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What modern skills are critical to employee success, on and off the job? Perhaps networking, negotiation and personal financial management come to mind.

But there’s another skill that should be on the top of the list, and probably isn’t.

Helping employees manage the way work fits into their lives, day-to-day and at major life transitions, deliberately and with intention, is a modern skill set everyone needs, but few have.

Twenty years ago, clocks and walls used to tell us when work ended and the other parts of our life began. As technology and globalization expanded, those boundaries disappeared, but the way we talk about, think about and decide where to put our time and energy remain stuck in 1985.

Today, many employers offer more flexibility in how, when and where people can do their jobs. But with that increased work flexibility comes responsibility.

An employee may be able to work from home periodically, but a boss can’t tap them on the shoulder and say, “Why don’t you telecommute one day a week. Avoid the long train ride, get to the gym, and have dinner with your family.” The individual has to make those “tweaks”—small changes with big impact—happen.

The same is true at major life transitions like having a child, caring for an aging adult, going back to school, or wanting to work in what used to be called “retirement.” Your people may have the flexibility to officially reset the way work fits into their life, but they need to initiate that conversation, create the plan, and then collaborate, communicate and coordinate to make it work.

Whether it’s putting up boundaries to make what matters to us happen every day, or creating a plan to formally reset our work+life fit at a major life transition, each person needs to take the lead. But, again, unfortunately most people don’t know how. Until now.

In my session at the upcoming Work & Well-Being Conference in Chicago, “Work+Life Fit Skills for Employee Success, On and Off the Job,” I will share the simple, commonsense solutions found in my books, the just released TWEAK IT: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day (Center Street/Hachette) and Work+Life: Find the Fit That’s Right for You (Riverhead/Penguin Group). You can catch an even more in-depth session at my pre-conference training at the San Francisco conference this fall.

I’ve developed these field-tested strategies over twenty years in the work+life trenches helping hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals partner for flexible work success. They show your people how to take the lead, capture the work flexibility available, partner with the organization and create a work+life fit that meets their needs and the needs of their job, day-to-day and throughout their career.

It's time to add work+life “fit” to the list of modern skills employees need to succeed, on and off the job.

How do you help your employees flexibly manage the fit between their work and life?

To learn more, go to our site, my blog and our Tweak It Community. You can also connect with me on Twitter and Facebook.

Cali Williams Yost has been pioneering ways to manage work and life in the new economy for nearly two decades. As a consultant, speaker, and CEO and founder of Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit--and one of Mashable’s Top 14 Career Experts on Twitter--she shows organizations and individuals how to partner for award-winning flexible work success.


I came across an article earlier this week about the Five Myths of Stress. As someone with expertise in the stress domain, I typically enjoy reading articles that serve to bust myths for the general public. However, as I read the article I was dismayed to find that the “myths” are really not myths at all. So, in the spirit of providing accurate information, I have decided to offer my rebuttal.

Myth #1 – Getting enough sleep, exercising and eating right can reduce stress.

Um, well, what the author claims is a myth is actually 100 percent accurate. She tries to argue that sleep, exercise, and nutrition “help us feel good” but that they “won’t come close to mitigating stress.” She then uses the “example of the single mother who has three children, an hour-long commute and an angry boss” as the prototypical individual for whom sleep, exercise and nutrition will not mitigate stress.

Unfortunately, the article completely misses the boat when it comes to actually explaining the stress process. Stress is a complex interaction between our personal resources and environmental demands (or stressors). Every contemporary, reputable, empirically-validated stress theory emphasizes this point, whether we are referring to the Job Demands-Resource Model, the Demands-Control Model, the Personal Resource Allocation Framework or other perspectives. A search of scholarly articles in this domain will reveal a myriad of studies that show that internal (e.g., energy, attention) and external resources (e.g., control, social support) are both key elements that can increase resilience to stressors (i.e., mitigate stress).

