Saturday, June 30, 2007

Generation Y

A movement to change America’s corporate culture may be on the way. Today’s college graduates have different ideas of success than previous generations, and will likely start demanding the changes many parents have quietly desired. Employers may soon realize they must create a more flexible work environment in order to recruit and retain young talent.

“Generation Y” born somewhere between the early 80’s and the late 90s, seems to have their work/life priorities in order. See the recent BusinessWeek article here, that points out that these workers are generally more motivated by personal self-fulfillment than success climbing the traditional career ladder.

I teach at a small college and I’ve seen the shift in the priorities of today’s college students. Every year my Introduction to Business class comprised mostly of freshman researches a career of interest. At first I was surprised by how many students chose to research starting a business. But then I figured out they don’t want to work for someone else. They watched their parents work under inflexible conditions and they want a different kind of lifestyle.

In addition to their own desire to have time in their lives for something more than work, Gen Y knows that you don’t have to be tucked into a sunless cubicle to work. They grew up in an era of rapidly advancing technology and they know how to work remotely. They worked on group projects without ever meeting in person, and worked on class assignments on laptops while sitting on the college green.

Maybe as parents we should embrace today’s youth and work with them to start making real change in the work world. The only way companies will start offering more flexible work options is if workers start demanding them.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Return-to-Work Interview

A friend who stayed at home for a while recently asked me about how to talk about her time at home in an interview. During my HR career, I have interviewed many women trying to re-enter the workforce and I can tell you, how you talk about your time at home is extremely important to your success in getting a job.

In general, most companies seek employees who are smart, responsible and conscientious about their work. You must make an effort in the interview process to demonstrate these qualities. To succeed in the return-to-work interview, you must:

  • Be prepared to explain why you decided to leave the workforce and stay at home. If your decision is what you felt was best for your family, then state that! However, be careful that you don't say something that causes the employer to question your abilities. For example, don't share that you were over stressed and couldn't manage your time while working. The interviewer will question your ability to manage work and family now.
  • Talk about things you did while at home that kept your skills sharp. Your volunteer work, online selling or networking with other professionals will show that you are a viable candidate for the job.
  • Express clearly why you want to return to the work at this point and why you are the perfect candidate for the job at hand. This is not the time to share that your family is short on cash and you are returning to work against your better judgment.

Confidence is the key to successfully returning to work. Spending time preparing for the interview will build your confidence!

Monday, June 25, 2007

It Isn’t Always Easy

Today I was officially off work, but I am never really completely off work. As a consultant, there is always the possibility that a client might need me on a day that I am off. As a college instructor, there are always papers that need grading, or a next class to prepare.

Today was one of those days. I was home with my kids this morning when I received a call from a client with an issue that needed resolved immediately. I usually do not to answer the phone when I am with the kids, but I had already received one desperate message from the client so I knew it was important.

The kids were good for most f the call, but clicked on their CD player at one point and I did a frantic dance waving and silently threatening them trying to get them to turn it off and be quiet for just a few more minutes. The stress I felt by the end of the call left me wondering what I was doing. Why do I do work that could call me away from my kids? Wouldn’t it be easier to not even be working at all?

But then I realized that the stressful situation only lasted about 15 minutes. The rest of the day I spent hanging out around the pool with my kids. And while tomorrow I will be working all day, I truly love what I do. And I know that while I am working, my kids are in good hands, having a great time.

It is not easy to work when you have a family. But, it is not always easy for my stay-at-home friends either. Bottom line, it isn’t always easy to have a family. Whether you work or you don’t work, you face daily challenges. The fact that I do have work that I enjoy gives me one more reason to keep going at it!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

American (Parent) Inventor

Last week I caught an episode of the reality TV show, The American Inventor. I was not surprised to find a few parents sharing their inventions. One dad with a hearing impaired child invented a special accessory for her hearing aid that held it in place while she was playing. A mom presented an idea for a disposable wrap grocery cart handles to help keep kids riding in the carts germ free. It is just like the old saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention.” Parents come up with solutions to problems they have, and sometimes their solutions are something others can use.

