Let's Lean In to Updating Our Work Culture!

Smart organizations are learning that they gain a great deal when they make it possible for new parents and workers with family responsibilities to slow down temporarily without being thrown from their top career track.
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Work-life balance signpost
Work-life balance signpost

Sheryl Sandberg's new book, Lean In, puts a spotlight on the shortage of women leaders in the work force. She underscores that motherhood is a time when many women get side tracked from their careers. She advises young women to "lean in" in order to stay on track, move up the hierarchy, and become leaders. Women who step back when they anticipate motherhood or are sidelined when they become pregnant are falling off the top career tracks. At MomsRising we celebrate mothers in leadership and value leaders like Sheryl who encourage and mentor other women to lead. This said, leaning in is not always possible, especially when work policies make it more challenging rather than less to meet responsibilities both at work and at home. Early in our careers we are least likely to have resources that give us the capacity to lean in. And pregnancies are not always uncomplicated, nor the children that follow. We salute women who have the capacity to "lean in" when pregnant and raising young children. We also ask organizations to step back and realize that career tracks and work culture can be structured in ways that are more compatible with the realities of the modern work force. Fact is smart organizations are learning that they gain a great deal when they make it possible for new parents and workers with family responsibilities to slow down temporarily without being thrown from their top career track.

While some workplaces are embracing policies that are a better fit for the modern work force, others are in denial and this undermines the economy and our families. Recently Yahoo announced that it is ending its policy of allowing employees to work remotely. The fact that an Internet company, which has contributed to the ability of people to work from home, a capacity that helps mothers in particular, would end this long-standing practice is troubling, especially given the extensive data that affirms the advantages of remote work options.

Flexible work environments are highly effective for many jobs and a boon not just for parents or others with family obligations, but for anyone. Now, after two weeks of backlash, the end of remote work at Yahoo sounds a bit less hard and fast. Perhaps they realized that they would loose valuable employees and be less competitive when attempting to hire new talent with a "no remote work" policy -- not to mention the respect of their customers

Yahoo is not the only company retreating to old school work culture. Best Buy recently announced that they are terminating their Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) program, a ground breaking management program based entirely upon A worker's performance. ROWEs have no requirement to track time, only to track outcomes. The program has a history of eliminating non-performers, increasing productivity and reducing turnover. Nonetheless Best Buy is returning to a more traditional management model. There is a new CEO at Best Buy and he no doubt feels the need to redecorate, CEO-style.

Best Buy is struggling because the marketplace for electronics has changed radically in the last decade. Online competition is potentially deadly. Lacking the capacity to change this leadership has brought back old fashioned management practices. Now employees must ask managers for permission to work from home, go to the doctor or pick up a child early, which feels safer and more "businesslike" to old school leaders. (Don't worry, no permission slip is required to go to the bathroom.) Once again, workers with responsibilities outside the workplace are likely to be most hard-pressed by this change.

It is disappointing to see leaders lose sight of the basic principle that when employees are empowered to meet their responsibilities both at work and outside of work, everyone benefits. Technological advances have redefined where and how it's possible to work productively. Widespread access to the Internet makes it possible for many people to work effectively from nearly any location. In response to these realities more and more employers have introduced work-from-home and other flexible work policies which have made work fit better for a broad swath of workers. This has even created important opportunities for people who otherwise could not work for pay outside the home. Now is not the time to roll back its workplace practices to the 1950s or even the 90s. This direction hurts employers and employees alike.

Instead of diminishing remote work options and employee self determination, employers would be well advised to expand these policies to include more workers. Overall, from the highly paid to those making minimum wage, far too few people in America have flexible work options -- almost three-fourths of working adults say they don't control their work schedules at all. [1] In fact, the top reason identified by highly educated and trained women for leaving the "fast track" is the lack of family time. [2] This is a major loss to businesses. Smart employers such as Deliotte and the University of California Berkeley have redesigned their career tracks with the express intention of retaining talented women and men who choose to or need to slow down for whatever reason. The ability to work remotely and flexibly is a key component of the ability to modernize the design of most career tracks.

Thank you, Sheryl Sandberg, for highlighting the need for more women in leadership. Let's make sure that our employers lean toward modern work policies that better fit our modern workforce in addition to to supporting young women who want to "lean in."

[1] AFL-CIO, "Family Friendly Work Schedules."
According to the AFL-CIO, "One study found that flex-time is available to nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of workers of more than $71,000 a year but to less than one-third (31 percent) of working parents with incomes less than $28,000." American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, "Family Friendly Work Schedules"
[2] 7. Hewlett and Buck Luce, "Off-Ramps and On-Ramps," 5.

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