I’m going through a huge life/work change at the moment. I’m leaving the civil service, taking up a corporate Senior role, which is a brand new position.
Will be working a totally flexible week - have negotiated 30 hours, with mornings in the office so I can be with my two children in the afternoon. I have so many questions about how to do this - moving to corporate, working flexibly, how to lead while not being in the office.
And of course I have the eternal question of school lunches....
Balance is not a continuum, the mere concept of Work Life Balance is flawed to it's core. Things happen, in work and in life that mean that our attention is rarely evenly distributed. However, it sounds like you've set yourself up for success. It's a new role which means that you can define the terms of engagement. Success means that when you're in work mode, you're present, focused and leading and empowering your team to excel. It also means that when you're being Mum, you're pretty much doing, well, the same thing actually! We spoke to two women who have successfully navigated these issues, powerfully changing the rules for others along the way. Now we just have to encourage more men to do the same thing.
In terms of the dreaded school lunches Aileen Cox Blundell's fabulous Baby led Feeding blog and products are great for killer lunch ideas that won't tie you up in knots.
TANYA DAY, Senior Director Operational Excellence, Oriflame
I knew when I was on maternity leave that I needed to change the way I worked when I went back. I had thought long and hard about it & wanted some extra time with family while the children were very young. I negotiated an 82% week and I straight away took it as two short days. That suited me perfectly, but it meant that I had a foothold in the business every day. I had seen a variety of part-time arrangements and knew this was the one that worked best for me both from a personal and professional perspective.
I was very conscious that I was now formally classified as part-time in the system now that I was working less that the full time contracted hours so it was about finding the balance that which ensured I contributed as needed in this new arrangement. I was trying to make sure I fell in as a part-time worker, so I split across two afternoons and in that way, I felt okay, as I was as present as I could possibly be over the week. I felt that it was the best spread and it helped me because it was afternoons I wanted off - the kids were at school while I was at work. I was immediately a different person when I got this. I felt like it was much needed breathing space because the kids were young, so I was able to occasionally go have lunch after school with my youngest, have one-on-one time with him.
My company had given me a green light to make these changes, and I felt it was my duty to make it work. I have no doubt that I covered the same if not more in that four-day week than I did on a five-day week. I have no doubt about that. I was just more efficient with my time and focus now. I was really prioritising where I used my time and energy at work. If I didn’t need to be involved in a business project or initiative or meeting, I wasn't.
First I looked at the organisational and what needed to be delivered, at the time I was heading up Data, IT and Business Systems for the Global R&D organisation. My starting point was, how do I organise it so that I can lead and direct rather than getting stuck in the nitty-gritty. I remember spending good time on this part, making sure I had a well-designed team where roles and accountability were clear with everyone empowered to do what they needed to do.
And also, I was very frank and open about it and have seen people in different organisations who quietly agree a part-time arrangement, when six months later, someone goes, "Does she work part time now or does he work part time?" and there has been a sense of ambiguity about it, I absolutely think you have to own it.
I remember sharing this with my team & explaining the changes and being quite direct explaining to them ‘I'll be working these hours’. You do need to be thick-skinned and not feel obliged to be apologetic. You just have to be clear & transparent & then move on.
When I came in each morning, I had a plan and I hit the ground running, connecting with my team, leading them with purpose. My office was on the top floor, so, when I was leaving, on my two shorter days, I would leave as per normal leaving time without any sense of secrecy.
I didn't actually use the term 'part-time' because for me, 'part-time' felt more like an arrangement working a couple of mornings each week, so I said I worked an 82% week on a pro rata basis. And from a communication point of view, that's very powerful.
It was a contractual change, but I was diligent to ensure my pension contribution was maintained as though I worked 100%. Otherwise it could have been one of those things that you look back on and go, "Oh." So, trying to make sure you do an AVC (if financially possible) where you are part of a company pension scheme is important, so that you stay comparable on your overall pension at the end of your working time.
I was always very flexible, so for example, if there was something key happening on a Tuesday or whatever, I'd just switch the days. I was lucky that I could do that, but for me to keep the seniority of role, I needed to give a bit of flexibility. You can't expect the company to completely revolve around your situation, there’s a little bit of give and take.
Then, there was home. I was quite disciplined, not being on the laptop or phone calls. Obviously, there was some work that came up at time, but generally, I was not working, but I'd always go in prepared the next day as to what I needed to be on, to make the best use of my time.
In terms of the key success factors – it ultimately came down to working & owning it, being transparent & communicating it, and finally appreciating it as a win-win arrangement, always ready to be flexible when needed.
