A Tale of Two Countries … and Their Respective Challenges

Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family. This post originally appeared in our member newsletter.

For me, the month of March has included more than the run-of-the-mill work and family experiences. Two in particular stand out and speak to the complexities of the global challenges we face in these two related spheres, work and family, which dominate much, if not most, of our daily lives.

On the work front, I had my first opportunity to visit Brazil where we hosted our annual Global Workforce Roundtable Summit with 40 representatives from 14 multi-national companies in attendance. Danielle Hartmann, our Director of Corporate Partnerships, did a wonderful job constructing the agenda and selecting speakers that gave us an in-depth understanding of the laws, cultural norms, and workplace practices that must be understood when working in this vibrant country. The gathering was a great success.

Upon returning to the US and on the family front, my mother, who is now 90, had a series of minor strokes which impacted her significantly. These episodes left my family, and specifically my sister who was her primary caregiver, with the unwelcome decision that our Mom needed around the clock care. Her move to a nursing facility was traumatic and emotional as many of you can personally attest to from your own experience. Ironically, one of my colleagues at the Center was also transitioning her mother to a similar care facility at nearly the same time (that is two people in a Center with a staff of 7). In my case, a sister and her husband who had retired early and had my mother live with them for the past year made the logistics of the move less difficult for the rest of the family – but certainly not for them. I’m not sure what we would have done had my sister and brother-in-law not been able to manage this difficult and complex situation. Their efforts minimized the time impact for the rest of the family, but not the emotional one. In my colleague’s case, the children of her elderly parent were still working so the move was emotionally traumatic and enormously time consuming for all.

Both Brazil and the United States are large countries (populations of 200 million and 300 million respectively). They are both rich in natural resources and have diverse and high impact economies (the 1st and 2nd largest economies in the Western Hemisphere). Brazil is a country that has had many challenges in the past especially on the economic front where they experienced periods of prolonged economic stagnation followed by times of hyper-inflation.

The US has also experienced its own booms and bursting bubbles. In the late 1990’s it was the dotcom meltdown and in the 2000’s the real estate industry. But our swings have not been as dramatic as those of our friends to the South.

But to move away from the macro-issues in both countries for a moment, I’d like to go back to the more personal perspective.

My impressions of Brazil were formed in Sao Paulo which makes any generalizations dangerous at best. It’s like judging the United States from a visit to New York which of course no self-respecting Bostonian would ever do. Brazil is clearly a country on the move with a vibrant, growing economy and a young population (average age is 29), but it faces challenges in terms of sustainability that come with that growth. The three lasting impressions I had of Brazil were its wonderful people, economic growth, and massive traffic jams that seemed just a few cars short of complete gridlock. And this as the city of Sao Paulo continued on a very aggressive business development path. I wondered what could be done to continue to foster the country’s economy while somehow maintaining or improving the quality of life for its citizens.

By contrast, the US is not in a high-growth period. Our economy remains sluggish and our unemployment rate, while hardly the worst of world’s major economies, remains too high. We also have an older population with 13% of our citizens over age 65. With the oldest baby boomers now reaching that age in large numbers that percentage is on the verge of a dramatic increase. As we debate the merits of guaranteed healthcare for all citizens in the nation’s highest court this week (which by contrast is a universal right in Brazil) we face an even larger problem called elder care that we have not begun to fully grasp. With MetLife reporting that the average price for a person to be cared for in a private room in a US nursing home is $70,000 per year, our spending on elder care may make the price of your child’s college education seem affordable. And the emotional toll, time investment, and lost work productivity resulting from this issue may make the economic costs seem like the least of the problem.

March was an excellent reminder for me – both professionally and personally – of the tremendous challenges that confront two great countries as they each search for ways to improve their quality of life. And an equally great reminder of the importance of the work we engage in on a daily basis.

