Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Mom Entreprenuers

More and more moms are finding that starting their own business is the best way to find family friendly work. According to a recent article I came across, a study by the Center for Women's Business Research reported that women own nearly half of the privately held businesses in the United States. Further, one in every eleven women is an enterprenuer!

Kaye Bowles, the author of the article, suggested that more women start businesses because of the flexibility that your own business offers. I agree. I see more and more moms (and dads) starting their own business because of the frustration of working for someone else.

I know I've shared many examples of how my own business has helped me find the flexibility I need. Again tomorrow I've been able to easily rearrange my schedule to make it to my kids' school Halloween parties. There is just something about that feeling of control that really helps you feel that you are doing well for your family.

The article points out, however, that you must pursue a business opportunity that you are passionate about. While you have control over your schedule, you still have to work hard to make a business succeed. If you don't like what you're doing, your family will sense it. Work that causes you to bring home frustrations is often not very family friendly.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Staying In

It is a rainy, cold Saturday afternoon and I couldn't be happier. We attended a Halloween Party for the kids this morning, but we have no other plans the rest of the day. I have on a cozy sweatshirt and fuzzy slippers on and I have my feet up in my favorite recliner getting ready to watch a movie with my son.

On days like this, I ask myself why we have to be so busy all of the time. Sometimes I feel like I just go from one commitment to the next, never actually enjoying what I do. I feel stressed out a lot, and I know that it is all self-induced. That is, I stretch myself thin, trying to keep my kids involved in things and always trying to accomplish as much as possible in a day.

It helps me sometimes to read books by 'real' moms that aren't always trying to be the perfect supermom. Here are some of my favs:
  • Confessions of a Slacker Mom by Muffy Mead-Ferro
  • The Three Martini Playdate by Christie Mellor
  • Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott

Any other good ones out there?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Who You Know

When it comes to finding family friendly work, it s not always what you know that is important. Most often, it is who you know. Finding a job using your network of contacts has many advantages.

For example, through your network you can often learn of job opportunities that have not yet been made available to the public. Often jobs are filled through referrals before an advertisement is placed. Further, you can often learn through a contact if a company actually lives up to its' family friendly claims.

Many traditional opportunities for networking exist. You can go to parties that you are invited to, or try to stay after an important meeting to get to know key players at your company.

But it is the Internet that has given us the most opportunity to network. There are of course the well known social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace. But from a business perspective we are starting to see some more professional online networking opportunities as well.

For example, I have spent some time this evening updating my contacts on www.LinkedIn.com. It seems to be a widely used site that allows you to enter your personal network with the opportunity to expand your network through your own contacts.

If you have done your research and want to apply at a company that you think is family friendly, such a networking site can help you find the right contact to submit your resume to. And at the worst, you have established a few solid contacts on the way.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I Can't Help But Ask...

Every time I meet another parent, I rush to ask them about their work arrangement. I try to be casual, starting with "so what do you do?" From there, I have to know if they have any flexibility at work, and if they work in any kind of unique flexible arrangement I insist on asking for every detail.

When I was writing my book, people understood this uncontrollable need to learn about the different kinds of arrangements parents have negotiated. But even now that the book is finished, I still can't help my compulsion to learn about how other parents balance work and family. Obviously it is something I am passionate about, enought at least to write a book. But, I think it goes beyond that. In my own struggle to spend time with my kids without sacrificing my career, I find some comfort in learning that others have made efforts to find balance.

This week I chatted with two ladies with great work arrangements. Beth is an acocunt manager at a private airport. She works three, twelve-hour days (Sunday-Tuesday). Her husband works a traditional workweek and her parents watch her kids on Monday and Tuesday during the day. She is considered full-time and receives full benefits, but still gets to spend four full days a week with her kids.

Allison is a speech therapist, currently working just one day a week at a nursing home (second shift). She also fills in for other therapists on an occasional basis. While she has only a part-time income, she has complete flexibility and is able to keep her skills and licensing up-to-date so she can easiliy return to full-time work at any time she wants.

These are two from just this week. I am suprised on a regular basis about how many creative work arrangements parents have negotiated with their employers. I'm sure there are many more out there, and I plan to keep asking.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Living Cheap

I was talking with another mom this morning about her work. She said she loves her job, but could make more money if she worked more. But she has decided not to, because she wants to spend time with her kids.

