Business Solutions: Working Parents, Summer, and Special Needs Kids

Spring has arrived and the end of the school year is within sight.  Most kids are counting down the days while most working parents are breaking a sweat trying to cobble together two-plus months of camps, vacations, occasional day-trips, and childcare, hoping their plans on paper work in practice.  Add a child, teen, or young adult with special needs and the challenges intensify considerably.

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

If you’re an employer or a manager, here are three ways you can offer support:

FLEXIBILITY RULES

1. Children have needs over the summer, and without school providing a predictable daily schedule, parents struggle.  Add a child with autism or other special needs, and the challenges intensify.  Some children qualify for Extended School Year services, yet they're typically less than a full-day and almost never run from the last day of school in June to the first day of school in late August/early September. 

SOLUTION:  Provide flexible work hours if not already offered, offer parents remote work opportunities, and allow for vacation and personal time to be used in hours or partial days vs. full days.  And be flexible with last-minute and crisis needs that arise.  If your parental leave policies need evaluation, now is the time to do it.  Companies that are aware and responsive to these needs are those that retain working parents.

PRIVACY HELPS

2. Children with special needs who are attending camp and other summer programs often have needs that require parent assistance.  And it's not the "I forgot my swimsuit" type of need either.  Therapies, tutoring, and other supports continue throughout the summer, putting extra pressure on already stressed parents with exceptional caregiving responsibilities when it comes to juggling work, appointments, transportation and more.

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SOLUTION:  Allow parents access to a specially-designated office or private space for them to make telephone calls, schedule a video conference with camp personnel or support staff, schedule appointments, and confer with doctors, clinicians, and others as needed.  It can reduce time away from the office and provides employees with the privacy they need.  Plus, it demonstrates that the company understands the stressors involved with exceptional caregiving responsibilities, not only on a daily basis but also during the challenging summer months as well.

SUPPORTS MATTER

3. Children with autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, or similar needs require structure and predictability, and the summer months are often when this is difficult to achieve and maintain.  Parents prepare as best as possible, yet situations develop that require them to adapt and adjust quickly.  A particular camp may not work.  A childcare provider may leave.  A therapist may request additional evaluations.  These situations mean that employees need time and resources to help. 

SOLUTION:  Communicate to all employees that their EAP is available to assist with issues that relate to summer needs, whether locating a last-minute child care provider or addressing stress-related issues.  Providing employees with access to resources to help them manage their children’s needs as well as their own work/life issues is key to employee retention.  And if employee assistance or work/life programs or services are not yet available, now is the time to start.

One of the things we consistently hear from working parents is that they need more support and assistance, whether managing their children's needs or understanding how to navigate through school.  And these needs are year-round, often intensifying over the summer months as planning for September begins well before this school year ends. 

Employers play a pivotal role, not only in creating family-friendly workplaces, but in recognizing that many working parents have needs that are not so apparent...or even discussed, and that go way beyond infancy.  Offering flexibility and supports to parents throughout the year, especially over the summer months, can make all the difference in helping top performing employees remain on the job.

It's True...Working Women Are Mothers Too

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

If you're a woman who works outside of the home and a mother as well, you get it in spades.  If not, it's time to. 

Women are more than 50% of the workforce.  And many of these same women are also mothers, raising children.  Problem is, the business world doesn't seem to fully understand what this means.  Yet.

There are some areas where businesses are starting to listen and beginning to understand -- wage equality, paid family leave, and the push for more women in leadership positions.  All important issues, not only for women but for our society as a whole.  

And most of us would agree that work/life issues as they impact working mothers (and fathers) are "at the table" today in many business discussions.  Steps forward.  Yet particularly for working mothers, the steps aren't far enough. 

The realities are that millions of working mothers are unable to achieve and maintain any modicum of work flexibility and many fail to take or use their full maternity leave.  Many are being challenged in terms of their commitment to their job when a need arises regarding their children (and make no mistake about it...these "needs" continue for 21+ years).  And still others - and there are more than is known - are being forced, often in subtle but powerful ways, to choose between their careers/jobs and being a parent. 

