you may also be able to help create something in that state. The exciting thing is that there are people everywhere that want to do this. Everywhere I go people say what can we do to get this started. And your listeners can absolutely be a vital part of making that happen. But also, you can support our work.

SF: Otherwise to provide support for this growing movement of people throughout our great country, to help us really start to get close to on par with the rest of the developed world,  because we are so woefully and tragically behind in terms virtually all of our competitors in the world economy, what are the options?

EB: Have I told you my favorite country? It’s Iceland. They have policy “3-3-3” that next year is going to be “5-5-2”. And what that means is each parent can take 3 months of paid leave and the couple can share the other 3 months. And next year it will be five, five, and two months they can share. And guess what’s happened? Most men take that leave, and after a year and a half 70% of the men that take that leave are sharing childrearing. This is a great thing for families, great thing for our workforce. I love it that Susan Wojcicki, who is the CEO at YouTube, wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal about how when Google, which is a parent company of YouTube, increased the amount of leave, their turnover rate among women was cut in half. She said “I’m a better person.” She has five kids. She’s taken five maternity leaves. She’s also unapologetic about it. But she said, “I’m a better leader by having taken that time. I am more in sync with our customers and what they need.” And that’s a good thing. It’s not a favor to women; it’s a better way to do it. That’s what’s really great.

SF: It’s not just about women, as we know. In our 20 year longitudinal study of Wharton grads, we found that young men especially are as eager, more so than women, to have policies, both corporate and social, that support them as fathers, as sons, as brothers to be able to provide support for the family and the people that depend on them.

EB: Absolutely. And in our pamphlet, a number of those activists became active as new dads wanting paid family leave for everybody. One of the things they say is, “We’re tired of dads being treated like a spare part. These are our kids. We want to be just as involved in their lives. And we don’t want to be punished for being responsible fathers.” The great thing about these policies is that they are strengthening families and helping so many men to be exactly what they want: be good fathers, sons, and husbands, and brothers, as you point out. We’re delighted to see that.

SF: Not only is it better for them as fathers, but it helps their children and it enables women to lean in at work if dads are leaning in at home. So, it truly is a win all the way around. We just got another couple of minutes here, Ellen. What’s the most important thing for our listeners to know about the work that you’re doing and how they can be a part of it at a personal level?

EB: The most important thing for them to know is that peoples’ lives are being transformed. If you read the language in the booklet, they talk about it “being an honor to do this.” And, “I suddenly felt I found my voice. I realized the power that we have to make change happen.” There are so many people who want to do exactly that, but they don’t know what they can do alone as individual.  By becoming part of these coalitions we amalgamate our power, and that’s what’s enabling us to make change. Elected officials say, “Look at these business owners speaking up. When the lobbyist comes and tells me business says X, I’m going to say no they don’t. I just sat and talked to them in my office, or I got a call, or I got a letter.” So, sharing your stories, why you do this, and why you support it.   Sharing how these policies help you to invest in and retain the people that work for you, and how it made your company a success. That’s the best thing we can do. We so appreciate the work that you’re doing already and I hope that you’ll add to the strength that we’re building up in the field. And that will get us the national policies that we need.

SF: It’s going to take time. It’s going to take effort from a lot of people, but it really doesn’t take all that much. And it doesn’t cost business. The policies that I’m aware of, they are neutral in terms of the revenue implications for most business owners.

EB: I remember the guy who was the CEO at Stride Rite, and who had an intergenerational care center, so there were little kids and there were seniors. And they did activities together. They made bread. They told stories. But there were also activities they did separately. Somebody said, “Are you an idiot? Why are you wasting money on that?” He said, “Have you seen the faces of our employees when they get off the elevator and they see a parade of the little kids and the seniors going through the hall. Even if it isn’t their kids or their seniors?   You think that doesn’t last, that smile, when they go back to work?” He says, “Who’s the idiot?”  And I’ve always remembered him saying that. I think that’s so true. I mean, Stew, I meet people all the time who tell me stories of having to kiss their dying son or husband or mother every day at the hospital and then go to work knowing that this was the day, and she might die forever. And they can’t help it because it’s the only way they can pay the bills. Or think about the nearly one in four mothers who go back to work within two weeks of giving birth. What kind of country are we?

To learn more about The Family Values at Work  Consortium visit their website and follow them on Twitter, @FmlyValuesWork

About The Author

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

The Achievement Gap & What We Can Do About It — Jane Waldfogel

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).

Jane Waldfogel is a Professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work and a visiting professor at the London School of Economics. She has written extensively on the impact of public policies on poverty, inequality, and child and family well-being.  Her books include: Too Many Children Left Behind: The U.S. Achievement Gap in Comparative Perspective; Britain’s War on PovertySteady Gains and Stalled Progress: Inequality and the Black-White Test Score GapWhat Children NeedSecuring the Future: Investing in Children from Birth to College; and The Future of Child Protection. She is also the author of over 100 articles and book chapters. Her current research includes studies of paid parental leave, improving the measurement of poverty, and inequality in school readiness and achievement.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stewart Friedman: Why should businesspeople care about early childhood education and about the achievement gap, and what’s the connection to work and working families?