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Taking Charge of Your Career and Life

In spite of the recent improvements in the US employment numbers, the last few years have been extremely trying for many individuals’ careers. While anytime is a good time to tweak your career management strategy, these days it is especially important to be sure your plans and your portfolio are up to date. This is especially true for three groups:

• Employees who feel they have been stuck in a less than ideal job. The numbers are actually startling. According to the Gallup Employee Engagement Index, it is estimated that 70% of American workers are disengaged at their job. About 50% report they simply don’t feel connected to their work. 20% are actively alienated from their work or employer.

• Employees who are rightly worried about the stability of their position. Since the recession began, we may feel we’ve been laboring beneath the Sword of Damocles, simply waiting for the bad news to come around to us. Obviously, this is unnerving and can lead to high levels of anxiety.

• Employees who struggle with their career-life fit. Those are the fortunate ones that have good jobs but feel the challenge of integrating their work with other life priorities is extremely difficult. These employees may go out looking for other jobs when, in fact, simply working with their manager and thinking creatively may allow them to happily stay in their current role.

For those of you who fall into one of these categories – that may be many or perhaps most of us – now is the time to reflect and take actions to re-focus your career strategy. I have written before about a new career model that Prof. Tim Hall has called the “Protean career”. Protean skills include being able to change frequently or easily, to be able to do many different things, to be versatile. A Protean career is one that is characterized by such adaptability and versatility.

To succeed in a Protean career, the individual must take responsibility for charting his or her own career path – one that leads to their definition of success. There are three characteristics that are foundational in managing a Protean career. First is simply committing to be proactive. Many of us say we’ll do that, but as the Gallup data suggests, most of us do not. Second is possessing a high degree of self-awareness (i.e. a clear sense of “identity”). Third is demonstrating adaptability; using our increased level of self-knowledge to adapt to the ever-changing professional and personal circumstances we encounter.

So where to begin? Once you have made the commitment to be proactive, you need know yourself. Specifically, to understand your skills, values, desired lifestyle, and career/life aspirations. How do you do this? In the Career Management and Work-Life Integration course I teach at Boston College, I ask students to complete a battery of exercises to increase their level of self-understanding. There are two activities in particular that are simple and fun to do:

• The first is the “Peak Experiences Exercise.” It asks participants to describe a number of events / moments when they felt particularly proud of an accomplishment or just happy with their life or their work. Reflecting on these moments can tell us a great deal about what we value, the skills we possess, and what we feel a strong emotional connection to.

• The second is the “5 or 10-Years-Out Exercise”. The goal is to paint a word portrait of what you would ideally like your life to look in the future. This is your personal vision. Simply writing down a detailed description of what you hope for greatly increases the likelihood that you will achieve it and will help you determine/consider the path you need to take to get there.

We’ve posted these exercises on our Center’s website homepage. If you have time, try them out. I believe you will find them enjoyable and they will start you on the road toward improved career health. You don’t want to be one of the 70% of the employees who aren’t excited to come to work each day. It isn’t fun, and can lead to your becoming what my old boss called a “WCRT” – that’s a walking cost reduction target for those unfamiliar with the acronym. My hope is that completing these exercises will represent the first step in taking charge of your career and life.

Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family. This post originally appeared in the BCCWF Member Newsletter. Click here to view the Fox 25 News Work-Life Wednesday interview on Managing Your Career.

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Christmas Presence beats Christmas Presents Every Time

Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work& Family.  This post originally appeared in our member newsletter. 
This week Jennifer Fraone appeared on one of Boston’s local news channels to do our monthly Work-Life Wednesday segment. We’ve been doing these regular pieces for nearly a year and it has been a great way for us to talk about our research, provide updates on new developments in the field, and offer some evidence-based advice on how individuals can flourish in the work-family aspects of their lives. The staff members of the Center take turns doing these pieces and we have all enjoyed the opportunity to experience what Andy Warhol memorably called our “15 minutes of fame” – although in this case, it’s closer to five minutes.

