More About Us
Work-Life Research
Support the Work of FWI:
  • Become a
    Friend of FWI
  • Join our Corporate Leadership Circle


FWI Speaks
Community Mobilization Forums
     - Subscribe to the
       EC-PEN listserv
The Fatherhood Project ®
Press Room
Contact FWI

Click on this image to get the free Adobe® Acrobat® Reader to view the PDF documents found on this site.

Ellen Galinsky
October 10, 2020

I know that you are probably surprised to see me here, standing at the Podium. I am feeling a bit surprised too. So let me tell you why I am here. No I am not Hillary Clinton or Ron Taffel.

This past Monday afternoon, Columbus Day, I received an unexpected call at home from the intended Keynote Speaker, Ron Taffel. I mainly know him as the author of several books that I greatly admire: Parenting by Heart and The Second Family. He asked me to listen to him-that he had something to say that he felt very strongly about.

In times of crisis, he said, people need to hear from the people who are known to them. He told me that he has learned this as a psychologist over the years-most recently in the work that the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy has done with survivors of the terrorist attacks in lower Manhattan. And this is clearly a time of crisis.

Ron said that people need to hear from the people who have devoted their lives to an issue, not the people who are newer to an issue. So, he said, I would like you to do the keynote for the Working Mother Congress that I am supposed to do.

It wasn't that he didn't want to speak, he said…he had been looking forward to this session.

And it wasn't that he didn't already have a speech prepared…he did.

It was that he felt very strongly about this. If you don't want to do it, he said, I will be there. But, he said, people should hear from you now.

In listening to his words, I felt…overwhelmed, nervous, confused. Should I? Could I?

I then received a call from Kerry O'Donnell from Working Mother. She said that whatever Ron and I decided would be fine with them.

In this time of crisis, we are all being asked to do things that we don't think we can do. So rather than question why or whether, I..like you…will step up to the plate and do what I feel I have been asked, in fact, CALLED to do.

On Sunday, I went to a memorial service for a 40 year-old man who was killed in the Twin Towers attack. Forty-years old. Married just for a year and a half. His life ahead of him.

His brother gave one of the eulogies. He said that he felt as if he were standing with his back to the sea. Waves continue to sweep over him. He never knew when they were coming or how large they would be.

We all feel as he does…whether we have lost loved one or not. We don't know what's coming. We don't know how large or small or different it will be.

My friend, Michael Levine, from the I Am Your Child Campaign, told me the questions his three children are asking.

Sam, age 14, wonders what we should know, what sacrifices lie ahead.

Zak, age 10, wonders if he should learn about bombs. If the soccer games should be cancelled. And he asks how he can contribute.

Sarah, age 7, wonders if it is safe to sleep by the window.

Like these three children, each of wonders how to cope, how to contribute.

And that's where I feel that you are CALLED. Yes, I mean CALLED.

You are the people who have changed the face of corporate America. You are the people who have brought what was once taboo…life outside of work…into boardrooms, into conference rooms, into offices and shop floors.

Family life? Personal life? It was seen as a distraction to work. It was seen as an interference to work. I remember a meeting that I had with an executive almost 20 years ago. He said to me, "There are competent people and incompetent people. The competent people can manage their work and family lives. The incompetent people can't. And there is nothing, NOTHING at all you or anyone else can do to help them.

On September 13th, two days after the terrorist attacks, a young woman I know was at work in her office in New York City when there were bomb threats in the neighborhood. She heard the authorities on bull horns advising people to evacuate. She has an eight-year old, she is a single parent, she was frightened, and she wanted to be with her son. She asked her boss if she could leave, like the employees she saw streaming out of nearby building and hurrying home. Her boss said, "NO. I don't care if there are bombs. We have work to finish."

We know, of course, that this kind of exchange between a boss and an employees does take place, even in the best of our companies and even over issues that are less life-threatening than a bomb scare.

But it is increasingly rare. At the Families and Work Institute, we know this empirically from the studies (our National Study of the Changing Workforce) we do that keep tabs on how nationally representative groups of employees feel they are treated when a personal or family issue emerges. It has changed, changed even over the past five years.

