When Susan Packard was 25 and working in a sales position at Home Box Office, she saw an opportunity to advance in the organization.

“I went to my boss, Bill Grumbles, and told him I thought I was the right person for the position,” says Packard, co-founder of HGTV and author of New Rules of the Game: 10 Strategies for Women in the Workplace. “He paused, looked at me and said, ‘Susan, do you want to run a company some day?’ I replied yes. He proceeded to tell me why I did not want to take that particular position and educated me on the types of jobs that would best position me for my future aspirations.”

That was the first of many educational moments for Packard as she began her ascent to the C-suite. She went on to be founder of Scripps Network Interactive and co-founder of HGTV.

“A few years ago, a friend of mine said she thought my story was interesting and I ought to consider writing a book for women on navigating the workplace,” Packard says. “The more I thought about it and the more time I spent mentoring women in the workplace, I realized my friend was right. There are many lessons I have learned through the years that could be beneficial for other working women.”

Packard’s book serves as a toolkit of behaviors and strategies to help women advance in the workplace. She refers to the behaviors and strategies as gamesmanship. 

“I talk about why it is a bad idea for women to act like men, the importance of composure, why women need to create a network around them of people they trust, how to dress and why competition isn’t a bad thing,” Packard says.

Another strategy in Packard’s book is the art of brinksmanship to gain an advantage without clearly stating your goal. In poker, this is the art of reading “the tell.”

For example, Packard recalls taking her HGTV CEO to meet with the head of Tele-Communications, the cable industry’s leader at the time. They arrived for the meeting and had to wait two hours. When the meeting finally began, the guy stated his company’s position. Packard believed it was ridiculous. About fifteen minutes into the meeting, Packard stood up and declared the meeting over. When her CEO asked why the meeting went so badly, Packard replied, “It did not go badly. We actually won that round. They wanted us to beg. We needed to tilt the power in our favor.”

It took two years, but they eventually closed the deal. Packard contends it is that kind of dealmaking that helps perfect the art of business brinkmanship.

The book cover has a queen chess piece with a king chess piece in the shadows. Packard explains that the queen is the most powerful piece on the chess board. She is the only one who can move any direction on the board. Similarly, women in the workplace are adaptable, mentally fluid, and typically can juggle a lot of balls simultaneously. Women have unique opportunities to shine powerfully and positively. There’s no need to hide behind the shadows of men in the workplace.

Stowers Machinery, in partnership with Caterpillar, has a scholarship program called “Think Big.” It pays recipients about $13 an hour to apprentice in the shop and it reimburses tuition and other school-related costs. The student must maintain a B average to receive the scholarship.

Workers alternate between working eight weeks at Stowers and going to school for eight weeks. After they earn an associate degree, Stowers will hire them full-time.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for someone, yet we have the hardest time giving away the scholarship,” says Rhey Houston, Stowers vice president and Chattanooga area manager. “We have a full-time recruiter who goes to every high school in the area, looking for potential scholarship recipients, and it is still almost impossible for us to fill the slots.”

One interested young man contacted Stowers about the scholarship. He was awarded the scholarship during his school’s senior night. But he worked only a few days before telling his supervisor, “I’m not cut out for this kind of work every day.”

“Unfortunately, he is not the exception to the rule,” Houston says. “We have had several success stories, but they are fewer and farther between. It is baffling to me that people do not want to take advantage of an opportunity to work for a well-established company that pays well and offers full benefits including a 401k.”

Houston knows he isn’t alone in his frustration. He regularly talks with companies in the area who lament not being able to fill positions.

“I recently spoke with a guy who said, ‘I can’t grow my business because I can’t find people to hire who have driver’s licenses,'” says Houston. “Another guy told me he would be able to have five additional machines running if he could just find people to drive them.”

Approximately 9,000 people are looking for jobs. It’s difficult, however, to fill more than 15,000 job openings in the greater Chattanooga area. Why is that? It’s partially due to lack of education, or perhaps lack of driver’s licenses.

What is wrong with this picture? Employers are complaining they can’t find qualified workers and people are complaining they can’t find jobs. Somewhere along the way there is a serious disconnect.