In her work and her writing, Jennifer frequently offers her thoughts, suggestions, and advice on what one can do to create greater work-life harmony to borrow a term from my friends in Singapore. In this week’s segment, she provided a number of excellent tips on maintaining balance during the stressful holiday season. One of her pearls of wisdom was “It’s more about presence than presents.” Jennifer discussed the fact that we often feel compelled to get everyone on our list a present. As a result, we spend much of our precious holiday time in frenzied malls hunting down the perfect gift, which often doesn’t prove to be that perfect. Instead, we might choose to slow down long enough to realize that spending time with our loved ones might prove far more valuable than something that comes in a box with a bow.

My own family is certainly not exempt from the “rushing around to buy presents syndrome”. But there are three things we do every year that are far more meaningful and memorable to all of us than any material gift could ever be. First, we do an annual pilgrimage to Providence, RI to see a wonderful and always unique rendering of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. We make an overnight of it and after the show enjoy a meal in one of Providence’s many wonderful Italian restaurants. Second, on a mid -December afternoon we go as a family to pick out our tree and then spend the early evening decorating it together (with the late, great Vince Guaraldi’s classic Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack always playing in the background.)

Finally, as many of you know, I am quite proud of my Irish-American heritage. So the third much beloved tradition is I drag the entire family to see A Christmas Celtic Sojourn. I’m the only one in the family who really loves Irish music so part of the beauty of this tradition is seeing the disappointed looks on my angelic children’s faces every year as I hold up the tickets and announce the good tidings that we will once again be attending this wonderful show. So every year, however reluctantly, the kids get dressed-up and truly seem to enjoy an evening of Irish music, storytelling and dance. Even though the kids are more excited about seeing Scrooge and decorating the tree than they are about their Gaelic evening, they are present in each of these three small but important traditions. And their presence is the greatest gift I receive each year.

I wish you happy holidays, a Merry Christmas, and a prosperous New Year!
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Work and Family Month: Large Policies, Small Moments

In honor of National Work and Family Month, I was asked to write some thoughts on the subject. Many excellent articles by our field’s leading thinkers have been appearing that explore policies and programs that could or should be implemented to advance the work and family agenda. Most convey that making progress will take large-scale organizational changes and perhaps new government policies, which will prove difficult in the present U.S. political environment.

Beyond all the needed strategic policy changes voiced by my colleagues, I also feel deeply that change will only occur when individuals make the right choices in those thousands of small moments that unfold over the course of their lives… which is perhaps a more daunting task than influencing our political discourse. So rather than repeat what has been said, let me share one personal example of a small moment that came to mind as I reflect on this occasion.

One of my endearing behaviors upon arriving home from work each day is to do a “quick final check” of my work email the moment I walk through the door. I’m not sure why I developed this habit, but I justify it as a necessary step in transitioning from work to family. I’m quite compulsive about this whether arriving home from my daily commute or returning from an extended business trip.

Last fall, I was on my way home at the end of the day after picking
up my (then) 15-year-old daughter. I pride myself on my openness to those meaningful father-daughter conversations one sees in the movies; where the dad demonstrates active listening and disseminates wisdom in large doses. But I like those conversations to occur on my schedule. On this particular day, Maggie and I discussed her potential areas of interest. It may have been related to college preparation or perhaps just increasing her involvement in extra-curricular activities. I offered the usual clichés: “Do something you are interested in” and, “Just follow your passion.” But my daughter was stuck and admitted her passions weren’t 100 percent clear.

Pulling into the driveway I was eagerly anticipating my email ritual and began to conclude the conversation by offering one last “pearl” to cement my place in the Fatherhood Hall-Of-Fame. As I reached for the car door, Maggie said, “There is one thing I am interested in.” Having made my closing point, my initial reaction was, “Let’s save that for another time.” Instead I fought my instinct and asked, “What is that?” “I’m interested in social media and how it can change things in the world” she replied.