Jane Waldfogel: Jane WaldfogelThere are two important connections for businesspeople. One immediate connection is that this is the workforce of the future.   The children we’re talking about, who have the achievement gap, are lagging behind their peers more so than children in other countries, are going to be their employees five, 10, 15 years from now.

SF: Before you get to the second reason, just define what we mean by achievement gap.

JW: In the work that I’m doing, I’m focusing on the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children; children whose families have high levels of socio-economic resources and children whose families have low levels of resources. There are different ways of measuring that. I’m focusing on the difference between those whose parents have a college degree or more and those whose parents have a high school degree or sometimes less.  We think of those as being highly-educated and low-educated, but there’s a big group in the middle that has something beyond high school, some kind of college education but not a full college degree. The achievement gap is the gap in school readiness or the gap in school achievement between those whose parents have a college degree and those whose parents have high school or less.

SF: Thank you for that.  Yes, it’s about future employees and their readiness to contribute to society’s economic growth.    And the other important rationale for businesspeople to be mindful of your research?

JW:  The other reason for businesspeople to be aware of and concerned about it is they’re not independent of this, they’re parties to this. The way that our safety net works in the United States is that a lot of the safety net benefits that families rely on, especially when they’re working, come from their employers.    A lot of their employers offer some help with parental leave, sick leave, even help with child healthcare and eldercare.   But not all employers do.   And, unfortunately, there’s also a gap in the provision of those kinds of benefits.  The best-off employees who are most educated, have the most resources, are also the most likely to have employer benefits.  While the businesses that are employing low-income workers, low-educated workers, are the least likely to provide those benefits.

SF: What’s the implication of that for businesspeople listening to our show right now? Why is the increasing gap relevant to the small-business owner, for example?

JW: I think a small-business owner would be entitled to say, “Why is this my responsibility and why should I be paying for expensive benefits?  I think the small-business owner actually has a point there, and this is why we’re seeing in several states’ paid family leave benefits being provided through employee contribution into a public insurance fund.  This is the model in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. It is a very innovative kind of model and one of the prime beneficiaries of these new benefits, it’s not parents, it’s small businesses, because small businesses would like to be able to give people some time off when they have a baby. These people are human beings, they’re decent employers, and in fact they have been giving people time off, this is not a new thing.

SF: The point that you’re making here is such a critical one, that these are employee-funded initiatives.

JW: These are 100% funded through employee contribution and the state pays a few pennies a week into these funds. And then how many children do these people have? They don’t have that many children.   So, on the one or two or three occasions that somebody has a child, then mothers and fathers, they both get some paid leave. It might be four weeks, it might be five weeks, it might be six weeks.  And it’s funded through this public insurance fund that’s funded by contributions from all the employees in the state.

SF: So it gets spread out and it’s administered by the Social Security Administration already in place to manage these funds.  The private sector can say, “It’s not really up to us.”  And to that you would say, You’re right. We need a national policy to support families and children, and that’s good for all of us, as the research has shown.”

JW: Yes.  These social insurance programs were set up to insure workers against the kind of eventualities that might strike any of us. Things like death, disability, unemployment, illness.  And virtually every advanced industrialized country has some form of paid maternity leave because it’s that kind of an event —  giving birth is that kind of an event. It’s an extraordinary event, it’s not a recurring, frequent event, so it’s the perfect thing for these kinds of social insurance funds to cover.

SF: One of the things that you’ve focused on in the great treatise that you’ve published, Too Many Children Left Behind: The U.S. Achievement Gap in Comparative Perspective, is how we fare compared to other nations. What were the big ideas in the insights that you drew from that comparative study?

JW: It’s probably no surprise to any of your listeners that children whose parents are more highly educated themselves are going to come to school more ready to learn than children whose parents are not highly educated. But it’s not obvious why that kind of a gap should differ across countries. If, in the United States children whose parents are less educated are coming into school a full standard deviation behind in their test scores than children whose parents are more highly educated, then we would expect to find similar gaps in other countries when we compare similar families, families with college education and families whose parents have just a high school degree or less.

SF: So the effect of parental education ought to be universal and not country-specific.

JW: Yes.  More educated parents are reading to their children, they’re buying books and toys, they have a computer, and they have a love of learning they’re passing it on to their children. There’s lots of reasons why you might expect the children of more educated parents to come to school more ready.  But in fact, the gap at school entry is twice as big in the United States as it is in Canada or Australia.  When we compare the United States to Canada, Australia, and the U.K., that gap is significantly larger in the United States than in the other countries. There must be something going on in the United States that’s peculiar.