And you are the people who have made this change happen.

This is a complicated change, much more complicated than instituting a work-life program or policy, as wonderful and as important as these may be.

It is more complicated because it involves how people treat each other when the chips are down. A change in behavior, in culture.

And that this change has occurred is a tribute to each and everyone's leadership in this room this morning as well as to the leadership of Working Mother for consistently and meaningfully calling attention to your work.

Now there are changes that lie ahead that are needed. And so you are CALLED again, in perhaps what will be the hardest and most important work of your careers.

As Ron Taffel said, and as we all know, this is a time of crisis. The landscape is different. It is as if we, too, are standing with our backs to the sea, with waves, small and large, sweeping over us. We are living not with predictable stress, not with post-traumatic stress syndrome-this is new territory.

I know that experts from other countries who have experienced this kind of situation..have been called in to advise America. And they, too, say that this is new territory.

I would contend, however, that the changes that we are seeing in employees and feeling in ourselves are not so new. They have been there, latent. The events of the past few weeks have simply brought them forward into clearer view.

What do I mean? I mean the desire among us all to do work that is meaningful and to be able to focus on the people who are important in our lives.

Over the past few weeks, I have spoken at a number of universities and had the chance to speak with students. I have asked them how they are reacting to September 11th and its aftermath. I consistently hear that it is making them think with greater clarity about what they want to do with their lives.

An article in the Boston Globe that Beth Fredericks from Boston College sent me includes interviews with first and second year students at the Harvard Business School. One is quoted in the article as saying, "There is a swelling of interest in morality and spiritualism around here….people are rethinking what they are doing with their lives."

My own grown daughter says that among her colleagues at work people are asking themselves, "what's of value, what's core?"

I hear this among other employees too. If we are going to leave our loved ones to go to work everyday, we want what we do to mean something.

This focus is not, as I said, new. Our research has increasingly shown that good quality jobs where people feel that their work is meaningful, is challenging, and makes a difference is critical to how they manage their work lives and home lives. If the events of September 11th had not occurred, I would have stood before you in September at the Working Mother Congress with Toni Riccardi and Carlton Yearwood from PriceWaterhouseCoopers telling you this, from the latest results of the study we conducted together on Feeling Overworked.

Although this focus is not new, the emphasis on meaningful work has become louder, stronger.

So too has the emphasis on family and personal life. Likewise, it is not new. But is very much louder, stronger.

On Monday, I received a call from a reporter from the Raleigh News and Observer. She asked me whether the downturn in the economy…we are calling it a recession now…will affect work-life programs.

My response was seemingly surprising to her. I said that the downturn in the economy and the war on terrorism were dual forces, coming at the same time. And I thought that work-life is going to be critical in the recovery process for both.

Carol Bryce-Buchanan from my office drafted a letter to the Friends of FWI after the September 11th attacks-a letter filled with a great deal of emotion because she had lost a very close family friend. She said:

Through all the heart-wrenching sadness of the last few weeks and in the uncertain days ahead, the relevance and power of the bonds between workplace, home and community are undeniable. Work-life is the glue that has held us together, individually and collectively, during these extraordinarily trying times

We know from the business response to the last downturn in the early 1990s (it does seem like a lifetime ago, doesn't it?), that when the going got tough, work-life was there, tougher than before.

There was downsizing then, but the survivors of downsizing were still there too and they still needed to be committed and productive.

There is downsizing today, and people are worrying about losing their jobs…maybe some of the newer more costly programs you had hoped to launch will have to wait, but the core of what you do cannot wait. It cannot wait!

I told the reporter that today was different from the 1990s, or other periods in our history. In the past, work-life issues could be seen as we/they issues. Today they cannot. Everyone…from the top to the bottom, from the CEO to the mail room employee is asking the questions that Michael Levine's children are asking: Will I be safe? How can I cope? How can I contribute? And some are asking, will the business downturn mean I don't have a job?

Everyone wants meaningful work. Everyone wants to focus on the people whom they care most about.