I don't know anyone who would want to face these kinds of choices.

Let's think about a few things:

Do companies truly believe that it's still okay, in 2018, for such struggles to exist for working mothers?   Would those in senior leadership accept the same for their wives, daughters, or granddaughters?  And yes, I realize that women can be the ones exerting this pressure too.

Do companies think choosing motherhood means that their education and experience becomes an afterthought or that the time they've spent investing in and creating their careers suddenly has no meaning?  Or value?

Do companies not understand the big picture and think that the time (measured in years) working mothers spend raising and instilling values and qualities in their children - the same ones companies want in their future employees ... things like integrity, honesty, respect and kindness - happens in only a brief few months?  Or by age 5?

There are firms developing career reentry initiatives to help working mothers return to the workforce after spending "x" number of years raising their children.  And recommendations are now seeing the light of day for how to address a gap in a resume when it relates to parenting.   Why is stating that raising the next generation is something to be ashamed of, to excuse, or to hide?  Since when did raising a child equate to something to apologize for?  What messages are we giving and being forced to accept? 

Working women who are mothers deserve to have their abilities and their needs supported, both as parents and employees.  And this happens when "family-friendly" companies as defined by their culture and behaviors up and down the organization resonate with every working mother no matter their position, title or role.  Policies are great, but don't replace attitudes and actions.

For those companies truly embracing working mothers and not asking or expecting an explanation or apology about their life choices or how they've spent or spend their time, hats off.  And for those who aren't there yet, it's okay...we aren't going anywhere and our voices will continue to be heard.

 

School Starts…And So Does Special Education

Riding a roller coaster with your child can be exhilarating, yet living on one from September through June is another thing entirely.  The truth is, this is life for many parents of children with special education needs, and working parents often have the added pressures of work/life conflicts.  

For some children, the start of a new school year can be terrific while for others, it’s a nightmare from day one.  No doubt about it…parental preparation is key.  

Often times, even with an IEP or 504 in place, issues emerge quickly with parents hearing things like this:

  • My child's teacher refuses to allow my son to chew special items we provided from home to help him focus.
     
  • We clearly explained at our spring IEP meeting that our daughter needs extra time to transition from class to class, yet we’ve received a note saying that she’s been late for class several times.
     
  • Even though we agreed that homework will be limited to 30 minutes per night, we’re already spending triple that amount of time and behaviors are starting.

Sound familiar?  

Here are three strategies to help:

  1. If your child shows signs early in September that things are not working, reconvene your IEP team.  You should convene in September or early October anyway as your child has certainly changed over the summer and issues agreed upon in April may no longer apply. 
     
  2. Speaking of summer, if your child made progress or regressed during this time, bring this information and data to your IEP team meeting.  It's essential that everyone involved in teaching and supporting your child knows what has happened from June through September.
     
  3. If your child has been privately evaluated or re-evaluated over the summer and you understand and agree with the report, provide a copy to your district before heading into an IEP meeting.  You want to give them sufficient time to review the documentation so that you're all on the same page during your discussions.

And the most important piece of advice is this – remember that your child is continually changing and as such, your child's IEP may need to change as well.  It is a “living document” that must be reviewed and revised to reflect how your child is developing.

Your child's key advocate is you, so remember the 3 P’s:  Be prepared.  Be proactive.  And pace yourself.   This great business quote certainly applies -- "What you want, you will get.  But you have to want it enough to go about getting it."

Parents, Children, Autism, and Unconditional Love

Let me start by saying that I'm not a psychologist, sociologist, or expert on love.  I am, however, a parent and as such, have filled these roles and many more in the two decades since I went from being "me" to "we." Andrew Solomon's recently posted TED talk - "Love, no matter what" on parenting, children, differences, and unconditional love struck a number of chords.  How we need to embrace our children and their differences and how unconditional love means doing just this.  He spoke of the changes we as a society have undergone in terms of understanding and accepting our gay children, our children with Down's Syndrome, and our children with other differences and disabilities.  And while I agreed with much of his talk, there were two points of fairly strong disagreement, one of which follows.

