Finding Balance as a Working Parent
Words by Luke Morris
Busyness is our badge of honour in the advertising industry. We’ve truly become pros. Leaving work before 6.30? Wouldn’t dream of it. Sick days? Never! Lunch breaks?? Shmunch breaks!
It reminds me of my first job. A lowly grad in a top London ad agency. Without many responsibilities (I was very junior after all) it soon became evident that I absolutely COULD NOT leave before 6.30, even if I was more often than not done and dusted by 5ish. Why? Because that was what was expected. To earn my stripes, I had to stay late. To stay late I had to look busy. Even if that meant pretending to be less efficient with my time than I actually was.
But now; now that I am accountable and have people and projects to manage, I actually relish busyness. It keeps me safe in the knowledge that the work I’m doing is making a difference.
NABS’ latest visiting coach, Sharon Carlton-Thomson of The Working Parent Company tells us that this is to be expected. We’re happiest when we feel that the work we’re doing is of value, that we’re getting things done. It gives us a sense of fulfilment and completion. It also plays to our desire to please those around us; to be of use, to prove our worth.
That’s all very well, but when we add having children to the mix, the story changes somewhat. Our disposable time becomes squeezed and our priorities are rejigged and realigned. The highly inflated expectations put upon people in this industry can be even further exacerbated by becoming a mum or dad.
Our talk was all about how parents can find a sense of stability both at home and in the workplace, by finding a balance or equilibrium between the two. Massive changes in the way we live and work mean the art of parenting is nothing like it was when my mum had to leave a successful role at Allen, Brady & Marsh in the ‘70s (a huge agency in its day) to have her kids.
The so-called nuclear family is a thing of the past, making way for new definitions of ‘family’, and indeed the ‘family man’; redistribution of domestic and work roles between men and women, helped by changing legislation and attitudes, means fathers are more able than ever before to be involved in childcare. The ‘Anywhere / Anytime / Always-on’ model is intensified by modern technology and globalised workforces and workplaces. There are more women in the workforce than ever before and more mothers working (or expected/needing to do so) than ever, with 72% of mums in work (ONS, Sept 2013).
So, where does this leave us?
With a sense amongst many parents of a lack of control.
NABS’ own research shows 57% of adfolk knows someone who’s had to leave a job because of the pressures that come with being a parent and 85% feel some level of guilt when trying to balance their work roles with parenting commitments.
To help the modern working parent, Sharon offers some practical workplace measures to help address that balance and regain a level of mental clarity and control:
Manage your energy, not your time (Schwartz & McCarthy)
Manage your emotional energy: Give more emphasis and attention to positive emotions and thoughts and regularly express appreciation in others. Dwell less on negative thoughts and BREATHE! Use a ‘long lens’ view on negative situations: is this really going to bother me still in a month’s time? Ask yourself: how can I grow and learn from this situation?
Manage your physical energy: Go to bed earlier and drink less booze. Eat small meals and light snacks throughout the day. Take brief, regular breaks away from your desk at 90- to 120-minute intervals and assign time to exercise regularly.
Manage your mental energy: Distraction is costly; do important tasks away from your computer. Turn off email alerts at busy times. Do the single most important task of the day at the very beginning of the day.
Manage your head-space energy: Figure out the things you’re really good at. Do more of those things and delegate those you’re less good at to others who may appreciate the task more than you. Ensure that what you’re doing day to day is of worth and of value to you. There’s nothing more demotivating than doing something you don’t enjoy or believe in. Find time to relax. Find time for yourself.
That last one bears repeating. Find time to relax. Find time for yourself!
Yes, our days are incredibly busy and demanding, but it’s so important to find time to recharge; time dedicated solely to you. Because recharging our batteries fundamentally makes us better at what we do and in the long run actually speeds up the time it takes to complete tasks.
Ultimately, finding balance is not about finding ways to do more with your limited time. It’s about finding more value in those 24 short hours: time is a limited resource, but energy is renewable.
We can do anything once we stop trying to do everything.
Parents should stop feeling bad about leaving work early to pick up their kids, or for having to answer emails at home. Rather, they should be proud of the skills that being a parent offers their working life and vice versa. Parenting brings new perspectives, makes them more balanced, brings better time management and makes people more caring and empathetic (NABS research, 2014).
Non-parents in our industry may leave the office late, but come 6.30 at least their job ends…
Find out about NABS’ Working Parents Initiative here.