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Investing in Human Capital: Conversation with Anne Erni

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).

Anne Erni is former head of Human Resources at Bloomberg and before that Managing Director and Chief Diversity Officer at Lehman Brothers where she pioneered global efforts in the recruiting, retention, and advancement of women and under-represented groups in financial services. She came to talent management with more than 15 years of front-line banking experience in fixed income and equity sales, at Lehman Brothers, Bankers Trust and Swiss Bank Corporation. Erni serves on several not for Profit advisory boards. She recently left her position for a much needed sabbatical.  Anne Erni spoke with Stew Friedman about HR in the 21st century and how we can invest wisely in human capital.

You can listen to the podcast here:


Stew Friedman: What did you do, in brief, over your course of tenure at Bloomberg?

Anne Erni: anne erniI joined Bloomberg in January of 2009.  My role was to build leadership, learning, and diversity. Bloomberg was in a big growth phase.  We were looking not only to grow the number of employees (which, by the way, grew from 8,000 to 16,000 by the time I left) but, in the course of that growth to make sure we were fully prepared with leaders who understood how to lead others, to understand business strategy, and to learn how to motivate and manage human capital as well managing the company’s capital.  While I was there I spent the first several years working on issues, such as leadership training, the hire to retire aspects of learning for all employees, as well as succession planning, and something dear to my heart, diversity.

SF:  You weren’t trained in HR. You came at this game through line positions in banking. How did you get into this field?

AE: I started out of school going into an investment banking training program and then worked in corporate finance. But there was something about that trading floor that really attracted me. It was alive and a perfect place for an extrovert to go and learn how business gets done. And I loved to sell. That was always part of my DNA. I worked my way up from repo, which is sort of the overnight, least sexy part of the trading floor – Re-Purchase Agreements. As I moved up the curve, and as my career progressed and I was promoted, I found myself increasingly alone as a woman on the trading floor. In August 2001 I was literally tapped on the shoulder by then President Joe Gregory who said, “Anne, men run in packs and women don’t. I need you to go out and create your pack.” Creating my pack has become a mantra throughout the course of my career – bringing groups of people together to encourage, inspire, and support one another. And it doesn’t have to be like-groups of people. It doesn’t have to be women for women or African Americans for other African Americans. It’s really about getting senior leadership to understand the nature of nurturing, sponsoring, and mentoring talent. That was really the beginning of my journey of moving from the trading floor to become, ultimately, the first Chief Diversity officer at Lehman, and learning how to you make sure that human capital strategy is in tune with what the business strategy is day-to-day on the floor, and how to really reach out and engage with mostly senior-level men who don’t naturally look at HR as an important issue.

SF: What was the greatest challenge in making that connection clear and compelling to the people that were decision makers?

AE: First, it’s related to the business challenge: to do a great job, we need great people. And you need great people to be highly engaged in order to bring their very best.   And you need people to stick around. It’s quite a competitive labor market, and when you have terrific people, your competitors find out very quickly. When you have a great performer and they leave to go to a competitor, that really strikes a nerve with senior leaders. The other piece is how do you get them to truly engage in change.  That is often through empathy.


While at Lehman and Bloomberg, one of the other things I noticed was that a lot of senior male leaders marry women they meet in the work force. And often, because they’re earning enough and have one of them to stay home, often the wives will leave the workforce. And when the kids grow up, they to tend to languish.  These are women who are highly educated, had terrific career trajectories, but had the choice and ability to spend time at home. But when they decided they wanted to go back, there were no avenues. They were not a legitimate pool from which companies recruited. The idea was how do you create those on-ramps and create an enthusiasm by senior male leaders to take a chance on someone who’s not been working for two years versus paying a premium for someone who has? Empathy was something that has often worked when thinking about how to change your organization.

SF: Can you give me an example of how you did that when you say ‘using empathy’? Can you recall an instance where you actually did that?

AE:  While at Bloomberg we spent a lot of time developing a curriculum. We have individual contributors, team leaders, and managers.  When I first arrived, when someone was promoted to team leader it wasn’t aspirational, it was like, “was I not a good contributor? Why am I having to manage other people?”  But over time, we made it an aspiration. The way you would get them to want to be leaders is to show them the impact that they have on others by relating it to the impact their boss may have had on them. When they think about “what’s a good boss?” “what’s a bad boss?” “how do I feel with a good boss?” “how do I feel with a bad boss?” it often has them think about what are the behaviors that I exhibit each day that will have an impact on my people. And it was often through that type of “relate it to yourself before you can then be able to be effective with others” that would help people understand why they would need to go through leadership training, why they would use new models of managing other people, and, frankly, changing the way work works. If people need to take time off, they need to think about their own lives before they can relate it to others.

SF: So, how did that play into what you had to do to get senior male leadership to understand the diversity challenge facing Lehman when you were first given this charge by Joe Gregory to create your own pack?

AE: When we would go to campuses to recruit, 58% of all undergrads were female. If you are recruiting a class that’s 90% male then you’ve actually lowered the standard because you haven’t taken equal parts of the intelligence that exists. Often we say, “you’re pulling an all-male class or an all-white class, how much talent have you left on the table?” You often have to appeal to the fact that, one, diversity in thought and perspective actually better solves problems, and two, to get that diversity of thought and perspective you can’t have a class coming out of school that is not diverse. You need to get them to really want to appeal to difference to bring them on board.

SF: How did you get them to be more open to see why it was important to invest in programs that were going to enrich and broaden the talent pool?

AE: First, you expose them to philanthropy and engage them with organizations like Prep for Prep in New York City where you see this amazingly talented group of African American students having opportunities to go private schools, get special tutoring, and access to training and experiences that ultimately put them in some of the best schools in the country. Seeing this, executives are much more open to looking at talent more broadly.

SF: Giving people opportunities that they may not have had otherwise helps them get a greater sense of emotional understanding. I guess that’s the way to characterize the sense of empathy.

AE: Absolutely, and we talk to them about what are some of the best ideas generated within teams. We try to highlight and understand that when you bring in multiple perspectives ultimately that will better solve problems.

SF: There is probably a lot you cannot say about the fall of Lehman. But I’m wondering if there is something you could tell our listeners about what was the biggest takeaway for you in terms of the fall of that great firm? How it went down. What did you take from that as a kind of life or leadership lesson?

AE: It was similar to Bloomberg in that it had an incredibly well defined and beloved culture. People loved being part of the organization. They genuinely believed in the mission. They genuinely believed in the leadership.  In 2001 we lost our buildings on September 11. And there was always this sense of being an underdog, and if we worked hard enough, if we fought hard enough, and we stayed together it would work. People genuinely believed that it would not happen to us. Being part of that culture, I was absolutely devastated along with the rest of folks that this had happened. One of my great learning’s was I believed so much in the company that I sacrificed many important times in my life for the company.  I had young children and worked late nights and weekends, giving up important events.   I realized that something that is here today and gone tomorrow was something I actually sacrificed very important aspects of my family life for that will never come back. That was how much I believed in a corporate entity. I ultimately learned, as trite as it may sound, that family trumps. Family decisions should sometimes, more often than I allowed them to, trump some of the work-life decisions that I made during that time.

SF: Now let’s get back to the Bloomberg story. So, you start there. Linda Wolf invites you to take responsibility for the leadership track. How did you become head of HR? And that lesson you learned at the fall of Lehman, how did that inform your own leadership act at Bloomberg?

AE: When I arrived at Bloomberg, it was a tough re-start.  It was a completely different culture, and I was an outsider coming in at a relatively senior level. Bloomberg had always grown organically over time, and we were in a time of great growth where we were going out and acquiring talent, both junior and senior.  Again, my point on empathy is as your designing programs to onboard senior leaders, you have to apply your own experiences of what you would’ve liked when you first came onboard. My focus was on building a culture of leadership. I think what I learned at Lehman, which I applied at Bloomberg, was in order to do that it always has to be in tune with what the business strategies are. And at Bloomberg, we have five different businesses: R&D, media, sales, data acquisition, corporate. And each one had very unique needs that you had to incorporate into whatever leadership training agenda you put in place. A training program for a journalist might be a bit different than the way you might approach the R&D folks. And that’s something that I really made very signature to my tenure; build an HR organization that was in tune with business strategy.

SF:  Looking back what do you think was your most significant accomplishment at Bloomberg?

AE: My most significant accomplishment was the establishment and roll out of a leadership program for our most senior leaders in which we were able to establish, at a time again of great growth, one common message about who we were as a company, what was expected of them as leaders, and have them all sing off the same song sheet, both new as well as long-tenured employees. This Global Leaders Forum was sponsored and led by the top leaders of our company. And to get them together to engage in the content and delivery (we did about 13 programs over the course of two years) was really a group effort. What I enjoyed most about that program was that all of our leaders ultimately went through individual coaching and I got to know many of them quite well before I became the Chief Human Resources Officer.

SF: Which I’m sure was crucial for your success in that role. Melila is joining us from Toronto. Welcome to the show, Melila. What is your question?

Melila: Hi, it’s very interesting that you are talking about corporate culture because in Canada we’re very multi-cultural and I suppose diversity for us is beyond women.  What I’m wondering is how do you start to build a corporate culture which recognizes and embraces the diversity but at the same time be able to unify the company and the culture so that you all start to speak on behalf of one organization? And start to have one corporate life experience?

AE: Great question. I have worked at two global organizations. At Bloomberg we are in over a hundred and ninety countries. What is so critical to the success of the company is making sure you are attracting, developing, and advancing local talent, and that not all of the decisions are coming out of the home office. And to do that you have to make sure that you understand local markets, that you’ve developed a recruiting strategy that brings in the right talent. But once they’re in the door, and I mentioned this earlier, creating the right onboarding experiences is critical. Hopefully, through the interview process you’ve designed the questions and the right type of corporate fit that you’re looking for. But once they’re in the door, it’s really helping them onboard and learn the corporate culture. At the same time, make sure leaders understand how to be inclusive in the way they manage them day-to-day.

Melila: In terms of the onboarding, is that a process that is owned by HR or is it a combined process between HR, the direct supervisor, and the communications team?

AE: I believe HR should create the infrastructure and the frameworks, but engage leaders in the process. For example, onboarding is not just day one where they sign papers and get some information about the company. It’s really about managers checking in with individuals, day 30, day 90, day 180. And also bringing together new hires over the course of the year so they can form networks, and be able to listen to each other, and talk about their common experiences. That piece of it absolutely needs to be led by both the managers of those individuals and some of the senior line managers. And to your earlier point about how do you build a corporate culture that embraces difference, you need to bring all those folks together and constantly expose them, as a group, to senior leaders and have senior leaders engage with them.

SF: But that takes so much time Anne. Who has time for all of that, if I can ask the devil’s advocate question?

AE: First of all, it’s very expensive to acquire talent, but it’s more expensive to lose talent. So, if you look at the economics, a typical rule of thumb is that it costs 1.5 times the compensation of a new employee. And we would often look at the cost of recruiting, which is significant as well.  Invest a few hours a year checking in and doing what we used to call a “stay interview” to see how the employee’s doing to get them to stay. You can ask them, “How are things going? What are you experiencing? What about our culture? How can I best support you?” Those small gestures by either your direct manager or senior leader in your group can really yield great results. I think often what you find is some managers will tend to connect, sponsor, and mentor folks that are more like them.   We need to embrace all new joiners to the company and make sure they get equal access to that stay opportunity.

SF: Melila, thanks for that wonderful question. I want to find out why you left this extremely cool job, and what you have been doing since you’ve left. How did you come to that decision?

AE: It was truly one of the hardest decisions I ever made in my life. My career was never more exciting. I had a great opportunity to work with senior leaders and Mike [Bloomberg] himself. He is an incredible visionary and leader. But it was also a crossroads in my life.  I recently celebrated a big birthday.   More importantly I have spent the majority of my HR career in the last fifteen years creating policies and practices to help individuals navigate work/life issues. So, for example, at Bloomberg created the first flexible leave programs. We were working on creating different types of long-term leave programs – maternity leave, paternity leave —  trying to make it accessible to all employees. We call them leaves of absence, and do not have differentiated leaves. So, if you were a gay parent and adopted a child, you were going to get one period of time. And if you were a female and were giving birth you would get another period of time. What I really wanted to make sure was that all employees had equal options and equal time. Bloomberg is always on the cutting edge of most policies and incredibly generous, but there were outdated approaches. The very last thing I got approved before I left was an updated modern approach to leaves, which essentially put our leave policy on the cutting edge in terms of length of time away and support that we provide.   We did primary caregiver and secondary caregiver, so that makes it gender neutral and it also makes it neutral across whether you’re a hetero- or homosexual couple.  It benchmarked incredibly well against those with whom we were competing for talent.


This passion for creating options for people led me to think what about me? I was going through a point in my life where certain things were going on that I would never get back.  For example I brought up two children and my daughter is 24 and lives in London. She has already flown the coup. And I have a son who was a rising senior in high school and I always said to my family — my husband and my mom, who is one of my great confidants – that when Noah’s in his junior year I want to know what it’s like to be a stay-at-home mom. I pushed through 28 years in my career in a very fast paced, high powered, high pressured environment working 12, 14, 16 hours a day because I wanted to succeed. I wanted to get to that next level. I wanted to do the best job possible. As I said earlier about Lehman, since I was being paid to do that job it often trumped family decisions. But I knew that if I waited until my son went to college, and all of a sudden I had the time and money to take time off, what was it worth? I knew it was a very important time in any high school kid’s life when they start to look at colleges, when they start to work on applications, and I didn’t have any of that time.


Often, when I went on a college tour, something would happen at work, and I’d spend time sitting in the car, while my husband walked around campus with my son. Or on a weekend, we were going to work on his list that he had to give to his guidance counselor and I was in the office and I didn’t have time.  I also have elderly parents. I’m part of the sandwich generation.  My dad has Alzheimer’s and is 81.  You feel a different kind of obligation not only to support the parent with Alzheimer’s but really more to support my mother who is taking care of my dad. And they need support to make difficult decisions they may not be seeing objectively. And there is my husband.  He and I had equally intense careers, and he has been an incredible supporter of mine throughout it all. And often when he would pick me up from work, and I’d get in the car, I was the one who spilled the beans first.  I’d talk about decisions I had to make, problems, or politics I was dealing with at work. And we haven’t spent a lot of time focusing on his career. Also, for my marriage it was a very important thing for me to spend more time focusing on him. I really came to this point where I had to make this decision: I can continue to keep my head down and plow through it like I’ve done at every other stage of my career, or am I going to exercise the option that I put in place for everybody else.


And I have to tell you, Stew, I shocked everybody. No one knew that I was going through this sense of personal pain. No one really knew the toll it was taking on me personally in terms of lack of sleep, and the inability to do what I really wanted to do.  I spent two weeks on vacation – my first vacation in fifteen or twenty years and during that two weeks I felt a sense of freedom. This was in December and January of 2014 going into 2015. I was in Uruguay, South America.   Far away. No cell phone reception. And it was during that time that I decided that I need more of this time. But I needed to sit on that thought. I needed to think it through. I needed several months before ultimately approaching my boss to say that I needed to take some time off. And there was a great discussion about should we change my job, would I be interested in doing something else, but I really felt that I needed a genuine break, time to focus on family, to experience for myself what it meant to be a stay-at-home mom after being a professional mom for my whole life. I resigned in early March. My last day was May first. I stayed on to help with an orderly transition. I’ve stayed in close touch with most members of my team, but I really took the summer off and did the things I set out to do.

SF: So, was this understood to be a sabbatical where you would return/might return/might not return? What’s the mutual understanding if you can talk about that?

AE: Sure, I can. Bloomberg had a no re-hire policy.  It’s quite public and Mike [Bloomberg] writes about it in “Bloomberg by Bloomberg.” Over the years many people who were incredible performers had to leave for personal or professional reasons, but ultimately realized that they might want to come back. So we have hired back several key people. When the announcement went out that I was going to be leaving Bloomberg to pursue family pursuits, first of all, there were lots of snickers like “oh, sure you’re going to take care of your family,” or I was being fired or something more sinister. I knew it was the euphemism often used, but it was the truth for me. But I was so honored and pleased when it was written “Anne will be returning at some point.” So while I didn’t go on a formal sabbatical because we don’t have sabbaticals at Bloomberg, there was absolutely an agreement and opportunity that should I want to return that I could go back and talk about what potential opportunities exist, which I haven’t yet done.

SF: So, you’re now in this interim period. Noah, your younger child is now a senior.  So, you’ve got a year?