SF: Something that exaggerates the achievement gap that’s caused by differences in parental education.

JW: Exactly. So partly it’s that when parents are low-educated in the United States, not only are they low-educated but they also have low levels of other resources. They’re younger, they’re less likely to be in stable families.  Some of it’s about family structure, but some of it is because they have lower incomes relative to the rest of the population than low-income families in other countries. And unfortunately, you then add in the government resources, and that just augments the differences across the countries.

SF: What do you mean?

JW:  It turns out that the reason that we have a much higher child poverty rate than Canada, the U.K., Australia, is not because of our demographic makeup or our labor market situation. When you look just at families’ market earnings, the child poverty rate is about the same across the four countries. Once you take into account government taxes and transfers, that’s where you see the big difference. In the U.K., in Canada, in Australia, those government programs are cutting child poverty in half.

SF: Our government tax policies exaggerate the achievement gap that kids experience as a result of whether or not their parents are college-educated.

JW:  It’s the government tax and transfer programs; what we call the safety net. Those programs are cutting child poverty in half in the other countries. That’s a really important element. And then there’s the whole work/life/family arena.  Virtually all advanced countries, all of our peers, now have universal preschool that covers children in the year or two before they start school. You can see how that would be tremendously equalizing if all the children were going to preschool before they’re going on to school.

SF: That’s going to cut into the achievement gap?

JW: Yes, and it’s going to be equalizing, whereas in the United States, because we don’t have universal preschool, we don’t have universal pre-kindergarten in most places, the kind of preschool or whether or not your child even gets preschool.  And then, the kind of preschool is going to be very dependent on family resources. At the top end, we have some of the best nursery schools in the world, and we know which families get to access those, and at the bottom end, we have families who if they’re lucky, maybe they’ll get a childcare voucher or they’ll get a spot in a subsidized childcare program, and then you’ll get the families in the middle who can’t afford the price of high-quality preschool, so they’re making do with family daycare or informal care, such as kids being with relatives. At some point, those kids are losing out compared to other kids who are having more educational programming.

SF:  This exaggerates the achievement gap which just grows over time.

JW: It does grow over time.  Although one of the surprising findings in the book was that if you had asked me before we started the book, I would have said probably about half of the achievement gap that we see in high school was already there at school entry, and the other half of it emerges as that gap widens during the school years. And that actually would have been wrong. We estimated this very carefully in the book and it turns out actually about two-thirds of the achievement gap, 60 or 70 percent, is already there at school entry. That’s a ‘wow!’

SF: So universal Pre-K and tax policies and transfers that enable kids to be better ready, when they start, that could solve most of the achievement gap problem that we see later in people’s lives and in their school careers?

JW: Exactly.   And if we’d at least give teachers a fighting chance. You can’t have kids coming in so unequally prepared at kindergarten. I mean, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a kindergarten teacher facing that range of abilities. Either you’re going to teach to the children that are very ill-prepared, and then the better-prepared children are really missing out and everybody’s level is dragged down. If they’re going to teach the children who are well-prepared, those who are behind at the start are going to fall further behind.

SF: What can we do to help solve this problem, because it really is a tragic set of circumstances in a nation that prides itself on being the most resourceful in world history?

JW: I think it’s not rocket science. You start from birth: paid parental leave.  We all know it’s a good thing but it’s taken us a while to figure it out. We now have these three states that have programs in place, so we’re getting there. Look at all these companies that are implementing 16 weeks of paid parental leave; all the tech companies, the Navy, I think this is a sea change, I think we’re getting there. We also have a much better evidence base on parenting programs for parents of infants and toddlers than we’ve ever had before. The Nurse Family Partnership is the best known of them, but there are now several. This is an example of a very well-studied, well-evaluated parenting program that works with young first-time mothers starting prenatally and into the first year or two of life.  Nurses work with the mothers to help strengthen their parenting skills. So the children get better care before they start preschool because, honestly, we’ve been talking about universal preschool or Pre-K at age four, but that comes pretty late in the life of a child. There’s an earlier foundation of paid parental leave and then the evidence-based, high-quality parenting programs for parents who may not have received very good parenting themselves and especially young, first-time, disadvantaged moms.

SF: Does your comparative study help to propel interest by American lawmakers to take this issue more seriously?

JW: I think it should in two different respects. One, that wow factor of 60-70 percent of the achievement gap being there already at school entry, is such a smoking gun in terms of pointing to early childhood as the point of intervention. The second big wow is that achievement gap being so much larger in the United States than our nearest peers, Canada, the U.K., and Australia. There’s no reason we should have so much of a bigger gap than those other countries, and we know it’s happening in early childhood.

SF:  Not only should there not be that gap, but we should be leading. What can listeners do, a number of our listeners are going to be thinking, What can I do to try to make a change with respect to how children will be affected by policy?” What would you recommend?