HELEN SMYTH, Head of Ireland, Global Business Group, EMEA at Facebook
If I’m honest, when I was going on maternity leave for my third child, I thought there was a good chance I wouldn’t come back to work. I’m not sure if it was the fatigue at the end of the pregnancy or a concern that I wouldn’t be able to keep all the plates spinning between a full time job and 3 kids. However, during that maternity leave, it was really clear to me that I had more left to do in this job and I was enjoying it too much to walk away. However, those plates still need to spin, and being faced with an ‘all or nothing’ decision on my career didn’t feel like the only option. So, I wanted to see if there was another way. Could I assess my situation and and propose a third option? Why walk away without even asking? That's my big learning: if you don't ask, you don't get.
By speaking to a couple of people, the idea took hold. One particular woman had a friend who decided to rebrand the concept, not call it 'part-time', call it an 80% week (4 day)'. It was a simple but effective change in terms of rebranding and positioning what she was asking for. I liked it.
There can be certain connotations to working a part-time; that you may not be as invested in your role. That wasn’t the case for me so I set two goals for myself: 1) that I’d get this 4-day week approved and 2) that no one would feel a neg impact from it. So, I went in for a meeting with my boss at the time about a month before I was due to go back. I said, look, I have 3 kids but I still have a huge amount to do here.
I proposed an 80% week. At Facebook, part-time was not an option at the time. I kept my game face on but was holding my breath for his response. His first words were "I fully support you in this, but it's not my call to make so talk to me about what this is."
I went through the whole proposal, a pitch of my well worked out plan.. After a short time, a six-month trial was approved. I was using parental leave, so I wasn't changing a full-time employment status. So, that was a positive thing for them to trial.
The trial worked. I do a four-day week, taking Fridays off as it’s the day people travel most.
It has worked really well. Also, the other flexibility is that now, I'm coming into Q4, which is our busiest quarter for sales and I went to my boss and said, I wanted to go four and a half days, I wanted to be in on Friday mornings, just for this quarter, and then January 1st, go back to four days, He said I didn't need to do it but I knew where the needs were. Being pragmatic, I could do it and I'm still at the school gates on Friday afternoon. That's the promise I made to the kids.
The other piece is scheduling - scheduling at home and your own time. So, myself and my husband went to Flying Tiger and got one of those weekly paper calendars which we have stuck on the fridge. We’re in the habit of planning – so if it’s not in the calendar – it doesn’t happen ;)
We’ve also realized that we both need time for ourselves, which is hard to carve out when you’re both working. You always put yourselves last. We have tried to stick to a schedule on that too – we’ve carved out pockets of time for ourselves for the gym or meeting friends – where we can. If I’m honest, it’s often the time that gets cut first, but on the whole, we’re pretty good about it. The impulse is that we should both row in together for every task with the kids, but actually sometimes a Divide and conquer approach is much more powerful.
Date night had never been an option for us. It felt like some mystical time people who were way more organized did. Until now. We have a childminder who works from half one to half to six (Monday-Friday) but who works until 9:30pm on Wednesday night. This is a huge for us. We come in from work, play with the kids for 30 mins then get on a pair of runners and head out. We walk about 40 mins to a restaurant, grab a main course and head home. We talk about everything and nothing, get a good walk in and fresh air to clear the head. Honestly, I’d take that over a sat night in town (which are fewer these days!). I can't stress how invaluable this is for us.
The third big piece is setting the boundaries between work and home. I don't take calls, I don't send emails after an appointed time. If I do, I schedule them to go the next morning. I don't start pinging people at all hours unless it's a real emergency. I had a real problem with coming in the door and not being present – until the kids did the typical, "Mom, please stop looking at your phone and listen to me," and it was heartbreaking. A colleague told me, ‘if you tell your kids what you're actually doing on your phone, you would be really embarrassed because it maybe was one work email, and then 30 seconds later, it was Instagram, and that is not good enough.’ I thought he was spot on. The minute I get home, I put the phone away in a cupboard, out of sight until 9 o'clock. I’ve also bought one of those ‘Lumie’ alarm clocks, which simulate the sunrise, in place of having my phone in the bedroom. I noticed the quality of my sleep improve by not having the phone in the room instantly.
Every day isn't perfect, there's definitely days where I'm not giving my best at work or at home. And that is okay. The guilt is the worst thing, that gremlin in your head, so I really try and shove that out and say, I'm doing okay. But, what is causing the ‘noise’ and what can I get rid of tomorrow to help me clear the path to focus on what matters. Then the good feels actually good.
With work, it’s really about setting the boundaries, saying no. In the past, I’ve said ‘Yes’ to every opportunity or piece of work – possibly to prove I could keep it all going. Then, I’d get to a point where I was doing 50 things at 20% but not five things at 100%.
Now, I pick the five things with ruthless prioritization. We write impact statements of what we have achieved. I write mine at the start of the period, that way I’m crystal clear what needs to be done.
Another Mother is a place to ask for help and share wisdom. Please share your issues and challenges with us here or share us with someone who has challenges. Sometimes, a little nudge in the right direction is all we need to course correct.