Solomon stated that parents of children with autism who wish that their children did not have this diagnosis somehow fail the litmus test of unconditional love.  What?  Parents of autistic children don't love their children unconditionally?  Say it wasn't what he said.  But it was.

On my soapbox I climb once again to say... No parents understand the definition of unconditional love like parents of children with autism.

I don't need to revisit again what I've expressed so many times before...the hours, sacrifices, work/life conflicts, financial strain, family upheaval...all the things that define parenting children, teens, and young adults in a world where they struggle at best to meet its demands.  But I do need to ensure that anyone who may not understand why parents would "wish" their children did not have this diagnosis, understands it now.

Parents of autistic children see their children's struggles every day in ways that clinicians, teachers, and others cannot.  They see them from sunrise to sunset.  They know that the weather, clothing, food, sounds, movement, people, activities, environments, and a host of other day-to-day situations create chaos for their children.  Does anyone think these parents may "wish" this wasn't the case for their children?  Does anyone think these parents may "wish" their children had friends?  Could speak?  Could drive?  Live independently?  Work?

If parents of children with autism wish anything, it's that their children did not have these struggles or needs.  They wish for anything - something - to lessen their children's pain.  But the wishing has nothing whatsoever to do with love.  And certainly not unconditional love.  Parents of children with autism *define* unconditional love and epitomize what this truly means.  They could also teach a lesson or two to many other parents as well.

We all wish for things.   For life to be easier.  For money to be more.  For family to be well.  And yes, parents of children with autism do wish for things too.  That their 4th Grader would be invited to a classmate's birthday party.  That their 8th Grader would be asked to be in the science club.  That their 12th Grader would be able to attend college.  But the one wish they don't have is wishing that their children were different so their love for them would then be without restrictions or caveats.

It's this type of unconditional love that keeps parents of children with autism forging ahead, plowing through the difficulties, never taking "no" for an answer, exploring supports wide and far.  If wishing comes into play here at all, it's that these parents wish that their children may have every opportunity to live a life where *their* wishes can come true.  And their shot at doing so rests firmly on the shoulders of their parents who love them unconditionally.

Trust Me...It's A Crisis

I've always struggled with numbers but not this one... From the CDC comes this statistic - 1 in 50 children under the age of 17 holds an autism diagnosis.  Even for me, someone who has worked with parents of children with autism for years and suspected for quite some time that even the most recent statistic of 1 in 88 children was low, seeing this in print was simply startling.

Ask anyone whose life has been touched by autism and they'll tell you that it changes everything.  It strains marriages and finances.  Overwhelms resources and time.  Shifts priorities and plans.  Every day, in every possible way, autism overtakes life and the expression ..."let me count the ways" doesn't even scratch the surface in terms of the impact an autism spectrum disorder has on parents, families and well beyond.  Trust me, I know.

At a time when school budgets are being slashed and families are truly hurting by an aching economy, these numbers equate to a huge wake-up call for those who may have been napping.  The need for early intervention services is critical as the earlier supports and services are secured, the greater likelihood that the child can make and sustain progress.  The need for broader and more complex supports for teens has never been greater with social deficits and bullying defining a huge part of life for high school students.  And the need for college-level support is enormous, as the expectations and freedom that accompany the foray into young adult independence brings with it enormous risks.  Trust me, I know.

Working parents have the greatest challenges and if both parents are employed full-time outside of the home or if it's a single parent household, all bets are off.  Therapies, evaluations, research, school meetings, crisis situations...the strain on working parents and their time, finances, and health are beyond what employers and colleagues understand or even recognize. And as I say ad nauseum...behind every child with an autism spectrum disorder is a parent (or two parents) of a child with an autism spectrum disorder.  Trust me, I know.

