Work-Life Fit For Working Parents

It may come as no surprise to you, but work-life balance is an increasingly crucial factor in deciding where to work, according to a study by Randstad, polling over 225,000 people and covering 75% of the global economy. In fact, it was the third highest priority when choosing between potential employers, following pay and job security.

The research we recently published at Talking Talent on burnout is alarming, particularly for working dads.

Over two-thirds (67%) of working parents feel worn out by the type of work and the environment they work in. This gap is wider for men at work with 72% of working dads claiming to be physically and emotionally worn out by their work and working environment. There’s a clear knock-on effect with 57% of working dads believing they are not being good enough parents or partners. So why don’t more employers pay attention to work-life balance?

It’s argued that work-life balance isn’t something you can one day simply “achieve”. This is because balance isn’t static – it’s a state of constant flux. It’s a process of constant adjustments, decisions, corrections, responding to opportunities and challenges.

Some argue that work-life balance doesn’t exist altogether. Particularly as a parent – are you ever truly “off work”? Most of us have responsibilities at both work and home, which can make it difficult to find time to relax. It’s certainly not easy to achieve equilibrium – imagine having no money concerns, being completely satisfied with your job, getting fully involved in family life and enjoying an active social life – it sounds surreal!

So, achieving a complete balance of career and parenthood or family life is rarely attainable, but better managing how you cope with a busy lifestyle is.

Avoiding burnout

It can often feel like there’s pressure to be a superhero in everything you do. You have to excel at work, in your relationship and in society. You’re expected to be a great parent who gives their kids healthy food, stimulates their brains, protects them whilst exposing them to the real world, inspires them, disciplines them correctly… and the list goes on.

With a slim chance of “me time”, there’s no wonder that parents feel burnout, exhausted from the pressures of both work and home-life.

It’s important to remember that allowing yourself to fall into a state of extreme stress is likely to negatively impact your family, so being aware of your limitations and accepting that you won’t be able to do it all, will result in a happier you and a healthier family in the long run.

That roughly translates into: that pile of laundry can wait until tomorrow, as spending quality time with your kids is more important!

Employee burnout

In a similar light, burnout no doubt affects your performance in work. Given how much time we all spend at work, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you’re happier at home, you’ll be happier at work and vice versa.

Managing your work-life balance is certainly nothing to feel guilty about. It’s a must. Some of the most successful people give precedence to their work-life balance – and so should you! Sir Richard Branson, is a strong believer in work-life balance. Interestingly enough, he has never worked from an office and worked on his houseboat in London when his kids were young to be with them. What’s more, when he travelled for meetings, his kids would join him! Like me, Richard believes companies should recognise work-life balance as being central to the workplace wellbeing. Ultimately, family time should be seen as a priority, not a luxury!

However, in my opinion, not enough organisations are making the connection between having a family-friendly workplace and their employees’ productivity, engagement and motivation. If more attention was given to this, organisations would benefit from real commercial upsides, such as reduced absenteeism, better retention rates, more successful recruitment, increased productivity and perhaps an employer brand that is positive.

So, what can management do to help to prevent employee burnout?

Management needs to recognise when employees are overstretched. As an employer, part of your responsibility is to look after your employee’s well-being, in addition to just their job performance. Chances are, your employees aren’t going to admit they are stressed or overworked (they don’t want you to think they can’t handle their job!). So, it’s up to you to recognise when they need a helping hand. Perhaps suggest they leave early one day or try not to give them any extra projects for a while. Sometimes, as we all know, perceptions of workloads can be very different and it’s not always a matter of capacity, but also ability. Employees who are given regular training and development can often manage heavier workloads with less stress than those who try to battle on without recognising their own skills gaps. We all want maximum productivity from our teams, it’s the best leaders and managers who recognise that to achieve that, time and resource must be spent guiding, coaching and developing staff to help them reach their full potential.

By supporting parents with systems that enable dual parental leave, flexible working and well-being in the workplace, we can stop falling back into stereotypical roles.

Organisations must take a proactive stance to support the welling of employees and can facilitate in how employees manage their well-being better. This could be through leadership or a greater understanding of the way in which well-being issues show up in the workplace. The dual responsibility of being a parent and a breadwinner is hard work.

In some industries, it’s frowned upon to dash out at 5 o’clock, but there’s little option when you have a hundred jobs to do before the end of the day – you name it, the school pick up, hobbies, homework, dinner, cleaning, and laundry!

Another way management can promote a healthy work-life balance is to embrace flexible work arrangements. This allows employees to get their work done and still attend their child’s school play. Most importantly, this shows that you value them as people, not just workers. Many organisations find that giving employees the trust that they will get their work done in the hours they are paid for results in higher productivity and job satisfaction.

A common myth is that employees aren’t as productive at home – but it’s actually the opposite. Companies as large as Apple allow their employees to work from home and are reaping the rewards. Studies show workers are up to 13% more productive working from home than working at the office. When considering offering flexible work arrangements to employees, it should be based on how it might benefit the organisation, not on whether someone deserves an extra staff perk.

Leading by example is one of the best approaches to encourage others that work-life balance is OK. If employees see that management value personal time, they won’t feel as guilty prioritising theirs.

Key tips for success

As we’ve established, it’s no mean feat to achieve a constantly perfect work-life balance, but there are steps that you can take to make the best out of your busy lifestyle and be on the way to achieving an improved state of mind and living.

According to research, the two key remedies to stop the downward spiral of stress and burnout – as both, an employee and a parent – are getting more sleep and making time to exercise. It can be any form of exercise – a walk, a yoga class, swimming, playing with your children in the park – whatever you choose, it’ll help you to unwind.

It’s important to note that ‘balance’ is not simply becoming better at time management. In fact, it’s becoming better at ‘boundary management’. When you are so busy, you can get caught up the chaos, and forget who you are and what your priorities are. Instead, you need to make choices, and turn off the opportunities you don’t need, rather than feeling guilty. Set clear expectations of what is achievable.

By doing so will empower you, rather than being at the mercy of your schedule. I advise you to leave the office proudly at the time you have decided to – even if that means walking out on others still hard at it.

According to Julia Hartz, the co-founder of Eventbrite, finding balance is an ongoing challenge, which requires constant attention and dedication. She says her life is extremely binary – her passion is in Eventbrite, and her love is in her family. The nature of business today is that the lines of “work” and “life” are a little more blurred. Time spent outside of the office or with family is sacred, so we try our best to bring many things that happen outside, into the office.

Ultimately, it’s key to remember you don’t have to be a superhero at everything. Perfection is unattainable - you can’t please everyone all the time. And, above all, make time for yourself!

If you’d like to chat more about how Talking Talent can help with our working parents coaching or well-being coaching, please get in touch.

Chris Parke

CEO at Talking Talent - Enabling Women’s Leadership | Executive Coaching | Female Talent Development