AE:  That’s correct. We did the visits over the summer, we worked on his list, he’s worked on his essay. And I think he’s in a terrific place where he genuinely knows the direction he wants to go in. I’ve spent a great deal of time with my mom. We’re working on getting care at home. We’re looking at what long-term care looks like, looking at homes. I’m going to D.C. next week to do that with her. I was actually most surprised about the space I’ve made for myself, and my own personal nurturing. I love to entertain. I love to cook. So, I spent a great deal of time working on that this summer. And I’ve also done a great deal of research. Because the question is: Do I want to go back to doing what I did, or is this an opportunity to pivot, change direction? I did a great deal of research on “great women” or “high-powered women” that have made career changes. I’ve been studying that quite hard, Stew.

SF: So, what have you taken away from your study?

AE: There are lots of people that have worked in the White House, or state department, or in investment banking, or in media that came up with an idea, and took some time off, and then went in completely different direction.  Someone like a Martha Stewart, she worked in the state department. Or Ina Garten, who’s the Barefoot Contessa, who worked in the White House and now has an incredible food network brand and global following. There are entertainers who have built multi-billion dollar businesses. Jessica Alba, she’s a billionaire. So, there are great examples that have been inspiring to me.   I have a notebook, which is in front of me here, which has the ideas that I’m thinking about. But also, I’m thinking about whether I want the portfolio career, my own entrepreneurial venture, or do I want to go back to the corporate world. And that’s sort of the crossroads I’m finding myself in now, and I’m looking to January 2016 to make that decision.

SF: Wow!   That’s only a few months away.  You’re going to have to come back to tell us what you ultimately decided and why. As you think about the next phase of your journey of discovery, as you referred to it on the break, what’s going to be paramount in your thinking because there are some competing interests here? You can’t just do everything. How do you come to understand what’s really most important to you now and where you want to invest your precious moments and energy in your life?

AE: One of the things I’ve always made a core principle as I decide what to do is: can I make an impact? Am I empowered to make an impact?  When Joe Gregory tapped me on the shoulder and said men run in packs, women don’t, he put money behind it. I had a pool of compensation that I could reward for engaging. He put his money where his mouth was. When I was at Bloomberg, I was working with senior leadership. They completely put the right resources behind us. So, whatever I do has to have the right resourcing for me to have the kind of impact that I want.  That’s a core principle. Impact can be measured in dollars or political capital.  One of the other aspects I’m exploring is the whole notion of ‘affiliative capital,’ ‘affiliative power.’   The extent that you’re working for someone as amazing and world-renowned as a Mike Bloomberg, that’s an incredible affiliative capital to be able to have in order to get things done. The question is whatever I do next, do I need affiliative capital or does my own capital carry itself. I’ve always been part of a corporate system, and I’ve always had that benefit.  I would say the third criteria that I’m setting is:  I do want to have more freedom. So, whether it’s a portfolio approach, perhaps consulting, or whether it’s going back to corporate, it’s going to need to have more flexibility than I’ve been able to have in previous roles.

SF: Which is what we know everybody wants: greater freedom to pursue the things that matter in ways that enable them to have the kind of impact that they want to have. That’s what the show is about and what all of my work is about: to create opportunities for people to be supported to pursue the lives they want to live. Of course that happens at the level of social policy, corporate practice, and empowering and skilling up of individuals to claim that power.  As you think now about your kids and their future, and of the millennials generally, what did you learn in your experiences most recently at Bloomberg? What did you learn about how the rising generation sees the whole issue of work and life? And what is the most pressing concern for business with respect to addressing those needs and interests?

AE: I think whether you’re a millennial or a baby boomer, what has changed all of our lives is technology and the ability to work 24/7. You’re reachable 24/7 pretty much anywhere in the world, except where you can’t get reception. I think that has blurred work and life. I think the millennials are doing a much better job at navigating that and being able to leverage that to get their work done.   But on the other hand, I think they’re much more intent on making sure that they have a distinction between their work and life. And that whatever they are working on has meaning. And one of the things I was incredibly proud of while working at Bloomberg was the fact that we were able to work so closely with the Bloomberg Foundation, which is one of the most high-impact foundations in the world, and engage particularly our millennials in a lot of the volunteerism. I think bringing that meaning to the office and allowing employees to, for example, clean beaches, or clean schools, or work on a myriad of projects, that was incredibly meaningful to the next generation. It’s blurring the lines because they can come to work and then go work on the beach, or when they go to the beach and they may be working on a proposal. They’re able to integrate it, but we have to make sure that we are very much more intentional in providing them meaning as it relates to work.

SF: Absolutely, we did a study comparing the class of 1992 to the class of 2012 at Wharton, and one of the major findings of that study was how much more the current generation values having meaningful impact through their works, especially women, but men too. The growth in that value as expressed by women is really powerful and it makes perfect sense that a company like Bloomberg would invest heavily to create opportunities for people to have a greater sense of meaning through their work, and not just through volunteer projects, but the everyday. So, were there ways that you did this at Bloomberg For other business leaders listening in, what advice would you have for them to create a greater sense of meaning and purpose for millennials, to fully engage them?

AE: It goes back to our opening conversation about corporate culture, and I think that it’s really important for any company to define what is the ‘there there’. What are we ultimately accomplishing?  At a place like Bloomberg, which provides incredible transparency to global markets, which ultimately feeds economies and affects everyone, it was something everybody believed in and understood. People understood what Bloomberg did, whether it was Bloomberg media bringing information and breaking news, or whether it was allowing you to get data and analytic overlays that help you make better decisions. People believed in that mission. But the other thing that I thought was just incredible about working at Bloomberg was the fact that a large percentage of every dollar was going to philanthropy. It’s a privately held company, and people knew the profits we were making were for a higher purpose. A very large percentage, a majority of the profits, were going to fund the Foundation and the Foundation was going to re-distribute that to really important projects, which by the way were highly measurable.

SF: That’s a part of the Bloomberg world that not many people know all that much about, so I’m glad that you pointed that out. Before we sign off, Anne, let me ask you as you advise younger people coming out of school as they think about their careers based on what you’ve seen in the financial services world and tech and media world, what is the most important thing for young people to know as they’re launching their careers?

AE: I think the most important thing to know is that every magic carpet ride is going to experience some turbulence. You really need to do what you love, what you believe in, and work for a company that will help you understand the ultimate purpose of what you do every day.  And understand that a career is long-term. There will be good days and bad days, but ultimately being focused on the higher purpose is such an important thing for all of us to do. Otherwise, it becomes a drudge day in and day out.

I want to say one last thing, Stew. When I graduated from SAIS with my masters in International Affairs, I wanted to go into the government because I wanted to do good in the world. But the best piece of advice I ever received was go to the private sector, understand how it works, accumulate your own power, your own wealth, and with that then you can affect real change.   Then go back to the public sector. So, I think really understanding ultimately what you want to do, you need to have your own influence and your own power to be able to make that happen.

About the Author

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

Working Your Way Back to Work — Karen Rubin

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).

Karen is the Managing Director for Talking Talent North America, where she and her colleagues have coached over 14,000 women and their managers at companies including Deutsche Bank, McKinsey, and many others across the globe. In her work a certified coach Karen is helping Fortune 500 companies to develop the female talent pipeline and bring more women to the top.  She spoke with Stew Friedman about why she’s committed herself to helping women at all different stages in their career succeed in the workplace, and the programs she is helping to establish that enable women and their managers to successfully manage the maternity transition and the child-raising years.

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

Stewart Friedman: What do you think about the Netflix parental leave deal?

Karen Rubin: karen rubinI think it’s an exciting announcement and certainly a step in the right direction. It’s really wonderful to see some U. S. companies offering more generous benefits for the parent transition. With that said, I think that the danger of this type of policy is that a company might say, “OK, now we’re done. We’re offering a year of paid leave, so we don’t need to do anything else.” And not everybody is going to feel comfortable taking that leave. Everybody wants it, but the concern is if an individual actually takes it, what will the perception be? Will they be perceived as somebody who is no longer committed to their career, and what if somebody else takes two months? Is that person on track for a promotion in leadership? So it puts a company into a gray area.

SF: There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to manage the expectations and stigma.

KR: Absolutely. Management really has to be behind it. There needs to be a cultural acceptance of taking that type of leave for it to really work in practice. Otherwise, it’s a carrot that’s dangled that nobody can actually take advantage of.

SF: Right, so it has to be used, and that’s what we know to be a problem with unlimited vacation policies. The problem isn’t that people take too much time, it’s that they take too little for the very same reason.

KR: It’s the work martyr syndrome, where in some cases it’s better to just have a defined period of time. But with that said, I am all for companies offering more generous maternity leaves. As you probably know, the U.S. lags behind just about every developed country in the world.

SF: Yes, a topic we’ve reviewed many times on this show.

KR: So it’s good that everybody is starting to pay attention to it. The tech sector in particular is one where it’s very difficult for women to stay engaged. There’s a lot of dropout, and very low numbers in terms of women making it into senior leadership. So these tech companies, I applaud their effort, but it needs to be supplemented by more support.

SF: You can see just today, Adobe announced that they’re going to be doubling the amount of time that they’re devoting to maternity leave following the announcements by Netflix and then Microsoft. These announcements, they’re steps in the right direction, and they do have ripple effects as they create competitive pressures on other companies who are now trying to keep up in order to be able to win the war for talent.

KR: Absolutely, and when Google found that when they increased their maternity leave from 12 to 18 weeks, they saw a 50% increase in retention of women going through their maternity transitions, that was certainly helpful.

SF: Let’s get to the work you do with your company. You worked for 16+ years at companies including DirecTV and Showtime Networks, then you took a career break to stay at home full-time with your three girls who are now teenagers. During that time, you trained and became a certified coach at one of the top coaching programs in the country. What was the catalyst that inspired you to make this career shift?

KR: When I left the corporate arena, and I was fortunate that I had the opportunity to be home with my kids, but after a certain period of time, I was really itching to get back to work.

SF: So when you say you were fortunate, you mean you had the financial resources?

KR: I had choices available to me. Not everybody has that. But I had invested years in my career, I had gotten an MBA, I loved working, and I looked around and I wasn’t sure what I should do next. But I also knew that when I exited from that corporate arena, and between my second and third child, I knew that if I had had the benefit of a coach during that time, I absolutely would have stayed.

SF: Do you regret not having stayed, Karen? You’re saying that looking back, you’d rather have stayed?

KR: No, no, no. Absolutely not. I love the time that I had at home with my girls and I am fortunate that I landed on my feet and I was able to get back into the workforce. But I also know a lot of women don’t. About 40% of women who leave the workforce to stay at home with their kids never make it back, and often they want to, they just can’t find a way back in. So I loved that I had the time with my girls and that I was able to go back, but that’s why this work is so meaningful to me. I know that there are a lot of women out there who love their careers, they also love their families, and they’re just looking for a way to make it work.

SF: What drove you to take this up as your primary work?

KR: I had so many smart, educated friends who were sort of unhappy being full-time, stay-at-home moms, and this is not a judgment in any way. It’s a wonderful thing to do for many people, but I know a lot of women who wished they could get back to work and couldn’t figure it out. I know there are companies like iRelaunch that help women get back to work, but I thought, “what could companies do to hold on to their women?” [Friedman’s interview with iRelaunch founder, Carol Fishman Cohen.]And that’s what Talking Talent specializes in. So I was able to connect with this wonderful company that works with organizations to help them figure out how to coach employees and managers throughout this really important inflection point in your life so that if you want to continue with your career that you can.

SF: What do you do? How can you help?

KR: We work with both the women as well as their managers. I say women but we also work with men who are becoming parents. It’s another group that really needs support. But we help them figure out how they should make the announcement, how do they transition their work, what do they want, what type of parent do they want to be, what role models can they find within their companies, how connected do they want to be while they’re out on leave? We help them think through all of the important issues along the way. How do you reenter, how do you make sure that your key stakeholders know what you want so that false assumptions aren’t made?

SF: It’s so important to communicate and find out from the people around you what’s going to make this a win for them. So you help people, coach people through that process and that’s naturally going to result in better outcomes. I want to hear more about this, but we’ve got Jason calling from Chicago, who has a question about what we’re talking about here. Jason, welcome to Work and Life. What’s your question?

Jason: I’m a recent father of twins and today was actually the first time my wife went back to work, something that was hard for her. She works for a large corporation, a large retail store based in Chicago. She went back today, obviously that’s hard for her, she would like to stay home but where we live, we can’t afford it. How do we go about finding a stay-at-home job where salaries and benefits can match that corporate world?

KR: I’m sorry, that’s not really my area of expertise, helping people find stay-at-home jobs, so I don’t really have too much to offer.

SF: Stay on the line and we’ll provide some resources.

SF: Karen, let’s get back to what you were saying about how you work with people who are making this transition. It’s critical to know what your goals are, to be able to find out what people around you, what they expect. What else do you do that makes a difference?

KR: This brings up a really interesting point. The guilt that many working mothers feel is a big topic of conversation in the coaching. So often, women feel they can’t have a successful career and also be the type of parent that they want to be, and that leads to sometimes, they’re working so hard at home and working so hard at work to be the perfect professional and the perfect mother and ultimately, that leads to burnout. What we often will think about or help our clients consider is what is really important to them, what might they be able to let go of, what might they delegate, because you can’t give 100% in both place without burning out at some point.

SF: What are the keys to reducing that guilt? How do you get past that, because I’m sure that’s something you hear about a lot and what helps, and what really makes a difference in having people feel better about the choices they are making?

KR: Well, one thing is to consider what’s most important to you as a parent. So if it’s being available for a pickup or a bath or appointments with the pediatrician, you figure out what are those things and make sure that you are available for those things. But there are probably lots of things that you do because you think you should, but that you may not enjoy and you could really delegate to somebody else.

SF: So for example?

KR: For example, there are people who do drop-offs to childcare that they could hire that out, they could have somebody else do that, they could figure out another way. It’s not necessarily the best time with your child, or you could figure out perhaps a different childcare arrangement where it makes your life a little bit easier and it makes it more sustainable. Another area in the workplace and thinking about are you constantly involved with office chores?  Sometimes women get delegated planning things, mentoring, things that are good in a small quantity but over time can really lead to exhaustion and burnout. So it’s trying to figure out what is most important, where are your strengths, where do you shine, what lights you up, and really letting go of some of the things that don’t.

SF: And perhaps helping other people to take up those responsibilities in ways that would be good for them, right? How else do you help people in terms of how they get to you. How does someone in an organization, small, medium, or large, know that they need help with making the transition to parenthood, because it’s not something that anybody ever told me about when I was young, and sounds like you didn’t get that support either and you’re way younger than I am. This is something that’s new, right?

KR: It is fairly new, in particular in the United States it’s a new concept, so I would check with your HR group, find out if this is a benefit that’s offered to you through work, usually that’s how organizations provide it to their employees. If you can get it through your organization, that’s really a wonderful way. You can also look at the Talking Talent website for some tips. The other thing that’s really important is managers.  Sometimes managers think, “I’ve had lots of women become parents, I know what I’m doing.” But that relationship between the employee and the manager really predicts how successful that transition is going to be, so I would encourage managers to learn all you can about what conversations you should have with your employee. How would you present this to your team so that it’s a positive situation?

SF: So let’s take the employee who works in an environment that hasn’t been focused on the question of how to help you become a better parent – most businesses. So if you’re 27, you’ve just had your first child, you want to be the best parent you could possibly be, but you also want to continue to advance in your career, how do you work with your colleagues, your supervisor, when that’s not a normal thing to talk about? How do you coach people to do that?

KR: That’s a good question. It’s really about being clear and communicating what you see for yourself in your future. So if you want to continue on that same career trajectory that you had before, you want to make sure that everybody knows that that’s what you want. Yes, you are 100% committed still, so that they don’t make assumptions. Sometimes after a woman has a child, it will be assumed that she won’t want a high-visibility project, she wouldn’t want a promotion, so she may be overlooked.

SF: It’s an unconscious bias that exists for young mothers, so you have to overcome that both from the perspective of the men and others in positions of power, but from the perspective of the young mother who wants to create some change.  What should she do?

KR: She should definitely have a conversation with her manager. She should be talking to mentors, sponsors, all key stakeholders, letting them know what she wants.  Not everybody wants to continue along that same career path. Sometimes people want to stay at the same level for a while. Maybe they want to make a lateral move, and that’s okay, too. What’s important is to make sure that people know when you are ready to start on that promotion track, that you’re having those conversations, that you’re letting people know what you want.

SF: I could see how it could be kind of frightening, though, for some people to raise those issues, especially in an environment that hasn’t traditionally been open to having conversations like that. What are the kinds of fears that people have, and how do you help people overcome them?

KR: One big fear from the manager’s perspective is that they’re going to say the wrong thing and they’re so afraid of saying the wrong thing that sometimes they don’t say anything at all. From the manager perspective, you really want to ask, “What do you want?  Where do you see yourself?  How can we be supportive here?” If you’re the employee and you’re thinking, “Wow, I really don’t want to travel so much, I maybe want a flexible work arrangement,” then you need to think of how can you align what you want with the business needs so that when you’re crafting a proposal for something like that, you’re not just saying this would be good for me, but this is how I’m going to make it work for everybody.

