Sunday, December 28, 2008

Family Medical Leave Act

Over the holidays I had a conversation with my sister-in-law about some time off she had to take for a health problem. Her employer had been accommodating so far, but she felt that her boss was going to hold her need for flexibility against her in some way.

I asked her if her time-off was being counted as Family Medical Leave (under the FMLA), and she didn't know what I was talking about. Her employer has more than 50 employees (in a 75 mile radius), and as a result, she is covered by the Act (she also has worked for the same company for more than a year which is also required).

The FMLA is the only federally mandated time-off that is provided to workers. Other than FMLA, an employer is not required to provide employees any time-off such as vacation and sick time. The FMLA does not provide paid leave, rather, the law protects one's job and benefits while he or she is off on a FMLA designated leave. Some employers offer partial pay of an FMLA leave by allowing an employee to use vacation or sick time to receive pay.

The law provides up to 12 weeks in a one year period for the birth or adoption of a child, one's own serious illness, or to take care of a close family member with a serious illness. The law has also been recently extended to provide some leave for employees with a close family member called to active duty in the military.

The leave may be taken all at once, such as after the birth of a child. Or, the leave may be taken intermittently. The intermittent leave is a benefit that can help someone like my sister-in-law who needs flexibility due to an illness. She could take leave increments as necessary, such as when her illness flares and she needs a day off, or when she has a doctor's appointment. If her time-off is approved as FMLA, her employer cannot hold the time off against her.

While not required by law, some employers allow employees to take part of their maternity leave intermittently. For example, a new mom could take eight weeks of leave after the birth of her child, and then take one day off each week for the next five months.

Complete details of your rights under the FMLA are available on the Department of Labor's website at www.dol.gov.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Magic of Believing

My son woke up around 5am this morning, convinced that Santa had come to our house. He heard reindeer hoofs on the roof. My daughter also reported hearing bells ringing softy, which she informed me were on the reindeers. I told them I wasn't so sure, I hadn't heard anything. And of course, I was wrong. As they rushed downstairs and viewed the gifts under the tree, they both told me repeatedly, "I told you!" And I think they realy did hear the reindeer.

The magic of believing doesn't just apply to Santa. It is true in all parts of your life. Of course a lot happened behind the scenes to make sure that Santa arrived for the kids. But isn't that always the case? Making anything happen takes some effort. What you want doesn't come just because you believe, but you must believe to make it happen.

Writing a book was something that I always wanted to do. But, for the longest time, I didn't really think I could. I learned a little about how hard it was to get a book published and I just assumed it was impossible. But then I had what I thought was a good idea for a book, and I started to believe. In fact, I convinced myself that I would write a book.

The book did not just magically appear. I spent months researching and writnig a proposal which I sent to countless publishers. And then I had to actually sit down and write it, which involved a lot of hard work. But all along the way, I believed I would write a book.

Believing is what makes your hard work pay off.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Your Career- From Oprah

I caught the end of Oprah on Friday when the topic was taking control of your career. I only watched a few minutes of it, but they were sharing the stories of several women who took a course to help them find their true passion and make some career decisions to follow it.

Interestingly, some of the women made a career change, while others made only an attitude change. The important point that was made is that in order to be happy with your life, you must enjoy your work. Your satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) with your work spills into all other areas of your life as work is something you spend a significant amount of time doing. For some, work may be considered a necessary evil required to pay the bills. But, if you take the right approach, work can (and should) be a fulfilling component of your life.

I feel this is especially true for parents. Kids know if mom or dad is unhappy at work. And it is confusing to them that you leave them to go do something you don't like. At the very least, family friendly work is work that you enjoy.

Oprah is offering the above mentioned course for free to her viewers (click here). I haven't taken it, so I can't say it is effective. But, I believe any course or tool that helps you identify your passion and build the confidence to move toward it is a a good thing.

Friday, December 19, 2008

New website for moms returning to work



I recently learned of a new website for moms looking to return to work, or move to a more flexible work schedule. The site, http://www.myworkbutterfly.com/, will go live in January but they are looking for input from moms to customize the site content. You can pre-register for the site and take the survey at www.workbutterfly.com.
The site's mission is:
To help return-to-the-workforce moms and those seeking flexibility between family and self, find their ideal job, their paradise. This niche social networking site will connect savvy moms on this journey by sharing advice, support and ultimately, solutions.

To preview the site, you can become a fan on http://www.facebook.com/ (search myworkbutterfly).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Get to Work

A little while back I read a thought provoking book by Linda Hirshman called Get to Work. The book was interesting, and I suspect offensive at times to those who chose to stay at home. But, the book does make some important points about the need to stay in the labor market. In fact, it builds the argument that being 'financially dependent' on a spouse is not a good strategy to provide for your children.

I've seen the struggle recently as a good friend of mine is attempting to return to work while she is facing a rather complicated and unfriendly divorce. Her and her husband both agreed that she should stay home when they had a child, and she assumed that she might return to work one day, but it wasn't a pressing concern.

Now that she is in the midst of divorce and the emotionally and financial challenges associated with it, her employment gap is only causing her more despair and frustration. Returning to work after several years out of the workforce is hard. Doing so while dealing with a divorce and worrying about the impact on your child is nearly impossible.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Legitimate Work-at-Home

There are many ways to find or create a work-at-home job. Many parents are able to successfully negotiate with their current employer to create a telecommuting opportunity in their current job. Other parents create their own work-at-home opportunity through starting a business.

However, more legitimate companies are establishing a work from home workforce. Some companies have found they can save costs related to on-site housing of employees. Further, they are able to build a more diverse and flexible workforce. CNN.com recently identified some of these opportunities, read the full article here.

They include call center companies such as Alpine Access, Convergys, West at Home, VIP Desk, and LiveOps; sales companies such as Extended Presence; virtual assistants such as Staffcentrix; and IT support such as Internet Girl Friday.

Some of these companies will hire you as an employee, whereas others will hire you as an Independent Contractor. If you are hired as an Independent Contractor, it is important that you understand your responsibilites from a tax perspective. The IRS provides some good resources for those who are self-employed, check them out here.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Shopping Online

Today I wasted more than two hours shopping. I know a lot of people out there enjoy shopping, but I am not one of them. And it becomes even more frustrating when things don't go well.

At the first store I went to, a sale item didn't ring up on sale, and I didn't notice until I was reading my receipt on the way out. I had to then wait in line at customer service, and wait longer while the associate called the department to confirm the sale price. Lesson learned, make sure you pay attention when you are checking out.

My next stop was to the mall where there is a Franklin Covey store. I use a Franklin planner and needed to pick up my annual refill. The only store near me is at a mall that is more than 20 minutes from me, but I decided to make the trek because I do like to look around the store and see what is new. After 15 minutes of searching for a parking space followed by a long walk in the cold rain to get inside, and a battle with the crowd to get to the store, I found out the store was closed. Not closed permanently, just closed today, Sunday. Why? I don't know. What store closes on Sunday, particularly during the holiday shopping season?

Needless to say, I was very frustrated. And so I decided I do not want to return to that mall again this week, and waste another hour or two trying to get my planner refill. I instead came home and shopped online. I did not get to browse through the store looking at what is new, but the pictures online are pretty good. And while I had to pay shipping, I was able to find an online coupon code that gave me enough of a discount that the shipping charge didn't make a difference. Most importantly, I didn't have to battle the crowd to get it. And, I didn't waste another afternoon shopping.

Coupon codes are out there for most online stores. There are usually some restrictions, for example I found a coupon today for $10 off, but I had to spend at least $50. There are several websites out there that list coupon codes. I found mine today at www.retailmenot.com. Some other sites are www.couponcabin.com, www.coupon-B.com and www.couponmountain.com. A little searching online may just save you from the chaos of holiday shopping.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Will the economy hurt family friendly work?

It seems that in the midst of my busy Fall, I missed the publication of Working Mother Magazine's list of the best companies. While I believe this list does do some good in publicizing the efforts of some organizations, it does only focus on larger organizations, so it is not always a useful tool in your job search. It does, however, list some of the family friendly benefits and policies that many organizations have which is useful to understand what to ask for if you are seeking a more family friendly work environment.

What is interesting this year is how these troubled times are affecting family friendly work opportunities. As noted by Lisa Belkin in her NY Times column, some of the companies listed this year aren't doing so good. Listed are companies we've heard about in the news such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and others.

The troubling point that Ms. Belkin makes, is that often in the times of financial troubles, family friendly programs are the first to be cut. Companies tend to be more rigid in all management aspects when challenged. Further, when the labor market works in favor of employers, employees have little leverage to negotiate for more flexibility. That is, when facing a high unemployment rate, companies can more easily fill open positions and don't feel the pressure to provide flexibility.