Is her retirement account suffering? Has she stopped saving for her kids' college? No. Instead of letting her family friendly work schedule affect her financial stability, her and her husband are cutting back in areas where it doesn't matter. They have older cars with no car payment, don't have cable TV and try not to eat out too much.

Financial management is an essential step in creating family friendly work. I'd love to remodel my bathroom, and buy all new furniture (everywhere in my house- everything we have is old!). But, instead, I get to spend a few extra quality days with my kids each week. It is a good trade-off.

There are lots of resources out there to help you better manager your money. Check out www.cheapskatemonthly.com, www.frugalvillage.com or www.frugalmom.com for some ideas to get started.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Why Flexibility Works

There are many reasons why a flexible work arrangement is a good thing. Obviously flexible work allows parents to better meet the needs of their children and experience less stress when trying to balance work and home life.

I have also pointed out that flexible work benefits companies through increased productivity and improved employee retention. A recent article by John Halamka, a Chief Information Officer at a healthcare facility makes a few good points (see article here). Some key points:

- Often in-office distractions reduce productivity. Therefore, allowing an employee the flexibility to work from home may increase productivity.
- An employee with a long commute can have more time (to work, or at home), by working fewer but longer days.
- We have so many options to communicate via technology, face-to-face meetings are not always necessary.

Halamka goes on to point out some concerns with flexible work such as how to hold employees accountable and security issues. However, most of these you can overcome and the pay-off is worthwhile.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Who Doesn't Want Family Friendly?

Even companies with good intentions can have challenges supporting their employees. Many enlightened companies do now offer policies and programs that provide support to working parents. These family friendly companies seem to be on the right track to attracting and retaining satisfied and productive employees.

That is, unless you are not a parent. As a recent brief New York Times article points out, kid-free workers aren’t always impressed with a company’s dedication to becoming family friendly. And their lack of support is not without reason. In many work environments, those without children do not receive the same consideration as those with children.

When exceptions in a work schedule or other obligations are requested, managers often make value judgments when making their decision. A manager will often grant a request if it involves an obligation for a child, but deny a request made for other personal reasons. A student of mine was just telling me the other day that in a previous job she was often asked to stay late when others were not. She did not have children and was even told a few times that it didn’t matter if she worked late, since she didn’t have anything else to do.

So what is a company to do? Can a company support working parents without stepping over those that don’t have children? I think they can. In fact, those policies and programs targeted at working parents can often benefit all employees. If a company designs flexible work options, generous time-off policies and other benefits for working parents, they should make sure that all employees are eligible to take advantage of these as well. Doing so will likely give the company the same return of increased productivity and loyalty by employees, parents or not.

Managers should also avoid making value judgments when it comes to granting employees time-off or other exceptions. If an employee needs to leave work early for a personal emergency, a manager should not judge if the reason for taking the time-off is important or not. The manager should focus on the business impact of the decision. Is this a responsible employee who will make-up the work if needed? Is there an important deadline or other work-related reason that makes the accommodation impossible? The manager should base his or her decision on a business need, not a personal judgment about what is a personal emergency. An employee without children very well might have a personal emergency that is just as important as one that involves a child.

I’ve heard some say that benefits should be called “life friendly” instead of “family friendly.” That might just be a good idea.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Take a Vacation

I suggest often that you should take a break, take some time for yourself. But while I take off a weekend here or there, taking time off is something I don't really do a good job of myself. I really cannot remember the last time I took a full week off from working. I'm thinking it might have been a trip to Denmark in 1999.

As Julie, a blogger for the Chicago Tribune points out, taking some serious time away from work is important to reduce stress and actually be a better employee. Her discussion (here) mentions directives from some companies to their employees on the importance of taking time off.

That is one thing I miss about working in the corporate world: paid vacation. If I take time off, I don't get paid. Further, I don't have anyone to cover my work if I am away. While I love my work arrangement, and I know I wouldn't the flexibility I have now if I worked for someone else, I do wish I could just walk away for a week (or maybe more!).

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Want to get involved?

