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 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 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.