I think that employers must consider the more important returns on providing flexible work. Research has consistently shown that employees with good work/life harmony tend to be more loyal and more productive. When resources are limited, dedicated and hard working employees are an asset to any company.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Work-at-home scams

One of my local news stations invited me to contribute to a story on this evening's news about working from home. As a follow-up to several stories about the troubled economy, the segment looked at work-at-home opportunities for stay-at-home moms. Check it out here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The magic of a few free nights

The last several weeks have been unusually hectic. Our lives are always hectic, but sometimes it seems overwhelming. With the kids now in school every day and me working more, our evenings and weekends seem to book up quicker than ever.

The good thing about a busy schedule is that it helps you appreciate opportunities to do nothing. This week we have just a couple of free nights in a row. But they are truly free. We have nothing we need to do an nowhere to be. The house was just cleaned up last week so there isn't really anything that must be done here. We can just hang out.

Tonight the kids spent some time making some creatiions out of their art supply box. Then, dinner, bath, a few books and it was time for bed. After they were asleep, I almost didn't know what to do with myself. Sure, I have lots of projects I could start on, but nothing pressing. And so, I decided just to do nothing. And its been a great night. For tomorrow night? A little more of the same.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Changing Careers

I've talked with many stay-at-home parents who have used their time at home as an opportunity to reflect on and prepare for a new career. In searching out a new career opportunity, considering the flexibility of the work is important.

Yahoo recently published a list of the most flexible higher paying careers. See the article here. Being a college professor tops the list and I agree that it offers a lot of flexibility. You only need a Master's degree to teach at most community colleges, however, the pay often isn't great. Pursuing a Ph.D. can be worthwhile if you want a career as an academic. However, the life of a graduate student offers little flexibility. I had my kids after I had completed most of my doctorate program. I know people who have made it through a Ph.D. program while they have kids, but it is tough! However, the reward of a challenging but flexible career may make it worthwhile.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Get out and vote!

My 4 year old told me this morning that she is voting for Obama. Apparently the election was the hot topic on the playground yesterday and the girls decided that Obama is their candidate. I agree with her and will be casting my vote for Obama later today. I will be taking both kids along with me as I always do. Their young involvement with elections will hopefully excite them about voting on their own some day.

Want to know where each candidate stands on workplace issues? The Society for Human Resource Management released the results of a questionairre they sent to each candidate on workplace issues. Unfortunately, it just came out late yesterday. But, if you are undecided, it might give you some additional insight on each candidate. Check it out here.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Lifestyle Entrepreneuer


Do you want this to be your office? Or perhaps, you just don't want to be tied down in a corporate office. Whether your motivation is the opportunity to spend more time with your kids, or just to have more control of your time, you may want to consider becoming a "lifestyle entreprenuer."

I've been reading quite a bit lately about this relatively new category of entrepreneurs. While I have been talking about parents who pursue entrepreneurship in order to find family friendly work, I hadn't realized that there was already a term for those starting a business in order to find more work/life harmony. In fact, a quick search on Amazon.com finds about a dozen books on the topic published in just the last few years.

People start businesses for different reasons. However, it makes sense that the desire to have a life beyond work is becoming a more influential reason. If the corporate world can't accomodate your desire to spend time with your family, why not try your own thing?

Most shy away because of the risks involved. For example, financial risks often make it difficult for many to consider starting their own venture. All new businesses face the risk of failure, and often entreprenuers must put in endless hours to make their business a financial success.

However, lifestyle entrepreneuers don't always have the goal of phenominal growth or expansion (For example, see this Inc.com article about lifestyle entrepreneuers in New Zealand). Therefore, one can become a lifestyle entrepreneuer and choose not to put in the extra time. In doing so, the business may not be as financially lucrative. But, such a business can still be profitable and also provide other benefits such as personal fulfillment.

My thought is that there are many stay-at-home parents that have considered starting their own business that might benefit from learning more about lifestyle entrepreneuers. If someone is in the financial situation that allows him or her to stay at home, then a business venture that wouldn't necessarily generate a high income might just be O.K.. Especially one that does not require a lot of start-up money (see this article about lifestyle entrepreneuers for some ideas).

What I am trying to learn more about is what kind of resources potential lifestyle entrepreneuers need in order to get their business started. I have met many people, particularly moms, who have a buinsess idea but they are hesitating to take action. If there is little financial risk, what are the barriers? My initial thought that it is more about lack of confidence. But, I am working on learning more.....

Friday, October 31, 2008

Broken Microwave

About a week ago our microwave oven broke. There was a loud "zap," and then it was done.

At first it was devasting. We use the microwave, a lot more than we should. Since we are all on the go so much, we tend to go for quick meals warmed in the microwave. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Honestly, I feel bad about that quite often. It is one of my guilt triggers, I feel I should be feeding my kids healthy, home cooked meals. Better food for the kids is one of my top challenges in creating work/life harmony.

And of course with the busy schedule, we have not had a chance to go buy a new microwave. As a result, we have been challenged to slow down our meal preparation and actually cook. While at first this was a big challenge, with a little thought and effort it actually hasn't been so bad.

By force we have had to start working on really cooking. And suprisingly, it doesn't take that much more time to do. Which has started me thinking, what else am I rushing through that I really don't need to?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Time Impoverished



I would really like to just rest and enjoy Sunday evenings, but I feel the need to spend time this evening working around the house. The house, as usual, is a disaster. I've always prided myself on not caring about how my house looks. However, at some point the clutter and mess can just drive you crazy.
I don't enjoy housework, which certainly doesn't help. And my husband often doesn't seem to notice the mess. But our biggest challenge is time. It wouldn't be that difficult to get this house cleaned up quite a bit if we had lots of free time. For example, the kids are getting older and there are lots of toys they don't need anymore. We could also move their play area to our basement now that they can get up and down on their own, which would help keep our living area free of clutter. But doing so will require a few days of work to clean out the basement and sort through the toys. It just seems overwhelming.
There will obviously always only be 24 hours in a day. Therefore, if you are fighting for more time, you must either use your time more efficiently or more selectively. I think I am extremely efficient. In fact, other people pay me to share my time management wisdom! And I think I am pretty selective with how I use my time. I've spent a lot of time considering how I spend my time and have made deliberate decisions about it. I spend most of my time on the kids and work. After that, I try to get in a little social time. Ater that, there is not much time left for housework.
The solution? I wish I knew.......

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The economy

Last week I attended a 'spa night' organized by my local PTA group. It is an annual outing where we all meet up at a local spa and enjoy food and drinks along with a manicure or massage. This year's outing, however, was much smaller than past years. Not even half of the appointments were filled and the evening ended much earlier than usual. My guess is that many of the regular attendees are cutting back on spending, and a 'spa night' doesn't make the cut.

Many families are watching their finances as they are facing our unstable economy. Rising gas and food prices, coupled with lost investments in the stock market are requiring many to re-evaluate their financial situation. Which of course includes decisions relating to work and income.

Tonight I spoke at a local PTA meeting and the theme of financial need ran through my discussion with the group. A year or two ago, the discussion on whether or not to work focused on feelings about spending time with your kids and personal beliefs about child rearing. But, it seems when money is tight, finances are the main concern when making the decision on 'to work or not work.'

I would like to see more people consider both their personal beliefs and their financial needs in making decisions about work. You can pursue work that provides you with the financial support you need. But, you can do so while thinking about how you want to raise your family. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Leaving corporate life

Many parents who are frustrated with their work/family harmony work for a corporation. Most will agree that corporate life is often not compatible with family life. Corporations, particularly those that are large, have difficulty working with individual needs as they have an obligation to treat employees consistently.

And so many people find that they have to leave their corporate job in order to find family friendly work. While a few enlighted corporations exist, many create so many obstacles that you will more likely be successful in your pursuit by seeking a small privately owned company, or even starting your own business.

If this challenge isn't enough, I just watched a documentary that raised my concerns about corporations beyond the concerns of finding family friendly work. "The Corporation" is a documentary released in 2004 which received very little attention upon its release. After watching the film, the limited attention is not suprising. Corporate leaders, which have great influence as the documentary points out, most likely sought such limited release.

As with most documentaries, the information seems to be presented in a biased manner. However, the data and support of their arguments seems indisputable. Corporations may be affecting your life in ways you could never imagine. Check it out.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What isn't working in your life?

I've spent a lot of time considering what else I could be doing to help parents find more harmony between work and family. I just had an interesting meeting with a colleague at my college to discuss what the college could be doing to reach out to the community in support of working parents. Through our discussion I realized that in order to find out what working parents need to help change their situation- we must first figure out what isn't working.