A few parents have made it big with their ideas. Julie Aigner-Clark is now a millionaire after selling her Baby Einstein Company to The Walt Disney Company. Last year BusinessWeek posted a great video story on other parents, find it here.

If you have the next big invention for kids, check out for ideas and resources. This could be your path to family friendly work. Proceed with caution however, as starting something on your own can lead to work that is more time consuming than working for someone else. Set your time boundaries and stick to them.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Every working parent experiences some kind of guilt. If you have young children, you might feel like you are abandoning them by going to work, or that a childcare provider will get to experience more precious moments with your child than you will. If you have school-aged children, there is a good chance that your work will cause you to miss an important event, or perhaps you won’t be able to volunteer at the school as other parents do.

If you don’t always feel guilty, you probably feel guilty about that too. I’ve determined that guilt goes hand in hand with working parenthood. That is, you will likely always feel guilty, unless you make the conscious decision not to let guilt overcome you.

And there is reason to let the guilt go. Working does not mean you do not care about your children. Your children are likely one of the reasons you want to be successful at work. Further, holding a job does not mean you do not spend time with your children. In fact, recent study by a University of Maryland researcher found that working moms today actually spend on average the same, or more time with their children than stay-at-home moms did in the 1970’s (See article here). The difference exists because the way we live has changed. We have many more shortcuts that allow us to spend more time with our children instead of doing domestic work. Further, parents now are more willing to sacrifice other things in their lives to find more time for children.

So if you are feeling guilty, take some time to seriously consider how you spend your time. If you are really unhappy with how much time you spend with your kids, then do something about it. Now is the time to change your work arrangement to meet the needs of your family and get past the guilt!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Is At-home Work Family Friendly?

Many parents seek work that they can do at home, opting out only of sending their kids to daycare or a babysitter's. But sometimes working with kids around creates more stress than you have when working outside of the home. I do take my kids to a babysitter a few days a week, but often I try to work while they are here. It is easy if they are sleeping. But if I have to get something done while they are awake, I usually end up only with more stress. My work may not have the same quality, or a client may have to hear a crying child in the background. Worse yet, my kids may suffer. What fun is it for mom to be home if all she does is tell the kids to "shh!"

If your plan for family friendly work is to work from home, you must take some time to make sure you create an arrangement that is actually family friendly. That might mean engaging the help of someone to watch your kids, waiting until they are in school to start working at home, or even just taking on less work so you aren't as distracted from your kids. talks further about the work-at-home dilemma and provides some great practical advice here.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Work as Play

Today I gave my son Hank an option; he could hang out at the house and watch a movie, or he could go on rounds with my Dad. My Dad has a part-time job as a security guard and must make the 2-hour trek checking building locks each day. My son enthusiastically chose to go with my Dad. It wasn’t that he didn’t know it was work, he did. The fact is, my son thinks work is cool.

He loves to ask me about my work and often sets up his own “work” in his playroom, mimicking my office set-up with his playroom table and play cash register as a computer. His favorite play activity is pretending to work in a variety of professions including the classics such as firefighting and police work, along with some unique professions such as lifeguarding, housekeeping, and very recently he spent an afternoon pretending to be a furniture salesperson (I had to buy my own sofa before I could sit on it).

He enjoys work because we’ve made a point to let him know that work is not a bad thing. Work is not something that keeps us away from our kids. Instead, work is an important part of our lives that we enjoy. Work allows us to have the home, food and other things in our lives. I think this is an important part of my family friendly work. We have embraced work instead of making it a bad thing. As a result, our kids do not resent our work, or resent us for working.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Talking About Kids

I attended a conference today that just happened to be in my hometown, about three hours away from where I live now. I brought the kids with me last night and they stayed at their grandparent’s while I went to the conference. When I met up with my colleagues at the conference I shared my story of the long, frustrating drive involving my potty-training 2 year-old who needed to stop every twenty minutes or so. The other parents of toddlers traded some stories; those with older children finding amusement in our current troubles.