I wasn’t sure what to say. I briefly pondered “You’re kidding” or “Don’t they have a chess club or ultimate Frisbee team at school?” But quickly realized this was one of those moments where further inquiry might be more helpful. So I asked what exactly she meant. She told me about young activists she admired who were doing charitable work around the world not through the Peace Corps or another large organization, but through individual efforts that they promoted via YouTube. She asked if she could show me their sites, and resisting the emails that were summoning me, I said “Sure.”

I was impressed by both the work of these caring Millennials, and also by Maggie’s feeling of connection to it. I told her we used social media at the Center to try to advance the work-family agenda. Maggie later explored and arranged a brief internship at our Center last summer with the help of our communications director. She learned more about our work and helped us develop our social media, including some videos to communicate “a day in the life at the Center for Work & Family.”

Then recently, Maggie asked Annie (her Mom), if she could take her to the Occupy Boston protests. She brought her flip-cam and captured the spirit and rallying cries of the movement. That night she quietly edited her video into a three-minute montage of the chanting crowds. On Tuesday, I was speaking at the Work-Life Expo in Minneapolis, and Annie emailed me a link to a Huffington Post article “Occupy Wall Street: Citizen Journalists Document Protests Nationwide.” When you scrolled down past the scenes of New York, LA, and Chicago, there was one video called Occupy Boston Chants from a 16-year-old “citizen journalist.”

I was obviously very proud of Maggie. But her accomplishment also caused me to reflect on that conversation we had in my car nearly one year earlier. Work emails and compulsive habits beckoned and the time was not of my choosing but life, as they say, happens. And on those all-too-rare instances when you have the awareness to seize the moment, you realize that no policy in the world is needed to be mindful of those you hold most dear.

Happy National Work and Family Month!!

Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family and lead author of The New Dad study on fatherhood.  This blog originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

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Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family.  This was originally posted in the BCCWF Member Newsletter.

Like most Americans, for me the tenth anniversary of September 11 brought with it a flood of emotions. At the time of this terrible event, I was the new director of the Center for Work & Family having started in my role there the week before. It was clear to me at that time that 9/11 was the most vivid example imaginable of the comingling of work and family. On that morning, our daughter Hannah, then nearly 4, was preparing for her first day of pre-school. Dressed well ahead of schedule in her favorite blue and white seersucker dress, she danced with excitement in our family room in anticipation of her big day. The phone rang about 9:00 AM and a friend of Annie’s suggested that we turn on our TV. The heart wrenching images we saw of the World Trade Center juxtaposed with Hannah’s exuberance will be etched forever in our minds.

In speaking to colleagues and friends during the weeks leading up to the anniversary, there seemed to be a split between those who felt compelled to focus on the day and what it marked and those who could not revisit those terrible events once again. I found that I fell into the camp of those that needed to relive and remember. Two things in particular stuck with me about 9/11/2011.

First, was an ESPN story about a former Boston College lacrosse player who lost his life on that fateful day (22 BC alumni died on 9/11). Thanks to a NY Times article, Welles Crowther became known to much of the country after 9/11 as the “man in the red bandana.”  Welles had been a trader in the World Trade Center and always carried a red bandana with him – a reminder of the one his father had given him as a small boy. It seems that a man who saved at least a dozen people’s lives in the South Tower on 9/11 wore a red bandana and that article of clothing became the key to his being identified. Others, including those he had saved, remembered him as the self-sacrificing hero who “gave the last full measure of devotion.” ESPN’s story recounted the events of Welles last hour so vividly and so well. When you have ten minutes, it’s well worth watching.