JW: I think there’s a lot to be done at the local and state level. A lot of these programs are being funded and rolled out by the states.  These early home-visiting programs, these parenting programs, paid parental leave is happening at the state level, universal Pre-K is happening at the state level, so I think finding out what’s going on in my city or state and getting on board and supporting these things with funding and candidates who support these initiatives.  At the local level, finding out what are the good programs in my area and what do they need? Do they need some volunteers, some help? I know a lot of businesses are involved locally in having folks volunteer and help out, so find a strong program in your area and find out what they need.

SF: What has this research meant to you personally in terms of your sense of the impact that you’re having?

JW: I just feel very strongly committed to doing what we can to make the living situation of children in our country more equal, and raising the level for everybody, and it’s dawned on me that the school system is one really important place to make that happen. That’s really driven my interest in these achievement gaps, but it turns out that we have to start a lot earlier than the school system and so I think there’s an awful lot for all of us to do.

About the Author

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


Employee Well-Being at Marriott — David Rodriguez

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).

David Rodriguez, is the Executive Vice President of Global Human Resources for Marriott International.  He has a doctorate in Industrial/Organizational from NYU and has held various HR positions at Citi and Avon before joining Marriott. Rodriguez is on the Board of Directors for the Human Resources Policy Association and a member of the Personnel Roundtable, Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, American Psychological Association, and Board of Governors for the American Health Policy Institute. He spoke to Stew Friedman about providing and maintaining employee well-being at Marriott.

Excerpts of their conversation below:

Stew Friedman: So, David for those few people who are listening who may not know, what does Marriott do?

David Rodriguez: David RodriguezWe’re one of the world’s leading lodging companies with over 4,300 properties in 81 countries and territories under 19 brands – everything from our namesake Marriott and JW Marriott hotels to luxury brands, like Ritz Carlton. The company was founded by the parents of our current executive chairman, Bill Marriott in 1927.

SF: Your firm has consistently been ranked one of the best places to work. What is the secret to your success to attract and retain the top talent in your field year after year?

DR: If you examine company documents and videos, you find a phrase that appears again and again: If you take care of the associates, they will take care of the customers, and the customers will come back again and again, and the business will take care of itself. If you talk to just about anybody in our business, and ask them what separates us from our competitors, they probably will say it’s our company culture, and our core values.  We are a very people-centric business. In essence, we believe the foundation of our business models never strayed from its early roots. And that’s a focus on employee well-being.

SF: So, that’s been there from the start?

DR: It has. It’s grown over time, as we’ve grown. We started as a small little root beer stand, then the restaurant business here in D.C., then we grew in the U.S., and then we got into the hotel business in the late 1950’s. That’s become the core of who we are today. This focus on well-being has never strayed from its roots, but it’s evolved. It has three components. First, we believe that people have to feel good about themselves. We provide resources to support physical, mental, and emotional health.

SF: What exactly do you provide and how do employees use it to help them feel good about their physical and emotional health?

DR: We have a nationally recognized wellness program with a number of resources and activities directly related to helping people maintain good health. As you and I know, there is a big expenditure in this country in helping people who are sick get well. There needs to be more focus on prevention. Our wellness program, in part, helps people by giving them the knowledge, tools, and resources to maintain a good health.  We also have what we call our associate resource line. Let’s say you have elderly parents, then you need to become better educated and know what options there might be and how to consider, say elder care.  Whatever issues people face at different stages in their life, we know that to the extent we can help them to face those issues, it has a great impact on their general well-being.  We also provide courses and resources for people to become better financial stewards.  A big focus, particularly with our hourly employees, is on providing them with career development guidance and programs. Let’s face it, the path to a more secure retirement and to financial security – I think the minimum wage debate in the country is a very important debate –- is for the private sector, for companies, to look at their practices and make sure they’re doing all they can to help people develop the skills that make them recession-proof and give them the opportunity to get higher paying jobs. It all falls under this umbrella: people have to feel good about themselves in order to participate fully and productively.

SF: What’s the signal differentiator of your programs?

DR: It’s multi-faceted. I think it’s been recognized for a couple of different reasons. One, it’s global.   We have worked to make it relevant locally in many different cultures and companies.

SF: So, you’ve had to adjust your policies to fit the local culture?

DR: Yes.  Some cultures are smoking cultures, for instance. So, how do you introduce wellness and help people live healthier lives, while being sensitive to cultural messaging that is a bit at odds?   The other thing that distinguishes our company is that we have literally hundreds of what we call “wellness champions” across the company.  These are associates who, in many cases, have been helped and want to give back by becoming wellness champions and helping at our hotels and other locations to lead the effort and to get those sites to adopt healthier practices.

SF:  Do they get extra compensation for that or is it seen as a boost for their career development prospects? What why would somebody sign up for being a wellness champion?

