If you are a working parent, watch out for toxic work cultures that constantly challenge personal and family life. Eunice Asante, founder of The Workers Journal, shares her experiences and offers some practical advice.
I wanted to do something different with this month's post. I wanted to share my experience of working and parenthood. If you are a parent, I don't know about you and your experience, but the struggle is real for me. Working and parenting a dependent child is hard!
I remember finding out I was pregnant with my first child and thinking, how will I navigate work and parenthood? How do parents today do both without neglecting or sacrificing one for another? Especially if you are very ambitious and driven.
How do working parents manage today?
If you are in the West, for the most part, so much of our work culture is not supportive of family life. Depending on your industry, it's not unusual to expect to work overtime, take work home, and be on call. I currently work part-time hours from home and manage my work around my child.
My husband and I split our day, so each parent has time to work and spend time with our son. Despite this, I still struggle with working and parenthood and salute parents who work full time, commute or are single parents.
I guess the truth is, regardless of your specific situation, working and parenthood are roles that will demand so much from you. I'm learning that consistency, managing expectations, and boundaries are the keys to success in both areas.
If the pressure to over-perform becomes overly competitive and committed, it's a zero-sum game, and no one wins.
Toxic work cultures and family life
I was once offered a job working with a director at a prestigious NHS trust. I needed the job as I had just returned to London after a year and a bit of working and exploring Norway.
It immediately became evident that the expectation in this role was to overwork. Everyone in the office skipped lunch; came in at least an hour early, and worked overtime. I was single at the time with no child, but most of the team were married with children. I couldn't understand how they were doing it.
I remember one incident soon after I had started. I was coming into work 30 minutes early, only taking half a lunch break, and leaving work 20 minutes after my shift.
The director called from across the office and said: ‘leaving early again. I'm obviously not giving you enough work’. I cannot tell you all the thoughts that raced through my mind. But I'll tell you this, at that moment, I knew I would leave the job within a few months.
I also decided that I would:
a: arrive at work on time, not early
b: take my whole lunch break
c: leave work on time and not a minute late.
And guess what? I did - much to the annoyance of the director. I realised that the environment had become so toxic that it didn't matter how much I worked, it would never be enough.
If you are a working parent, watch out for toxic work cultures that constantly challenge personal and family life. And don’t forget that if the pressure to over-perform becomes overly competitive and committed, it's a zero-sum game, and no one wins.
Creating healthy boundaries
Creating healthy boundaries is critical. When the team saw me putting boundaries in place, many spoke to me privately about how I did it. The truth is I didn't do anything. I decided how I wanted to be treated and respected my boundaries. If you don't respect your boundaries, neither will your employer nor your family.
If your contract says you work a certain amount of hours and you choose to work more than that, even if you feel pressure from your employer, understand that it is your choice to overwork.
Tips on creating boundaries
Here are some top tips for creating and establishing healthy boundaries at work.
a: Before accepting a job, ask to observe/speak with the team you will work with. This will give you insight into the culture and what boundaries you can place.
b: During the interview phase, ask about work priorities, schedules and key goals over the next few months. This helps you gauge how your employer views and manages priorities. But also how they expect you to perform and manage in the role.
c: Speak to your manager about your commitments outside of work and how you would like to manage both. If possible, get the agreement in writing.
d: Negotiate your contract to include working half days and working from home.
Also negotiate annual leave entitlement, annual leave during school holidays, dependant leave, reduced working hours and childcare benefits such as subsidised childcare.
e: Always negotiate deadlines, so you can stay on top of them and manage work around them.
f: Arrange an informal conversation with your manager or HR if things are not going well.
I don't think there is a straightforward answer to working and parenting except learning to create boundaries and speaking up when needed. I know that can be hard sometimes, but asking for help is important. Ask for help from your employer, family, and friends.
If this is still not working and your boundaries are not respected, it may be time to move on. Get in touch with me here, and I'll show you how.
What's a working parent to do?
I didn't know what to expect before I became a parent, but as soon as my son was born, I decided to prioritise family life over work.
It sounds easy to say this, but this decision led to many personal and financial sacrifices. It has been challenging at times, especially now that my two-year-old has learnt to talk back (eye roll).
You can have it all, but not at the same time. Life has seasons, and this season in my life is about establishing my family, so I'm embracing the change while being creative with work.
If you are a working parent, I would love to know your thoughts on work and parenthood, and what you do to manage both. Please send me your thoughts at email@example.com
Don't forget to follow me on Instagram @iameuniceasante
Until next time