What struck me most about this story was what happened years later. In spite of being an equity trader, Welles had always dreamed of becoming a firefighter. As ESPN recounts, it was while in high school that he first volunteered with his local Empire Fire and Rescue in Nyack, NY. When he told his Dad shortly before 9/11 that he couldn’t spend the rest of his life as a trader and wanted to be a New York City firefighter, his father asked him if he really understood what he would be giving up to do so. After his death, when visiting Welles’s apartment, his parents found an unfinished application to the New York City Fire Department among his belongings. It seems he decided not to follow-through on his goal perhaps in part out of fear of disappointing his father. But on December 6, 2006 when Welles was posthumously made an honorary NYC Firefighter for his acts of heroism on 9/11, his father called it “the proudest day of his life.” It’s funny how even as loving parents and family members we may not always grasp the true source of our love and pride for those most dear to us.

Second, in recent months I had become quite discouraged by the deep divisions in the country and the partisan bickering and mean spiritedness that was on the news night after night. Then last Sunday, on a picture perfect morning that was so reminiscent of the terrible day a decade earlier, I watched as the family members of the 9/11 victims read the names of those who had died. As the photos of each victim were displayed at the bottom of the screen I, perhaps for the first time, fully grasped that the people lost on September 11th were as beautiful and as beautifully diverse as our country.

As the family members – who were also from all walks of life – came up two-by-two with an unrelated partner to read the names of the 3000 lost with such grace and dignity, I couldn’t help but be struck by the strength and character of my fellow Americans. At the end of alternating the reading of their assigned list, each person uttered a few words of love and remembrance for their own lost loved one. Very often this led to an understandable rush of emotion on the part of the speaker. But their partner, whether white or black, Hispanic or Jewish, Muslim or Irish-American, rich or poor, old or young, always seemed to offer just the simplest touch or gesture of love and support to bolster them. Watching this filled me with a great sense of hope for America, and the world.

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Chore Wars

Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family.  This was originally posted in the BCCWF Member Newsletter.

This week our research received significant international attention thanks to the cover story of Time Magazine titled Chore Wars. The subtitle makes the article’s main point: Let it go. Make peace. Men and women, it turns out, work the same amount. The author, Ruth David Konigsberg did her homework. In addition to reviewing our most recent fatherhood study in great detail, she also reviewed the work of and interviewed many leading experts in the field including UCLA sociologist Suzanne Bianchi (the only two-time winner of the Kanter award which we present each year with the Center for Families at Purdue), Ellen Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute, Arlie Hothschild, whose book The Second Shift (1989) solidified the notion that working women do much more than their male spouses, and Joe Pleck, one of the original gender experts who explored men’s issues.

The conclusion that Konigsberg comes to is that it’s time to let go of the outmoded notion that men are slackers at home and do less than their spouse in terms of contribution to the family. She looked at the combination of paid and unpaid work that individuals do and concluded that while women with children who work full-time do carry the heaviest load, 73 hours of paid work and family work each week, men who work full-time were a not-too-distant second averaging 68 hours a week regardless of whether their wife worked outside of the home full-time, part-time, or not at all. Women working part-time were doing slightly less at 66 hours and “non-employed mothers” were contributing 58 hours a week to the family. Her contention was that Hothschild’s findings were based on data collected nearly four decades ago. That was a time of transition when “white collar” women were beginning to work full-time in large numbers and men had not yet picked up the slack. While men have made dramatic changes in the last 40 years in terms of care giving and household chores, there remains an inequity on the home front for women. But at the same time, men on average are doing 18 more hours of paid work per week.

Most of the main points of the article seemed sound to me. First, the divide between what mothers and fathers are doing to support their families is not very great – you have to look at the big picture (or at least the combined picture of paid and unpaid work) to fully understand the pressures and strains that both members of the couple are feeling. Second that the myth of the “slacker dad” needs to be re-examined. In my mind it isn’t that the fathers are slackers. It’s that way too often, as our study The New Dad: Caring, Committed and Conflicted clearly demonstrated, from the day a baby is born men and women are channeled into roles based on outdated gender stereotypes. And finally, perhaps in large measure because of these gendered roles, women have far less “uncontaminated” leisure time than their spouse. Women tend to be the first port of call for every issue that arises in their family and as a result, their leisure time is filled with “just one quick question” or one small interrupt that doesn’t make leisure time feel all that leisurely.

