Tag: "work-life balance"

Making your own choice on the working/stay-at-home mother decision

Making your own choice on the working/stay-at-home mother decision

A Daily Mail report this week that only 1 in 10 women are stay-at-home mothers, together with the judge’s ruling in a recent divorce case that a mother should ‘get a job’ once her children are seven, have reignited the debate about whether mothers ‘should’ be at home with their children or remain in the workforce. We’re at a strange point in history where there seems to be pressure both ways: a longstanding societal push, reinforced by some parts of the media, to be an at-home mother and a corresponding push from Government and other parts of the media to keep mothers working. Mothers are squeezed in the middle, torn as to the ‘right thing’ to do and feeling judged whatever path they take.

External Pressures

I hear these mixed messages played out on the personal level as well, from the mothers I work with. Some women feel pressure from partners/parents/friends to give total attention to the family, while others feel pushed to get back to work. And we then have our own internal ambiguity: “I’m being selfish and ungrateful if I want to work and leave my children” vs. “I’m wasting my education and sponging off my partner if I stay at home”. It’s not surprising that so many mothers feel guilty whatever they do.

There’s no RIGHT answer

What I’d love to tell all mothers wrestling with your work-home choices, either post maternity or career break, is this: There is no universal RIGHT answer. This is a time in your life when you need to acknowledge all the internal & external pressures you are experiencing, and then decide what is the best choice for you and your family, dependent on your desires and your personal circumstances (which can also change over time).

So which option do you choose?

If you have no real choice and need the income, then avoid the ‘pro-full-time mum’ press, focus on managing your work-home balance, read our articles on how to ditch the guilt and stop labelling yourself as selfish.

If you do have a choice, then focus on deciding what you want to do, not agonising over what you ‘should’ do. There are many options: working as an employee full-time/part-time/flexibly, setting up your own business, going freelance, pausing your career with a clear strategy to return later, or being an at-home mother. And it’s fine to chop and change over the years as you create a life balance that works for you.

Finding my way

Personally, I was taken aback by the pull I felt to stay at home for a few years when my kids were small – I’d always pictured myself as someone who would never take a break. Being at home suited me best in the early years but after four years I was desperate to engage my brain again in other interests and went back to university to retrain, doing some consultancy alongside. I then worked part-time and grew my own business, working longer hours as my children got older. Many of my friends and colleagues had different experiences; from those who were very happy get back to full-time work after maternity leave to those have remained at home until their children are much older and are only now considering how they can find their way back into work.

Feeling content with your life

There is no single and perfect solution. But you’ll know you’ve made the best choice for you when most of the time you feel (fairly) satisfied with your life and rarely feel frustrated and stuck in a place where you don’t want to be. And if you don’t feel satisfied, that’s when you need to make a change, not when other people say you should.

julianne&katerinaJulianne Miles, from the blog Women Returners: Back to Your Future aka Julianne Miles and Katerina Gould, an occupational psychologist and an executive coach who support professional women to return to work after a long career break.

7 Ideas for Inspiring Flexible Working in your Workplace

7 Ideas for Inspiring Flexible Working in your Workplace

Especially for International Women’s Day Anna Meller wrote an e-book to help women inspire change at work, and helping you make your workplace a more flexible one. Anna firmly believes you an inspire change to, after all “change happens best when nobody notices” and “small changes add up”. Just pick one or two that you feel are most likely to succeed in your organisation and help build more flexible workplaces.

Anna’s top 7 most practical tips for inspiring flexible working

  • Re-design your job for flexibility, start by defining your job objectives, and make sure you get clarity on what you are meant to achieve and what you should focus your time and energy on.
  • When you are looking for more flexibility, consider working the same hours, and look for ways you can redistribute your hours eg. to evenings, early mornings, weekends or distance working.
  • When your organisation is hiring, mention there are flexible recruitment agencies that may well bring in the talent they are looking for if they can offer more flexibility.
  • Schedule a team meeting to discuss work life balance, and what it means to different people in your team. How can you support each other in achieving this?
  • Have you got all the skills you need for flexible working? Check it out on the e work life assessment tool and identify skills gaps for yourself or your team.
  • Be a role model. If you are a middle or senior manager working flexibly, be visible. It’s invaluable to show others that it can be done, inside and outside the organisation.
  • Identify the business case for flexible working for your organisation. There’s a good one on the Agile Future Forum to help you get started.

Would you like to know more? You can read the full story in Anna Mellers e-book: Ten Ideas for Inspiring Change in the Workplace .