In an article titled The New Unemployables, Aaron Renn shares a conversation with his father, a retired quarry superintendent. While the job wasn’t glamorous, his dad said they offered some of the area’s best wages, full benefits and profit-sharing. Still, hiring and keeping employees was hard. The overwhelming majority of applicants weren’t viable enough to interview. Plus, one-third of those he hired failed to last even six months.

Renn surmises that perhaps what we are seeing has nothing to do with job availability or wages. It may have everything to do with the basics, instead. The basics include having a high school diploma and reliably coming to work every day.

In the book Creating an Opportunity Society, the Brookings Institution’s Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill offer a solution. They say that to avoid poverty and join the middle class (at least $50,000 annual income for a family of three) U.S. citizens need to complete high school at a minimum, work full-time and marry before having children. 

Doing all three decreases the chances of being poor from 12 percent to 2 percent. It also increases the chances of joining the middle class or above from 56 to 74 percent.

It’s possible to combat the “unemployable” problem and break the cycle. Healthy adults must model and promote the importance of education and a strong work ethic in homes and communities. Additionally, we can mentor those who have no example to follow.

Job exits can ruin relationships if you’re not careful. Sara* was sick and tired of the way she was being treated at work, so she decided it was time to leave. She totally planned to let her boss know how she felt about things on her way out. 

There was no way to know that three years later she would be interviewing for another job – and her interviewer would be the very person she unloaded on when she left her former workplace.

“This is not unusual,” says Pamper Garner Crangle, President of Pamper Garner and Associates, a consulting firm that helps companies manage and measure “people problems.”

“People get emotional and feel the need to vent before they leave a job. They often don’t care how they come across because they are leaving. But, I try to remind them that how they express their frustration is very important in the world of business. I tell people that your reputation often precedes you. If you handle things poorly at one company, chances are good that it will get around to other companies in the area. Like Sara, you never know when you will have to interview with someone you threw a tantrum in front of years ago.”

Studies indicate that lack of loyalty is one reason people feel justified in leaving a company badly.

“Years ago most people were very loyal to their place of employment,” Crangle says. “Today, many young people have seen their parents work in a loyal fashion for many years, sacrificing time for their marriage and family relationships, only to be downsized. So they have decided they don’t want to put in extra hours or put their personal ownership in the workplace.”

Even if you don’t feel a sense of loyalty to your company, there are good reasons not to leave on a sour note. Two of those reasons include future references and job possibilities.

“I think sometimes people forget the importance of relationships,” Crangle shares. “In a day and age where broken relationships are all around us, people tend to think of leaving a job like trading in a used car for a new one or getting a new cell phone.”

Regardless of whether you feel loyal to a company or not, attitude and presentation can make or break a conversation. Believe it or not, saying goodbye respectfully and finishing well can impact your long-term career.

You can have a good job exit and maintain relationships by following these tips:

  • Give a proper notice. Two weeks is generally acceptable, but in some cases more time can ensure a good transition. Offering to work out a longer notice gives the company options and allows you to leave on a good note.
  • Keep your comments positive. You may be unhappy and ready to tell your boss some ways to improve the workplace, but should you? Your best bet is to keep your comments positive – or at least balanced. You never know what the future holds.
  • Stay focused. When you know you are leaving, it is easy to let things go. Staying focused and completing any unfinished business is powerful when you are looking for references in the future.
  • Do a good job training your replacement. Help and support your replacement as much as possible. Even if they want the scoop about the workplace, keep your comments positive and respectful. If they ask why you are leaving, give an appropriate answer. Perhaps you could say it was time for a change or you need to experience a different environment. Or maybe you could say that your priorities have changed. You don’t have to go into detail.

There are many entrances and exits in life, both personally and professionally. Your reputation hinges on the first impression and the last impression you leave. It is sometimes tempting to sever ties with others, but we live in a small world. Although it takes more effort, it will benefit you to maintain a good relationship with those for whom you worked. You never know when you will run into those people again.

Image from Unsplash.com

*Not her real name

Soft skills matter in the workplace. Here’s why.

