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updated 3/14/2013 6:49:00 PM ET 2013-03-14T22:49:00

If you're finding that your professional and your personal lives are at odds and leaving you drained and stressed out, Cali Williams Yost offers techniques to change your situation. Here's an excerpt from "Tweak It."

Who Needs Tweak It?

Meet Charlie, Ellen, Carter and Samantha

Charlie has been a technician for the same telecommunications company for fifteen years. He’s the father of two boys, whom he loves to coach in football. His free time is spent either helping his aging father, who lives in the next town, or renovating his house with a friend. After a recent strike, he’s beginning to think he may need a backup plan for his job. It does help that his wife is a nurse, even if it means he needs to do his share of cooking, laundry, and general day‑to‑day family maintenance. He looks forward to his annual fishing trip with his friends, and he tries to take care of himself physically because he knows it’s the only way he’ll be able to keep doing his job another twenty years, “knock on wood.”

Ellen graduated from college two years ago and is a junior accountant at a large firm. In spite of almost nonstop travel to client offices, she’s continuing her education with online courses. She’s close to her large, extended family and is passionate about ballroom dancing. Personally, her short-​term goal is to manage her money carefully so that she can move out of her parents’ house. Professionally, she’d like to find a position in the finance department of an alternative energy company and is making a point to connect with groups and professionals in that industry. She recently met someone whom she really likes, but they struggle to find time to be together as much as they’d like.

Carter is a semiretired investment manager who would like to transition the remaining ownership of his firm to his partner within the next two years. A grandfather of four who’s been married to his college sweetheart for forty-​five years, he’s also a part-​time tree farmer and loves to travel and read. But that’s not stopping him from wanting to find another part-​time job that would allow him to give back to the community while bringing in some extra income. He’s been exploring his options.

Samantha is a single parent of one son. She’s worked in the customer service department of a company for the last five years. Her commute is an hour each way, which doesn’t leave much time at the end of the day to cook, do the laundry, maintain her car and town house, and see her son. She’d love to date, but doesn’t know where to begin. Her wide circle of friends has been an invaluable source of support, and she’s considering taking up yoga to manage her stress—but when?

Like Charlie, Ellen, Carter, and Samantha, most of us want and need to keep a job that pays the bills, especially today. We have lives that include family, friends, and interests outside of work that matter deeply to us. We have to maintain the place where we live and the car that we drive. We need to manage our money, plan for caregiving responsibilities, and think about how we are going to live in our later years. We require sleep, exercise, and healthy food to feel our best. And almost all of us are connected (often too connected) across all parts of our lives by technology.

These are the everyday activities and priorities that real people with real jobs and real lives struggle to control and master in a world where the rules of engagement have not been clear for a long time. In other words, most of us need to Tweak It.

But maybe “real people with real jobs and real lives” is too broad a description, and you’re still not sure it includes you. So let’s break it down further. Like you, Charlie, Ellen, Carter, and Samantha are members of at least one of the six specific groups of people who, for different reasons, will benefit from a weekly practice of powerful small actions made deliberately and consistently. They include women, men, Gen‑Y/Millennials, adult caregivers, “retirees” who work, and entrepreneurs.

Women (partnered, single, mothers, and nonmothers)

Tweak It is for women and men; however, it’s important to emphasize that women are the ones who have tried their best to bring the growing work and life mismatch to the world’s attention for the past two decades. The old strict rules of when you work and when you manage your life no longer align with the rapidly changing realities of everyone’s responsibilities on and off the job. But because women bear children and often are the primary parent (although increasingly less so1), the perception became that this mismatch was a “women’s issue.”  The historic transformation of work and life was the real problem, but the most noticeable symptom, pregnancy and child care, became the focus.

We are aware of a colleague’s pregnancy, but we can’t easily see a coworker care for a sick parent or a handicapped adult sibling, take an evening class, have a phone conference at night with a client in another time zone, or manage a chronic illness.

