Work-life balance: a juggling act for working parents
Juggling work and life is a tough act. It’s like trying to keep five plates spinning on sticks while riding a unicycle – a feat requiring skill, balance, and a healthy dose of madness.
And for working parents, this juggling act becomes even more intricate, as they strive to excel in their legal careers while nurturing their families.
But why is this balancing act so challenging? Well, for starters, the modern workplace typically demands our constant attention.
From emails pinging at all hours and the pressure to “always be on”, the lines between work and home are blurred.
For parents, the demands of raising children can be equally relentless — from endless feedings and school drop-offs to the emotional rollercoaster of tantrums and sleepless nights.
So, how do we, as working parents, strike a balance between these two demanding worlds?
A call to action: let's make work-life balance a reality
Achieving work-life balance is not one-sided; it requires collective effort from employees, managers, and companies.
Let’s explore how each party can improve the situation.
1. Yourself: balancing or making choices?
The initial step towards achieving work-life balance starts with you.
This includes cultivating a well-rounded professional identity, one that allows for the inclusion of family, children and community and finding fulfilment in activities outside of work.
Each one of us has a part to play in embracing our family and free time instead of adding to the culture of constant busyness that sees non-work hours as unproductive.
Do you have the support you need? One of the leading causes of stress for working parents is the constant juggling act.
However, is your support system at home sufficient, or are you setting yourself up for exhaustion daily?
What can you delegate to others at home and work, and what adjustments can you make to ensure you have the support you need?
Recognise that achieving a work-life balance is not a milestone to be reached. It is an ongoing and evolving process.
The journey of parenthood is one of the most transformative experiences in life, and its true extent becomes apparent only with time.
You may find yourself exploring options you never considered before, such as relocating or moving to part-time work.
Recognise that certain choices may be temporary, and it's perfectly normal to reassess your perspective on what work-life balance means to you multiple times.
2. The role of managers: shaping the culture and defining the boundaries
The boundaries between work and personal life can often be fluid for managers.
This can create confusion among team members, who can be left thinking they, too, should answer emails at all hours, work during holidays, and neglect their work-life balance.
So, what can managers do?
Influence the culture within their teams
For instance, even when policies are family-friendly, managers play a vital role in effectively implementing them within their departments.
One area where their influence is particularly important is during transition-out and transition-back meetings before maternity and paternity leaves.
These meetings provide an opportunity to meaningfully discuss available options with team members.
More importantly, they reveal whether the support offered is genuine or whether a manager has expectations that conflict with an employee's goals.
Establish and maintain clear guidelines.
Many in-house departments have certain degrees of flexibility and can put in place clear guidelines that benefit everyone.
Parenting young children, especially those with disabilities, sometimes requires frequent adjustments.
So, for example, under which circumstances could team members negotiate additional flexibility over working hours or explore job-sharing options with their supervisors?
As leaders, you have the opportunity to role model behaviour and promote healthy boundaries for your team. This is crucial, even if setting and maintaining boundaries is an aspect that you find challenging.
3. How can companies boost work-life balance?Companies also play a significant part in supporting employees in figuring out how to balance their career and family so they don’t feel like they are falling short on either front.
Offering employees more flexibility in terms of their work schedule and location has been extensively researched and proven to have numerous benefits.
Employees experience greater loyalty, improved health, and enhanced performance by reducing work-life stress.
Having less overwhelmed employees and giving them a sense of control can significantly decrease stress for working parents.
This brings obvious benefits and reduces less apparent ones, such as minimising family conflicts.
Top-down role modelling
To achieve systemic change, all levels of an organisation need to be involved.
For instance, do top-level executives implicitly advocate for the traditional corporate warrior as the ideal employee?
This corporate warrior is an individual who is always physically present in the office, available to work round the clock, with no visible family life, and always willing to sacrifice personal commitments for work.
These significantly boost work-life balance, supporting initiatives such as remote work, flexible hours, compressed work weeks, paid (or unpaid) leaves of absence, temporary part-time, and sabbaticals.
However, once implemented, how truly successful are these policies?
Offer training and support to managers and supervisors
This training aims to provide a thorough understanding of the diverse options available to team members and to empower leaders with insights into their own roles.
Beyond encouraging working parents to explore available options, this support emphasizes the importance of understanding how managerial actions and behaviour contribute to the promotion of a culture of work-life balance.
As individuals, let’s take ownership of our time and prioritise our personal lives. Let’s embrace flexibility, learn the art of saying no, and not be afraid to seek support when needed.
As managers, let’s champion a culture of work-life balance within our teams. Let’s set clear boundaries, encourage healthy routines, and lead by example.
And as companies, let’s invest in policies that support working parents and create a work environment that values professional and personal fulfilment.
Together, we can make work-life balance an aspiration and a reality for working parents everywhere.
No one should have to balance all those plates (and children) without some help.
Mila Trezza offers executive and leadership coaching for lawyers and legal teams.