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
he had been looking forward to this session.
And it wasn't that he didn't already have
a speech prepared
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
.people are rethinking what they are doing with
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
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
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
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
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.
1. CONTINUE TO ASK EMPLOYEES WHAT THEY NEED.
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.
2. DESTIGMATIZE THE NEED THAT WE ALL HAVE
TO ASK FOR HELP AND SUPPORT AND PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES FOR
EMPLOYEES TO DO SO.
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
And in this edition, they share the stories
that exemplify the best of our nation's spirit of coping and
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
3. CREATE NEW TRADITIONS OR UPHOLD OLD ONES
AND HELP EMPLOYEES DO SO AT HOME.
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
4. HELP EMPLOYEES HELP THE PEOPLE WHO ARE
CLOSE TO THEM.
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
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
.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
5. HELP MANAGERS HELP OTHERS.
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
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,
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.
6. CONTINUE TO SUPPORT YOUR CEO AND OTHER
LEADERS IN HAVING ONGOING COMMUNICATION WITH EMPLOYEES.
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
and we heard from employees: What about
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
7. HELP THOSE WHO HELP OTHERS.
My seventh point is that the people in your
companies whose job it is to help others will need help and
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.
8. CONTINUE YOUR WORK REDESIGN EFFORTS TO
MAKE WORK MEANINGFUL.
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
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."
9. FOCUS ON DIVERSITY.
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
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
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.
10. CONTINUE TO OFFER EMPLOYEES OPPORTUNTIES
TO BE CONNECTED TO THEIR COMMUNITIES.
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
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
Thank you Working Mother for being so instrumental
in the changes we have been able to accomplish.
And thank you Ron Taffel.