When a baby is born, a mother is not at work for a period of time, which again is noticeable. After the new mother returns to work (assuming she returns), she now has a different set of circumstances on and off the job, which can be noticeable as well. When we connect the visible pregnancy with the noticeable absence and the assumed change in circumstances, it’s easy to conclude that the conflict between lives at work and at home must be about women having children. Even when the research consistently proves that it’s not.

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When I point out the inaccuracy of this perception, people will push back and say, “Yes, but men who have children and people with aging parents don’t disappear from work for three to six months like mothers do.” Actually, in both instances the disappearance can occur faster and be more acute. Elder care or illness often happens suddenly and unexpectedly, whereas most of the time people have months to plan for the absence of a pregnant coworker. And, usually, the date the mother is expected to return is predetermined and easy to plan around as well. I’ve witnessed countless cases over the years where, without notice, people are out of work for weeks or months because of a heart attack or the severe illness of a parent. And while men may not disappear for months after a baby is born, new fathers also experience a meaningful shift in priorities that requires them to change their everyday work+life fit. But that shift is not as visual. We don’t see that a new father was pregnant, so we don’t make the direct link to the change.

While efforts to support working mothers have been helpful and well intentioned, they’ve also inadvertently reinforced the already pervasive “mommy penalty” 5 that unfairly targets and limits women’s career advancement. This is the misperception that women, particularly mothers, are the only group that struggles with their responsibilities on and off the job and are, therefore, unemployable. The truth is that men are reporting higher levels of conflict between their work and personal lives than women, but again there aren’t the same visual clues, so we miss it.

I hope that Tweak It finally broadens the focus beyond motherhood and places it back on addressing how the historic, radical transformation in work and life over the past two decades has affected all of us.

Men (partnered, single, fathers, and nonfathers)

If you are a man, then reading Tweak It may be first time that you’ve:

  • picked up a book or participated in a community about how to better manage your day‑to‑day work+life fit;
  • felt like you were a welcomed and valued participant in that conversation; and
  • realized that you are not the only guy who wants to make what matters to him happen as part of a successful career.

Coincidentally, as I started writing this chapter, my aunt told me the following story. It’s about her recent experience recruiting a new dean for the community college at which she is a long-​time professor. Her story illustrates perfectly how senior-​level men are beginning to seek and prioritize the ability to work and have a life. She wrote:

I was on a hiring committee for our new dean. It took a year for us to find the right person, and did we get a winner! I was also part of the group that wrote the position announcement and job description. The job description really was looking for a Super Man or Woman. It was an impossible description for any one person to fill. We discussed burnout and were concerned we would use up the successful candidate, if we could find him/her. But— we found him— and at our first kickoff meeting of the academic year, I gave him a Superman coffee mug. He keeps it prominently displayed in his workspace as a testament to our support for him.

He has two young children, and many days he leaves work mid‑to‑late afternoon to pick up the children from school. Other days he is there until 6 or 7 or even 8, and he responds to e‑mails sometimes well into the night. I believe he also coaches one of the children’s sports teams. In one of our conversations, he reminded me that the job description had a bullet item about work+life fit— that the successful candidate would be able to manage that. He said that impressed him about this position.

Men want and need the flexibility to make what matters to them happen just as much as women do.6 But historically they’ve been excluded overtly and subtly from the work+life issue. I’ve witnessed several examples of this over the years:

  • In many organizations, the responsibility for addressing work+life issues is part of the Women’s Initiative.
  • HR leaders would hire me to work with their employees and dismiss my prediction that men would participate if they were invited by saying, “Don’t be disappointed if they don’t show up.” They were invariably shocked when almost half of the audience was men.
  • In most mainstream media outlets, work+life challenges and solutions are discussed in the style sections of newspapers, on morning talk shows aimed at women, or in women’s magazines.

No wonder men haven’t felt welcomed or included. The message has been that the discussion about how to fit your work and personal life together doesn’t apply to you. And, if you’re having trouble, you’re the only one who is: “Dude, there must be something wrong with you.”

Not only are men reporting higher levels of work+life conflict than women are, but a clear majority of adults surveyed who work full-​time believe work/life balance is an issue for everyone, not just women. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising that another round of recent studies all found that men face many if not more of the challenges managing their responsibilities on and off the job than women do.