Autism is complex and multi-faceted, leaving even the most "on" parents buckling under the strain.   Parents find themselves leaving jobs because any hope of work/life balance is greatly compromised if not impossible.  Parents find themselves on Google at 3 a.m. or spending weekends sifting through books and journals.  Parents find themselves remortgaging their homes, borrowing from family members, and altering their way of life beyond what those on the outside could fathom.   Trust me, I know.

Autism is a crisis.  Plain and simple.  It was a crisis five years ago and is even moreso today.  And while many are researching causes and developing new therapies, the reality is that exploding numbers of children and teens are struggling on this very day from wake-up in the morning to sleep (if sleep even happens) at night, in 2nd Grade and 11th Grade, in public schools and private schools.  And standing behind and beside each of these children is a worn, overwhelmed, frustrated, and confused parent - or two parents - trying in herculean ways to find answers and make things better.  Trust me, I know.

When a crisis hits, people mobilize.  Only in this case, it isn't a natural disaster but rather a national crisis impacting not only families in their own homes, but employers as well.  Employers must offer assistance, whether through flexible work options, funds allocated for an employee to use for therapies, private school, or legal counsel, or employee resource groups so working parents can share information and offer support.  Because even with internet research in the middle of the night, what working parent with an 8 or 14-year-old with Asperger's Syndrome has the time or energy to shoulder more than they already are?  Employers also need to recognize that today's children with an autism spectrum disorder will likely be tomorrow's employees programming their computer system or writing their corporate manual.  And in terms of society, everyone needs to begin to understand autism differently, for many pre-conceived notions from years ago are as outdated as go-go boots and wall telephones.

One in 50 children has autism.  It impacts everyone and is a genuine crisis.  Trust me, I know.

 

 

"Leaning In" By Another Name

I know that there are going to be people who vehemently disagree with my thoughts on this, but that's okay.  I tend to speak up and out particularly if I believe others may be harmed or excluded in some way.  This is no different. Several days ago, I heard Sheryl Sandberg say that "not all women can do what I do."  I stopped for a minute before my head blew off my shoulders, only to conclude that regardless of whether you interpreted this statement as "I'm giddy because I have access to supports and opportunities that other women don't" or  "I'm smarter/more capable than the rest of you," it set me off.

Sandberg's premise that women need to "lean in" in order to achieve, be successful, be recognized as strong negotiators or leaders ... all assume that women are somehow either sitting on their behinds watching the world pass by or are hoping that, someday or somehow, someone (perhaps on a white horse) will recognize their efforts and reward them accordingly.  Her advice that women take more risks and fantasize about their careers assumes that women at any age/stage either aren't or haven't been doing so, or that working mothers in particular have the time or resources to be *able* to take these risks or imagine themselves elsewhere.  Risk-taking and dreaming are great, but neither pays the bills.

For a woman who makes an income with more zeros than most people - women or men - will ever make ... for a woman with the convenience of having a nursery attached to her office so she can easily soothe her child ... for a woman who extols the wonders of having a spouse who helps with the housework and how this makes all the difference ... as far as I'm concerned, this is bullying ... albeit wrapped in a nicer package.

You might say, "Hey...this is an awfully harsh comparison to make to a woman whose purpose is to motivate women to reach high."  I think otherwise.  Why?  Because while bullying takes all forms, there are commonalities - bullying makes the recipient feel bad about themselves.  Makes them question their worth...wonder if they belong...makes them feel  "less than" or somehow lacking.  And yes, I'm vocal about bullying in all forms and ways.

Whether Sandberg cares to acknowledge it or not, there are millions of women "leaning in" every day to be both Mom and Dad as single parents, struggling to maintain their families and their lives.  Millions doing the daily juggling act of work deadlines, sick kids, aging parents, and managing a marriage and home.  Millions whose education, skills, experience, and yes...drive could easily match Sandberg's, yet situations and life have altered their paths.  Does this mean they aren't working hard or smart enough?  That they're slackers who need a swift kick to shift out of neutral and into gear?  I think not.