Author: Inge Woudstra, Trainer, Speaker, Consultant and Founding Director of Mum & Career

Seeking professional challenge AND flexibility? Why I decided to create it for myself

Seeking professional challenge AND flexibility? Why I decided to create it for myself

Is eighteen my magic number? Eighteen months ago, I decided to leave my corporate career. In December 2013 I actually did leave after eighteen years (it took a long time to work through how best to direct the next phase of my career!). I’m now eighteen days into my new venture of self-employment and thought I would take a moment to reflect.

Why did I make this crazy decision? I took no severance package, I had no certainty of clients – it seems like a risk.

Looking for a new professional challenge

However, for me, the greater risk was actually to do nothing. I’ve had an amazing corporate career and enjoyed many successes and a wide variety of experiences. I have learnt much from wonderful leaders and colleagues. As a Mum of two girls now aged 8 and 5, I also cannot fault my previous employer in terms of flexible working. I worked part time in a senior position and that was not the problem.

The reason I decided eighteen months ago to leave, was because I craved a new professional challenge. I wanted to take the skills and competencies that I had and employ those in different sectors, for different sized organisations and optimise that variety. I also feel that I have a huge amount of valuable experience to bring value to smaller, medium and growing organisations.

Senior level and flexible working

What isn’t straightforward is moving companies at a senior level and maintaining flexible working. I’m positive there are examples of women (& men) who have achieved this career migration blended with an integration with home life (I’m not a fan of the phrase ‘work-life balance’). However, I was impatient myself to start the new phase in my professional career. The searching for, and negotiation of, what is still viewed by many as a privilege (and an earned one at that ) to not work 9 – 5, 5 days a week in a specific office location – was too much of an uncertain obstacle to me. I found I would talk with a Recruitment Consultant and either not mention my preference for flexibility or play it down – I’d learned that when you do, the conversation changes.

Getting the job done vs. availability

The absurdity of ‘flexibility’ and it’s actual rigidity and perception in organisations today occurred to me. It’s going to take longer than my immediate career life span for the current working paradigm to shift sufficiently for organisations to be less interested in people’s availability and more interested in outputs, talent and fit for a job. The fundamental fact is that I get the job done. Well. How and when and where … well I’m a professional. I make good decisions about when I do actually need to be at a certain location and when I don’t. I make good decisions about connecting with people and building relationships. I make good decisions about when I need to prioritise to achieve a deadline. My integrated life is full, but completely manageable if I can control my own schedule without needing to seek permission or justify to others where I am. Sure … measure that if I’m not delivering the outputs. Trust that I will make the right choices – after all, it’s in the interest of the job holder to continue to deliver isn’t it?

Hence my decision to keep my professional development going by finding my own integrated solution, rather than seeking those rare enlightened few who would hire at a senior level with flexibility.

The new challenge

This is not the only reason I decided to work for myself. I am a pragmatic, intuitive professional and this enables me more than just flexibility in terms of work schedule. I can determine how I work, my method, who I work with and where. Is it challenging me – yes! In so many ways and it’s just the early days, but the root cause for me to leave my corporate career was to seek and live new professional challenges – so in that sense it is delivering already.

As an HR professional, once I freed myself from the constraints of conventional working options, this became fascinating. Research shows that there is going to be a fundamental shift in our approach to working in the next decade to twenty years. I read and connected with ‘Future Work‘ by Alison Maitland and Peter Thompson  with new enthusiasm. What better way to understand the coming employment trends that technology has enabled than to experience and live it myself?

And so here I find myself, after 18 years of wonderful and varied HR experiences and after 18 months of very considered deliberation, 18 days into what I am expecting to be an interesting, challenging and hopefully fulfilling chapter in my career (fulfilling for both myself and my Clients).

Along my eighteen month journey from decision to action, I had many inspiring pieces of advice and interesting conversations. Two I would like to highlight are as follows: Hillary Lees at Essence Coaching for helping me to ask myself the right questions and manage my inner critic. Dr Sam Collins founder of the Aspire Foundation for introducing me to the power of Vision Boarding.

Author: Paula Leach, Director, Indigo Day Ltd , Paula Leach on Facebook. If you are an HR professional, CIPD qualified with corporate experience and you would like to embrace Associate working with Indigo Day Ltd, please contact Paula Leach directly at paulaleach@indigoday.co.uk. She would love to hear from you as she is excited to be building a fabulous network of highly professional and experienced HR colleagues.