Men’s benefits from the Tweak It practice include creating a strong professional network, updating their skills, strengthening their personal finances, managing the caregiving for their children and aging relatives, connecting with friends, and making time for sports and fitness.

Yes, I hope Tweak It finally puts to rest the myth that work+life fit is a women’s issue, but I want men to know that the Tweak It practice and community are 100 percent meant for them as well. I hope men become active and enthusiastic participants in the Tweak It revolution. In fact, nothing will truly shift without men onboard. Some of my most powerful partners for change over the years inside of companies have been men. Their voices on this issue are valuable and important. I hope to hear many more!

Gen‑Ys/Millennials

Gen‑Ys/Millennials have gotten an incredibly bad rap in the workplace and in the media for their supposed obsession with work/life balance.10 For these digital natives, technology connects all parts of their lives on and off the job all of the time. I often joke that if I could get the people under thirty years old who work for my corporate clients into a soundproof room they’d say, “Why do we have to come to the same place at the same time every day to get work done?” They don’t understand the lingering, outdated rule that says work is nine to five in the office, Monday through Friday, and life outside of work happens after that.11 Like working mothers, Millennials have been waving a red flag that points to a bigger issue, which is that we all need updated, more contemporary, and flexible ways to manage work and life.

Unfortunately, instead of listening, we’ve interpreted their arguments for balance as “I don’t want to work hard.” Yes, there will always be poor performers in every generation. But what I see, more often than not, is the willingness to work hard but also the desire to work differently and more flexibly. In other words, “I’ll finish that report tonight at home, but it’s a beautiful day and I want to leave early and go to the ball game.” The work will get done on time. It just might get done at night.

I recently interviewed a younger employee who works for one of my corporate clients. When I asked her about older managers who still resist letting her work from home, she chuckled and said, “Give it five years, and when we’re in charge it will just be normal.” I agree, but in the meantime, there is one area where the Tweak It practice can help Gen‑Y/Millennials more effectively harness their innate work+life flexibility so they can do what matters to them.

The consistent complaint I hear from managers about younger employees and their pursuit of balance is that they sometimes don’t adequately consider the needs of the business or their colleagues. For example, a manager told me this story: “I have a young guy who works for me. He always gets his job done, but because he’s still learning, he requires supervision. He often asks me if he can finish projects at home in the evening or over the weekend. In theory, I don’t have a problem with that; however, in practice it’s tough. The problem is that I’m the person he comes to when he needs a question answered, and I have a family. Therefore, I am not always near e‑mail or my mobile phone when he has an issue to discuss. It just doesn’t work for me.”

If that Millennial employee had a way to think through the impact of working on the project from home in advance— how it would affect this boss, his team, and so on— chances are he’d receive a more positive reception for his request. That communication and coordination process is part of the Tweak It practice.

You’ll pick the small activities and priorities you want to incorporate into your work+life fit for the week. Then, you’ll consider whom you need to talk to at work and in your personal life in order to make that tweak succeed for everyone. For Millennials, this more thoughtful, organized approach could increase support from their managers for the kind of flexibility that’s such a no‑brainer to them but is unfortunately misunderstood by others.

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Adult caregivers

I’m often asked, “Seriously, Cali, people have been trying to bring the way we live and work into the twenty-first century for more than two decades. What’s going to be the tipping point that finally gets the attention of the powers that be?” My simple answer is “Elder care.” Why? In one year, 65 million people will care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member or friend twenty to forty hours a week on average.12 Currently, a quarter of adult children will provide this type of care to a parent. These responsibilities exact a heavy toll on the caregiver, physically, emotionally, and financially.

Millions of us will face the difficult and expensive task of having to work while caring for an aging adult, especially as the huge Baby Boomer population gets older. This doesn’t even include the millions of people who work while caring for a disabled child or an adult sibling.