SF: So it’s going to be a different solution for different people because some young parents want to take a lot of time off, they want to be super involved in their children’s lives. Others, perhaps, less so, and everything in between. There’s no one-size-fits-all, is there?

KR: There’s not, and you want to look around and see what’s working for other people and maybe cobble together different elements that you’re seeing. If you talk to 10 parents, they might be making it work in 10 different ways, so you really need to look at all the role models available to you and not make assumptions.  What I see happening with women, especially if they’re in a heavily-male-dominated industry or a type of work that’s very time-consuming, is that they’ll say, “I don’t see anybody doing this job in a way that I want to do, therefore, I’m going to leave right now.” That’s not necessarily the best way to approach it. You might want to look at different ways that people are doing things and maybe you need to become the role model.

SF: That requires courage.  Again, how do you help people overcome what must inhibit many people from speaking honestly with people who might say, “ No”  or “That’s a bad idea.”  How do you help people to put that out there in a way that is seen not as selfish but really as intended to make a positive impact on the business.

KR: Sometimes it does feel for some that it’s a gutsy move to be able to come out and say what you want, and we encourage the employees to do it, we give them the tools for having that conversation, and ideally, we’re also working with their manager so that the manager understands the perspective of that employee, what it must be like for them. How can they engage in that conversation, if somebody provides them with a proposal for a flexible work arrangement, how do you evaluate that? If you have to say no, what might that mean for others who want to request it? Or if you’re not sure it’s going to work, could you consider a trial. The beauty of coaching about this is it’s not that we’re prescriptive and saying, Just do these five things and it’s all going to work out.” It’s helping people understand what’s important to them and what their fears might be, but also knowing when you can make it work, you can have the career that you want and the family that you want, you have a beautiful life.

SF: What’s the most important thing you want our listeners to know about this topic and the work that you do?

KR: I think the most important thing is that it can work, and that for women who are out there who are feeling exhausted and discouraged that it’s important to look around, see what others are doing, just to know that there are ways to be a great mother and a great professional and that you can do both and that we can make this work.

SF: You have three daughters, Karen. 20 years from now, if I were to be talking to the three of them sitting around in the studio, what do you think they’re going to be telling me about their lives and careers?

KR: I think they will be glad that their mom worked and that she went back to work and that she was a role model to them. They see how happy I am being back to work, so I think that even though life is crazier and clothes aren’t folded beautifully and sometimes we run out of milk that it’s okay.

For more information visit http://us.talking-talent.com/ and follow on Twitter @talkingtalent @KarenRubin1.

About the Author

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

Leading with Creativity for Social Impact

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).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Jason Harris, President and CEO of an award-winning creative agency called Mekanism, which works with brands to create shareable and provocative campaigns. His methods have been covered by Harvard Business School, and under his leadership his agency has been profiled by The New York Times and ABC’s NIGHTLINE. Friedman and Harris discussed the nature of leading a firm of creative people in ways that produce positive economic and social impact.

Stew Friedman: Mekanism?

Jason Harris: jason harris 2Mekanism is spelled with a “k” because when we went to register it, the “ch” was taken. So, it doesn’t have a very weighted story. Except now it’s a “k” and we love it.

SF: What do you love about the “k”?

JH: People think there’s a mythology behind Mekanism with the “k”, but I just spilled the beans. That’s all we have.

SF: That’s it? No “ch” was available?

JH: When you work with a lot of partners, it’s hard to come up with a name everyone likes. We couldn’t change the name, so we changed the spelling.

SF: So, that’s the creativity, right? Adjusting to what’s available and using it the best you can.

JH: Yeah, using jujitsu and being flexible. And now we are thrilled it doesn’t have a “ch”.

SF: Why is that?

JH: When you’re doing radio interviews you now have to spell it out. That’s the number one reason. That’s the primary reason.

SF: It has a kind of unique value.

So tell us about Mekanism. You are known for working at the cutting-edge of innovation and new markets and using new media. How did you get started?

JH: I always knew I wanted to be in advertising since I was 12 or 13, which is very strange. I watched a lot of TV. I really liked TV. And I realized there were these fun, entertaining shorts in between all the shows, and I thought well someone has to be doing those.  It seems like that could be a job.  Very strange for a young kid, but I always thought I wanted to do that. I majored in business and started doing the traditional advertising agencies.  I started my own company basically flipping the script and creating broadcast productions for brands like Adidas, Xbox, and Levis where we would produce 44 minutes of content, give that to a network, the network would get the production for free, it would be branded content from these brands, and they would sell advertising space. So, they essentially got free production they didn’t have to pay for and the advertisers got a lot of air – much more than a 30-second commercial. So, I started that company and did that for a while.  My friend had a small digital agency called Mekanism, and we merged those companies together and that’s what Mekanism is today – an advertising agency. It’s independent, and we are always looking to do innovative work, never been done before work.

SF: Can you give us a couple of examples of projects that you’re particularly proud of, or that you’re working on now that got your juices going?

JH: We launched a campaign for North Face called “This Land”, which is a TV campaign about North Face owning the idea of exploration. We used the classic Woody Guthrie song, “This Land Is Your Land” and did all the proceeds from that song went to the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps.  We drove a lot of downloads, we helped a lot of people, and helped build a brand at the same time. That’s one that just recently launched.

We did a Super Bowl ad with Pepsi when Beyoncé did the Super Bowl. It was completely comprised of user photos, so the audience created the ad for us, a truly crowd-sourced product that we’re proud of. And I would say that the number one project that we’re working on currently, that we’re really proud of, is with The White House. It’s a campaign called It’s On Us.  It was launched by Barack Obama last September. On the anniversary of it we’re doing another round of work.  You see it on college campuses. That stats are that one out of five women are sexually assaulted in college, primarily in their freshman and sophomore years.  The White House reached out to us because we do a lot of work with Millennial audiences, and we came up with a campaign called It’s On Us.  We do not typically do cause-related marketing. We launched this like we would do a deodorant or a soap or a shampoo; we launched it like a brand. And we came up with a name called, It’s On Us, and a logo.  We launched it with a TV spot that had John Hamm [of Mad Men], Kerry Washington, and a lot of other celebrities. We created a social badge, so if you went to the website and took the pledge – itsonus.org, very easy to remember – the badge would be on your profile. We’ve had toolkits developed so schools can create their own ads. I think we’ve had 400 colleges and universities participate and create their own ads. We had the number one video on YouTube. And we created a brand with t-shirts. We even got Joe Biden to wear one of our t-shirts, which was not an uneasy feat. But it’s been a fantastic campaign and it’s really been making a difference so that’s one that we’re really proud of.

SF: What kind of results have you seen?

JH: This is really about driving awareness and their measuring the impact of recorded incidences. What we’re really trying to do is get more incidences reported, which seems contrarian  — that you want the numbers to go up. But you really want this to be out in the public. We also want colleges and universities to sign up for having more resources on college campuses to protect the victims, or survivors rather. I saw something as I was walking through the halls here coming to the studio that is very ad propelled. It said “Business for Good is Good for Business”, which I absolutely loved. And I think this type of campaign summarizes that. It has really helped the company galvanize behind this issue and you can create brands for everything from soda to good causes. So, it’s been really powerful.

SF: How has it affected the culture of your workplace to be working on projects where you’re clearly having a direct impact on a major social issue of the day and your client is The White House?

JH:  It has had a huge impact. It really has felt that for the company not only can we do advertising and build brands for big companies, but we can do it for causes. And everyone feels really responsible, personally responsible, for this issue. So, it’s created a really great culture. We want to do a lot more of it.

SF: Can you just drill down a bit?  How have you seen the impact on the way that people show up at work?  How they think of their role in the organization? And what it means for them as a citizen, and how that kind of enrichment of their own identity is something that creates value for your business, through the work that you’re doing in this cause-related marketing?

JH:  There’s been about 3 billion impressions throughout this campaign. We had a lot of great partners along the way.   Generation Progress, which is the not-for-profit public company that helped get in-kind media donations for the campaign and the White House. We worked on this campaign together. And the biggest impact it has made in the company is to see a small agency partner with the White House with no funding and have this type of impact – I’m doing this pro bono, that’s right Stew. So, it’s a huge investment. That investment and this particular issue have shown the employees how much we care about something more than just dollars, more than just business. It’s also shown that an agency our size can have this kind of impact across colleges and universities across the country. It’s inspirational and it makes people feel like if you put your mind to it, and , work together, anything is possible.

SF: So how many people work in your agency?

JH: We have about 85 people. We have two offices: San Francisco and New York  about equally split.

SF: So what are others looking at when they look at your firm? What are they trying to steal from you or learn from your practices that help to advance what great advertising looks like in 2015?

JH: I don’t know what they see or what they look at. But I can tell you fundamental principles we believe in that steer the culture and affect the type of innovative work that we do. One of those is that we’re driven by a culture of innovation and friendship and collaboration. The heart of it is the company is motivated and created for the love of creativity. That’s why we started this company. That’s why we’re still doing it ten years later and trying to grow it because everyone that works there is bonded by this love of creativity and this friendship. When everyone starts at the company, they get a book – a Mekanism book – that outlines our founding principles and our DNA. The first one is that we are optimistic. So, as a culture we’re optimistic. We hire optimistic, positive people because advertising can be a nasty, dirty business. It can be a knife fight sometimes. It’s very competitive. We need people that are always looking at the positive and always optimistic, not through rose-colored glasses, mind you. They have to be grounded, but we need optimistic people, we need fearless people.

SF: Optimistic and fearless. How do you screen for that?

JH: I think it’s less that we screen for them, that it’s more gut-instinct. We have a pretty rigorous interview process. And if someone is the right cultural fit, we hand them this sort of DNA that we believe in. We want them to embody that spirit, and you will quickly know if people abide by that spirit.

SF: How do you know?

JH: You can tell pretty quickly. You never know until you start working with someone, but when you start working with someone you can see how they interact with the culture. Another one is we tend to be a little off-center; we tend to be a little weird, a little quirky. So, we tend to hire people that way.

SF: So you get that by the way people dress or what their resume looks like?

JH: I think it’s usually their career path. People that have had a roundabout way of getting to where they are. Someone who’s sort of had the mapped out plan usually wouldn’t be exactly the right fit. We like people that come from all walks. One other principle we believe in is loyalty, and loyalty doesn’t mean that people don’t leave because people always leave. People come and go. That’s the nature. Loyalty means that we have each other’s backs, and in a work environment we keep the politics on the outside. So, our clients and the brands we work with bring enough politics with them and enough issues with them that we don’t need that in the building. So, the building has to be political-free. It has to be a loyal environment where we all work together to accomplish something. And of course there’s going to be one-offs that don’t fit that, but in general that’s what we need as a company.

SF: How do you maintain, especially as you’re growing more successful, how do you maintain that culture of friendship and creativity as you get bigger? You must be thinking about that.

JH: Absolutely. We’re starting to think about additional offices and more hires and more accounts. We really don’t have the answer, but we’re trying to come up with a rigorous process to keep the culture. It’s easy when you’re small the keep the culture nice and tight. As you get bigger, it gets more challenging. There’s one more fundamental belief that we have that I want to cover. Optimistic, off-center, fearless, loyal, and then the last one is the power of story telling. This is a philosophy that everyone has to believe in.  And this is what makes us slightly different. We’re an advertising agency that believes that people hate advertising. So, that would be like a professor assuming that people don’t want to come to school. But the idea behind that is that no one is sitting around waiting for you to interrupt them. No one is sitting around waiting for your ad. No one is sitting around on their computer or in front of their TV or on their phone waiting for you to cram your message down their throat. So, if you believe that everybody hates advertising, another truth is that everybody loves a great story. So, if you can think about connecting with an audience through a great story and the power of that, the power of nailing a truth of whatever you’re advertising, whatever you’re communicating, wrapped in a story, that has power. That has entertainment. And that gets people interested and it makes them listen to your message. And so, that’s a little way for an advertising agency to come at things a little differently.

SF: Is that distinctive? Aren’t all ad agencies going after the power of compelling narrative that has bonded people since the dawn of time?

JH: Yes, but I think they may approach it, and sure a lot of agencies do tell great stories, but I think they may look at as: we’re going to have a message, we’re going to tell it to the audience, and we’re going to tell it to them the same way. We’re going to pound it into submission until they know that our message has gotten in there. We just fundamentally come at it a little bit differently.  In our creative teams, we believe that people aren’t just waiting around to hear what we have to say because they’re not.

SF: They’re not.  And that is an assumption that is important to make if you’re going to be able to connect to their hearts and minds. So, the North Face piece I have seen. It is a compelling story with beautiful music and a great song. A song that in my playlist for my East Street radio segment, I started with Bruce Springsteen’s cover of “This Land Is Your Land”, which he did back in the late 70’s. It’s a song that I believe should be our national anthem. That is an important song and important theme to bring to that story about what North Face is all about. It’s more than just exploration. It’s also about a shared ownership of our nation and our future.

JH: That’s the next level down, that’s correct.

SF: So, tell us what it’s like to be managing creative people. So you got these positive, optimistic, fearless, off-centered people who don’t want to deal with the political stuff, but want to get the work done, which of course everyone wants that. What do you do personally as the CEO to make sure that continues to be the way that things are?

JH: That’s a great question. It’s a constant struggle, frankly. But I think you do that through lots of sharing, lots of communication, lots of storytelling. One thing that we do every year is the whole company goes on a retreat. This year we went to Mexico, and the company all goes. We take three days, which can be challenging for spouses and boyfriends and girlfriends because it’s just the whole company. We do an off-site. We’ve done it for the past four years. And the idea is we have artists, we have speakers, we outline what we’re all going to accomplish that year together. And then at the end of the year, we measure what we all did together. So, the idea behind that is that sometimes working together and collaborating is getting off the merry-go-round and spending time together, and getting to know people on a level deeper than being in a meeting with them. We found that to be incredibly effective way to build both the vision for what we’re going to do together, and also to build bonds for people that have to work together or are cross functional in different departments so they normally wouldn’t spend time together. It’s been key. And then throughout the year we have all company meetings every Monday where we have different people in the company talking about what’s happening within the company. So everyone has a voice. The idea is that everyone should feel part of it and be able to stand up and speak in front of everyone else.

SF: So, how do you keep people motivated working on the more commercial clients when you have the White House as a client? I know you’re working with the U.N. Doesn’t everybody want to work with those social causes?

JH: We do work with Ben & Jerry’s. We do Jim Bean. We’re doing work right now with the NFL. We do Nordstrom Rack. So, there’s a lot of clients in there. One filter we have is we tend to work only with clients that we think people will want to work on, and they tell us. We tend not to go after or pitch clients that won’t get people excited. So, that’s one way we do it. And we try to tailor – football oriented people on NFL, fashion-oriented people on Nordstrom. So that’s one way to do it.  We don’t always get it right

SF: And that’s an important way to find out what people really care about. We’re almost out of time here, Jason. I have to ask you, you call yourself a functioning workaholic. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I also know you’re a dad. So, what’s it like being a dad and a CEO of a dynamic company like this? What kind of dad are you, or can you be as a CEO?

JH: I think that’s fundamental to your life’s work — the balance between those and the integration. I call myself a workaholic, but I would also call myself a ‘familyaholic’ as well. That’s pretty much what I spend my time doing. I’m passionate about both. I don’t always make the right choice, but you have to make selections of where you’re spending your time. And there’s sacrifice on one end, but you really try to weed out a lot of the extraneous stuff from your life to really set your goals and make sure you’re not working a lot, adding in other things that take you away from your family, but you try to focus on those two things. That’s one thing that I’ve found, whether it’s the right way to do it, it works for me, which is really just focusing on workaholic/familyaholic.

SF: Committing to those two and to work that has a positive social impact. So, in the last fifteen seconds here, what’s the one piece of advice you want to give to our listeners throughout the U.S. and Canada about how to be in a senior executive role and be an effective parent too.

JH: Well, that’s a big question. I would say it’s cliché and you’ve hear it a lot, but it’s the truth: if you are going to spend your energy and your time, then it has to somehow relate to a passion of yours if you are going to be successful and if you’re going to be content and happy. It doesn’t have to be the exact thing you want to do, but it has to be related to something that you’re passionate about. That’s sort of the key to success.

SF: I couldn’t agree more based on everything that I’ve seen and heard, and I appreciate you sharing that simple but powerful wisdom. Jason thank you for joining me today.

To learn more visit http://www.mekanism.com/ and follow Jason on Twitter @jason_harris.

