Guest Host: Rebecca Roberts

Flexibility and work-life balance have been buzzwords in the business world for years now. But recently they’ve gained new traction. Major firms are implementing innovative programs that they say are good for the employee as well as the bottom line. We explore new approaches to the work-life divide.


  • Howard Ross Diversity consultant; Principal, Cook Ross
  • Ellen Galinsky President, Families and Work Institute
  • Billie Williamson Senior Partner and the Americas Inclusiveness Officer, Ernst & Young


  • 13:06:41

    MS. REBECCA ROBERTSFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Rebecca Roberts sitting for Kojo. Coming up this hour, big shifts in technology, culture and family structures have been redefining the workforce. But the workplace itself isn't changing nearly as fast. Work-life balance has been a catch phrase in business schools and lifestyle articles for a decade now.

  • 13:07:16

    MS. REBECCA ROBERTSBut just how flexible your job is depends on where you work and things like tele-work and flextime aren't just matters of company policy. Many people worry that if they don't follow a traditional schedule in a linear career track, they'll be knocked off the promotional latter. And they've got good reason to fear their future, especially in tough economic times.

  • 13:07:36

    MS. REBECCA ROBERTSBut some firms are making a commitment to flexibility. Building in time for school pageants or marathon training even sabbaticals and saying it's good not just for their employees, but also for the bottom line. Here to discuss it is Howard Ross. He's a diversity consultant and principal of Cook Ross. He joins us here in studio. Welcome back to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 13:07:58

    MR. HOWARD ROSSHi, Rebecca. Good to see you again.

  • 13:07:59

    ROBERTSAnd on the line from New Orleans is Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute. Welcome, Ellen Galinsky to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 13:08:08

    MS. ELLEN GALINSKYThank you. I'm delighted to be with you.

  • 13:08:11

    ROBERTSSo we're talking about this idea that work can be flexible both for the employer and the employee. And we'd love the audience to join us. If you could choose, would you rather, say, a salary increase or a more flexible schedule and how flexible is your schedule now? And also if there are flexibility options at the place where you work, do you feel that you can't take advantage of them if you want to continue to get ahead?

  • 13:08:39

    ROBERTSThe number here is 800-433-8850. You can also e-mail us, You can also get in touch with us through Facebook or tweet us at kojoshow. So, Howard, let's start with you. You know, work-life balance seems to be one of those conversations everybody has, certainly everybody with kids. But everybody wants to do something outside of their jobs as well. Has the workplace caught up with the expectations of the employees?

  • 13:09:09

    ROSSNot even close. Actually, let me first say hi to Ellen. Ellen, I don't know if you remember, but you and I met at Sherm (word?) meeting. I want to congratulate you on your partnership with Shirley and with the folks at Sherm. It's very exciting what you're up to.

  • 13:09:21

    GALINSKYThank you, we are just thrilled.

  • 13:09:23

    ROSSYeah. I think that what's happening is, getting back to your question Rebecca, is that we've got the reality that people are very aware of and that obviously more women coming into the workforce has a lot to do with this. I like to use the term, by the way, work-life juggling rather work-life balance because for most of us, it doesn't occur as balance. It really is more of a juggling act, you know, how do we manage each of the different balls that are in the air and keep them going.

  • 13:09:49

    ROSSMost people know that that's true. An awful lot of organizations are consciously trying to do some things where that's concerned and yet a lot of the things that people are trying to do are not working in terms of what it's leaving people with. So it leaves people with frustrations, sometimes it leaves people with concerns. If I take this flextime thing that you're offering me, are people really gonna treat me seriously?

  • 13:10:14

    ROSSOr I take the flextime thing and people don't really treat me seriously. They tend to not want me on major projects because I might not be as, quote, "dependable." And I think that there's still -- we're still coming from a mindset of people working a basic 8:00 to 5:00 or 9:00 to 5:00 job, showing up every day and doing it in a normal way.

  • 13:10:31

    ROSSAnd then we're trying to squeeze into that structure alternative ways of doing things rather than in most cases really questioning the structure itself and the norms of the culture themselves that exist in work and until we begin to do that, until we really begin to fundamentally change those paradigms and say, what do we really need to get work done in the 21st century?

  • 13:10:48

    ROSSWhat kind of presence do we need? What kind of hours do we need? All those kinds of things, until we really fully take that on like some organizations are, but as a larger workforce, we're still going to have some challenges.

  • 13:10:59

    ROBERTSAnd, Ellen Galinsky, when we talk about the different things that companies offer in terms of flexibility or flextime, what is that? What is the range of things that employers have thought to add to a flexibility program?

  • 13:11:12

    GALINSKYWell, first, let me agree with Howard that I don't like the word balance and, in fact, it doesn't fit the research. Balance implies 50/50 and if you really believe that, then it's a total guilt trip because it may mean one way one minute and another way another minute. We use work-life fit, which is similar to juggle. We use it because of the fact that each person has his or her own work-life fit.

  • 13:11:40

    GALINSKYYou ask about what are the ways that employers respond to the needs of employees. Let me actually just step back and say that employees are feeling an enormous time famine. Seventy-five percent feel they don't have enough time for their kids. That's up from 66 percent about 10 years ago. Sixty-three percent say they don't have enough time for their husband or wife or partner, up from 50 percent. And 60 percent say they don't have enough time for themselves.

  • 13:12:10

    GALINSKYEighty-seven percent say that if they were thinking about a new job, having workplace flexibility would be extremely or very important. We do nationally representative studies of the U.S. workforce so we measure what kinds of flexibility employers offer and employees have access to and we divide them into a number of types, like choice and managing time. Do you have control over your schedule?

