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N.J. governor balances work and life in the 21st century

Michelle Hicks

Michelle Hicks

Late last month, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took a lot of flak for leaving for a family vacation in sunny Disney World when his state experienced a massive snowstorm. Critics charged the governor of being derelict in his duties for not rushing home when the first snowflake fell. But was he? Christie’s defense sounds a lot like any knowledge worker wired and armed to do business from anywhere in the world.

“I was standing in Disney World with my kids, spending as much time on the cell phone getting updates and giving instructions as I was watching them ride the rides. In this 21st century world, your ability to direct these things from there are different,” Christie explained Jan. 12 on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

“We had a plan in place for four days. We executed that plan very well and we got the job done. That’s what people pay me for. They don’t pay me to showboat on the back of a snow plow.”

This is a very similar argument Claire Shipman and Katty Kaye make in their book published last year, Womenomics: Write Your Own Rules for Success, How to Stop Juggling, Struggling, and Finally Start Living and Working the Way You Really Want. The authors say it is a book for men as much as it is for women who need help balancing work and life.

“Flexibility is NOT a favor,” they write. “Major corporations are embracing it – because it makes business sense in any economy.”

Shipman and Kaye cite several organizations, from retailers Best Buy and Wal-Mart to the consulting firm Deloitte and Touche that are embracing workplace flexibility and experiencing success – both in employee morale and productivity.

“The element of trust that was introduced when we installed flextime has made not only happier people but better lawyers,” Tom Mars, head of Wal-Mart’s legal department, told the authors. “They have a greater willingness to do their jobs, and to do them with appropriate independence.” Mars says other Wal-Mart departments have taken notice and are implementing flexible schedules, too.

Part of the reason productivity increases is because an employee’s stress decreases when he understands what results he needs to deliver and has more control over how he delivers them. The Mayo Clinic says, “The more control you have over your hours, the less stressed you’re likely to be.”

Mayo’s website cites several negative health impacts when work and life get out of balance, including fatigue, which can lead to dangerous or costly mistakes.

Gov. Christie’s critics have a right to hold their elected official accountable, like any employer has the right to expect accountability from an employee. But I would urge the citizens of New Jersey, like any employer, to evaluate what the real source of the concern is about a knowledge-based worker who chooses to balance work and family life.

Is it perception that one needs to be in the office or the state in order to get the work done? Or, with today’s technology, is it more important that work plans are in place, processes are mapped, and roles are defined so an organization can execute and deliver what is needed?

Remember, during the same snowstorm, New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg was in town the entire time. That didn’t prevent emergency protocols from kicking in too late, leaving residents stranded for days and resulting in fatal accidents. While in New Jersey, Christie says emergency responses fired on all cylinders.

“In New Jersey, nobody said the job wasn’t done. In fact, in New Jersey the job was done and done well. It was done well because we put a good group on the ground.” And, a smart phone in the hand of the governor, thousands of miles away.

Michelle Hicks is a communications consultant with Buck Consultants. Contact her at michelle.hicks@buckconsultants.com.

About Michelle Hicks