People often talk about what helps young people succeed in the job market. In the last few years, we’ve placed tremendous emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). The question is, however, will these skills actually help young adults find and keep jobs?

In a Washington Post article, Cathy Davidson cites two studies touting that workforce readiness isn’t only about the hard skills. Take Google, for instance. They analyzed hiring, firing and promotion data since the company began in 1998. The most important qualities of Google’s top employees were: being a good coach, communicating and listening well, people smarts – valuing different points of view and values, having empathy toward and being supportive of colleagues, being a critical thinker and problem solver, and being able to make connections across complex ideas. Guess what came in last? STEM expertise.

Additionally, Google found that their highest functioning teams were not necessarily the teams with the smartest team members. Instead, they were the teams with members that exhibited these traits: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of teammates, empathy, emotional intelligence and emotional safety.

Caroline Beaton, a Forbes contributor who covers the psychology of millennials at work, asked more than 100 top HR managers, recruiters and CEOs what was important for entry-level job seekers. Nearly all of them said soft skills such as leadership, communication and collaboration were more important than others. The head of HR at Prezi said he looks for candidates with a solid foundation of soft skills and trusts the rest can be built upon those. 

According to Beaton’s research, there are four additional soft skills that are essential for workplace success: focus, more than a college degree, agility and humility. 

Employers today look for workers who can concentrate, which is apparently difficult due to various things, including technology. Additionally, Beaton shared that while employers value higher education, many interviewers said college graduates often lack people skills. One CEO said that recent college graduates do not have the necessary skills, and he realizes he must hire someone who is still willing to learn after graduating from college.

Job seekers who can adapt and adjust will have a leg up when it comes to applying for a job due to the fast pace of change in almost every workplace. One CEO said she looks for individuals who demonstrate resourcefulness, goals-driven behavior, team player mentality and relentlessness. 

Finally, Beaton found that employers want to hire humble people who don’t take themselves too seriously and are willing to admit when they don’t know something – in addition to willingly asking for help when they need it.

Undoubtedly, hard skills are important. The Google research, along with others, shows that teaching soft skills will be every bit as important in preparing the next generation well for the real world of work.

Most CEOs know that a satisfied workforce yields higher productivity. They also know that retaining employees is better and more cost-effective than dealing with turnover issues like recruitment and training. But do they know that many employees are conflicted about the time they spend at work versus with family?

When a national survey by the Families and Work Institute asked what factors were very important in taking a job, 60 percent of respondents cited “effect on personal/family life.”

Yet the big question still looms: “If we become more family-friendly, will it hurt the bottom line?” Perhaps the better question is, “How does not being family-friendly affect the bottom line?”

CEOs and upper level managers may want to explore these findings from the survey of almost 1,000 working fathers. Updating the Organization Man: An Examination of Involved Fathering in the Workplace was published in the February 2015 Academy of Management Perspectives. It found that fathers who spend more time with their children on a typical day are more satisfied with their jobs and less likely to want to leave their organizations. These men also experience less work-family conflict and greater work-family enrichment.

The survey also revealed that the more hours men devote to their children, the less central their careers are to their identities. This might create some anxiety for management.  However, the study’s authors found that involved fathering is not just good for workers. It’s also good for the companies via its positive association with a fathers’ job satisfaction, commitment to their work and lowered intentions to quit.

Previous work/life balance studies show that women experience more on-the-job conflict when they devote more time to their children. Why does spending time with their children equate with good job results for men, but increased conflict for women? The authors surmise that working fathers experience ambiguity around their fathering identity. However, they do not seem to experience threat to their work identities in the same way that mothers do. Perhaps men don’t experience the same level of guilt that working mothers feel. And it’s possible that men don’t view caring for children as a source of stress.

Additionally, on a scale of 1 (not important) to 5 (extremely important), study participants rated the most important aspects of being a good father this way:

  • Providing love and emotional support received an average rating of 4.6.
  • Providing discipline and financial security each received a 4.0.
  • Participating in day-to-day childcare tasks received an average rating of 3.9.

