CEOs and Work-Life...A Hidden Need

Earlier this week, I participated in a podcast on WorkLife HUB, an international broadcast focusing on the work/life arena.  Our discussion revolved around working parents who have children with autism, ADD, learning disabilities and mental health needs and how employees are struggling with these exceptional caregiving responsibilities both at work and at home. 

We discussed a number of topics, including the obstacles facing employees in terms of disclosing to their managers and colleagues that they have a child or teen with special needs.  We touched on the fact that this is now an issue impacting mothers and fathers alike vs. being a “mommy” issue, and that parents are leaving the workforce because the demands – e.g. time, resources -- are simply too great.

One Piece Of Advice To CEOs

At the end of the podcast, I was asked what one piece of advice I would like to share with CEOs.  It was this -- that while CEOs may not see something, it doesn't mean that it doesn't existWhat I meant by this was that employees, particularly working parents and especially those whose children have ongoing and complex needs, tend not to discuss their lives and their daily juggling.  These issues are hidden from the people who need to know about it the most, because they're the ones who can bring about the organizational change and acceptance needed. 

It’s Time To Normalize

Ask any working parent raising a child with autism, depression, or any number of diagnoses and they'll tell you that they could use 12 more hours in a day and another set of hands at a minimum.  Yet until we "normalize" these issues and recognize that these unseen needs are often more intense and demanding than those we can readily see or discuss, these employees will continue to play - and live - a "smoke and mirrors" existence.  CEOs need to know so they can lead the changes needed.

With Microsoft just announcing that they are actively recruiting employees with autism, the shift is underway.  Companies are recognizing that a diagnosis does not mean unemployable and that many with autism and other unique needs can be valuable and valued employees.  Now companies need to know that it's today's working parents who are raising these children and they need support themselves.  And this starts with the support of the people at the top.

To listen to the podcast mentioned in this blog post, please click HERE.

-Debra I. Schafer

 

A HERCULEAN TASK – A PODCAST WITH DEBRA SCHAFER

A HERCULEAN TASK – A PODCAST WITH DEBRA SCHAFER

THE WORKLIFE HUB

Debra Schafer, the founder and CEO of Education Navigation, and the 2012 winner of the Rising Star Award of the WorldatWork Alliance for Work/Life Progress imparts important advice on employees with a child with special needs.



Few Working Parents Are Saying "Ya-hoo" Today

Having just returned from the Alliance for Work-Life Progress (AWLP) annual forum in Baltimore, discussion surrounding Marissa Mayer (Yahoo) and her decision to end telecommuting for employees bubbled up throughout.   No question, many (including me) are talking about this business decision, and it's one that deserves plenty of discussion. Back in the dark ages - when I began working in the work/life arena, terms like job-sharing and telecommuting required definitions and explanations.  They were foreign concepts to many and those remotely familiar with them quickly concluded that it was something the "other guy" may consider doing, but not them.  We've come a long way...until Mayer slammed on the brakes.

Progress means taking two steps forward and one step back.  We try a new strategy or program and then have to pivot and adjust.  But when something that has been earned - whether a promotion or the ability to work remotely - is taken away under the guise of wanting to improve communication and collaboration, it becomes a new game.

Communication is a process that involves sharing information, facts, and ideas.  Collaboration is a method of bringing together minds and talents.  Neither requires that people breathe the same air space or pass each other en route to the cafeteria.  At least not every day.  We've long since passed the "punch in at 9/punch out at 5 (if you're lucky) and I need to see you sitting at your desk whenever I pass by" workplace, and those who have fought for progress in the area of workplace flexibility are not going to relent.  Nor should they.

Anyone who has a pre-schooler, teen with a disability, elderly parent, sick spouse, or simply the desire to adjust their work location as needed would agree that this mandate is a no-go.  It's one thing for an organization to be *working toward* a culture whereby flexible work options are part of their operations, but quite another to have it implemented and then taken away.  Since when did we revert back to measuring productivity by face-time?  And what measures is Mayer using to conclude that communication, collaboration and productivity have suffered because of telecommuting employees?   Certainly she must share.

