Topic of the month – Work/Life balance
Posted by: Sue Atkins
The hurdles and preconceptions that career minded women must overcome to penetrate the boardroom and reach the higher echelons of the corporate hierarchy are more than well documented, combine this with the difficulties that many of us face whilst trying to raise a happy well balanced family and it’s easy to see that life as a successful women in business is no stroll in the park.
In order not to lose out on a significant proportion of talent within the labour market, women are encouraged to return to work after maternity and employers are encouraged to offer them assistance. We are presented with a myriad of support options; such as flexible working hours, part time working arrangements or additional days off to care for our sick children and whilst these appear attractive and reasonable solutions on paper, they don’t sufficiently compensate us emotionally for the impact that chasing a successful career will have on our family and home lives.
The simple fact remains that many of us have no choice but to maintain an income in order for the family unit to remain financially sound and whilst there is a need to physically bring equilibrium to our work life balance, women must also learn to cope emotionally with the stresses and pressures that a successful and demanding career will inevitably impose on their families.
Women as parents have a high propensity to feel a sense of guilt when faced with the moral dilemma of being pulled in opposing directions, between the career and the family. Holding down a career whilst raising a family is without question demanding, time consuming and exhausting, the more you work yourself into the ground and suffer from the lack of sleep, poor diet and shortage of exercise, the harder it is to sustain the mechanisms you need to cope with the challenges that family life throws at you.
A knock on effect that this has in many cases is that the inevitable energies and focus that need to be channelled into work leaves home and the family short of attention, often leading to this having a negative influence on your children’s behaviour and your family relationships in general. Children are perceptive, often too much so for their own good, and they will notice when your defences are down and your attention is focused elsewhere, this inevitably can lead to a whole range of different family issues.
So what tools do we have as working parents to cope with any family issues which may arise? Whilst many HR departments have recognised the need to implement work-life balance solutions in line with regulations set out in the 2002 Employment Act, these tend to be focused on the physical side of parenting; for example easing the time management issues which parents experience in day to day life, such as taking time off to go to parents evenings, or easing the financial burden of parenting, by providing reduced fee childcare schemes. Sadly these solutions very rarely focus on the real issue facing working parents – the emotional effects.
Whilst employee engagement, health, well being and motivation are just seen as buzz words in many HR departments, there are certain employers that take the welfare of their employees very seriously.
Whilst many of these ‘forward thinking’ organisations include the provision of business coaches within their HR module, offering guidance and a helping hand to their executives through all the important transitions and stages of their careers, rarely do employers provide the same level of support or acknowledge the emotional difficulties that parents face when returning to work after having a baby, or those who happen to be experiencing difficulties and family issues at home.
So if the employer isn’t recognising the difficulties, or addressing the problems and providing a solution, who is?
This is where I, as a parent coach have become increasingly involved with an expanding number of high-flying career minded women who have realised themselves that there is a problem with balancing a successful work life with a harmonious family life, but ultimately they can’t get their employers to acknowledge the emotional difficulties they are facing!
Put simply the discipline of parent coaching helps parents to examine their feelings as a parent in a confidential and non-judgemental way. Commonly it’s not the fact that working parents are actually working too hard that is the problem, it’s simply the fact that they feel an overwhelming sense of guilt that every minute spent in the office is having a negative effect on their family life. Often when things aren’t going to plan as a parent it’s very easy to focus the negatives and on what you’re not managing to achieve with your children as opposed to concentrating on the positives of what you are managing to achieve.
Changing this attitude is more often than not the most vital part of parents achieving a greater sense of clarity on what they need to do, or the change in mindset they need to experience to become better parents and handle the difficulties they are facing and the guilt they are feeling more effectively.
In summary, whilst employers appear to be taking the issue of employee welfare more seriously, they need to be more aware of the emotional difficulties that women returning to work after maternity face. For those of us not fortunate enough to work for progressive employers that consider these factors day in, day out, its worth acknowledging that whilst you might feel alone in your worries, there are many thousands of women who have been through the same experience and that there are solutions available to help you deal with these issues.