Laurel Bajic (pictured) Consultant Project Manager for NECS, shares her experiences of tolerance and work-life balance in her blog below.
Recently I been reflecting on the theme of tolerance. Tolerance here is not describing my willingness to accept the opinions or behaviours of others but rather I use tolerance in a more quantifiable way, I shall explain why.
As a working woman my tolerance levels are tuned within a thousandth of an inch. The balance between my work and life is something that I have to continuously work at calibrating. Balancing the interdependencies and routines of family life and all it demands, with my own expectations and aspirations alongside client and colleague needs is a demanding and sometimes exhausting pre-occupation.
The answer to this problem of balance and tolerance is flexibility and acceptance. This flexibility and my interchanging personal priorities is understandably hard for managers and workplaces to navigate. The truth is, and listen to me when I assert this next bit, I don’t always need you to. I don’t need rescuing or fixing. A bit of empathy and understanding is all I need and often I know the answers, which I am very willing to share with you.
My previous experience has led me to be guarded and secretive about my family life, learning not to expose my challenges or anxieties at work regarding this continuous difficulty in calibrating the correct tolerance between work and home. I fear when I say ‘I need to take the morning off at short notice because my kid is poorly’, it is heard as ‘I am unreliable, unpredictable and a slacker’. I guess the hardest bit, as I reflect on it here is managing and performing to the demands placed on me as a mum, as a colleagues or a trusted adviser. With the Covid-19 pandemic the physical boundaries between work and home have been removed. With it has gone my opportunity to decompress and transition between my spheres of responsibility during the daily commute. It has increased the pressure and in this space of being pulled in multiple directions I am vulnerable and my thoughts are not always coherent or kind to myself.
One of the ways I have addressed my work life balance is by seeking opportunities to work part time. Unfortunately working less hours meant I was labelled a part timer, the inference here being because I do not work a 5 day week pattern I did not or was not capable of working as hard as my full time colleagues. That I could only achieve 80% of what my colleagues could because I was only visible and/ or available 0.8 of a week. I started to internalise and accept these messages about my worth and my value as an employee and colleague. The label ‘Part Timer’ crushed my spirit as well as my career as opportunities stopped coming to me. I felt I needed to protect myself and I did this by hiding my personal challenges. I now know no job requires that degree of rigidity, the world still turns if I am not in the office one a day a week, decisions are still made and life goes on. But it is this perception of my unavailability, my lack of visibility to the business that allowed me to be forgotten. Like some self-fulfilling prophesy I became undervalued by the business as I was passed over for stretch opportunities. I began to undervalue myself and I ultimately became stuck.
Following the birth of my second child, I knew for her sake that I could not return to that vision of myself. My worth is based on my successes and not solely my availability. As I looked at her in the delivery suite I saw the world and myself in simpler terms. I saw a world of possibilities, of opportunities, a world of fearlessness. In that moment I realised that I needed to be the change, that I needed to role model a life that I want my children to have. I needed to stop asking for acceptance from people who saw me as 4 days rather than on my merits and to do something different for myself. The truth is the conflict between work and family life feels real but it is exaggerated, it is a conflict that has been enabled, created and exacerbated by inadequate policy design, both work and societal. It is upheld by tired, but rapidly improving views of gender and the distribution of emotional labour.
When I got the invitation for interview from NECS for the consultant role I was 7 months into my maternity leave and still breastfeeding my daughter. The learned behaviour around denying my motherhood remained. I devised a plan to conceal myself, if could identify the interview breaks I could sneak out at lunch or in-between the assessment sessions, text my friend and we could meet up in my car so I could breastfeed my child in some distant corner of the car park.
In the end I took what felt like a massive step, I stood up and identified myself as an ambitious jobseeker who needs the business to make allowances for my family. I asked to feed my child during the course of the interview process and this leap of faith was the best thing I did. There was no ‘sorry that’s not possible’, there was no ‘Sorry but you really cannot expect us to make time so you can feed your baby – this is work time only’, there was no sense my request will impact the interview negatively.
Due to the support shown to me I performed well at interview and I got the job. I can honestly say I am viewed as a lot of things at NECS but never as a part-timer, or a chaotic mum that needs to get her focus in work, or someone that doesn’t pull her weight equally or who cannot deliver in a flexible work pattern. As a consultant I am expected to add value and work hard to deliver to the client, however there has never been any requirement to do this within a rigid work pattern. I am trusted to be present and sometimes this gives me the opportunity to pick the kids up from school and sometimes it doesn’t – buts that’s totally ok. This trust has been both liberating and refreshing.
I sometimes, when I get the calibration right, feel powerful as I am showing my children that you can succeed in areas of the life that can feel inherently mismatched. It can be done and you can thrive. You just need to be authentic, be open to support and find an organisation that recognises your worth.
Find out more about NECS Consultancy here: Consultancy