Ginny loved her work...
A vice president of marketing for an ad agency, in many ways her job defined her. She found the chance to innovate and solve problems for clients incredibly stimulating, energizing, and satisfying. Creative work ignited her soul. Her ambition was to develop an impeccable reputation in her field, and perhaps, one day, start her own firm. Her work ethic, of which she was very proud, led her to say yes to many projects and do whatever it took to deliver excellence.
Yet, Ginny's passion for her work made her feel guilty. It took time away from her kids (7, 11 and 13) and often distracted her when they were together. Her brain was constantly churning with work challenges. It was hard to turn the job off at night and on weekends. She wondered, constantly, if she should put her goals and passion on hold, to be a better parent for her kids.
Ginny's question — to work, or not to work — is emblematic of a struggle many working moms or parents face. We find satisfaction in our work, but we worry that it keeps us from spending enough time with our kids. Ellen Galinsky, President and Co-Founder of Families and Work Institute, has been studying this, and many other aspects of work, family life, and working moms for decades. Observing this phenomenon of guilt — which exists, despite the fact that not a single study (nope, not one!) concluded that Moms or Dads working has a negative impact on children — Galinsky had an innovative idea that might settle matters: Why don't we see what kids have to say.
In the late-90s, she and her team conducted a landmark study called "Ask The Children" to explore kids' perspectives on working moms, dads, or parents. Surveying over 1,000 children ages 8-18, Galinsky asked both parents and children a series of questions about how they felt about their parents working. Her findings were not only fascinating but also incredibly liberating.
Here are three of the biggest insights:
- It's not whether we work, but how we feel about work that impacts kids. When we feel conflicted about working, we are often reluctant to share how much we love our jobs. The guilt we feel departing in the morning leads us to say things such as, I wish I didn't have to work; I hate to leave but Mommy/Daddy has to work; If I don't go to work, we won't be able to afford [toys, games, new clothes, etc.]. Inadvertently, we're sending a message that leads kids to think, My parents hate working; They're only working because of me.
- Kids don't want their parents to work less, they want them to be less stressed from work. When adults and kids were both asked what kids would most like to change about their parent's work-lives, the contrast in answers was startling. The majority (56%) of parents thought that their kids would wish for more time with them. Yet, only 10% of kids actually chose this answer. What most kids actually wanted (34%) was for their parents to be less stressed and tired from work when they were together.
- As it turns out, kids want parents to love their work, just not more than they love them. So, if you love your work, share that. Talk about it as a source of fulfillment, meaning, and self-development — something your kids should aspire to find in school and in their future career. And if you don't love your work, try your best to embrace and share with your kids the things you do like about it: the paycheck, the flexibility, your coworkers. Your sense of choice will relieve your kids of the burden of thinking that you are only working this miserable job because of them.
Galinsky's research provides powerful and compelling reasons why working moms and parents shouldn't feel guilty about their work. But absolving ourselves of guilt is often easier said than done. Even with the right messaging, there are two time traps that can be problematic for parents and kids...
A) Work spills over into your home-life, preventing you from being fully present with your kids
B) Your work schedule is demanding and unpredictable, keeping you from getting home when you planned to. To minimize these issues, focus on the following two tactics:
Because we live in a time of swelling workloads, it's critical to create edges on your workday and on your workweek. To avoid being trapped by unspoken assumptions, discuss expectations for after-hours connectedness with your boss. Are you expected to answer emails at night and on the weekends? Or, if it's a true emergency, can you agree that the company will reach out by phone? By defining clear edges, you can more easily give work your all during work hours and, when you are done, leave that piece of it behind and be fully present with your family.
To the best of your ability, be predictable with your schedule and the time you have to offer your children. Uncertainty about whether you'll be home for dinner or to read a bedtime story is what breeds anxiety and resentment. It's okay if your schedule changes from week to week or even day to day, as long as you communicate that to your children. Even working moms who have to work late or travel for work can remain predictable and reliable for their kids by maintaining the same touch-points throughout the day, with a Skype or FaceTime call: e.g. when they wake up, at dinner time, or before bed.
Your relationship to your work serves as a role model to your kids. Careers have become an integral part of the human experience. Finding a role you love, making a contribution to your community, and earning money to support yourself and those who depend on you are all incredibly valuable life-skills to impart on your children.
