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Sue Shellenbarger

      . . . is a business journalist. She has written the "Work & Family" column for The Wall Street Journal since 1991, and published a book of the column's essays using the same title. She began her writing and editing career with the Journal in the early 1980s and is the former chief of its Chicago news bureau. She has also served as a contributing editor and columnist for Parenting magazine and as a financial markets columnist for the Associated Press. She combines her work life with an active family of her own.

Excerpts of shellenbarger3:21 secs

      Business and industry faces a threat to productivity, new product development and competitive advantage. It is the failure to treat their workers as whole human beings. This conclusion is not from some far-out think tank or interest group. This is what Sue Shellenbarger has found reporting for the Wall Street Journal ,where she writes her regular "Work & Family" column.

      Bottom lines suffer when people burn-out and drop-out. Enterprises see productivity plummet and competitive advantage erode when their people have no time to pay attention to fundamental human relationships, starting with families and the natural world of which we are a part. Individuals loose their way. Families -- especially kids -- are stressed. And the larger community is diminished.

      The struggle is as old as the Industrial Revolution, when the serious wedge was first driven between family and work. Curiously, the acknowledged seduction of today's business world, while still intoxicating, is no longer enough. Shellenbarger characterizes today's workers as alienated. She's observed that alienation in all kinds of workplaces, from the highest tech to the factory floor to the ranks of disaffected managers. What's missing? Balance. And respect. Workers have noticed.

      Women and young people particularly are beginning to challenge assumptions the Organization Man took for granted. That's a model which legions of women emulated when re-entering the workforce in the 1970's and 1980's. But many -- men as well as women -- are now questioning the excessive commitments demanded of them at work, increasingly aware of the toll they pay, their families pay, our ailing communities pay.

      Strong bottom-line pressures are driving the best businesses to rethink how they operate, especially those who wish to compete for the long haul in a global knowledge economy. The good news is that when business gets serious about not burning out their workers, not only do people's lives improve. There is also competitive advantage to be had, profit to be made.

      We're only beginning to see business respond to workers' pent up demand that fundamental human needs be met. The booming economy helps. Now if companies really want cutting-edge products which are breaking new ground, they must create an environment which will enable workers to be the most they can be, Shellenbarger is certain.

      Rhetoric alone won't do it. Real changes must be made. It's simple. Treat people as whole human beings. That requires connections to people and things that matter and a healthy environment in which to work and live. When those fundamental needs are met, there's growing evidence that everyone -- individuals, families, the larger community AND businesses -- reap the rewards.

Conversation 1

Sue Shellenbarger recalls the roots of today's work and family issues in the Industrial Revolution for Paula Gordon and Bill Russell. Convinced people have a natural drive to integrate family life and work, Shellenbarger describes how the very structure of most corporations -- rigid schedules, protocols, behaviors, folkways -- are antithetical to a balance between concerns in the home and those at work. While acknowledging the intoxication and seductiveness of ego fulfillment available in today's workplace, she describes most people in today's workplace as alienated because they spend too much time away from really important relationships, which she describes.

Conversation 2

The Organization Man is remembered, an ill-conceived model embraced by women when they (re)entered the workforce in the 1970s. Shellenbarger describes women's discovery that something was amiss. She reports very promising new family lifestyles that are now emerging which are hopeful for the future. She gives examples from a variety of industries where things are changing. She also gives a realistic assessment of how far we have yet to go. She describes the role of younger workers in changing what management styles workers will tolerate, particularly in the Information Economy, noting a hollow at the core of much of today's corporate culture. Issues of management and metrics are considered. Burn-out is introduced.

Conversation 3

If you do not lead a fulfilled life, if you're constantly feeling out of balance, frustrated, feeling that the things that are most important to you in life are being neglected, you're not going to put in your best effort at work, Shellenbarger believes. She describes how that affects individuals and companies in a Knowledge Economy where it is particularly true that if you have happy employees, they will produce more profit. She gives examples of how better and more work is produced when burnout is avoided. She explores the impact and implications of today's telecommuting revolution. The issue of core values is absolutely central, Shellenbarger believes, and tells why. She uses anecdotes to describe the enormous cost of today's imbalance to the larger community.

Conversation 4

What employees want most, Shellenbarger reports from studies within companies, is Respect. She describes how smart companies are ahead of their competition in responding to this, while mature industries find it difficult. She cites examples of companies doing it right, which she laments, are few and far between. She considers how a continuation of today's booming economy affects how these challenges are met. The impact of young workers on the workforce and others willing to push-back changes long-standing relationships. She puts these issues into the context of the profoundly business-oriented newspaper for which she reports. She gives examples of how truly listening to and responding to the needs of employees improved both customer service and employee satisfaction.

Conversation 5

Women's role in the changing workforce and world is explored. Shellenbarger believes that good kids require good parents and shows how that is linked to workplace issues. She assures us that managers are indeed responsible for the well being of their workers' kids as well as the workers themselves. She explains the business implications. She notes the organic quality of organizations, certain that no two workplaces are alike. She reports that investors are increasingly skeptical about companies with a short-term view. If companies really want cutting-edge products which are breaking new ground, Shellenbarger has found, a company must create an environment which will enable workers to be the most they can be. She explains why and how it is done and assures us that rhetoric around these issues is counterproductive if a company does not practice what it preaches.

Conversation 6

Shellenbarger sings "The Mean Old Mommie" song and describes her own experience with burnout. She explains the seriousness of burnout in the workforce at large, where huge numbers of people are at risk, with costly consequences to businesses, families and the larger community. Ultimately, she assures us, if managers fail to see who people are and treat them as human beings, it comes back to bite them.


It was a personal pleasure to share insights with Sue. Her openness to emerging new ideas is the mark of an inquiring mind and the foundation of honest journalism. We look forward to continuing the conversation.

Related Links:
A collection of Sue's columns is available in Work & Family: Essays from the "Work & Family Column of The Wall Street Journal.

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