I was talking with another parent at a recent soccer match who mentioned that sometimes he feels like he is just 'borrowing' his kids from the daycare center they attend. He and his wife both work full-time and must drop-off the kids around 7am and pick them up close to 6pm each day. They both enjoy their work, but feel that they are missing something as they only get a few rushed hours with their kids in the evenings. What they need is more control of their time. They don't want to work less, or do something different. They just don't want to always work 8-5pm.

I spoke to another mom a few weeks ago who stays at home full-time. She likes her schedule and is able to spend time with her kids and also manage their hectic schedules of inconvenient pre-school class times and bus drop off schedules. She said she couldn't imagine how she could work right now. But, she is missing the mental stimulation that working provided her and is concerned about her ability to return to work.

In just talking about what wasn't working, each of these realized that there was something they could be doing to improve their lives. Acknowledging that things aren't working is the first step toward making change. So what isn't working in your life?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Talking Money



I was advising a student today who had received a job offer, and thought the pay offered seemed kind of low. I suggested to her that she do some research on salaries, and then ask for more.

Many people don't ask for more in fear that they might jeopardize the offer. I can tell you that I have never heard of a company revoking an offer because someone asked for more money. Further, I've never heard of a company or manager who thought poorly of a new hire that had tried to negotiate for more money. In fact, most companies expect you to ask for more. They aren't always going to give it, but they expect you to ask.

Before you do, make sure you do your homework. I think http://www.salary.com/ provides some good information. I also suggest looking for local salary surveys, or salary surveys for your industry or profession for more information.

Another mistake I see in the salary negotiation game is with people negotiating a reduced hour work schedule. Some are so grateful to get the part-time schedule, that they take what we call a "part-time penalty" in their pay. Your pay reduction should be in line with your work reduction. If you reduce your hours 20%, your pay should be reduced 20%, and not any more. In fact, in some cases you can even negotiate for a higher hourly rate. If your reduced schedule takes you to a part-time status no longer eligible to receive benefits, I suggest asking for an hourly pay increase to make-up for any lost benefits.

The best way to be prepared to negotiate salary is to educate yourself. Here are some links to some good articles on the salary negotiation process:


Monday, September 15, 2008

Using Your Evenings

It is so tempting to just crawl into bed after the kids are asleep, isn't it? Just flick around the TV, maybe watch a show, but more likely doze off. I do it sometimes, as everyone should.

But most nights, I make sure that I first take some time to get ready for the next day. When I talk to groups about time management, the most common thing I hear is that mornings are just always hectic. And if you start your day off hectic, then you tend to be in chaos the entire day.

I spend about a half-hour or so each night getting ready for the morning. I pick out what I am going to wear and iron if I need to. I lay out the kids clothes, including their shoes. I pack my bag and their bags and I put them in the car. I make coffee and pack my lunch if I am taking it. I can't tell you how much stress it takes out of the morning to have everything ready to go. Most mornings the kids end up having some time to play before we leave which makes them much happier once we do get on the road. And very rarely do I forget something as I take the time in the evening to make sure I have everything I need.

Many have told me that they can just make sure they are up in time to get ready for day instead of wasting their evenings. But, it doesn't always work. There is often something forgotten, or some unexpected roadblock such as a missing shoe or bookbag. I'd much rather deal with those dilemmas at night, without the clock ticking reminding me that I am running late. My husband makes fun of my ways sometimes, but not when he's going to be late for a meeting because he is running around the house looking for his phone.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Keeping Busy

When friends I don't see often ask me how I am doing, my standard reply is that I am 'keeping busy.' That has become more true than ever lately as I have taken on my new full-time job as a college professor. While I am working about the same number of hours as I have in the past, I am dedicating a majority of those to the new job. My consulting work and my work promoting flexible work has been on the backburner.

While I feel strongly about my work promoting flexibility, I've realized that it is something that that comes behind my kids and my job, at least for now. I am reading a good book right now, "I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids," that is helping me examine my priorities and keep myself from becoming overwhelmed. The book shares many anecdotal stories from moms all over the country and the ongoing message of the book is that we must set realistic expectations for ourselves.

Right now my paycheck and my family's healthcare benefits are coming from my full-time job, so I must make that a priority. I will post here and work on marketing my ideas about flexible work as I have time. I will also work on ways to integrate my belief in flexible work through my job as a researcher and educator. And I will continue to speak to groups and the media whenever I'm given the opportunity. But, if I just don't have time to do everything I think I should do, then I just don't have time. I can hopefully still make a difference with any effort I make.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Working Parent in the White House

The selection of Sarah Palin guarentees a working parent with young children will be spending time in the White House starting next year. Barack Obama and his wife would bring two daughters, 10 and 7 years old. While McCain's children are all nearly grown, his VP brings 5 children, with four still living at home.

While there is much debate on which party will more likely support women's issues, it is interesting that little has been said about the obstacles for women (and parents in general) in the workplace. While the candidates themselves are working parents, I have heard little said about how challenging it is to raise their children while working in today's work world.

Much of the debate on Palin surrounds her views on issues such as abortion and teaching abstinence (see for example the blog discussion on Work it Mom). While I agree these are important issues, and I don't agree with Palin's stand, I would like to know more about what each party thinks about workplace flexiblilty issues. They all talk about families, but I've heard no discussions on creating a society where it is not such a challenge to raise children and have a job.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Back to School

Tomorrow my son starts kindergarten. He is going to a private school where I will drop him off each day so no bus ride. It is also the same school that he attended last year for pre-k, so it doesn't really seem like "real school" yet.

We decided to have him attend the private school because our local school district only has half-day kindergarten. Actually, it isn't even close to a half of a day, rather just a few hours. Half-day kindergarten is of course yet another obstacle for working parents. We were fortunate to have the private option.

While I am a little sad that my "baby" is growing up, I am actually a little more distressed at losing some of my flexibility. I've always had the ability to change my work schedule on occasion if I wanted to do something with the kids, or leave to go out of town or something.

I have also always worked out my work schedule so that I had at least one day off during the workweek. That day off was an imporant part of my stress management strategy. I enjoyed having at least one day during the week that I didn't always have to rush out the door. I also had that day to catch up on things around the house, helping me keep my life under control (well, sort-of).

But now he needs to go to school every day. While I know that most working parents are used to getting out of the house five mornings in a row each week, it is new to me and it is going to be my biggest challenge. I am sure by Thursday I will be really wishing it was still summer!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

How We Adapt

I play sand volleyball. But not quite the sand volleyball you've been watching with the Olympics. Ours is more of a social league, but we do enjoy winning. Tonight, however, we did not win. And the most frustrating part is that we were beat by a team that was not as good as our team. We have a tendency to rise or fall to the level of our competition. After the first few serves tonight, we could see that the team we were playing was not strong. I'm not sure if we were feeling over-confident, or just mimicking our competition, but we just did not play well.

The same thing happens as I try to balance work and family. The busier I am with work, the better I do balancing between work and family. But when things slow down, I do not do as well. Over the summer when I took more time off from work, I couldn't seem to get it all in sync. I found myself falling behind on housework, cooking less and just feeling like I wasn't getting anything done.

I've heard it from others as well. I know a woman who is a writer by training, but is currently staying at home full time with kids. While her kids sleep a lot, and also have pre-school and other distractions, she can't seem to find the time do any writing. I suspect that if she was working outside of the home and busy trying to blance her work and family, she would be able to figure out where writing could fit into her schedule.

I think that as you get busier, you are forced to spend more time and effort trying to make sure everything gets done. If you are not as busy, it becomes easier to get side-tracked and not accomplish as much. And so as you rise to the challenges of balancing work and family, you may find that if you challenge yourself more, you may just exceed your own expectations.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sick Child Care

Fall is upon us and kids are heading back to school. Many working parents facing limited time-off for illness know that the fall/winter season also brings sick kids. Some parents face a real dilemma when they wake up to a child with a mild fever, or a bad cough. A child's illness can require a trip to the doctor's office, or some serious TLC from mom or dad. But more often, the child feels OK, but just shouldn't be around other kids. And so a parent must use a valuable day off (often a Vacation Day), to stay home with a child who is actually enjoying a fun day off playing or watching TV.

A couple of solutions exist that could ease parent's concerns, allow them continue to be producitve and save their time-off allowances. First, employers could offer some flexibility to allow employees to work from home on occasion. But another option is to find a sick child care center. Such centers provide care and comfort to mildly ill kids, allowing parents to get to work. Read a story of such a center here.

