Most working parents look to their networks of mentors, coworkers, and professional contacts for advice on balancing the competing demands of work and home. But the off-the-cuff guidance that most new working parents in the U.S. get, even if it’s candid and well-intentioned, isn’t always helpful. Too often it’s contradictory, vague, out of date, unactionable, even downright disheartening. With so many professional fathers and mothers depending on this common wisdom, it’s no wonder workforce opt-out rates aren’t budging and so many working parents report feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. Although it’s a go-to resource, the working-parent grapevine doesn’t always provide the most useful or can-do support.
Fortunately for professional parents, and for any leader looking to assist working-parent employees in a cost-effective way, there is advice that works: simple, universally applicable, no-fail recommendations that motivate and improve performance — fast.
The myth of the returning “supermom”
Gone are the days of Sheryl Sandberg and Elizabeth Spelke’s bestseller Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead (which explicitly positions a mother as a “powerful force”). And although the reality of this rare work-family “superwoman” has been a bit overblown, women still value their role in the home.
But for some working parents, work is the new home. This is a shift many parents welcome with eager acceptance. But for others, the distance between work and home is too great.
Some of the richest and most talented women I know would rather live in a cardboard box and file patents than have a boss look over their shoulder or have an employer from hell.
How to be a “good enough” parent
The business case for incorporating flexibility into the workplace has been proven time and again. So why aren’t employers incorporating it into their workplaces and policies more generally? The answer lies in the need to work on-the-go professionals (from executives and board members to receptionists and medical professionals) often require different types of flexibility than employees who are working standard hours. The latter, generally valued for their on-the-job reliability, are often less incentivized by certain benefits.
Most of us strive to be “good enough” at everything we do. To give ourselves a high-five when we hit a goal. To remember where we left our keys when we walk into the house.
How to be a “good enough” employee
It may seem obvious, but the most essential piece of advice is to work for yourself. Doing the best you can at your job doesn’t require you to have a six-figure salary or a corner office. In fact, far from making you seem “unprofessional,” doing your best on the job and volunteering to take on additional responsibilities and changing directions according to demand can actually improve your performance. Work-life balance is relative: being good at your job and doing your best help you accomplish both.
Yes, I know that being good enough for your boss may not be good enough for your family, but try not to let that be your focus. Instead, determine what you need from your workplace to achieve a balanced lifestyle.
Strategies to manage the work-life balance
By incorporating and communicating what’s worked well for other working parents, and bringing changes to it as and when needed, you can leave a lasting impression in your professional life. Make it clear that the same behavior will be rewarded and encouraged in your workplace, and expect people to follow through.
There are two reasons I believe this strategy is so powerful. First, the discussion puts workplace expectations front and center and encourages greater attentiveness and adherence to them. Second, it creates the psychological underpinning to support and practice these practices.
One other underrated strategy to manage work-life balance is to use technology in a smart way. Let’s say that you’re heading a sales team. They may have to spend ample amounts of time managing their commissions, tracking quota, which is only going to drain them. In this scenario, you can depend on an automation platform, which can make your team’s life better.
I think we can all agree that the primary reason many working parents work is that they need to. Beyond that, there is both great optimism and great disappointment.
Optimism: I believe that the fastest way for both people and companies to improve support for parents who are more likely to continue working is for those people and companies to transform their work cultures from a culture of productivity and competition to a culture of inclusion and respect.
Disappointment: Organizational policies and practices that are more paternalistic and more punitive than they contribute to the stress and isolation experienced by many working parents.