Innovate March 2019

Work-Life Balance: Not as Impossible as It May Seem

Written By: Tracy Wright

Picture it: Amy, a professional accountant, is at her desk, working through the latest expense report that needs to be completed by the end of the day. Her cellphone rings, and it is her daughter’s daycare, telling her that someone needs
to pick up her baby as soon as possible, as she has spiked a 104-degree fever and is crying miserably.

 Amy has no family in the area and her husband is traveling for work. She has no choice but to rush to the daycare, bring her daughter to the pediatrician’s office while the incomplete expense report sits on her desk.

This scenario is all too real for many working parents. The concept of work-life balance sometimes feels impossible.

“There are many days I get off of work, run around to pick up my 2- and 4-year-old children from daycare and get home completely exhausted. But then it’s time to cook a meal, bath time, book time and then bedtime,” said Jacqueline Ashleigh, a local mom who is an office worker at Granny Nannies. “Many nights I don’t get a moment to breathe until close to 9 o’clock at night. Meals are often substituted with quick and easy McDonald’s runs. It makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong with very little support.”

While it may seem too difficult to attain, research published in the Harvard Business Review provides some proven tips for working parents seeking some sort of balance. The author, Daisy Wademan Dowling, is the founder and CEO of Workparent, a consulting firm that provides advice, solutions and training for working parents and their employers. She has surveyed hundreds of high-performing working parents to discern feasible solutions.

1) Play to Your Strengths

Using strengths that help guide you professionally can also help you as a parent, according to Dowling. Someone who is a strong organizer may manage the demands and details of their dual role effectively by performing some tasks on their phone, while a more creative thinker may figure out a more unconventional but manageable child care arrangement that accommodates their frequent last-minute business trips.

2) Delegate and Find Shortcuts

Working parents should realize that they can’t always be the hero at work. Delegate and find shortcuts that can save time and worry, Dowling said. For example, study the calendar and find three meetings or tasks that could be avoided or delegated. It also means understanding what the parent’s priority is at home.

“I read many blogs online of other busy working moms and try to heed as much advice from them as possible,” Ashleigh said. “This is often hard because children are different, and no household is perfect. My house often has toys strewn about, laundry in piles all around and dirty dishes in the sink, but I’d rather take the few fleeting moments of snuggles on the couch with my girls rather than leaving them in front of the TV while I clean. My children are my number one priority.”

3) Employers: Consider Flexible Scheduling

On the flipside, employers can play their part in helping working parents who are seeking more work-life balance. Benefit News encourages businesses to adopt a widely growing trend when possible — flexible scheduling. Human resources policies allowing for alternative hours or the opportunity to work at home, as needed, can be hugely beneficial for parents and can inspire employee loyalty. Locally, Info Tech, a family-owned business that employs about 240 professionals, has a family-oriented approach with its employees.

“Being a family-owned and family-led business, family is extremely important to Info Tech,” said Lacey Jones, the company’s assistant director of corporate communications and marketing. “Balance looks different for everyone because each of us has different priorities. Info Tech offers flexible schedules, vacation, paid parental leave and a casual work atmosphere to ensure our employees are always able to prioritize what’s most important.”

Jones said that with flexible working hours parents can take care of children, attend medical appointments or do whatever is pressing that week.

“At the end of the day, we trust our employees to work hard and do a great job, whether that is during a normal 8-to-5 workday or in nontraditional work hours,” she said. “This is a benefit that our employees enjoy the most – and greatly appreciate – because it allows them to get their job done and take care of key family responsibilities too.”

4) Employees: Explain the Benefits of Flexible Scheduling

In the Harvard Business Review article, Dowling advises workers to sell the benefits of flexible scheduling based on the benefit to the organization. For example, an employee might tell his supervisor that working from home on Wednesdays would save enough commute time to complete needed weekly reports.

Fortunately, more employers and businesses are embracing flexible scheduling as a way of keeping their employees happier and less stressed. Kelly King Hough, a local mom and dental assistant at Parent Dental, describes her professional and parenting life as “the best of both worlds.”

“I work Monday through Thursday, and my boss and co-workers are very supportive at helping me be a good mom. I get off of work at 3 p.m. and pick my boys up from preschool or our wonderful babysitter, depending on the day,” Hough said. “I’m still home early enough in the afternoon to be mom and cook dinners, play, do projects and have a great evening routine with them. I’m at work by 6:45 in the mornings, so my husband does the morning routines with the kids and drops them off because he doesn’t have to be to work until 8:30 a.m.

“I love my career and the dental field. I get my time to help people and connect with my patients and have friendships with my coworkers while contributing to my household financially. Yet, I also get to spend tons of time with my kids in the afternoons, evenings and Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.”

Businesses may discover it is in their best interest to meet the needs of working parents and families, especially when it comes to having happier and more fulfilled professionals.

“We have found that when you take care of your people, they will work hard and help take care of your business,” said Jones of Info Tech. “When employees feel valued and work for a company that understands they have a life outside of their job, then they feel appreciated and will absolutely work harder.”

5) Build Your Network

In the past days of parenting, families typically did not move far from relatives and friends, which provided a wide network of support and caregivers for parents. However, today many professionals live far from trusted friends and family who could care for children. Dowling suggests that parents build their network and create an emergency Plan B for every type of occasion.

“Communicate clear priorities and ensure the team can act reliably in your absence and make sure all your child’s caregivers and support are immediately and easily reached,” Dowling said. 

An effective contingency plan lets you consistently deliver at work and at home – and reduces your stress significantly, she said.

Achieving work-life balance as a parent is very difficult, and there is no simple one-sized-fits-all approach. Ultimately, coming to terms with what works for a family is the best bet, Dowling said. 

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