Along with up-ending the lives of employees in this organization, there's a broader concern, one that I shared with colleagues at AWLP's forum.  Other CEOs - because we know that CEOs communicate and collaborate with other CEOs albeit not in the same building - will now either be re-examining their own flexible work/telecommuting policies under a new lens or will be concluding that no...this entire concept isn't for their organization because if it didn't work for Yahoo, it won't work for them.

A business is its employees.  Not its building or products.  Not its intellectual capital or services.  It's their people.  Diverse individuals struggling every day to balance their work responsibilities with home lives.  Organizations compete for "best company" status and spend millions recruiting and retaining top performers.

Some things we know ...

  • The emphasis on employee health (mental and physical), stress, balance, and flexibility are core business issues and concerns.
  • Employees place a huge emphasis on the importance of their leaders/managers listening to their needs and responding accordingly.
  • Workplace flexibility is always at the top of the list of reasons why an employee joins or remains with an organization.

Yahoo's short and long-term turnover numbers, exit interview results, and their retrenched recruitment strategies (and goals) will definitely be things I want to see.  And while the extent of the fallout will take some time to assess, of this I feel certain - those employees impacted by this archaic policy will either let their feet do the talking or are saying a lot of words these days, most of which would sound something like this ... "*@#!!*#*!!".

Working Parents -- Start Asking The Tough Questions In School

Why are people so afraid to ask questions?  Okay, let me rephrase...why are parents so afraid to ask questions?  Is it because they don't know the questions to ask, don't want to hear the answers, or are reluctant to question people with expertise they may not have?

This question isn't being posed as something simply to consider, but is being directed in particular to working parents with a child who is struggling in school.  The fact is that while most are truly desperate for knowledge, many are reluctant to open the door to access answers.  But before you say, "Hey...I ask plenty of questions," allow me to elaborate.

WHY THE HESITATION?

If you're a working parent, you're already up to your neck with work/life challenges, particularly if you have a child with, for example, Asperger's Syndrome or a learning disability.  You're struggling to figure out what to do (i.e. what interventions or therapies are appropriate), who should do it (i.e. should you push for these services in school or secure them privately), and how to balance it all (i.e. workplace demands and family responsibilities).  It's a boatload of pressure any way you slice it.

But here's where the "questions" issue comes to a head.  Too many of you are reluctant to ask the psychologist who just completed your child's comprehensive testing to explain the results and data in "lay language" so you can understand it.  A 35-page report and you can't decipher much of it.  You're reluctant to ask your child's tutor (who you're paying for) to show you exactly what skills are being addressed.  You're hesitant to ask your child's teacher for data to support progress or to question things during your child's IEP meeting that are unclear or not making sense.  And if you are asking, you're not asking the questions to yield the information you need.

Questions are not being asked when answers are needed most.  Often times, it's because you see these people as "the experts," therefore it would be wrong, disrespectful, insulting, etc. to question them.  But isn't this precisely what's needed?  And aren't they asking you questions that may make you uncomfortable or push your boundaries?  What's truly puzzling is this -- if you take a similar scenario into the business arena, you are likely fine with asking all kinds of questions and your hesitation to ask is minimal.

I'd like to suggest something here -- that you begin to approach your child's education like you do your work.  In other words, ask yourself whether you're getting a return on your investment.  Is your time (often measured by the hours you're spending away from work handling your child's needs or perhaps reducing your work schedule entirely) and your resources (tapping into savings or borrowing from family) yielding positive results?  If you don't know the answer, you're not asking the tough questions.

Working parents who have children with special needs are mired in a "life mural" that requires unmatched work/life balance strategies.  Confusion and feeling overwhelmed is commonplace.  So what's the solution?  Asking the tough questions of "the experts" and expecting clear answers.  And continuing to ask questions if things remain unclear.  This approach yields powerful results ... and isn't this exactly what you're looking for?