What do you do if you’re living through unprecedented times, dealing with increased demands, policies from work that seem to require that you work at an impossible rate and pressure at home from your little ones pulling on your emotions and requiring your constant attention? How do you make it stop and get the changes you need before you start to head for burnout?
You’re not super human and you can only do so much. You can try to do it all but at some point you will more likely find yourself feeling like it’s too much and you will burn out. I worry about that. Women tend to take on a lot at the best of times, but now I can see that for certain people the pressure to do it all is greater than ever. While the message from the media is that we’re all able to sit back, reflect and do all the things we don’t normally have time to do, during this lockdown period the reality for dual career families with small children is quite the opposite. The feeling of gratitude for still having a job is now starting to get replaced by feelings of exhaustion, unhappiness and resentment. But it doesn’t have to be that way, if we get clear about what it is we need to make this situation workable and to find a balanced approach to make it win-win for our employers and for ourselves and our partners. So how to do you navigate it all and come out the other end in one piece, without the physical and mental scars, and get what you need to see you through?
Everyone has their own unique set of circumstances and before taking action it’s useful to consider some of the reasons for you not getting what you need, but central to all of this is that you take control of the situation and don’t assume there is nothing you can do. It may be that you need to re-negotiate your way of working with your employer, reduce hours or work more flexibly. Or if that’s not possible then you may need to look at what you can get more support with at home, by asking your partner to take on other responsibilties. All too often I see women make assumptions about what they can and can’t control but in most of the cases there are other factors at play which are clouding their judgement and allowing the limitations they put upon themselves. There’s no blame attached, it’s just about breaking those limitations down and finding a way forward and to reclaim their power.
I want to highlight a few key areas that you can examine to see what is actually holding you back from stating or asking for what you need and want and how you can address them.
1. Lack of confidence at work
Often when we lack confidence in our abilities, our worth or in our value we find it difficult to not only ask for what we need, we often don’t even realise we can ask. “I’m too low level to be listened to” or “I’m afraid they’ll think I’m being awkward” or “If I ask I may lose my job”. All are legitimate concerns, if you come from a point of not feeling like you are good enough or valued enough to raise your viewpoint. If you want to raise an issue at work and get changes you need put in place and any of these questions come up for you stop and ask yourself whether any of it is really true? Do you have past experiences that support or negate these? Can you think about the times that you have actually proven yourself many times over and shown your capabilities as a trusted employee? You could you bring this “evidence” to the table when thinking about how best to frame your conversation with your manager. Knowing what you already bring to an organisation, supported by evidence and with reassurance from you that you will continue to support them as best as you are able to can be a good way to bring recognise your worth and bring your confidence levels up so that you feel as though you are making a reasonable request.
2. You have high standards (at work)
I hear this a lot from high achievers and higher-level employees. Unlike someone with confidence issues, you know your worth, value and ability but you don’t want to be seen to be lowering your standards if you are facing the need to lower output. You may feel that you are letting your childless colleagues down, or that you are showing weakness if you need things to change at work and require some support. If this is you, stop and ask yourself what the effects are going to be not just for you and your family but also to your employer if you continue to work in such an unsustainable way. They may face zero output from you if you become unwell. They may also risk losing you in the longer term if you start to feel resentful and overworked. If you want to continue to work for your organisation after all this is over, ask yourself why that is? Do you need the job security or do you really enjoy what you do and who you work for? If it’s the latter then, being clear about wanting to safeguard your future with them may become a compelling reason to start the conversation. If it’s the former then you may want to start questioning whether you need to actually stay with them in the longer term if they aren’t considering your needs. Are they the type of organisation you truly want to work for? Could you do a similar job somewhere else?
3. You have high standards (at home)
If re-negotiating your hours or conditions at work is not an option (and there are other reasons why this may not be possible) then look to home. What could you let go of to ease things? Or do you like things done a certain way and are loath to pass on tasks to anyone else for fear that they might not be done to your standards? If your children are of a certain age where they can be left unsupervised for short bursts of time, are you letting that happen or are you trying to be the best employee as well as the best mother/child carer/teacher? If you can see that you are putting pressure on yourself to fulfil all of the roles being asked of you to a high standard, could doing less at home be an option for you? Only you can decide what your priorities are but if you don’t acknowledge what they are and where you can cut yourself some slack then things could get unsustainable and while work may still see the best of you, you could find that your partner and your children take the hit and frustrations start to surface there.
4. Not sharing the parental load
Now this is a tough one for single parents and in these extreme times it is difficult to get the physical support that you need so I understand this has to be practical for your household. But those women with partners at home, are you willing to share the parental load (see above) and if you are (and in fact are dying to) have you made clear, joint decisions about how things will run in the house while both of you are working and the children need looking after?
If the lines are still blurred and you feel like you are taking on the lion’s share then its probably time to sit down with your partner and have a frank and open discussion about the support that you need. Sometimes we fall into old habits, or circumstances dictate our beliefs about what we should or shouldn’t be doing, but what we should remember is that this is not a normal situation for us and what might have worked for us before may no longer work for us now. If that’s you, then being clear about what you need with your partner can be a total game changer and for many women a much needed shift.
There are so many additional complexities that hold us in situations that don’t work for us and without being able to delve more deeply into our own individual circumstances I’m only scratching the surface. The main message I want to convey here is of taking control. If something isn’t working for you, ask yourself who has the power to change it? More often than not it comes down to you. So before you surrender to the seemingly impossible situation you may find yourself in right now, ask yourself whether you fall into any of the above scenarios and whether there is something you can do to make things easier for yourself, one way or another, by telling others what you want and asking for the support that you need.
Jo Oogarah – Women’s Career Development Coach
I help career-focused mothers lose the overwhelm, avoid burnout and build a fulfilling career that works around their family and helps them to achieve greater work-life balance.
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