  • 13:12:36

    GALINSKYFlextime and flex-place, which are, can you choose your own starting or quitting times and can you work summer hours or a compressed workweek or can you work at home some of the time? Reduced time, if you're full-time, could you work part-time if you want to? If you're part-time, could you work full-time? That's how we define it because our definition of flexibility implies that it needs to work for both. Or could you work part year?

  • 13:13:00

    GALINSKYTime off is time off during the workday. If your power, as we just heard on the news report before the program began, could you have at least five days for personal illness, for sick children or for elder care? Vacation time, paid holidays, volunteering during work-time without losing pay, leave for having children.

  • 13:13:25

    GALINSKYAnd then we also look at a culture of flexibility because frankly, you could have access to all these different types of flexibility that I've just described and if, as you said Rebecca, you feel like you're going to be jeopardized for using it you might as well not have it. And we find that 39 percent of employees do feel that there would be jeopardy for using the flexibility that their employers offer.

  • 13:13:51

    ROBERTSSo there's sort of when you work and when you don't work, but then there's also the piece of how you work...

  • 13:13:59


  • 13:13:59

    ROBERTS...whether you're physically in an office, you know, how much and what media you use in order to accomplish your job. Howard?

  • 13:14:08

    ROSSYeah, I want to pick up, Ellen, on that last point you made. I'm sorry, was that 35 percent, you said, who are afraid that they'd be...

  • 13:14:14


  • 13:14:15

    ROSSThirty-nine percent.

  • 13:14:15

    GALINSKYThirty-nine percent. And it hasn't...

  • 13:14:16

    ROBERTSThat's a high number.

  • 13:14:17

    GALINSKY...the needle hasn't moved in the 10 years we've been measuring it.

  • 13:14:21

    ROSSYeah, I want to speak to that for a minute because it ties in very closely with some research that we've been doing. One of the parts of my diversity practice is that we work -- we do a lot of work on studying an unconscious bias and the whole nature of the unconscious mind and how it deals with how we interact with things like this.

  • 13:14:37

    ROSSAnd this particular point that you're bringing up is one of the things that we've discovered, especially with dealing with issues that women have in the workforce. I do a lot of work in professional services firms, large consulting firms, law firms and that sort. And those are, among the firms that are really on the front edge in many cases of putting in flextime work arrangements.

  • 13:14:54

    ROSSLaw firms, for example, are very clear about this because more than 50 percent of graduates of law school now are women and they know they have all these talented young women who are coming in as lawyers and there's a very clear path that occurs right after -- starts around year three or four and goes through about year seven where enormous numbers of those women drop out of the law firm environment

  • 13:15:09

    ROSSSometimes they go into business law environments where they're in corporate law environment. Sometimes they go into non-profit or they take their, they don't drop out of the profession but they drop out of large law firms, excuse me.

  • 13:15:25

    ROSSAnd when we look at the research around the unconscious and how it plays out what we find is that the unconscious messaging that men have about women not being, not fitting into the workforce is not very different from the unconscious messaging the women have about that. Now, if we think about that, it makes sense because we all get the same stereotypes from our environment.

  • 13:15:44

    ROSSSo on our unconscious level, for a lot of women, what happens is even though on the surface we're offered this, people are offered this flextime, underneath people worry that this is going to bring up the very thing that I'm afraid of myself without even realizing it and so it wrecks havoc sometimes. And one of things that we're trying to do, and quite successfully in a lot of the cases, is to bring these conversations up more to conscious, to look at this.

  • 13:16:06

    ROSSAnd what we find is in an enormous impact. If we can just get people to see, wow, I do have this pull, that maybe I won't belong and if I'm really aware of that, then I can make the kinds of requests I need from my boss in very clear ways that could get me what I need. And in some cases, one of the firms we work with, for example, there are 19 percent of the women who are in this program that we do who said that they were planning on leaving, but ended up staying. So we can -- so there are ways to address this, but we have to get beyond kind of behind the curtain, I like to say.

  • 13:16:34

    ROBERTSWell, it's interesting that you say that people, you know, each have their own fears because I had an interesting conversation with a colleague a couple years ago. And we sort of dividing up assignments. And there were a lot of reasons I wanted one assignment over another, but one of them included that I didn't want to miss my kid's birthday party or the actual day of his birthday.

  • 13:16:52

    ROBERTSAnd I didn't want to say that as one of the reasons I didn't -- you know, I thought it was giving working moms a bad name everywhere that I was, you know, caring more about my child's birthday than about the work assignment and so I brought up all the professional reasons I wanted that assignment as well.

  • 13:17:08

    ROBERTSAnd then a colleague, a childless colleague, said to me, are you kidding? You have the golden ticket. Getting a schedule changed based on kids, everybody respects. Whereas, if I want a schedule change because I got a friend's wedding or because, you know, I really want to put in some extra training time 'cause I'm about to do a triathlon, everyone thinks I'm being selfish.

  • 13:17:24

    ROSSYep, and that's exactly what I'm talking about. That comes not from what's on the outside, it comes from your internal process. And a guy in that same circumstance might also have some concerns, but it's more, you know, what he sees externally. I mean, I was a single parent for 11 years so I've been in that conversation, you know, you and I were just talking about this offline.

  • 13:17:43

    ROSSI mean, I've had lots of time when I had to make those decisions, but we come from different places because of our cultural structure, because of our social conditioning and all of that contributes to this behind the curtain.

  • 13:17:54

    ROBERTSWe are talking about workplace flexibility with Howard Ross and Ellen Galinsky and if you have made these choices in your own work or you would like to have the option to make these choices in your own work, call us, 800-433-8850 or send us e-mail, Ellen Galinsky, go ahead.

