Everyone kept telling me that having a second child is easier than having the first. My daughter, Tayah, was nearly four years old when my son, River, was born. I’ve spent the last 15 months trying to understand why going back to work felt so different this time. After all, I am the same person I was before, but now I’m responsible for two little people instead of one. I have certainly seen a significant skills boost in terms of my confidence after this second child, and being more relaxed makes me better at my job. But the real difference for me this time round is that I work for a company that understands its employees are whole human beings whose family and relationships may be as, or even more, important than their careers.
A couple of weeks after returning from leave, River got chicken pox. Not just any chicken pox, but the kind involving a thousand individual pox, severe secondary infections, antibiotics, all of it. I was devastated. I had just taken a year off. I had a new boss. I was raring to go. I felt an urgent need to re-establish myself and build relationships with the global team. Of course, I was worried about my son, but I was also concerned about what taking more time off could mean for my career and positioning back into the business. But the message I got from everyone – the CEO included: Do what you need to do. Nobody made me feel guilty, nobody questioned my priorities. Once I had taken the time I needed, I came back with an even stronger sense of commitment and a determination to prove myself. I wanted to give back.
Trusting your employees has a high rate of return. At its simplest, the takeaway is that happy and engaged employees work harder. As long as I deliver my usual high standard of work, Talking Talent allows me the flexibility to choose how I achieve that end. That level of trust and belief fuels me to work even harder, because Talking Talent has enabled me to be the best version of myself at work and home. And just to point out, I had that trust from day one, it wasn’t something I had to earn. Crucially, as a business they let me get on with my job without slowing me down with cookie-cutter policies. There is no ‘one size fits all’ and obsessing over policies distracts us from the greater challenge of creating a working culture which allows everyone to perform. True, Talking Talent are a specialist in working parents coaching, but they really do ‘walk the talk’ in terms of the advice they give corporates – and I feel privileged to be part of what they are trying to achieve.
Flexible working looks different for everyone. My sacrifices are conscious choices. I do the school run 50% of the time. If I want to, I attend the 11am school assembly. I rarely miss story-time. I am completely present when I am present, and at work I’m focused, because I’m not anxious about my children – I know they are in a great place and being taken care of. Trying to conform to other peoples’ ideas of what work life balance should look like can feel like a constant compromise, but Talking Talent allows me to truly maintain a flexible approach to my work-life balance – because it’s about trust, empowerment and commitment. And I must say, from the bottom of my heart they have ‘nailed’ the agile working culture.
I always stop work between 5pm and 5:30pm, which means I perform to my utmost in the time I have. On Fridays I have no childcare support beyond 3pm for my daughter (They are in 2 different settings which adds to the complications), so I leave work at 3pm to pick up my daughter from school. I do what I can with having Tayah at home, but for the most part to offset that, I work on most Friday evenings. I consider myself extremely diligent, I have to be. I set myself daily goals and weekly goals and if I find late in the week that I haven't achieved them, I work until I deliver. It is a necessary balancing act, requiring attention and adjustment. Not having to hide that constant reckoning and pretend your home life doesn’t matter takes the stress away, making it much less time-consuming.
By definition, being a working mother is a logistical nightmare. You have to be organised. You have to be incredibly self-disciplined. Inevitably, one child needs a costume for World Book Day, then it’s Red Nose Day, homework, Easter bonnet challenge, then someone has nits! These are all personal challenges, but each time they do not become work challenges because I know I can be honest about what I need and tackle any tricky situations head on.
At Talking Talent, we work as a team in every sense, so that when somebody needs a bit of extra slack, we can pick it up. People roll up their sleeves in a crisis and help out. The working culture has empowered me to be the career mum I aspire to be. Things that might seem insignificant – such as knowing that I can take ten minutes to get school bags ready for the next day without being judged as somehow less committed to my work – do, in fact, make a world of difference.
Laura Lally, Global Head of Marketing, Talking Talent