Balancing work and family is challenging and different for everybody. At Untapped Potential, we have all teetered on the see-saw between caregiving and workplace demands, often resulting in pausing career aspirations.
Women do a lot – they add immense value to their workplaces while shouldering more responsibilities at home and in the family unit than their male counterparts do (on average).
Not only is there an imbalance in home and child care responsibilities, but the recent report on Women in the Workplace 2021 highlights that caregiving imbalance through COVID has extended to the workplace. Women have disproportionately assumed responsibility for important work such as supporting employee wellbeing, balancing workloads, and diversity and inclusion work, coined “office housework”. This work, done in addition to current responsibilities, often goes unrecognized or rewarded.
This superwoman performance comes with the cost of greater burnout. Nearly 3 million women left the workforce last year, and one in three women has considered downshifting her career or leaving altogether. This article will discuss how women can balance their professional and personal lives, both for those who are currently working and juggling family and also for those who are considering returning to work.
The Struggle for Balance
Women balancing their professional and personal lives has been a hot topic of conversation for generations. Many highly qualified, motivated women take time away from the workforce to take care of children or family members. When they’re ready to get back into the workforce, it’s challenging to make the change after their time away.
COVID turned the topic on its head. We have seen elevated understanding of the work required to juggle jobs and family with so many working from home. In addition, there has been a drastic shift in the possibilities of work that could be done effectively from a remote location. This has made a huge impact on working moms who constantly have to juggle parenting and caregiving responsibilities with their work. 67% of people say their work-life balance improved once they began working remotely. 97% say a job with flexibility has a major positive impact on overall happiness.
A Workforce of Untapped Potential
When women can fully participate in their lives (personal and professional), everyone benefits. Women offer a unique perspective in the boardroom and at home. But the system makes it extremely hard to fulfill both roles. School systems are set up for stay-at-home parents, childcare is expensive, and bosses often expect their employees to be available 24/7.
Untapped Potential helps women reenter the workforce (or shift to a career that works for them), so they can work towards achieving work-life balance. We connect women with potential employers who prioritize work-life balance and understand what it means to be a working mom. In most cases, when women are given the flexibility and resources they need, they can flourish in sustainable, fulfilling careers.
Women Currently Working and Balancing Family Right Now
For those in the “messy middle,” those juggling paid work, climbing the ladder in a career you’ve worked hard to attain with driving three kids to nine activities, hoping to deliver allergen-free meals and keeping the house in order, think of balance as an ongoing cycle, not a one-time achievement.
Research has shown professionals balancing work and family engage in a common mental process or repeated cycle of self-awareness steps and role redefinition steps. Here’s a metaphor - when riding a bike (or doing any task that requires balance), it takes constant effort to stay upright. It’s not just a matter of finding the sweet spot. You have to make regular adjustments as you correct (and sometimes over-correct) your movements.
Think of work-life balance in the same way. The concept of work-life sway rejects the notion that there is a singular solution for balancing that works for everyone. Work-life sway also advocates that balance will change over time in response to changes in your circumstances. You don’t need to feel guilty or try to control external factors, you just adjust. Sometimes, it’s easy to feel at peace with how you’re making things work. But as your life and circumstances change, you’ll inevitably have to make adjustments down the road. That’s why it’s essential to check in with yourself regularly to make sure what you’ve been doing is still working. Here are a few helpful steps that we recommend taking at least a few times a year:
Pause and reflect.
Set aside some time to consider what your day-to-day looks like recently. Identify key stressors or things throwing you off balance. Are specific tasks, like childcare or work duties, taking up more time than they used to? Make a list. Consider how your setting and circumstances are affecting your performance and engagement at work and as a parent. Does this list look off-balance? Are you trying to prioritize everything at once and burning out? Are you devoting more time to certain things and forcing important stuff to the back burner?
Check-in with your emotions.
Now that you’ve taken stock of your current situation, check in with how you feel most days. Fulfilled? Energized? Satisfied? Resentful? Exhausted? Depressed? Short on patience with the kids? Sometimes everything seems like it “should” be working on paper but simply isn’t. Listen to that. Don’t try just to push through if something isn’t working.
Reprioritize as needed.
See if the way you’re spending your time matches up with your current priorities. If not, it’s time to reevaluate. Ask yourself these questions:
What am I willing to sacrifice? Is it my professional status? If so, for how long?
Will I have regrets if I continue down this path?
With the sense of what your current situation looks like, what’s working, and what isn’t, it’s time to pivot to finding opportunities that fit your life now. This is a great time to do research and talk to trusted friends or mentors. With a little outside input, you might be able to take advantage of solutions you wouldn’t have considered otherwise.
Now, it’s time to take action. Depending on the specific changes you’ve decided to make, this can mean many different things. It could involve external changes like a conversation with your boss and colleagues. It could mean shifting your role to be less (or more) time-consuming and involved. It might look like shifting your work schedule from 5 days a week to 4 or shifting to working from home permanently.
But it can also be internal private changes like adjusting how you spend your days in the office or choosing not to work on weekends, evenings, or holidays. It can look like turning down demands that feel like too much on your plate. This stage of adjusting for balance doesn’t necessarily have to involve other people. Sometimes the most impactful changes are the ones we make internally for ourselves.
