Rebalancing 2020: mid-year review

Diary Calendar And Agenda For Planner To Plan Timetable,appointm

We’re at week 26: mid-way through the year and always a good time to review and adjust plans. In work-life balance terms it’s been an unprecedented year. After decades of workers asking for remote working; employers were finally forced to accede since lockdown meant they had few other options.

At the same time the risks of #AlwaysOn working increased as home and work lives meshed. Meshing also added to the mental load for many women when invisible caring responsibilities clashed with overt workplace demands.

Going forward, there seems to be a majority consensus that things will not be the same. The power to determine how different they become lies with all of us. But as they say “If you don’t know where you’re going you’re likely to end up somewhere else”.

This week let’s take the opportunity to pause, review and decide where we’re going with our work-life balance by answering three questions:

  1. Where have your work-life balance challenges increased?

For example, the media has been reporting that pressures on women have escalated as social expectations collided with workplace reality. The lack of access to childcare has resulted in an increase in guilt for many working mothers who’ve found it challenging to carry out either their parenting or workplace role satisfactorily.

Outdated gender stereotypes have apparently resurfaced in lockdown; with many men assuming their job takes priority over that of their wives. Coupled with a lack of clear performance goals this has resulted in large numbers of women struggling to find time for both work and family. Much of the guidance around how to be an efficient remote worker has been gender blind, failing to acknowledge that women shoulder much of the burden of unpaid (and generally invisible) care and household tasks.

On the work front many of us have struggled to become proficient in the technologies that facilitate remote working; and have ended up exhausted after endless video meetings (which typically require a deeper level of concentration than live interactions). And the risks of #AlwaysOn working have been exacerbated.

  1. Where has your work-life balance improved?

Conversely many of us have also seen benefits to the new ways of working. It could be the lack of commute (which eats into our time and often adds to our stress levels). Or the lack of distraction from co-workers. Perhaps you’ve learnt to schedule your time more effectively, or found joy in being able to spend more time with your partner and children.

  1. What small adjustments can you make going forward to regain your balance?

The past few months have been an opportunity for many of us to reconsider what’s important; and to reflect on the adjustments we can make to find better work-life balance.

What has lockdown taught you about your own preferences, what’s important for you and what needs to change now to rebalance as we embrace the ‘new normal’?

What small steps can you take this week to move forward into a balanced new future?

Essential skills: Negotiation

Business Success Concept With Partner, Partnership Giving Fist B

Being a proficient negotiator has always been a prerequisite for living a balanced life; and in the current challenging climate negotiation skills have become even more important. The precarious work-life juggle many families had been maintaining has all but collapsed as the rug of support is pulled out from under them. Parents are currently working out how to navigate work while looking after children without the help of grandparents – who may themselves need extra help. I suspect there’s a lot of negotiation going on at present so this week I’m sharing some tips for success.

Have a clear picture of what it is you want to agree

Many of us have suddenly been thrust into an unprecedented and complex situation. We need a creative approach to resolving it. In my book I recommend Solutions Focus (a tool from the positive psychology stable) as the means to identifying your desired destination. Take some time to consider what a balanced future would look like for you and your family.

Allow yourself to daydream about the best possible solution within the current constraints you face. Ignore the logical left brain and trust that your creative right brain will show you a solution. Aim to paint a detailed picture of what it looks like to live that solution. The clearer you are on where you’re trying to get to, the easier it will be to share that vision with others; and to identify the steps you need to take to get there.

Aim for a win-win outcome

It’s always easier to negotiate when you know what’s in it for the other party and work with them to achieve a win-win outcome. If you’re living in a dual parent household it’s likely your partner will also be feeling challenged to find the right balance. There’s plenty of evidence that younger fathers in particular are keen to get more fully involved in family life; so now’s the time to renegotiate what that might look like.

I realise many businesses are struggling, but this is also an apt moment to remind  employers we all have a life outside of work; and we need their help to maintain the juggle. Specifically you may want to ask for clarity on the outputs expected of you at this time; and when your employer needs you to deliver these.

Negotiation is a journey, not a battle

In my work I suggest to clients that they view negotiation as an ongoing conversation, rather than an argument to be resolved on the basis of a single exchange. We’ve all found that things which seem logical in theory don’t always work in practice. As you agree adjustments to working and living arrangements you will learn what works and what doesn’t. And then you’ll need to negotiate further adjustments. In the long run you’ll be more effective; but in the short run there will be a lot of course-correcting going on.

Simplify

Albert Einstein reportedly said: everything should be made as simple as possible but no simpler (although he didn’t exactly use those words!). It’s a great dictum to live by. The simpler the arrangements, the more likely we are to uphold them. Things may change in the future – let go of the need to know all the outcomes in advance. Focus on the present and on making small adjustments as you go.

Many of us are currently facing the challenge of navigating to get our needs met while also meeting the needs of those around us. As we’re forced to re-think the way we live and work we also have an unprecedented opportunity to rebalance our lives.

Work-life balance, flexible working and men

Portrait of a Hispanic middle-aged business man smiling and look

My plan had been to finish off the topic of flexible working last week and turn my attention to other issues we need to consider as we #rebalance2020. Then I found myself thinking about International Women’s Day which is coming up next weekend. This year’s theme is #EachForEqual – a call to every one of us to strive for a gender equal world.

In the workplace flexible working is a key factor in achieving gender equality at all levels of seniority. And the relationship of men to flexible working is a complex one.

Many younger men are keen to embrace flexibility, both to suit their own life interests and to help them balance work and family when the time comes. Unsurprisingly those who do are finding themselves experiencing the same prejudices that women have. Namely: the unspoken assumption that wishing to work flexibly shows lack of career commitment; and is certainly not something that can be accommodated at senior levels. Men too are experiencing the challenges created by inflexible and outmoded corporate cultures.

