I spent three days in Washington DC last week, two blocks from the White House, at the Work-Life Focus: 2012 and Beyond Conference, put on by the Society for Human Resource Management, and the Families and Work Institute.
In attendance were many human resource professionals who spend their time trying to find ways to make their companies more supportive of work flexibility.
We talked about how work flexibility programs have grown from being viewed as mostly a “woman thing” to a core competitive advantage for attracting and retaining great talent in the new world of work.
We talked about how men are increasingly vocal about wanting more work flexibility so they can spend more time with their families.
We analyzed data from in-depth studies about attitudes about flexibility in different regions of the world like India, China and Brazil.
And we listened to winners of the Sloan Awards, ten companies recognized by the Families and Work Institute as outstanding examples of integrating work flexibility into their companies.
I met representatives from the Prime Minister’s office in Singapore, who told me that quality of life was rated the number one issue in the country by its citizens, ahead of economic growth. Singapore earned the number one spot of total hours worked per year by the average worker, ahead of every other country in the world. It was fascinating talking with them about the tension between maintaining a strong focus on the economy, while addressing a strong societal need to address the human side of business.
And speaking of balance, it was wonderful to find many personal connections, like two of us who had sons obsessed by World War II and Egypt. 🙂
Tina Tchen, Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls and Michelle Obama’s Chief of Staff talked about work life initiatives within the White House. She talked about growing up as a single mom and juggling her duties as a lawyer in a major law firm with after school meetings, sports practices and parent-teacher conferences.
On a national level, the White House is discussing concepts like Results Only Work Environment or ROWE, popularized by Cali Ressler and Jodi Thompson in their ground breaking book Why Work Sucks and How to Fix it.
In my own work at Escape from Cubicle Nation for the past six years, quality of life and work/life flexibility is a huge driver for my clients. Not every person that crosses my path has the true desire to start a business — but most have a crushing desire to have more control over their work life, and integration between family and work time.
Because it was not my normal type of conference, I got some very strange looks when I would introduce myself as the “writer and business coach from Escape from Cubicle Nation,” covering the conference.
“Um, interesting!” they would say as they tucked my card in their bag, scanning the room for someone to talk to who was not a subversive rebel.
I think the discomfort is based on the old world of work where there is a hard line between corporate employment and entrepreneurship. When you leave the confines of a job, it was viewed as “disloyal” to the company you worked for.
We are one economy.
We need to work on all sides of the employment table — corporate, non-profit, military, small business and freelance — to serve the needs of the workforce of the 21st century.
Smart, productive workers who leave a large corporation to start their own business creative innovative products and services. They embrace technology and lead new trends. They generate value, and hire workers, and create opportunity.
And when they choose to go back into corporate life, as many of them will do, they will bring tremendous perspective and skills.
Veterans returning from war, discouraged by lack of full-time jobs, could learn ways to start their own business.
I was encouraged by what I saw at the conference, and am inspired to join the larger dialogues about the changing nature of commitment in the new world of work. I want to speak to rooms like I saw at the Work Life Focus conference to share stories of six years of working with people leaving the corporate life. Far from being a wolf in sheep’s clothing, I could offer insight and perspective for those human resource professionals who want to better serve the needs of their employees.
Working for yourself is no walk in the park. It can be unpredictable and stressful. There are no departments to call if your computer freezes, or special benefits to cover you when you get sick. There is no supply room stocked with fresh post-it notes and number two pencils. For some people, finding meaningful employment inside a company would be a better solution than striking out on their own.
What is your perspective? For those of you who did leave, what advice would you give to human resource professionals who want to increase work flexibility? If you had been given more, would that have impacted your decision to leave?