Chore Wars is a catchy title and Konigsberg’s research seems quite extensive for her piece. But moving beyond the old paradigm will require that we stop seeing all this as a gender war.  Instead we should start meeting the challenges of work and parenting as a true partnership where men and women don’t view one another as adversaries or fall into the expected, pre-determined roles based on outdated mental models of who does what. Wars typically end with conversations that lead to negotiated treaties. It’s time we jumped directly to thoughtful conversations among partners to determine how the family can operate best keeping each partners’ work, family and life goals paramount as they seek to maximize their contributions to the family while maintaining some semblance of a life for themselves.

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1,000 Caring Fathers Counter Media Stereotypes

Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family.  This was originally posted on The Huffington Post.

Last week, the Boston College Center for Work & Family released the results of a study we completed on nearly 1,000 American fathers. “The New Dad: Caring, Committed and Conflicted” explores the experience of mainly “white collar” fathers who work in large American companies. The results present a clear picture of fathers who care deeply about their work and their families but who are struggling to be active, engaged parents while investing significant energy in successful careers.

At work, these new dads are succeeding by traditional measures: they work for highly respected companies, many are in leadership positions, and they are well paid. They are also succeeding in other important career aspects as well: 90 percent said they find the work they do meaningful, 87 percent said that they feel respected in their organizations, and more than 80 percent said they “really feel a part of the group of people they work with.” By any measure, this sounds like success.

At home, these men put a strong premium on good partnering and good parenting. They report spending more than 2.5 hours per work day with their children and more than three-quarters say they would like to spend even more time with the kids. They enjoy high levels of support from their spouse. When asked to rate six aspects they felt would define them as good fathers, being a breadwinner was important, but it ranked behind other roles including providing their children with love and support and being involved and present in their children’s lives. These are not the absent fathers of days past who saw their role as simply bringing home a paycheck.

Dividing their attention between work and family seems to be paying off for them and their employers. Four out of five fathers reported that their role as family members had a positive spillover for their employers. They reported that fatherhood puts them in a good mood and the happiness they derive from being fathers makes them better workers. Conversely, the support they received from their employers and their managers to live balanced lives led to higher levels of work-life alignment but also higher levels of job satisfaction, greater commitment to their employer, and a lower likelihood to look for jobs elsewhere.

What has proved difficult of course is their effort to “do it all” — to meet high career aspirations and to fulfill their expectations of being a good father. It was also challenging to be present in their children’s lives while they worked 45, 55, or more hours per week. And they were cognizant of the fact that their intentions to share equally with their spouse or partner in parenting responsibilities did not match with the reality: while 65 percent of the fathers said caregiving should be shared 50/50 with their spouse, only 30 percent said that was actually the case.

Just as it is important to take stock of the challenges faced by working moms, it is important to see the challenges that confront working dads reflect a significant shift in attitudes and expectations that’s been taking place over the last generation. What these fathers report offers concrete data that runs counter to some of the old stereotypes of workaholic, absent fathers who focus on career above all else. While television shows and the media seem intent on casting fathers as inept, clueless caregivers, this national sample of working fathers suggests otherwise and perhaps will help change outdated or inaccurate mindsets.

Based on what fathers are telling us, it’s clear that they carry an appreciation of the important role that fatherhood plays in their lives and the lives of their family members. A steady string of high-profile men behaving badly – a sit-com actor, a former governor, an international banking executive, a one-time Vice Presidential candidate and a former Congressman – may grab the majority of media attention. But from our research, we see American men who are striving to be good workers, good fathers, and good men.

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Work-Life Wednesday: The advantages and challenges of telecommuting

Jennifer Sabatini Fraone is Assistant Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family.

