Tips on the work-life balance
My seven year “maternity leave” ended on Monday. I’m changing my status from Stay-At-Home Mum to Working Mum, a big step not just for me but for our whole family. I have to confess I am a little nervous about pulling off this new juggling act, and have been asking around for tips. Is it even possible to achieve a work/life balance? What would be your advice?
Before I go any further, I want to state for the record that I do not believe there is a right or wrong answer – what works for one family might not work for the next, and that even in your own family, things change as the kids get older. I make no judgements, we are all just doing our best – whether that is at home, at work or split between the two.
Now, back to those tips. “Make lunch boxes the night before” seems to be a recurring theme, but even with this nightmare job ticked off, how is there ever going to be enough time in the day for everything and everyone?
Sam Nehra, Business Coach at Shirlaws, had some interesting insights. “Forget work/life balance,” she said, “and think of it as ‘life balance’ instead. Work is a part of our lives, part of who we are, and shouldn’t be kept in a separate box. In today’s connected world, it’s no longer realistic to divide the day in two so that work is limited to the hours between 9am to 5pm and the remaining time is devoted exclusively to family. We need more flexibility.”
Millennials (commonly defined as those spring chickens born between 1980 and 2000) are bringing a different attitude to conventional work practices. They do not measure work productivity as the number of hours bums are on seats, as previous generous have done. They also understand that individuals are productive at different times of day – for some it might be late in the evening, for others at the crack of dawn. “As long you have made it clear to colleagues that you don’t expect an immediate reply to an email just because you like to burn the midnight oil, it shouldn’t matter what time of day you choose to work,” says Sam.
Sam believes part-time workers have a valuable role to play in any business. “With limited hours to complete their workload, part-timers tend to focus on the job in hand and avoid time-wasting distractions,” continues Sam. “Companies are gradually realising the potential of this unexploited workforce, but even in countries that have regulations to protect the rights of part-time workers, it takes time for attitudes and behaviours to change.”
Sam’s advice for mums wanting to work part-time is to negotiate what you want upfront: “Ask about flexible hours, whether you can work from home, if unpaid leave is an option. And then don’t feel guilty about getting what you’ve asked for!”
Sam’s background in Human Resources forms her approach to her current job as Business Coach. While her primary area of focus is in the business context, it is inevitable that a client’s personal values and goals come into the conversation.
“In coaching, we show people how to discard the traditional thought process that lets you believe circumstances are beyond your control, as it can leave you paralysed by a fear of change. Instead we guide you towards a new way of thinking that allows you to take back control and to recognise your options. What you thought was impossible becomes possible.”
Sam lives by her words and isn’t afraid to turn this analysis on her own life. This has prompted a dramatic change of direction: she and her family are packing up their lives this summer to take a year-long sabbatical and travel around Europe.
“I realised I was stuck in the ‘triangle of fear’ I teach my clients about,” explains Sam. “My husband and I both work full time. Any energy we have left at the end of the day goes on the kids, and after that, we’re exhausted. When I stopped to assess, I realised we were not being our best selves as parents and partners. By taking a sabbatical, we have the opportunity to be a full time professional family for a year. Yes it’s a risk, selling cars, renting our house, leaving our jobs – but a year together as a family is more important to me than anything else.”
The meaning of ‘life balance’ will naturally vary from person to person. A good starting point for figuring out what it means to you is to think how your future self will look back on your life. What will you consider your greatest achievements, what will be your most cherished memories? It’s also an idea to look back and remember the hopes and dreams of your younger self. How close are you to your original vision, or how has your perspective changed?
Having turned 40 a couple of years ago, it seems a good time to take a “mid-point check” on life. I have spent seven wonderful years at home with my children, but I am ready for a new chapter. With all three now in school or nursery, it feels like the right moment for a part-time return to work. I’m not sure that I’ll master the juggling act overnight, but I am looking forward to trying. And luckily for my new employer, my children are too young to go gallivanting around Europe any time soon!
As for Caymum, I may not be able to keep the website fully updated, but I hope I will be able to post the occasional article. Over the last three years, I have really enjoyed talking with many fellow mums and writing about the “mumpreneurs” setting up their own businesses or working in industries relevant to parents in Cayman. I set up Caymum because, at the time, I thought Cayman lacked a resource for parents to seek information and connect with each other. But Caymum has also provided me with a kind of life balance between my former career in PR and my more recent role as a mum of three.
My work/life balance may be shifting, but my hope is there will still be some time left for Caymum.
About Sam Nehra
Sam works with businesses who want to change. She is a Human Dynamics Wizard; changing the world one behavioral shift at a time. Clients work with her to increase leadership capability, performance and processes in their business. With two decades of experience working in the field of human dynamics she understands what it takes to shift human behavior to grow a business and break through resistance to change. Clients tell her they feel confident to make the next jump when she is on their team, and this is possible through her devotion to their end goal. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shirlaws is a portfolio of companies that advise private enterprise to grow, fund or exit their business in order to enjoy their life’s work. We provide support and give the confidence to change, the freedom to choose and the courage to invest.