Thursday, 28 October 2010

Reflections on Work/Life

by New York management consultant Barbara Adolf

Jobs Vacancy, Employment, Job Vacancies

I was fortunate this summer to spend some time reviewing old business (and personal) files from the past 20 years. What a trip down memory lane and what an opportunity to reflect on the path work/life has taken and where it is today!

It was fascinating to see how far the field of work/life (formerly employer supported child care, then work and family, then variations on work/life) has come. Twenty, even 10 years ago if you said you were in work and family, people would look at you quizzically or even suspiciously. Today everyone seems to know what we do. We have been more than legitimized – we are mainstream! I remember when we didn’t know where we "fit" in the organizational structure. We now have a domain, and like the other branches of human resources, e.g., compensation, benefits, learning and development, work/life directly affects and is affected by every other.

It occurred to me that what work/life has brought to corporate America is a new awareness, a unique orientation, even a new morality about the workplace. It is built on a belief that while work is important to each individual and to the society as a whole, family is the bedrock of our lives and should come first – not just in words but in the actions of organizations. As work/life professionals, we made these concepts real – actually bringing child care programs and elder care services to the workplace and developing unique work processes that take into account employees’ personal responsibilities. The movement of organizations toward "valuing people" may have originated with our efforts; at the very least our work has bolstered this principle.

We have come a long way. When I worked at large consulting firms – (I established the first work and family consulting practice at such a firm in 1986) – I was considered an "advocate" – something I tried desperately to hide. In truth, work and family professionals were out to change the world. We brought personal and family needs out of the closet. Ultimately we turned things around, making corporations vie for public visibility as organizations that "care" about employees as individuals. (Witness Working Mother’s Top 100 List). We have been major change agents, pushing organizations to examine and dramatically change the dominant "corporate culture" of the last 20 years.

My own career has been an interesting journey. I discovered I have a deep interest in helping women and minorities gain their fair share of society’s rewards, perhaps not a great departure from my work/life roots. In my practice today, the work/life "agenda" colors everything I do. For the last seven years a major thrust of mine has been developing and implementing strategies to advance women and minorities in the workplace, not the least of which is the design and management of group mentoring programs. The beauty of these programs is that they help those who might otherwise be marginalized overcome the challenges of isolation in the corporate world by helping one another. I attribute my persistence in this work largely to my work/life background. The constant pressure from organizations to justify work/life’s value taught me the importance of demonstrating success scientifically. I have been fortunate to have much of my work scrutinized in this way, providing strong evidence of its value to organizations as well as to individuals.

At this point in my career, my focus is on professional development of employees in the service of corporate goals, for example, retention of high potential employees. An important element in all my projects is work/life – its principles and issues. In short, I am convinced that no program, structure or process within an organization can succeed without integration of employees’ work/life needs. My journey has taken me to management consulting and organizational development. I gained the SPHR (Senior Professional in Human Resources) credential this year – another step that enabled me to see how essential work/life is to all aspects of HR.

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