Women are receiving more encouragement than ever to fulfill their potential in the workplace. But paid work doesn’t always support a rich personal or family life. Often, ambitious (and exhausted!) women find themselves over-extending in order to juggle all of their responsibilities. Some women even contemplate leaving the workforce entirely because they believe that their needs for flexibility at work, and for shared-responsibility at home, are impossible to achieve.
We recognize that women continue to carry a disproportionate burden of labor across their work and family lives as compared with men. Our goal here at CTWPS is to help women create more options so that they don’t have to choose between a career identity and a fulfilling private life. If you’re seeking to cultivate a fulfilling work-life balance, consider these three tips:
1. Collect Data About YOUR Workplace:
Many women are too fearful to negotiate for flexibility in the workplace because of the belief that they will be unsupported or penalized for vocalizing their needs. Sometimes this belief reflects a woman’s workplace accurately; other times, however, this belief may represent the deprivational way a woman already experiences the world.
Let’s consider a new mother who is debating whether to stay at her job with demanding hours and travel requirements that are currently incompatible with her caretaking responsibilities. How is this working mother likely to advocate for herself if she believes that negotiating for more flexibility would be met with a lack of support, or even a penalty? The odds are that she will either over-extend herself in all of her roles, or she might even quit her paid work altogether if that is a possibility.
In our practice here at CTWPS, we would ask this woman to collect real information about her workplace in order to prepare her appropriately for a renegotiation of her role. What kind of information should she collect? We would encourage her to consider whether anyone else in her workplace takes advantage of flextime, part-time, or the kinds of hours she would prefer. If so, at what level of the organization are they? Does anyone else acknowledge outside responsibilities as they leave work early? What does the organization say they support in terms of work/life flexibility (even if no one takes advantage of it)? Can she make a financial argument to the organization about why she should work differently? What kind of changes in her pay and position can she afford to make? Are there trusted individuals she can speak to who can guide her in her negotiation?
Ultimately, we encourage every woman seeking work-life balance to ask herself: How would my work need to change to meets the demands of my private life? Alternatively, we may encourage her to consider the reverse - does something need to change in my personal life to better support my career?
2. Be Your Own Communications Director
Once you’ve identified a specific way you’d like to shift your role at work, it’s time to manage your own public relations. After all, no one will ever advocate for you as passionately, or in such detail, as you can for yourself. You can begin by creating a plan regarding with whom you will speak and how you will frame your concerns. Women working with us would likely create a thorough strategy about how they might assert their needs, as well as their value and commitment to their work.
From an organizational perspective, women who experience their job as being compatible with their private lives are generally more confident in their roles and tend to stay in their job longer. This adds tremendous value not just for the individual woman and her family, but also for her company.
3. Be an Active Manager of your Private Life
Sometimes the biggest area of conflict for a woman is not in the workplace, but rather at home. Outside of the workplace, women tend to devote many hours each week to managing their home-based responsibilities. One of the most stressful issues women face is the unexpected excess of home-based work, regardless of their work situation. We encourage our clients to develop skills in seeking support from their partners at home (if they have one) to lessen that burden.
At CTWPS, we fundamentally believe that there are extensive benefits to her work and family systems when a woman cares for herself well and seeks appropriate supports. Conversely, the risk of a woman not accessing support is high – increased couple stress, mood problems, a lack of joy in mothering, or a tendency to “check out” at work (just to name a few). In our work with clients, we take the long view, and encourage women to approach the management of their home-based work with the same level of attention and care that they devote to their paid work.
We recognize that it takes courage and effort for women to experiment with establishing greater flexibility and balance in the workplace or in their home lives. We can’t always guarantee that the organizations for which we work, or our partners at home, will be receptive to all of the changes we seek. But without our engagement, we can assume that the status quo (whatever that looks like) will remain unchanged.