What the boss can do for you
New Year’s resolutions tend to be discarded like old Christmas trees — and often just as quickly. But blaming ourselves for being weak only masks a larger problem. We don’t go to the gym or get home in time for dinner with the family because our lives contain too much stress and not enough time and we, the workers of the world, cannot unilaterally change that. So I suggest turning the idea of resolutions on its head, and making them for other people, specifically, people empowered to change the punishing pace of the working world. I turned to smart thinkers in the realm of life/work — people who have done a lot to advance the conversation this past year. If you could assign a resolution to a business leader to improve the lot of the overstressed, less-than-balanced worker, I asked, what would that resolution be? I began with Cathleen Benko, an author of Mass Career Customization (Harvard Business School Press, 2007), which I think was the most important life/work book this year. Benko is the chief talent officer at Deloitte & Touche USA, and her book is a prescription for workplace change based on her experiences at Deloitte, where an internal study found that flexibility policies were doing only half their job. Boatloads of employees had flexible schedules but the arrangements tended to be made at times of “crisis,” Benko says, when a baby is born or a relative is sick, and were rarely revisited. So flexibility became de facto marginalization, making the workers seem like exceptions to the norm and providing no way for them to dial their schedule back up. Deloitte has begun “mapping” the careers of all its employees — plotting their work schedules (fulltime, part-time), their workloads, their work locations (home? lots of travel?) and their roles (leader, support player). The maps show that today’s workers no longer climb a corporate ladder so much as navigate a corporate lattice — sometimes going sideways or even a few steps down, she wrote. Rather than pretending that work is always first priority, “the boss should be the first to say, ‘I’m not going to make that meeting, because my newest grandchild is in town,’ ” she says. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the author of Off-Ramps and On-Ramps (Harvard Business School Press, 2007), proposes a similar New Year’s resolution for executives. The “permission” for balance must come from the top, she says: “Walk the talk, strut the stuff.”
Hewlett points to leaders who have done so. “Niall FitzGerald, when he was chair of Unilever, made a public breakfast date several times a week with his 6-year-old daughter,” she says. (FitzGerald stepped down in 2004.) “Instead of pretending he was at some earlymorning meeting, he told everyone what he was doing,” she says. “It was profoundly liberating for his subordinates and resulted in a 20 per cent uptake in people making use of existing flexibility policies.”
Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson also favour shaking up the workplace. In the past few years, they
have polished a simple but revolutionary concept called Results-Only Work Environment, based on the idea that workplaces operate best when employees come and go on their own schedules( visit caliandjody.com).
Asked for resolutions, they wrote a manifesto that a business leader might do well to sign:
I, important CEO, resolve to stop saying things like “people are our most important asset” and start doing something about it.
I resolve to listen to what employees of all levels need to live their lives and then not dismiss what they say because it makes me uncomfortable.
I resolve to stop thinking that people’s lives outside of work are at odds with their lives at work.
I resolve to start putting results first and the clock second.
Shelley MacDermid, a family studies professor at Purdue University who studies the return of military workers to civilian life, is also concerned with the tone that leaders set. She suggested that company systems should be set so email messages “arrive only during business hours,” no matter when they are sent.
Often, she wrote in an email message, a boss is a night owl, dashing off notes at 3 a.m. and sending the message that employees should answer at all hours. “I don’t want to send any kind of overt or covert message that others should be ready to receive email whenever I care to send it,” she wrote of her own workplace.
If she ruled the world, Joan Williams, the director of the Center for WorkLife Law, would “send the message that fathers are expected to take three months of family leave after the birth of their children.”
It is good for employers, too. “Many Gen-X and Gen-Y men are determined to play a larger role in their children’s lives than their fathers did in theirs,” she says. “They will stick with an employer who recognizes this.”
Eric Mosley, the chief executive of Globoforce, which creates corporate employee recognition programs, would have leaders resolve to say thank you.
“There is nothing worse than investing an enormous amount of time and energy in your work and having no one recognize what a great job you’ve been doing,” he says.
Ilene H. Lang, the president of Catalyst, which researches the role of women in corporate leadership, also proposes two words: “one more.”
“Add just one more woman to the candidate slate for every top management job,” she wrote in an email message.