To find balance and harmony, learn Mindfulness

To find balance and harmony, learn Mindfulness

Since her children came along life is quite tough for working mother Nancy. She has her own business, teaching music: classes with toddlers during the day time and during evenings and part of the weekend she is a piano teacher to children and adults. Her eldest, Jonathan now 5 years old, has never been a good sleeper and as a result, she hasn’t slept well for the last 5 years. Her husband helps wherever he can, but as he is travelling a lot for work, he can’t be really counted on. Juggling a 3 and 5 year old with the irregularity of her job was getting to her. Nancy decided that something had to give, and she did not want it to be her. She chose to have some coaching and changed her life around.

How did she manage to change her life?

Having a space where she could offload and at the same time get an insight in what was going on helped Nancy to start feeling more in control. Instead of the chaos she felt, she could look at herself and her life from a broader perspective, which was helpful. But, the most important change was the fact she learned mindfulness meditation: “After the first session I have been feeling so much calmer, and I have been sleeping better as well. I have more energy, which is great and I am feeling really positive about me taking back control of my emotions.”

Mindfulness is in the spotlight at the moment and for good reason. It has proven to be a great tool to reduce anxiety, deal with depression, manage eating disorders and …. as shown on BBC’s programme Horizon ‘change personality traits – from negative into positive’ (10th July 2013).

There is a lot of scientific evidence that shows that mindfulness meditation helps people to make changes in what sounds like a ‘magical way’. Meditate daily and feel your depression evaporate, practice regularly and observe your mood changing. Add some academic tests and notice that your brain has changed: physical and visual proof of change.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness: the state of being in which you are in the present moment and not busy with the past (that has gone anyway), the future (which is a fantasy that might never materialise in the way you anticipate), other people (as they distract you from yourself) or events (that always take place outside you).

The art of being fully present!

What is meditation?

Meditation: the technique or activity that will lead to a state of mindfulness. The key of meditation practice, sometimes called ‘sitting’, is focus. It is not relevant what you focus on, as long as you do it.

It is simple. And I know that, because I have been doing it myself and I am teaching people how to do it and how to integrate the skill into their busy lifestyle.

Top five tips to become more mindful

Mindfulness is all about focus. Regardless of what it is you focus on. If you want to be more mindful, try the following for as long as you have time for – 10 seconds, 1 minute, 10 minutes:

1. Close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you. Count how many different sounds you can hear.

2. SMS – Soften My Shoulders. Bringing the whole of you focus on to your shoulders and really observe how much tension you are holding. Then when you next breath out, allow that tension to gently flow out of your body.

3. When the phone rings or pings, try not to ‘react’ and pick it up. Take a moment to tell your mind that you can hear the sound of your phone and then decide what you are going to do: pick it up, look at it or leave it (yes, that is an option)

4. Observe the flow of your breath. Feel cold air coming in and warm air going out.

5. Focus on the soles of your feet in contact with the floor. Connect with the ground and feel how your energy is coming down into your body towards your feet.

Mariette 2011 cropped face_150x150Author: Dr. Mariette Jansesen, Dr. Destress.  She helps women to create their perfect work-life balance with individual coaching and mindfulness training. The Winner’s Package is a 4 session series that will deliver the results you are looking for and you will learn the art of Mindfulness.

Interested to learn more? Mariette is doing a talk on ‘The Art of Mindfulness’ on Wednesday evening 31 July in Guildford.

Or just call Mariette 07967717131

Get Work Life Balance - First find your priorities in life

Get Work Life Balance – First find your priorities in life

Is your life out of balance? Does your work life feel like it does not fit? But how to get it right?

Start by defining your priorities. Yes, you do have to make a choice. Coach Anna Meller created a fantastic tool to made a fantastic tool to help you The Work Life Balance Workbook

Kids in the Middle - I can work it out

Kids in the Middle – I can work it out

Wondering what sort of work life balance you want? Should you return to work? Work less hour? Should you husband work less hours and what do you really miss in your life right now?

Do this fun quiz from Working Families to quickly assess your priorities and find out what needs to change first

Working Mothers at Societe Generale discuss ways to make it work

Working Mothers at Societe Generale discuss ways to make it work

I was delighted to be invited to the Working Mothers Lunch by the SocGen’s family network. I headed a panel discussing tips and solutions to the top 3 issues for working mothers: juggling time, confidence and partner support. Juggling time turned out to be the top issue for almost every working mother and in the discussion that followed issues and advice were shared openly.

Flexible and agile ways of working are on the increase

What really struck me was how flexible many jobs seemed to be. There were women working at 80%, coming in at 9.30, working 4 days a week, leaving at 3pm, and leaving early and making up time from home later in the evening. Clearly this is all possible in SocGen. Still, it is not possible in every job, it is harder at more senior levels and it also requires intelligent management by the individual to get a manager to agree.