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

Dad Sues for Parental Leave & Changes Corporate Policy — Josh Levs

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

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with CNN reporter, Josh Levs. He is an investigative journalist who’s a 6-time Peabody award-winner with 2 Edward R. Murrow awards.  At the time of the birth of his third child he sued his employer, CNN/Time Warner, in order to obtain a paternity leave for biological fathers that matched their leaves for mothers and adoptive parents.  He has a new book, All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses – And How We Can Fix It Together. It’s being hailed as the Lean In for men.

Below are excerpts from their conversation. Or listen to the audio:


Josh Levs: Josh LevsHey, Stew, thank you so much for having me.  It’s perfect timing.  I just got my two boys into the bath and my wife has taken over from here, the baby just went down in the night, and I walked into the office to talk to you.   This is what parents do now.  We try to do it all.

Stew Friedman: You were, and still are, a successful, award winning reporter for blue chip organizations  — Time-Warner,  CNN, and before that NPR.  When you and your wife had your third child, you sued Time Warner for paternity leave.  What was it that led you to that decision, what was the turning point for you?

JL: I was a journalist and in addition to covering major news, I was already a father, a columnist writing stories about fatherhood.  We were doing segments on the air and we were interviewing other dads and then, all of a sudden, the tables got turned and I was the dad in the news.  We determined that, for several reasons, I would be at home after the birth of our daughter, our third child, and Time Warner had an extremely unusual policy, but it’s also the type of policy that many places have.

They’d allow any person who had baby to take care of the baby when they came home unless that person impregnated the mother.   Had I put my child up for adoption and some other dad adopted her, he could get leave.

SF: What was the theory, behind that?

JL:  The way these policies are structured, we have to follow the money.  Time Warner, has a disability policy that provides women with ten paid weeks after they have a baby.  They were encouraging women to have their doctors sign a form saying that they needed ten paid weeks for physical recovery.  Their time off is paid entirely through the disability policy.

Then, Time Warner decided that there are some people in other situations, perhaps a gay couple or a couple that chooses to adopt, and they wanted to give ten paid weeks to them, too.  But when I went to them in advance and I said that the only group of people you are not allowing the option of ten paid weeks to be home after the birth of a child is a biological father and I’m sure this is an oversight.  I can’t imagine that anyone intended it. I went straight to Benefits but they wouldn’t give me an answer for a month.  Then my daughter was born in an emergency and they still wouldn’t give me an answer.  Then 11 days later I’m home, holding my four pound premie daughter, taking care of my sick wife, as well as my two boys. I emailed Benefits saying that I needed to know, am I going back to work now or am I getting leave?  That’s when they wrote me back and said no, they wouldn’t give it to me. It was clearly a discriminatory decision and so I filed with the equal employment opportunity commission.

SF: What changed for you when that decision came down, personally and in terms of your role as an advocate for social and policy change in our country?

JL:  It was a really interesting twist, I was going to be the guy in the news.   But I didn’t realize until the night when I announced on social media, on Tumblr, that I was taking this step, how many women and men it would galvanize.

As soon as I announced it – it was like I unleashed the flood gates and these group started supporting me — Maria Shriver, who is now a big supporter of the book, and mom blogs and dad blogs. So I became fascinated as a dad and as a journalist: what was it about my case that was galvanizing to so many women and men?  And I realized that we are all in this together, all of us, who wants real equality for our daughters and/or sons or a wife and/or husband.   We’re all up against these backward structures that are pushing women home and pushing men to stay at work.

To this day only 4.6% of CEOs in the S&P 500 are women.  Why is that?  We have these structures that don’t make any sense, are bad for business, bad for the economy, bad for all of us. I learned through this experience that we are all in this together, all those of us who want equality.

SF:  Have they changed other policies?

JL:  A year later they created a new policy; they revolutionized their policy, made it infinitely better. Dads now get six paid weeks, moms who given birth get more time than they used to.  They are now getting 12 weeks or 14 weeks, in some cases.  More and more businesses are discovering on their own that having policies that allow families to make their own decisions about who will do which role is better for business.

So you are seeing companies like Facebook and Google and Yahoo! but also not just in Silicon Valley, you have Bank of America, and Johnson & Johnson that just made an announcement.  More and more of these big businesses are discovering that when they offer these kinds of polices, it helps attract and retain employees and it makes them happier and more productive and it works for the bottom line.  That part is the good news.  The bad news is that most companies are not on that bandwagon, things are actually going in a negative direction.

SF: I can’t tell you, Josh, how heartwarming it is for me to hear this. I too have two sons and a daughter. The first one was born in 1987 and that was a transformative moment for me, personally and then professionally.  Since the late 80s I, and a bunch of other people, have been advocating for just the kinds of changes that you’re talking about here.   And to see the flowering of these ideas in so many places in our society, though we still a long way to go, to be able to see how much has changed since the mad men era, is phenomenal.  A lot has changed, especially for women, but now we’re seeing change for men. What do you think has shifted in the cultural consciousness that has allowed for and enabled people like you to come forward and to move the needle further?

JL: The positive part comes from worker empowerment.  It’s more and more workers who recognize that they have choices.  Silicon Valley has helped lead the way on this.  Workers in Silicon Valley can get another job, not everyone feels that way especially since the 2008 financial fiasco.  But culturally I think my generation grew up on Free To Be You And Me.  It never occurred to me that my sister or any of my female friends would be less capable leaders.

SF: You graduated college in ’94, do I have that right?  So, you’re a Gen Xer?

JL: Yes, I’m 43 now.  My generation has this spirit of Free to Be You And Me and then we got to the workplace and we had children and we discovered that the workplace never grew up.  There are a couple of examples in my book: One guy, his baby was born in an emergency, he took off two days from work and was expected to work on Monday.  His boss comes in and abuses him for having taken off two whole days.  That boss is a pregnant women.

There are a lot of women and men in leadership positions who have these backward ideas. There is another boss who told the worker he could not have the time he was legally entitled to for care giving because men are not supposed to do the care giving unless wives are “in the coma or dead.”   And that’s a quote.

I was on the radio and two people called in to say that the Mad Men era was one of the best eras in the history of the world and that we should go back to it; that the job of a man is to work and the job of the women is to stay home.  We still have a lot of people who think that.  That’s why we all have to be all in and pushing against that and bringing about this cultural understanding that true equality will never get anywhere as long as people hold on to those old notions.

SF:  I’ve been saying for decades now that social change on this front takes time, but there are things that we can do to spur and inspire change.   One of the important things is to have people who have a pulpit or a  microphone tell their story, which is what you have done so eloquently and so powerfully in this new book demonstrating that there are a lot of options that are available for people to assume roles in the society that fit  their unique situation.  I love this aspect of what you’re saying in your programmatic advocacy; that it’s individualized solutions for families that work for them. There is no one size fits all.  Telling your story is crucial.  How do you think people can do that in a way that really starts to affect the kinds of expectations that people have for men and women?

JL: I talk about ways that we can work for changes in the laws, and this is one of those huge misunderstandings in America.  Paid family leave is something that we need, a basic human need, when a child comes out of the womb, it should have a parent at home with it for a bunch of weeks who does not have to worry about putting food on the table for that time.

SF: Keyword being their parents, not necessarily a mother, it could be a mother or a father.

JL:  People here think, wait a second, you want to make a law saying that businesses have to pay people when they are not working.   No, that’s not what paid family leave is.   Paid family leave currently exists in California and New Jersey.   Businesses in those states now like it and so do the workers.   You create basically an insurance fund [that employees, not businesses, pay into. ]

And when people have a qualifying emergency not just for kids, but for taking care of an aging parent, you get paid out of that fund.  What that does is it gets people to stop dropping out of the workforce entirely which is what they are doing now.  Instead, they can take the paid time off and then come back to work.  So everybody comes out ahead, it helps the economy.

We have got to do something because this is not working and it’s too painful.   Families struggle, they’re having to rush back to work after the baby leaves the womb because they need the money.

SF: It’s something I’ve been writing about in the book that we did comparing Wharton students from your generation (1992) with the generation of people that just graduated (in 2012).   In the advocacy piece of that, we made a big point about the success of the experiments in California and New Jersey. The research that’s been done tracking what’s occurred in those states shows that businesses become supportive because there is better employee attraction and retention as a result of these policies, policies that don’t cost employers anything.

JL: Yeah, when people find this out, they start to support it.  A prominent conservative leader like Jim Daly, the Head of Focus on the family, is saying that now, looking back, he was embarrassed he was ever against the Family and Medical Leave Act, FMLA.

We have public schools and we have Medicare for children because we understand that caring for children is good for society and this is just another piece of that.  For several weeks at least a parent should be able to be with the newborn.  And not only a mom is capable of being the caregiver, men are just a capable.

SF: Yes, in some cases more so. And that really gets down to what people want to do, what roles they want to play.  The role of caregiver and breadwinner can be taken up by a man or woman.

JL: I know you have a lot of business leaders who listen and in the end it is just basic logic.  Sometimes, the best person for a job is a women. So why would you possibly want a policy that pushes women to stay at home and men to stay at work, if the woman is the better person for the job?  You talk about mind and spirit.  Work-life conflicts are, in part, attributed to these backward structures that we have that prevent us from having legitimate work/life integration.

And business leadership that is open to have great women and great men who happen to have children and also want to be great employees, those businesses are discovering that it’s a huge opportunity for them.

SF: Yes indeed.   And the demand is growing for the kinds of programs that we’ve been developing here for decades and now bringing to the world including in a MOOC that I teach on this very topic that has reached 140,000 people worldwide.  The demand for useful tools and ideas for change is huge; it is truly a new moment. What else can listeners do to create positive change for their business or, as an employee, to create greater freedom and the support needed to be the parent and worker they want to be. What other ideas do you have?

JL: There’s male privilege, female gate-keeping, and the bonus temptation.  An expert in the book spoke about male privilege.  He was, like you, one of the handful of men and women who are really pushing this thing forward.   He says that he believes that a lot of men talked a good game about equality, but when it came down to it, they weren’t ready to fight for it, because it’s easier to say sorry honey, you know I don’t have a choice, I have to work.

And then, there is female gate-keeping, which is the flip side of that.  Some women grew up taking care, grew up babysitting, and grew up believing that girls and women are better at taking care of kids.  When the husband takes the baby, they say, “no, no, you don’t do it like that, let me do it, let me do it.”   So these are time that we all, as men and women, need to look at ourselves and say, do I need change my own individual attitude in order to be ready to stand up for equality and to allow it to flourish and to set the right example for our children.   Then the bonus temptation describes what happens sometimes when men come back to work after paternity leave, they get fired or they get demoted.   They are literally punished for being caregivers.

SF: Did you experience that when you came back?

JL: I did not, and that’s part of the message.  My colleagues were openly supportive; hugging me and kissing me in the hallways.

SF: Really? So they weren’t saying, “hey, you’re busting the rate here, you are making us look bad” or, alternatively, “you are a slacker?”

JL: The opposite.  So many guys said to me, “I always hated the policy, but I didn’t know we had the right to change it” or “I was afraid to.”  Now, are there certain bosses, high up in the ranks who think of me as being unmanly or whatever?  It certainly hasn’t been said directly to me.  But because so many men unfortunately do face that stigma, they are not even taking what paid leave they get. But in countries where there is a public policy making six or eight weeks available for men, then men take it. Otherwise you look crazy not to take it.

SF: Even in Sweden it took years for that to become normal for men, but that was three decades ago.  Josh, we have to wrap up here. What’s the one thing you want to make sure our listeners take away?

JL: I want people to know that I went into this with a totally open mind.  I didn’t have position, I didn’t know what I was going to find out about policies. What I found is exciting because we’ve got a win, win, win, win here.  If we stand up for better policies, we make things better for women and for men and we make things better for business and the economy, and the cause of equality.  There isn’t a loser.

Thank you for the interview and also thank you so much for being a leader on this, you have really paved the way for people like me and I’m forever grateful.

For more information about Josh Levs’ new book, All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses and How We Can Fix It Together visit his informative website, joshlevs.com and follow him on Twitter @JoshLevs.


Creating a Connection Culture at Work — Mike Stallard

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).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Mike Stallard, the former Chief Marketing Officer for Morgan Stanley’s private wealth management business. He also worked for Charles Schwab. He’s the co-founder and president of E Pluribus Partners, which helps leaders to build “connection cultures” at work. He’s authored Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity and Productivity and Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work. Stallard and Friedman spoke about the value of fostering a connection culture at work and encouraging leaders to take action to connect with employees. They also spoke about how the benefits of that can spread into one’s personal life.

Stew Friedman:  Mike, you have a background in marketing and degrees in both business and law. How did you get from there to the human side of business – the connections between employees and between employees and employers?

Mike Stallard: stallardIt is an unusual career shift. I saw, working on Wall Street, that so often mergers didn’t work. And I became interested in how work cultures were different. And I wondered, is there a best culture? That curiosity led me to eventually leave Wall Street, spend several years doing research, and start a firm that focuses on that. My first book came out in 2007.

SF: Was there a critical episode that led you to saying “I have got to go and figure this thing out for myself and then help other people to figure it out”?

MS: There were several. It was a confluence of events. One, was seeing financial services mergers.   The Morgan Stanley-Dean Witter merger, Charles Schwab and U.S. Trust — that merger influenced me, Morgan Stanley and Van Kampen American Capital. Then, also the deals over the course of my career. I saw cultures that were different. Finally, I had a very unusual situation happen where my wife, Katie, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, and ovarian cancer in 2004.  She’s healthy and thriving today.  But she had three episodes of cancer over the last decade. There was a time when we were going to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and we were walking towards the entrance, and there was a doorman named Nick Medley, who’s now a concierge. Nick locked his eyes on Katie and greeted her like a returning friend. And it really caught me by surprise.  People don’t typically make eye contact in New York City. Then, the receptionist was calling everyone ‘honey’, and the security people and administrative people were helpful and friendly in this particular part of Sloan Kettering. And her oncologist spent an hour with us.  She was upbeat, and optimistic, and answered our questions, and educated us about treatment options. And at the end of the day I had two reactions. One was I had done research and I knew that this was the best – one of the best – teams worldwide to treat advanced ovarian cancer. And the second, I knew they cared.  I observed a culture when I was there. It was such a contrast from what I experienced on Wall Street. And I decided I really wanted more of that culture. A culture where people felt connected to the work they were doing, that it was helping others, they felt connected to one another and to people they serve, their patients and their families.

SF: So that connection was inspiring to you?

MS: It really was.  I was just seeing the importance of connection. Matthew Lieberman, a neuroscientist at UCLA, has described human connection as a super power, that it makes us more productive, happier, and healthier. And I was seeing that in research after research. And then having that personal experience where I really felt a sense of connection and could observe that among the workers, doctors, and professionals; everyone in this gynecological oncology group really influenced me.

SF: That is a healthcare providing service and that is their purpose. It’s different than the rough-and-tumble world of Wall Street where the game is a lot of different. So, you expect a different culture right?

MS: Well, you do. On the other hand, Wall Street, because it does bring a lot of money, power, and fame to people who work there, attracts a lot of people who long for that. So, it’s focused on task excellence and results, and not so much on relationships. Relationships with clients have been more for the purpose of landing deals and generating revenue. And truly building strong personal relationships with clients doesn’t have to be that way. Because if you think about the purpose of Wall Street, the allocation of capital in our society has huge ramifications for people world-wide. And so it’s work that ultimately benefits individuals, but few people in Wall Street really bring that mindset. There’s a Manfred Kets de Vries article that described it. Everyone kind of has their number. Kets de Vries calls it the “F you” number, which, when you hit that number you can take off and you don’t have to work at Wall Street anymore. And I found it was the predominant attitude. A lot of people wanted to reach a certain wealth level and get the heck out because it’s just not a very healthy culture.

SF: So you saw a different path and saw the value in it. And it certainly is a topic and an issue that has become a very important one in the study of organizations. Over thirty years ago, when I was a graduate student at the University of Michigan, I did a study of organizational culture. And this was when the field was just emerging, following Peters’ and Waterman’s In Search of Excellence, which really brought the idea to the fore. And in the thirty years since, the term organizational culture in our understanding of its power and value has just become mainstream.  Now you’ve seen its power and you studied it, and now have developed a way of thinking about it and changing it that you refer to as “connection culture”, which you also wrote about in Fired Up or Burned Out. So, tell us what is connection culture? I think you’ve given us a hint. Tell us a little bit more about what it looks like and how to create it?

MS: We see, predominantly, three types of relational cultures. There are technical cultures, and sales and marketing cultures. That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about relational cultures. We found that there are three types of relational cultures. A culture where people feel connected to the work they do because it fits well with their strengths and provides the right kind of challenge. They feel connected to their teammates, to their supervisor, to the organization’s identity, its mission and values, its reputation, and to senior management. Those connections motivate, they inspire people, move people to give their best efforts, align their behavior with organizational goals, more fully communicate so decision-makers have best information to make optimal decisions, and they contribute to conversations on innovation and creativity, and help advance the firm.

