Work-life balance is a hot topic in any workplace. An increase in technology means that access to our work life is literally at our fingertips and the lines between home and the office are blurring adding to an ‘always on’ mentality that makes it very difficult to switch off. Being a working parent can make this balance even more difficult to navigate, with shifting priorities and different schedules to coordinate.
So, what challenges do working parents face, what are work places doing well and what can they do to improve?
We spoke to professionals from the events industry and beyond about their experiences.
From left to right
Christine Gouchault, author of Business Mum - Three steps to success in running your own business and being a Mum.
Ed Currer, Creative Director, Vinyl Impression
Sasha Frieze, Founder, The Business Narrative
Miljenko Gabric, Managing Director, Pure Events
Jonathan Chohan, Business Development Manager, One Great George Street
What challenges do you face as a working parent?
Ed: My two girls are the best thing that has happened to me after marrying my wife, and it is so hard to pull myself away from them every day to go to work. But the biggest challenge as a CEO and working in events is switching off. I love this famous quote by Jim Elliot, “Wherever you are be all there.” It’s really difficult to not look at your phone or emails at home, or take calls out of hours in such a fast-paced industry.
Miljenko: I think like anyone in events the constant travel and unsociable hours means you not only sometimes miss out on the big things (school plays, sports days) but also often on the little everyday things like school runs and bath times. One of the biggest disruptions I think can be (if you travel regularly) the coming and going, as this can be really disruptive and confusing for very young children.
Kevin: As a full time single dad of 3 children under 11 the event industry did challenge me severely and I'm sure you can all imagine what they were.
Christine: As a working parent there is always a time pressure. It is difficult to make ends meet when you have to drop off your children go to work and then pick the children up again before it’s too late. Especially if you don’t live close to your workplace. And when the children are ill it’s even worse.
Jonathan: For me the biggest challenge I’ve encountered is dealing with sleep deprivation – My wife has no issues doing the night feeds but with me being a light sleeper, I’ll always wake up and I can’t help but want to help even if it’s as small as going down to the kitchen to prep a bottle.
However, three months in and I feel like I’m handling the lack of sleep much better. A good friend recently told me “You never catch up on the missed sleep…you just learn to live without it”.
Helen: Sometimes life happens and priority will always rest with your child, as it should do. Insisting that parents take holiday pay to cover a period of ill health is not an ideal or fair option as this restricts and takes away opportunity for parents to spend quality time with their children.
I’ve just had to spend 3 weeks away from work due to my child's health and was able to take compassionate leave, in fact it was insisted on by my employer rather than taking holidays, and the final week I was able to work from home, no questions asked.
What do you do to help create that distinction between home and the office?
Ed: I use the do not disturb on my phone a lot, and have set up an auto-reply text message to respond when declining calls out of hours that says: ‘Sorry, I am with my family please call back later.’ I use it a lot!
Jonathan: As Business Development Manager I do a lot of my relationship building and networking during after hour events. Since my little girl arrived all I want to do is get home and be with my family.
What I do now is be very selective about what evening events I go to and what networking events will give me the best opportunities so my productivity at work is not effected.
What can work places do to help parents overcome those challenges?
Helen: The main way that businesses can do more to support employees with children is to ensure there is scope for flexibility around working hours and the pressures of life. Any business that insists on a 9-5 Monday to Friday culture for parents restricts the scope for parents to work at their most productive and optimum best, split days and flexi hours can be a much better option.
Events are pressured enough for professionals in our industry without the additional worry when your child is ill, which is a horrible and stressful time for any parent, and completely out of their control. If you support them through these periods and have a flexible and relaxed attitude it will reap rewards for the business.
Remember that a happy employee is a productive employee.
Sasha: The world of work has changed for the good during my career – nowadays I see much more flexibility in relation to a range of differing needs – not just parenting - and I think this is a great way to retain experienced staff. Our own team at The Business Narrative has a core of skilled and knowledgeable members who we love working with flexibly to suit their needs and the needs of clients. That way, everyone gets a great result.
Ed: Make flexible working hours available to those with kids. I have several team members at Vinyl Impression that work different hours in order to fit their lifestyle; some for their kids and some for travel reasons. We find that this is manageable and creates a good balance.
I find it interesting how in some countries in Europe (Who tend to be more family orientated, and work locally) have a long break in the middle of the day and then work longer in the evening.
For example working 9 - 3 then going home to have quality time with the family and then picking work back up from 8-11pm. This only works on days when I am not out of the office in meetings, on site visits, events, of course, but this gives me quality time in the day with my family, rather than getting home when the kids are in bed.
Jonathan: A huge help is having a work place that is flexible and understanding to these new changes. I feel very lucky to be part of a team where all members are willing to jump in an help one another whenever necessary!
Christine: Don’t do early morning or late afternoon meetings, and give your employees the possibility to work from home when their children are sick. Offer more part-time positions.
In jobs where it is possible, measure your employees on their results and the quality of their work rather than on how many hours they spend at the office. It’s more motivating and gives the employees more freedom to plan their work.
A lot of companies actually do that in Denmark where I live. I still prefer to be an entrepreneur though. The flexibility of being my own boss makes it even easier for me to have a great career and have time for my four children.
Kevin: The solution was perhaps easier than you think, certainly I thought...communication.
Letting everyone know exactly where you are and what you will and won't be able to do, and I'm not just talking about your employer, and with their agreement your clients, I'm talking about the children too.
From the small, 'I will leave a meeting with no explanation if the school/ nursery rings', through to the medium 'I will leave at 4pm to collect the kids, but will finish the proposal at home', to the large 'I can be abroad here, here and here but not here.'
As long as everyone knows whats going on and where your hard lines are, it's very doable.
We’d love to hear from you. Let us how you manage your work-life balance as a parent @EventLAB_Online