“It’s always about the fundamentals, communication, empathy, and connection. Those things tie us together. It’s not about having this perk or that benefit offering. Those aren’t motivating people at the end of the day. It’s ‘do I like where I’m working?’ ‘Do I like how I’m spending my time and who I’m spending it with?’ Or ‘how do I belong as part of this team?’ Those are basic, really fundamental human things,” said Jess Podgajny Entrepreneur, Future of Work Advocate and Expert.
How often do you feel seen at work? And has it changed since you’ve had kids? It’s rare to feel recognized for your superpowers or supported for your flaws. So, most of us dreaded conversations about needing flexibility. Whether it was the messiness of childcare or supporting aging parents.
But the pandemic changed things. Everyone’s dealt with work disruptions. Jess said, “People have a higher expectation they can show up as themselves now. After seeing people’s kids, wallpaper, bedrooms, closets, and all the things that we’ve been seeing with our colleagues, on Zoom.” Exactly. So, who wants to go back to faking it?
Organizations Aren’t Static
When conditions change, and companies can’t do business the same way, they rewrite the rules. They routinely cut people and shift resources. Yet, when their people can’t work the same way, due to life events, in the US where workers lack protections, it’s often career ending.
Jess said, “I eventually became the Chief People Officer in a management consultancy. And while I was in that seat, my life was changing. I had my first child and was starting that juggling act. I recognized I had evolved.”
As her life transformed, she identified the gap most employers have. “There’s this critical need for organizations to create space for people to change. And still stay at the company. Instead of what I frequently saw. If someone said, ‘hey I want this type of flexibility’ or ‘I feel like I don’t have the right development opportunity here’ or ‘I don’t feel connected to the culture anymore’ they’d move on.”
Yet They Expect Workers to Conform
Organizations say they want diversity. Yet, we’re socialized to coalesce around what’s common. And few leaders understand how to handle critical conversations that enable difference. People on the same team can vary wildly in how they like to work.
So, Jess recommends we begin navigating different needs transparently. “I recently had a conversation with Karen Mangia, a Salesforce executive, who is also an author. And one of the things that she said is, that we’ve been conditioned to blend instead of belong.”
But Belonging Isn’t Blending
Exactly. It’s not the same. Jess said, “We’ve been taught to plug into whatever is normal inside an organization. To be that robot who adapts and ignores anything controversial. Or anything you might be super passionate about.” Sigh.
“She was right blending isn’t belonging. Belonging is the ability to bring your authentic self to work. And to demonstrate how your unique perspective, strengths, and experiences, are going to be added to the organization.”
And Everyone’s Priorities Evolve
The authenticity trend among Human Resource leaders can feel almost mythical. Because it’s so rarely practiced. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Jess said, “A whole person goes well beyond what we deliver at work.” And sometimes people need temporary changes.
She added, “For example, they’re not recognizing this person who’s a phenomenal athlete, training for triathlon. For this five- or six-month period, they might need to compress or move things around. So, they can accomplish that goal and deliver at work.”
Often Around Caregiving
Most women have childcare responsibilities by mid-life. And many more navigate care for their parents or special needs adults. Not to mention the millions who have chronic illnesses to manage. The human condition, isn’t going to change. So, it’s workplaces not the workers, who need to adjust.
Jess said, “If someone has aging parents and it’s this really critical moment in their life, they may be like, ‘I was in go mode, ready to get the next promotion. And now taking on extra work isn’t a reality. But guess what, in six months, or whenever I’m in a better place, I can go back to that.’ We are all ebbing and flowing.” Amen! There are intense seasons where career growth isn’t the top priority.
So, How do You Communicate Changing Needs?
Jess said, “This age of hybrid and remote has created the need for a new paradigm in how we work with one another. And more importantly, how we’re connecting with one another. Those water cooler moments aren’t as frequent.”