I know many parents say they would never use such a center. That is, they couldn't think of sending off a poor sick kid to someone else's care. And I agree to some extent. When my kids are really sick, I want to be there with them, keeping a close eye and providing lots of love.

But, there are many times that you can't even really tell that they are sick. They play and laugh and I sit thinking of all that I should be getting done at work. On a day such as that, I would feel fine with my child being in the care of a licensed medical professional who can keep a close eye. And also, I'm sure the kids would see it as somewhat of a treat to go off and recieve such special attention.

Unfortunately, such centers are not readily available. I am told that many hospitals and medical centers provide such a service to their employees. There is an organization that works to advocate for such centers, The National Association for Sick Child Care. But their websie shows their most recent newsletter as one in 2004, so I'm not sure that they are actually active. Perhaps it is a potential business idea for a budding entreprenuer?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Olympic Dreams

If you can imagine it, you can acheive it.
If you can dream it, you can become it.
- William Arthur Ward

I've had this quote posted above my computer for years. Tonight, I am watching the Olympics and I am reminded of the importance of dreams. Many profiled athletes discuss their gold medal dreams. And the look of blissful happiness as dreams are acheived is inspiring.

I believe that you must have dreams if you want success. But you don't necessarily need to have such spectacular dreams as a gold medal in order to be successful. I have had dreams of finishing graduate school, of having a happy family, of publishing a book, of getting the job I want. And I've found that if I set my mind to something, I do it. I think that dreaming and truly desiring something helps you acheive it because it helps you focus your efforts.

I've met so many people who are unhappy with some part of their life. Maybe they are at-home with kids but want to re-enter the workforce. Or they are stuck in a job they dislike, or a job with no flexibility. They tell me that they would like something different, but then I find they haven't really done anything about it. In fact, they haven't really thought about it more than in passing. If you don't want something enough to really feel it, to aspire to acheive it, then it probably won't happen.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Last Lecture

Before I get started in my full-time role at the college, we are sneaking away for a long weekend of family fun. One last outing of the summer. I am laying on the hotel room bed now without any specific plans for the next few hours. Just being in a hotel room is enough to keep the kids amused (we have refilled our ice bucket three times already this morning).

I hesitated in taking this trip because I thought that I really should focus on getting ready for the job. I wanted to wrap up some projects around the house and get ahead on some of the prep work for the classes I will be teaching.

But I'm glad we decided to do it anyway. I think I often get too focused on working and "getting things done" that I forget to have fun. I caught a segment about the "The Last Lecture" professor Randy Pausch on a news show last week. If you don't know him, he is the Carnegie Mellon professor that was selected to give their Last Lecture last year. It is an annual tradition where a favorite professor gives a lecture about whatever they want as if it was the last lecture they would ever give. The irony is that he had been diagnosed with an incurable cancer a short time before giving his lecture.

You can see the full lecture about how to achieve your childhood dreams on You Tube. Dr. Pausch lost his battle to cancer just a few weeks ago which was the focus of the news show I watched. He shared many messages, but what he made me think about is the importance of just having fun and actually enjoying the life you are leading.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I am not alone

With extra free time on my hands this summer, I've actually been able to read a few books just for fun. But, instead of reaching for the mystery or classic novel that I've enjoyed in the past, this summer I have been reading what is often called 'mom lit.'

'Mom lit' is a novel written about a mom and some dilemma she faces. There isn't really a formula to genre, it is just a novel where the main character is a mom. So why am I drawn to these books? I guess I just like to know that I am not alone. While some of these books have somewhat outlandish plots that I will never face, they are typically laced with observations on day-to-day life with kids.

In addition to finding solace in novels, I've also spent a lot of time over the last few years seeking out other moms. On several occasions I've invited over a friend from the kids' school for a playdate with the hope of a decent conversation with another mom. It just makes my daily trials seem less stressful when I know others face the same challenges.

By the way, if you want to pick up some 'mom lit,' you can find a good list of books at www.momlit.com. The site is by 'mom lit' author Stephanie Lehmann and she includes her thoughts on why so many are drawn to the genre. A few I've enjoyed:
- 'I don't know how she does it' by Alison Pearson
-'Babyville' by Jane Green
-'Piece of work' by Laura Zigman
-'The yummy mummy' by Polly Williams
-'Amanda Bright @ home' by Danielle Crittendon
-'Shopaholic and baby' by Sophie Kinsella
-'Goodnight nobody' by Jennifer Weiner
-'Class mothers' by Katherine Stewart

Sunday, July 27, 2008

When I am not around

I've read a great deal recently on the growing trend of homeschooling. I've even met several families in my community that homeschool their kids, which suprised me as the community is known for its' excellent public school system.

While I know that many families have well thought out reasons for homeschooling, I know that it is something that I would never consider. In addition to the fact that I wouldn't have the patience or diligence to master and deliver the entire K-12 curriculum, I feel strongly that other people play a key role in my kids growth and development.

I know some years they will have teachers that I do not agree with, but they will also have some teachers that may impact their lives. In fact, part of the reason I have felt limited 'guilt' about working is that my kids have had the opportunity to spend time and develop relationships with some wonderful caregivers.

Last night we had some friends over, including our old babysitter Laura. She watched the kids for almost four years. My daughter started going to her when she was just a few months old, so she will always be a special part of our lives. The kids haven't seen Laura in awhile but last night they they sat and talked with her, convinced her to join them at the swings and had a great time playing with her and her kids. I just feel good knowing that its not just me and my husband that are influencing them and teaching them about the world. I think they will lead fuller lives because they have some experiences when I am not around.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Talking to your kids

I was just skimming through some articles about family friendly work and a few offered some advice on returning to work after maternity leave. I think about the thousands of parents who must return to a rigid, traditional work schedule after having a baby. I know many people who have faced the dilemma. A job that requires 45-50 hours per week at a minium, an hour commute each way, a rigid 8-5 schedule with threats of job loss if you are late too often. Only one week of vacation time each year and maybe just 2 or 3 sick days. Even if you love what you do, it is hard to manage a family under such work conditions.

While my work offers me all of the flexible I need, I really didn't plan for it. The work I do which I enjoy just happens to offer flexiblity. This fact does not escape me now, but it was far from my mind as I considered my career options when I was young.

In fact, in the more than 30 years it took me to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, not one person suggested I consider my family plans when making career decisions. And I am not sure why. If you plan to have children, you must consider how your career meshes with parenthood.

It is something I now address in the courses I teach. But, I think it is a topic that deserves attention earlier in life. I talk to my kids about work all of the time. Maybe I over do it with them, but if my kids had to leave a baby for a rigid job they didn't enjoy, I would feel like I failed them.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Temp Jobs

Many stay-at-home parents have found temporary employment as a solution to some of their concerns about leaving the workforce. Temporary work can serve many purposes including keeping your skills sharp, keeping yourself marketable by avoiding a gap in your resume, and supplementing your income.

If you have young children you might be able to work a temp job by trading babysitting with another parent, or doing it over the summer when you can hire a high school or college student to babysit. If your kids are in school, you could take a temp job during the school year.

If you have left a professional career, the challenge is finding the right kind of opportunities. You might be able to uncover some opportunities through networking with former colleagues. But, if you go to a traditional temp agency, you might only be able to find temp jobs that pay minimum wage and require you to spend hours filing or typing up someone else's work.

But now it might be a little easier to find a professional temporary opporutnity. New companies are springing up around the country that target moms specifically, read about some of them in this recent CNN article.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Why blog?

This morning's paper featured a story about a 20 year old college student who committed to blog about his life every two hours for a year. You can find Nathan at www.livelifestory.com. I checked out the site and sure enough, every two hours there is a post, even through the night. And it isn't anything too exciting either. I read a few posts about him having lunch, feeling tired and deciding what to do with his day. Yet, he has thousands of loyal readers.

In the 'mommy blogosphere' there are lots of regular bloggers who have devoted readers. Most notably is Heather Armstrong at www.dooce.com whose blog is so popular that her husband quit his job to manage the site's advertising revenue which now supports her entire family.

I was speaking at a conference a few months ago and one of the speakers suggested that all SAHM's should have a blog if they ever want to return to work. No, she didn't promote blogging about how many diapers you've changed in order to secure your next job. Rather, she suggested you write a professional blog related to your chosen field to keep yourself up to date in that area.

While I started my blog in order to help promote my book, I've continued it because I enjoy it. I am drawn to issues related to family friendly work and I suspect my friends and family get tired of hearing about it. Through the blog, I have a chance to share the news, ideas and information I come across. Writing the blog also motivates me to stay on the look out for news and research relating to the topic, forcing me to stay up-to-date.

