From the Experts: Tips for Working Mothers

tips for working mothers - office mum

Since starting Office Mum, I’ve been fortunate to get to know some really inspiring women who work in the area of helping mothers to balance careers with family. They’ve very kindly joined forces to contribute to this post, in order to give you some of their top tips for juggling work and home – setting boundaries when you go back to work, searching for flexible work, building your personal brand, and dealing with being overwhelmed.

So whether you’re on maternity leave with your first baby, back at work after your third, or wondering if it’s time for a career-change, you may find something to help you here. Or at the very least, be reminded that you’re not alone.

Setting Boundaries

Office Mum: Tracy Gunn Mumager photoTracy Gunn of Mumager passes on her tips for making sure you’re not stuck in the office long after the crèche pick-up time has passed:

“As a working parent, it’s important to be clear about the boundaries that you have between work and home.  If you don’t have a clear idea of what your boundaries are then it becomes more difficult to manage your work-life balance.  It can also make it difficult for your colleagues as they’re not sure what they can or can’t reasonably expect you to do.

Many of us don’t even think about this – until it becomes an issue. For example, we worked with one mum recently who had a colleague in the USA.   What had gone from an ad-hoc out-of-hours call every couple of months, had become a regular once or twice a week call in the evenings.  She didn’t know how it had got to that stage but admitted that she’d allowed it to happen.  So to help avoid taking out of hours calls or rushing at the last minute for the crèche pick up, here are some tips:

  1. Agree: Decide with your boss upfront what your working week will look like.  Make sure that you communicate this to your colleagues and stakeholders too.
  2. Be assertive:  Have confidence about the decisions you’ve made – use ‘I don’t’ instead of ‘I can’t; for example ‘I don’t work Fridays so won’t be able to make that meeting’ versus ‘I can’t come to that meeting’.
  3. Create the conditions: Set yourself up for success by turning off email alerts;  put on your out-of-office – clearly stating when you’ll be back in the office and who to contact in urgent circumstances
  4. Flexibility: Agree what constitutes an ‘emergency’ or what you’re prepared to bend the rules for.  If you do something outside your boundaries, make it clear that you’re doing this due to exceptional circumstances
  5. Manage your boundaries: If you don’t manage them – no one else will

Finally, remember “good fences make good neighbours”.   Boundaries aren’t something else to feel guilty about.  Creating and sticking to them will not only help you and your family, they’ll help those that you work with too.   Plus you’ll be a great role model for other working parents.”

Originally from Scotland, Tracy moved to Ireland six years ago having fallen in love with an Irish man.  She’s a freelance Trainer and Coach and runs her own business ‘Being at your Best’.  At the end of last year founded a new venture ‘Mumager’ along with two colleagues.  Mumager is aimed at working mums, offering workshops and coaching with the aim of helping them to manage their work and home lives.  She has two little boys and works part-time.

Finding Flexible Work

Office Mum : Martina PerryBut if setting boundaries isn’t working, and your full-time, high-pressure, deadline-driven job isn’t compatible with your crèche pick-up and spending time with your child, you might consider looking for part-time hours, or failing  that, you may decide to make a career move. Elaine Lawless and Martina Perry of TheWorkingMother.ie have some good suggestions for finding flexible work:

“Once you become a mother, many things change, including what’s important to you in your job or career. For many working mothers, the number one career goal is to find a great job that offers flexible working arrangements. Whether it is the option to work part-time, work flexible hours or work from home for part of the week, a flexible job Office Mum: Elaine Lawlessoffers many advantages. But how do you go about finding a flexible job or career?

