What is work life balance?
Wikipedia defines work life balance as “the balance that an individual needs between time allocated for work and other aspects of life. Areas of life other than work-life can be, but not limited to personal interests, family and social or leisure activities”. The term is quite new and was coined in the late 1970s and 1980s as more women started to move out of their traditional roles as the family nurturers and into the corporate scenario.
Also, with technological advancements, such as email and laptops, there has been a continuous blurring of the lines between work and personal life as people tend to continue working even when they are home.
Work Life balance from a mother’s perspective is an even more treacherous topic. With the corporate arena becoming oh-so-competitive and a mother’s job being the toughest as is, there’s hardly any room to breathe. And what after months of planning and pressure and guilt trips, you realize that its not possible for women to have it all?! So, let’s start by discussing the elephant in the room.
Is Work Life Balance achievable?
Being a mother is equivalent to holding 2.5 jobs. And if you continue to have a career, the roller coaster has just begun. There has to be an immense amount of planning if you want to continue working with a baby. Well, women are known to be great multi-taskers. But there are choices one has to make, at every step of the way. And might I add, difficult choices. One also needs to learn to prioritize. Sometimes its the baby, at other times it might be your job and sometimes your family. Persistence is the key. You might make mistakes. No, let me rephrase that. You will make mistakes. But the good thing about it is it gives you great experience going forward.
Here are some of the ways I tried that helped me achieve a sense of work life balance when I joined office after my maternity break, with my little one.
a) Learn to delegate — tasks that you do as a mother and as a corporate worker
This might be the most important tip. Mothers, especially new mothers tend to feel a whole lot guilty if they delegate baby tasks to a caretaker (nanny or maid). Understand that that repetitive tasks like cleaning feeding bottles and changing nappies take away a lot of your precious time and energy. By delegating such tasks, you can make sure you are spending quality time with your child, while also being able to spend a good amount of time towards your work. The job satisfaction from both ends is going to be huge.
Being able to delegate tasks at work is equally important too. Now that you will no longer be available every moment since you have a baby’s demands to take care of, it is a good idea to give Knowledge Transfer to a junior or someone who can be available at a moment’s notice. This helps in you getting uninterrupted time with your baby once you are back home, but also a reliable source who can handle work emergencies in your absence.
b) Prioritize Prioritize Prioritize
I cant say it enough. Once you are a mother, and a working one at that, there will always be an immense amount of pressure to do everything, and to do it right. So, keep calm and Prioritize. Whenever there is a situation where you have to chose between the baby and work, just think of the consequences. If it’s the baby’s feed time and an urgent task comes up, remember to pull in the junior you trained specifically for this purpose. If it’s a clash between a work meeting and putting the baby down for a nap, delegate the task to your partner or nanny.
c) Shape your career, but learn to say No
Its important to shape your career from the very beginning and also put in extra hours as and when needed. Be ready to learn new things everyday. But also be ready to say No, if you already have other work commitments. Its a good idea to understand one’s limitations and commitments and prioritize accordingly. It also shows that you are ready to honor your commitments, rather than take up new opportunities and not do justice to either.
d) Communication is the key
Communicating effectively is half the job done. Case in point, the art of saying No. If you have to say No, make sure you communicate it well. You do not want to hurt or compromise on future opportunities. Ensure that you explain your No and not come across as unprofessional.
e) Learn your employer’s policies
Inquire about your company’s policies on flexi-time and work from home options. It will save you a lot of travel time weekly, which you can effectively use to spend time with the baby and family instead. If you are a good performer, you definitely have a better chance of negotiating an arrangement that works both for you and the company.
Is becoming a Mom also means time to go on a sabbatical?
It might take somewhere between 5-12 years after starting your career, to come to a point, where you decide to become a mother. And trust me, however motivated and aggressive a professional you maybe, once you have a little one in your arms, you will more than once question the importance of it all, the worth of it all.
More than once, you will also think about quitting your job or taking a short break. But if you have already given this a thought and planned your career thinking about this milestone in advance, your life will be much easier. Not to the point of getting-to-sleep-all-night easier, but work-stress-free easier.
Sometimes whether you want to continue working or want to take a break does not depend on you. It also depends on external conditions like your support system at home and also at work. And thus it’s important to understand and shape your career from the very beginning.
How to shape your career from the beginning, as a female
Focus on Learning from the beginning of career
During the early years of career, learn as much as you can. Be proactive about taking up different projects. Even if it means working on the weekends. Use that time of your life to learn new skills and technologies. Adaptability is a great quality to have in the current career dynamics, as it shows how flexible and confident you are to take up challenges.
Upgrade your soft skills
Sometimes, the difference between getting a job and not, does not depend on competence alone. Your general attitude and likability go a long way too. Soft skills training can be a great way to present yourself in interviews and to be able to express yourself in uncomfortable situations.
Ensure your work is visible
Be a team player. But at the same time, do no lose your individuality or credit your achievements to the entire team. While shouting from rooftops about your achievements is not ideal, but it definitely projects you in front of the higher management as a valuable resource.
Always be open to meeting new people and get to understand about their careers and companies. You never know where you might be getting your next opportunity from. If nothing else, it will definitely add to your knowledge and broaden your horizons.
If you are passed over for a promotion or a raise, do not sulk. By all means, discuss with your manager and HR the reasons for it. But don’t let it deter you from your ambition. Take the high road and work even harder. If you prove yourself, there is no way you will not be rewarded. In fact, it will bring out your quality of taking your challenges in a positive spirit, of taking negative emotions and turning them into something fruitful. This is a great quality to have a in an employee.
Know when it’s time to change
Last but not the least, if you are in a highly stressful job that is affecting you mentally or physically or both, know that it’s time to make a change. It’s a small step to ensure that when you are a mother and need support, your workplace will be a comfort zone for you, and not a war zone.
When you possess all these qualities, you add so much value to your team, there is no way you will not be missed when you are away on your maternity leave. Hard working and dedicated employees are always needed by a company, and that is how you can get to negotiate your terms when the time comes for it. Talk to the management about how things can work out the best way, both for you and the company.
Try saving your commute time by remote working and plan to be in office for important meetings. Also, if you plan to cut down on your working hours, prep your team in advance about how the extra workload can be managed.
Life is hard. Life is unfair. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to reach for the moon. As a working mother, you might face the most stringent challenges. There will be days when you will be stressed. Or you will feel super guilty. But remember that like the good days, the bad days won’t last long too. But on all days, you will need to be at the top of your game. Planning, prioritizing, and working. No good thing in life comes easy. The same is with your career. But once you are clear about your dreams and ambitions, you will definitely figure out ways to get there. In a nutshell, just keep moving forward. You will get there 🙂
P.S. This article was originally published here.
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