DR: They become passionate about it. It’s on company time so they are being compensated for it. But, they’re doing it because they’ve become passionate about it. And yes, these are great learning opportunities for many people. It can be one of the first opportunities to show leadership.  So people get very excited about that, and there are some great stories that come out of it. I am a direct beneficiary of our wellness initiative. I was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic Leukemia just a year and a half ago.  One of the reasons I am alive today is because of our wellness initiative.   Through the initiative even someone like me, who is fairly well-educated, was able to learn a great deal about how to take better care of myself. I keep all of my own health records. If I ever go see a physician, I know a lot more than they do about my personal chemistry and so forth.

SF: And that’s something that you’ve learned through the program and company?

DR: Absolutely. And many people say this. So, what do you need to know to be able to manage your health and know what are signals that require you to take action? There are many stories of people who become inspired.  a fellow, who I was talking to the other day lost 60 pounds. He got inspired by hearing some of the success stories in the wellness initiative. He essentially said, “They inspired me. I need to do this for myself and my family. ” But he also realized if he succeeded in this, he would also be in a position to inspire other people. That has sustained him throughout the process.

Let me move on because I mentioned three pillars. Secondly, I feel good about myself, but I have to feel good about the workplace. And a lot of that has to do with relationships in the workplace. Our belief is: if our associates don’t have to worry about whether or how they can fit in, they can, instead, use that energy to build relationships in the workplace, be creative, be productive, and that creates a virtuous cycle for everyone in the workplace. That’s part of our approach to global diversity and inclusion. It is about making sure that we not only feel good about ourselves, but also that we feel great about the relationships in the workplace. And the last pillar: people have to feel good about the company itself. That’s about the company’s mission in society, its purpose. What we do for a living is providing a home away from home for people who can’t be home.  We help people who are on business travel.  Or we provide great venues for family and friends to re-energize while on vacation, or for gatherings of people from across the world to share perspectives. People at Marriott feel very good about what we do in society, and feel very good about the company’s citizenship.  When these three elements are in place, employees really engage with the company, the mission of the company. What we find is they also get very inspired to give back to the community.

SF:  And that’s going to enhance your brand. If you’re employees are your ambassadors for why this is a great place to stay. As a person travelling or convening with friends or family, as you described, there’s no better advertisement.

DR: Let me tell you a great story. I was travelling outside the United States. I land at the airport and my colleagues say, “David there’s a housekeeper that wants to speak to you. Would you be willing to speak to her?” And I said, “Of course.”  I was wondering what am I about to hear?  What has gone wrong somewhere? What complaint? I get there and I meet this woman. She was a single mother with young children and she proceeded to tell me about a life of generations of poverty and domestic violence. And what she said to me was that Marriott to her, when she went inside the doors of our hotel, it was like walking into an oasis. She found dignity and respect that she could not find outside the workplace in a place that believed that she could grow as a person. So, she said to me – here’s the catch – she said, “David, because Marriott takes care of me and my family…” in essence because it broke that cycle of poverty and lack of self-respect, “I am going to make sure that all my co-workers feel like family. And that every customer that walks into that hotel feels like family.” Stew, how could you not be successful if you’re in the service industry?

SF: If you get everyone to feel that way? So, how do you get everyone to feel that way?

DR:  It’s the goal and objective of the CEO and every one of his direct reports, including me. And it’s focused on employee well-being.

SF: So, that’s a measurable objective and everyone is held accountable?

DR: I’ll give you an example of the penetration of our “Take Care” well-being program. Our Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board, Bill Marriott, and our President and CEO, Arne Sorenson, won’t rest until that becomes ingrained in every single one of the thousands of hotels that we manage.  It starts with the philosophy of the three pillars I talked about. Underneath all those pillars are specific programs and actions that people are measured on.

SF: How are you doing this year? What’s your rating going to be on that metric?

DR: I don’t have a final metric for the year.  Every year as we globalize the wellness program, what we look at is the adoption rate by hotels. Year after year we will exceed our goals for the number of hotels that have jumped on board and are actively, not just knowledgeable about it, but are self-sustaining in terms of the energy and activities they have in the wellness space.

SF:  I know that a number of our listeners are thinking, “Well this sounds great for a big company, like Marriott. But how do we do it in our company? Or a company that’s not a service business, where you are really dependent on the attitude and passionate engagement of your employees at all levels who are directly customer facing?” What advice do you have for other businesses to help them to see the value in this investment in well-being that your company has been so successful in creating and benefiting from?

DR: Certainly the story I told you about – having an associate describe how integral her work experience has been and how committed she is – a lot of our employees describe our hotels as their hotels. Not the company’s hotels, but ‘their hotels’. It’s like they’re taking care of their homes. I think you achieve that by having senior management held accountable. They have to share the philosophy. And they have to be held accountable.

SF: That’s really making it a key priority that people are measured on?