The study’s authors challenge employers to recognize the changes in how men view their roles. Many of today’s fathers desire to be more than the traditional organization men. As men transition from a narrow definition of fatherhood to one that embraces work and family, they must find a happy medium between the two. Doing meaningful work and living meaningful lives enhances their effectiveness, both as workers and caregivers.

It’s encouraging to see from this study that fathers truly see the benefits of being there. Plus, when a company’s bottom line is stronger, imagine the positive impact this has on a man’s family.

For more on parenting, click here.

How to Be a Family-Friendly Workplace

Higher productivity and a better bottom line – it's worth the effort.

If you were a CEO or business owner, how could you help increase productivity, improve your bottom line and decrease employee turnover? You might think it all boils down to money. But what if the answer was a simple one? You can help your employees lead more fulfilling lives and be better family members by being a family-friendly workplace.

The Sloan Center for Aging at Boston College studied this topic. Ninety percent of workers said that workplace flexibility moderately or greatly contributes to their quality of life. And, a study of IBM employees suggests that telecommuting workers find it easier to balance work and family life.

Studies show that a family-friendly workplace is a key to higher productivity and a better bottom line.

In October 2016, Working Mother magazine released its annual 100 Best Companies list. The magazine asked these companies why they invested in work-life benefits such as on-site child care, flex time, job sharing and telecommuting. The answer was, “It benefits the bottom line.”

More companies are seeing the advantage of these practices. However, only a small percentage of U.S. companies have family-friendly policies in their benefits package. Some companies cite cost as a reason for not doing so.

Professors from Stanford, the University of Munich and the London School of Economics investigated to see if family-friendly workplace practices are worth the money. The result? Family-friendly firms saw an impact in areas such as employee retention, and healthier attitudes and behaviors. Interestingly, the amount of money spent equaled the financial benefit derived from these policies. According to the researchers, family-friendly workplace practices may not increase profits, but they at least pay for themselves.

There’s a downside to NOT adopting family-friendly workplace policies.

The Business Case for Work-Family Programs reports that employees who experience work-family conflict are three times more likely to think about quitting their jobs than those who do not have that conflict. And according to Working Mother magazine, turnover from work-family issues costs companies about three times the job’s annual salary for an executive or managerial position. The cost is one and a half times the salary for line positions. Hidden expenses such as delays and training time also affect the bottom line.

You can take steps to make your company more family-friendly.

When implementing these policies, make sure you communicate with and include workers at all business levels.

  • Offer child care in the workplace and encourage both parents to utilize it. Employee child care centers allow workers to be near their children during the day.
  • Offer flex-scheduling so parents can participate more in their child’s schooling, doctor appointments, social activities, etc. Giving employees more control over when and where they do their jobs is an important element of reducing the work-family conflict. It allows the employee to feel better about his or her job because it is not taking away from family time.
  • Develop family-friendly policies for both parents that cover arrangements for the birth of children or a family illness.
  • Survey employees to assess their needs. This provides a clearer picture of what families need and cuts down on wasted time and energy creating unneeded programs.

If you’re interested in making it easier for employees to succeed at work and at home, it may be time to examine your organization’s work-life effectiveness.

Other blogs:

Involved Fathers Are Good for the Workplace

Why Soft Skills Matter in the Workplace

People who serve in leadership positions are often the ones in the spotlight. They also usually receive accolades for changing people’s lives. When it comes to finding your significance though, Dr. Kathleen Patterson contends that it isn’t all about the spotlight.

“During my childhood, I lived in an orphanage,” says Patterson, who directs Regent University’s Doctor of Strategic Leadership Program. “When I was in the second grade, I did not know how to read. I remember my teacher taking me home and patiently working with me to help me learn how to read. She had no idea I would go on to get a college degree and a doctoral degree. She wasn’t in the spotlight, but she made a difference in my life.”

When people were asked, “If you could ask God or your supreme being any question and get an answer, what would you ask?”

They most frequently asked, “What is my purpose?” Or, “Why am I here?”

“In many instances, people struggle to find their purpose and they believe if they aren’t doing something significant in the world’s eyes, they can’t really make a difference,” Patterson says. “The reality is, that’s just faulty thinking. Just like my teacher, there are many men and women who aren’t in the spotlight. Yet they are leading from the seat they are in and making a difference in people’s lives.”

