Creating Better Balance: 5 Tips for Stressed Career-Parents!

Times are slowly changing and it was brilliant to see so many dads commenting on International Men’s Day last week about wanting to share child-caring responsibilities and beginning to demand the flexible working that will allow them to do this and spend more time with their families.  As the expectation and confidence to demand greater flexibility and consideration as a parent from men continues to grow (although, let’s be realistic, there is still a mountain to climb before it is seen as acceptable for men to work part-time or flexibly in many organisations), so will equality in the workplace.

Despite some progress, it is still mums who take on the lion-share of the child-caring responsibilities and so it is predominantly women who are having to deal with the day to day pressures of juggling work and family life.  The stresses are often so great that many feel that they have no choice but to opt out – sacrifice their career  – if they have any hope of achieving a work life balance.  Others struggle on to the detriment of their health and happiness.  This is one of the major reasons why Sam Duffy and I felt that there is very much a need and a place for a personal development programme just for women – The Diversity Network’s ‘Her Talent’ programme. TDN Academy

Personally, if I read another blog about how ‘getting up at 5am to go for a run and meditate changed my life’, I shall chuck my iPhone out of the window!!  To be fair, on the odd occasion when I have got up an hour earlier and gone for a run, it has had a hugely positive impact on my day… but what most of us are crying out for – men and women – is practical help to enable us have more guilt-free time with the kids, without it having a negative effect on our career progression, and a less stressful day….

So, with my coach’s hat on, here are the some of the most practical solutions that my clients struggling with the work life balance conundrum  have arrived at….

  1. It’s not ‘one-size fits all’.  Work-life balance is different for everyone.  Caring for pre-schoolers is very different to caring for teens, for example, and so you will need to define what good balance looks like for you.  What are your priorities, and therefore what can you do to help yourself  achieve them?  Would starting and finishing earlier allow you be at the school gate for pick up?  Would working a 9 day fortnight be an affordable way to give yourself back a little more time just for you?

I really like the attached exercise.  It’s a quick and simple way to gain a little insight into the things that are actually core to our wellbeing, but always get over-shadowed by work and family/relationships.  These are the things that, if we can find a way to fit them into our schedules, will give us back a sense of balance – and so a good starting place for your plan. Quartzy Work-Life Balance Exercise

2. Review your work life balance strategically.  Take a calendar view – when are the busy times in your working year – when flexibility may be more difficult – and when are the quieter times when it may be possible to take some time out, reduce your hours or work more flexibly?  Build this into your plan too.

3. If you don’t ask…you don’t get….Think about what would work for you and then confidently propose the changes at work, showing how they will be manageable and explaining why they are so important to you.  If you are aware of precedents that work well, highlight them.  If there is still doubt on your boss’ part, suggest a trial period with the option to revert back to you current working patterns if necessary.  More than likely you will receive a positive response from your boss, but demonstrating a well thought through business case will make it far more difficult for your employer to say no….

4. Be a role model and talk about your family at work.  For years I felt I couldn’t let on to my clients that I wasn’t available at a particular time because I was looking after my kids!  Why?  I’m not really sure, to be honest, but there often seems to be this unwritten code that at work we daren’t mention our domestic needs or pressures in case someone thinks that they will get in the way of our work.  However, by talking about our families at work we are able to bring more of ourselves to work – and make it easier for others to do so too.  I recently received an ‘out of office’ email from the busy MD of a local consultancy firm that explained that he was unable to respond because he was attending his daughter’s sports day.  What a positive role model – I imagine his workplace is a pretty good place to be!

5. Take control of your own work life balance.  Once you’ve started responding to emails at 9pm at night or working on your  days off for a period of time – this becomes the norm for you and the expectation of everyone you work with.  You’re also implicitly suggesting that this is how everyone else should be working, even if that is not your intention.  Work out what is really urgent, and what can actually wait until tomorrow or next week or can perhaps be delegated to someone else .   If you’re addicted to your smartphone in the evenings or at weekends, put it in another room to help you resist temptation.  If you want some ‘me time’ in the evenings or quality time with the family on your day off, set yourself some boundaries and do your utmost to stick to them.   Once you’ve broken the old habits and established some new, more positive ones you might just see the scales tipping closer to that longed for balance…

Tips on Getting Stuff Done!

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