According to the 2017 YouGov Work Life Balance Report, 41% of 25-34 year olds believe there’s an expectation for them to work and be available outside of their normal working hours. With globalisation and the prevalence of tech in everyday life, boundaries between work and life have become increasingly blurred. It is perhaps unsurprising that the report found that one in four read or send work-related emails outside of office hours, and that two in five take work phone calls while on holiday.
The topic of work-life balance has gender undertones and this is particularly prevalent when looking at women in top leadership positions. LeanIn.Org Women in the Workplace 2016 reported that the main reason why women didn’t want to hold an executive role was because they didn’t feel they would be able to balance family and work commitments. It was with happy surprise that when I googled ‘women in tech events in London’ I found that my brand new employer, Red Badger, were hosting the fantastic Circle Community’s latest event - a panel on work-life balance. On the panel were three pretty inspirational women; Sari Griffiths - Chief Design Officer at Red Badger, Jill Quick - Digital Marketing Consultant & Trainer at Quick Marketing and Namrata Sarmah - Senior Director at Viacom.
Circle is a women’s tech network, so there was a specific focus on women in the workplace. With society still seeing the home environment very much as the women’s responsibility we see scarily few women on executive boards and in managerial positions - it is almost funny to think there are more men named John than women running FTSE 100 companies. The panel was chaired by Circle co-founder Lora Schellenberg. Below is a summary of the three steps discussed to achieving a successful work-life balance.
1. Acknowledge That You Have Limits
…And that these change throughout the course of your life. When we think of balancing work and life, generally the image that comes to mind is the traditional two-sided scale; often unevenly balanced towards work. But Jill gave an analogy of work-life balance as a triangle; at each tip of the triangle is something of value - work, relationships and self - and we need to find a way to balance the three points of our life in order to be happy and fulfilled. At different times in your life the triangle will be a different shape, perhaps to the point where it feels like the triangle is falling apart. However, Jill explained that it is ok to feel that way and to let the different sides of the triangle mould in a way that works for you at any given time of your life.
The definition of balance is relative and deeply personal, and it is unlikely that you’ll see it the same way throughout your life. It is important that we recognise in ourselves and also support our friends, family and colleagues to see and understand the limits we have at different points in our lives because, as much as we may try, we’re not superhuman and we all have limits.
2. Set Expectations
With globalisation we’re often expected to work all hours of the day, blurring the lines between home life and work-life. The panel shared their experiences working with clients and colleagues to set expectations and achieve a work-life balance.
Jill told us that, as a consultant and through experience, she is now very clear with her clients about her working hours. She says she’ll respond to truly urgent queries straight away if she needs to, but she’s also defined what constitutes urgent. Whereas Namrata manages her personal and work time by blocking out her calendar; particularly her lunch hour, to show when she’s on ‘home’ or ‘work’ time.
Sari shared her experience of working with Red Badger, explaining that Red Badger’s approach to selling their consultants’ time means that if the scope of a project changes, then Red Badger are clear with their clients about how they will achieve it - whether it is adjusting another element of the project or adding more time to the project. That way, Red Badger ensure their employees’ work can be carried out during normal working hours and there is little to no expectation for them to work late.
3. Challenge Preconceptions
With two mums and one expecting mum on the panel, it was inevitable that family and parenting would be a big part of the discussion. The concept of men sharing childcare responsibilities is a hot topic at the moment; with the introduction of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) in the UK in 2015, and Mark Zuckerberg’s open discussion about taking paternity leave from Facebook.
Sadly, the experiences of the panel and audience show that workplace culture is an issue; primarily other people’s preconceptions and judgements of shared parenting show that in reality we’re far from equal in this area. This is supported by CIPD research, suggesting that fewer than 0.1% of eligible men have taken SPL since it launched in 2015, despite 52% of male respondents wanting to spend more time with their children and sharing the childcare, according to research from Working Families. Jill explained that her husband had taken three months of SPL and an audience member shared her husband’s experience as well. Both men faced stigma and judgement from their colleagues with questions like ‘who wears the trousers at home’ and being called ‘part-time workers’. The panel talked about challenging the small comments to dissuade a culture where men who are childcarers are criticised and judged.
The panel also discussed the concept of ‘working mum’ and whether this role supersedes being a professional and other roles a woman might hold - a sister, a wife, a dancer, or in Jill’s case a self-professed gin drinker. Whether it is challenging a term, or celebrating a colleague taking SPL, by challenging preconceptions on an individual level if and when we encounter them, we can make male childcare roles a normal part of UK life and help to eliminate the preconception that mothers are always the primary childcarers.
And Finally…. Communicate
The thing that all of these examples have in common is the power of communication; acknowledging your limits, discussing and agreeing expectations and championing roles that challenge stereotypes. Through the power of communication, perhaps we can all achieve a more successful work-life balance, it’s certainly worth a try!
At Red Badger we don't just talk about work-life balance, we also encourage our people to think about how they can achieve a successful work-life balance. Take a look at Andreas Conradi's blog on why he chose to ask for a four day working week to find out more. At Red Badger we have a fantastic event space where we have open and honest discussions on a range of topics. To see what we've got coming up, and to register to attend an event, please visit: https://red-badger.com/about-us/events/.