While we can thank feminist activists for obtaining the right for women to enter the workforce, modern women have a new struggle: managing the demands that work places on our lives.
As Catherine Fox shared in her book 7 Myths About Women and Work, data shows that "Australian women are participating in the workforce at a higher rate while continuing to shoulder traditional home duties, obviously putting them under increased pressure."
So how can we successfully integrate our personal, social and professional lives? And how can we continue to successfully manage such integration during the periods of chaos that inevitably come up?
What makes work-life balance so difficult?
A female lawyer and mother I spoke to recently blamed Australia's economic cycle for the difficulties we face in achieving work-life balance. "With reduced team sizes women are expected to do more with less," she said. "Delegating work is harder with fewer team members, as firms look to make savings on their outgoings, and employers are seeking full-time participation from part-time people because their overheads are fixed. This means more pressure on work-life balance for those who need it."
From an employer's perspective, the client's interests are paramount. And when a client has faith in us alone we must ensure that the client's expectations are met by being ever present.
Does job-sharing help?
The concept of job-sharing at a senior level was raised at the Women's Legal Conference held on January 31 in Sydney. This could work when the part-time "job sharers" have an overlap day they can use to come together to share knowledge and tasks. This model may work particularly well for lawyers who have in the past worked closely together for the same clients. Collaboration is the key, but striving for the same goal may mean your personal achievements are not distinguished or recognised, which may stifle your motivation.
Even in a job-sharing arrangement, plans to help manage the periods of chaos you can't control are needed.
My five-point plan for managing work-life balance during periods of chaos
- Think ahead
On the home front, tend to those relationships that are part of your plan – such as friends and relatives – so that you have as many support people on hand as you can muster. These are people who can step in when you are called away.
Develop the skills of your staff and relationships with your clients to minimise client resistance when you are not available.
- The power days
For me, power days are the weekdays when my support person (be it my husband or another person) has full control.
These are days in the office when I work from 8am to close of business, without the expectation of any work-life interference, I can be fully focused. These are the days that I use to schedule meetings with certainty, or power through masses of work knowing that, even if chaos does hit, there's someone in place who can deal with it.
The rest of the week I stagger my time with early departures to make it for school pick-up, or work from home.
- Control work and set limits
Accept work that fits in with your circumstances and abilities. I have found transactional work (in legal firms) easier to tackle in a part-time role as a great deal of the work can be completed within timetables I can control.
- Look after yourself
I have learned the hard way that the mind and body cannot be taken for granted. I aim to exercise regularly, set aside time for myself and feed my soul with activities that make me feel good about myself such as volunteer work. Note the emphasis on "aim" as, unfortunately, your own needs always come last when caring for others.
- Be willing to ask for help
Asking for help is not a sign of failure. As long as you do it within reason, you will not be overburdening your support person. In any event, they will quickly tell you if you are.
Click here to read about the dilemma that Patricia Monemvasitis faces with competing priorities. It's a familiar scenario for working mothers juggling work-life chaos. How do periods of chaos interrupt your work-life plans?