  • 13:18:13

    GALINSKYYes, the -- you talked in the beginning, Rebecca, about how our assumptions haven't kept pace with the world that we live in, work in particularly with technology and this is such a good example of it. The notion that we often have, and I love this conversation about our bias and how we can restrict ourselves when we don't need to, but the notion that we've had is that flexibility is a perk, it's a favor, it's something that you should do under the table.

  • 13:18:46

    GALINSKYAnd managers might have that -- they might assume that if you provide flexibility, no one will be here when you need them or if you give them an inch, they'll take a mile and employees might make assumptions that if you take it, you won't be taken seriously. Increasingly, businesses are recognizing that flexibility actually is something that can improve productivity.

  • 13:19:13

    GALINSKYIt's a strategic business tool not an accommodation or a favor. And when you begin to look at a work group and all of the needs that members of the work group have and then schedule accordingly or work your plans accordingly, then people are typically be more engaged. They're going to give more back and that's benefiting the employer and the employee. So part of what we have to change is our attitudes toward flexibility not just whether it's offered or not.

  • 13:19:47

    ROBERTSNot to mention saving the cost of training a new employee.

  • 13:19:50


  • 13:19:50


  • 13:19:51

    ROBERTSLet's hear from Lisa, in Laulden County, Va. Lisa, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 13:19:55

    LISAHi, yeah, thanks a lot. You know, I think there's a day of reckoning coming with employers. I was a supervisor and I had many people that were single parents. And they were constantly having to, you know, leave work to take care of children that had doctor's appointments and school issues and whatever. And we were able to work around it 'cause we were a small company. But those people also had grandparents that were providing daycare for them. And this next generation of people, there aren't going to be any grandparents that are out there doing this for their children because they're either going to be gone or they're taking care of two, you know, sandwich generations.

  • 13:20:32

    LISAAnd employers are going to have to understand that both mothers and fathers who have children are going to be out of the office during the workday. And they're going to be out of it a lot. So without some sort of flexibility worked into a company's, you know, day-to-day strategy with tele-work or working with technology or whatever, they are going to be without employees. It's not a question of offering it as a perk or like, this is something we'd like to do. People are just not going to have this background of family that can help them take on some of these duties at home. They're just not going to be there within about the next ten to twelve years.

  • 13:21:07

    ROBERTSLisa, thanks for your call. Howard.

  • 13:21:09

    ROSSYeah, well, Lisa, I think you're absolutely right. And to Ellen's point, you know, we know that there's a rational reason for this. But we also know that rational reasons don't always cause our behavior. I like to tell the story of my granddaughter, Sloan (sp?) , who's five years old. Just turned six at the -- or turning six, but at the time she was five and she was living with us for a little while. And she came home -- I came home one day and she wanted a cookie before dinner and I said, you can't have a cookie before dinner, sweeties. And, you know, I want a cookie, so I put her on my lap and I explained to her why you shouldn't have a cookie and she listened really well and she looked -- and I said, do you understand? She said, yeah, can I have a cookie? (laugh)

  • 13:21:41

    ROSSAnd I think that, you know, the rational reasons are fine, but there are other reasons why and I -- Lisa mentioned men and women, and I think it's important for us to realize that there's both sides to this. For example, there are an awful lot of organizations now that are offering the alternative of maternity or paternity leave. In fact, they have to legally to do that. And yet when -- and maybe because of dual family incomes that it makes more sense for the father to stay home.

  • 13:22:06

    ROSSI've got somebody in my company right now whose father -- where the father is staying home with the child. But they -- there's another kind of piece to that that happens to the father, which is in the same way, Rebecca, as you were saying, the golden ticket, for mother to take maternity leave is the norm. For a father to take paternity leave, still has that background what -- you're taking advantage of the system. What, are you Mr. Mom? You know, all this kind of stuff that occurs as well. So the psychology of this operates in both directions and it becomes more and more complex as people have these sort of combined income homes where different people are available at different times, they're making different levels of money or they have different flexibility in their own workplaces.

  • 13:22:43

    ROBERTSWe are going take a quick break, but we are going to continue our conversation about workplace flexibility with Howard Ross and Ellen Galinsky after this short break. You're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 13:24:37

    ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Rebecca Roberts sitting in on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm talking with Howard Ross and Ellen Galinsky about workplace flexibility. And you can join us at 800-433-8850, by e-mail at or you can check us through Facebook and send us Tweets too at kojoshow. Well, let's take a call from Stephanie in Stafford, Virginia. Stephanie, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 13:25:02

    STEPHANIEHi, thanks for taking my call.

  • 13:25:02


  • 13:25:03

    STEPHANIEI just wanted to share my experience as a working mother. I'm the mother of three children and I worked fulltime -- continued to work fulltime for several years after my first child was born and made some radical changes when I had my other two children. In large part because of the experiences that I've had as a fulltime working mother, I can recall instances where I would have to pick up my son from school because he was sick. And when I contacted my supervisor to share that information with him, I was told, don't I have alternative arrangements? Why can't I take him to a daycare center? You know, I've explained they have policies against 102 degree fevers just as the school does. And I'm his mom. I need to go and pick him up and bring him home.

  • 13:25:48

    STEPHANIEAnd those were never conversations that I heard him having with my male counterparts, my colleagues who were my peers in the workplace. He just generally made the assumption that if they were asking to leave work to pick up a sick child, that they must've exhausted all of the other alternative measures that might have been available out there. So when I left the workplace to have my youngest two children, I made the decision when I returned to work to only go back to work part time. I work for a local school system so I know the snow days and teacher work days are built into my schedule. And I don't need to ask for any additional time off for those things.

