A little bit of Practical Inspiration on…. Work-life balance with Anna Meller
Women make up the majority of university graduates. They enter the workplace in equal numbers with men. But many workplaces still operate with cultures developed over a century ago to reflect a predominantly male workforce and vastly differing social expectations. So all too often as women become parents they are forced to fix things in the only way they can — by downgrading their job expectations or dropping out of the corporate world.
Anna Meller is the UK’s leading work re-balance expert. She works with ambitious professional women seeking to balance corporate career with family life. Her new book #Upcycle Your Job: The smart way to balance family life and career offers ambitious working mothers new possibilities for progressing their corporate careers. In this guest post she offers a few tips for thinking about what balance means for each of us.
To feel your life is in balance you must first understand that work-life balance is personal and dynamic. We all have preferences for how we choose to integrate work into our lives; and they will change as our circumstances change. Balance is likely to look different in our twenties and early thirties compared with our parenting years or when we’re called on to care for our own ageing parents.
We all need recovery time to replenish our internal resources. Occupational psychologists suggest the best way to achieve this is to create a boundary between work and non-work time and spend the latter doing something completely unrelated to work. Some of us find it easier to create the boundary between work and other parts of their lives — this comes down to personal preference.
The risk of not setting boundaries is that we are never fully present to the people in our lives. Turning off technology and using mindfulness techniques to give our family and friends our full attention will help us lead a happier life and build better memories.
An inability to disconnect from work is one of the biggest risks when choosing to work flexibly. It can result in being #AlwaysOn which has a negative impact on health and wellbeing. While it’s OK to integrate work and non-work activities to some degree; you must understand that when you do so you’re multitasking — effectively switching between tasks rapidly. That takes energy and has been shown to be less efficient than giving your full attention to a single task.
Working mothers fall foul of the double prejudice of not being seen as good enough mothers or good enough employees according to work-life balance researchers. Most women know this and as a result make career limiting decisions. Rather than asking for the flexibility they want in the job they have they try to ‘fix’ the problem by moving themselves onto the ‘mommy track’.
Flexible working has been consistently identified as a proven strategy for supporting women’s careers; but your chances of finding a flexible arrangement diminish as you climb the career ladder. UK legislation enables qualifying employees to ask for flexible working; but unspoken cultural expectations that work should take priority mean your career can be compromised if you do ask.
Keeping your career while working flexibly involves taking control of this tricky situation and navigating it to your advantage. The secret lies in understanding what your organisational culture is likely to accept; and focusing on #upcycling your job so you make best use of your skills and experience which in turn also makes you more productive.
We can learn a thing or two from previous generations of women who had fewer choices so they had to focus on making the best of the ones they had. In that process we inherited term-time working and job-share as compromises to the way jobs could be worked. We need to take a leaf out of their book and look at how we can re-structure the corporate world rather than opting out.
Positive psychology offers us new techniques for getting what we want at work. The focus is on possibilities not problems. Rather than getting bogged down in why a flexible arrangement won’t work we ask ourselves how we will know when it is working well. This changes our thinking and, as Einstein is reported to have said, “we cannot fix our problems from the same level of consciousness that created them”.