Is it worth my time? I think so. But for Nathan's goal of blogging every two hours he said "I worry that when it's all over I'll look back and think that I wasted a whole year of my life."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Working with your kids

While I have the kids home for the summer, I am not completely off work. I am teaching an online class and still have some consulting work I am doing. But, I am trying to do as much as I can without taking the kids to a sitter.

Yesterday I had quite a bit to get done. I didn't do any work at all over the holiday weekend and just needed to catch up on some things. I managed to get a lot done and still have a great day with the kids. I worked an hour or so in the morning while they ate breakfast and played in their playroom. I was able to get another hour or so in around nap time, and then a few hours in after my husband came home and took them swimming. Finally, after they were in bed I finished up a few more things. In between my work, we had lots of fun playing in the pool and in the yard (it was a beautiful day!). I think I accomplished more yesterday than I have in the past working in an office from 8-5. When I was working, I was working hard and getting a lot done in a short amount of time.

While not everyone has the complete flexibility I do, requesting an alternate schedule can give you the opportunity to work from home some. And you may be able to get some work done while the kids are around. When researching my book I spoke to a manager who negotiated a reduced workweek by making herself available to her employees by email and phone on her two off days. They knew they might hear some kids in the background on those two days, but she was able to meet her responsibilities with her kids around.

I've mentioned my colleague Carla Moquin and her work promoting policies to allow babies in the workplace. She has published her work in an e-book that is now available. While a baby in the office won't necessarily work in every situation, if you open your mind to it, you might be suprised how often it would work.

Friday, July 4, 2008

What you pick up along the way....

Last week, as I was working on preparing the time management seminar I will be presenting soon, I recalled one nugget of advice I received early in my career. Right out of college I worked in sales, which was a vocation I really wasn't cut out for. My boss told me that I should start my day with the task I dreaded the most. If you get that out of the way, you can enjoy the rest of the day. You are also more productive, because you don't spend your day worrying about how the task will go. Great advice which I have followed and appreciated.

So this afternoon at a 4th of July party that we attended at the home of the parents' of some friends of ours, I ran into that boss that shared the time management gem with me. I was standing by him at the drink cooler, and despite the 16 years since I last saw him, I recognized him immediately. I left that first job to return to graduate school, and then I kept going to school, leading to my current job as a college professor. And I still do my least favored tasks first.

It just reminds me that you can always learn something to keep moving forward in your career. And much of what you can learn is from those you work with. When I was considering returning to graduate school to work on a doctorate, a woman I worked with told me that being a professor is an ideal career if you are raising a family. Childless at the time, I didn't give her comment a second thought. But, she was right and I am glad I decided to make the move.

So pay attention to what those around you have to say. You never know what you might pick up that you can use.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Managing my Time

I am preparing a time management seminar that I will be conducting later this month for a group of employees at the college where I teach. While I am not necessarily a time management expert, I do think that I do a pretty good job of managing my time.

Except when it comes to some typical mom duties. Sometimes in my desparate attempt to be the good mom I think I should be, I waste a lot of time on things that aren't important. Take my soon to be 4 year old's upcoming birthday party. It is an important event, but I've found myself spending way too much time worrying about it.

For some reason my duaghter has decided that she wants to have a 'rock-n-roll' themed party. I'm not sure she knows what 'rock-n-roll' is, but I suspect her interest is related to a Hannah Montana birthday party she attended for an older friend a few months ago.

And so my search for 'rock-n-roll' party invitations and decorations has consumed much of my past week. I failed to plan far enough ahead to use the Internet to find the perfect invitation (unless I wanted to spend $30 for expedited shipping!). Instead, I spent hours searching local party supply and card stores for the perfect invites. Which of course I did not find. A few more hours searching online for graphics that allowed me to create my own cards finally solved my dilemma.

But instead of feeling joy in finally getting the invitations in the mail, I wondered, what is wrong with me? I mean I've lost many precious hours searching for these invitations, when she will probably forget by the party that she wanted the 'rock-n-roll' theme anyway. Further, she can't read! I could have found invitations that said 'come to my knitting party' and she would have been happy.

I know I am not the only mom that has this problem. My friend Sandi confessed to staying up until 2am the night before our kids' "Safety Town" graduation to make homemade cookies shaped like traffic lights for the graduation celebration. I teased her some, telling her she was making the rest of us look bad. She agreed, and suggested that perhaps she tries to overcompensate for time missed with her kids due to work.

Whatever the reason, I am sure to waste time again in the future on some mom responsibility that I just am not good at. But at least taking the time to make the effort makes me feel like I am doing my best. And there are certainly worse things I could spend my time doing.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

DIY Summer Camp

Later this week my nephew is coming to spend a couple of days with me. My brother and his wife who both work full-time put together a patch-work child care plan for him this summer that includes several summer camps, time with me and time-off on their part.

Many parents struggle with summer child care and find their options often inconvenient and expensive. Some parents are finding a solution on their own. I caught an article yesterday on DIY summer camps (here). The article discussed three moms who cooperatively set up three weeks of summer camp. Each mom took all of the kids for one week and planned some themed activities. The article didn't mention if these were working moms or not, but if they were, they essentially found three weeks of care with little cost and only one week of vacation time used.

I did some searching online, and it turns out this isn't a new idea. There are several sites out there with ideas on how to structure a week such as the article here.

I like the idea, but it isn't really an easy fix. You would need to find other like-minded parents that are willing to make the effort. It also requires some planning and creativity. But, with the cost of summer camp going up, it might be a great strategy to keep your kids busy and get a chance to do something fun with them.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Staying Fit

This morning I went with a friend to do a weight-lifting class at her gym. I belong to a gym as well, but thought I would try something new. It was a good class, I will feel it more tomorrow I am sure. I don't think I will change gyms though. This one is a good twenty minute drive from my house, and all of the classes are one hour long.

I belong to a Contours Express gym which is a ladies gym that offers a circuit workout. They use real weights so you can adjust each station to your ability. I like it mostly because it is fast. The gym is about two minutes from my house, and the workout takes about 1/2 hour.

When my son was born and I hadn't figured out a good work/life arrangement, working out was the first thing I gave up in my busy schedule. I thought of it as a luxury of time that I couldn't afford. But, instead of making me less stressed, I found myself more stressed and full of anxiety.

I don't know the science of it, but I have been told working out is important to staying mentally healthy. Apparently a good workout releases just the right kind of chemicals to keep you feeling good. And I believe it. I have found that if I don't take the time to work out at least a few times a week, my stress and anxiety levels go up.

So instead of a luxury, I now see staying fit as a requirement. And the fact that I stay enough in shape that my clothes always fit helps too!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Cost of Not Working

So I am just a few weeks into my "summer off" and have determined one suprising fact: I am spending more money! When you aren't off busy working every day, you have a lot more time on your hands and that time provides lots of opportunities to spend money.

Much of the spending has been on fun things like vacation. We've also met friends out for lunch and we've done some activities such as going to the zoo. Some spending has been on the house. When you are in your house more, you tend to notice lots of things that need fixed.

If I am going to survive the summer without going broke, I am going to have to focus on activities and entertainment that don't cost money. I also should try to be a bit more thrifty, maybe take some time to cut coupons or look out for sales.

I have come across a couple of activities that are free in the summer. At www.kidsbowlfree.com, you can get coupons for free bowling. And, the Regal Entertainment Group provides free morning movies at many of their theaters, check it out here. Other ideas?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Free College Courses at MIT

One of the challenges in moving forward in your career is finding the time and money to further your education. Often as you develop more expertise, you can negotiate for more flexibility in your work.

An advanced degree may often be necessary, but sometimes, you just need to advance your knowledge. MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) offers you the opportunity to do just that. MIT has an open course website that gives you the opportunity to take one of hundreds online courses from MIT. The courses are from MIT faculty and allow you to work through the materials at your own pace.

Obviously it is not the same quality experience as actually taking the college course for credit. You don't receive feedback from the professor on your work, and you can't ask questions. But, you have the opportunity to explore the course content.

You don't get the credit, but you can get the knowledge. You can list courses you have taken on your resume, and apply the knowledge at your job. Or, you could just find a course or two that you find interesting.

Check out MIT's offerings:
http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/web/home/home/index.htm

Monday, June 16, 2008

Father's Day

We spent the day traveling back from our family vacation, so unfortunately, my husband didn't get to enjoy too much of the day.

Came across a brief, but interesting article about dads and flexible work. Some surveys/research indicates that more dads are looking for flexibility in order to spend more time with their kids.