  • 13:26:25

    STEPHANIEBut the consequence has been a significant reduction in my salary. Not to mention the fact that I'm no longer on the same career path that I used to be, which is fine and it's very fulfilling for me to be a mother and to be raising my family. But it's a significant impact on my 401K plan, on my IRA, on everything else regarding my long term future that I don't think men see for themselves as often as women do in the workplace.

  • 13:26:54

    ROBERTSStephanie, thanks for your call. And the loss of, you know, her employer -- former employer now lost someone who could've been ambitious and achieving and put all of that energy into that job and...

  • 13:27:04

    ROSSWell, exactly. And that gets back to the point that Ellen was making, which is that this is not something that we're doing to -- you know, that we're encouraging so that you can be charitable to women who are in this situation, or to people who are in this situation because there are others who deal with it, too. I was sharing with you I was a single parent for 11 years so I know what that feels like at some level.

  • 13:27:21

    ROSSBut I think that this -- one of the challenges that Stephanie was dealing with, speak exactly to what I was talking about earlier, which is that the structural systems that we have in our organizations are geared towards people working in particular ways. So if I'm in a professional services firm, in order to get to partner, there's certain things that are expected of me. And if I'm not working as many hours, if I'm working flextime, it disrupts that system. And there's sometimes -- I mean, people can be as different as they are good so there's sometimes when there are people who are so extraordinary and so outstanding that we create ways for them to work.

  • 13:27:52

    ROSSBut as a rule, what happens is that that person with that different schedule is just sort of like a round peg in a square hole trying to fit into that structure and system. And even if we're accommodating them to allow it to work, it still feels like an accommodation. It feels like we're sacrificing something to allow them to work, as opposed to looking at both sides of the ledger and seeing what we benefit by keeping that person in the system during a particular period of time and keeping them on a career path that not only will benefit them in the long run, but in the case of Stephanie, would also benefit the organization, has all the talent, energy and enthusiasm here to bring. In addition to the fact that employees who get these kinds of arrangements are even more committed to their organization.

  • 13:28:32


  • 13:28:32

    ROSSAnd so therefore, you know, they stay longer.

  • 13:28:35

    ROBERTSEllen Galinsky.

  • 13:28:36

    GALINSKYSorry, didn't mean to interrupt.

  • 13:28:37

    ROBERTSNope, go ahead.

  • 13:28:38

    GALINSKYI would like to bring up an issue that is -- may be surprising to some people, which is that actually these days men are experiencing a lot more work-life conflict than women are. Even though we've had a lot of discussion about men and women may be treated differently in the workplace, right now we see almost a 15-point difference in how many men report that they have some or a lot of conflict, 59 percent versus women 45 percent. Women's level has stayed relatively the same as men have gotten more involved in their families because they were single parents, but also because they want to actually spend time and be with their children. They don't want to be stick figures in their children's lives. Then we've seen their level of work-life conflict shoot up.

  • 13:29:35

    GALINSKYSo we need to think about how to meet the needs of both men and women. And as Stephanie said, people who are taking care of elders, which is -- has been almost one out of two employees in the last five years, and will be about the same in the coming five years, and people who want to continue to work when they're older and need flexibility, we find that 75 percent of people expect to fully retire from a job and then take another job. So it's a real different world, a different economy, a different group of employees. And flexibility isn't one-size-fits-all. It needs to work for the employer and the employee in lots of different ways.

  • 13:30:20

    GALINSKYAnd the employer that made the decision not to let the last caller -- you know, to treat her differently, as you said, Rebecca, really lost a good employee. It's been those kinds of conversations that have led so many employers to begin to change things over the last 20 years. And we now -- we run a program, the program that Howard was talking about, with -- that we're going to be running, the SHRM called When Work Works. And we have close to 1,000 employers...

  • 13:30:51

    ROBERTSAnd, I'm sorry, SHRM is...

  • 13:30:53

    GALINSKY...Society for Human Resource Management. And the Families at Work Institute just announced last week a partnership to continue this project. And among the other things we will do with them, and that we've been doing for the last eight years, is to give an award for employers that demonstrate that they are -- have flexible and effective workplaces. And, I mean, demonstrate because if they're in the top 20 percent of employers nationally -- we do a national study of employers. Then they give a survey to their employees and we can norm that against the study of employees we do.

  • 13:31:28

    GALINSKYAnd two-thirds of the winning score comes from employees. So it's employee's real experience that determine whether they're winners of what we call the Sloan (sp?) awards. So we have -- even though some needles haven't moved, like the people who feel that there'd be jeopardy, we do see that there are some increases and flexibilities, small evolution, not a revolution. But we see employers recognizing that it's a different world and many of them are beginning to apply for the Sloan awards.

  • 13:31:58

    ROBERTSWell, I want to bring an employer in in one second, but I want to remind our audience that you can participate in the conversation. If you're hearing some resonance here in the challenge of finding a balance between your work and home life, or a juggle or a fit between your work and home life, have you found that you've made tradeoffs, like Stephanie, where you took a lower salary in order to have a more predictable schedule? Or if you've had that option, would you take it, if you choose a salary increase over a more flexible schedule? Give us a call, 800-433-8850 or send us e-mail,

  • 13:32:30

    ROBERTSAnd joining us now is Billie Williamson. She's Senior Partner and the Americas Inclusiveness Officer at Ernst & Young. Thank you for joining us.

  • 13:32:38

    MS. BILLIE WILLIAMSONGreat to be with you, Rebecca, and to talk with Ellen and Howard.