Hence, a logical approach for all people is to focus on shoring up their own personal resources (both internal and external) and to focus on ways to minimize the impact of stressors in the environment. For the example the author provides in her piece, a feasible way to go about mitigating the harmful effects of stress would be to (1) leverage any and all forms of social support available (external resources); (2) try to make intelligent decisions regarding sleep, exercise, and nutrition (internal resources) and (3) start looking for a new job, maybe one a little bit closer to home (stressors).

Myth # 2: Stress makes people more vulnerable to illness.

This is where the author starts playing semantics with the issue of stress. She argues that a meta-analysis conducted by Suzanne Segerstrom and Gregory Miller found no evidence that “stress makes otherwise healthy people susceptible to illness.” However, a review of that article clearly points out that “chronic stressors were associated with suppression of both cellular and humoral measures” (in other words, chronic stress does result in immune system suppression). And while the author tries to sweep that under the rug in a later part of her paragraph, that is what researchers, in general, study – chronic stress. Going back to the models and frameworks I mentioned above, empirical research typically assesses people’s general (i.e., chronic) exposure to demands, not moment-by-moment exposure. Even the PBS article she links to in her own article emphasizes the killer nature of “prolonged exposure to stress.” Hence, one stressful event is not likely to cause immune system suppression, but if those stressful events are a common part of daily life, then they will take a toll on over time.

Myth #3: Most people exposed to traumatic events develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

First, I’ve never heard any reputable source indicate that “most people” develop post-traumatic stress disorder after experiencing a traumatic event. The Mayo Clinic even specifies that “some people” get post-traumatic stress disorder and that predictors of whether one will get PSTD after a traumatic experience include: your inherited mental health risks, such as an increased risk of anxiety and depression; your life experiences, including the amount and severity of trauma you've gone through since early childhood; the inherited aspects of your personality — often called your temperament and the way your brain regulates the chemicals and hormones your body releases in response to stress.

Furthermore, the trauma that triggers PSTD, as defined by the National Institute of Mental Health involves “seeing or living through a dangerous event.” I don’t know what poll reported that 60 percent of U.S. adults “say they have had at least one traumatic experience,” but I would like to know how that poll defined a “traumatic experience.” The loss of a loved one to cancer can be defined as a traumatic experience, but it is not one that would likely result in PSTD, because it does not involve danger to the person who experiences it. Hence, PSTD is a potential negative consequence that results from traumatic events that involve potential danger to oneself. Not everybody is going to get PSTD after such an event, and reputable sources don’t suggest that.

Myth #4: Women and men respond to stress differently because of genetic and hormonal differences.

To prove this myth is common, the author cites John Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. Really? Are we really going to formulate an entire “myth” around a popular press book that has no real scientific underpinnings? Beyond that particular book, I’m not really aware of any other widespread propagation of this particular myth. Hence, while I guess I will say this would indeed be a myth, it certainly isn’t one rears its head often.

Myth #5: If women learn to cope better with stress, they’ll be able to resolve work-family conflict.

I will grant the author one point here. She argues that “too much of the work-life balance debate is focused on women’s illusory choices.” The work-life interface is not just an issue for working mothers; it’s an issue for everyone, and it’s even broader than just looking at the work-family relationship. It’s about competing role demands and being able to flexibly manage those demands.

But the issue is not about stress causing conflict between work and non-work roles, the issue is about conflict between roles causing stress – and that is not a myth. Hundreds of empirical articles have demonstrated this phenomenon. I’m not aware of anyone suggesting that coping with stress will reduce work-family conflict. Instead, the reverse is much more common – managing work-life conflict will reduce stress. And though the author argues that outdated polices are the problem (I agree they are part of the problem), even with maximal flexibility, workers have to take ownership over managing (or coping with) their workplace flexibility, which involves ensuring that they have the appropriate personal resources at their disposal to do so.

This gets back to the first myth. It is not about the environment alone. It is about how we, as people, transact with our environment. It is about the internal and external resources we bring to our interactions with life demands and how we choose to leverage our resources in managing or responding to those demands. So, our choice is either to:

  1. Whine about stress and blame our employer while doing nothing; or
  2. Learn to better manage our personal resources so we can be as resilient to stress as possible AND be as proactive as possible at reducing the stressors in our lives.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/liquidnight / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0



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