When I returned to my corporate job after maternity leave I learned very quickly that I could not sustain my pre-baby working hours. It has taken me a year to find a work/life/baby balance that works for me and my manager.
For the last few years my corporate job scope has been global and always-urgent. Before baby, I was able to handle being online 24-7 through strategically taking down-time at opportune moments. I did a good job of managing my energy levels and work/life balance, but was essentially always-on and always working with occasional moments of distraction or downtime.
I thought this work/life balance blueprint would work perfectly for a working mum. Not so much. With a full-time job and a beautiful baby to love and adore, I no longer had time for me. And I very quickly fell into a heap of exhaustion, and soon after, depression. This was a good catalyst to seek an alternative arrangement.
I loved my job and did not want to give it up. So I did something I found really difficult and asked my manager for more formal flexibility in my work schedule. The outcome of our conversations was an agreement that I would find specific chunks of time throughout the week to spend with the baby, and specific chunks of time for my own pursuits. I would block that time in my calendar and manage the expectations of people I worked with as needed. I would remain committed to the same deliverables, receive the same salary, but I would work on a compressed schedule that involved working from home once a week.
Here’s how and why that works for me and my manager:
- My manager doesn’t care where or when I get my work done. I work from home consistently on Fridays. And when I say work from home, I mean work from home. My manager doesn’t even flinch if I dial into a team meeting rather than show up physically. The reality is that I can get more done when I am heads down in my home office.
- My manager is clear on her expectations. If a deliverable is urgent, or if a new deliverable crops up over the weekend or in the evening, she lets me know immediately. This allows me to negotiate my time fairly – if a fire is burning on a project, then I know to drop my other priorities to help put it out. Inversely, if something isn’t urgent, but important, she lets me know so that I can prioritize accordingly. She also makes it clear which meetings are optional.
- My manager provides real-time feedback. If I am over-doing something, or under-prioritizing something, she lets me know. It is so refreshing to have a manager tell you to back-off, relax a bit and not get too passionate about a project! I also trust that she will let me know if it is ever a problem that I am not physically present at a meeting, or to let me know if I need to be more visible in the office at any point.
- My manager demonstrates care and concern for me and my baby. When I tell her that I am taking the baby to a music class on Wednesday morning, she smiles and tells me to have a great time. She asks how the baby is doing, and seems genuinely interested in the occasional story I tell on a new development milestone or cute moment. If the baby comes into the office to visit, she will indulge her with cuddles and conversation. The photos I have of them together are beautiful and inspiring.
- My manager trusts me and has high expectations. I often re-visit my work schedule and routine with her to ensure that it is still working for both of us. I am blatantly transparent about the fact that when I am ‘off’ (doing baby stuff, or mummy stuff) that I am really ‘off’. She knows that I am available via phone if anything urgent comes up, and knows I will pick up the phone. She also knows that I don’t miss deadlines, and I carry my weight.
All of these things probably seem completely obvious, logical and rational, but for me, the more explicit we can be on these things the less stressed and guilty I feel for going offline for a couple of hours. Needless to say, I am completely loyal to this woman and am incredibly happy. If she needs anything from me, at any time, I will do it for her.
What does your manager do for you to help you achieve work/life/baby balance? Does that make you more loyal to your organisation?