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Nanette Fondas's picture

Last night a friend sent me an e-mail: she had come to realize that two parents working full-time is impossible. Once you accept that, she said, it becomes easier to do because you give up on the fantasy of work-life perfection and instead figure out how to make it work. “In the end, my boss gave me a laptop and flexible schedule.”

My friend is not alone. I attended a talk by McKinsey & Company consultants Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston on their research about top women business executives and how they accomplish things in work and life. Barsh and Cranston said that the women they interviewed for their book concurred that there is no such thing as work-life balance, only “managed disequilibrium.” The key is to find ways to cope.

Ordinary women, executive women, and even First Lady Michelle Obama are all talking about the work-life equation and the challenges it poses. And now, this week, NPR is doing a series of reports on the “revolution” taking place at work, because it’s not just women--or even parents--who want flexibility and choices in how, when, and where they work, but also Generations X and Y, people nearing retirement, and low-wage workers. People want options to work flexible schedules and remotely from home, the first NPR report explains, to reduce their time wasted commuting, increase their productivity, and spend more time with their children (one mother—now a business owner who gives her employees these options—said she had to drop off her own kids at day care at 6 a.m. every day to get to work on time).

There are other ways to make the workplace more compatible with today’s workers’ lives, including results-only work environments, taking infants to work, redesigning career tracks, and opting for contract work when that is feasible. I have co-authored a book with Joan Blades about these and other ways employers and employees can create what we name a “custom fit” between work and life demands. It will be published on Labor Day, 2010, by Jossey-Bass. We hope it inspires leaders from the boardroom to the cashier counter to invent new ways to work—so that we can end the impossible tug-of-war between on-the-job responsibilities and off-the-job commitments.

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