It seems to me that we're on a collision course between women who define their achievements in terms of rank and salary and those who see their lives and success differently.  Sure, what woman wouldn't like to be making more and have more flexibility and resources at her disposal.  But rewards and recognition - both in business and in life - are personal measures that shouldn't be open to scrutiny by others *unless* they are opening their hands to help.  Real help in real ways.  Women have made huge strides over the past 20 years, in part because other women have reached out - not down - to open doors, offer guidance, and lead the way.  That's why telling women how they're doing things wrong and making women feel bad about themselves is leading us to a critical fork in the road.

The whole "lean in" concept assumes that women haven't been trying hard enough or haven't been striving to reach the bar, placing many on the fringe as outsiders vs. bringing them into the fold as part of a whole.  It reminds me of those dreadful middle school years where cliques of girls would verbally spar with each other to achieve status.  And we know which girls always worked the hardest - and yes, even the smartest - for recognition and acceptance and received it the least.  Isn't it time to forget the catch phrases which alienate and start recognizing that "leaning in" is just one of the many things women are already doing - and doing quite well - and applaud them for such?

Beating The Drum A Bit More...Telecommuting, Etc.

For the past few weeks, everyone has been either talking or reading about Marissa Mayer's decision to end telecommuting for Yahoo employees.  I've read just about every viewpoint - those who support it, those who vehemently disagree with it, those who believe it's smart business, those who are waiting for Mayer to realize the error of her ways. I've already made my perspectives clear on it - it's a bad business decision, the impact of which go beyond the in-house fallout and anticipated revolving door of exit interviews (if Yahoo even cares to listen) to broader concerns about how the CEO world is going to react/respond.  No question this is a major blow to the years of progress made in the workplace flexibility arena.  But there's a little more to be said.

I just read a 2011 Forbes article  - "What Employees Want More Than A Raise," which reviewed the top drivers of retention.  Care to guess one which was at the top of the list?  Respect.  Hum ... respect.  Let's see...

  • Can a company be viewed as "respecting" its employees if their diverse needs and complicated work/life balance issues are ignored...or worse, shoved aside entirely?
  • Can a company support any contention that it "respects" its employees if management institutes mandates (i.e. you will be at your desk every day at 9:00 a.m.) vs. opening up for discussion - yes, across the organization - operational changes being evaluated (i.e. we're exploring ways to modify our telecommuting policies and are asking for your input)?
  • Can a company view themselves as "respecting" the manager/employee relationship when decisions are made based upon explanations (i.e. the need for communication and collaboration) that simply don't add up?

It's probably clear where I'm heading with this...the answer is no.  Respect is far more than a term in a mission statement or something taught in a Management 101 class.  It's recognizing that communication happens top-to-bottom, bottom-to-top, and side-to-side.  It's understanding that collaboration means working together on difficult issues, appreciating the impact major decisions will have on employees, and offering real, viable options that truly demonstrate that every employee is valuable and, you got it, respected.

No...I don't see anything about this decision that demonstrates respect.  Rather, whether it was Yahoo's way to weed out non-performers or demonstrate that they can exercise control over their workforce, it's pretty apparent - no matter your perspective on the decision itself - that "respect" for its employees was not even a discussion point during that meeting.

Struggling Kids Become Adults ... Then What?

Did you know that the costs to incarcerate someone is more than it is to educate them?  I'm sure this is the case in most states as would be the statistics that show that a fairly hefty percentage of the young adults and adults in prison have undiagnosed disabilities - learning, developmental, behavioral, emotional, mental. This isn't about scaring parents into thinking that their struggling children are heading to jail.  Rather, it's about asking parents to look toward the horizon, where high school graduation, driving, college, employment, and independent living comes into play.  It's about acknowledging that if your child is struggling today, they may well grow into a struggling adult.