The other cultures we found were the cultures of control, which is pretty descriptive. Most of us have experienced that. And the culture we see growing rapidly, because this is growing in our broader society, is a culture of indifference. Where people are becoming so busy and overwhelmed by tasks and becoming addicted to iPhones, and smartphones, and media, and other activities that we don’t take time for relationships. It’s squeezing out time for relationships. And that was certainly my story on Wall Street.   With the commute and long work hours, the first thing to go was time with my friends. And eventually I had some challenges where when I was home, Stew, I wasn’t mentally home. I wasn’t present. Because I wasn’t trying to figure out how to crack the code on some culture issues related to mergers I was involved in. I grew lonely, and I didn’t feel well, and it affected my health. I needed more coffee to get going, and exercise to stimulate me and keep going, and alcohol at night to slow me down. As I looked at the research, the opposite of connection is loneliness and addiction — just to self-medicate. And that is certainly what I experienced. So, the research really aligns with my personal experiences. That’s why I am really passionate about this.

SF: So, the missing link is the connection to other people, meaningful relationships, where you’re helping each other, you’re aware of each other’s core values and needs and interests in a way that the good people at Sloan Kettering are able to express. It’s a critical element to satisfaction at work, and of course all of our relationships outside of work. So how do you bring that in to an organization that’s crying for it?

MS: I think helping them, providing a language to understand these differences between connection, control, and indifference. Examples, case studies are great.

SF: So, it starts with awareness? There are different kinds of cultures, and here’s what yours might look like, and really letting people understand and have more refined, sophisticated understanding that there are variations. And that it’s not by magic or accident that they occur.

MS: We do find that people pretty quickly get the idea of what control, indifference, and connection feels like. We find that about half report they are in a culture of indifference, 25% in a culture of control, and 25% in a connection culture. And then we go on to describe culture. There’s been so much written about culture, but it’s almost come to mean everything. So, we boil it down to the predominant attitudes, language that is used, and behavior, both individual and organizational behaviors that bring about a connection culture, culture of control, or culture of indifference. So we focus on those things because we do a lot of work with technical communities, like the engineering section for the NASA Johnson Space Center. We worked with them for three years. We’ve been in MD Anderson Cancer Center and Yale-New Haven Health. We’ll spend a lot of time helping them understand the science. Now you would think that the medical community would understand the science. But I found they really don’t. We get into stress response versus a state of homeostasis in the body and when we’re lonely, when we feel unsupported, left out, or lonely, we’re more vulnerable to addiction because the body is in a state of stress response.  When we’re in a state of stress response, the body allocates blood glucose and oxygen to the fight-or-flight systems, the heart, the lungs, the big muscles. But it depletes, or under-allocates, those resources to parts of the brain, the digestive system, the immune system, and the reproductive systems. So, it has an effect on our health and will shave years off our lives.

SF: So, the workplace is doing that. I guess what you’re saying, Mike, is that connection cultures are the ones we want to have?

MS: Right and that’s where you see that strong sense of camaraderie, a sense of connection and unity and community across the group, whether it’s a team or organization.

SF: So, identifying it, that’s the first step. Giving people some tools for understanding the attitudes, the language, the stories that get told, the behaviors that lead to the different kinds of cultures. Then, what happens?

MS: We do an assessment. We have employee engagement surveys, that really is a connection survey. And when you look at employee engagement surveys, that’s what they are. They assess these different aspects of connection. Because really it’s the subcultures that matter the most. For example, in one multi-national corporation we worked with over the last year we surveyed their employees in sixteen different languages. And we were able to go to the CEO and say, “here’s where connection exists and here’s where it doesn’t exist.” And then it was really up to him and his human resources department to decide where do we make leadership changes, which he did, and where do we need to really become involved and provide coaching and training to certain leaders who we think have potential to change.

SF: So, the primary means for intervention here is to work on an individual basis with senior leaders?

MS: Yes, ultimately. Giving everyone the training, so there’s a common language in the organization, understanding how important it is, and then assessing to see where the needs really exist. Also, identifying where the strengths are. I can think of one example where a CEO took one of the best leaders in the organization who really created a connection culture and made him vice chairman. And now that leader is mentoring other leaders who need help around the world.

SF:  What does that look like, the shift, a senior leader’s approach to how she conveys attitudes, values, and beliefs that support a connection culture. Can you walk us through what the change process looks like?

MS:  We believe it could be very different in terms of the attitudes, the language, the behavior depending on the context whether you’re in, say healthcare, at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, or you’re at investment bank across town.  We tend to use a tool we call “a hundred ways to connect”. Just having conversations with individual managers to think through what are some things they can do based on the feedback we’ve seen through the employee engagement survey to strengthen connection in this particular area.

SF: So, you have some specific ideas there? We got Vincent calling from Texas. Vincent, welcome to Work and Life. What’s your question?

Vincent: Thanks. I work at a software company and I’m in sales. And I’m curious what are some of the action items that you would recommend to have that connection culture because so much of a sales organization is individualistic performance and metrics. It’s really easy to get caught up in your own little world and microcosm of things you need to perform. And you kind of lose sight of relationships with peers as well as treating a customer like in that healthcare example you used because you’re so concerned about hitting your goal so you do well financially, but also for yourself.

SF: Great question, Vincent. Mike, what do you have to say?

MS: Yeah Vincent, great question. You know, I find sales can be very lonely. If you’re out on the road, and calling on prospects, and working with your customers to gain greater loyalty, and you’re doing that alone. You really need that relational support. So, number one, helping sales people who are in that type of position to understand that they need connection. So, they need to be intentional. And Stew, this fits well with your work really living an integrated life, and therefore, the different domains you talk about. Connection needs can also be met from your relationships outside of work. It’s good to have them at work also. There are just a number of things you can do. Everything from taking time to get to know the stories of some of the people you work with, even if it’s over the telephone or Skype. I always tell sales managers they really need to be proactive in staying in contact with the sales people who they are responsible for leading. Learning to be present in conversations, developing a habit of emphasizing positives.

SF: Let’s go with that ‘learning to be present in conversations’, which is something that Vincent may or may not be experiencing in his world, but is probably pretty common. What do you do to help people to do that? Because I hear that a lot as a very important need. How do you stay focused and psychologically present?
MS: Well, number one, just understand that people are in different modes. Some people could be in deep connection mode, really focusing on one individual. Another person you’re interacting with could be in a more multi-tasking rhythm at this particular time and day.  There could be a disconnect because you are wanting to connect on a deeper level or just to get to know them socially. If people interrupt you and you’re in a state of flow, immersed and focusing on a project, sometimes it’s not easy to come out of that mode and interact with them. So, I think understanding some of these different rhythms that we get in, and how we get into these situations. Giving people language to help make smoother transitions. Those are just some of the examples.

SF: Vincent, thanks for your call. I hope that was helpful in giving you some ideas. The basic concept here is to form those human connections wherever you can. Let me pick up on this further, if I can, Mike. So, what if you don’t know your team well, or you’re not connected because you’re in a different location? How you get that relationship going to begin with is an issue for some people.

MS: There are a number of questions you can ask. So, for example, just simple things, like,  What have your experiences been in the past in terms of work in the past? And that’s a very natural question for a supervisor to ask. What managers have you worked for? What are some of the things they did that really inspired you, energized you that you really liked? And what are some of the things that aggravated you, or were energy-drainers? You can learn about that. The question I love to ask is what are your interests outside of work? What do you like to do in your free time? I just find it so fascinating — some of their hobbies, interests, passions – it really gives you an opportunity to connect. Also, when there are opportunities to empathize, really seize those opportunities because when we feel another person’s emotions, if it’s a positive emotion it enhances that positive emotion for them. And if it’s a painful emotion they’re experiencing, empathize and feel how that emotional connection diminishes their pain. And in both instances, it connects us. So, little things like that, Stew.

SF: And they can have a really big impact. Mike, we’re just about at the end of our time here. What’s the big idea you would like to leave our listeners with about what you discovered with the work you bring to the world?

MS: Our broader society is becoming more disconnected. And I know for me, this was not something I was aware of, Stew. I didn’t realize I was hardwired to connect, so I was dysfunctional and developing addictions. And you see that in the broader society when you see the decline of health of Americans under 50. Now Americans under 50 have the lowest life expectancies versus the sixteen other wealthiest countries, according to the Institute for Medicine. I think a lot of this is loneliness driven. We’re hardwired to connect and we need to be intentional about connecting and meeting that need for ourselves and for the people we’re responsible for leading and the people we love in our lives.

SF: And that’s going to have a ripple effect, right, in terms of the other parts of your life?

MS: Absolutely. It helps the whole life. If you don’t connect in your life outside of work, then chances are you’re not doing a good job connecting at work. And when you’re intentional and you become a stronger connector in the workplace context, it spills over and strengthens those connections with your loved ones and friends.

SF: Absolutely. That’s certainly something I’ve seen and you speak about it with a lot of authority based on real experience.

For more information about Michael Stallard visit his website http://connectionculture.com and follow him on Twitter @Michael Stallard.

About the Author

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

Contemplation and Capitalism — David Gelles

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 Gelles is staff writer for the New York Times and its business blog, DealBook, and was previously a correspondent for the Financial Times. He has practiced meditation regularly for more than a decade since he studied the technique while living in India. He’s written a book titled Mindful Work: How Meditation is Changing Business from the Inside Out.   Gelles spoke with Stew Friedman about how caring for one’s mind and spirit through mindful meditation is changing the business world — for the better.

Here are excerpts from their conversation:

Stew Friedman: David, you’ve been a well-known business reporter, how did you first come to mindfulness?

David Gelles: David GellesWell it was actually as simple as picking a book off a book shelf. I was in college at the time, I knew I was going to be studying Eastern religion and the current semester I was home on vacation and there was a book about Buddhism. I picked it up I started reading and for the first time something started to make sense.

SF: Let me just jump I here for a second David; what book was it?

DG:I don’t remember; I wish I did. It was like an introduction to Buddhism.  There’s nothing specific about meditation in Buddhism but this was my first introduction to meditation. I went home and I started meditating the very next day.  A year later I moved to India and spent a better part of my junior year in college there. So that was my introduction.  But that was 15 years ago and a lot has happened since then.

SF: A lot has happened to you for sure but also to our world. So you were referring to what happened to you or to the world or both?

DG: I was referring to both and to mindfulness.  It has emerged as a truly secular practice something that is very different from the things that I studied in India.  And personally I have been on my own career journey and my own personal journey and I have discovered that mindfulness, not necessarily Buddhism, but mindfulness is a powerful technique that I can use that helps me maintain wellness in a job that is, at times, as you say,  high stress.

SF: Let’s start at the beginning of this conversation by defining what you mean by mindfulness because that is a term that has become widespread in the business world today; what is your definition?

DG: Mindfulness is paying attention in the present moment, on purpose, in a particular way, and non-judgmentally. It is being here, right now in the present moment. Not dwelling on the future, not getting lost in thoughts of the past.   It is just paying attention, in an accepting way, to whatever is happening right now.

SF: Be here now” is what Baba Ram Dass said 40 years ago when I was in college.

DG: It is still the same.

SF: So that is mindfulness; simply paying attention, without judgment, to what is happening in you and around you?

DG: Exactly; it is as simple as that and yet, of course, innate as that capacity is in all of us, it is not always easy to achieve. Our minds are conditioned to run a million miles an hour. It is easy to distract ourselves. So it is simple but not necessarily easy.

SF: So what is the greatest challenge to be able to truly attend to the moment? What have you discovered and what have you learned as you were bringing these ideas to a much broader public?

DG: The most basic challenge is our wandering mind and that is something we all contend with even as we are just trying to get our work done. How often have you been in a meeting and you think you are paying attention, you think you are participating in the meeting and the next thing you know you hear noise you have no idea what anyone is saying because you are thinking about work, or you are thinking about your child after work? The mind wanders and so mindfulness, as a practice, is something we need to cultivate through years of practice.

SF: What is that effort?

DG:  Mindfulness meditation is the practice of trying to cultivate that state of being and it always happens through meditation. So a simple way that we practice that is just by coming back to ourselves; picking a sensation, something like our breath, air passing in and out of our nostrils, our diaphragm rising and falling with each breath, and trying to focus on the physical sensations of it.   You just notice those sensations. When the mind wanders, as it inevitable will, just notice that the mind has wandered and then just simply bring your attention back to the breath. It is as simple as that.

SF: And how much time do you spend as a novitiate, someone just learning to practice this on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis? How long does it take to get to a sense of it, if not mastery?

DG: I am still working on it myself. Mastery I can’t speak to, but as for impact, there are studies that show that as little as ten minutes of meditation a day can have an impact. Other studies show that more intensive periods of training, several hours per week over the course of several weeks can have a  long lasting impact even long after one has stopped meditation. For myself, my practice has varied widely. I have a 13 month old daughter and a pretty demanding day job so I would be lying to you to say that I sit on a cushion for an hour or even 30 minutes every single day at the exact same time. I feel fortunate that I have been practicing for 15 years now and try to incorporate the basic teachings from that practice into my daily life and also bring in the various little hacks that I have made that allow me to come back to the breath, come back to the present moment, in shorter periods many times during the day.  And that is actually pretty effective, too.

 SF: In your new book you are claiming that mindfulness is changing the business world; how is it changing?

DG:  In remarkable ways. Small businesses are reviewing their corporate hierarchy; they are making progressive choices about sustainability, about how they source products, about labor decisions, about how much they pay people. Bigger companies are doing the same thing but on a much greater scale. I wrote about Mark Bertolini, the CEO of the health Insurance company Aetna.  Inspired by his meditation practice he introduced mindfulness meditation yoga to thousands of his employees. And also inspired by his insight as a practitioner decided to raise the minimum wage for many of his employees; so that is a sense of the range of what happens when people start to meditate and bring it in to their business decisions —  things start to change.

SF: People start to act in ways that are more compassionate, as in the case of this CEO, is that what you are saying?

DG: Absolutely.  Yes, and how is it that focusing on our own breath can somehow make us more compassionate to other people?  We find that when we begin to practice, our own struggles, our own suffering is not so different. You start to realize, through meditation practice, it’s possible to let go of the struggles and the sufferings with all the people with whom we interact, with all the people that we employ. One of the insights that many meditation practitioners have is that we have the opportunity, and maybe even the responsibility, to try to alleviate that suffering in other people.

SF: There’s a sense of a greater awareness of the interconnection among all things; a kind of spiritual awareness that comes from focusing on one’s breath and seeing it as a part of a larger universe of living things.

DG: That is exactly right and isn’t it extraordinary that something like a greater sense of the interconnectedness of humanity, and maybe even our planet and ourselves, is something that can come out of wellness practices that are being introduced at big fortune 100 companies around the country?

SF: So this gets why has mindfulness and meditation become such a popular activity in so many different parts of our business society?

DG: That is a more complicated question.  Businesses, as you well know, are quick to go on to the latest trends, the latest wellness trend that may appeal to their workforce.   And this notion of mindfulness, which is a commoditized version of mindfulness and meditation, is around for a reason. Some businesses are probably acting too quickly, they are acting without totally clear intentions.  And yet, I think a lot of businesses are doing it because they recognize that their employees are stressed and meditation can help reduce their stress levels and increase their health levels and that’s probably a good thing for the business and maybe even the bottom line.

SF: Can you give us a brief summary of what has been found in the research on the impact of mindfulness and productivity not to mention wellness and retention of people at work?

DG:  Study after study, and the research that has been done over the last few decades, is quite substantial, and growing every day, indicating that mindfulness meditation can monstrously reduce our stress levels and that is not just on a self-reported basis, that means that our cortisol levels are reduced, our heart rate invariably goes down. Meditation can improve our wellness, our health; our immune systems are functioning at a higher level, things like cirrhosis can be overcome and healed more swiftly when people are practicing mindfulness meditation.  Also, in some cases, mindfulness as you alluded to earlier actually makes people more compassionate and more empathetic. There’s a sociological experiment that shows that people who practice meditation and mindfulness are quicker to offer that chair to a person on crutches in the waiting room.

SF: So why aren’t more companies adopting mindfulness as part of their regular practice in employee development and training?

DG: It’s still early days.  My friend Dan Harris, an ABC anchor, who wrote 10% Happier, says meditation still has a PR problem, meditation still has this new age, peculiar scented hippy connotation.  And I frankly think that if there are people in the business who still have those perceptions then maybe it is not the right time for that business to try this. I am not here to suggest that every business needs to mandate meditation amongst employees.  I am simply suggesting that for those businesses who think it might be beneficial, businesses that think that there are opportunities for their workers to become less stressed and healthier, then this is one good alternative, one good option for those companies that want to introduce practices like this.

