I’ve recently returned to work after maternity leave. It certainly hasn’t been the maternity leave, nor the return to work I envisaged, and a month in, I’m still trying to get my head around the fact that ‘work’ and ‘home’ are one and the same thing for the foreseeable.
I am fortunate to work for a company where flexible working is something open to everyone, regardless of their familial status, and where Parent and Comms Professional have co-existed long before we were hit by a global pandemic. So while the “Can I really be good at my job and a good mum too?” question is often playing on repeat in my head, I’ve been welcomed back by a supportive team who seem to understand that there will now be new limits on my time.
At a time where work/life balance is more of a work/life mush, we have been encouraging our team to set their own boundaries and to find a working rhythm that supports their mental well-being. So leading by example, yesterday I decided to put an Out of Office on before I logged off at 4.30pm for nursery pick up. It said: “My working hours are 8am-4.30pm. I’m off to be a parent now and will reply to you tomorrow.”
I logged into my emails this morning to find a message from someone outside of our team congratulating me on my choice of automatic reply, and saying that more parents should be brave enough to do so. It got me thinking; am I being brave? The dictionary definition of brave is “ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage.” Is reminding my colleagues and clients that I have dedicated eight hours of my day to my work, and would now like to give two and a half hours to my one year old daughter, brave? Am I putting myself in danger? Am I opening myself up to pain?
One good thing that has come off the back of Covid is that a greater number of employers are showing more empathy, understanding and flexibility around the way people work. But here’s the thing, life is complex, it’s multi-faceted and we all wear many hats – whether we have children or not – and that will remain true long after we eventually make our way out of this global crisis.
So I hope we can reset the norms around flexibility for good, to encourage all employees, not just working parents, to set their own working boundaries without stigma, one Out of Office at a time.