Whether you work out of necessity, passion, or a combination of the two, extract working mom guilt from the equation. Guilt about work is nothing but mental clutter; it only serves to steal additional time and energy from being present for quality time with your kids and for yourself. And, as we now know, that's all our kids truly want.
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When I first heard #OKBoomer, I cringed and thought — here we go again.
Yet another round of generation bashing, this time Millennials against Baby Boomers. This new social media conflict will not help workplace dynamics.
Throughout my career, I've heard countless rants about long-established workplace norms that younger generations perceive as overly repressive rules that subvert identity, familial obligations, civility, and respect for the environment.
I get it. I remember how I felt early in my career being told that I couldn't wear pants, had to wear pantyhose (even in 90-degree weather) and that I wasn't allowed to speak to executives. Seriously?
Gen X here to the rescue.
Sandwiched between the much larger Baby Boomer and Millennial generations, Gen Xers are often overlooked. Please allow me to build a bridge to the opportunity ahead.
For me, the generation challenge is a communications opportunity. And the stakes are high, because we spend about 70% of our day communicating. Within that timeframe, we spend about 45% listening, 30% speaking, 16% reading, and 9% writing.
By 2030, most Baby Boomers will have retired, and approximately 75% of the workforce will be comprised of Millennials. That gives us about a decade to continue working together to create a work environment that is better for women, people of color, and the younger generations.
As a multigenerational workplace scholar, I'm often asked, what is a generation, and why do they matter?
Karl Mannheim, the founder of sociology, concluded that key historical events significantly impact people during their youth. Essentially, when you were born and what was happening where you lived during your formative childhood years, help define what is important to you and help set your value system.
Think of it this way, if the games you played growing up allowed you to advance to the next level regardless of if it took one attempt or fifty, you might have a different perspective on what mastering a task looks like than someone who didn't.
If technology has almost always allowed you to be more efficient, you may seek to perform a job as quickly as possible, so that you are being productive, not because you are looking for a short cut.
If the answer to any question was always a Google search away, you might get frustrated when your questions go unanswered and are told to figure it out.
These examples begin to explain why Baby Boomers and Millennials value different things. However, there are always going to be outliers. I study generational-related values, because they frame how we show up and what we expect when we come to work.
In my recent study of 1,400 Baby Boomer, Gen X, Gen Y, and Gen Z women, I examined strategies for communicating. I was particularly interested in interpersonal communications — the process by which people exchange information, feelings, and meaning through verbal and non-verbal messages. It turns about that the most essential characteristics by generation were active listening (paying attention to others), collaboration (teamwork), and empathy (showing understanding for others).
Baby Boomers believe they are best at "paying attention to others."
Given our hectic schedules at work, you may be tempted to multitask while speaking or try to get by gleaning the gist of a conversation in a conference call while working on a report at the same time. But this isn't deeply effective. Active listening is crucial because being highly engaged in a conversation helps everyone involved have clarity and alignment on exchange. It also helps build rapport and trust between participants.
Some practical ways to demonstrate active listening include:
- Asking specific questions or paraphrasing what you've heard
- Using non-verbal cues such as making eye contact and not looking at your device
- Maintain body language that shows you are interested and the speaker has your full attention
Gen X believes they are best at "working with others."
Lots of us have heard the expression, "There's no 'I' in a team." Teams that collaborate well have a better chance for sustained and repeatable success.
Effective ways to demonstrate collaboration are:
- Establishing clear goals and expectations for the team
- Being accountable for the team and yourself
- Providing and being open to feedback
Both Millennials and Gen Z believe they are most effective at "showing understanding for others."
The workplace is more diverse than ever before. Some organizations may have a Baby Boomer, a Gen Xer, Millennial, and a Gen Zer, all working alongside each other. By showing empathy, we can demonstrate that we appreciate and respect each other's perspectives and are open to understanding how they feel about a situation, idea, or concept.
Effective ways to demonstrate empathy are:
- Listening without judging or forming an opinion
- Being slow to criticize
- Acknowledging the other person's feelings as valid for them
So, instead of dismissing a generation with a hashtag, let try to open a dialogue. For example, next time you are working a Baby Boomers demonstrate that you are actively listening to what they are saying. Try sending a summary email about your deliverables on an assignment Gen Xers to highlight your collaborative skills. And take time to let Millennials and Gen Z know that you appreciate and understand their point of view.