SF:  It doesn’t cost very much.  It makes so much sense for an insurance company like Aetna to be investing in something like this because it is entirely congruent with what they are trying to do with their primary business. So you can see that for an insurance company or healthcare company it would be so much easier because it is in accord with what they are trying to do. It might be a little tougher in other settings where the connection is not so obvious, right?

DG: That’s right. It still again early days when we are talking about what place does contemplation have in capitalism but I think we are all trying to figure it out.

SF: There are a number of people listening who I am sure are thinking, this sounds great, how can I get started, what can you tell them David?

DG: If you personally have an interest in starting a group, a lot of the big programs I profiled actually grew organically, bottom up, individuals getting together just practicing meditation.  All of a sudden there are dozens or hundreds of people participating and HR takes note and begins to support the project. For those people who might be managers or executives who have authority to introduce a big program, that is another way to do it.   Big companies like Google have gotten their own programs started that way. So there are a lot of different ways.  Also if it is not going to show up at work for you there are many opportunities in just about every city across the country to find introductions to mindfulness. Mindfulness brings stress reduction and it is the most popular and accessible introduction. I did a course which I wrote about it in the book and it is a wonderful way to get exposure to some of these practices.

There are apps like Headspace and eMindful making programs much more accessible within larger organizations. Some people say they like doing it this way because they don’t have to do it face to face with people. In a work environment it might be uncomfortable to own up to your colleagues that you are a meditator but these apps give you an opportunity to practice and develop this on your own.

SF: In the last minute here David, with your book Mindful Work: How Meditation is Changing Business From the Inside Out what is your big idea; what impact are you trying to have with this volume?

DG: My hope is that, through the reporting and stories of other businesses in this book, people will see that mindfulness and meditation is an effective way to help reduce stress. It is not necessarily for everybody, but if individuals and organizations become a little bit stressed, a little bit healthier, a little bit compassionate, as you said, a little more empathetic towards one another, make better choices for themselves, for the environment, for their workers, then I think mindful work will hopefully have done its work to make this world a better place.

SF: Awesome, I strongly recommend it to our listeners.

To find out more about David Gelles  and Mindful Work: How Meditation is Changing Business from the Inside Out visit www.davidgelles.com and follow him on Twitter @DGelles.




Work/Life Integration for Young Entrepreneurs — Rachel Lyubovitzky

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).

Rachel Lyubovitzky is an accomplished serial entrepreneur, Co-founder and CEO of OnTimeWork, EverythingBenefits, with leadership experience that spans the full spectrum of strategic and tactical activities in the software technology industry. Rachel holds Wharton Executive MBA and Brandeis Computer Science degrees. She is a published author with interests in technology and education. Rachel enjoys spending time with her family, is a devoted runner, and studies Sumi-e painting. She spoke with Stew Friedman about work/life integration for entrepreneurs with young families.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stewart Friedman: Tell us OnTimeWorks and Everything Benefits. How did you get into this, why did you start it?

Rachel Lyubovitzky: Rachel LyubovitzkyOnTimeWorks is the third company my partners and I cofounded. The first two companies were in the business-to-business software technology space; that has been the DNA of our group that has been working together for 16 years, building technology solutions to solve a wide range of business problems. The first one was one of the first pay-per-click search engines. It was a patented technology that allowed companies to advertise more effectively online. We sold that company and went on to build another one in the workforce management space. We were seeking to make life at work and the managing of work-related activities more productive, so that meant HR, timekeeping, payroll, and applicant tracking. Those were business functions that were very manual, that take a long time, and that are not really mission-critical, which was why companies really should be spending more of their time focusing on mission-critical tasks rather than on these tasks. For the current venture, that we started about a year ago, we looked around at other challenges that businesses are facing and benefits really came to the top very rapidly.

SF: How did you discover that?

RL: Benefits touches everybody these days. After healthcare reform, you really would not speak to any person or business owner and not hear the word mentioned in some way. After healthcare reform processes are different, there is different legislation, and when we looked at it through the eyes of our software company we realized that the benefits area is one of those areas in business that lags behind any other business process out there. Many other products and services are automated to the point that you can access those things online or through your smartphone. Benefits technology, in contrast, has really been lagging behind. So we saw that as a great big challenge to jump into, a lot of different problems to solve with many different players such as employers, employees, insurance brokers, and insurance providers. So we were looking for the ways to bring these players together in more meaningful ways, making it more productive and more efficient.

SF: So that was the business opportunity, and you built this based on experience you had already. You’re probably getting smarter as a work team over time, true?

RL: I would say so. Yet one of the best decisions we made coming off the last venture was to start bringing even more people into our mix, so that we could get more advice, more interesting ideas, and really expose ourselves to a wide range of thoughts that percolate around this topic.

SF: How’s the company going? You’re a year in, what’s your progress been so far?

RL: We’re a year in, we’ve finished and launched the first product, which is Carrier Connectivity —  a way to communicate your enrollment information. Over 80% of businesses, when their employees enroll in benefits, they have to fill out those pesky paper forms. Imagine a 100-employee company that has to fill out four different forms: medical, dental, vision, and life. Times four pages. It’s a lot of paperwork. So our technology allows you to eliminate all of that paperwork and move it onto their technology systems and software.

SF: What’s been the growth trajectory of your company so far, and what’s the major challenge you’re facing right now? Then I want to get into how this fits into your whole life.

RL: We really happened to hit a, I wouldn’t say gold mine, but definitely a pinpoint that a lot of companies resonate to very much. We launched the product in the end of April and right now there are over 100 companies in our pipeline that our seeking to utilize the service.

SF: Is it mostly small to mid-size companies?

RL: It actually works for companies of any size, so automating it for smaller companies obviously allows them to get that process eliminated very, very quickly, but for larger companies, that is obviously a bigger pain. So we’re seeing an influx of companies of different sizes.

SF: The rap on the successful entrepreneurial life, which you are living, is that of 24/7 dedication; no sleep, no life outside of work and a maniacal devotion to their baby, to nurturing and ensuring that the business gets off the ground and flourishes. What’s been your experience as a successful entrepreneur?

RL: The experience hasn’t been maniacal.  But one thing I learned in your Total Leadership class is that you really can’t function productively by focusing on only one particular domain for very long.

SF: One domain, that’s what I call the different parts of your life. Your work, your home, your community, and yourself. You’re saying it’s not sustainable to focus on one part, for example, just the work.

RL: That’s right, and I find that focusing on the different domains — my family, my community, and my work — really makes me more productive and allows me to spend more time thinking about my business or thinking about my family or just being there for everybody.

SF: How does that work? Could you explain how spending time with your family, you have two daughters under 10, how does spending time with them help you with your business?

RL: For one thing, my nine-year-old is a source of many different ideas. I talk to her about my work and sometimes she gives me interesting, outside perspectives.

SF: Could you give us an example?

RL: “Why don’t you have everyone work at home, that way you can spend even more time at home?” She wanted to have everyone have lunch at home. The other thing, really, is by detaching yourself from spending all your time on work, you have a little bit of an opportunity to look around, to talk to people, to hear ideas that you can then bring back to your business. You really stop being productive after you have spent all your time thinking about the same thing without having a chance to change gears.

SF: So you’re saying that by taking time and detaching, as you say, you free your mind up to entertain other ideas and also that somehow the constant, persistent focus on just work, can ultimately have diminishing returns there?

RL: Absolutely. One of the activities I enjoy doing, and I’m actually going to start running with my older one, is running in the morning. It helps me focus and keep myself in good shape, so I have a lot of energy at work.  When I do my morning runs, it’s usually the perfect opportunity to think about the day ahead without any distractions, without checking emails, without responding to phone calls, it’s just a great opportunity to make myself a little better and also do something good for myself and the future.

SF: What do you say to the young entrepreneurs who say I don’t have time for that, I’ve got to be thinking about my business 24/7. If I don’t it’s not going to work, it’s not going to fly, it’s not going to get off the ground. I’ve got to be completely and totally devoted, which is kind of the myth you hear about. What do you say to those people?

RL: I say to each, their own. Maybe they can make it last for a while, but we’ve been in this business for the last 16 years, growing and building companies, and if we haven’t spent time with their families and try to enrich ourselves, I don’t think we would be building another one right now. You really need to spend a little bit of time outside to gain that fresh perspective and recharge.

SF: So you wouldn’t be where you are now if you hadn’t taken time away to recharge and enrich the other parts of your life. So taking time away gives you greater strength to persist. It’s kind of paradoxical.

RL: It is. I don’t know fully how it works, perhaps I have to take a few more of your classes to figure out how it really works.

SF: Well, it’s really pretty simple. We need to rest, to restore and rejuvenate and to keep ourselves fresh and able to go on, because we’re not machines and even machines need maintenance, right? So running with your daughter that would be a time for you to bond with her as well as take of yourself and refresh and free your mind to pursue other ideas that enable you to come to your work with a new perspective. What else would you say to people who are starting out? This is taking you back a bit to when you first started out on your first entrepreneurial venture, what advice do you have in terms of the lifestyle, not so much the business issues but the life issues that you learned from your experience?

RL: Probably in line with some of the ideas that I learned from the Total Leadership class is you really have to be in charge of your domains. You have to figure what it is you want and figure out how to engage everyone around you so that all of your stakeholders are helping you to realize your vision.

SF: Your stakeholders, who are they? That’s a technical term we use in my class. What does it mean?

RL: Stakeholders are people who influence the realization of your vision in your startup or whatever it is that you’re doing. It is your family, it is people at work, it is people in your community who directly influence you in everything you do.

SF: And so staying connected with those people is how you build a sustainable life? Sean is calling from California, welcome to Work and Life.

Sean: I’ve been struggling for many years to find that work/life balance across many domains, as you call it. I was wondering if you had any advice on how to get started? There are so many days where I say I’m going to wake up and I’m going to go jogging in the morning and then something happens and it perpetuates this constant work pattern that I’ve had for the last 15 years.

RL: One great thing that I use is I have a little diary next to my bed, and in that diary I put in one good thing or a few good things I did yesterday that pertain to having that better work/life integration.  Then you can go back and look at that and say hey, I went running yesterday. That was really great for everybody. And then maybe you don’t go running the next day, but you can always pick it up, look at it, and say hey, I could do that. I’ll do it again today. Don’t try to change everything in one day and all at once. Take notes of the little good things you do for yourself and for everyone around you to fulfill your vision and then slowly it will start to grow.

SF: Sean, the big idea here is small steps you really focus on in terms of the impact they’re having, not just on you but also on the people around you and how it takes you, as Rachel just said, a step closer to your vision, your picture of the future you’re trying to create.  When you do as Rachel does, to note what you did and the impact that it had, you are reinforcing your strength, your capacity to try it again. That wasn’t that difficult, and here were the benefits.  You become more conscious of the fact that it’s going to motivate you to take further steps. We have another caller, it’s Jason of Virginia. Jason, welcome to Work and Life.

Jason: I offer a product that is in your space. It’s an employee benefit at no cost to the employer, and it ties in with the work/life balance.   It’s essentially what Blue Cross is to health insurance is what our company is for legal services. I was wondering if there are good ways to reach out to folks who try to bring small businesses together and offer these employee benefits to a diverse community. Is there a way to better communicate with these entities out there?

SF: So Jason, what is it that you want help with exactly?

Jason: I was wondering if there are good communities to reach out to that deal with employee benefits, how does she reach out to other peer groups?

RL: I’m actually familiar with your product. It is a very good product.  In terms of reaching out and ensuring that, maybe we should talk after the show.   In terms of the different groups, there are a lot of resources out there online and you have to kind of think about where businesses aggregate, whether it is their local Chamber of Commerce, whether it is meet-ups that are related to businesses in the area, but there are plenty of resources where you can turn to provide education about your service to others.

SF: Rachel, I want to turn to something that you do as part of your continuing commitment to The Wharton School and to the community of people who are studying Total Leadership. You serve as a Total Leadership mentor for current students, which means you read everything they write for the class, which is a lot, because I have them write a lot about what’s important to them, who’s important to them, and about the experiments they try to make things better in all the different parts of their lives. And you talk to them, you advise them based on your experience. Tell us a little bit about what’s that like to be coaching or mentoring people.

RL: It is a very enjoyable experience. It’s always amazing to see somebody start on this journey. They have a certain idea of how they want their lives to be, their ideas, their perspectives, and their action plan for future changes. It is always amazing to watch that transformation from hey, I want to spend time with my family or I think I’m working too hard. How can I make my life a little more productive to seeing them actually come up with concrete steps as to what they can to do to live a life that is a little bit more fulfilling. For me personally, I find it very enjoyable. As much as I want to say that I want to spend some time running or going out to the movies, eventually sometimes you get caught up. So it’s helpful to get the perspective of the students, and, with them, go through the course again and realign my actions to my beliefs.

SF: By serving in an educator or coaching role, you are continually refreshed in terms of your own thinking about how these ideas and tools apply to your own life, not just what you’re helping somebody else to figure out?

RL: That’s correct. You’re going to have a flood of mentors calling in now.

SF: That’s great. We love to have generations teaching generations about the tools that they find useful in trying to pursue lives that are truly meaningful with a sense of harmony, or a greater sense of harmony. What would you say the impact has been on the people that you are mentoring? What have you observed and how have you affected change in other people.

RL: Generally, they become a lot more confident about their future direction, where they want to go, how they want to pursue their leadership vision, how they want their interactions to be with their family and with their work.  So they are a  little more conscious when they embark on their path after finishing this course. They make choices with the awareness of being in line with their core values and what they want to get out of their lives.

SF: And they get that confidence because they’ve taken real action and real steps toward realizing their vision and they see that it is possible, right?

RL: They say, as that first caller had mentioned, they had taken a small step and proven to themselves that it actually works, so they have more confidence to take more small steps and move forward.

SF: I feel so fortunate to observe that all the time. How are you feeling about your future these days in terms of what’s next, both for your work life and your family life?

RL: We have a very exciting project ahead. It is the most challenging, interesting, and fun that we’ve ever had. We have attracted a lot of really smart people to work with us, so it is the most exciting it has ever been. Every new day is super exciting.

SF: Can you tell us about the project?

RL: The Everything Benefits project? That is my third baby, so to speak. And on the family front, we are very excited. My little one started first grade, my older one started the fifth, so it is very exciting to see them discover the world and be there for them, because I am able to make choices to spend a little more time with them as they are growing, as they are developing.

SF: So as the CEO and co-founder you’re able to make it work. What’s the key to being able to actually do that, because it’s a rare thing, from what we hear.

RL: You have to make conscious choices to do that, to follow up with actions, and of course, it really helps that I have an amazing support network. My husband, my parents, and all my peers are all there to back me up when I’m at work and they have to put in a little bit of time to help me out. That’s what makes it happen.

SF: That was part of your choice, too though, to marry the right person … it’s huge. It’s probably the most important career choice that anybody makes, right?

RL: You would not think to say that as a career choice, but in reality it is.

SF: You need that, and to have the extra benefit of your extended family to provide support, that’s also the result of a choice you made to be near them.

RL: Correct, we live only a few miles away, so it really helps.

To learn more about Rachel Lyubovitzky and Everything Benefits visit http://www.everythingbenefits.com –smart benefits management solutions that help streamline inefficient processes, unravel hidden costs, and improve the workplace environment – and follow her on Twitter @rlyubovitzky.

About the Author

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

High Pressure Work and Drug Abuse — Will Wesch

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).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Will Wesch, the VP of Admissions at Novus Medical Detox, who has spent nearly a decade working to improve the lives of those afflicted with addiction, and helping them to recover with dignity and humanity. Drug abuse in the tech industry is growing as is national use of prescription pain killers. Silicon Valley has the country’s second-highest rate of illicit drug dependence and abuse among 18 to 25-year-olds. Friedman and Wesch spoke about the trend, especially in the tech industry, of drug abuse associated with work pressures. Wesch urges tech employers to take a proactive approach to substance abuse.

Stew Friedman: California, home to Silicon Valley, the hub of the tech industryhas the country’s second-highest rate of illicit drug dependence and abuse among 18 to 25-year-olds. Emergency room visits for stimulant abuse in San Francisco, Marin, and San Mateo counties is more than 5x the national average. Why do you think those in the tech industry are taking prescription medications and drugs?  Is it new or are we, as a society, just more aware of and open about drug use?

Will Wesch: WESCH_Will+Bryn (3)You can take this all the way back to college, or even high school, where kids have the pressures of school and use drugs like Adderall to stay awake for three days before an exam, for example.  As they get older and go into the work force, they know that they have these “tools” to help them stay awake and be more productive.

SF: So, the drugs are framed as a tool, as a resource, as something that compels one to a better performance?