  • 13:32:42

    ROBERTSNow your company was -- again, this is several times now made one of the Fortune 100 Best Places to Work. How does flexibility fit into what has become attractive to employees about Ernst & Young?

  • 13:32:53

    WILLIAMSONAbsolutely. We've been on Fortune's 100 best companies for about 13 years, so we're very proud of that accomplishment. And flexibility is very key to our people. Our people are our most important asset. It's critical to our business success that we're able to recruit and retain the best and brightest. So when listening to the story of the young woman about not being welcomed back from her employer, that's very frustrating. Because we have a very high performing culture and our clients have very high expectations. And we know that our people can leave at any time. As our CEO says, our assets walk out of the door every evening.

  • 13:33:36

    WILLIAMSONAnd as we think about the new generation that's in the workforce, all the generations want flexibility. We just happen to define that differently. And flexibility is definitely a two-way street. Our people commit to providing the highest quality service to our clients and getting the work done, but we, in turn, have to commit to providing a culture of flexibility. It's not about working less hours. It's about working those hours flexibly and finding ways for our people to meet both their personal and professional goals.

  • 13:34:02

    ROBERTSAnd so do you, for instance, sort of make an implicit or maybe even an explicit deal that we will be flexible, we will help this job work for you in all kinds of ways. But say when it's crunch time, when we're facing a tax deadline, we expect you here.

  • 13:34:17

    WILLIAMSONAbsolutely. We have those discussions. We have them as a team as the project is beginning so that everyone can plan for that. So, you know, we do have different what we call busy seasons for each of our service lines. And assurance it's now because most companies have their 10Ks due at the end of February, the early part of March. So our assurance people are working very hard right now. But that doesn't mean that they can't take some time off in the summer and really work a reduced schedule in the summer to offset for that. Same thing with our tax professionals.

  • 13:34:51

    WILLIAMSONAnd when a client has an unusual thing come up, like a merger, an acquisition or something like that, it's kind of all hands on deck, but we all work as a team. You know, nobody does anything solo here at our firm, so we are very focused on teamwork and how we can work as a team to allow that flexibility. And even during those peak seasons, so in assurance right now, on my team we allow -- every person has a night that they get to go home early. They can do anything they want on that night. They can, you know, have dinner with their spouse, they can have -- do something with their children, they can go to an exercise class, whatever they want to do. So as long as we plan it in and think about how we're going to get the work done, were very focused on allowing that flexibility.

  • 13:35:36

    WILLIAMSONNow we do provide some formal flexible work arrangements. That's where someone needs to do something on a more permanent basis. So that can be a reduced schedule, it can be a compressed work week or it can be tele-work. And that is something that we enter into a real live contract with the individual.

  • 13:35:54

    ROBERTSAnd does that person then risk not being promoted or get off a certain sort of leadership track if they take that option?

  • 13:36:02

    WILLIAMSONNo. As a matter of fact, for the past ten years -- in our new partner class every year, we've had people promoted that were on flexible work arrangements and reduced schedule. And so we feel very confident in the ability to be able to get our people to the partnership level while they're still experiencing that flexible work arrangement. The way we like to look at it -- and I think Howard made the point a little bit earlier about the fact that, you know, there was a question about whether someone was going to be committed or not if they were on a flexible work arrangement -- one of the things that we like to think about it is that our people work fulltime on a reduced number of projects.

  • 13:36:42

    WILLIAMSONSo, you know, we've got to meet the needs of the client and our people understand that. And when we first started with flexible work arrangements, obviously we had a few things that didn't go so well, to be real honest. That was many years ago. And if we said to somebody, okay, you can leave every day at 3:00 and a crisis came up at a client, that didn't work so well. But when we say, okay, let's take a reduced number of clients and you do whatever that client needs, then that takes away that issue about commitment. I'm going to meet the commitments of my client. I'm just going to have a lesser number of clients if I'm on a reduced schedule.

  • 13:37:18

    ROBERTSAnd is there a sense that sort of there are some reasons for taking a flexible schedule that are more worthy than others? I mean, does, you know, parenthood trump something else?

  • 13:37:29

    WILLIAMSONWell, it's a good question, but no. Actually in the form where you apply for, say, a reduced schedule arrangement at Ernst and Young, we don't ask the reason because we believe that our people are -- you know, they're grown ups. They can determine what they need to balance and/or to fit as a -- or juggle as both Howard and Ellen were talking about earlier, to be able to do what they need to do personally as well as professionally. And so we don't really ask the reason.

  • 13:38:02

    WILLIAMSONI mean, ultimately that probably comes out in the discussion because you have to discuss it with your manager. You have to talk about how you're going to use technology and different things like that. But it's really not -- we've had people do flexible work arrangements who were preparing to be in the Olympics. Certainly we've had a lot of working moms be on flexible work arrangements. Quite honestly, we've had working dads be on flexible work arrangements. We have folks that are going back to school to try to enhance some of their education to get an advanced degree or that type of thing. So we use flexible work arrangements for a broad range of purposes to enable someone to be successful both personally and professionally.

  • 13:38:42

    ROBERTSThat's Billie Williamson, Senior Partner and the Americas Inclusiveness Officer at Ernst and Young. She joined us by phone from New York. Thank you so much for being here.

  • 13:38:50

    WILLIAMSONIt was great to be with you.

  • 13:38:52

    ROSSYeah, Rebecca, I want to just point that what Billie's talking to is exactly what I was talking to earlier when I talked about organizations, who are out there in the front who really understand the structural differences that are needed. I mean, you look at just a couple of the things she talked about, putting people in a team environment for one thing. I mean, historically, professional services firms haven't always operated in a team environment. You know, a lawyer had one client, a consultant had one client. They are -- not had one client but the project had one consultant on it or maybe one or two consultants.

