Reflections on the 7th Annual When Work Works Awards

A few weeks ago, Sharon Bernstein, the Deputy Director of Family Forward Action and Family Forward Oregon, contacted me about speaking at Oregon’s 7th Annual When Work Works Award luncheon. When Work Works recognizes the efforts and accomplishments of businesses that cultivate a flexible, supportive, and family-friendly workplace. Research Into Action had just received our third award, and Sharon was looking for people willing to speak about their experiences in the workplace.

Oddly, our conversation recalled a yoga class I attended a while back. I was teetering precariously in dancer’s pose, my attention torn between trying not to fall forehead-first into the hardwoods and listening to the instructor extoll the pose’s virtues, when three words jumped out at me: strength, balance, and flexibility.

Later, as I considered my conversation with Sharon and my own experiences in the workplace, it occurred to me that these three things are not only fundamental to my physical well-being, but also characteristic of a healthy work environment.

I’ve been a consultant my entire career. As such, there are certain realities one quickly comes to accept: crazy deadlines, late nights—inevitably followed by early mornings—unforeseen challenges, and a rather exotic cast of characters.

Earlier in my career, strength was something you learned you had after working until midnight to fulfill a last-minute client request. Balance generally referred to something budget-related. And flexibility meant being able to pick my pen up off the floor while wearing a pencil skirt and heels.

Over the years, these definitions have evolved a bit. Strength has come to mean having the tools, support, and resources necessary to deal with the unavoidable vagaries of the human condition— new members of the family, family tragedies, illness, injury—the occasional existential crisis. Balance means having the time and freedom to travel and go on new adventures because I know my coworkers will be there to put out any fires that might crop up while I’m on the other side of the world. And flexibility means being able to work in a way that fosters my creativity and helps me produce a better product because I’m not constantly shackled to my desk.

Oftentimes, discussions around a flexible work environment focus on major life events: maternity leave, bereavement, medical care, and the like. But the smaller, more mundane things matter just as much. In my case, that includes working from home, working outside, working from a coffee shop, working from a foreign country—you get the picture. Big events happen, disrupting our lives and often our ability to work. Smart employers know this, and they plan for it. But they also pay attention to the times in between, weaving work-life balance into the fabric of their business.

I am incredibly fortunate to work for an organization that does just this. Consulting is a chronic condition. The realities I mentioned earlier don’t go away, but with the right kind of support, it is possible to find an equilibrium. Through hard work and careful planning, Research Into Action has created a strong, balanced, and flexible environment. For that I congratulate our leadership team and my colleagues. And I thank them for supporting the efforts of organizations like Family Forward Oregon, which recognizes that work works best when it doesn’t compete with life.