WW: Exactly.  What happens is when you get into the tech industry is that you have a situation where there are deadlines; there’s a lot of pressure. People are working 18 hours a day. Some of them might not sleep for two days at a time just to meet those demands.  It’s a tough industry perhaps because they replace people that aren’t producing rapidly. So, you have a young kid sitting there and he has to be awake for 24 hours. It worked in college, it will work now.  What you’re seeing is a culture of becoming dependent on the drug to get through their day-to-day lives in that type of field where the pressures, timelines, and targets are very high.

SF: So, these patterns start earlier. And people are bringing them into the workplace from college where it’s “normal” to use these stimulants to help stay focused and get course work done?

WW: Correct. I have a son who graduated college and he would tell me the stories. His friends, who had to pass an exam or would fail, had these drug readily available to them.

SF: And what compelled them to use them?

WW: Seeing others using them, having to stay awake for long periods of time, and seeing that this could help them to be able to stay up and study for 24 hours if they needed to.

SF: So, they bring this into the workplace, and what are you seeing in your practice? What kinds of problems are people having as a result of their drug dependence and the increasing scope and scale of this problem?

WW: First and foremost, you’ve got the habit of methamphetamines, pain pills, or Adderall.  You have to have financial resources to do that. So, you will see depletion in that.

SF: You’ll see depletion in their funds you mean?

WW: Exactly. So, you’re also going to run into situations where people are overly tired. It’s not good for their bodies. They’re not eating correctly. I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist, but you see forms of depression. There are a lot of different manifestations that come from using these medications to fulfill a need they have in the workplace.

SF: So how does an employer help notice and intervene in ways that are useful for the employee?

WW: There’s various ways to spot this. An employee abusing drugs is three times more likely to be late to work. They have two and a half times as many absences of 8 days or more. I think they use three times the normal level of sick benefits. They’re five times more likely to file worker compensation claims. And they’re 3.6 times more likely to be involved in accidents. These are things that an employer can look for.  In addition to that, drug testing in the workplace helps.

SF: You’re an advocate for that?

WW: I am. If you have somebody running a piece of machinery, and they’ve been up for 4 days, they’re fatigued and this person can really hurt themselves. Do test them.   But what’s equally important is that an employer has an employee assistance program (EAP), a place where employees can go to get help on a confidential basis. People are scared that they may lose their job.

SF: So tell us about that. How does an employee assistance program work at a typical company? And how do people get access to it without feeling stigmatized, as if there is something wrong with them which may be holding back from getting help?

WW: They can go through various Human Resources agencies and find different programs available in their area, and they can offer that benefit to employees. And it goes further than that. It can be therapy. It can just be counseling. It can be other personal problems.. But substance abuse is one of those factors where a program like that could actually have an employee reach out on a confidential basis and get help that they might not otherwise receive.

SF: So, confidentiality is key? Are there other things that an employer can do, assuming there is an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) in place in your organization? Is there anything a supervisor or co-worker can do to encourage someone whom they think is having a problem to help them to take advantage of that support?

WW:  You can always promote different resources and benefits that the company has. One of the way situations you have here, Stew, is that it gets a little bit tricky. Different states have different regulations. You have federal regulations with respect to police. My best advice for any employer is to talk with a local attorney, have them review your substance abuse policies, and then act accordingly. They will help set that program up so that it’s safe for everyone.

SF: Safe for everyone did you say? So, getting legal counsel to make sure you are proceeding within the local ordinances, and state and federal regulations is critical. But is more that can be done to encourage people to reach out? Todd is calling from Philadelphia. Todd welcome to Work and Life. What’s your question?

Todd: I had a question about Adderall. I had a problem focusing, prioritizing, being motivated, and getting things done. I’ve been self-employed for about 20 years now. I had depression. A doctor recently put me on Adderall and Zoloft. I was wondering what does that do to your body? And are there other ways of correcting those types of problems?

WW: If you’re working with a medical professional, you definitely want to go with your doctor’s advice. That being said, you also want to take a look at how the drug is affecting you. There’s a few ways of looking at this. From a medical standpoint, he probably is correct in getting you to focus, etc. From a long-term position, is taking Adderall the rest of your life a solution? In typical cases, it’s not. So, there’s got to be something else that needs to be done.

SF: Something that is more behavioral, and less chemical?

WW: It could be, absolutely. We run into it in our facility quite a bit. We will have people go to a nutritionist and have their blood drawn, and just make sure their hormones are balanced. There are people who just have trouble sleeping. They only get 3 hours of sleep a night. Well why is that? The body is supposed to produce gaba that is supposed to help you rest and go to sleep. And we find, in a fair amount of cases, that something is imbalanced.

SF: So, the key is to get data, right, to get information? To do assessments with people who know how to look for effects of different kinds of drugs on your body, and also to diagnose whether there might be some other cause?

WW: Correct. So what you want to do in a lot of cases is rule out the physical aspects of it. Mental health problems do exist. You also want to make sure you are covering the mental aspect and the physical aspect. I’ve just seen it too many times where somebody comes in, they are not doing well one way or another, having anxiety attacks and things like that. They get physicals, their hormones are out of balance, or it could be allergies, it could be a number of things. You want to attack it from both ends. That would be my advice.

SF: Todd, thanks for calling and I hope that advice is helpful. We got John calling from San Diego. John, thank you for calling Work and Life. How can we help you?

John: I heard you talking about anonymity and confidentiality, and the importance that that plays in the workplace. But I tend to think that is actually creating more of a problem. I tend to think that there is obviously a stigma with people who deal with an addiction whether they’re in the workplace or just in normal life. And I feel like anonymous approach is almost fostering a shame in which not just the addict themselves, or the person dealing with the drug issues themselves, have to deal with, but also the families of these addicts. That creates a kind of shame that really keeps people in the workplace from being upfront with what they’re dealing with. If we’re going to call it a disease, let’s treat it like a disease. I don’t understand why workplaces have punishments in place for failing a drug test. The American Medical Association looks at it as a disease. I don’t understand why the workplace doesn’t do that.

SF: So, people are afraid to ask for her help. That’s a great point, John. Will, what do you have to say about that?

WW:  Federal HIPAA laws protect the privacy of the individual. I’ll give you a perfect example. You have a CEO who is an alcoholic and he has a hundred employees.  He might not want his employees to know because he’s the guy running the company and providing the money for their salaries and everything else. Having places where the person can go on a confidential basis and get help is a good thing in that sense. Now I understand your sense as well. You look at it and say addiction is a disease. I’ve heard both sides.  But an individual isn’t going to want others to know that he has this problem. He may be looked upon really well and he’s got a lot of responsibility. So, I think the HIPAA laws laid out by the federal government are correct in a lot of ways. They’re not going to get anything 100% correct. Is it a 100% right? I don’t think anything is a 100% right.

SF:  The question I think that John is raising is how can we remove the punitive elements of disease, as it is experienced by people.  How can we make it more likely, therefore, that both employees and employers are going to be encouraging people who are suffering to seek help, right?

WW: I think in a lot of cases you’re right. But as we touched on earlier, Stew, and John, is that in some cases it’s just not a reality. We go back to running machinery where you can cut your arms off. An employer has to intervene. They have to. So, how about a school bus driver driving your kids around? So, there’s got to be scenarios where you’ve got to step in, and the employers have to say this is a drug-free workplace. But on the same point, if you’re going say that, it’s best for the employer to have an option for the employees to go somewhere and talk confidentially to somebody, and get help.

SF: So, John, quick reply?

John: I don’t really understand when you say that there are two sides to the disease aspect of addiction. I haven’t heard the other side of that.

SF: Good question, John. So, Will what did you mean ‘both sides?’ Disease versus what? Versus intentionally self-destructive behavior?

WW: You definitely have the disease portion of it. But let’s take a scenario where you have a lawyer who gets a back surgery and is given 60mg of pain pills, Oxycodone, to help with this pain.  This guy goes out and functions. He’s a good lawyer. He takes care of his family. He doesn’t abuse his script. He wants off of it, but he’s having trouble coming off of it. So, he reaches out to a facility, like Novus, and says, “Can you help me taper off of this?” So, we bring that person in. You have to realize there’s two things. There’s addiction and there’s dependency, and those are two separate categories. That’s all I was talking about. One individual has to get up every morning and take them to get high. Whereas, when you have a dependency, an individual is hooked on the drug. He’s not stealing. He’s not doing things that an addict would do. You know spending a lot of money, not taking care of his wife or kids. He just needs to come off 40 or 60 milligrams of Oxycodone. Do I say that guy has a disease? I don’t think the guy has a disease. I think he has a dependency to the drug. And he has to come off. That’s all I’m saying.

SF: So, it helps direct the treatment when you think of it in those terms.

WW: It’s a debatable point. I’m just saying there are people that say just what I said and there are people that say it’s a disease. I think both are valid.

SF: I want to thank you John for calling and raising those questions. I want to move on to another question, which is how do you approach detox? Why is personalized detox program more successful than cold turkey? Explain to us how you go about that.

WW:  In a lot of cases, depending on the individual, if they just quit taking the drug and their body could go into shock and they could go into very hard withdrawal, and then there is a likelihood that they’re going to pop another pill to help them. Now that’s going to be a very high percentage of it. In most cases, the individual has got to be tapered down, stepped down slowly for a couple of reasons. One is, what if the person has a bad heart valve and they quit taking the drug? It can spring a heart attack just like that. What if they are running on high or low blood pressure and they don’t know it.

SF: So, you really have to look at the whole picture, the whole person, and personalize it?

WW: You have to look at it from a medical standpoint. To quit drinking, if you’re an alcoholic and you’ve been drinking for many years, or quit taking drugs without medical supervision, is very dangerous. You can get seizures, strokes, and stuff like that.

SF:  If you hve a loved one who is experiencing this kind of addiction, Will, what’s your best advice?

WW: Well, I think that consulting the individual and just having a talk with them, seeing if they’re willing to acces help, and then help them find that support. There’s plenty of help out there, and it’s individualized help. What’s going to be right for one person isn’t necessarily going to be right for another person. So, you want to get on a phone with an expert. They may need a medical detox, they may not. Have an expert walk you through the different scenarios of what the options are and pick what’s right for them. Now, if that loved one is being defiant, doesn’t want to be in treatment, then hire a professional, like an interventionist, to come in and help the parents out, or whoever it may be, to get that person help. The wrong thing to do would be to do nothing about it.

SF:  I am so glad you’re concluding on that. That’s such an important idea.

WW: My last point is that you have no idea what will happen to that kid, that adult, in the next couple of days. One more shot of heroin, overdosing on pills, and there is nothing worse than saying, “I should have done something.”

To learn more about Will Wesch’s work go to www.novusdetox.xom.

About the Author

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

How To Raise an Adult Who’s Ready for the Work World — Julie Lythcott-Haims

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).


On Work and Life Stew spoke with  Julie Lythcott-Haims who served as  Stanford University’s Dean of Freshmen for a decade, where she received the Dinkelspiel Award for her contributions to the undergraduate experience. She’s a mother of two teenagers and has spoken and written widely on the phenomenon of helicopter parenting. They spoke about her book, How To Raise An Adult and about how parents can manage the start of the school year with hectic schedules filled with new activities while helping to teach children about, instill in children, a sense of valuing what’s truly important to them and their families 

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stewart Friedman: As a former dean of freshmen at Stanford and as a parent of teens yourself, you’ve been sitting in the catbird seat watching helicopter parents and overwhelmed young adults. Parents and students are now starting the new school year, which is always filled with a flurry of all new activities, meetings, carpooling, after-school commitments, and more, what should parents do, or avoid doing, to start the year to really pursue the ideal of raising strong, resilient individuals and competent young adults?

Julie Lythcott Haims: Julie Lythcott HaimsI’ve got a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old here in Palo Alto, California, which is a high-pressure, high-stakes environment. My kids are in high school, a freshman and a junior, so I’m right there in the thick of it with any parent listening. My son is the elder, he is 16, and my daughter is 14. I moved from being a college dean who was worried about the encroachment of parents into the life of college students, which is happening on my campus at Stanford, and happening nationwide as well. Tier-one, -two, and -three, four-year institutions have been noticing that more and more parents are feeling the need to be very involved in the lives of their college-aged sons and daughters.  Over the years I began to appreciate the link between what those parents were doing and what they were fearing and why they were so involved. I began to see the link between that and childhood itself. I realized I was on track to becoming one of those parents who couldn’t let go.  I was doing so much for my kids when they were quite young.

SF: What did you discover about what motivates these parents to be over-involved?

JLH: We’re motivated by fierce love for our kids and we want the very best for them. If we are affluent, if we are middle-class or beyond, we have a tremendous sense of our own ability to control outcomes. We think the world is scary and unsafe and we believe that we can be our children’s bumpers and guardrails; that we can protect and prevent every bad thing from happening. We’ve lost sight of the fact that usually our job is to prepare our kids for that unfortunate but inevitable day when we’re gone.  Yes, it might help them achieve a short-term win if we are always smoothing the path or arguing with a teacher or a coach or doing their homework for them – all the things that over-helping parents do these days. But long-term, children end up feeling incapable of making their way without a parent’s help, and that messes them up psychologically. It means they’re ill-equipped for a workplace that wants them to know how to make a plan, how to take the initiative, how to think two and three steps ahead, and how to lead. I saw, that with the best of intentions, with a lot of love but also a lot of fear, fear of things like strangers, and fear of things like elite college admissions, we’ve become over-helpers.  When I first wrote about this issue 10 years ago in an op-ed for Chicago Tribune all I had were my good hunches as a freshman dean that this looks problematic. I’m working with young adults, they look very impressive in a GPA, transcript and resume sense, but they don’t seem to have a sense of self. They’re constantly checking in with mom or dad for guidance on what to do, how to do it, how to resolve a situation, and I thought what’s to become of them and more importantly, what’s to become of us at a societal level, if this generation of adults can’t take the mantle of leadership, what will become of all of us? If they have not got the ability to think and do and speak for themselves, if they can’t recover from failure? One of the very important critiques that’s come since my book was published almost three months ago is that this is only pertaining to the affluent. As I said at the top of the show, this happens in affluent communities where parents have the disposable time and income to spend on cultivating their kids’ every moment, and hovering on the sidelines of their every activity. But I wouldn’t dismiss it as a non-problem. Kids who are raised this way end up with higher rates of anxiety and depression, because they haven’t had the chance to form a healthy psychological self if mom or dad has been doing the hard work of life for them.

SF: Which is much less likely in lower-income parts of our society where people have to become more self-sufficient because of their economic circumstances, right?

JLH: That’s the beautiful irony. As dean, I could tell that my students who were from poor and working-class backgrounds had a greater sense of self, a greater sense of ‘I can apply my effort to achieving these outcomes,’ I can figure this out. They had made it to college. Those kids, as many educators are prone to saying these days, might actually leave their more affluent counterparts in the dust. If a poor or working-class kid gets a decent education and a good mentor, their life experience has given them important grit, resilience, perseverance, all of that stuff they’re going to need to succeed.  Whereas their more affluent counterparts who have been hand-held and maybe coddled too much are what one Massachusetts superintendent called ‘veal.’

SF: Could you give us an example of a difference between helping, supporting, and giving other opportunities for growth, and helping too much? Where is that line?

JLH: The line is present in almost every moment. Philosophically, what we really need to get into our heads is that our job as parents is to put ourselves out of a job and raise our offspring to independent adulthood. We’ve succeed if they are capable. We pretend our kids are only going to ever live within a one-mile radius of us and that we will always be there to solve their problems.  It’s loving and it’s helpful in the short-term, but it really cripples them long-term.

SF: How does this play out in everyday life?

JLH: Childhood will prepare a kid for independent adulthood if we’ll let it. Here’s an example: There are communities which are particularly focused on a kid’s performance in school and their activities. We tend to absolve kids of chores. All a kid has to do is say, ‘I’m busy, I have a test tomorrow, I have a lot of homework,’ and we let them off the hook for dishes and garbage.

SF: The resume is more important than the reality of contribution to everyday family life.

JLH: We think that but we’re wrong. One of the things lacking in young adults that harms them in the workplace is they don’t have life skills. They don’t know how to wake themselves up, they don’t know how to keep track of deadlines, they don’t know how to make meals, they don’t know how to help clean the house, so they’re not learning to take care of themselves and pitch in for the good of the whole, which are the traits they will be valued for in the workplace. We need to give our kids responsibilities around the house, we can’t treat them as little academic machines who only need to produce A’s on tests and quizzes and homework. They also need to be helping us clean up, helping us maintain the house, helping us make meals, and helping us clean clothing.  In my book there is a whole chapter on teaching kids life skills.  Many parents, including me, are shocked when reading a list of what two- and three-year-olds are capable of, and four- and five-year-olds are capable of, and so on.  There are many, many cultures in the world where, in the absence of affluence where so much in the work of life is taken care of by someone you hire or a machine, kids actually develop hard skills that teach them to be capable human beings.

