American mothers experience a crushing amount of guilt over work-family conflict.
Sociologist Caitlyn Collins, author of “Making Motherhood Work,” conducted a 5-year study of women in 4 wealthy countries (Sweden, Germany, Italy, and the United States) and found that mothers in the US experienced an overwhelming amount of guilt over family and career.
I didn’t understand this until I had a daughter of my own. She’s almost 11 years old now. Before we had her, my husband and I were both on the fence about wanting a family. We had a good life, good jobs, lots of social activities with friends, and travel. But my main trepidation was that I felt scared to death of what a child would mean for my career. Being driven, career-focused, and ambitious the struggle was real. I had found my calling in edutainment and digital media production. Living in a small town and working for Disney was no small feat. In fact, I managed to secure cool jobs during those childbearing years, and I wanted to keep it that way. In an industry where there were many enthusiastic young people willing to work overtime for less money, how could I juggle family life?
Despite these fears, we decided to go for it when I was nearing the end of my “biological clock”. But after having our child, and being home with her for my maternity leave, something happened. I had a shift in priorities. My daughter over my career. Climbing that corporate ladder didn’t seem so important. Why? Because I knew I'd have to sacrifice my career if it meant being able to work less and stay home more. It's shitty to admit, but that's the reality. The guilt of having someone else raise our child while I went into work was ever so present.
With that in mind, I changed the way I approached work. I negotiated part-time work in my field for a decent living wage for 6 years. Two different employers! And despite being asked numerous times to commit to full time, my answer was always NO. I knew I was lucky and that this scenario was not the norm. I knew there were many women who pined to be in my situation. And they told me so. Yet, I knew that many corporate employers were not on board with part-time work scenarios. Even more foreign was the concept of working from home, WHILE maintaining a flexible schedule for a decent living wage. Yes, I know there are anomalies (present-day excluded) but in my world, this was not the norm. I’m talking decent-paying jobs at mid-level positions. I’m a Project Manager - and the sentiment was you can’t possibly do that from home or part-time. I’m here to tell you that is NOT TRUE. And yes, you are seeing that in action now...
Despite my part-time work status, there was still not enough flexibility to work the schedule that I wanted to work without external perception issues from co-workers. Why is she only working 3 days per week? Why is she leaving before 7 pm? If you're in high tech, you know the drill. It didn't matter that I also put in time at home to ensure I was not a bottleneck for the team. Or that I ensured everything kept running in my absence, by being organized.
In 2019, I decided to change my fate. I created a virtual business providing Online Business Management Services (OBM) to established online businesses. Why? Because I wanted flexibility in choosing how and when I worked as well as who I was working with.
In setting up the business I discovered new virtual ways of working. I learned that people like myself could work from home, and do it a hell of a lot more efficiently than in the corporate world. I felt like a dinosaur coming from corporate with my MS Project skills. Not only had I been blind to some amazing productivity tools but I discovered this virtual world was all about being efficient, having a voice, and helping businesses surpass their best revenues to date.
Present-day — with the whole world turned on its ass, something amazing has happened. The majority of people who are still working are working from home. And you know what, both employees and employers are finding ways to do it. They are realizing that there are lots of tools out there to help them do it. And maybe, just maybe they’ll discover that they are able to work harder, and better.
This virtual world is not for everybody. Working remotely involves a shift in mindset. We can still forge relationships and we can still do our work. But we don’t need to be in the same physical space every day to do it. I know, I know...then we miss those water cooler chats and magnificent ideas that only occur in a physical environment. Maybe. But you also cut out the unnecessary noise. This allows for tremendous focus, greater productivity, and creativity. That doesn’t mean we should never get together in the future. This can still happen. But while businesses are forced to cut overhead to make up for lost revenues, virtual work may become a necessity. If you add flexible work arrangements (with overlap for key core hours) employers can build a dedicated, stronger workforce.
For Employers, there can be huge benefits. According to Global Workplace Analytics, “US companies could collectively increase their bottom lines between $525 and $665 billion/year as a result of savings in real estate, absenteeism, turnover and increased productivity”.
What does this mean for the overworked stressed-out parent, who yearns for that work/life balance?
More time available due to zero commute times. Whether it’s an extra 15 min or 2 hours - time is time!
Free time (lunch) to do what they want. Stop by the kid's school, fold some laundry, take a power nap, meditate for mental well being.
Flexible work schedules enable people to do what's important to them. Spend time with family, on hobbies, exercising, errands, getting housework done, helping kids with homework. Life fulfillment increases happiness. When we’re happy, we are less stressed and more positive.
Empowering all employees to be responsible and get their work done without micromanaging. Empowered employees = more productive and dedicated employees.
Helping to eliminate work-related guilt, because parents can be present in work and life when they need to be.
The new world can make a positive change to the way we work, how we live our lives and how dedicated and productive we are. It takes leadership to trust in your employees. It takes courage to change processes and systems. It takes vision and empathy to make human lives better. With the right environment, employees will show their gratitude. Increased productivity, loyalty, and greater
creativity are what employers can expect . According to Global Workplace Analytics, in a poll of 1,500 technology professionals, 37% would take a 10% pay cut if they could work from home and 80% of employees consider telework a job perk.
Let’s make the new normal greater than it ever was. Let’s embrace the virtual workforce, beyond the current chaos, as we head towards a better future.
Simmi Behal is the Founder and CEO, The Virtual Producer. I provide virtual business services to educators, coaches, content creators, and established entrepreneurs. I make sure the right stuff gets done at the right time in the right way by the right people. So you can focus on your realm of genius.
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