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One of the things I tried very hard to do when I was in a work life seat or in the head of HR seat was really to identify where there were systemic roadblocks inside the workplace that were holding people back.
You have to have the courage to be able to go and actually ask for what you need in order to have the quality of life that you want.
Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we help HR and business leaders embrace joy in the workplace. I’m Susan White, owner of Susan Tinder White Consulting, an HR consulting practice, and with me is my friend and co-host, JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink and Powered by Purple Ink.
Our topic today is employers fostering work life integration. Berkeley Haas defines work life integration as “an approach that creates more synergies between all areas that define life, meaning work, home family, community, personal well being and health.” Thehappinessindex.com reports that “maintaining a healthy work life balance is not only important for health and relationships, but also improves your employees’ productivity, and ultimately, their performance. They say that put simply, if your people don’t view work as a chore, then they will work harder, make fewer mistakes and are more likely to become advocates for your brand.”
Yeah, so true.
I agree. The Happiness Index suggests several things that we as business leaders and HR professionals can do to support our employees in having better work life integration. JoDee, what’s the first one?
Encourage time off. I’m certainly a fan of that one.
It is. And you know, I’ve worked for people who, when you told them you’re going to take vacation, they kind of, like, “Oh no, when are you going to be gone.” And that kind of a reaction really makes you think “maybe I shouldn’t go.” So let’s be leaders… the… the opposite kind of leaders. Let’s encourage people to take their time off. Number two, institute short breaks throughout the day. I love that. You know, they say that sitting is the new smoking, that we’ve got to get people up and moving.
So think about, what could we as business leaders do to get people to the coffee pot, to walk around the block?
Right. You know, that’s one I think I’ve talked about before, is that I used to think breaks were for smokers only.
And it wasn’t until I got a dog eight years ago and then walked the dog throughout the day that I realized how wonderful that was, to get up, take a break, go outside, get some fresh air, come back with a, you know, a new perspective or new thought on what I was working on.
It really does make a difference.
Yeah. Number three, ask employees for guidance. What can we do to best support you? You know, I really like that in that sometimes I think we make assumptions about what our people want without asking them what they want. That doesn’t mean we can always provide what they tell us. Right? But we can at least understand what the needs are and see which ones are consistent or which ones could be easily given to support them.
Yes, so true. And then fourth and finally, practice what you preach. So truly disconnect just as you expect your team to. We’ve talked about this in a prior podcast, that JoDee, you and I will talk to each other all weekend long, texting and emailing. It doesn’t bother me a bit. But I really have gotten better at understanding that other people getting a question over the weekend, that’s a drain for them. They’re not really… they check it, then they start to get back into that work mode. And if I could just hold off till Monday when they’re back in their work mode, I’m really giving them that time to breathe.
Yeah, I definitely have a lot of room for improvement on this one. [Laughs]
Our guests today are Debbie Cohen and Kate Roeske-Zummer. Leadership experts Debbie Cohen and Kate Roeske-Zummer are the cofounders of Humanity Works, a leadership development organization that focuses on increasing productivity by embracing humanity at work. Their new book, “Humanity Works Better: Five Practices to Lead with Awareness, Choice, and the Courage to Change,” show you how to chart a different path forward. The result? A healthier, more productive work environment that draws the best rather than squeezes the most out of people.
I love it.
We’re so glad that you’re here. Yes.
Thanks. Thanks for having us.
Thank you. Delighted to be here.
So Debbie and Kate, both of you are enjoying successful careers and are now focused on helping organizations create healthy human focused cultures. Would you tell our listeners about your personal career journeys and how you balanced your life inside and outside of work? Debbie, would you like to go first?
Sure. So my career’s an eclectic one. I started out as a preschool teacher back in the 80s, in working in parent co-op at Stanford University. And what was great there is you spent your day working with young children and their families and our afternoons we’d spend talking about what we did. And I didn’t even realize then how valuable that learning process was for me as somebody early in my career. And then I got… you know, had children of my own, and it was really hard to be working with young children during the day and being… feeling like I was being effective with my own children when I wasn’t working with children, and I made the decision to move out of the classroom and into administration. And that really began my leadership ascent. And I was the Executive Director of that Children’s Center at Stanford, went on to do a build out of a children’s center modeled after that parent co-op, employer sponsored back in the late 80s and – now I’m dating myself –
…during the 80s and the 90s. And I was very much a part of the early wave of the work life movement. And I went on to consult for a company that’s now known as Bright Horizons, and I was their Senior Work Life Strategist, so I did strategies for companies all over the world during the late 90s and early 2000s. And one of our clients was Time Warner, and I was recruited by them after the infamous AOL-Time Warner merger, to lead work life for the enterprise, their 96,008 brands.
