About the blog series…
On the 29th April, six female leaders came together to chat and answer questions on our careers, what inspired us, what drove our decision making and many more topics raised by the audience. We weren’t able to get to all of the questions, so we each agreed to take one key question topic from the event and address it. Our next guest blog is by Mikki Corcoran, Managing Director at Schlumberger Europe…
Work-Life Balance: Is Work-Life Balance an Illusion? Can Women Have It All?
It was an honour to take part in the Evening with Six Inspiring Leaders event on 29th April. After such a great engagement session, I am delighted to be able to continue to discuss a topic that I am passionate about. If you get your work-life balance rhythm right early, it can have a big impact on your career and more importantly your health and wellbeing.
What is Work-Life Balance?
Work-life balance is unique for everyone. In general, the ratio between work and life should be balanced and how we choose to spend our time in both areas is built on our priorities. The ratio often sways from side to side, usually driven by those priorities. Maintaining a healthy balance helps us maintain our wellbeing, especially mental health and enable us to take pleasure and satisfaction from both our personal and professional lives.
However, we all know that this is a controversial topic, especially for career development and progression. It is feared that to be able to have a successful career, the time you spend at work heavily outweighs having any life at all, making this environment unattractive to women who have a family or are thinking about starting one.
For me, the question has always been the same for men and women. Do you need to spend your life at work to have a successful career? I think not, but it has taken me some time to realise this over the years and it’s one of the reasons why I’m sharing my thoughts with you today!
Are the same pressures there for men?
Every couple and family have their personal circumstances, I do believe that the same time pressures at work apply for men to have a successful career as they do women, however, we see that ‘home pressures’ like taking care of the family are often more weighted towards women than men.
There’s a lot of data that suggests successful career women have a home environment where their partner assumes 50% or more of the tasks at home, allowing the flexibility needed to allow one or both careers to flourish. Personally, my husband has always taken his fair share or more of the tasks at home, having that flexibility has allowed me to be able to prioritize my career when I needed to and have quality time with my family when we are at home.
For me, it’s teamwork, we both work for Schlumberger and have busy roles. We agreed from an early stage that family was a big priority, together with our careers we maintain those priorities and manage everything else around it, as efficiently as we can. We do our shopping online, make sure bills and home tasks are automated and we split tasks according to what we are good at !
Can we really have it all?
Personally, having it all for me means that I can continue to perform at work to progress my career as well as maintain quality time with my family regularly. Does it mean I have it all? ‘All’ is what you choose it to be. My ‘all’ is my career and my family. There are then other things that must fall by the wayside as they don’t make the priority list. Unfortunately, often this is staying in touch with long-distance friends or extended family. I’ve made that choice and am content, it works for me. From time to time I do reach out to them and we catch up, but this is going to happen when my main two priorities have been accomplished.
Having alignment on these priorities with your family is also important, my husband and children know the demands of my job, but they also know that when I commit to time with them, I will be there 100%. Now and then, there will be a crisis and I need to stretch to give my full attention at work, just like I would if there was a similar situation at home. Having my family support me on this journey allows me to be successful but also helps to curb those inklings of guilt.
I like to use the elastic band analogy where your work-life balance should be like the elastic band, most of the time you should be in neutral where you have balance, however from time to time you are going to have to stretch the band and spend more time at work, you must do this to create the magic that is going to help you to excel your career. This can also be where you come out of your comfort zone, Colette Cohen describes this in her blog covering the ‘discomfort zone.’ Similarly, when you are spending time with the family, stretch the elastic band again and spend quality time and produce some magic at home. It’s important to come back to neutral otherwise the band can lose its elasticity, we all know what happens after that, you take the risk of not being able to return to a normal state…this could be your health or your job. Take care of yourself.
“You will never find time for anything. If you want time you must make it.”
When someone throws a pandemic into the works?
Just when you thought you were getting the hang of the work-life balance the a pandemic gets thrown into your life. Engagement, loneliness, home-schooling and many more words have been used to describe some of the challenges we have faced in the last sixteen months. Work-life balance itself has been challenged in so many ways, the key lesson that I have extracted from this is to be able to manage boundaries. When we work from home the boundaries between work and home are blurred, it is important to make them clear and make an extra effort to break from work every day. It’s also important to have rules of engagement for the people you share your work environment with, this will avoid any stressful moments or unintended interruptions on camera – oops!
Working from home is a challenge and I empathise with those families who have very young children, trying to manage work while also entertaining the little ones must be hard. I have older children and I have found more positives than negatives for the family, being here when they get home from school and being able to always make it for dinner has made all the difference to my life balance. Working from home has made people in the office more efficient, however, engagement and innovation must be face to face and I am looking forward to our flexible working schedule starting after the summer, so we can enhance our creativity.
Wellbeing and looking after yourself during these times began to fall by the wayside for many as the pull to work and family took over. It is important to prioritise yourself always, not just during these challenging times. Take some time to breathe, exercise or do something you enjoy.
“We have overstretched our personal boundaries and forgotten that true happiness comes from living an authentic life fuelled with a sense of purpose and balance.”
Dr Kathleen Hall
As a leader, how can we support our people?
As a leader, we need to embrace what we have learned over the past year and listen to what our people want in terms of flexibility. It’s our role to create the right environment for people to thrive. Empathising with individual circumstances is key and understanding how to help support them whether it is at work or with family can go a long way. I believe that this new flexible work environment will allow us to tap into a larger talent pool, especially of females, [who make up the largest portion of the part-time workforce] that felt they could not come to the office 5 days a week. Now they have the flexibility to work full time but still be available for key family responsibilities like school pick-ups.
The demand that you put on your people will have a direct impact on their work-life balance. Making sure that you have a rhythm with your people is so important. I agree with my team on our rhythm upfront, early birds vs night owls and making sure you don’t call people in the evenings and weekends. Simple behaviours as a leader go a long way.
So… what are you going to do today to enhance your work-life balance?
Watch this space for more advice from my fellow industry leaders, and if you missed the Inspiring Leaders event which took place back in April, catch up here:
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