SF: In the moment when I’m deciding ‘am I going to let her off the hook and she doesn’t have to do the dishes so she can be ready for that exam so she can get a higher grade thereby increasing her chances of getting into a good school’, how do I resolve that? How do I even know as a parent that I’m wrestling with that dilemma?  How do I become conscious enough to be able to make an intelligent choice about raising an independent, resilient child?

JLH: I think if you are frequently letting them off the hook, frequently saying, ‘you’ve got so much homework, therefore you don’t have to do the dishes or you don’t have to go to bed,’ these are indicators that our priorities are out of whack. We’ve let school become this tyrannical force that gets to dictate how much homework our kids will do in order for our hoped-for outcome, which is that they get the right grades. Kids in communities like mine aren’t getting enough sleep, and pediatricians are screaming at us to pay attention to that because it’s a really strong indicator of mental health problems and worse.

SF: Not to mention attention and their capacity to actually withstand a whole day of school.

JLH: Again, the philosophy is that our job as parents is to put ourselves out of a job by raising a kid to independent adulthood. Here’s what we can stop doing if we’re over-parenting. Number one: stop saying ‘we’ when you really mean your son or your daughter. We are really prone to saying, ‘we’re on the travel soccer team, we’re doing this science project, we’re applying to college this fall,’ and we’re not. In some ways it’s revealing just how intertwined we are with our kids’ lives. This linguistic change might help us to become more mindful of the fact we are too intertwined. These are our sons’ and daughters’ efforts, accomplishments, and achievements. Say ‘my daughter’, not ‘we’. Number two: stop arguing with every adult in their path. We’ve decided we can and should control and perfect every outcome, so we are much more likely as parents these days to be all up in a teacher’s face, a principal’s face, or with a coach or a referee. These folks are under siege from well-meaning but over-involved parents who don’t trust that their kid can possibly have that conversation on their own behalf. So we teach them that authority is always to be argued with, and of course we’re a free-thinking democracy, we don’t want to just follow some arbitrary rules, even if they come from a teacher or a coach. We have the right to question, but we mustn’t always question. We have to teach kids that adults are to be respected for the most part, but when something does need to be raised, for example, ‘I’d like more playing time, I didn’t understand this concept, I think you graded this essay unfairly,’ we’ve got to teach our kids to advocate for themselves or else we’ll be those parents who are calling up the professor.

SF: How do we do that?

JLH: You sit down with them and say, ‘okay honey, I know you worked on this essay, how are you feeling about it?’ ‘I’m not feeling very good, I didn’t get a very good grade.’ ‘What do you want to do about that?’ ‘Well mom, what do you think I should do?’ You as the mom or dad can say, ‘Go and talk to your teacher and say I got the essay back, I’d like to go over it with you.  I’d like to understand what it is that you’re concerned about, how I might have made a better effort.’ We want to teach our kids, through trial-and-error, that they can continually improve. We can coach them about how to have a conversation, rather than do it for them, because if we do it, they will never have the skill.  And I’ve seen that in 18-22 year-olds and it looks really unfortunate.

SF: What do you mean?

JLH: They’re chronologically adult but they’re still reliant on mom or dad to have that conversation on their behalf. The term I’ve coined is ‘existential impotence.’ You don’t want that for your kid. When they’re 20, I don’t care how beautiful their GPA is or how impressive their SAT score is. If they don’t have what it takes to make a plan on their own behalf, make a choice between competing opportunities, go and seek help when they’re struggling, contend with disappointment, sit with their own unhappiness and mull it over and come up with a solution and a way forward, what hope do they have? Stop doing their homework. It sounds obvious, but parents are over-helping. Parents are correcting the math problems so the kid gets a better grade, but the kid never learns. All the kid learns is that my mom or dad always needs to correct my homework, I’m not actually capable. It damages them. We might get the higher grade for them, but, number one, it’s unethical and number two, the teacher doesn’t know what the kids in the class are actually understanding. Number three, the kid thinks, ‘I can’t do it without my mom or dad. ’

SF: Let me offer an observation. We did a study a couple years ago comparing the Class of 1992 to the Class of 2012.  We surveyed the students when they were graduating seniors here in 1992, and we did the same thing for the Class of 2012, so we have a 20-year longitudinal study. One of the startling things we found was that young people today, men and women, are much less likely to plan to have or adopt kids. It was 79% that said yes to that question in 1992 yet only 42% said yes just a couple years ago. It’s a complex story and I’m not going to get into the details of it here, but one of things that I’ve heard while going around speaking about this to college students and others is that, and this really took me aback, is that one of the reasons that young people today fear having children is that they feel pressure to produce a high-achieving child. They don’t want to be in a position of having failed to have produced a child who gets into Harvard. That pressure is being felt by young adults today and it’s turning them off from the whole concept of even becoming a parent. So what do we do about that problem?

JLH: We have to make adulthood look a lot more attractive than we’re making it look. This gets to your earlier point about if we can back off our kids and not hover so much, we free ourselves up to live a rich, vibrant adult life, which by the way, shows kids that adults do live rich, vibrant lives and that adult lives are not simply spent shuttling children around and standing on the sidelines. For their sake and for ours, we need to get our own lives back and stop being so obsessed with cultivating our kids every moment. I’m guessing that not only is there the pressure of cultivating a perfect child, we’ve just made adulthood seem terribly unattractive.

They’re refusing to claim the adult label for themselves.  We started calling college students ‘kids’ in the prior decade. When you and I were in college, we didn’t refer to ourselves as kids, we didn’t call a 25-year-old a kid either. You were a man; I was a woman. If we’re going to let 18- to 25-year-olds of affluent families off the hook and call them emerging adults, or not really adults, or adults who still need a whole lot of hand-holding from mom or dad, we have to completely rethink the way we run the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. We’re happy to say to a kid for whom those are the best choices out of high school, ‘go fight and die for your country, you have what it takes.’ We’re happy to call them adults, but somehow we’re letting college kids off the hook when it comes to responsibility and accountability.

SF: What do you want to leave our listeners with as your best advice?

JLH: I’m in this with you, I’ve had these tendencies myself. We’ve been duped into believing that there are a small number of colleges that are the only ones we can be proud to send our kids to, and that’s what motivates a lot of our crazy behavior. US News and World Report college ranking is wrong.  There are probably 140 fantastic schools in this country, most of which don’t have cutthroat admissions rates. Be willing to look into those, be willing to embrace those and you’ll discover your kid’s high school experience is far happier and less stressful, and your life will be less stressful as well.

To learn more about Julie Lythcott-Haims visit www.HowToRaiseAnAdult.com and follow her on Twitter @DeanJulie

About the Author

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

The Courage to Walk Through Doors — Amanda Eversole

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).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Amanda Engstrom Eversole, Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff of the US Chamber of Commerce and acting president of the Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation.  She was recently named one of Wharton’s 40 under 40.  They discussed how she manages her high powered career while hewing to her core values – how she aligns her actions with her values.

Stew Friedman: You’ve just been promoted to the President of the Chamber’s Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation. How did you end up in that role? Tell us the brief highlights of how you got to this role right now.

Amanda Engstrom Eversole:

Washington, DC, USA - October 23, 2014: Amanda Eversole. Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Washington, DC, USA – October 23, 2014: Amanda Eversole. Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce

My background is actually in communications, and I started off about 15 years ago as a business development person within an advertising agency in Washington, D.C, completely unconnected to politics in any way.  I thought I really wasn’t going to fit in in Washington but I wanted to figure out what the public policy world was all about. I went over to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and what we are is we represent businesses broadly from small companies to large companies before the government, before the court, and before what we like to call the court of public opinion. I came over in a relatively junior level position and worked in a communications capacity and since then I’ve had about 22 different jobs in that time. I’m sort of what you’d call the utility player. When we’ve had a project that’s hard and they needed somebody to jump in, roll up their sleeves, and figure it out, I’ve been that person on a number of different projects and so this Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation is the latest example of that. It’s really a startup organization within the Chamber of Commerce. I’ve had that for just a few months now.

SF: What’s the mission of the Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation?

AE: We’re actually figuring that out as we speak and I would be really interested if some of the listeners, if they’d like to reach out to me offline or through social media, that would be terrific.  What we’re really trying to do is give technology companies of all sizes a voice in the public policy development.  What we’ve found is that particularly in the startup world, you have companies so focused on getting their companies off the ground that they don’t see possible regulation or legislation that could have a massive impact on their business model. We’re trying to connect that process much earlier in the cycle. Likewise, on the flip side, with larger institutions, we’re trying to make sure that their voice is represented as part of the broader business community.

SF: So you’re wanting the public to speak to you in and add their ideas about what exactly?

AE: Well, we’re defining our mission. Innovation in the economy is what’s going to be driving the job creation, which is really the heart of what the Chamber of Commerce is focused on.

SF: You didn’t graduate and say I’m going to be the the head of technology for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, did you? Or was that the plan?

AE: Absolutely not.

SF: So how did you get there? What was the path that led you this type of work and what you believe is important about your life and your purpose in your work?

AE: It’s really one where doors had been opened for me along the way. The headline is really about having the courage to step through those doors. Candidly, at the time, I didn’t always know what I was doing. I’ve often come across people who have been very clear in what their life mission, from a work perspective, has been. They wanted to be a doctor, they wanted to be a lawyer, they knew what their calling was. I, on the other hand, didn’t.

SF: I think that’s like most people. So you didn’t know, so what did you do?

AE: When opportunities came up, by default, I would say yes. My career at the Chamber, I’ve been there for over 12 years now, which if you had asked me at the beginning if I thought I was going to stay in any place for more than five years, I would have said very unlikely. But the beauty of this organization for me is that I’ve been given the opportunity to go and create several new programs from the ground up and learn how to add value to our membership. It’s a unique business proposition because we represent businesses broadly so I have a chance to think about things from a different perspective, meaning how would businesses of all sizes or industries be affected by a particular public policy or by a particular piece of legislation.  Once you understand how to do that, applying it to the different policy areas is all about learning the substances, because you already have the tools in the toolkit at that point. So I was involved in our Capital Markets Group in the lead-up to and following the financial crisis. It was a very important time, clearly, not only from an economic perspective but also from making sure that any policies, or ultimately the Dodd-Frank Act that was passed, prevent future crises but don’t ultimately impact the ability to raise capital for businesses of all sizes. So, different subject matters, but interesting how you can apply it in business contexts of all fashions.

SF: So the core mission, then, how would you describe what the core mission of the Chamber is and in terms of how it relates to what you believe is important about business and society?

AE: At the end of the day, we’re advocates for our members and businesses of all sizes, and we find it to be our role to speak up and say things that perhaps businesses can’t say on their own or would prefer that a trade association like the Chamber might say. Formerly one of my positions was as Chief of Staff and I was able to leverage our resources broadly, not only from a public policy perspective but I also led our charitable giving program.  One of the things that was important being a student of yours in the Total Leadership Program was making sure that all four of my domains were aligned with what my own personal interests were. So I was able to figure out how to tie together both a work objective and being a good corporate citizen, and also my own personal belief of how to give back to the community and society. That was really sharpened and honed through this program, and we’ve been able to do some really wonderful things, both for our staff and for the community as a result of that.

SF: So tell us, what are you most proud of in terms of what you’ve achieved in that capacity?

AE: Well, there have been a couple things. The first is there was a domestic violence shelter in D.C. called WEAVE, Women Empowered Against Violence. One of the things I like to sharpen when we’re deciding where to invest our time and our resources is where our dollars and where our time is going to make the biggest impact. This organization’s mission is to help women and men who are victims of domestic violence find not only access to legal resources but access to resources to get them out of situations that are difficult. We were able to provide our resources and we were able to gain access to people who volunteered their time to help from a financial standpoint. The organization was about to go under, and we were able to extend the life of the organization for well over a year. Unfortunately, it ended up closing down and reforming in a different capacity, but that one year’s time was so important. We helped many survivors of domestic violence to have a second chance. If we hadn’t there, there would be dozens of people who would have been in very difficult circumstances.   I’m really proud of that work, and there are a lot of different cases like that.

SF: So this is an interesting example taking advantage of an opportunity at work that enabled you to have a real positive social impact on an organization that you wanted to support and to also help your organization in some important way. I’m assuming it also it also helped your career, I’m inferring. Is that accurate?

AE: Absolutely.

SF: That is a great example of integrating the different parts of your life in a way that works for all of them, to look for and take opportunities that enable you to express what you believe is important and especially when it’s going to be helpful to your business life. You just had your first child. How has that changed things for you and the role that you play in the Chamber and how you’re thinking of your career?

AE: Everybody told me before I had the baby that it’s going to change my life completely, but until she was born and until I had held her for the first time, I really truly couldn’t understand what that meant. It’s just a richness and we are so blessed to have her. I’ve only been back at work for one month now. Interestingly I was promoted into this technology capacity two months before I had the baby so there’s been this break between work life and family life and now I’m trying to manage both together and its caused me to think through and make some difficult choices. As I alluded to earlier, one of those choices was I stepped out of the Chief of Staff capacity, where I had a relatively interesting job design with three very significant management roles. One with the technology program, one in an operational capacity as Chief of Staff, and one in our Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness. And the beauty of having three months away from the office, where I was actually fairly disciplined at staying away from email and really focusing on the present and my child, my family, was when I came back my perspective was quite different.

SF: How has it changed?

AE: I thought about things like how can I set myself up to be successful rather than just taking on more and taking on more. I made a very conscious effort to see how I could do things differently and end up performing at a very high level. This entrepreneurial effort as it relates to technology was where the growth was, whereas the operational role, albeit extremely important, was something that I had done for a while and it was likely time to pass that opportunity on to someone else. But it was quite hard for me, to be candid with you, to say I can’t do everything anymore.

SF: You said earlier in our conversation that one of the keys to your successful growth in the early stages of your career was to step through the open doors. This is kind of contrary to that, isn’t it?

AE: Absolutely. There are days when I wonder if I made the right decision. When I take a step back and take a deep breath I’m very certain that the answer that is yes. It’s an inflection point and I’m sure that many people, particularly working mothers, question themselves: are you letting your career go by? are you making decisions that put you on a different trajectory? In this case, I felt like I needed to make sure that I was going to set myself up to be successful. And it was fairly evident to me that trying to do, in essence, three full-time jobs in addition to my new daughter is impossible. The idea of doing all those things so-so wasn’t appealing.  So I made a decision, and it will be an interesting experiment.

SF: What do you expect and what do you hope for? What do you think is going to happen? This is new for you, to say “no” to opportunities as opposed to saying “yes” to open doors.

AE: I expect that I’m going to have days where I’m going to be motivated to jump back into my old capacity. I’m going to have to be very disciplined about not doing that. Being Chief of Staff is one of those roles where people have been very conditioned to come to me for certain questions or certain advice. Helping people find somebody else to serve them in that counseling role is very important. On the other hand, it’s very easy to get dragged back in if somebody knocks on the door and just needs a few minutes. Then the next person needs 15 minutes and all of the sudden, your day has been eaten up.

SF: Right, but that’s been, as we have been saying, the key to your success, to be available, to jump in there, and be the Jane of all trades. And to get it done no matter what. Inflection point is an interesting way to put it. Saying “yes” is something you were really good at and got a lot of rewards for. What do you think is going to be helpful to you to have the courage to be able to draw those boundary lines?

AE: Well, I think a lot of it is how this new program is ultimately structured, and a lot of it is the team that we ultimately build. One of the things that I find to be both most satisfying and most important is creating a structure so people can succeed in the tasks ahead of them. Finding the talent who can help create this program from the ground up is exceedingly important. It’s the discipline of being conscious of my behavior as opposed to simply reverting back to what’s comfortable and what I have done to date.

SF: What’s the most important thing you want our listeners to know, both about what you do with the Chamber and what you discovered about leadership through your journey?

AE: One of the things that was most illuminating as a student in your program, Stew, was the conscious decisions that we make and I now no longer talk about “work -life balance.” Rather I talk about how do I make sure that I’m aligning myself with my own personal goals in the appropriate way and not just reverting to whatever is the most in need of attention and is drawing my resources that way. And while it’s never perfect, and clearly my daughter has changed everything in a very great way, it is being conscious about how I move forward in all of these various domains that at least gets me to the appropriate starting point and gives me the control to decide how I move forward as opposed to just reacting to what comes across the transom.

SF: Do you have a specific thing that you do to help you make those conscious and deliberate choices?

AE: It’s about friends, family members, and coworkers that help me through this journey, personally and professionally.

SF: They’re holding you accountable to what you believe in.

For more information about Amanda’s work and where you can contribute to the conversation at the Chamber about what the Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation should be doing, now is a good time for you to go and add your voice by going to cati.uschamber.com.

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