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"It’s safe to say that if you are aiming for flexibility in corporate America, you will need to risk your job, or your salary, to get what you want. Just remember it’s worth it."One of the best ways to gauge the impact young workers are having on corporate life is to look at the list of most popular places to work. About five years after Gen Y was in the workplace at full force, the companies that rose to the top of the best places to work lists were the Big 5 accounting firms. The Big 5 were the first to adjust themselves to accommodate Generation Y. Deloitte, for example, famously focused on flexible hours and shifted their corporate structure to a lattice, rather than a ladder. The company was so successful at recruiting and retaining top young candidates that they started a separate practice, teaching other companies how to accommodate Generation Y.
"It’s safe to say that if you are aiming for flexibility in corporate America, you will need to risk your job, or your salary, to get what you want. Just remember it’s worth it."One of the best ways to gauge the impact young workers are having on corporate life is to look at the list of most popular places to work. About five years after Gen Y was in the workplace at full force, the companies that rose to the top of the best places to work lists were the Big 5 accounting firms. The Big 5 were the first to adjust themselves to accommodate Generation Y. Deloitte, for example, famously focused on flexible hours and shifted their corporate structure to a lattice, rather than a ladder. The company was so successful at recruiting and retaining top young candidates that they started a separate practice, teaching other companies how to accommodate Generation Y. Unfortunately, many companies still favor people who are willing to give up everything in their life for the company. And why wouldn’t companies favor these people? They are better workers. They have nothing in their life but the company. Be wary of companies that talk about their flexibility. They talk about it because it’s clear that this is what people want from work. At some point, more companies will discover that people who have lives outside of the company actually make better employees. But right now, and for the foreseeable future, companies are run by people who work 120-hour weeks. But corporate structure does not determine the structure of your life. You can create a career path for yourself that moves in and out of companies in a way that supports the life you want to live. As you are making decisions to protect the interesting life you want to create, here are attributes of companies that will support you in your endeavors. 1. Make sure you can customize your environment. In the workplace, customization is a must in order to feel like you are being recognized for your authentic self by co-workers. The most common request in this arena is flexible hours, but you should also look for a company that focuses on playing to your individual strengths.For example, ask someone to match you with the perfect mentor, or to help figure out what training you need and find you the right coach to do it. You won’t feel like you are making an authentic connection with your workplace if the workplace does not make an effort to address what is different about you.2. Look for a company with people who love to learn. Look for a workplace that facilitates your quest for lifelong learning. Paying dues is out, since reliance on the certainty of pay-off in the future does not make sense in today’s workplace. Instead, focus on finding work that has payoff on a daily basis, since you can never know what will come next in your work life. 3. It should have good flow of information. Having access to premium information in your field, and being able to share it in a productive way, is very important to feeling fulfilled.Stay away from offices that use hierarchy as a way to make people feel useful and important – it will mean a constipated flow of information. Companies that are truly good at creating team environments will probably provide rich information environments, because not only do these companies encourage sharing ideas, but they value the flow of information enough to have shifted away from the focus on individualism of earlier generations.4. Teamwork should be highly valued. Reams of research shows the effectiveness of teams in the workplace, and it is clear that real productivity does not come from hours spent working, but from the software that facilitates collaboration and employees who are good at collaborating. Being part of a team is the best way for today’s new workers to get interesting high-level work for themselves. The baby boomers are the ones who have done all the research about how important and effective teams are, but ironically, they generally don’t like working in teams. These older, more experienced workers are more comfortable in hierarchies, especially since they are the workers most likely to be on top. Jeff Snipes, CEO of Ninth House, a provider of online education, including optimizing team effectiveness, says a hierarchical, leader-oriented team was appropriate for earlier generations: “Traditionally if you worked up ranks for twenty years and all the employees were local then you could know all the functions of the workplace. Then you could lead by barking orders. . . . But today everything moves too fast and the breadth of competency necessary to do something is too vast.” Enzo Marchio, Antonio DeFabritiis, and Johnny Marchio are equal owners of Enzo and Company, a hair salon, and they are a good example