  • 13:39:20

    ROSSIn that kind of environment, it's very difficult to have flexible work arrangement because if the consultant or the lawyer is not there, the client goes without support. So shifting to a team environment creates a completely different structural phenomenon where now if I've got four or five different people who can serve me, if one person's not there at that time, the client still gets served. So that's a great example of that happening. The shifting client load is another example. And a lot of times when I'm talking with organizations that are just beginning to look at this, what I'll hear are things like, well, you know, they can't leave at 3:00 every day because they don't know about the kinds of things that Billie's talking about.

  • 13:39:53

    ROSSAnd so what Ernst & Young is doing is right along the lines of what we're seeing in sort of high performing organizations that are able to break through some of these structural barriers.

  • 13:40:03

    ROBERTSAnd Ellen Galinsky, Billie Williamson said that, you know, they clearly take pride in the fact that every year some of the promotions include people who are on this flexible time. You've written that the notion that you have to keep steadily climbing up a corporate ladder is an outdated idea, that there are other models for how you get ahead.

  • 13:40:26

    GALINSKYYes, I have. And I would like to just point out that Ernst & Young has won the Sloan Awards, the award that Families and Work Institute is going to be doing with the Society for Human Resource Management. This past year they won in 13 different locations. So they're employees are saying that this is working well and just to add to what Billie said, is that their CEO Jim Turley says that the magic ingredient that they have as their culture -- that you can copy our programs and policies, but you can't really copy our culture.

  • 13:41:00

    GALINSKYAnd they've created a culture that works very hard to value flexibility, but I do agree that -- that part of the change that we have to make to bring our ways of working into line with the 21st century is to not necessarily think of a clear ladder where it's up up up or out. The kind of examples that Billie gave are indicative of that. Another program also in an accounting firm is what Deloitte has, which they call mass career customization.

  • 13:41:36

    GALINSKYThey've built the notion of flexibility into their annual performance appraisal process where each employee and his or her manager is expected to have a conversation so that it works for both, so that's is not a one-way street, but about the roles, the responsibility, the workload, and the kind of demands and place and time that the employee and employer can agree that the employee is going to work. And their notion is that we customize genes, we customize pretty much everything in this economy, cars, etc., we ought to be able to customize careers and that we need a career lattice so that you can move sideways or down rather and up and out.

  • 13:42:25

    GALINSKYAnd it is the up and out that led so many of the accounting firms to rethink what they were doing because, as Howard said earlier, it's expensive to replace someone.

  • 13:42:38

    ROBERTSWe need to take a quick break, but we will continue our conversation about workplace flexibility with Howard Ross and Ellen Galinsky, and you if you'd like to join us at 800-433-8850, or send us e-mail, I'm Rebecca Roberts, and you're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 13:44:43

    ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Rebecca Roberts sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. I'm talking with Howard Ross and Ellen Galinsky about workplace flexibility, and if you'd like to join us, call 800-433-8850. And Howard Ross, of course we're having this conversation in the context of an economy where people are struggling to keep or find jobs, and so the idea that an employer is in the position of being able to choose between someone who is not going to ask for a lot of flex time, or is not gonna want a reduced schedule versus somebody who's super ambitious and super hungry and wants to, you know, spend all their time proving themselves, when they've got that choice, who are they gonna choose?

  • 13:45:16

    ROSSWell, I think that's -- what you're pointing to is that at times of stress and at times of fear particularly, we shift from long-term to short-term thinking. And there's no question that there's some organizations who are sitting back there sort of, you know, rubbing their hands together saying, oh, we really have a lot of people to choose from now. But the question is, long term what serves you in terms of putting an organizational structure in place. And, you know, we were just talking about the notion of ambition for example.

  • 13:45:41

    ROSSIn the kind of the organizations that Ellen was talking about, the up the ladder or out organizations, a lot of time what gets valued is an employee's ambition. So if this person is not hungry for what's next, then we don't want them around. All we want are these hungry people. But the reality is that there are an awful lot of people, especially today, who come into organizations saying, you know, this is what I want to do. I want to get great at this. I'm not sure I want to be a partner. I'm not sure I want to manage other people

  • 13:46:04

    ROSSI'm not sure that either of those is either what I'm going to be good at or what I want to take the responsibility for, but boy do I want to...

  • 13:46:09

    ROBERTSOr make the sacrifices I have to make to get there.

  • 13:46:10

    ROSSOr make the sacrifices, exactly. But boy, am I willing to give you the best possible person in this consulting, lawyer, whatever, position we're talking about. And the assumption that having everybody be hungry does not necessarily create the healthiest culture. Sometimes that creates a culture where people are competitive with each other all the time, where people are sort of especially now very impatient for a promotion when they are very limited promotions, especially as you say in this economy.

  • 13:46:35

    ROSSAnd so they end of leaving. Some of your best people end of leaving. Whereas it's realism to say that only so many people are going to continue to rise the ladder. What's wrong with having some people who are brilliant at what they do, satisfied with what they do and want to continue growing in that job.

  • 13:46:48

    ROBERTSLet's take a call from Andrew in Arlington. Andrew, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 13:46:53

    ANDREWHi, thanks for having me.