So super familiar with the journey. That led me into HR. They were like, “you play well with others, come do this.”
And I decided to not be critical of the HR function, but to really go inside and see how hard is it to create systemic meaningful change and build workplaces that are really meaningful to people. So that’s my career journey. I’ve retired three times.
Unsuccessfully, because that’s how it works these days, and because I’m not done, there’s still more to contribute to the world. And I’m just grateful that Kate is my partner and in that journey, and, you know, we continue to do meaningful work. My… how I balanced the outside and the inside of work probably varied along my career journey. In those early days, I made a career decision choice to leave the classroom and work that I enjoyed and stay attached to that work, but do it differently so that I would feel effective as both a mom and as a professional. There was a point in my career where I made the decision to have a career and not just a job, and that was very conscious on my part, and there were choices that came with that. And then, you know, I just remember when I was the head of work life for Time Warner and I was in New York, we’d moved from San Francisco, and my husband had not yet joined me, and somebody walked by, it was, like, 8:30 at night, and they’re like, “Yeah, you know, the head of work life’s still sitting there at her desk.”
And that was, like, the first moment where I realized, don’t judge the book by the cover, you don’t know the story behind that person’s life. And what I was actually doing was working ahead of the curve so that when my husband joined me, I would not have to put in the same kind of hours. But I was very conscious about my choice. And so judging what you see without being curious and asking the person how they’re making that work for themselves was a important lesson I actually integrated into some of our work. So that’s a little bit about me. But certainly well… well… well-versed and certainly passionate about how to help people feel effective inside and outside their workplace.
I love it.
Thank you so much. Kate, how about you?
I started out my career in advertising at a time when… I think the advertising industry is completely different than when… than when I was there. And I worked for Ogilvy & Mather in New York, and I think that I learned a lot through them and in terms of how they treated me at the time. I lost my mom to cancer during the time that I was there, and they were just – my bosses, you know, Cynthia and Bill and various people that were, you know, sort of higher up, they were just so focused on how to support me through that incredibly difficult…
…process. Yeah, it really was. I mean, I worked for them for sort of 10 years and then I got really tired of the same conversation in that industry. Creatives wanted it more creative, client wanted it more functional, like, I’m like, “Doesn’t it have to be both?” [Laughs]
If it’s… if it’s too functional, nobody will watch the ad or read it. And if it’s, you know, too creative, and they don’t know what it’s for, then we’ve kind of lost the plot, right? [Laughs] I mean, I sort of really feel like I had that argument for 10 years, every day, and I was like, “I think I need to get out of this.” And so I became a coach at a time when nobody knew what a coach was, you know. And I’m – you can’t see this – because I’m, I’m… I’m… I’m tall-ish. I’m five eight, and people were like, “A basketball coach?” [Laughs]
Like, it was… now it’s in the vernacular, we sort of take it for granted, you know, but back then nobody really knew what it was. And when I started the coach training, I knew way back then that there are some just phenomenal skills that will make us better at work, will make us more human, it will make us more productive. And even way back then I started to, you know, see about how I could bring this into organizations. And that’s how Deb and I met. She was at Mozilla and really looking to kind of meet her audience, very unique group of people and in a unique mission, and we started to work together back in 2010, I think? Yeah, coming on to sort of 12 years. And really, that became our big, you know, began our sort of partnership, and… and we’ve been working on and off together, and now we’re… now we’re married now.
[Laughs] Now, you’re married. Professionally married.
We are. That’s what happens when you go into business, you know. And, and, and, and I think that work life balance has been always, and sort of that inside and outside of work, I think part of it helps when we get to talk about the things and write about the things that we are so passionate about. And we just did it before on the call, as we’re sort of catching up over the Christmas break, you know, we’re constantly thinking about things that are happening in our lives and how that is applicable, and how that can help people in the workforce, you know, we were having a big old conversation about not knowing and boundaries, and all of that kind of stuff. So I think it really is very helpful that we’re both doing work that we are genuinely interested in, you know, that helps with the balance, I think.
Yeah, I like it. So Kate, you really led into our next question for you as you talked about, in your first role, how your employer was so supportive of you. But for both of you, overall, what part did your employers play in supporting or not supporting you living your full life at different stages of your careers?