of this team mentality. Unlike entrepreneurs of the past, who were typically loners, uncomfortable functioning in a larger organization, these three would never think of going it alone. DeFabritiis says, “Everything is easier if we work as a team. And it’s more fun.” When asked how he learned to work well in a team, DeFabritiis says, “This is how we were brought up.”Bruce Tulgan, founder of Rainmaker Thinking and co-author of Managing Generation Y, explains that, “There was a big shift in parenting, teaching and counseling in the mid 80s because of research in childhood self-esteem.” Young workers are very well-versed in getting along with others, collaboration skills, feeling part of a team, and having good communication skills.Teams appeal to many of us because they have no interest in boring or ancillary workplace tasks, even at the entry level. Well-constructed teams provide an opportunity to be a decision maker and a key contributor early in one’s career. According to Tulgan, “Teams . . . are pulled out of the hierarchical structure. On a team it’s not about what is your experience but what can you do today.”The most effective teams today are competency-based teams, where each person comes to the group with a different skill and they work together for a specific duration on a specific project to build something bigger than themselves. On these teams, everyone is an important decision-maker and is able to make a big difference.If working on a team is important to you, look for companies with competency-based teams. Snipes suggests that you ask these questions of a company you’re considering:What sort of talent development does the company commit to? There are no good teams without team training. A company committed to team leadership trains people to do it.Is diversity important to the company? When it comes to teams, diverse input makes more effective outcomes. Diversity is important not only in terms of race and culture but in terms of the way people think.Is there a reward system in place for teams? If a company rewards only individual achievements, then individuals will have less incentive to make teams work. But let’s be real. Not everyone can stomach working on a team. Kerry Sulkowicz, Founder of the Boswell Group and advisor to CEOs on psychological aspects of management, says, “There are different types of personalities and it’s not as simple as being part of a generation. There will always be some people who feel constrained being part of a group.” For those of you who don’t do your best work in teams, take solace in the fact that baby boomers still run most workplaces, and they’re not big on teams, either. Having stimulating projects and a great team is rewarding, but most of us think of a dream career as one that affords us flexibility for personal relationships and interests outside work. It’s hard to find this, but it isn’t impossible. Retail is a great way to get flexible work (which is why I think we should see a surge in educated people taking retail jobs). But most people don’t aspire to retail because the work is not intellectually engaging. And most of the intellectually challenging work in this world comes with inflexible schedules.So the trick is not just to get flexibility, the trick is to get it without losing engaging work and avoiding a pay cut. Also, keep in mind that flexible work is not about the hours, it’s about control. Because most of us are fine with working long hours as long as we have control over those hours.Given these parameters for thinking about flexible work, here are the tricks for landing that sort of job. They aren’t easy: Be a star. Brenda Barnes was CEO of Pepsi, then she quit to take care of three kids. She came back and took a position as CEO of Sara Lee. That’s the ultimate flexibility: a CEO position in the Fortune 500 with seven years off to raise kids. But who is as talented in business as Brenda Barnes? Not many of us. The flexibility you can negotiate is directly commensurate to the star power you established before you started negotiating.Be relentless. Flexibility comes, usually, after proving your worth to a company. Which means you can’t job hop to get flexibility unless you’re a rock star and can make it a precondition for hiring. People who aren’t rock stars need to stick around longer. Prove your worth, and then make tons of suggestions to get the specific flexibility you want – a new department, different hours, less travel, on-site child care, maybe a satellite office near your home.You need to propose options that are solutions for you. And if one doesn’t work, try another.Know your bottom line. I wouldn’t work without enough money to have household help. It was a precondition for me being available at all times to the company – I needed household help available at all times to me. This gives me the ability to create the type of flexibility I need in my life. At one point, things got so tenuous that I had a huge screaming match with one of my investors over my salary. But I didn’t budge. I had the confidence that I knew my line in the sand, and I wasn’t going to cross it.Gear up for big risks. Screaming at my investors. And crying. And getting thrown out of the attorney’s office where we were. Those were big risks. I could have lost my company, but I didn’t. I didn’t lose my salary, either. But I took big risks. You never know what risks you’ll have to take to get what you want, but it’s safe to say that if you are aiming for flexibility in corporate America, you will need to risk your job, or your salary, to get what you want. Just remember it’s worth it.
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