However, dads sometimes face even more obstacles than moms when it comes to negotiating flexibility. A stigma still exists in many organizations when it comes to work/family balance for men. Often, men who want to spend more time with their families are perceived as uncommitted to their careers.

For example, one dad I spoke to when doing research for my book told me his boss told him to record his time off after the birth of his child as 'vacation' instead of 'family leave' so that others 'wouldn't get the wrong idea' about his committment to the company.

The good news is that as more dads join moms in requesting flexible work options, more employers will see the value in offering them.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Family Vacation

I'm off on a family vacation this week. Yes, I probably should have left my laptop at home, but I am actually teaching an online class right now so I needed to bring it along. That said, it has come in handy several times looking for the nearest grocery store or spa.

My in-laws rented a house on a beach in Florida and this is definitely the way to go for a family vacation involving young children. We have an incredible view of the ocean, a private pool and we really don't have a reason to leave. We actually haven't left the house at all except for the aforementioned grocery and spa.

The kids can come in and out of the house as needed, no need to trek up to a hotel room to search for forgotten goggles. We have the place to ourselves, so we don't have to be concerned about a crying baby or fueding siblings disturbing a neighbor. It is really all about just relaxing. I've actually even made it about half way through a trashy novel.

We haven't taken too many vacations with the kids because we always think about what a hassle it will be. But the reality is, once you get where you are going, it turns out to be a pretty good idea.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Price of Gas

As gas prices continue to rise, workplace flexiblity becomes an even more attractive perk for employees. With prices projected to hit $5 a gallon this summer, someone with a 20 minute commute could be spending roughly $2500 per year on gas to travel to work.

Companies can help employees save on gas by offering some flexibilty. Shift to four, ten hour days and you eliminate a day of commuting each week, saving $500. Work from home two days a week and you could save $1000.

One HR Manager I spoke with earlier this week said her company felt they needed to give employees flexibility to save on gas costs. Otherwise, a majority of the employee's annual pay increase would just go to gas money.

So in addition to creating better work/life harmony, you can sell your flexible work arrangement as a socially responsible thing to do for your company.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Employer's Perspective

I attended a conference today for Human Resources (HR) executives where they addressed current trends and challenges in managing employees. I faciliated a discussion on flexible work and had the opportunity to learn about what kind of flexibility some companies offer, and some of the challenges that employers face.

All of the HR executives were very interested in offering flexible work for a variety of reasons. They all clearly understood that flexible work is something that employees want, and that offering flexible work could improve employee recruitment and retention.

But, they were not all convinced that it could work. The main concern shared by all in the group was accountability. They were concerned about whether or not employees working in an alternate arrangement were really getting their work done.

Many said managers were at such a loss on how to manage workers in a flexible work arrangement, and that they preferred that workers stay on a traditional schedule. But as I asked the group, do you really know employees are working just because they are at their desks? Is an employee sitting at at desk really working, or are they playing computer games? Or talking on the phone? Or just staring off into space?

The key to making a flexible work arrangement work is to have clear measurements of productivity. How can you show your boss that you are productive while working at home? The easier you can make it for your boss to know that you are working hard whether you are working early in the day or at home, the more likely your boss will appreciate that you are getting your job done. And that is what your company cares about.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Project Working Mom

The more expertise you have, the more likely you can find a flexible work arrangement. When your skills are in demand, you hold an edge in the negotiation process. One way to build your expertise is to advance your education. But, for a busy working mom (or dad), taking some classes at night will only make it more challenging to manage work and family.

Online course options hold much promise in allowing you to further your education. I am teaching an online class this summer that starts today, and I once again have several working parents in the class. It is important to remember that online courses do not provide LESS of an education. Online program just allow you to pursue your education on your schedule. You can work after the kids are in bed, or on your lunch break, instead of having to head out to class after a busy day at work.

But how can you find a reputable online program? Many parents invest time and money into a an online program only to find that their employer doesn't see the degree as legitimate. The key is to do some research and find a reputable program that provides you with the coursework you need.

To help you find a program that works for you, you may want to check out Project Working Mom. It is an online portal designed to help you do the research and find the resources you need to pursue an online education.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Swapping Babysitting

Now that my kids are finished with their school and my work has slowed down, my child care plans require some creativity. If you are engaged in a flexible work opportunity and you are looking to forgo a formal daycare arrangement, looking to other working parents might be the answer to meeting your childcare needs.

Today I watched a friend's kids for a few hours while she worked. She is a tutor and works odd hours, making it difficult to establish a stable child care arrangement. In exchange, she will take my kids for a few hours next week when I have to go speak at a conference.

"Swapping" sitting is something stay-at-home parents do often. But it is something that parents working a flexible schedule should consider. You can identify parents to swap sitting with through networking, but once you have some potential swapping partners, it is a good idea to establish some ground rules.

Starting a babysitting co-op is one way to ensure fairness (more info here). There are many strategies to establish a co-op, such as establishing a ticket system. With a ticket system, each parent in the co-op starts with a certain number of tickets. To 'hire' another parent, you must pay them one ticket for each hour they babysit. To earn tickets, you must babysit someone else's kids. This system prevents any one parent from taking advantage of others by requiring each parent to put some time in sitting to earn enough tickets to buy sitting from others.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Work-at-Home Ideas

Many find family friendly work by working from home. Whether you have your own business or you work for someone else, working from home can often be compatible with family life. Sometimes you can work around your kids schedules and forgo childcare. At the very least you avoid commuting time and have the flexibility to attend kids events or take care of a sick child.

Unfortunately, finding work that you can do from home is a challenge. Many parents, however, have found work-at-home opportunties by either negotiating the opportunity to work from home with their current employer or by going out on their own in their current field. While you can make some decent money selling things online, more lucrative work-at-home careers tend to be more traditional professions that you happen to work at from home instead of an office. For example, Yahoo recently mentioned some more lucrative work-at-home careers including public relations, freelance writing, graphic design, realty and financial planning.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Last Day

Today is the kids last day at their school The rest of the summer they will be at home with me. I am teaching one online course, and have a couple of speaking engagements, but otherwise I am off. I have a couple of babysitters lined up as a back-up, but for the most part will be managing on my own.

Today I am wrapping up loose ends on some work projects, but don't have any pressing work that must be done. I find myself looking around my desk, worrying about what I am forgetting to do. I have eleven unstructured weeks ahead of me, and I am not entirely comfortable with that idea.

I always joke that I have given up housework in order to have a harmonious work/life arrangement. But it is not really a joke, I do very little around the house. My house is usually a dump, and while I am not a neat-freak by any means, it can be frustrating. Sometimes I just wish we could move and start over at another house that did not need any work, only bringing along absolute essentials so I no longer need to live in unfinished clutter.

And so, my general inability to sit still will hopefully lead me to spend some time this summer digging out. But I will be cautious, this is the time to have some fun too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

How Companies Can Help Support Flexible Work

A recent survey by Hewitt Associates suggests that companies have some work to do in order to make flexible work a success (see article here). Areas where companies fall short:

- Measuring the effectiveness of the work/life programs they have in place. It is often challenging to quantify the benefits that such practices offer, but doing so can help build the case for further flexibility.

- Failing to communicate the details of the work/life programs to managers and employees. Some companies stated this failure was intentional so that they didn't have too many people taking advantage of the programs. What??? What is the point of offering flexibility if you don't encourage employees to use it? Employee and manager education on flexible work is essential in order to ensure program success.

Just adding a work/life or flexible work program to a company's policy manual does little to change the work/life harmony of company employees. Companies must communicate the options to employees, educate managers and employees on how to make flexible work succeed, and finally measure the effectiveness of the programs to build support for continuation.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Family-Friendly Workplace Act

Read here about a new bill introduced into the House of Representatives to help working families manage. The goal of the bill is to give employers some flexibility in providing additional paid-time off in lieu of paying overtime. According to the press release:

"The Family-Friendly Workplace Act allows private sector employers to offer their employees the option of taking paid time off as compensation for overtime hours worked. This benefit, commonly known as “comp time” or “family time,” has been enjoyed by public sector (e.g. government) workers for more than two decades. However, the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act prevents private sector employers from offering this same flexibility to their workers, leaving the vast majority of hourly employees unable to benefit from this type of paid time off."

This bill makes sense. Right now under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers must pay overtime, even if the employee would prefer comp time instead. I have talked with many employers who would love to offer comp time because it allows them to better meet fluctuating business needs. Instead of just increasing payroll costs during a busy period, an employer can keep costs constant and allow employees time off later when the employees need it. Further, under the proposed bill, employees maintain the option to take the overtime pay. So if the money is important, employers are still on the hook to pay overtime. I really can't see the downside of this bill beyond some additional recording keeping for employers to track comp time. Employers must still pay overtime, but both employers and employees benefit from the comp time option.