DR: Yes, at the very top.  And it can’t be a tactical thing.  This company takes great pains making sure people understand our business model stands with employee-centricity. When you’re in the service experience, part of it is the hotel has to look beautiful and up-to-date and so on and so forth. But that experience is entirely dependent on our employees and the degree to which they are enthused about creating great experiences. So, people get it here and we make sure there is accountability.

SF: What’s the second key point you want to leave our audience with?

DR: The second key point is that it can’t just be at the top. It has to be from the grassroots itself. You need to give people the forum and the mechanisms where they internalize this, they think of the company as their company, and they’re invested in making it the best place it can possibly be

About The Author

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

You, Your Mobile Device and Your Child — Dr. Jenny Radesky

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).

Dr. Jenny Radesky of Boston University Medical Center received her undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins and her medical degree from Harvard and then trained in Seattle.   Her research interests include use of mobile media by parents, young children’s self-regulation, parent mental health, and parent-child interaction.  She is also exploring how digital resources can support parent engagement with their child’s development and social and emotional health.  She is a member of the Executive Committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Communications and Media as well as the Institute of Digital Media and Child Development.

The following are edited excerpts of her conversation with Stew Friedman about digital technology and its impact on boundaries between work and the rest of life.

Stewart Friedman: You’re a pediatrician, a doctor that works with kids. How did you get interested in parent’s use of mobile devices in front of their children? And what have you learned?

Jenny Radesky: jenny radeskyI got into this when I was working as a primary care doctor in Seattle. It was right after the iPad had been released and iPhones were becoming much more of a factor in our culture.   I was fascinated by how it much it changed the dynamic in the office setting. I wasn’t seeing this as good or bad. I observed that this was a new cultural trend that we’re going to have to study and figure out.  It’s good in some ways because it’s connecting parents to their spouse or information or what I was telling them about, but it also put up a new barrier.  I found that there was less eye contact, attention,  and social engagement.

SF: This is with the children?

JR: The child or with me.  So I started developmental behavioral pediatrics training.

SF: Developmental behavioral pediatrics training, what is that?

JR: A pediatrician who specializes in children who have developmental differences. I see a lot of kids with autism, ADHD, developmental delays, learning disabilities, fussy babies, anything that is a little deviation or concern for parents about their child’s development. I worked and trained in a pretty low-end part of Boston, so I’ve been really interested in what forces of resilience we can nurture in kids growing up in poverty. And the parent/child relationship is the number one source of resilience for so many kids.  And for all kids it is a major source of how kids develop their language, their cognitive skills, their social skills, the way that they can handle strong emotions.  So putting this all together as I’m training, as I’m learning more about how to watch parents and kids interacting in exam rooms, I’m seeing more and more technology, this kind of portable device entering into the dynamic much more than it ever had before.   That’s why I tried to start this line of research, to begin the questions:  How is this affecting the dynamic?  What ways can we use technology that will be disruptive?  And what ways can we use it that might bring kids and parents together?  I’ve found it’s so highly-relevant for my own family dynamic.

SF: You mean your own personal family?

JR: Yes. I have a two-year-old and a six-year-old. My six-year-old has special needs. It’s really interesting to watch the way they differ, interact with technology, and the way they demand my presence when I get home. I work full-time. My husband works from home. We really have examined this closely since I’ve started studying it because I experience it all the time.

SF: What have you learned? What are some of the big ideas that have come from your study and your practice?

JR:  The biggest thing I find interesting about this is that mobile devices and the sort of rapidly-evolving technology that we’re constantly using throughout the day can contain so much of our lives. It contains our work emails, it contains information, data, news. It contains good news and bad news.  I find when I’ve been interviewing a lot of parents about their own technology use, the amount of emotional and cognitive reaction that they have to what they’re doing on their devices is really remarkable. It’s so different than just watching TV or reading a book.
SF: Can you elaborate on that? What do you mean?

JR: Parents describe it as they’re so invested in their work lives. They don’t really want to be irrelevant in their careers, so they might be in the middle of playing with their child or out at the playground and get an email that really upsets them or really makes them feel oh, I’ve got to answer this right away, I’ve really got to act on this. Some people describe it as intrusive.  Some people describe it as they’re happy that they can have the opportunity to be at the playground and still be working.   But it’s a new type of cognitive balance that they need to achieve.

SF: Are they really at the playground?

JR: They can be. On and off and on and off. There’s a lot of toggling that parents describe between “work brain” and “child brain.” That’s not easy because your work brain is very task-oriented and analytic and your child brain is often trying to be more emotional and flexible. The parents describe that feeling as pretty hard, especially when the child is reacting to the parent’s withdrawal.

SF: Withdrawal into their work stream through their digital device to which they’re reacting very emotionally because they’re missing out on something or they need to respond to some urgent matter that their boss or colleague is asking them for?