The exchange reminded me of how important it is to work in an environment where you are comfortable talking about your kids. I have a friend who works in a corporate setting she describes as a “good ole’ boys” office. If she is late for work, or has another conflict due to her kids, she blames the traffic or some other non-kid related event for the problems. She knows if she gets the “mom” label, her career will never move forward.

I know that my pursuit for family friendly work means that I need to work where I feel I can talk about my kids. I don’t need to work with other parents, or even somewhere that celebrates parents. I just need, at the very least, to feel comfortable talking about them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Dads Have Families Too

A recent survey by points out that work/family balance is not just an issue for moms. Their Father’s Day survey found that if money were no object, more than half (68%) of those surveyed would consider staying home with kids. The survey reported also that Dads look favorably on workplace benefits that support family balance such as flexible work options and paternity leave (see press release here).

But, is the workplace really ready to allow Dad to value his family? In my research, I found that men still face a stigma if they take advantage of benefits created by companies to support working moms. Men must often defend their request to work a flexible schedule and must also work hard to convince their employer that they are still committed to their job if their schedule request is granted. I even spoke to one new Dad who was advised by his boss that he should code his time off for a newborn as vacation time instead of Family Leave so that others wouldn’t get the wrong idea.

I believe that we must address the needs of both working moms and dads if the work world will ever truly be family friendly. Further, flexible work options and other family friendly benefits will ultimately benefit all workers. Anyone that wants to enjoy life outside of work will benefit from flexibility and other opportunities to find balance in their lives.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Help Wanted

On Sunday mornings I always find some time to read through the 'help-wanted' ads in our local paper. It is interesting to see what kind of opportunities exist and I often find it inspiring for my work. Reading employment ads can help you focus on what kind of work you want to do. As you read ads, you should make notes of what you find attractive about different types of jobs. If you do this on a weekly basis and keep looking at your notes, eventually you will see a pattern emerge that might provide you with some insight into what you really want to do. You can also get a feel for the type of qualifications different companies are seeking.

This morning I read an ad that I found particularly appealing. I read the job description over a couple of times and considered for a moment whether or not I was on the right path. Maybe returning to work full-time in a corporate environment would be interesting. But that thought only lasted a few minutes. I know some about the company in this ad, particularly that they do not welcome flexible schedules. For me, right now, the schedule is more important than the job itself.

Saturday, June 9, 2007


Last night after returning home from dinner out, with the kids tucked in bed asleep, I did some work. I didn't do too much, just returned some e-mails and checked out some websites. That is what I love about my work situation, the flexibility to work when I can. In turn, I can also just spend a sunny afternoon at the park with the kids when I want.

The key is finding work you enjoy that also allows you to have the type of flexibility that you want or need. In many cases, that involves working from home. However, you must proceed with caution in searching out work-at-home opportunities. There are many scams out there so you must evaluate your options carefully. If you come across a website that suggests you can work at home, but doesn't really say what you would be doing up front, pass on it. The same goes for any opportunities that require an upfront fee.

But, with some creativity and hard work, you can generate income while still staying at home. I recently came across an article from ABC News that is filled with some great work-at-home ideas. Check out it here!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Getting Help

A few days ago I caught part of some talk show about stressed-out moms. A woman was relating her tales of disorganization and general chaos around her house. She was a stay-at-home mom, and surprisingly stated that she formerly was a working mom and felt her life was more under control when she was working full-time! At first I didn't get it. I mean, if she was able to manage three kids, a home and work full-time, why couldn't she manage three kids and a home without working?

