Welcome to the New Work+Life Flex Normal

Last year an economic bomb detonated and laid to waste the rules and institutions that have guided our decisions related to work, life and business for

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generations.  Shell-shocked and disoriented, we’re starting to emerge slowly from the rubble wondering not only “What happened?” but “What’s next?   Welcome to the New Work+Life Flex Normal blog. 

As the dust settles, it’s clear greater flexibility in work, life, career and business is here to stay.  Before the recession, a few fraying threads connected us to a work+life reality that was rapidly becoming obsolete for more than a decade. The downturn severed those threads:

  • Lifetime, stable employment with set hours, a clear career path and a consistent, always increasing pay check became a relic for workers at every level in every industry.
  • Traditional operating models that were too rigid to respond nimbly and flexibly were dismantled by the rapid change inherent in the global economy.
  • Full-time caregiving and complete retirement for extended periods became non-viable for many, if not most, people because of economic necessity and demographic shifts. 

Before the recession, enough parts of the old rule book worked for enough people—even until the banks started failing—that we avoided the difficult task of fundamentally rethinking the way we manage work, life and business to match reality.  No longer.  It’s officially a new work+life flex normal. 

Flexibility in how, when and where work is done, life is managed and business operates is a strategic imperative.  As I wrote in May, the question is no longer “if” flexibility, but how do we expand the “why” behind flexibility and determine “how” to make it work for everyone.  To that end, here are some of the angles and implications we will ponder and discuss:

  • What exactly is strategic work+life flexibility, versus the policy-based flexible work arrangements we are more familiar with?
  • How much flexibility within and between work and life is unavoidable in a global economy?  How much is too much, or too little?
  • How do we—individuals, managers, business leaders, policymakers, the media—need to think and talk differently about the concepts of “work” and
    “life”?
  • What skills do we need to manage our work+life fit daily and at major life transitions in this new work+life flex normal?    How are different types of workers—full-time, entrepreneurs, freelancers, white collar, blue collar, low wage, union, etc.—impacted?  
  • How must individuals and businesses manage their finances differently? 
  • How can managers and employees partner more effectively to flexibly operate businesses in a global economy where rapid change is a constant?
  • What leadership skills do managers need in this flexible, nimble reality?
  • How do business leaders harness strategic flexibility in how, when and where work is done and life is managed for competitive advantage?  How do they use it to address challenges, and seize opportunities?
  • How does the new work+life flex normal change corporate governance?  (I think it does)
  • How does the way Wall Street financial analysts reward and evaluate business have to adapt to encourage long-term growth and innovation?
  • What is the role of government and public policy?
  • What is the role of social media?  

When reality changes as rapidly and dramatically as it did in this recession, denial and fear are understandable. But we’re at a turning point.  We can either do more of what we’ve always done, only harder and faster, frantically grasping the threads to the past.  Or, we can stop, breathe, take a hard, honest look at where we are and begin to ask, “Now what?”   Let the conversation begin.  

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4 Comments

  • Cali Williams Yost

    Thank you for all of your smart, insightful comments. I look forward to seeing your faces and hearing your thoughts on all of these issues again...and often!

  • Celia Harquail

    Cali, this post is a provocative push towards fundamental organizational/work+life change... Of course you've already argued that work+life fit initiatives at work are a strategic imperative--- but now I think the economic and social context is supporting your argument rather than dampening it. Within organizations themselves, the work+life fit challenge is one of several challenges that, handled well, can get to the core of 'who we are' as organizations and why we do what we do the way that we do. It's terrific to imagine the potential of work+life fit as a transformation strategy-- especially as you begin to link it to other initiatives that share a similar overall goal of making work work better for all of us. cvh

  • Maryanne Perrin

    Spot on! So much of our work policies and practices will need to be revisited once the collective culture views work as more of a "what you do" than "where and when you do it" (though of course, some jobs will always be more sensitive to locations & schedule). Changing these ingrained notions of work is no small task as evidenced by Eli Lilly's recent pullback on their flex opportunities in the tough economy. Hooray for the many corporations who are shedding old notions of work and viewing flexibility as a sustainable and economic strategy, NOT simply a favor to employees.

  • Janet Fouts

    Really great post. If we are to survive in a world where outsourcing around the world has become the norm and communication modes are in flux, we have to be able to think on our feet and adapt in order to maintain our standards of living, much less improve them. We don't have time for fear, we need to take action and look ahead!