  1. Ask Your Boss – It’s always best to take the path of least resistance.  Talking to your boss is the most straightforward way to see if a flexible plan is an option in your current role.  Never just assume the answer will be ‘No’… think through what you want and come up with a mutually beneficial proposal, then approach your boss. You might be surprised.
  2. Job Search – Many of the leading recruitment websites such as Irishjobs.ie, jobs.ie, recruitireland.ie, monster.ie allow you to search for jobs using search terms such as “work from home” “telecommute” “freelance” and “part-time”. Set up an alert with each of the websites so you get notified straight away when something fits your criteria. A quick search for ‘work from home’ on one of these sites brings up several results so check each site and go back regularly to keep up-to-date on any suitable jobs. You should also sign up with a few recruitment agencies who can alert you of any suitable positions as they arise.
  3. Network – Tell friends, family and even past work colleagues what you are looking for, one of them may know of a job that offers an option to work from home. Connect with professionals in your industry on LinkedIn and keep an eye on job opportunities in their companies. Networking has proven to be the best method for finding a new job, so make sure you make the most of your own network of contacts.
  4. Become a Consultant or Freelancer – There are a lot of careers out there that lend themselves to part-time or freelance work and offer both flexibility and fulfilment.  Careers such as web design, graphic design, writing, project management, online marketing, photography, programming… to name just a few. If you are already in one of these roles then consider the possibility of going freelance or becoming a consultant. If you’re not, you could consider up-skilling or retraining. Websites such as elance.com are the perfect place to take a look at the kind of freelance jobs that are in demand right now.
  5. Start Your Own Business – Starting your own business might be easier than you think… you can start it from home and work on it when you have time, without taking any major risks. Work on it when the kids are at school, asleep, or watching the TV… steal a couple of hours to work on it while your other half is home. And eventually, it just might grow into something sustainable… it might even take your life in directions you never imagined.

Martina Perry and Elaine Lawless set up The Working Mother to provide support and advice to working mothers all over Ireland, struggling to achieve that elusive work-life harmony. Whether you are a full time career mother, have a part-time job, work freelance, or run your own business, they’re here to help you figure out how to take control of your life while earning an income and enjoying more time for yourself and your family. Sign up for their free weekly newsletter at www.theworkingmother.ie.

Personal  Branding

Office Mum interview: Dearbhalla BavieraWhether you are sticking with your existing role or branching out into something new, Clearbird Consulting coach Dearbhalla Baviera has advice on personal branding and raising your profile.

“Women are often just not as good as men at self-promotion. This especially applies to working mums, who are so busy keeping their heads down and getting the job done, so that they can go home on time to do their ‘other’ job, that they don’t raise their heads at work and talk about what they are doing.

In your early career, this may be enough to succeed. But in the mid-career phase (mid-30’s to mid-40’s), it’s no longer just about doing a great job. It is our responsibility to talk about what we are doing and how great we are – even if we are not comfortable with it. If we don’t, who will? And the guys will be doing it for themselves!

Know what your personal brand is and what you want it to be. What do you want to be known for? With that awareness, use your brand to raise your own profile at work. This could mean driving recognition for your area of expertise, your achievements or your strengths. It could mean having a personal ‘Social Media Strategy’ to help build your own brand with colleagues, managers and clients. This can simply mean a conscious and strategic use of sharing, liking, commenting on LinkedIn and whatever else you use to reflect messages that help build your brand.

Whatever your personal brand is – know it, own it and use it to raise your profile at work.”

Dearbhalla Baviera is a mum of four, who has transitioned from a full-time role as a management consultant to setting up her own business; Clearbird Coaching & Consulting. She is a coach, facilitator and motivational speaker who focuses on working with women in business and women in transition.

Dealing with being overwhelmed

Office Mum interview: photo of Sarah CourtneyEven with all the best advice, the greatest organizational skills, the most flexible boss, and babies who sleep through the night, we can all end up feeling overwhelmed from time to time. When this happens, it’s a good idea to step back (if you can find a minute!) and take stock. Coach Sarah Courtney has some helpful tips for dealing with feeling overwhelmed:

“Through my work as a coach I am struck by how lack of space can lead to feelings of overwhelm. But more space can always be found if you’re willing to move things around a bit. So here are a few tips that might help if this strikes a chord:

  1. Is it physically possible within the time and resources you have to complete your To Do list? 9 times out of 10 the answer is no. Stop trying to do what you objectively admit is impossible! How could you possibly succeed? Instead, review your list and delegate or delete the tasks that are less of a priority. Simply accepting that you are putting yourself under pressure reduces feelings of being overwhelmed and invites a sense of peace and control.
  2. Learn to say no and don’t apologise for it. Saying no is simply a habit. While it might initially shock those around you, after a while they will get used to it. If you are a people pleaser and this has led to your feelings of being overwhelmed, start out small. Say no, politely but firmly. Remember it is your responsibility if you choose to take something on, not anyone else’s.
  3. Who are you doing this for? Have you followed a path because that’s what you started out doing years ago and everyone expects you to keep going? Perhaps your friends are all still going full tilt at their careers but deep down you know that’s not right for you. What do you want to do instead, what is your passion? Be courteous enough to yourself to spend time making sure you’re living the life you actually want to live. People can be incredibly busy, yet content, if they are doing what they are doing for the right reasons.
  4. Park your guilt! You only have to answer to yourself. Know and believe that what whatever it is you want in life is perfectly ok. You don’t need to justify your choices as long as you are making those choices consciously and in full understanding of any consequences, good or bad.
  5. Remember to keep your friends, hobbies and above all your sense of humour. Life can be a serious old thing. In all the ‘responsibilities’ you juggle, prioritize yourself and do what you need to do to re-charge your batteries.

Sarah Courtney is a Life & Business Coach, with a 15 year career in Human Resources within the Banking and IT sector. A graduate of UCD and the Irish LifeCoach Institute, Sarah is passionate about the contribution coaching can make to individuals in their day to day lives and to the bottom line of business.  Sarah is mom to Kate, a gorgeous and bossy two year old. Find Sarah at www.sarahcourtneycoaching.ie on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/sarahcourtney.coaching

As a non-expert contributor, here’s my two cents:

When you’re stuck in the middle of commuting and crèche drops and deadlines, it can be hard to step back and take the time to assess your situation. But if you’re feeling miserable, it’s very much worth doing. So many of us keep muddling through, and don’t make any changes until they’re made for us or done to us.

It may be that you love your job, and can handle the fact that it’s occasionally incompatible with family – even knowing you love your job is a huge positive. But it may be that you tolerate your job – for financial reasons, or because you don’t want to leave the workforce entirely, for fear of not getting back in. In those scenarios, there may be other options. Perhaps it’s time to take stock – could you reduce your hours temporarily or permanently? Could you work from home and fit in some school-runs and more time with the kids? Is there something you’re passionate about, which you could turn into a business? Can you afford to take parental leave while your kids are small? The answer is different for everyone, and maybe the answer is that you don’t need to change anything, but it’s worth stopping to look.

***

Some other practical working mother posts around the blog include:

24 tips for working parents: balancing work and home

Seven tips for going back to work after maternity leave

Rebuilding confidence after maternity leave

Tips for finding a childminder (nanny)

Seven good reasons to consider working from home

On a final note; a big thank you to the lovely contributors – I’ve enjoyed meeting every one of you and am delighted you took part in this post!

 

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9 thoughts on “From the Experts: Tips for Working Mothers”

  1. Thanks for sharing all that useful information. I definitely am at a crossroads here. I do like my job and it is very compatible with my family life. I work full time but start early and finish early. I’m bored though (no opportunities and closed-minded management…) , and need something different. I’m just afraid I won’t find another job where I will have the same hours (so far I’ve been unsuccessful anyway, and I’ve tried 🙂 ). What you say at the end is very true. I need to stop, look re-consider my priorities., and find out what I really want to do.
    There are very useful tips there, and I will have a proper look at everything, maybe it will give me some ideas 🙂
    Nearly Irish recently posted…My thoughts on “French Leave” by Liz RyanMy Profile

    1. Hi Anne, I’m glad the tips were helpful to you – it sounds like you do need to take a step back (going on this but also your own posts!) – there’s certainly nothing to lose. And I think while flex is critical, if you’re not motivated, it loses its value to an extent. Good luck!

    1. Agree very much on “can’t ” and “don’t”, and similarly, expressing a requirement as a statement rather than a request can work well (“I will be working from home tomorrow” rather than “can I please work from home tomorrow because xyz” – though it depends on the employer too)
      And yes, as a good friend of mine says, work is work and life is life.

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