I always had a professional understanding of the realities of elder care, but it wasn’t until I supported my mother in the last few months of her life as she battled cancer that I truly appreciated just how uniquely difficult it can be.15 Elder care makes child care look like a walk in the park for the following reasons:

  • Whereas most children grow and mature at a predictable, consistent rate, each adult requiring care is different in terms of his or her needs and the progression of his or her illness.
  • While child care is exhausting, at least you can see the effort as a positive investment toward the future. With elder care, it’s exhausting and it supports the end of someone’s life journey, and that takes an emotional toll.
  • With children, you are the adult and have control. With other adults, they have veto power and don’t have to comply.

Because it’s simple and straightforward, Tweak It is particularly relevant for the needs of adult caregivers who are trying to fulfill their responsibilities outside of work and keep their jobs. It fills a void of work+life fit how‑to information that leaves too many working caregivers stranded and overwhelmed. If you’re part of the rapidly increasing ranks of elder-​care givers . . . welcome!

“Retirees” who work

If you are part of the generation approaching retirement, then you can relate to the days when a training session on how to work and manage the other parts of your life would have taken three minutes including Q & A. You grew up with the inflexible “nine to five, in the office, Monday through Friday” rule of thumb that governed the way we worked and lived. And even though it’s now obsolete, those guidelines are still part of your belief system. For most of your career, you didn’t have to take control and actively manage your daily work and life so that what mattered to you happened. The boundaries between “work” time and “me” time were rigid and clear.

More Baby Boomers are directly challenging the part of that old rulebook that said by sixty-​five years old, you are completely retired and not working.16 A 2010 study of 9,100 employees by Towers Watson found that 40 percent of workers are planning to retire later than they were two years prior. Many are looking for new “encore” careers that allow them to earn money and work for a cause they feel passionate about,17 while others plan to continue to work in their current jobs.18 They’re creating a new “working retirement.” This is a real trend when you go to the AARP website and find a separate section entitled “Work & Retirement.”

If you are a working retiree, the Tweak It practice shows you how to take control over the way work fits into your life in this new phase. You can make sure that the activities and priorities that keep you healthy are part of your routine, along with the hobbies and experiences you don’t want to put off until “retirement.”

Entrepreneurs

When I present to a group of people inside of a company, I’m often asked, “So, Cali, what’s your work+life fit?” I’m more than happy to share. I explain that “I’m a mother of two, a wife, and I work for myself primarily out of my home office unless I’m at a client site as I am today.” Someone in the crowd will inevitably reply, “What do you know about work+life conflict. You have the perfect situation.” I always respectfully respond, with a smile, “It may look perfect to you, but working for yourself isn’t always the personal and professional nirvana you might imagine.”

The truth is I’m an accidental entrepreneur. I never imagined that I would work for myself. I don’t come from a family of entrepreneurs, but I made the decision to strike out on my own and start my consulting firm because I wanted to:

  • develop and implement corporate work+life flexibility strategies in the way I felt it needed to be done to succeed;
  • have the ability to write my first book; and
  • have control over my schedule in order to also take care of my new daughter.

I did achieve all three goals, but I also learned a very hard lesson. As an entrepreneur, I had to be even more vigilant and rigorous about when, how, and where I worked and where I focused on the other important parts of my life. If I didn’t, work would consume me. This is why I need the Tweak It practice as much as everyone else.

Many would‑be entrepreneurs tell me, “I want to strike out on my own because I want a work+life fit that’s better than the one I have now, working for someone else.” That’s certainly a valid motivation, but it will only be worth it if you find that fit you envisioned. Perhaps more than being a person who works for or with others, you really have to take charge and make consistent, deliberate choices that ensure what truly matters to you happens as often as possible. This makes Tweak It is an invaluable practice for every entrepreneur.

Who Needs Tweak It? Summary:

Who needs the Tweak It practice? Anyone who wants to love their lives on and off the job, especially women, men, Millennials, preretirees, and entrepreneurs. Chances are that includes you!

Excerpted from "Tweak It" by Cali Williams Yost. Copyright © 2013 by Cali Williams Yost. Excerpted with permission by Center Street, a division of the Hachette Book Group.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive

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