Indeed, Zoom lacks serendipity. She adds, “We’re not working shoulder to shoulder with people. Where we’re learning and understanding their ins and outs all the time.” Do you remember waiting to have sensitive conversations, when you could meet in person? How do you adapt personal disclosures for the modern climate?
You Have a ‘Personal Operating Manual’
As Jess explains everyone needs flexibility, “It’s not just about becoming a parent. There can be all sorts of circumstances happening that require you to flex or adjust. And we didn’t have the ability to convey that information in a way that was safe, accepted, normalized and visible.”
Have you heard the expression, “babies don’t come with manuals?” Well, it turns out employees can. Although the concept has been out there, Jess’ company digitized it. As a better way for people to share, and organizations to aggregate, this information.
To Share Your Work Style
She added, “So, our personal operating profiles include questions about everything from how you like to work to your work style.”
It’s those questions that we rarely ask colleagues. Like ‘when do you do your best thinking?’ And ‘how you like to receive feedback?’ Or ‘in the next 6 to 12 months what’s your professional priority’ and ‘what are you currently learning?’
Availability, Preferences and Priorities
It can feel awkward to explain how your childcare set up affects your availability. But what if everyone you worked with shared their ideal schedule? Then bravery isn’t required. It’s a normal part of your work culture.
Jess said, “You can say when and how you are going to operate at your best. And all of this is designed to help others understand. Okay, if I’m working with Leslie, I know she does her best thinking in the morning. And if I have feedback for her, I’m going to send it via e-mail first. And then follow up with a one-on-one conversation.” Beautiful.
To Make Collaboration More Effective
The rise of remote work, went from Covid necessity, to an integral part of work/life fit. And it’s not going away. Now, the majority of the US workforce*, works remotely at least 1 day a week.
So, whether you’re in a hybrid structure or part of a global team, effective communication is critical. Jess said, “In a personal operating profile, I see what someone’s focused on in the next 6 to 12 months. And it opens this really clear picture about what’s important to someone right now. And what they need to be at their best.”
Enlist Your Manager’s Support
Of course, it’s difficult to be your fabulous whole self without a supportive manager. So, whether you’re using a digital profile, old school presentation or meeting, begin sharing what makes you happy. And productive.
Jess said, “Try to open the conversation in a non-threatening way by saying, ‘hey if I could do this, it would be amazing.’ That is different than saying, ‘I’m going to have to leave if you don’t give me XY and Z.’ Which will put someone on the defensive and that’s not what you want. You want to create this open dialogue.” But what if you lack psychological safety with your manager? In our study, few Moms have it.
If You Can’t, It’s Not You
Jess sighed, “Managers sometimes are, for lack of a more gracious word, completely inept. And that’s probably not their fault because they probably haven’t received any training on how to be a manager.” She added, “They’re often working in organizations that expect them to deliver 40 hours of work and lead a team. So, whether we like it or not, people inside companies have an obligation to help train them. But by bringing ideas, suggestions and creating a greater sense of awareness of how this could be ideal.”
Traditional work, never worked well for Moms. Because always-on availability, without interruption, became the expectation. But you have permission for your life and work needs to change.
Whether it’s from your ambitions, family structure or health. So, share your work needs. Everything from your preferences, to your ideal schedule and goals, with your colleagues and manager. And if you don’t get the reception you hope for, remember you can always upgrade.
*Please note, although we’ve cited McKinsey’s thoughtful research for years, they are now a partner.
Many thanks to the talented Jess Podgajny!
Follow Jess’s great adventure on her website, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
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Jess Podgajny is a mom, culture curator, podcast host, and the co-founder & CEO of LLUNA – the TeamOS for hybrid and remote employers, combining personal user manuals and smart team dashboards to optimize how teams work together. Her passion for people and business fuels her mission to personalize the future of work. Jess and her family live in suburban Philadelphia.Tags: Career development, Career Development for Moms, professional development, Work life balance, work life integration for Moms, Working Families