I think of the memorial service that I attended on Sunday. The brother stood before the overflowing crowd and said, "I only wish that I had told my brother one more time how much I love him. I can only pray that he is somehow in this room and can hear me. "

So, as I see it, there are ten essential tasks that you are CALLED to do to help employees cope, find meaningful work, and contribute.


Not you, not I, not any of us can know what lies ahead, yet we have to be ready. The only way we can know how to address employees' needs for coping in this time is to continue to ask them. I remember listening to a speech by Jamie Dimon, now the CEO of Bank One, a few years ago. He said one of the most important lessons he had ever learned was: "ask the people-they will know."

The same is true of the people outside of work, your family and friends. At the Families and Work Institute, we are just administering a new study, long in the planning, in the Ask the Children series-this one on children and violence. In that study, we ask children: If you could make one change that would reduce the violence in your lives, what would that change be?" Although the study certainly wasn't planned to address the current situation, I am glad that we are conducting it now. Even though they are children, they will tell us things that we need to know.

And so will your employees. For example, at the top of their concerns may be job security: will I have a job - not safety, and you will need to address that issue.


We conducted a conference call with the companies that are part of The Conference Board's Work-Life Leadership Council last Thursday to talk about how each was responding to the September 11th attacks.

To a person, each spoke of the need that employees have to tell their stories to each other. Yet, there exists a stigma about reaching out to each other. As one psychologist I know has said, "It's as if everyone has a picture in his or her head of a big Freudian coach." All of those New Yorker cartoons of therapy that we have seen over the years-of a nebbish on a couch, statuesquely frozen on the coach for an eternity-those images have been indelibly etched on our consciousness. We don't need that kind of help, we say. We don't have those problems, we say.

Yet, we all do need to talk to and to reach out to each other. So change the language, change the approach from a deficit to a strengths approach. Maybe you should even initially stay away from the words "counseling" so you can reach out to everyone. Call it "wellness." Call it "education." Call it "briefings." Call it, as Glaxo SmithKlein does, "resilience." Because it is all of those things.

Whatever you call it, do it! Set up seminars like one company did on "Leading in an Uncertain World," and "Living in the Moment."

Create affinity groups, where parents can talk with other parents, caregivers of the elderly can talk with other caregivers of the elderly, singles can talk with other singles. Hot lines, chat rooms, vendors who offer information and counseling all are important.

Create other opportunities for conversation-like this conference and the December issue of the magazine that Working Mother will produce from it.

Or like the commemorative edition of Newsweek Magazine produced supported entirely by Johnson & Johnson, The Spirit of America. If you haven't seen it, you must because it is a tour de force. It creates a virtual national conversation. More than that, it takes a strengths approach and by doing so helps to frame how we all see this new landscape. As Rick Smith, the Chairman of Newsweek, says in the preface to the commemorative edition. After talking about the horror of September 11th, he says:

..amid the horror of those moments, and in the days and weeks since, there have been thousands-millions-of individual acts of bravery and generosity, acts that testified to our profound sense of community. Ordinary people made extraordinary contributions.

And in this edition, they share the stories that exemplify the best of our nation's spirit of coping and contributing.

Why is all of this so important? Because even before September 11th, there were signs that the well-being of employees was potentially in jeopardy. One of the findings that led to the Feeling Overworked Study for me was the statement from the World Health Organization that in both industrialized and non-industrialized countries, clinical depression is expected to replace cancer as the number two cause of death and disability by the year 2020. That's partly because we expect to find ways to maintain people with cancer in the future. But also partly because emotional health issues are more pervasive than we think. And because there is still a stigma against getting support and help when they are needed.

Everyone who was on the call we had of The Conference Work-Life Leadership Council last week said that the event of September 11th and beyond hit those with a pre-exisiting fissure in their well-being especially hard. And those employees do need more than conversation.

In addition to traditional methods of providing help and support, you can use new ways, too-meditation, tai-chi, chi gong exercises, yoga, to name a few.

Our work, in attending to the well-being of all employees, in helping them respond to the waves, large or small, that are sweeping over them is crucial, now more than ever.