You know, what’s so interesting, as I’m listening to that question, JoDee, was, “Gee, I was that employer.” So, you know, sort of two hats for me on this one. The first was when I was the employee, and I remember when Melissa, my daughter, was born and I took a three month leave – she was born in August, I worked until my due date, and I wasn’t ready. Like, in December, I knew. Like, January, right after the holiday break, I was gonna have to go back, and I didn’t feel ready, and I remember calling and saying, “Can I have three more months?” Now, folks, this is 1982. Right? So well before. And really, when you think about it, women were just coming into our own in the workplace in 1982. And I was told no, that I needed to come back to work. And so I quit. I was like, I’m choosing… you know, like, look, we didn’t have any money. We were, you know, struggling young couple. But I chose…. I chose her over, at that point, what felt like a job. And then three months later, I was ready. Like, she was more independent. She was functioning differently. And I heard that there was an opening back at the Stanford Children’s Center. And so I called Fran, the director, and said, “I’d like to come back,” and she said, “Then come back.” And what was different than was instead of working 9:00 to 3:00, I had a 12:30 to 5:00 shift. It was a co-op, so Melissa’s dad came and did our co-op hours while I was teaching and, you know, became a big, extended family and community. So what really started as not being supportive, which was listening to what my need was, and was there way to make that work, actually ended up working out very well.
Yeah. From wearing the hat of the employer, you know, I think one of the one of the things I tried very hard to do when I was in a work life seat or in the head of HR seat was really to identify where there were systemic roadblocks inside the workplace that were holding people back. And as I evolved in my coaching journey, helping people understand where those roadblocks are part of their internal narrative. And in both cases, figuring out how to support folks in the ability to eliminate the roadblocks that are keeping them from living that full life, and giving them the agency to feel like they have a role in that as opposed to defaulting that somehow the employer is supposed to take care of that for themselves. And we can talk more about that.
I love it.
From my point of view, I was at… 10 years at Ogilvy & Mather in New York. And I just had incredibly supportive bosses. The story that comes up for me is – I was single, I’ve never had children- and I had been nine years at Ogilvy, and Tony Wright was my boss at the time, and I have a twin sister, and she had her first child, and I… of course, we didn’t have our mom, and I really wanted to go out and support Sharon in this huge endeavor. And I had not had maternity leave, I had not had any time off – [laughs] – you know, I’d been a faithful little soldier… [laughs]
…at Ogilvy. And, and, and I approached my boss and I just said, listen, I’d really love to take off, you know, a couple of months, two months over the course of the summer, and… and really be there to support my sister, but I don’t want that to be on my vacation. You know, and I… I was thinking about moving to San Francisco and blah, blah. And I was like, I’d like to have some time where I can go and support my sister and then have a little adventure, you know, and they were amazing about it.
Oh, wow, I’m so happy.
Yeah, they were… they were like, “of course, not a problem.” I didn’t think I was gonna get paid during that time. I did get paid during that time.
I mean, it was like… like, they were just really – now, I think it also… I was also, as I said, a good little soldier, I was a great worker for them. But I feel like they really helped me see that they were looking at me as a human being, they weren’t just looking at me as a, well, we have these processes and procedures for people that want to take maternity leave and this is what it looks like. They were in… in a relationship with me. And I think they knew that, listen, I was going to go do this one way or the other, just like with Deb and Melissa, you know, and… and I think they wanted to sort of support me through that process. I also just have to… this is… so a part of what Deb and I are about, I had to ask. You have to dare to ask and not know if that’s gonna work out for you or if that’s not gonna work out for you. But I think you have to have the courage, which is one reason that’s in our subtitle, you know, is you have to have the courage to be able to go and actually ask for what you need in order to have the quality of life that you want.
And what I love about what Kate’s just bringing up, and it is so pivotal in the work that we do, and I think it’s key in terms of being fulfilled at work in the work life sort of side of things, is, it is a mutuality. Right? The sort of top of the work life pyramid is mutual needs, and the business has a need and the employees have a need, and when you can approach the conversation that you’re initiating from a recognition of that shared point of need, I think folks can be much more met, much more successful than just being like, “This is what I need and I expect you to give it to me.” We learned a lot about that in the early movement of the flex… flexible work arrangements.
I think that goes back to they’re gonna be more receptive when you bring a business case as to why is it good for you. There’s things that are good for me, so I want to acknowledge that, but there’s things for this business. I think that makes wonderful sense.
And are you seeing these organizations really fostering work life integration? Is that a focus for them?
