Little "tweaks" lead to work-life fit

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Little "tweaks" lead to work-life fit

Cali Williams Yost calls upon workers to take small steps for big results

by Adrienne Rose Johnson on Tuesday, October 8, 2013 - 9:01am

image of family dinner

In a world without walls, what separates work from life? When time cards and factory bells have gone the way of the card catalog, how do workers know when work ends and life begins? According to Cali Williams Yost, these big questions are best addressed with small solutions—with what she calls "tweaks."

Yost, an expert on flexible work success, spoke to Stanford students, staff, and faculty.  In “Tweak It,” her talk and book of the same name, Yost recommends tweaks as a way to address the big problems of work and life in the 21st century. 

The goal of “more family time,” could be accomplished through the small tweak of “eating dinner together.”   Another might be combining your work and personal calendars.  Still another could be writing an industry-related blog.

Yost argues that these simple modifications can achieve complex professional and personal goals —like starting a new business or personal ones like honoring a “tech-free Sunday.” 

Where have all the clocks gone?

image of clockYost pointed to a picture of an employee checking e-mails on a beach, calling it “the new reality” that we all live in. "[This new reality] requires a new set of skills from us, but we aren’t taught these skills," she said.

Rather than considering work-life fit as something an organization "offers," like maternity leave or work-sharing, Yost argues that employees need to partner with their organizations. Doing so, she explains, creates a work-life fit that meets employee needs, thus letting the worker be their best on and off the job.

“Organizations have to be addressing these issues if they want to have an engaged, motivated workforce,” Yost argued. However, she reminded her audience that “you also have to manage the other parts of your life to be your best.”  

More than just moms

The balance between work and life has been an important issue in the movement for women's equality. Studies show that even in dual-career households, women still have responsibility for the lion's share of housework and childcare. Work-life mismatch then often weighs most heavily on women employees, especially mothers.   

Yet Yost argued that work-life fit does not concern only women and mothers: it affects everyone. Everyone is overworked and trying to “drink from the firehouse” of responsibilities in a world that expects workers to work harder faster.

Elder care squeezes the “sandwich generation”

“It might not even be kids,” Yost said. “For more of us, it’s going to be aging parents or relatives.”

Simple modifications can achieve complex professional and personal goals —like starting a new business or personal ones like honoring a “tech-free Sunday.”

A rapidly aging population means that there will be far fewer people in the workforce per elderly person.  In other words, there will be more old people and fewer young people to care for them. Meanwhile, approximately 30 million Americans, a group known as the "sandwich generation," are now caring for both the elderly and the young at the same time.

Yost suggested such tweaks as hiring a geriatric care manager or calling a family meeting to anticipate aging parents’ caregiving needs.  Others include running background checks on care providers, learning about Medicare programs, and establishing Power of Attorney. 

Obesity, insomnia, and other ills

book coverIt is not just our family relationships that suffer from bad work-life fit, according to Yost.  Our bodies suffer as well. “A lot of us are not sleeping,” Yost cautioned, “because we don’t understand all this technology and how to manage it…we don’t know how to be intentional about getting sleep.”  Yost also warned that “we do have an epidemic in terms of obesity, we are struggling to know how to move our bodies, to eat healthfully.”

Workers today feel that they cannot take a break from work to take care of themselves.  But all these hours actually make for a less productive workforce, Yost said, because “in a world without boundaries, we are never ever ever ever going to get anything done.”

The only way we can get anything done, Yost argues, is if we use small tweaks to accomplish big goals.  We must remember our larger aspirations – family time, a new career, exercise – and then “tweak” our work-life fit to achieve them. These small, unique tweaks from volunteering as an alumni coordinator to cooking healthy soups are, Yost says, first steps on the thousand-mile journey of work-life fit.


Cali Yost's vist to Stanford was organized by the University Human Resources WorkLife Office and was co-sponsored by The Clayman Institute.




More Gender News:

Phyllis Stewart Pires, Director of WorkLife Strategy at Stanford, argues that “perfect balance” is an unrealistic goal, rather workers should work on fixing the “puzzle pieces” of career and life into a workable whole. Read "Finding your work life fit."

Arlie Hochschild, Professor Emerita at UC Berkeley, studies how, in the quest for work-life fit, many workers outsource their intimate lives.  Wedding planners, party enthusiasts, graveside visitors, and Rent-a-Friends are just a few of the services offered to those workers turning to new services to fill old needs. Read "Purchasing the personal."  

Laura Carstensen, Professor and founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, believes that long life expectancy could help with work-life fit.  Rather than working long hours and retiring relatively young, Carstensen suggests that we spread those hours out over many years. Read "Longevity can improve work-life balance for women." 

Leslie Perlow, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership in the Organizational Behavior area at the Harvard Business School, demonstrated how a simple experiment can change company culture. In the experiment, consultants at a firm didn't respond to email or calls one night per week. As a result, the firm redefined for itself what it means to be a good worker and identified a way to simultaneously improve both “work” and “life.” Read Why unplugging can lead to happier, more productive workers.

pic of cali williams yost
Cali Williams Yost
CEO & Founder, Flex Strategy Group/Work Life Fit

Cali Williams Yost is a workplace flexibility expert.  She is the author of Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day  and Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You. An honors graduate from Columbia Business School and former commercial banker, Williams Yost has held senior consulting roles with the Families and Work Institute and Bright Horizons Family Solutions.

picture of Adrienne Johnson
Adrienne Rose Johnson
PhD candidate

Adrienne Rose Johnson is a PhD candidate in Modern Thought and Literature. She is member of the Clayman Institute's Student Writing Team.