A few days ago I mentioned the lack of governmental support for working families. I don't think that many would argue against the idea that the government could do more to "encourage" companies to support parents.

However, having spent many years in the corporate environment, I am not sure that government intervention is the best approach. In my experience, companies put together better programs/resources/policies when they do so to be competitive. That is, (most)companies will comply with government regulations. But, they won't go beyond the minimal requirements. On the other hand, if competitive pressures to get top talent require a company to offer such programs/resources/policies, then they will likely do so. Of course we aren't there yet, but I predict that more and more companies will begin to offer family friendly work options.

Some companies, however, will not make changes unless they are forced to. So if you are looking for a way to help encourage our government to provide families with support, check out Moms Rising, a grassroots organization to support mothers. Further, 9 to 5, a National Organization for Working Women, recently released a report laying out an agenda for governmental suport (check it out here). If nothing more, strong support of these efforts will help send a message to companies that support for working families is needed.

Monday, October 8, 2007

National Work and Family Month

Well I have returned from my restful weekend and as usual, I am now swamped! A few days away always leads to a week or two of playing catch-up. But, we had a wonderful weekend of eating, drinking, girl-talk, massages, swimming, sight-seeing and general fun!

As I worked to get back into the swing of things today, I found a note I'd written about National Work and Family Month. Apparently back in 2003, Congress passed a resolution to make October a month that we recognize what companies are doing to promote work and family balance. The Alliance for Work-Life Progress (AWLP) was involved in this effort and provides a nice outline of the resolution here.

While I think it is good that the government has made some recognition of the fact that managing work and family is tough, couldn't they do more than pass a meaningless resolution? What benefit does this resolution provide for working families? While the AWLP provides some useful suggestions of what a company can do to honor this resolution, I don't think many companies really do much of anything (unless they can garner some publicity from it).

Shouldn't we expect our government to provide a bit more support to working families? As I've mentioned before, we lag severely behind most other industrialized countries in benefits provided to working parents. Wouldn't efforts to support quality childcare and flexible working options do us more good than a resolution to "recognize" work and family challenges? If they really recognize the struggle, shouldn't Congress do something to help?

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Weekend Get-a-Way

I leave (quite early) tomorrow morning to go meet up with my college roommates for our annual reunion weekend. Each year the three of us pick a location and fly in to spend an entire weekend kid-free. This year we are headed to the new home of one of my pals, Philadelphia. However, we'll be staying at a hotel instead of her home to make sure she gets a break too.

I was mentioning the get-a-way to a colleague whose children are grown and she said "good for you" and then followed with "I never felt comfortable leaving my children when they were young." What?? I know that there are many parents out there that feel this way, so please forgive me, but give me a break! I am leaving the kids with their father, not some stranger. He is for the most part perfectly capable of taking care of them (maybe not dressing them in matching clothes, but I am sure he will feed them and make sure they sleep, at least some).

And I really need this. Especially after this week of juggling schedules trying to make sure they were taken care of while they were sick. This is a weekend for me, to allow me to relax and rejuvenate. As a result of my time away, next week I will be a much better mom!

I'll let you know how it went when I return.....

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Sick Child Care

I think I just wrote about this a few weeks ago, but again this week we were plagued by sick days. Yesterday wasn’t too difficult. I could work from home except for a one-hour class I teach, which my husband covered over his lunch. Today was more difficult, I had a training program that I was giving to a client, and my husband had several urgent meetings. My in-laws and mom came through taking shifts to take care of the kids until I could get home.

The kids were, of course, just sick enough to not go to school. But, not really that sick. My son woke up with a fever that blocked him from going to school, but it was gone by 9am. The kids had a great day hanging out with grandparents. In fact, they have asked if they can be sick again tomorrow.

For us, today was a panic trying to coordinate last minute childcare for only mildly ill kids. I would love to see a “sick childcare” center open around here. Sick childcare provides care for mildly ill children. It is for cases just like we had today where your child may be contagious, so you don’t want them to go to school. But, they are not seriously ill where they need you there. These centers have health care professionals on staff that provide supervision and care for the sick children.

Interested in learning more? There is actually a non-profit organization that exists to promote the establishment of sick childcare centers. Learn more about them here.