I read everything I can about what companies are doing make progressive culture shifts in their workplaces.  I also talk to dozens and dozens of work/life and diversity practitioners to get a deeper understanding of the challenges they face to keep pace with the demands of their workforce and create work environments that will yield the greatest performance.  I was excited to have the opportunity last week to attend Working Mother Media’s Flexibility Leadership Summit.  The agenda was filled with practitioners, consultants, thought leaders, change agents and an array of talent all talking about how they were attempting to make the shift to a culture of flexibility.  The corporate leaders all talked about how much work they have done to gain support within their organizations for flexibility and all the associated programs they have created.  And, after spending over five years studying the practices at hundreds of major corporations while I ran the Working Mother Best Companies initiatives, I am acutely aware of the hard work they all put into these efforts.  However, I could not help but wonder how these programs are actually working in companies where employees, more often than not, are working 24/7 (thanks to our bittersweet love affair with technology – my iPhone is next to my bed every night, how about you?), there are more financial pressures than we have seen in decades and everyone is concerned about being the next one eliminated in a corporate layoff.  When I talked to people at the onset of the recession, I warned them about the enticement of backing off from their work/life programs (because everyone should be happy just to have a job) and that once the economy rebounds, those that maintained would win.  But despite the herculean efforts to maintain and even possibly improve the programs within their workplaces, the sheer force of reality, has had to have taken its toll on these programs.  So, I wonder if these companies are really able to walk the talk.  Even in the good old days before the recession, those of us that measured what companies were doing and tracked best practices wondered how aligned the policies were with the day-to-day realities of the workforce.

I applaud and support all the hard work these companies and their practitioners are doing to make the shift to Workplace 2.0 (or is it 3.0 now?).  The workplace of our fathers and grandfathers (note I did not say mothers and grandmothers) is beyond obsolete and the truth is that work and the workforce is changing so rapidly, it is hard to imagine that any company has the agility to be able to keep up.  Todd Sears from Credit Suisse, the host for the Flex Summit, showed us Did You Know? – a YouTube video that many have seen before but is worth sharing.  And, FlexPaths, one of the knowledge partners for the Summit, also talked about their great video Shift Happens.  Both of these are really powerful messages and reminders that the world is changing so fast and this little flex thing is part of a much bigger conversation.

And, of course, there is no one doing more to tackle this work than the Center for Work-Life Policy and the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force, headed up by Sylvia Ann Hewlett.  Hewlett was the keynote speaker last week and, during her presentation, I found myself nodding in agreement and understanding while also further wondering how this culture shift is actually going to take place.  Hewlett spent most of her talk discussing research conducted for her new book Top Talent (a quick and great read – I highly recommend it).  She talked a lot about extreme jobs – those that demand a 60+ hour workweek along with other performance pressures.  The reality is that the individuals in these extreme jobs are actually working closer to 75+ hours a week and, in fact, nearly 45% of jobs in global corporations are extreme.  So, let’s do that math – nearly half of the workers in global companies are in extreme jobs and are working nearly twice the “normal” workweek.  So, if there are 120 hours in a workweek and these extreme workers are working during 75 of those hours and maybe sleeping 6 hours a night – at best – which represents another 30 hours, that leaves 15 hours each week free for things like family, exercise, meals, hygiene, commuting, etc.  That represents 3 hours per day.  Where’s the flexibility in that?

The truth is that today’s workers are stressed, disengaged and worried about keeping their jobs.  In a time when companies are creating programs and policies to allow their employees to work remotely and stagger or reduce their hours, workers are feeling more and more compelled to have face-time with their bosses in order to maintain a sense of relevance and hopefully avoid elimination.

This conundrum fascinates me and inspires me to do more to help both employers and employees find pathways to make it work.  There is still an enormous misalignment in many organizations because they are either too steeped in their culture or not agile enough to begin the paradigm shift that allows for performance-based management which completely changes the equation.  Plus, this nasty recession threw a monkey wrench into things just as we were starting to figure it out.

All this being said, I want to hear from you.  Please share with me what you, as an employee, are experiencing or what you are doing as a leader or work/life practitioner.  The more we can listen to and study both sides of the equation, the more equipped we will be to make the shift and prepare the workforce and the leadership for the workplace of the future.  Feel free to post here or send me an email at tammypalazzo@gmail.com.  Looking forward to hearing your comments!

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