JR: Right.   And sometimes it also depends on the child. One of the studies we’ve done was just observing families in fast food restaurants during meals. We know that mealtimes are very important for parent/child interaction, time when kids have a lot of conversation and emotional connection. Fast food meals, maybe not so much. For probably half the kids, not much happens. People didn’t talk.

SF: When mom or dad’s cellphone comes out, you mean?

JR: Yes.  Not many kids used devices during this study. It was a pretty small sample, we only observed 55 families to try and get an idea of how we should start studying this. Some kids just hung out, didn’t make any sort of attempt to get their parent’s attention. They played with what they were doing, and there was very little interaction during the meal. For the other half of children, they really amped it up. They would be just silly or do provocative things to try to get the parent’s attention, which is very stressful when you’re trying to do something on your phone. You’re trying to think, and you keep getting interrupted. So we saw a bunch of parents yell at their kids, or one mom pushed her son’s hands away when he was trying to lift her head up, lift her face up from the tablet she was looking at. We saw more parents looking really stressed and starting to raise their voices and starting to show more negativity towards their kids.

SF: Probably not realizing that the instigation for this sort of escalation of the child’s attention-seeking behavior is caused by the arrival of the smartphone into the family environment.

JR: You bring up a really good point. One of the things I’m really interested in is something called mind-mindedness, which is how parents understand the motivation for their child’s behavior, how parents can kind of read their child’s mind and say: “I know you just said something annoying, but I realize that the real underlying reason was because you were upset about this, so let me help you with the thing you were upset about rather than just punish you for the behavior.One thing that a lot of parents say, and I’ve definitely experienced this myself, is when your mind is busy analyzing or working on something, it’s really hard to switch over to analyzing the child and being mind-minded about them. I’m way more likely to just react to the behavior, to snap at them. I really have to put it down, take a breath, and say,  “what’s going on here?” in order to actually solve the problem and see why they want my attention.

SF:  It’s hard to take the time to have some empathy for and understanding of the motivation for your kids’ behavior when you’re busy trying to solve a work problem.

JR: And the other thing is that reading children’s behavior takes a lot of practice.  Parenting is not as intuitive as people want to believe, especially when there is a child with any developmental differences or self-regulation problem. Sometimes their behavior is just bizarre and, as a parent, you really need those unhurried, undistracted times of getting to know your kid’s rhythm, getting to know their behavior to be able to respond to their behavior and help them navigate whatever sort of difficulties they’re having. There was a really interesting study that came out last summer of teens and pre-teens.  They found that when they randomized teenagers to a week of summer camp without any screens versus a week of summer camp where they had full access to any sort of screens or mobile devices, after they came back from summer camp, the kids without screens were significantly higher on tests of reading other people’s facial expressions.  This is something I care about because all my families where children struggle with social skills, they really work on reading other people’s non-verbal behaviors and facial expressions.

SF: The source of signals about emotional life.

JR: Exactly. I thought it was a fascinating study because it shows you just how much practice, the day-to-day hanging out with other kids, being face-to-face with them, reading their faces, problem-solving together, really builds some sort of emotional intelligence.

SF: Which is so critical for survival and success in life in general. So does this imply that parents should be restricting or circumscribing their kids’ access and their own access to digital devices under certain circumstances?

JR:  The American Academy of Pediatrics (and I am on their Council of Communications and Media) just came out with a new set of tips and guidelines for parents about how to help manage their child’s digital media use when it feels like our kids are swimming in it. How can you talk about screen time when there are screens everywhere? The guidelines try to be very evidence-based but also real-world about the fact that this is harder to navigate now that it’s not just turning the TV on or off, or turning the computer on or off. We still are recommending trying to put time limits on this because we know that teenagers are spending eight-and-a-half hours a day in front of screens. This was an estimate from three or four years ago. It’s probably even more than that today. Using multiple screens at a time, hanging out in clusters, sometimes mostly communicating through screens. I think it’s really changed the way that young people communicate with each other, and not always in a bad way. But in a way that I think Sherry Turkle has really highlighted in her new book. She did a lot of interviews with young adults talking about how this has changed their comfort with reading each other’s nonverbal signals and being able to tolerate the boredom or distress of a difficult moment or conversation. So when Sherry and I have talked about this (her realm is the adolescents and my realm is the parents of young kids) there are those moments of trying to tolerate my young kids’ distress where I would just love to get on my own screen, get them on theirs, and have quiet in the house. And sometimes you need to do that, and I would much rather the parents do that than do something drastic, but I just don’t want it to be the main way that families learn to cope with conflict or frustration.

SF: And now it’s become so easy to do that as a source of relief from the great strain and stress of dealing with difficult moments with your kids. What does this foretell about the future of humanity? Where are we headed?

