One of the biggest challenges for working parents is how to balance leaning into a demanding corporate career with caring responsibilities. In an era of mass customisation, the smart answer is to customise your job.
Inflexible flexible working policies?
Chances are, your employer offers flexible working policies. The problem is that often they’re not only inflexible in their application, but also likely to sit within rigid corporate cultures and entrenched working practices that deny the possibility of combining parenthood with a senior career. It’s no surprise that research reveals the most common flexible arrangement women opt for is some form of part-time working –experiencing the well documented “part-time pay penalty” and taking a hit on longer term career prospects.
Offering reduced hours arrangements is neither truly flexible nor effective – it’s merely a way of squeezing those employees unable to balance outside responsibilities with stringent full-time hours into traditional workplace arrangements.
In an era where almost anything can be customized, the smart answer is to customize your job. Given available technology and the relentless drive towards 24/7 working, there’s never been a better time to redesign full-time jobs. The challenge lies in identifying an arrangement you can be confident will work for you.
Ready to customize your full-time job for better balance?
Use this four-step process to customize your manager level full-time job so you can remain on the career ladder and live a more balanced life.
1. List the Key Tasks for which your employer hired you
The key parts of your job are the parts of your job where the majority of your focus should lie. You need to start here, and it’ s essential for two reasons. Firstly, it will remind you of the skills, qualifications and experience (both prior and gained inside your current organisation) that make you valuable to your employer.
And secondly, it will identify clearly the “deliverables” on which your workplace performance should be assessed. One of the biggest challenges where a flexible arrangement involves remote working, is making sure senior managers are assessing you on outputs, not presence.
Now is also a good time to identify those parts of your job which eat into your time but don’t actually require your level of skill. Can they be delegated? Automated? Or perhaps even eliminated?
2. Identify which of your deliverables are “time critical” and which are “location critical”
Time critical tasks are things like monthly reports, location critical tasks are things like on-site training courses. So take your list of key tasks and identify which of your key tasks fall in these categories.
Reviewing these two aspects will suggest where the flexibility in the job lies. And, of course, feeding into this is the fact that few people work alone so you’ll need to give thought to how you and your colleagues can support each other’s desire for flexibility.
3. Consider your personal preference for managing the work-life interface
Thirty years of social science research into work-life balance has shown – among other things – that most people tend to have a preference over whether they keep work and life separate or integrate them.
Working in circumstances which go against your preferences is likely to make you unhappy, stressed and disengaged. Of course total separation and total integration are actually two ends of a continuum. To identify your personal style take a look at this online questionnaire developed by a leading work-life academic.
4. Identify your stakeholders
Finally, take some time to identify and list the people around you that will need to be on board for your new working arrangement to succeed. This might include customers or clients, other people inside your workplace and people in your wider network – such as partners, childcare providers and so on. At minimum you’ll need to manage your interactions with them differently; and in some cases re-negotiating existing arrangements may be necessary.
Having worked through these four steps, you’re more likely to arrive at a customised full-time job which will enable you to keep your feet on the career ladder while feeling you’re living a more balanced life. And the chances are that in most cases it will consist of small adaptations, rather than a radical re-design. Which is all to the good. As someone pointed out to me a couple of years ago “change happens best when nobody notices!”
Your final challenge will be to identify and develop the key skills you’ll need to ensure on-going success. These may include enhancing or even changing your communication style, improved self-management or even training so you can harness technology more effectively away from the office.
If your employer provides coaching or training as part of their Career Development Strategy, now’s the time to take advantage of this.
Author: Anna Meller. has spent the last 20 years making work-life balance her business. A successful consultant, thought leader, researcher and author, Anna’s accessible approach is both evidence based and pragmatic. In December 2013 she will be piloting a workshop ‘Leaning in on Our Terms‘ in London to explore the ideas shared above.