Dual Tools

Article excerpt

WORK+LIFEBALANCE

Some management tools transfer from the office to home, and vice versa. The trick is to change the way we think about everyday challenges.

When pioneering efficiency expert Frank Gilbreth whistled, his 12 children assembled right away. He had them all sign daily progress charts, after they had bathed, brushed their teeth and made their beds. Household chores were awarded on a low-bid basis (a highly unlikely procedure then and now).

After Mr. Gilbreth died in 1924, two of those children wrote his biography, an affectionate account that became the 1955 comedy film "Cheaper by the Dozen," which was remade in 2003. The humor, of course, lay in the incongruity of a project manager applying his skills at home.

But today many experts and observers think there are management skills that are effective in the workplace and also at home with family and when participating in social organizations, volunteer work and leisure activities.

Companies worldwide are recognizing that management skills can be developed in many ways, says Andrew Tank, executive director, Research, the Conference Board Europe, from his office in Brussels, Belgium. Parents learn important lessons in "negotiating conflict, managing budgets and setting priorities," he says, and leaders of community groups learn to coordinate the needs of competing stakeholders. "It is the responsibility of companies to tap these employee resources to enhance morale, productivity and performance to enrich their human capital," he says.

Linda Duxbury, Ph.D., professorat Carleton University's Professional school of Business, Ottawa, Canada, says the work/life issue is a concern "everywhere in the developed world." Company Web sites increasingly cite their concern with "harmonizing work and life issues." There are a multitude of conferences in Europe and elsewhere on work-life issues, and several countries-Canada, Ireland, Finland, to name a few-have governmental departments that oversee such efforts in their own employment practices.

Mr. Tank suggests that the impetus for change originated with multinational companies that first saw the economic and productivity improvement potential accruing from increased flexibility in the workplace.

Home and flway

Some are not convinced it's possible to achieve that elusive balance. New York Times columnist Lisa Belkin writes in her book Life's Work, or the Confessions of an Unbalanced Mom, "Home and job are different. The skill sets for one are useless for the other." Ms. Belkin also quotes Professor G. Richard Shell's counter argument: "Workplace management skills can work fine at home, if people remember to use them."

Author and lecturer James P. Lewis, Ph.D., takes the middle ground. He says work and home can't be separate,they interact. Some management skills can be applied at home, but "less rigorously," says Dr. Lewis, founder of the Lewis Institute, a project management consultancy, based in Vinton, Va., USA.

Dr. Shell is at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, where he presides over a tri-annual workshop on negotiation for global executives. He lists some approaches or attributes he thinks useful for negotiating in both spheres. These include patience, listening to others, empowerment and setting both priorities and specific goals. While some seem like commonplace management tools, he emphasizes the emotional component at home. At the office, managers typically fear emotional displays even though emotion would be normal in response to unpleasant management decisions. "Employ persuasion instead of power" in both settings, Dr. Shell says, if possible.

HDW to Listen

Listening to others is high up on everyone's list of management skills, especially for dealing with conflict. Listening serves to defuse the emotional level in a conflict, at home or at work, says Dr. Robert Bolton, coauthor with his wife, Dorothy Glover Bolton, of People Styles at Work. …