But, I doubt this bill will successfully navigate its way to become a law. A similar bill was introduced about 10 years ago that never made it to a vote. In my opinion, the main challenge is that the name of the bill alone puts it in the wrong context for success. Unfortunately, our congress tends to work against legislation that appears to be in favor of families. There seems to be a strong perception that good for families means bad for business.

Further, more broad support for this bill would be available if it was supported by everyone who would benefit from it, not just those with families. The bill as written provides the comp time benefit to all employees, not just moms and dads. By calling it "family-friendly," the bill draws immediate attention to the "family" benefit and will only serve to bring bias against the bill for those who already think parents get more of a break in the workplace than others.

Maybe "Workplace Flexibility Act" instead?

Friday, May 16, 2008

SAHM's as Cheap Labor

Sue Schellenbarger at the Wall Street Journal recently wrote an article about stay-at-home moms who keep their skills sharp through short-term, part-time consulting projects. I agree that such assignments can benefit both employers and the moms who take them on. However, the benefit for employers that Ms. Shellenbarger emphasizes the most is that these women provide “cheap labor.” According to the article:

“Skilled workers taking temp projects isn't new, of course. What's different about these teams is that they're available on short notice because the women are usually at home; they tend to work cheap because their main motive is to keep their skills fresh; and they're often extraordinarily well-qualified, having left the work force voluntarily when their careers were on the ascent.” (See full article here.)

While it is true that SAHM’s that desire some mental stimulation and valuable experience may be willing to work for less, is it really such a good idea?

In one response to the article, writer Brittany Hudson suggests that women taking these low-paying part-time gigs are collectively bringing down the wages of other workers. (see article here). If companies are able to get this cheap labor to fill their needs, why would they hire a full-time worker with benefits and a higher salary?

I do agree that this practice is a problem, but I don’t think the women taking these assignments are to blame as Hudson suggests in her article. I think the problem lies in the workplace, which doesn’t value a worker unless they are full-time.

I think that companies who create part-time opportunities provide a win-win opportunity. A company often can fill a talent gap with a short-term worker, and there are many moms (as well as other people!) who wish to work, but want some flexibility. But, these workers should be paid their fair market value for the work they provide. A “part-time pay penalty” hurts everyone.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Not Having "It All"

I have had many people tell me that they would love a work/life arrangement similar to mine. I have the fulfillment and financial support of a career, and also have the flexibility and time to spend with my kids.

While I think that my work arrangement is ideal, it certainly is not perfect. No matter what your work and family arrangement, you will miss out on something. The question is, what is most important to you?

I enjoy my work, but I miss out on a lot of things that those that work in a traditional full-time schedule enjoy. I do not get the opportunity often to lunch with co-workers, or even just goof-off a little at work. When I am working, I am working hard because I have limited time. Those social relationships are an important part of working that I miss out on quite often.

I also haven’t enjoyed the same level of career success I would have had I pursued a traditional full-time working route. While I feel satisfied with what I have accomplished, there are still many things left undone. For example, my book has been mildly successful, but I often think that had I dedicated more time to it, it could be doing better.

On the flip side, I do not get to do as much with my kids as stay-at-home parents do. While my schedule allows me to be around for them a great deal, I still do miss out on some school events that occur when I have a work conflict. I also give up a lot around the house. I get ready each day in a half-painted, outdated bathroom that I haven’t had time to finish in the four years we’ve lived here.

And so with any choice, you make some trade-offs. To be satisfied with both your family and your work, you must decide which ones you are willing to make.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

While I think families should appreciate their moms every day, it is nice to at least have one day when we are reminded to tell our moms how much we love them. I was treated with breakfast in bed this morning, in addition to some fine artwork made at school.

Too bad we don't get paid for the work we do as moms. Each year salary.com does an analysis of the market rate for the work that moms do raising children and doing housework. This year's report suggests that stay-at-home moms would earn $116, 805 and full-time working moms would earn $68,405 for the work they do around the house. If you'd like to personalize this number, visit their website at http://mom.salary.com. You can even print out a fake paycheck.

The problem is of course, the paycheck is fake. It might make a nice reminder for your family about all of the work that you do, but you will never get paid for the work you do in raising your family. Moms and dads do of course get rewards for raising a family, you can't replace the love from your children with money. However, you also can't feed your kids without money. Therefore, doing paid work that provides for your family is also an important component of raising a family. So if you are a working mom, treat yourself on Mother's Day by giving up any guilt you feel for working.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Being a Role Model

I've met many parents who believe that the way to be a good parent is to always 'be there' and to do everything for your kids. They think that the only way to show true love for your kids is to show self-sacrifice.

Well, I don't agree. I'm not a parenting expert, but it seems that the kids that I see who have parents that put their kids before themselves tend to be self-centered and often mis-behaved. I am continuing to read the Love and Logic book I mentioned last week, and it seems these parenting experts agree with me. Below is an excerpt (Cline & Fay, 2006, Pinon Press, p. 14):

"If parents take good care of themselves, then children have a good chance of growing up to be adults who take care of themselves. When parents always put the children first, they risk putting themsleves last and raising entitled, demanding children (better known as spoiled brats)."

While work is certainly not the only way to put yourself first, it certainly is one way to make sure you lead a happy fulfilled life. I've talked to several stay-at-home parents who love their children and enjoy the opportunity to be at home with them, but feel like they are missing something. They question whether it is the self-fulfillment you get by engaging in paid work that you enjoy.

I know that I am a better parent because I work. I feel satisfied with myself, and as a result, I am more pleasant to be around for my kids. Further, I think I am setting a good example for them by showing them that you can be a good mom, who is around a lot, who also has a successful career. I hope for the same for them when they grow-up.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Dinner Party

I mentioned a few days ago the benefit of seeking out mentors, or asking others for advice. Unfortunately, I personally haven't had too many role models to follow. My one career regret is that I didn't pursue a mentor early in my career. But then, my career interests have shifted so often that I am not sure there was someone I encountered along the way that could have guided me.

That said, it is always interesting to consider who would be your ideal mentors if you could meet anyone. I've always thought it would be fascinating to pull together the famous women I admire for a dinner party. Who would you enjoy having dinner and cocktails with?

Here's my Dinner Party list:
- Hillary Clinton
- Oprah Winfrey
- Barbara Walters
- Martha Stewart

What kind of evening would that be? What could I learn? I'm sure I would be too intimidated to really ask them anything. But, I think I would learn more about life and success in that evening than I did in my five years of earning a Ph.D..

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Requesting Part-time Work

This evening I ran into an old friend that I haven't seen in a long time. Unfortunately, she recently made a request for part-time work without first reading my book!

She hastily made a request for a part-time schedule at her employer of 8 years, and was denied as quickly as she asked. Her mistake? Well, she made a few. First, she did not thoroughly consider what she wanted, and how her request would benefit the company. Instead, she just went to the human resources department (HR) and asked if she could get a part-time schedule.

Which leads to her second mistake, which was not to identify the right person to ask. She told me that she probably should have talked to her boss first. Instead, she went to HR who just said "no." And why wouldn't they say no. If they tell her yes, they will just have to deal with others who ask for part-time. Further, they are going to be stuck trying to hire someone to complete the work she can't do because she is part-time.

So what she should she do now?

First, she needs to think creatively about how part-time work could benefit her company. Is there someone else interested in a job share? How important is it for them to retain her?

Next, she needs to consider how her work would be completed if she was part-time. What could she transition to someone else? Who? What work could she streamline? Where could she become more efficient? Could she do some work from home?

Once she has considered these things, she needs to put together a written proposal that spells it all out. Essentially, she needs to put in writing why this is a good business decision. She also needs to do all of the work in figuring out the arrangement. How will her pay be affected? Her benefits? She is the one that wants the flexibility, so she should be the one to figure out how it will work.

She then needs to meet with her boss and discuss her proposal and convince him that it is a good business decision to grant her request. After eight years of solid work performance, she should be at least able to get them to meet her somewhere in-between. It will likely take some negotiaion, but with the right proposal, I do think she can get the work schedule she wants.

But first, she needs to read my book!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Summer Off

Because I start my full-time teaching job in the fall, I've decided to take the summer off. My kids have three more weeks of school, and then I will keep them home for two months.

I'm not exactly completely off work. I will be teaching an online course and I have a couple of speaking engagements scheduled. I will also need to do some prep work for the fall semester. I plan to manage my work creatively. Working in the evenings, and occasionally paying a neighbor girl to play with the kids. But otherwise I will be on my own with the gang.

