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Margery Leveen Sher Headshot

Persistent, Resilient, or Stupid?

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What do you call someone who has beat their head against the wall for 25 years? Persistent? Resilient? Perhaps... stupid?

Back in the late 1980s, I co-founded a consulting firm to work with corporations and government agencies to help make the workplace more conducive to work-life balance. Our company's tagline was "Integrating Work and Family."

Recently I received my issue of the March 2014 Harvard Business Review in the mail. The cover says "Work vs Life - Forget about balance - you have to make choices." Ah... talk about the need for persistence, resilience, and perhaps dogged stupidity in trying to change American corporate culture.

The article, "Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life" by Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams is based on their interviews with almost 4,000 executives. They report on the way executives manage their work and personal lives, given the great demands of their workplaces.

Well, I must say that there is some amazing, egregious rationalization here... especially among men. For example, "They... endeavor to give both work and home their due -- over a period of years, not weeks or days." Really?! They will attend to Junior for a while once he reaches the age of... what? 7? 12? 15? I just want to sing Harry Chapin's 1974 song, "Cat's in the Cradle."

Someone else is quoted as quite proud that he gives his kids 10 minutes of his time every night.

But my criticism is not really for the men and women who are trying so hard to make it all work. My criticism is for the employers! C'mon. All this talk about the value of "human capital" (an unfortunate term, in my view); all this talk like "our company is as good as our team" and "employees are our greatest asset", is just that: talk.

But, there have been many studies that quantify the ROI of being a supportive workplace, of having the policies and procedures in place that recognize that this is not the 1950s anymore. There have been policies in place for decades now that allow for flextime, telework, family leave, and just common sense flexibility that allows for personal life responsibilities, either family or other. Studies need to continue to be conducted and the results (which so far have been positive) need to be shouted from the rooftops. The payback for CEOs and shareholders of making the workplace work for everyone's real life, must be widely understood.

Groysberg and Abrahams' survey participants also cited the fact that bosses and coworkers stepped up to support them when they had a crisis, and that compassion and understanding saved their careers. I would think that bosses were supportive because they understood the value of the executive, as well as understanding that none of us will get through life without encountering a few crises of our own.

Developing a culture of support and understanding for employees who are trying their darndest to succeed for the company and for themselves should be a no-brainer, along with flexible policies for work-life balance. Or how about, after 25 years of this angst, companies finally get serious about having a real goal of work-life balance success for their employees? After all, satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, right?