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Now is the time to redefine work on your own terms, in a way you’ve never been able to before

June 13, 2022, 12:00 PM UTC
Author of column and book "Embrace the Work, Love Your Career," Fran Hauser
Courtesy of Jennifer Mullowney

In 2013, I was one of the most senior female executives at a major media company. I was also the mom of two toddlers. Commuting into New York City five days a week was taking a toll and so I asked to work from home one day a week. I had a three-hour, round-trip commute, and I knew I could use that time more productively, which would help me both at work and with my family. 

I got a hard and fast no. They were worried about the precedent it would set and that others would want the same privilege. I have a feeling that up until February 2020, the majority of these requests at traditional companies were being denied.

In two short years, workplace culture has completely transformed. The pandemic gave employers no other choice but to pivot to a work-from-home model for all employees. Systemic preconceptions about remote work (and specifically women who asked for flexibility) faded. It was no longer a privilege to video chat from home, it became commonplace—and, soon enough, a punchline. As employers led their companies through the worst of times, the balance of power subtly shifted to prioritizing employees’ needs. 

Having spent 20+ years at some of the best companies, from Coca-Cola to PEOPLE magazine, and now as an entrepreneur and startup investor, this seismic change in corporate workplaces happened faster than I ever could have predicted. And it’s here to stay. 

I believe that women are in a position, now more than ever, to redefine work on their own terms. With more than 11 million open jobs in America right now—more than any other time in history—it’s an employee’s market. And as companies embark on a mass hiring of talent (aka The Great Rehire), they know they must get women back in the door. They need to get all employees back in the door. That’s why this is your moment to define what you want work to look like for you.

Companies have learned to adjust and adapt during the last two years and are more open to doing things differently. They’ve seen the positive effect of remote work on productivity, they’re more comfortable with flexibility, and they’re more willing to break the status quo. By reimagining our individual relationships with work, we have the ability to collectively shift what the work landscape looks like, and achieve individual fulfillment.

I want to empower you to change what you can control today. Reflect on what makes you feel happy/proud/energized/accomplished at work, or what you believe would channel this spectrum of emotions, and focus on bringing more of that to your career. It sounds simple, but clarity about the present moment is often what we lack when thinking about our careers. We often focus on what’s next—new company, new title, new responsibilities—rather than what’s good right now and figuring out how to harness more of that. 

To get started, here are five questions to ask yourself in evaluating your work (and your workplace):

  • If I could ask for one thing to make my work more fulfilling, what would it be? Sundays are a good day to tune in to your feelings about going back to work on Monday. What is the thing that you are worried most about? Set up time with your manager to discuss it. Don’t let it fester. It won’t go away on its own.
  • What do I need to feel psychologically safe and what do those around me need? A psychologically safe environment is one where employees feel comfortable speaking up, sharing their opinions (especially when they are different from others), and making mistakes. If you’re not feeling this, come up with some ideas to change it. This is a great HBR article on how to boost psychological safety at work.
  • Am I clear on what success looks like?  It’s really hard to love what you do if you’re not clear on what success looks like. This is probably the most important question you can ask your manager. 
  • Does work fit with the rest of my life? Do the physical and mental demands of your job leave you with the capacity to do anything outside of work? What do you wish you had more time for in other areas of your life—relationships, family, travel, personal development, community work? 
  • What are the aspects of my job that I love and want to do more of? If you’re stuck, look back at your calendar for the last few months and take notice of the meetings or experiences that bring a smile to your face.

To elaborate on this last question, imagine realizing that the most creative, energizing part of your day is when you’re sharing feedback with someone on your team and helping them develop the skills they need to succeed. That small piece of knowledge alone can allow you to insert more responsibilities like that into everything you do. Over time, it’s likely that you’ll end your days with more energy than you used to. With that energy, there is a ripple effect, and you’ll change the world for yourself and others.

We’ve never had a moment like this before with employees in the driver’s seat, co-creating the workplace culture that they desire. This is your time. Reflect on what you need to succeed. Employers are ready to listen. Are you ready to ask?

Fran Hauser is a startup investor, bestselling author, and former media executive. Her latest book Embrace the Work, Love Your Career helps women build careers that are intentional and fulfilling.

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