Individual women have to be clever and work hard to make it work

So, yes, on the surface it seems there is a lot of flexibility, but it does come with it’s own issues that working mothers have to sort, often with little support, training or role-models. These are some of the issues that came up in our discussion:

  • You work 80%, which allows you to leave early, but you have a very competitive colleague, clearly emphasizing your lack of commitment and making the most of your absence. Do you make the hours and return to 100%, do you accept your career will slow down, or do you take the political fight head-on, emphasize your commitment, stressing how you are indebted to the company and have no intention to leave soon for greener pastures elsewhere, unlike over-ambitious colleagues….
  • Your husband is a stay-at-home dad, which is fantastic as it gives you the chance to develop your career, but he is not pulling his weight. Do you just let it go and leave it to him? Do you pick up the pieces in evenings and weekends and burn out in the process? And how on earth do you get him to understand stay-at-home dad is a job too?
  • Finance is part of every discussion too. Some people’s finances don’t allow for extensive support at home like a nanny and a cleaner, which makes life significantly more difficult. Some people’s finances don’t allow for pre-school childcare followed by private school, and then how can you choose between the two?
  • Your boss tells you not to bother coming in for you KIT days during Mat.Leave, but you know it’s key to stay in touch. Do you come in anyway, and what do you do on those days? Do you enter a discussion with your boss explaining the value of KIT days, or just leave it and return after Mat.Leave?
  • You have a long commute (over an hour) and a nursery pick up, requiring you to leave the office at 5 sharp, you have had a chat with each colleague to explain this, and how it hasn’t changed your commitment, just that your hours are spread differently over the day. However, colleagues still come in at 5 with urgent topics and jobs. Do you stay late? Disappoint them and show lack of commitment and feel guilty? What’s the answer?

How to make it work

It was clear during the panel input and the discussion that it really helps to share, and learn from each other. It helps to know you are not the only one but also gives you the courage and motivation to help you carve your own path. I would love to share some of the best tips and insights that I heard:

  • Follow (some) e-mails when on Mat.Leave to help you stay in the loop, come to work regularly to keep up-to-date and/or consider a shorter Mat.Leave. It all helps to ease back in, as it really can take 9-12 months before you feel as confident as before. Which might have something to do with sleepless nights as well….
  • Engage all resources: family members, friends, your NCT network and neighbours. Keep in mind it’s only a number of years, and that one day they might need your support too.
  • Realise it’s harder when you have just had your baby, as you are coping with a huge change, sleepless nights and feeling your way to a new ‘routine’ at work, at home and in your relationship. It does not get easier, but you will learn to handle it over time, and when you look back in 15 years you can hardly remember what exactly made it hard and you can be proud of your children and work achievements.
  • Work-life decisions aren’t cut in stone, your situation will change over time: 1 child has different requirements from 2 or 3, nursery hours are different from school hours. Remember to adapt accordingly: You can ramp up your hours to 100% in a busy period at work that you want to be part of, and slow down a few years later when your teenager is going through a difficult period.
  • Leave your partner to it: just leave on a business trip and let him sort it, or close the door of the study on a Saturday announcing: ‘I am studying today’. Most partners will adapt, they just need some time.
  • Move closer to work, cutting down on the commute means you can be at the nursery in time, be home for bed and bathtime and be there quickly in an emergency. It’s a choice and means prioritising your career over a leafy suburb, and the pull of the lush country-side.
  • When you are about to leave at 5, and a colleague comes in with a piece of urgent work, suggest you are happy to log back in at 9pm to finish it for him. Usually they will quickly re-assure you it’s not that urgent, and if it is, you really should do it, as clients and business do require your commitment.

Participants left reflective, energised and motivated. Knowing that it isn’t easy, and it’s sometimes  a steep learning curve, but it’s worth it. The event was very well organised, and participants felt it was excellent and they would love to see more similar events.

Are you looking to get more out of the family or women’s network in your organisation?

The family network and women’s network at SocGen are very active, and always have well-attended, lively events. They find that it works to:

  • organise regular events
  • make sure they entice participants with an exciting title, and blurb
  • invite good speakers (some are happy to come for free)
  • invite internal speakers, real-life stories from colleagues often are highly appreciated
  • allow time for networking
  • invite external participants e.g. graduates (via HR) or clients

Author: Inge Woudstra, Working Women’s Expert and Director of Mum & Career

 

Lean in ....with chocolate

Lean in ….with chocolate

There has been a lot of talk about Sheryl Sandberg’s new book ‘Lean in: Women, Work and the Will to Lead’. In the book the CEO of Facebook (and mother of 2) explains what’s holding women back. One of her key lessons is one I advocate all the time too…but what has that got to do with chocolate? Find out from Jenny Garrett.