No parent wants to know that their 4th Grader has dyslexia or their 9th Grader is bipolar.  No parent wants to think about how their 6th Grader is going to manage through the social challenges of middle school when their child has Asperger's Syndrome or how their gifted 12th Grader with ADHD is going to handle the demands of college.  But here's the reality - acknowledge and work to support it today, or know that the gaps grow wider and the consequences far more serious with each passing year.

Over the past few months, I've read actual posts from college students asking to pay others to write their college papers or take their online classes for them.  Nothing new as we've heard about this for some time.  And while I'll readily admit that some may be lazy or just not interested in doing the work, others may have been struggling with reading, writing, or math for years.   This creates enormous pressure for the child which morphs into serious challenges for them as adults, and while they learn ways to "smoke and mirror" their deficits, eventually the smoke clears and the mirror cracks.

Ask any college administrator about the increasing numbers of freshman who are taking remedial classes - and more than one or two and often for multiple semesters - because they are woefully deficient in basic academic skills and this tells us plenty.  Ask any college health services department about the exploding numbers of students seeking mental health counseling and this tells us plenty.  And ask any manager about the numbers of Gen Y employees who cannot write a well-developed report or develop a budget and this tells us plenty.   These issues didn't just appear...many have been hidden in plain sight for many for years.

Parents are stretched thin, often struggling to balance work and family with a host of other responsibilities.  And having just one more thing to do is often enough to tip the scale beyond being able to manage.  Yet I would bet that there isn't a parent who doesn't want their child to be able to live and function as a competent, self-sufficient adult.  For many, however, this is a goal that comes with additional requirements in order to achieve it.

Maybe your child won't be posting on Craigslist or a college Facebook page for someone to write their Sociology paper, and maybe your child won't find him/herself struggling with emotional issues that makes keeping a full-time job impossible.  But maybe they will.  Wouldn't it be better to look the needs in the face now, while they're young, instead of hoping they'll go away when they become young adults?  We give our children roots as well as wings to fly, but for many, they need far more.

So What Makes A Best Company "Best"

I admit it...I love reading the annual "best company" lists.   Seeing what new organizations have finally reached the holy grail and those that continue to rise to the top year after year by setting the employee engagement and retention bar high.   It's an added bonus to read about the "perks", or what I call "mini-benefits", companies provide for employees.  They get more creative (or outrageous) year after year. This year's Fortune list is no different.   To not share a few of my favorites would be like recommending a vacation spot sans photos so yes, a handful follow below.  But first is a shout-out to the tenacious HR and work/life pros whose efforts to sell these ideas to the C-suite when budgets are being cut is exactly what HR is all about...remaining firmly focused on meeting and exceeding the needs of their employees.

So which companies really grabbed my attention this year and why?

  • Boston Consulting Group - issues a "red zone report" to flag when an employee is working excessive long weeks (now *this* is a genuine focus on work/life balance and concerns for the health/stress of employees).
  • Salesforce.com - provides 48 hours of paid time to volunteer (great way to support having a life and involvement outside of the office).
  • Alston & Bird - provides health coverage for autism, infertility, and marriage counseling (talk about an organization that understands and is willing to support life's "real" issues and complexities).
  • ARI - offers unlimited tuition reimbursement (this is career development on overdrive and supports the importance of continuous learning).
  • Teksystems - encourages employees to "share almost everything" about their personal lives (not sure how this is implemented, but it definitely establishes an environment geared toward breaking down barriers on issues that are typically left unspoken).

It's easy to see why these organizations achieved "best company" status.  Their bottom-line success is directly tied to an organizational culture that "walks the talk" when it comes to understanding and supporting the diverse nature of their respective workforces and their needs.  HR may have "made the case," however these organizations clearly have leaders who set the tone. But wait...there's more.