Other than the first few months of my son's life, I have not taken off more than a week at a time. And to be honest, it is somewhat terrifying. What will I do if I start going crazy? What if stay-at-home life isn't for me? Or worse, what if I love it? What if I can't imagine working full-time in the fall?

Right now I am just looking forward to it. It will be fun for the kids to get up in the morning and not have to rush somewhere. We have lots of things on our adventure list and many friends we've made plans with. It will be good for my house to have some time to maybe fix a few things up. And it will be good for me to just relax some. Which, despite the things I've mentioned I will be doing, I will find some time to do.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Learning from Others

Today I had a great conversation with a woman that I met through a leadership conference that I spoke at. She "won" a mentoring session with me at the conference. I didn't really know what to expect from our meeting, I planned to just chat with her some and see if I could share some advice from my experience.

We had an enjoyable discussion, she shared her background and I shared more about mine. She is a busy working mom, but started her family at the beginning of her career. Whereas, my career was in full swing when I had kids. While I struggle to integrate my kids into my working life, she is struggling to give her career a boost.

While I don't think I gave her any unusually remarkable advice, she had several 'ah-ha' moments during our discussion. I gave some suggestions that I thought were very simple, but they were things she hadn't thought of.

It reminded me that often we get so wrapped in our own worlds, it is difficult to take a step back and consider what we could be doing differently. We are too close to our own situation to look at it objectively.

This is why it is important to learn from others. I take every chance I can to network and talk with others. Whether it is about raising kids, harmonizing my work with my family, or just advancing in my career, I find that other's opinions help me to see opportunities I might be missing.

Monday, April 28, 2008

One Mom's Quest

I received a note from Kiki Peppard who read my post about maternal profiliing and shared her story (link here) about her work in Pennsylvania to pass a bill to prevent employers from asking questions about kids.

You may recognize Ms. Peppard if you watched the documentary the Motherhood Manifesto. (You can find it on MomsRising website if you haven't- you should see it!). Ms. Peppard shares her story of being denied employment after admitting that she had children. She has been fighting for this legislation for over ten years, with no success yet.

While I completely support Ms. Peppard's efforts, I don't think that legislation is the way to make real change in the workplace. It is an important component to the solution, but only one part. There will always be idiot employers out there who make bad decisions, such as not hiring moms because they think they are unreliable. And a law to penalize them is a good idea and will protect many women (although if you make such bad decisions, won't your business fail anyway?).

But, I believe that every time a parent negotiates some flexibility in their work, we make some progress toward changing the nature of the work world. Further, as employers begin to see that they can attract and retain top talent through offering flexible work arrangements that allow people to have a life outside of work, real change will begin to evolve.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Maternal Profiliing

One would think that in 2008, you could not deny a woman employment because she has children. But, it seems that this isn't the case. A recent study published in the American Journal of Sociology found that women with children are half as likely to be called back after an interview than women without children. (See related story at ABC.com) Many employers believe that women with children are not reliable or not committed to working.

In most states it is not illegal to ask women if they have children. As long as they ask both men and women the same questions, a company has not done anything illegal. However, if a company asks about kids, they are likely going to use that information to decide not to hire a mom. Of course it is difficult to prove that an employer only asks women about having kids. Further, it is difficult to prove that the kids are the reason the company didn't hire someone.

Some suggest maybe the laws need to change. Right now it is illegal to ask about children in 22 states. I haven't been able to find any evidence on whether or not such laws have any effect on actual outcomes for women. Similar laws in other states certainly couldn't hurt, they would at least give women some recourse if they believe they were discriminated against.

However, I believe maternal profiling will end only when real change takes place in the workplace. When companies are able to offer flexible work options that allow moms (and dads) to meet their family obligations and also get their work done, companies will realize that a mom isn't such a bad hire.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Conference Travel

This week I am traveling out of town to speak at a conference. I will only be out of town for a few nights, but I look forward to it as if it was a vacation! Conference travel offers several perks to the working parent:

- Low-guilt childless travel. My husband and I occasionally get away for a day or two, but I always feel bad for leaving the kids and also for imposing on a family member to take them (of course I don’t feel bad enough not to go, just a little bad). But when I travel to a conference, I can’t feel bad because I must go. It’s not like I am electing to take a vacation, I have to go for my job. Further, I leave the kids with my husband. Instead of feeling bad for imposing on someone, I feel good to give him some ‘quality’ time with the kids.

- Sleeping alone, all night. I’ve mentioned before that I often wake in the night to visitor from down the hall. No such thing in a hotel room by yourself! Good sleep, all night.

- A break from work. Unlike other business travel, conferences typically give you a chance to relax and learn in an un-stressful environment. Even though I am speaking at this conference, I don’t have to work too hard. It is more about networking, picking up some interesting information, and a few nice dinners out.

And so, while I will miss the kids and will get a little behind in my work, I am looking forward to my few days away!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Motherhood as a Career Obstacle

When it comes to work and family concerns, women continue to face more challenges than men. This fact holds true even in other parts of the world. Spain's first female defense minister is expecting a baby soon and some have commented that she should not take the 16 weeks of paid maternity leave she is entitled to (see article here).

The challenge is even greater in the U.S. which doesn't even provide new moms with the benefit of paid time-off. As noted in the above article:

"There's a clear penalty to motherhood and caregiving in this country," says Eileen Appelbaum, director of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University. "Basically we've said to women, if you can conduct yourself in the workplace as if you were a man, without any other responsibilities, being available day and night, then (and only then) will your pay and opportunities will be similar."

As long as women play the game, they can be successful. Pick your career or pick your family. This is the dilemma faced by women in the workforce. While many have negotiated the flexibility they need in order to be successful both at home and at work, change is still needed. In addition to making changes in your own work arrangement, you can join the effors of MomsRising to promote open and flexible work here.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

TV Turn-off Week

Next week is National TV Turn-off Week. I like the idea of trying a week without TV. I am not sure if we will try it for a week, but we might go for a day or two. I know that there are many kids and families that spend hours every day sitting in front of a TV. While cartoons were a Saturday morning treat when I was a child, they are now on 24 hours a day, on multiple channels. Clearly, 5 or 6 or even more hours of TV for chlidren is not a good idea. If they are watching TV, they are missing out on doing things kids should be doing, including playing outside or doing crafts.

But, is a little TV such a terrible thing? I let my kids watch some TV each day. They watch a half-hour or so in the morning while I take a shower and then another half-hour while settling down for bedtime. Sometimes when my daughter is taking a nap, my son has the TV on while he plays with his Legos or something. Many will say that I let them watch too much. But I am not so sure.

I probably do watch too much TV myself. But, after a long and stresfsul day, sometimes just mindlessly watching TV (with reality being my favorite) helps me to de-stress.

So my question, is a little TV all so bad? While I am sure my kids could watch less TV, and I am pretty set on not letting them watch more, do I need to feel guilty about them watching what they do? I watched TV as a kid and I haven't turned out so bad. And, even though it is a passive activity, my kids do learn things. Most of what my kids know about careers (police, fire, etc.), they have learned from videos. And often they will do something such as spell a word or explain something new to me based on something they caught on a show.

With everything else I am supposed to feel guilty about, is a few hours of TV here and there really so bad? Or can I just give myself some slack on this one?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Gratitude

A family in our community is dealing with the discovery of a rare form of cancer in their 3 year old daughter. She has had surgery, radiation and is now in the midst of chemotherapy, all in just the last few weeks. And while she still has a long battle ahead of her, the prognosis is good.

And so on days when I feel stressed, when I wonder how I am going to get everything done that I need to, I try to remember everything I should be grateful for. I tried doing a gratitude journal once, as I read that writing down the positives in your life will help you focus on those and improve your overall happiness and well-being. But I kept forgetting to write in it. Go figure. Under stress you forget often to take time to be happy. But today I thought I would take a minute and list some things I am grateful for.

- Two, healthy and happy kids. While they have had some health issues, and we struggle with some things such as their speech development, overall they wake up every day feeling good and happy.
- A stable income, a nice home, and all of the necessities we desire. While we may not be able to buy all of the things we'd like, or do everything we want to, we really do live a comfortable life.
- A good marriage, while we certainly have our share of fights, Dave and I get along better than most.
- Many great friends. I am never in need of a friend to call, or someone to go do something fun with. My husband and I both have been fortunate to surround ourselves with wonderful people.
- An enjoyable and self-fulfilling career. I truly enjoy what I do.

All in all not a bad list. There really isn't too much more that I want from life. Often, just focusing on the good and having a positive attitude can help any day be a better one!