Monday, March 3, 2014

How to survive (and enjoy) your first year back at work

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The first year back at work for many parents is undoubtedly the hardest. Learning to juggle the often conflicting demands of work and home is a great challenge. Learning how to reinvent yourself as a working parent will help you to not only survive but also enjoy being back at work.

Here is an extract of 8 gems of advice from our Working Parents Toolkit on how you can enjoy your career as a working parent.

1. Develop your career resilience

Resilience is your ability to cope with adversity – the tough times. It allows you to deal with change and confront challenges by having tenacity and adaptability – something parents encounter everyday as they nurture and negotiate with their children!

Career resilience is about you adapting to changes in your work environment to meet the demands of your situation – made all the more challenging once you become a parent because suddenly there’s more than only you to think about in the equation.

Here’s how you do it:
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. Its only natural things won’t always go to plan. Identify the big-ticket items impacting you and focus your energy on addressing these; forget the inconsequential work and life dramas that will pop up from time to time.
  • Realise you are only human - sometimes we achieve less than we like to deliver.
  • Accept change is inevitable, and good! Just like it’s important that your child changes and grows through his or her development milestones, it’s important you do too. If something isn’t working out, instigate change rather than letting things consume you.
  • Take control of your career destiny – choose your career path and development options rather than letting it choose you.
  • Have meaning in what do and who you are. Be clear about your own self identify and understand what you want to achieve from your career and life.
  • Invest quality time in creating and maintaining meaningful and worthwhile personal and professional relationships. These people can support you during the ups and downs and do wonders for your self-esteem!

2. Find a professional mentor

Seek out someone you know and respect, either in or outside your organisation and industry, who is prepared to be a mentor or sounding board, particularly during those first six months back at work. Share your challenges and wins and discuss ways to deal with the tough work or family challenges that are thrown your way. As they say, “two heads are better than one”.

3. Create a 5-year career and life plan

As life circumstances change, so too will your aspirations, motivators and anxieties – that’s normal. Having a clear career direction and knowing how that fits with family will give you clarity and meaning about what is important to you and what might need to change in your life as a result.

Set yourself some career goals or aims that inspire you and give you peace of mind that you are on track; during the hard times revisit these and make adjustments. Even if your plan is to eventually follow a different career path or to downshift your career progression and development for a year or more, your career goals will help you stay focused on your true objectives and what is important to you in life.

4. Seek career coaching or counselling

If you feel directionless and unsure of your career goals and are struggling to manage the whole work-life balance in reality, consider seeing a professional career coach or counsellor who can help you work through what’s important to you.

5. Reinvent yourself as a working parent

Be realistic. Some things you used to do before won’t be able to be achieved necessarily in the same way now. Being a parent is not an ailment, something we should be ashamed or feel second-class about – quite frankly working parents are amazing. You and others will marvel at your ability to juggle getting the kids ready in the morning, having time to walk the dog, dropping your partner to the train station, taking dinner out of the freezer, then arriving at work by 8.30am prepared for a meeting! But they won’t marvel if you don’t tell them...all too often parents accomplish all of these things quietly and without complaint, never sharing the load or even venting their reality.

It’s important to create boundaries and communicate clear expectations of what you can and can’t do, what you will need help with, and what flexibility you can give and will need in return.

6. The grass isn’t always greener

Many parents report staying-at-home and raising kids as the toughest (whilst enjoyable) job that they have ever done. When things get hard and you feel like your options are limited, focusing on ‘how green the grass is on the other side’ is common. We focus on all the things we don’t have or that aren’t working for us versus the positive things that are. Before making any momentous or drastic life and career moves, objectively weigh up all the pluses and minuses of your situation. Focus on what is working well for you and how you can tap into that more. Isolate the core issues that aren’t working for you and brainstorm alternative options.

7. Reflect and celebrate milestones and achievements

Whether times are good or tough, make time to reflect on your situation. Personal reflection can give you perspective and help you realise just what you’re capable of. Get away from your everyday surrounds to help you get mind space for a few hours.

Reward yourself in whatever way works for you when you have achieved something you are proud of no matter how trivial it might be to others. For example, being able to drop your children at care without a flood of tears from you and the child, or the fact that you survived a tough week.

8. What about career progression and development?

A common fear for parents when they return to work is that they may be sidelined for promotion or somewhat marginalised because they work. Your fears might be real or perceived; the only way to find out is to ask. Yes, ask.

The reality is if you don’t have confidence in your own capability, you can’t expect others to. If you don’t have an idea of your career direction you can’t expect others to create it for you.

In other words, no one can give you confidence or develop your career for you, you need to nurture and develop it yourself (leaning on others for input and support when required). It’s about harnessing your strengths and drawing on your experiences so you can put your best foot forward whether it’s about negotiating a pay rise, the next promotion, or flexible work arrangements. If you undersell yourself and your capabilities, you not only do yourself a disservice, you effectively permit other people to stereotype you or discriminate against you. Your level of job satisfaction is likely to take a nose drive.

Be proactive and review your career plan, discuss options with your manager, partner and other relevant people to support your continued learning and development. If you are focused on the next career promotion, be upfront, so your manager knows your intentions and aspirations rather than leaving them to guess or assume.

Extract from the Working Parents Toolkit.
Kate Sykes, Rebecca Harper, Karen Miles, Emma Walsh 

1 comment:

ckb said...

Awesome tips!