  • 13:46:54


  • 13:46:56

    ANDREWI just wanted to provide, I guess maybe a little bit of a counterpoint to some of your guests today. My wife recently made partner at a large law firm downtown, and she's made a lot of sacrifices in her personal life, and even I as her family, have made some sacrifices in order for her to get where she is. And the idea that -- I don't know if they're necessarily promoting it -- but I feel maybe they are promoting, but someone who takes flexible hours and maybe is not willing to make some of the sacrifices that my wife did should be promoted at the same rate. I don't know, where's the fairness in that?

  • 13:47:33

    ROBERTSEllen Galinsky, do you have an answer for Andrew?

  • 13:47:35

    GALINSKYI think that...

  • 13:47:36

    ANDREWI'm sorry, yes?

  • 13:47:37

    GALINSKYFor employers, it's all about talent. And someone who may let's say have to take some time off because of the difficult pregnancy, or an ill parent, but also is very ambitious, would be a real loss to the organization. So they-- that person may not advance as quickly as your wife who was able to stay with it all along. But from an employer's perspective, they may not want to lose her or him. It's really all about talent from employers' point of view, and making sure that you have the best people and that they're fully engaged.

  • 13:48:16

    GALINSKYAnd when Billie was talking about the people who took fewer clients, but also did a very good job and made partner, that employer is benefiting, Ernst & Young is benefiting because they are keeping someone who might be very good, and might really a great relationship with clients. So I think that, yes, there are differentials for people who follow the path straight through versus people who may take time out, but it's important for both the employee and the employer not to lose that talent.

  • 13:48:51

    GALINSKYYou think about Stephanie who called in earlier, and she probably -- if she hadn't had to make those kinds of choices would have stayed in her other job and as Rebecca said, that employer lost someone who might have been very good.

  • 13:49:06


  • 13:49:06

    ROSSYeah. I think -- I agree with everything that you're saying, Ellen, and there's another aspect to this that I think is important, Andrew, for us to keep in mind. And that is the point -- what you're pointing to is something that happens in our society any time society changes in a new direction. If we look in the past we can say that you're absolutely right, that women, in order to get to law firm partnership is the example you're giving, have had to jump through hoops and make enormous sacrifices.

  • 13:49:31

    ROSSAt the same time, as a result of all those hoops and sacrifices, we've lost enormous numbers of talented women who switched out of those professions and law firms and, you know, every other kind of business you can imagine, for every woman who is successful like your wife was, there have been dozens and dozens and dozens who had the talent to be successful, who could have been good, but who went to the wayside.

  • 13:49:52

    ROSSAnd so when we begin to realize that from a talent standpoint, as Ellen is saying, and say we can't continue to do this, we can't continue to hemorrhage this talent, a lot of people who had to go through those hoops say wait a second, I had to go through it, they should have to go through it, too. And ironically, sometimes the greatest resistance comes from those people, women who have achieved, people of color who've achieved, you know, people who have had to get through all the hurdles, and they'll say how come I had to fight that battle and other people don't.

  • 13:50:16

    ROSSAnd it's too bad, but the -- you know, it's unfortunate that that happens, but the reality is, this is a talent issue. We can't afford to keep hemorrhaging all those women and lose them from the workforce.

  • 13:50:26

    ROBERTSWe have an e-mail...

  • 13:50:26

    GALINSKYAnd often people -- people might feel differently when it comes to their daughters...

  • 13:50:30


  • 13:50:31

    GALINSKY...or their sons, too.

  • 13:50:31

    ROSSRight. Yeah.

  • 13:50:33

    ROBERTSWe have an e-mail from Jim in Bethesda, and he talks about an issue several e-mailers and callers are bringing up, which is how do you reconcile workplace flexibility, full time, part time, part year contract, with rigidity of employer-based health care coverage. Advocates for workplace flexibility need to speak out against the outmoded model of employer-sponsored healthcare coverage. Ellen Galinsky?

  • 13:50:53

    GALINSKYThat's exactly right. So many of the structures of society are outmoded. The employers that really do want to keep employees offer prorated health insurance, and I think that we really need to fix health insurance so that for example, with all of the people who have lost jobs and move onto other jobs that you don't lose your health care coverage that way. As well we've -- we were having to deal with that and the recession.

  • 13:51:21

    GALINSKYSo retirement is another place where the pension system that we have had is rigid, and if people want to begin to ease into retirement they want to do what is called a phased retirement, they can lose all of them, you know, the years that they may have contributed and have a lesser pension fund if they're on a defined benefits plan. So, all of these structures need to change for the work force of the 21st century and the workplace of the 21st century.

  • 13:51:53

    ROBERTSLet's hear from Dave in Silver Spring. Dave, thank you for your patience hanging on the line. Welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 13:51:59

    DAVEHey, thank you very much, can you hear me?

  • 13:52:01

    ROBERTSYeah. Can you turn down your radio?

  • 13:52:03

    DAVEYeah, it's down. I'm in a store now, I'm sorry.

  • 13:52:04

    ROBERTSGreat. Okay.

  • 13:52:07

    DAVEAnyway, I just wanted to bring -- Ms. Williams is going to talk to the city manager (unintelligible) who came in after her previous (unintelligible) 15 years. We have lost all comp time. We have no flexibility. Our schedules have to be set, and I work in an area where I work weekends, nights. I set my schedule three weeks in advance. If I miss, I come an hour late, well, that's an hour of sick leave or an hour of vacation time that must be deducted. She came in, everybody having all this extra sick leave and annual leave on the books which became a liability to the organization, and her job was to cut that down. And so they're going 180 degrees from what your guests have been discussing.

  • 13:52:50

    ROBERTSAnd is that at economic decision, do you think, Dave?

