This is all very timely for me as I prepare to finish my maternity leave, hand over full-time parenting responsibilities to my husband and return to work. This time around, I will be going back to a full-time senior management position, and reflecting on how to balance my own needs, career aspirations and job satisfaction with those of my family has led me to uncover a few surprising truths about juggling work and home life.
Being a parent requires special skills that, arguably, can't be acquired elsewhere - or at least not to the same extent. Patience, empathy, resilience, negotiation and communication skills are all essential if you're trying to raise a well-rounded, confident, socially adept three year old. They're also all skills that would serve you well in a board room - and they've certainly helped me to become a better manager. I'm able to show compassion, see things from others' perspectives, communicate one idea in a variety of ways to ensure it is understood, and identify a real problem from a knee-jerk emotional response. Employers should embrace this, and understand how making it easy for parents to come back to work on flexible terms can benefit the organisation, too.
2. Parenting + working = increased productivity
There's nothing like being tight on time to make you make the most of it. When you know you have to leave the office at 4pm to collect a small human from nursery, things get done. At work and at home you become more efficient - you spend less time getting distracted by what you might have for dinner, and more time concentrating on the task in hand. My organisational skills are better than ever before. The stats prove this too - in a 2016 survey of 8,000 global employers, 83% said adopting flexible working policies had resulted in improvements in productivity. This doesn't just apply to parents, of course - flexible working can improve work-life balance and job satisfaction for everyone. This report from the CIPD calls for more flexible working for over 50s, to enable them to stay in work for longer, and it is widely stated that 'millennials' value - or even expect - to be able to work flexibly.
3. Playing sparks your creativity
The final observation I've made - and perhaps the most interesting - is that being a mummy has made me more creative. I spend a significant proportion of my free time playing with a very imaginative three year old - and this kind of pretend play, where we make up stories, act out different scenarios, and use our imaginations to change everyday objects into space rockets or pirate ships has changed the way I think. New ideas come more readily, and my thinking is less constrained by the norms of the corporate world. This is invaluable in my line of work, where creative thinking leads to stand-out marketing campaigns that will grab customers' attention. Parent or not, let's all spend more time playing - it really does make work more fun!
I'm fortunate to work for an employer that supports flexible working where possible, but organising shared parental leave was much more difficult for my husband - because despite the law changing more than two years ago, his employer had never had to navigate it before. As the concepts of flexible working and equal parenting become more common topics of debate, I hope that more people - employers, older workers, parents and young people alike - take the opportunity to shape working practices to benefit everyone, because I do believe that good business is making the 9-5 a thing of the past.