Kathie Lingle from KPMG tells a story that I think illustrates the need for tradition. At 11 o'clock one morning soon after the attacks, their office sent an email to employees inviting them to gather at the flagpole. She reports that not many people at KPMG even knew they had a flagpole, much less knew where to find it. But at 1 o'clock, hundreds of employees found their way to the flagpole, to share their stories, to console each other, to sing and to have a moment of silence where everyone held hands.

Another building didn't get the email in time, so at 3 there was another spontaneous ceremony at the flagpole. It became a new tradition, a tradition that was very much needed to help people through these times.

Tradition, routine, rituals serve that purpose. They are like lights that guide us over rough waters.

I don't think that it is a coincidence that when I asked the children in my book, Ask the Children, what they would remember most from this period in their live, they talked about the everyday traditions that told them they were a family-the wake up song in the morning, the Friday evening dinner when each person in turn told about his or her week, the biscuit making on Sunday morning.

Neither do I think that it was a coincidence that when Morrie, the dying professor, in the book, Tuesdays with Morrie, was asked what he would do if he could have his health back for, just one day, he talked about the everyday traditions that made his life meaningful.

So find new ways to create traditions at work or uphold old traditions. And help employees know how important it is for them to establish and uphold these traditions at home.


From all that I can see-from the work that we did in gathering information on Employers Response to 9/11, you have done an excellent job at providing information to employees on how to help their loved ones cope. As the landscape changes, there will be an ongoing need for new information.

As we began our air strikes on Sunday, I was with some young parents. The adults gathered around to watch what was happening on television. There were also children present….seemingly playing and not looking at the TV. I suggested to one parent that perhaps her child should not be watching the new coverage on TV. She said, "He's not watching. He's playing." His eyes told me otherwise. He was surreptitiously playing with toys, but he was really playing detective, trying to figure out what was going on with the adults. That is perhaps one of the most important findings from the research I did for my book, Ask the Children. Children are watching us all of the time, learning from us, watching for clues and cues to understand our moods, our behaviors.

So you need to help the employees know how to handle the unfolding situation with their families and friends.


As we know from all of our work, managers are central to how companies function. Managers are the culture carriers. Managers are the people who say, "I don't care if there is a bomb threat." Or they are the people who handle emergency and everyday situations with skill.

And many, many are unsure of what to do. As Donna Klein from Marriott has said, and said so often, managers tell her, "I am not a social worker." Their job is to get people to produce.

But they see what is going on and they have to make decisions. An employee refuses to leave her home after the attacks and insists on being a telecommuter. Is that okay? For how long? Should she be referred to someone for counseling?

Another employee can't focus. He is very irritable. His work isn't being done and he is angering his team members. What should be done?

"Is paranoia now normal," they ask.

Or, what about a sales person who says that his family does not want him to travel.

People can't be divided up into parts-their emotions and their minds. If you have looked at the brain development of children and adults, it becomes evident how interconnected the two are. Emotional well-being is tied to the capacity to create that product, to make that deadline, to deliver.

So you are called upon to support managers. Bring them together for briefings. Provide written materials for them on how to deal with the changes they might expect to see from employees. Help them know when they need to ask for help and what help is available.


It was striking, but not surprising, to hear how important the leadership of the company has been in these trying times. As we have collected stories of how companies have responded to the 9/11 attacks, we have heard so many stories about the CEOs or other top leaders. For example:

"My CEO left a voice mail message for all employees a few hours after the attack."

Or "MY CEO walked around headquarters and talked with people about how they were doing."

Or "We have had email messages from the Chairman each day."

Or from another company: Our CEO emphasized the customers…and we heard from employees: What about us?"

Ongoing communication from your leaders to employees is necessary now. When the Chairman designates the company planes to provide medical supplies, commends employees for how well they are managing, or cancels the holiday party, using the money instead to make a charitable donation, it makes employees feel proud to be a part of that enterprise. We have all watched the Chairman of Cantor Fitzgerald rise to the terrible circumstances he had to face and he and many of the other leaders in the business community have inspired us all.


My seventh point is that the people in your companies whose job it is to help others will need help and support themselves…you included. John Riley from Chevron, a leader in the EAP field, has said that it is critical to provide assistance and relief for the EAP counselors and others.