JR: I think we’re going to be okay. Most of the families that I see have a really strong sense of wanting to be wary of this. They recognize the discomfort in this cultural change, they want some guidance on how to navigate it. I just saw a family this morning that was saying, “My son watches Minecraft videos on YouTube for three hours a day and I can’t get him to do his homework and I don’t know why he wants to do this.” As pediatricians and other providers, we need to get comfortable with how to give guidance and how to help replace some of that time, that we see as pretty passive consumption of media, with either using digital media in a creative way, doing something where he’s constructing things or building things or composing music or doing something else with digital media, or to get him interested in some other hands-on or social activity that will give him that same feeling of calmness or fascination that the video is providing him.

SF: Unless that video is providing him with an outlook that really is a productive one for him.

JR: And it could be. Digital media serves so many good, functional purposes for families. One of the things I really advocate for amongst pediatricians giving advice about this is that you have to understand the function of the use of this. If this is the only way this child knows how to calm down, we need to work on teaching other ways, and we need to give the parents other ways and give them a viable replacement, because nothing works as easily as this, and we really need to empower the parents to use other approaches.

SF: I want to turn back to what you were saying earlier about the parent bringing the device out and it causing an escalating cycle of tension by removing him/her from the family environment psychologically by attending to the black mirror. I don’t know if you saw Susan Dominus’ piece in The New York Times recently; it was called Motherhood, Screened Off. Basically, what she described there is when she was a kid and her mother went to her address book, Susan knew that her mother was looking up an address, when she went to the newspaper it was clear that she was reading the newspaper, checking the weather, being current on the world events and the environment. But now, you go to a screen, and as you said earlier, it could be anything. Your whole stream of information comes through that device and your child doesn’t know what you’re doing. The solution that Susan is trying is to narrate what she’s doing so her child knows why she’s doing what she’s doing, and thereby to help the child understand the purpose of her not being attentive at that moment. What do you think about that approach?

JR: I like it because it is, in one way, teaching the child digital literacy. We often talk about this idea of teaching children digital literacy, learning to use digital technology as a tool, not as an end in and of itself. She’s narrating how she’s using it as a tool. It also gives the child, who may be in many different stages of cognitive or social-emotional understanding, and idea of what his mom doing.  One of the things we’ve thought might be confusing or dis-regulating for the child is this sudden change in facial expression. People have called it the still face. I have this great photo of myself that my mother-in-law took, where my son is bounding around the yard smiling and I’m in the background looking at my cell phone with this totally furrowed brow, not in the moment at all. I love it because it’s probably me checking my work email and things come up with patients or things I’m concerned about and it totally sucks me in.

SF: Your patients are happy about that part, that you’re present for them. But what does that mean for your son?

JR: That’s why I’m really interested in some of the discussions about how do we make work less overflowing? How can we filter out the noise that keeps coming into my inbox or the inefficiencies that make my workday overflow into my time with my kids?  Part of that is my own rules that I’m not good at, which is when I see someone needs help from me, I react to it and I send way too many late-night emails.

SF: What advice do you have for working parents based on your research and your practice to help them manage the boundary between their work and their family lives with respect to their use of screens?

JR: I think the first is not to react with guilt about this. I really want my message to be that I’m not doing this research to tell parents one more thing that they’re doing wrong, because I’m totally in the thick of it myself. I’m really doing it, number one, to make aspects of parenting young children a little bit easier, because it’s hard enough. Number two, to try and understand the way that these new demands that are placed on the family unit are affecting some of the dynamics and how we might slowly shift that, whether it’s through technology interventions or through types of recommendations that we put out through the AAP. One of the things we always say is to create those boundaries in your home and make a rule for it. When I get home, I know I have a solid hour-and-a-half that’s meal, book, then bedtime with my kids, and unless there’s some emergency that I need to attend to, my phone or tablet usually stays in my bag. My husband jokes that I take it out and ignore him for the rest of the night, but we are really explicit about trying to communicate well with each other when we want time with each other, when it’s okay to have a work night. The other thing I’ve been attempting to do is find ways to filter out the inefficient ways that I’m sending multiple emails to solve a minor problem, when there are things that can be resolved with a simple face-to-face discussion.  I might have to wait a day for that. I need to start being comfortable with tolerating that.  That’s a way of me reducing the amount that I have to do after I get home.

SF: Being more mindful about your choices about what you attend to and through what medium.

JR: Finally, I encourage parents to just be reflective about the way they react to technology.  It’s all based on our own emotional reactivity and our own personalities.  For one person, being able to text during meals is actually a really fun way to have social interactions with someone who’s not physically there.  That’s different from, for example, when I get that urge to check emails when I’m bored at the playground, but then I get sucked in.  Maybe I need to have a rule that I can check the weather, I can check my personal email when I’m at the playground, but if I don’t want to get sucked in I should resist the urge to check work email.

Learn about The American Academy’s tips to help parents manage the new digital landscape.


Jacob Adler , jacob adlerW’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, andFake Teams.