The dog talent show and bring your dog to work day (not sure why all the focus on dogs - what about cats or rabbits).  Horseshoe throwing lessons.  "Pie your manager" competitions.  Mid-morning cider and donuts.  Steak cookouts.  On-site farmers markets (very cool, I must say).

Are these fun?  Unusual?  Great fodder for social media photos?  You bet, but there's a huge difference between providing health coverage for infertility and offering donuts with cider (and I enjoy cider too).  The former drills down into issues - often complex, messy, and human - whereas the latter is like sprinkles on a cake - they may make things look better, but don't necessarily change the taste.

Companies that have achieved "best" status have done so because they've addressed the real needs and tough issues facing their employees.  They've met employees where they are in their lives with an honest recognition and response, demonstrating their willingness - and desire - to do something about the life cycle challenges their employees are facing today or may face tomorrow.

Ask any employee who works at these organizations and I guarantee that a nod of approval to volunteer in their community or to be told to reduce their work hours to better manage their stress trumps bringing their dog to work for the day anytime.  We're a culture that often uses words without really understanding their meaning.  For this year's 100 "best" companies, the meaning is as it is intended ... "that which is the most excellent, outstanding, or desirable."

The Juggle & Struggle Of Work/Life

The supermarket is a great place to tap into the pulse of people's lives.  I don't eavesdrop, but discussions often occur in such a way that I'm sure the people doing the talking must think they're in a bubble and can't be overheard.  I could write a book on the things I've heard while shopping for bread and grapes and I'm sure you could too.

SUPERMARKETS ... MORE THAN JUST FOOD

Standing at the deli counter recently, I heard two women - who clearly had not seen each other in a while - sharing their respective "tsoris" (Yiddish for suffering or hurt).  One was doing most of the talking about her elderly father who needed to move into an assisted living facility while her pre-teen child was going through his own difficulties and angst.  I could relate (and wanted to say so) since I went through the independent living/assisted living/nursing home/hospice nightmare with my own father several years ago while my child was dealing with unrelenting bullying in school.  I could see in her face - and I only glanced quickly - that she was barely functional.

There was no way to know whether this woman was also working outside of the home but if so, her candle was not burning at both ends but was about to be extinguished.  Issues of this magnitude have a significant impact on a person's work as family needs overlay all else.  And because life isn't linear and these life situations don't exist in neat, succinct packages where you deal with one thing at a time, chaos can become a way of existence.

IT'S NOT THIS OR THAT

Work/life is a "juggle and a struggle" but just as importantly, it's not an either/or scenario.  While every employee at every life stage is dealing with different issues, one thing is for sure ... it's a rare individual who is facing just one work/life challenge.  Issues often arise together or back-to-back, creating a push-pull ripe with conflict and forcing a rapid shift in priorities, all while taking a daily toll in virtually every aspect of life.

A working parent vs. a single person.  Someone with medical issues vs. someone facing retirement.  An employee with financial pressures vs. one with elder care needs.  Every need and situation is different and "best companies" are constantly searching for ways to respond.  Yet it's essential that organizations also recognize that it's not an either/or scenario ... that many employees are dealing with more than one issue and many times, more than one at a time.  And these needs continue to evolve and change.

WHAT'S TOP OF MIND

It's often the case that when one situation abates, another quickly take its place.  Some issues are never revealed or discussed, yet take a huge toll on an employee's functioning and health.  Others require so much of a person's time and attention that achieving any balance is beyond reach.  Sometimes an employee can barely catch his/her breath before it hits the fan again and while the fan keeps on spinning, so does the employee.

There's really no difference between the ebb and flow of business and the ebb and flow of life.  With one exception.  I've yet to hear anyone in the supermarket talking about profit margins or sales quotas, but do hear plenty about marriages, children, elderly parents, college applications, teens in crisis, divorces, foreclosures, and the need for vacations.  It's not that people aren't thinking about work or that it isn't important.  It's just that home, family, and life are what's being discussed at the deli counter.