Patterson contends that the world’s definition of significance may not necessarily be where people truly experience it. In fact, many believe that being the “top dog” will create significance.

“The world tells us you have to take charge in order to be significant,” Patterson shares.

“However, many have found significance in quietly serving others. According to the world, money, fame, beauty, intellect, power and accolades make people significant. If that is true, why do so many people at the time they are preparing to leave this world lament the time they spent pursuing these things at the expense of the relationships that mattered most to them?

“A friend of mine who served as dean of a college was giving a ride home to one of the housekeepers for the men’s dorm,” Patterson says. “He asked her how her job was going. She said, ‘I never graduated high school. I don’t have a degree, but I love my job. I won’t be the one to find a cure for cancer, but I might be cleaning the room of someone who will. My goal is to do my job to the best of my ability every day.’ This reminded me once again that you clearly do not have to be leading the pack to make a difference.”

Finally, Patterson says that although the world tells people to seek comfort, we often find our significance in the midst of difficult things.

Fifty years ago, while in high school, a diving accident left Joni Eareckson Tada a quadriplegic. At first she spent a lot of time asking, “Why me?” She eventually asked, “Why not me?” She went on to create camps to help quadriplegic adults and children adjust and deal with their unique challenges. Through the biggest challenge she had ever faced, she ultimately found her purpose and significance.

“The truth is, we don’t have to wait until we accomplish great things. And the spotlight is shining on us to impact the lives of people around us,” Patterson says.

Most of us can probably look back and remember those who shaped, supported or challenged us in some way. They may never have known it, but their actions somehow affected us. Perhaps the key to finding purpose and significance is to live in the moment and do the next right thing, one step at a time.

Relationships are Key to Happiness

Connections can improve your quality of life.

What’s the secret to a happy life? Many might say that money is a big part of the equation. But intrigued with discovering the secrets to a meaningful and happy life, a group of Harvard researchers launched a study in 1938. Then, they followed 268 male Harvard undergraduates – for 75 years.

The unique Harvard Grant Study collected data on the men’s lives through surveys and interviews. They looked at all aspects, including relationships, politics and religion, coping strategies and alcohol use. What they found may surprise you.

Perhaps one of the biggest revelations was that love really does matter when it comes to living a fulfilled life.

In his book about the study, Triumphs of Experience, Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant, study director from 1972 to 2004, writes: “There are two pillars of happiness. One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”

The study’s most important finding?

Relationships are the only things that matter in life. You could have a successful career, money and good physical health, but without supportive, loving relationships, you’d be unhappy. The ability to take in love is a great human skill.

Interestingly, Vaillant says that so many of the things people thought mattered when it comes to happiness don’t. For example, many believe money and social class are vital to success. These two things were at the bottom of the list.

Even our earliest relationships are important to long-term happiness, especially the mother-child relationship. Men who had a warm mother-child bond were less likely to develop dementia later in life. They were also more likely to have professional success.

Avoiding smoking and not abusing alcohol were by far the most important things to increase longevity. The study found that alcohol abuse was the greatest disruptor of health and happiness for the study’s subjects. Alcoholism was the leading cause of divorce among the 268 men and their wives. Plus, a strong correlation existed between alcohol abuse, neurosis and depression. Interestingly, the mental illness followed the alcohol abuse rather than preceding it.

More money, power and intelligence do not mean more happiness.

Vaillant found that men with IQs between 110 and 115 were no more or less happy than men with IQs higher than 150. Furthermore, the only thing that really matters when it comes to achievement is contentment at work. Having a meaningful connection to our work is more important than achieving traditional success.

Additionally, Vaillant found that early success did not necessarily mean future success. Conversely, failure early in life did not necessarily mean ultimate failure. In fact, some who seemed they would not end up doing well actually became successful. Vaillant shares that the journey from immaturity to maturity is a sort of movement from narcissism to connection. Moreover, a big part of this shift has to do with the way challenges are handled.

In the end, it all comes back to relationships, connection and love. Are you on a pathway to happiness and a meaningful life or a dead-end road?