  • 13:52:53

    DAVEAbsolutely. Absolutely. The municipalities are getting crushed right now for having to save money and become more efficient. We were on a 35-hour work week. We switched to a 40-hour work week. No change in our base pay and then we lost all comp time. We was told if we work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week, then thank you very much for your support. We're expected to, we're exempt from FMLA so that's just the way it goes.

  • 13:53:18

    ROBERTSDave, thanks for your call. Ellen Galinsky, is this something you find that these programs tend to be the first cut when economic times are tough?

  • 13:53:25

    GALINSKYWell, actually, no. We did a study of the impact on flexibility during the recession, and we found that 81 percent of employers kept the flexibility that they were providing, 13 increased it, and only six percent cut it back. I could hear from Dave's voice how he feels about his employer, and the first chance he gets, I bet he's gonna jump ship. And there are always employers that are going to treat employees as if they're interchangeable, as if they're cogs, to treat them without respect and, you know, and they'll -- they won't do as well.

  • 13:54:02

    GALINSKYThey don't have, you know, every measure that we use on our national studies of the U.S. workforce shows that when employees have learning opportunities, when they have some autonomy or some say over how to do their job, when they have a supervisor who supports them in doing their job well, and so forth, and work (unintelligible) flexibility that they're going to give a lot back to their employers. They're also in better health. So you have the costs of health care, when employers are treated badly, there can be health repercussions. So yes, there will always be employers like that, but it's too bad.

  • 13:54:41

    ROBERTSYou know, we've talked some about changing attitudes. We haven't talked that much about tele-work, working from home. We have two e-mails that highlight how that attitude still might be lagging behind. Annie says that over 30 percent of her company now works from home. She says, "I'm lucky to be one of them. And within the company, I face no biases, but when I mention my work life status to friends or family outside of my company, the reaction is often negative or disrespectful.

  • 13:55:05

    ROBERTSI've found people equate my working from home with laziness, when the reality is very different. I work much longer hours and at a much faster pace in my current work from home environment, whereas in the office, I found frequent excuses to waste time with my colleagues over extended lunch or coffee breaks." And Hard in Raleigh, NC says that tele-work is "wonderful in concept, but it's hard to imagine -- and it's hard to imagine having to commute to the office again, however, my boss expects that since we work from our homes and have our computers in our homes and don't need don't need to commute, that we should be putting extra hours for the convenience.

  • 13:55:38

    ROBERTSI've found that my work week is now 50 to 55 hours a week and I'm afraid that if I make waves, my tele-work privileges will be taken away." Howard Ross.

  • 13:55:45

    ROSSWell, I think, Rebecca, what you're pointing to is one more time when our sort of mindset determines how we're reacting. You know, we're kind of used to, you know, seeing people show up, and we don't -- I mean, I know of a couple people who in our company executives who work from home at least one day a week because they've got young children and they want to be there. And, you know, they're working all different hours of the day and night, and that's fine, you know, get your job done.

  • 13:56:07

    ROSSBut the other side of this that there are important distinctions sometimes in organizations between jobs in which that works and jobs in which it doesn't. And, you know, one of the things that we struggle with is, you know, how much does the culture of the organization shift if nobody's in the office ever, or if there's no consistent group of people in the officer ever. And so we have to find a nice balance between the two. Because there's certain kinds of organizations, particularly where you could have people to telecommuting 95 percent or even 100 percent of the time and it really wouldn't matter.

  • 13:56:36

    ROSSYou know, we know people who are outsourcing jobs certainly to people all around the world. It doesn't really matter for those jobs. Other jobs, the interaction between people is a critical part of the work that you're actually doing, and so the balance between that is sometimes where people are struggling to find the right place.

  • 13:56:50

    ROBERTSI had an interesting conversation recently about the background noises that are acceptable on a conference call.

  • 13:56:55

    ROSSYes, exactly.

  • 13:56:56

    ROBERTSBecause so many of us take them from wherever, and, you know, siren -- everyone has to deal with a siren if you live near a city. Maybe if you're taking it from the grocery store and there's background noise.

  • 13:57:05

    ROSSThe barking dog.

  • 13:57:06

    ROBERTSThe barking dog, right. Such a sign that you are not in an office.

  • 13:57:09

    ROSSWell, and I'm waiting for the time, you know, pretty -- we're more and more getting into Skype and to video conferencing and the like. I'm waiting for the day we used to see when we were kids looking at "The Jetsons" where you pull down a scene behind you that looks more like some place that's acceptable, you know, or a set, like a movie set or something. So, yeah. It'll be interesting to see how that all plays itself out.

  • 13:57:27

    ROBERTSWell, obviously, we are not going to solve these issues in one hour, but thank you so much for joining us for the conversation. Thanks so much to our callers and e-mails. I'm sorry we did not get to everybody. Howard Ross is a diversity consultant and the principal of Cook Ross. He joined us here in studio. Thank you so much for being here.

  • 13:57:39

    ROSSThank you, Rebecca. It's great to see you again.

  • 13:57:42

    ROBERTSAnd Ellen Galinsky is president of the Families and Work Institute. She joined us from a studio in New Orleans. Thank you to you.

  • 13:57:49

    GALINSKYMy pleasure. It's a whole new world, isn't it?

  • 13:57:52

    ROBERTS"The Kojo Nnamdi Snow" is produced by Diane Vogel, Brendan Sweeney, Tara Boyle, Michael Martinez, and Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, with help from Kathy Goldgeier and Elizabeth Weinstein. Diane Vogel is the managing producer. The engineer today is Timmy Olmstead. Dorie Anisman is on the phones. Podcasts of all shows, audio archives, CDs and free transcripts are available at our website, You're also invited to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet I'm Rebecca Roberts sitting in on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Thanks for listening.

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