With the price of gas hovering near an all-time high, the daily commute is becoming more expensive.  At the same time, technology is making it increasingly possible for some workers to telecommute or work from home one or more days per week.  Should more organizations and employees consider this as an option?   This morning, I visited FOX25 News to discuss this with as part of our Work-Life Wednesday Series.

The Boston College Center for Work & Family published a comprehensive report a number of years ago entitled Bringing Work Home: Advantages and Challenges of Telecommuting. As I reviewed that report in preparation for my interview, I realized that while nearly ten years have passed, the issues revealed in that report have not changed.  Managers continue to use “face time” to evaluate whether or not an employee is working, and many organizational cultures still have not shifted to value (and measure) performance by results.

We need to continue to promote the business case for telecommuting and other flexible work arrangements as strategic ways to impact the bottom line and keep employees engaged, loyal and productive.  Let’s keep the conversation and the momentum going!

I encourage you to review our study and the other great research available on our website www.bc.edu/cwf. For more information on telecommuting and remote work, visit the Telework Research Network, Workshifting.com and 20 Essential Tips for Telecommuting Success.

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Yes, but are we happy?

Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family.  This blog was originally posted in our member newsletter.

In recent years, a lot of smart people have begun to pay attention to what would seem a pretty obvious question, “Are we happy?” Suddenly (actually not so suddenly but it is gaining much greater visibility of late) scholars from a whole range of disciplines -economics, psychology, sociology, management, etc. – are paying attention to whether we are getting any happier as time marches on. Economists, for example, look at whether economic prosperity brings greater happiness to a country and even begin to think we should use measures beyond GDP to evaluate the quality of life in a given country, a sort of Gross Happiness Index (GHI).

This month in search of greater knowledge on the subject and no doubt, an increased level of self-awareness on the topic, I read some research on the subject. One particularly good piece was called International Happiness: A New View on the Measure of Performance by David Blanchflower (an economist from Dartmouth College in the US) and Andrew Oswald (Dean of Research for Warwick University Business School in England). The authors did a good job of synthesizing a lot of research on the topic, and I thought I’d pass along my version of their findings, albeit in a less sophisticated form. Any mistakes made in an attempt to convey their work simply are my own and I offer apologies in advance to the authors. But since we are all in the business of trying to help people be happier and more fulfilled in their work and lives, I thought this simple checklist might be useful.

According to my reading of the authors, and their review of years of happiness studies, you are more likely to be happy if:

1.     You are young or old. If you are middle age, not so much.

2.     You are working. If you’re reading this newsletter, you probably get a point for this one.

3.     You are rich. You know that old cliché that money doesn’t buy happiness? It’s not true, it does! I always had my doubts about that one.

4.     You are well educated. It seems the more educated you are, the happier you are. Although for some people, the authors suspect this is because well educated people make more money. In which case, refer to point 3.

5.     If you are from Denmark, the Netherlands, or Ireland (being of Irish descent, I never thought we were a particularly happy lot, but I need the point so I won’t debate it.)

6.     If you are married or in a committed relationship. I didn’t run this one by Annie but I’m sure she would agree.

7.     You are in good health. This is kind of obvious but reflects an old saying my dad shared with me a hundred times. “If you have your health, you have everything.”

8.     Now the tough ones begin. If you exercise regularly. I wonder if monthly is considered regularly. I do it every single month.

9.     If you eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables.

10.  If you are slim.

I really enjoyed reading this well written and informative article. But I must admit I had no idea how unhappy I was until I did. The good news is, I’ll be improving my score on Point 1 in the very near future!

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Work-Life Wednesday: Workplace Flexibility

Jennifer Sabatini Fraone is Assistant Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family.

Work-Life Wednesday: Workplace Flexibility

Work-life Wednesday: Workplace flexibility: MyFoxBOSTON.com

I am extremely excited about our new partnership with Fox 25 Boston to air a monthly Work-Life Wednesday segment.  Work-life and work-family issues are truly universal, we are all striving for a fulfilling life in both the personal and professional realms.  I hope that this new series will bring these discussions into the public domain so that we can share our struggles and our joys as we navigate this adventure called life.