We’re seeing it as a topic. You know, I think the pandemic – and I’m sure you all have seen this in some of the conversations you’ve had on your podcast. You know, for years, we were championing alternative work arrangements. And then suddenly, on March 20 – whatever it was – 20, everybody was working remotely, right? And so what’s been fascinating is one of our clients was 100% remote before the pandemic, and they’ve done a ton to help their people through this. And it doesn’t mean they don’t work super, super, super hard. But what was different in the conversations for them was now the rest of life was at home with them. Life used to go off and go to school…
…go off and… Right? Life was in the house with them as they were trying to work in this remote kind of way, and that meant they had to, to keep the point earlier, slow down a little bit. They had to… they had to be considerate of the fact that the doorbell’s gonna ring and the dog’s gonna bark and, you know, the kids are going to come in and out of your video screen. And… and we’ve had some delightful conversations [laughs] with the kids and families.
So you know, our lives came into work, in a way where work before… technology had allowed work to come into our lives. Suddenly, work was coming into into home. And this particular company, I think, did a fabulous job. Both… every client we’re working with, mental health, like, how do you help people just manage with the uncertainty and the pressures that they’re feeling right now. And we’ve seen every client that we’re working with step up and really take that issue on in a pretty profound way.
Nice. Well, you both have so many great ideas, recommendations, skills, and practices. If our listeners are interested in reaching out to either or both of you and/or buying your book, can you tell us how they can do that?
You can check us out on our website, which is humanityworks.com. There’s a bunch of resources on there, even, you know, sort of… this podcast will be on there as well as others that we’ve done and… and the book is available sort of… Amazon, everywhere, that sort of thing. So… and they can reach out to us on that website as well. So you know, so that’s definitely the best way of doing that.
There’s a mailing list folks can join if they want our newsletter and notifications of… we… our HBR article is out there and our podcast we did with them. So if you’re interested in just being part of the movement to bring more humanity to the workforce, you know, we’d love to have those joining in.
Thank you both for joining. We really appreciate it.
Thank you so much.
Susan, a listener wrote in with the following question for us. This question comes from a listener who completed our recertification credit questionnaire after listening to one of our previous episodes. The question is, “How much documentation is needed from an internal HR representative if a third party is brought in to conduct an investigation?”
You know, our favorite HR answer is “it depends.” [Laughs]
And it really, truly is dependent on the situation. But in my experience, the HR person is usually a really good source who can help point that outside investigator at least to the right direction, can pull the company documents that exist, maybe prior performance reviews, maybe if there’s film that needs to be looked at, can help with an org chart to help the outside investigator understand who reports to who. So I really do think that when an outside investigator comes in, the HR rep, or whoever’s… maybe the chief HR officer, whoever it is that’s on point inside the organization can be a wonderful partner. Now, they may not be involved in any of the interviews, maybe outlining the findings, coming up with recommendations, but they’re certainly going to be a great source of information.
Alright, so it’s time for in the news. An article in HR Morning by Rachel Mucha dated December 17, 2021 was entitled, “How COVID-19 Killed Sick Days.” It really captured my interest, JoDee.
Rachel cited a Beamery Talent Index that reports that 65% of employees that do have some type of remote work option feels that there’s pressure on them to work while they’re sick.
Yeah, the fact they’re working from home, they don’t really feel like they can go to bed with… and drink lots of liquids. They feel like they can stay home, isolate, but get on the computer. So rather than heading to and staying in bed and getting well, the fact is that many employees now have the option to tap into work from home, and many of them feel like they should. 39% of the respondents in the Beamery talent survey said they are more likely to work while sick at home, where they aren’t exposing anyone else to their illness, than they would have done pre-COVID. Used to be when you went home sick, you felt like “I need to stay in bed and get well.”
A final interesting statistic from Rachel’s article is that 66% of workers worry now that taking off for work for any illness less serious than COVID-19 might make them look bad to their boss.
I never thought about that ripple effect. Right?
Early in my career, I was one of those people who only took off work if I was so sick I could not function at all.
And now I realize I no doubt infected other people along the way. I’m sure I did. If anyone’s listening who I may have ever shared a cold…
…or any other illness with, I am so sorry. Now I realize there is no badge of honor in getting a perfect attendance award, and you have a responsibility to not share your germs.
Right. And I do think we all have a better understanding of that now, right? Whether we have COVID or cold or the flu that, you know, don’t impact other people by your choices.
Exactly. Yeah, it’s a whole new world. And I think it’s the right thing, for sure.
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