Moms Focused on Family Now
If you are one of the nearly 3 million that opted-out during COVID or prior, resulting in putting your career ambition on 'hold' for the time being, let's take that bicycle metaphor and apply it to your journey. Over your long life, your career-life will have peaks and valleys.
Today, we’re predicted to have a longer lifespan, many enjoying working longer into our elder years. Your career could span 50 years! If you opt-out to focus on family now, know that this is a valuable growth period in your personal as well as professional growth. Think of these years as the “valley” of your professional journey. For now, you are riding a flat road (from your professional standpoint). During this part of your ride, it is okay to have no elevation change, no ladder to climb. Your caregiving role is important. Your days are filled with navigating playdates (teaching morals), carpooling to meet after school schedules, volunteering in your community (vital) and you likely bear all home care responsibility.
Our best advice during this valley portion of your ride is to keep your professional connections and your professional self-image engaged. You can do this by making it a point to gather with former colleagues, attend a webinar, watch a TED Talk or a YouTube video in your field.
Moms Wanting More Professional Engagement
For moms wanting more professional engagement, if you are interested in increasing the "work" portion of your work-life ratio following caregiving, the next phase of your ride will be a climb. You’ve been on a career "climb" before. While it will be challenging, when you look back over your lifespan, you’ll see you have achieved work-life balance over your career years. We call it work-life success! And you may be surprised that through your investments during caregiving work, you have likely developed skills employers do value.
Here are the key steps to achieve a new balance folding professional goals back into your life:
Get your jargon back and grow your confidence. If you slowly immerse yourself in work-like environments, you will see how quickly your jargon grows. Watch a TED Talk, tune into a zoom event for your industry, attend a professional conference.
Carve out time. You are busy with all the duties of being a full-time parent including volunteering. Start to monitor your schedule and see where you can create blocks of time for a professional outlet. Wean off or learn to say ‘no’ to new demands on your time that will not feed your professional goals.
Grow your network - you likely lost your professional peers. Put yourself in a position to connect with like-minded women with those going through what you are going through, peers ready to return and professionals in your industry space.
Skill Up - update your skills in something new or related to your previous profession
Engage in a stepping stone professional work experience to ‘try something on’.
Make Small Adjustments
No matter which part of the ride you are pedaling in, you may not be able to see beyond the road in front of you. The change feels too great to even visualize it... As we learned at UP’s Reignite 2021 event, a great way to make significant change is with tiny habits. Here are a few of our favorite, minor and more bite-sized ways to balance your work and personal life.
If you have a partner or co-parent, sit down with them and check in. Do you feel like household responsibilities are divided equitably? Are there adjustments you both can make that will lessen your burden and make things feel more manageable for you? If you have been home full-time, your partner may not be aware of all you do. For you to make the climb, your partner might have to do more than they’re used to, or even more than their fair share, for a while.
If you don’t have a partner, flex your support system. Can you rely on any family members for childcare? Can you hire a housekeeper twice a month to handle deep cleaning? Are there other parents you can team up with for carpools to kids’ activities? During the pandemic, lots of families switched to having their groceries delivered. Is there anything else you can have delivered that will save you time and energy?
Make Time for Yourself
When you’re overwhelmed, it’s easy to let yourself be the last priority. In the end, you’ll find yourself running ragged, which means you’ll have less of yourself to put into the things you care about.
Keep Daily Goals Manageable
Meeting goals gives us a sense of accomplishment and control. The more control we have over our work, the less stressed we feel.
Be realistic about your workload and deadlines in your work life and personal life. Make a “to-do” list, tackle essential tasks first (this will make you feel fabulous while taking care of the most important things first), and let unessential tasks go. Empower yourself to say “no” occasionally.
Be Kind To Yourself
Learn to be okay with doing your best with your given resources. Sometimes your kids might have pizza or chicken nuggets for dinner every night for a week. Pat yourself on the back for making sure they’re fed! If you need to ask for an extension on a work deadline, give yourself props for knowing your limits and communicating the situation to your boss ahead of time.
Work worth doing is worth doing imperfectly. Your shortcomings don’t discount your successes. No one can operate at peak performance 100% of the time, and that’s okay. Give yourself the space to be human!
Over your long life, your career life will have peaks and valleys. If you opted out to focus on family for a while, that doesn’t mean you have to stay out of the game forever.
How Untapped Potential Can Help
We are in a unique position to influence employers to meet you at the table bringing an understanding of your need to ‘juggle’ work and family. You often can get the same rewards from work (challenging problems, team camaraderie, a sense of accomplishment as well as good pay) through relationships with start-ups and forward-thinking companies that we have cultivated. Whether you are seeking to pivot for better balance or to fold more professional work into your life you can benefit from our perspective.
Let us help you redefine what work-life balance looks like for you! Contact Untapped Potential to learn more. We support women during all phases of their lives through networking, skilling up, and job engagement.
How? Untapped Potential connects forward-thinking businesses with untapped talent from women who have spent time caregiving. Our Flexreturn™services connect skilled, savvy women with in-demand opportunities that match their priorities while helping employers find underutilized talent. Whether you need to pivot while in the messy middle or you are ready to return to your professional potential, Untapped Potential is here to support you as we work to redefine work-life success and improve gender equity in the workplace.