My interview with Kim Carrigan today focused on one of my very favorite topics, Workplace Flexibility.  I feel privileged to be working in this field during such exciting times. Momentum and energy are high and scholars, legislators, and workplace practitioners alike are striving to make flexibility the strategic new way of working.  We are also Creating a Culture of Flexibility within our organizations, to increase the agility and engagement  of our workforce and decrease costs.

I am happy to share some of the thoughts I put together for the interview today and encourage you to share your feedback!

While forward-thinking companies have been offering workplace flexibility programs for several decades, the practice has truly begun to gain momentum over the past year, as President and Mrs. Obama hosted a National Dialogue on Workplace Flexibility at the White House and follow-up events have been occurring around the country.  The next session is scheduled for May 4 in Cambridge, MA and will focus on Higher Education.

Why do you think the issue of flexibility is gaining so much attention?

Our workplaces and the workforce have changed dramatically since the industrial revolution, yet many of our organizations adhere to a rigid 9 to 5 mindset.  That type of schedule just doesn’t work any more in our 24/7 global marketplace, and progressive organizations are recognizing this and using flexibility strategically to help them meet their goals and their customer’s needs.

It is not only mothers or fathers who need flexibility, older workers may need to stay in the workforce longer, but want to work differently.  The millennials who are so used to being connected via technology are really demanding flexibility as they are so competent at working virtually and highly value their life outside of work.

Flexibility can take many forms: flex time, job-share, compressed workweek, telecommuting and more.  I think people often assume that working flexibly means working less, but many arrangements offer a shift in hours vs. a reduction in the amount of time spent working.  In fact, research shows that people who telecommute often put in more hours than their counterparts, because their drive to the office (and the stress involved) are eliminated.

What is the Boston College Center for Work & Family doing to help employers/companies offer these types of programs?

For over 20 years now, our Center has been assisting leading companies to shift not only their practices, but also their cultures so that they view employees as a whole person.  We do this by providing their HR leaders with access to research and also helping them to apply this research in a way that helps support their employees and their businesses.

The companies that we work with recognize that in our increasingly knowledge and service-based economy, if we don’t have the loyalty, motivation and ingenuity of our employees, what do we really have?  Not many people are out there making widgets anymore, our intellectual capital is our greatest asset and flexibility can help keep employees engaged and productive during these stressful times.

What about people who work for companies that don’t have a flexibility program in place?  How would you advise them?

I always recommend that employees view asking for flexibility like a business proposal.  A flexible work arrangement is not an entitlement, it is a new way of working that has to be a win-win for both the person and the organization.   Start by doing some research into how other companies are using flexibility, our website is a good place to start: www.bc.edu/cwf

Prior to approaching your supervisor, really think about how your role can be accomplished fully using the flex arrangement you are proposing.  If you recently had a negative review, you might want to improve your performance before asking. You need to be able to demonstrate how you are going to do your job with the new schedule, or if you are asking to telecommute, how you’ll do it working from home.  Keep in mind that some jobs may be more difficult to do flexibly and be creative and realistic about your request.  We recommend writing up a proposal and trying to anticipate what questions or concerns the manager might have.

Requesting a trial period is a good way to start, we usually recommend 2-3 months.  Managers are fearful that if they say “Yes”, the arrangement has to go on forever, even if it is not working out.  It’s then up to you to do your best to prove that the arrangement will work during that trial period. You’ve got to at least maintain if not improve your level of performance so you can go back to your supervisor with confidence and really make the case for continuing to work flexibly after the trial.

Many organizations have heard about flexibility but are cautious are unsure how to make it work for them.  We encourage leaders to review the resources available on our website and contact us about corporate partnership opportunities.  Here’s to Work-Life Wednesdays!

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