And then she shared the problem. When she was working, she had lots of help from others. She had a regular sitter, her mother and other family members who often pitched in to help out. Her husband did his fair share of domestic duties. But, once she started staying home full-time, she was on her own.

Whether you stay-at-home, work-at-home or work outside of the home; outside help makes your life easier. I have a sitter for my kids and my mom available to help. But, I have also made friends with other moms and we help each other out when we can. Whether it is picking something up at the store or from the school for me, or watching my kids while I run a quick errand, other moms save me often.

If you don't have friends that are parents, find some! You can meet other parents through the PTA or school activities, or just by walking around the neighborhood. I know some moms who have found new parent friends online. For example, you can find a playgroup at Get out there and get some help!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Extreme Flexibility

Imagine a job where you show up at the office only when you want to, never punch a time clock and never attend a meeting. If you want to go shopping in the afternoon, you could just leave. You could work at home when you want, and attend your kid’s events or even just volunteer at their school.

Employees at the corporate office of Best Buy in Minnesota have just this type of arrangement. They call it a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE). Employees are accountable only for getting their jobs done. That is, their performance is judged based on whether or not they meet pre-determined objectives for their job, attendance is not a concern. Even hourly workers have flexibility to work when they want.

According to an article in BusinessWeek, productivity is up on average 35% in departments that have implemented ROWE (see full article). It just makes sense. Research has consistently supported the idea that workers who have the flexibility to meet their personal needs are more committed to their employers and work harder.

What I find most interesting about Best Buy’s ROWE is that it is an employee-driven program. Top management wasn’t aware of ROWE until the movement was well under way. This, I believe, is the key to increasing the number of organizations that offer flexible work options. Companies are resistant to implementing flexible work despite the growing body of research that supports it. Managing flexible workers takes more effort and often management doesn’t know where to start. Therefore, employees must start the movement by requesting more flexibility. Moreover, employees must be prepared to show management how flexible work will succeed.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Guidance from the EEOC

Last week the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance for companies on how to protect the rights of caregivers. Caregivers include parents, grandparents and others who have children, as well as those that have personal responsibilities in caring for elderly parents or other relatives. (Check out the guidance at

This attempt to outline the few legal protections for parents and others in the workplace is a start at supporting families through preventing discrimination against caregivers. However, the U.S. lags far behind the rest of the world in providing such support. For example, the U.S. is one of only five industrialized (out of more than 170) countries that does not guarantee some form of paid maternity leave; the others are Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea.

This brings to light an important debate. Should the government legislate parental rights in the worklace? Or should we leave it to businesses to meet the needs of parents because they want to do the right thing, or because they have to do the right thing in order to attract and retain the best workers?

Friday, June 1, 2007

Watching People Work

As I was getting Hank (my 4-year old) ready for bed last night, I flicked on the TV and caught a bit of The Office, one of the few shows I watch. Hank watched for a minute and then asked if I liked the show. He paused thoughtfully after my affirmative response and then asked, "Why do you like to watch people work?"

Good question. I do like to watch people work. I am intrigued by how people interact with each other in the work world, and also by how the work world interacts with their personal lives. Even though The Office is a fictional comedy, its' storylines illustrate the fact that you cannot completely separate work from your personal life.

Yet most don't even consider their personal life when making career decisions. I love my work and part of the reason I love what I do is that it allows me to spend the time I want with my family. I spent a couple of years as a career counselor to MBA students and was surprised by the lack of consideration these young professionals gave to their personal lives. For example, many aspired to be Wall Street bankers and were surprised when I asked if they wanted to have a family some day. I suggested that they consider how they would manage having a family if they were expected to work 14 hours or more each day.

We were told when we were young that we could be whatever we wanted. But, I know that no one told me that I needed to think about where family would fit in the mix. I just assumed it would work out. I am fortunate. I pretty much stumbled into a work arrangement that works for my family. Not everyone is as fortunate. It may take a significant effort, including a career change in some cases, for some to find family friendly work.