The term work-life balance is bandied about regularly, yet for many of us it seems as achievable as seeing a unicorn (although, thanks to the current Pokémon craze, the unicorn may not seem so unrealistic).
So what is work-life balance, and why do so many of us dream of it? Most importantly, how can we make it happen?
According to that great font of knowledge, Wikipedia, work-life balance is a concept that involves prioritising between work (career and ambitions) and lifestyle (family, leisure, spiritual development, etc). In other words, it’s how you balance everything in your life.
As women, we tend to wear a lot of hats and we’re often guilty of putting the needs of others first — employers, partners, children, volunteer groups — leaving little for our own needs. This is where the importance of work-life balance comes into play — to be productive, happy and fulfilled, we need to devote time to enjoying the things that put a smile on our face.
For each of us, that means achieving something different. That also applies to how we make it happen. According to the 2016 SEEK Learning Defining Work-Life Balance Report, 34% of us say work-life balance is “flexibility in hours/location”, 27% as “work that doesn’t interrupt home life”, 23% as “ability to time-bank”, and 15% as “no overtime”.
Clearly business has a big role to play, with an overwhelming 92% of Australians in the report stating that work-life balance would affect their decision to change jobs or careers.
So what can a business do to help in achieving a work-life balance? Simply, provide flexibility. Work with employees to enable them to work in a way that complements, rather than competes, with their lifestyle. Flexible arrangements can include reduced hours, flexi-time or working from home. Sure, you may need to negotiate to find an arrangement that suits you both, but you both also benefit.
Employees who are happier are more present, productive and loyal. The Harvard Business Review outlines employer benefits such as higher outputs, reduced absenteeism, improved morale, lower staff turnover and a great reputation. In essence, flexible working arrangements are a no-brainer.
Mike Roddy, director of Client Engagement and Talent Solutions at recruitment specialist Randstad, said employees who feel overwhelmed should talk to their employer about options to reduce hours or increase flexibility — looking at habits they can change.
Meet three successful women in business who are working with their employers to achieve their right work-life balance.
Women in Business glam up for a cause
It’s hard to believe but 42% of homeless people are under 25. It’s a humbling statistic, but one that female professionals enthusiastically
raised money for at the recent Women in Business event, Youth Off The Streets Lipstick Lunch in Parramatta.
Donning their favourite lipsticks, guests donated an amazing $8,597 for Youth Off The Streets, all while enjoying good food, great company and powerful insights from guest speakers, Father Chris Riley and Detective Superintendent Deborah Wallace.
Father Chris spoke of his belief that there is “no such thing as a bad kid, only bad environments and bad situations”. He was particularly impassioned discussing the recent juvenile detention ordeal currently in the
media, talking about the need for compassion and education.
“If you treat people like dirt, they rise from the dirt and the dirt will come back across you,” he said.
Often referred to as “the gang buster”, Deborah Wallace has delved into the dark underbelly of crime, investigating and dismantling some of the state’s most feared gangs. Throughout a stellar career spanning more than 30 years with NSW Police, Deborah has faced murderers, drug manufacturers and extortionists, to name just a few, armed with her trademark heels and colourful suits.
Currently Commander, State Crime ommand Gangs Squad, Deborah is a self-described diehard Parramatta Eels fan, proud “westie” and long-time supporter of Youth Off The Streets.
Deborah and Father Chris have worked closely together for many years, focusing where possible on education to provide better opportunities for younger people. The two spoke honestly about the harder aspects of their roles.
Self-deprecating and humorous, Deborah left everyone in stitches when she described her first night as a young police officer on the streets. She spoke at length about changes she has witnessed during her career and the importance of never compromising your integrity. Good leadership is integral in creating opportunities for women in the workforce, she said, stating that “a leader needs to be authentic and real”. ❐
Kim Ivantsoff, Special Counsel, mum of two, book and movie buff
Admitting she was a workaholic at former firms, Kim appreciates now being able to focus on family, friends and interests outside work. A flexible workplace means that she can be present as
a mother without sacrificing the more challenging commercial work she enjoys and still be supported with career
“For me, a work-life balance means being able to do the things I like doing outside work — time with the kids is a big part of that. I do still work later at night but I can go home to do it, and because I’m close to the school I can attend their special occasions and concerts.”
A recent convert to the gym, Kim admits that she appreciates that her employer encourages her to take the opportunity to exercise and clear her thoughts at the times that fit best with her working day.
Stephanie Lee, Accredited Specialist in Family Law, mum of one, yoga fiend
With a soon to be three-year-old, burgeoning family law client list, and parents and in-laws living overseas in various states of health, Stephanie is the first to acknowledge that she can feel pulled from different directions, but that she’s been lucky to achieve an equilibrium.
Both Stephanie and her partner work four days a week so they can share the care of their son. Organisation is key, Stephanie explains, alongside learning not to worry about things outside your control.
Stephanie plans and preps meals for the week on a Sunday and uses technology so she doesn’t need to be tied to a desk. Stephanie is able to enjoy the complexities of a senior role while still being around for her son. She also makes time for herself, regularly practising yoga and meditation.
“I’m lucky because often women in my situation reach a crossroad where they have to choose to scale back on work or miss family time. I’ve been lucky that my employer embraces flexible work hours and it’s not just lip service.”
Leanne McKee, Program Scheduler at Nine Entertainment Co, mum of two, time manager extraordinaire
“Don’t overload yourself — you need to learn to say no,” Leanne regularly advises her daughters.
Leanne says that work-life balance is about working out what is important to you in your life right now, and the sense of being able to have it all — if that’s what you want.
Emphasising that she has a supportive partner, Leanne moved onto night shifts when her children were born, giving her an opportunity to keep her skills up-to-date and to be a full-time mum — although forsaking some sleep.
“That’s the decision I made at the time to achieve what I wanted. So many I’ve met have had to reinvent the wheel career-wise so I was very lucky to be able to have both a career and my family.”
Leanne notes that achieving the right work-life balance is a two-way street with employers — you need to work hard and earn the respect and trust of your employer if you want them to give you the flexibility.
With her children now interstate, Leanne is adapting to a new lifestyle, devoting more time to catching up with friends and other interests.