There is however, another group of men that has the power to change these inflexible and outmoded practices. That’s the male managers who often find themselves faced with flexible working requests.

I’ve no wish to imply men deliberately get in the way. It’s simply that as hard-pressed managers who may have very little (if any) training in how to manage flexible workers the temptation is to refuse a request without discussion. If you’re faced with this potential scenario I’d like to offer some advice.

1 Start with the right question

That’s not “can I work flexibly” but “tell me about your experiences of flexible working”. Find out if your manager has ever worked flexibly himself; and whether he’s previously managed flexible arrangements. Follow up by asking who he knows within the organisation or in the industry that is a good manager of flexible workers, These questions will help you understand your manager’s concerns; and identify who might be able to lend you a supportive hand.

2 Think about what’s in it for him

I’m assuming you’ve figured out your business case; so how does that benefit him? Is it a simple case of he gets to keep you as an employee so his time is not tied up in recruiting a replacement? Or does it go further in that switching your hours will – for example – make you more productive or more available to a currently under-served segment of your customer base?

3 Create a compelling vision of a better future

Rather than focusing on allaying concerns raised as a result of your initial questions; use positive psychology to co-create a vivid picture of how the new arrangements might look when working well; and the benefits this will create.

Evidence suggests that in the workplace the majority of men ‘want to do the right thing’ but are not always clear on what it is. Rather than assume it would be pointless, I encourage you to start a conversation and see where it leads. You might not only re-balance your own life; but also find yourself contributing to establishing a more gender balanced corporate world.

Facing down Flexism

Offended Frustrated Millennial Woman Feeling Upset Suffering Fro

The word flexism may not have made its way into the dictionary yet but the concept has been around for several years. It refers to the unconscious bias held against those who work flexibly (and often less than full time). It raised its head again last month as research findings released by the social enterprise Timewise suggested it was rife in the workplace.

Flexism impacts behaviour in both overt and covert ways. The Timewise report gave examples of the former: reduced hours workers feeling their input is less valued and that colleagues don’t see them them as a full member of the team. In addition, as they often have less opportunities to socialise with colleagues they can also feel less connected to them.

Covert flexism manifests itself as the unspoken assumptions often held by managers that reduced hours workers are less interested in development and stretch assignments; that their focus is on family rather than career.

If you want more balanced working how do you face down flexism?

Start by changing the conversation. Rather than explaining the reasons for your reduced hours in terms of caring responsibilities; make it clear that this is a conscious strategy to keep you and your skills in the workplace. Focus on the contributions you are making in your job..

Look for opportunities to let your manager know you’re still keen to progress and to take on stretch assignments. Remind him that you’re willing to explore how it might work in practice.

Since you’re the one working non-standard hours the reality is that it’s down to you to create opportunities to socialise and connect with colleagues. Make use of available technology such as intranets; or suggest socialising at lunchtime rather than after work. You may be surprised at how positively your suggestion is received..

You’ve had the courage to ask, now think about how you can influence the thinking of others. Could you start a conversation with your colleagues to explore the benefits of flexible working for them? There’s mounting evidence that men are also looking for balanced working. They want to be involved fathers; and many are also carers of adults. And they too are aware of the subtle flexism rife in organisations. If you open up a discussion who knows where it may lead.

To do all this effectively you’ll need to get ruthless at crafting a workable job. Focus on the key tasks that will help you achieve your objectives. And see making time to network as essential to your development. It’s likely to bring new opportunities. As Herminia Ibarra observes: “If you don’t create new opportunities within the confines of your “day job” they may never come your way.”

Above all else remain confident of your skills and who you are. You get to define yourself, not other people. Define yourself by your contribution and not your limitations.

Men as Balanced Leaders

Father With Baby Working In Office At Home

I started this blog for two reasons: Firstly my passion for and belief that work-life balance should be universally accessible. When we lead balanced lives we benefit and those around us benefit.

Secondly – and as importantly – because the enduring lack of balanced working options at senior levels continues to block the progression of many women.

Social attitudes towards parenting have been shifting rapidly but the belief that taking care of children – and elderly relatives – is still primarily a woman’s responsibility continues. As long as corporate cultures refuse to acknowledge the challenges this poses women continue to be forced to make choices between career and caring.

Until now most of my posts have been written with working mothers in mind. So I felt it was time to acknowledge the increasing challenges faced by working fathers.

Last month the American Psychological Association published research findings showing that men and women around the world experience similar levels of work-family conflicts. The struggles of men are – however – largely unreported.

The role of fathers has shifted dramatically in one or two generations. Younger men generally want more day to day involvement in their children’s lives. Professor Caroline Gatrell of Lancaster University calls this ‘involved fathering’.

And legislation is increasingly supporting them. For example, the UK recently introduced Shared Parental Leave.

When they opt to become Balanced Leaders men face many of the same challenges faced by women. Men are also worried about how a desire for work-life balance will penalise career progression. And those entrenched social expectations make it difficult for them to talk openly about the issue.

At the Wharton Business School Professor Stew Friedman has been running the Total Leadership Programme since the early 1990s. The programme guides and supports both men and women to balanced leadership in every area of their lives.

Programmes like Stew’s are rare. Senior male role models are rare – although high profile men are beginning to step up as visible champions of balanced working. Men are being challenged to both redefine masculinity and the status quo of outdated corporate cultures. In many ways they are as much pioneers as the women I’ve written about in earlier posts.

When we support men to be Balanced Leaders we support their wellbeing and we provide new role models for the next generation. And as Balanced Leadership slowly becomes the norm it will also positively benefit women’s career progression.