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Hispters and Suits Are All Rethinking Work-Life

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I got to experience two workplace meetings recently that on the surface seemed like two very different orbits. One was held in a trendy loft in Manhattan where hipsters brought dogs and attendees ate cakes out of mason jars. The other was held in a standard corporate conference room where business attire and strong coffee reigned.

Despite the contrasts, the mission of both gatherings was the same -- make work work better by creating what we at Families and Work Institute sometimes call "sustainable workplaces."

One meeting was the Conference Board's Work Life Leadership Council -- representing the stalwarts of Corporate America's human resources world -- and the other was the Work Revolution Summit - representing the tech-savvy entrepreneurial world.

The Council brought in young speakers to get insights on what men and women want and need out of work today. And the Summit brought in old speakers to find out what men and women want and need out of work today. (There were folks of all ages at both events, but I'm trying to make a point here.)

Tiffany Dufu with Levo League and a member of Lean In circle's national launch team told Council members there's a lot more to being successful than just simply achieving results. And Matt Schneider, co-founder of NYC Dads Group, spoke about "the breadwinner penalty" and how men are expected to work hard above all else, not spend time with family.

At the Summit, Tony Schwartz, founder of The Energy Project, extoled the values of being all in at work and in your personal life, and creating a better culture by doing more for employees; and marketing guru Seth Godin wanted people to take more chances at work, big chances that could even get them fired.

Aside from Godin's advice, which seemed out of touch for the regular working stiffs out there, all the speakers and attendees had their hearts in the right place. The ultimate objective for almost everyone involved was rethinking the way we work today. A befitting concept to ponder this October in particular since it's National Work and Family Month.

It proved to me that whether you're toiling away in the halls of large corporations, or a small startup with a Ping-Pong table, the issues of work end up converging.

A great example of this came from Paloma Medina, Manager of Learning and Development at Etsy, the ecommerce site for handmade products. She said the company had always had an entrepreneurial, start-up mentality, letting employees figure out their own ways to work; but now that the company is growing suddenly it's not as easy to maintain that entrepreneurial ethos, especially with more rank and file workers being added to fill orders.

Turns out success brings with it a host of challenges when it comes to work, and before you know it an upstart company can become just another immovable corporate statue.

Indeed, many of the speakers and attendees at the Summit talked about how they escaped Corporate America early in their careers because they just couldn't handle the inflexible work and cubicle model. And many speakers and attendees at the Council meeting focused on how they needed to change the inflexible work mentality; and as for cubicles, there are hopes open workspaces and hoteling may soften that image.

At the end of the week on my train ride home, I tried to digest everything I'd heard, all the ideas and hopes for the future. Clearly, figuring out how to create a more flexible and effective workplace for organizations of all types and sizes would make life easier for small companies, and it would lead to better work environments at big companies.

Ultimately we all have to realize that work without flexibility, without boundaries, will doom our own health, our employees' health, our companies' health, and invariably the health of the nation.

How do we get there?

It's all about fostering workforce sustainability similar to the environmental sustainability movement. But instead of figuring out how humans can better interact with nature employers are figuring out how humans can better interact with and thrive at work. There are six key steps needed to nourish the workplace soil and create a thriving culture.

This multi dimensional strategy to develop a better workplace ecosystem encompasses:

• Work/life/play
• Job autonomy/job challenge,
• Supervisor support,
• Perpetual learning,
• Climate of respect and trust,
• Economic security.

But most importantly it's seeing ourselves and our employees as human beings first.

Schwartz put a fine point on it during the Revolution Summit: "Renewal is something that's fundamentally human. We're not designed to operate like computers."

(Here's Families and Work Institute's take on what makes a Sustainable Workplace)