So take care of yourselves. Take care of others. It isn't selfish. It is necessary.


A number of you have been engaged in efforts to redesign work, taking the whole employee into account. The call for meaningful work has become even more salient than it has been in the past. If we are going to leave our loved ones, if we are going to brave the transportation systems to get to work, take planes, and trains, cross over bridges and go into tunnels, we want the work that we do to be important.

Statistically speaking, it has always been clear that the quality of the jobs and the supportiveness of the workplaces make the difference in whether employees go home in a good mood or bad, with a little or a lot of energy.

Yes, you say, but we are in a period of cost-cutting. How can we focus on work redesign when everyone is so focused on cost-cutting.

And yes, you say, but we are in a period when everyone is doing more with less. Our companies are downsizing. We have fewer people to do the same work. We are expecting more of people. How can we focus on good quality, reasonable jobs when the economic stakes are so high?

But you and I both know that we have to. That the companies that pay attention to how people work, to making that work meaningful and reasonable, will fare better in the long-haul. That's what the findings of this field have told us again, and again, and again.

I spoke to a telecommunications executive yesterday morning who asked the questions I posed above. But then she added, "We have to make it better for people to work in this environment. It is as true for me as it is for the 35,000 employees in the business I manage."



On September 13, the staff at the Families and Work Institute held an all staff conference call. I was struck during that call at how differently each of us is reacting to the September 11th attacks and to the ensuing war on terrorism. Some wanted to talk about how we as an organization might contribute while others wanted to talk about their feelings and found the discussion of "work" upsetting. One person was disparaging about flying, whereas another staff member has a husband who has to commute to and from a distant city to work each week.

It was a true lesson for me in diversity…that diversity is more than our gender, our race or ethnicity, our age, our personal and family status or our religion. It is the very different ways that each of us think, act, respond. And there are clearly differences within groups as well as among groups.

FWI's list of Employers' Responses to 9/11 indicates a true respect for diversity. You have been watchful for signs of discrimination. You have made statements about the importance of respect and responsibility.

One employer who has a significant number of Middle Eastern employees in small businesses around the country tells, not surprisingly, of increased incidents of harassment. This company set up a situation where the scattered employees could talk to each other and professionals to get help in responding.

And Rich Vintigni from DuPont tells that they now provide a letter to their employees stating that they are travelling on DuPont business. And they have a 24-hour hotline where officials can verify this fact.

We need to keep the spotlight on diversity.


Whether we are young or old, research shows that doing something to address a problem is an important aspect of recovery and resilience. You have had blood drives, food drives, and days of remembrance. You have given employees time off to assist in the recovery. Continue to do so.

This shouldn't be simply an immediate response to the attacks, but an ongoing strategy.


So, in conclusion, I have been talking about helping employees cope, find meaning in their work, and contribute.

There is an overall message in what I have been saying. It is that we have to move beyond the notion of work-life balance, move beyond the image of the scale of weighing one side again the other, and looking ceaselessly for that perfect, illusive middle of the scale.

Many of you know that I have longed to replace that terminology, that concept….because our research shows us that it is not how life works. If work is good, people come home with renewed energy for their families. And if family life is good, people come to work with renewed energy for work.

Increasingly, people say to me, "I think that work-life balance has been a transitional term."

We need to be more than a field that is based on a hyphen or worse yet, a slash. Now more than ever, we need to look at employees as whole people and we need to address their wholeness at work.

Perhaps because I knew loss as a child, I have for the most part been able to live in a way that treasures each day. That is the only silver lining that is coming from these dark skies. All of us are learning to be emotionally present when we are physically present, to treasure what we have, not what we don't have.

If we can be that way at work and at home, both aspects of our lives will improve. It is not a win-lose. It is a win-win for all.

You are the people who have literally changed the way that employers and employees treat each other. You have changed the culture of the workplace.

All of us are now CALLED to help ourselves and each other turn around, to face the waves that are sweeping over us with STRENGTH and COURAGE.

Thank you for your leadership now and in the future.

Thank you Working Mother for being so instrumental in the changes we have been able to accomplish.

And thank you Ron Taffel.