Supporting Work-Life Balance This Women’s History Month
March 1st marks the start of Women’s History Month, a month dedicated to celebrating the contributions and achievements of women throughout U.S. history.
Women’s History Month has been officially observed since 1987, but the movement grew out of a week-long event organized by the Sonoma, California school district aimed at celebrating women’s cultural and historical contributions.
Recognition of women’s achievements and contributions has grown substantially since the first Women’s History Month was observed, and women’s progress and influence in the workplace has increased as well. However, women still face many challenges in the workplace, especially when it comes to balancing parenthood, household responsibilities, and career aspirations. Studies continue to show that women perform more unpaid work – childcare, caring for elderly parents, cooking, cleaning, and other household labor – than men, even when they also work full-time outside of the home. The COVID-19 pandemic further complicated the situation, blurring the lines between professional and personal time and putting an even greater onus on working women.
All of this has obvious implications for women’s work-life balance and overall job and life satisfaction. The pressures of rising expectations both on the job and at home can lead to increased stressed, reduced productivity, burnout, and physical and mental health problems. While addressing the root causes of gender disparities in the workplace and at home will require broader societal and cultural changes, there are things that individual women, and their employers and families, can do to help achieve better work-life balance and greater support for women.
Set realistic expectations
Many women feel pressure to be perfect both at work and at home. But the truth is, perfection isn’t achievable, for anyone! The most any of us can do at any given point is the best we can with the resources – time, energy, money, health, support systems – that we have. By letting go of the dream of perfection, you will be better able to set realistic expectations for yourself.
It’s also important to set realistic expectations with your employer and colleagues as well. Be honest about your current workload, any challenges you are facing in your work, and any opportunities for improvement you may see. This will help ensure everyone is on the same page and no one is being left doing the lion’s share of the work without the proper support and resources.
Managers and employers can ensure their expectations are realistic and align with their teams’ capabilities by setting regular check-in meetings and reminding staff of their open-door policies. At home, partners can also talk about expectations in terms of household responsibilities, childcare, quality family time, and “me time.”
When we let go of the need to be perfect and realize we can’t accomplish everything, we then need to decide what’s most important for us to accomplish. Setting clear priorities helps us take more control of our time while also giving us some flexibility to handle unexpected situations. Take time at the start of each week to determine your top three priorities, both at work and at home. Maybe this is a deliverable due date or a doctor’s appointment for your child. You can then make a list of second tier and third tier priorities – action items you would like to check off the list but that aren’t absolutely essential.
Once you have determined your top priorities, take the time to discuss them with your team, manager, partner, and family. This will help ensure everyone agrees about what is most important to get done and what can wait. Aligning everyone’s priorities will also remove causes of potential conflict down the line.
Practice saying no
Learning to say no to things you don’t have the time or energy for goes hand-in-hand with prioritizing and setting realistic expectations. Many women struggle with saying no, but it is a crucial part of protecting your work-life balance. Saying no does not make you mean or irresponsible. In fact, saying no to things you genuinely cannot handle makes people more able to depend on you because they can trust that you will be honest and open with them and accomplish what you say you are going to accomplish, rather than dropping the ball or becoming overwhelmed or resentful because you took on too much.
Saying no can feel scary, but there are lots of ways to do it effectively while still feeling polite and considerate. If you are asked to take on a new project or task at work that you don’t have time for, you can respond with, “I would like to help with that if I can. Let’s schedule a meeting to go over my current priorities and see how this new project fits and what might need to shift.” If a neighbor or friend asks you to babysit, you can say, “I’m sorry I can’t this weekend but will let you know when and if I can.” If your partner or child requests a complicated meal for dinner, you can say, “I won’t have the time for that this week, but let’s plan a time this weekend when we can make it together.”
Remember, when it comes to saying no, clear is kind.
Pay attention to your emotions and stress levels
Our bodies and emotions give us warning signs about burnout long before it happens. Take time to check in with yourself regularly. Are you feeling energized, satisfied, generally content, happy to be around your family or colleagues? Are you feeling resentful, sad, fatigued, irrationally angry? Are you having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much? Are you experiencing unusual headaches or digestive issues?
It’s important to realize how things in your life are making you feel, because our emotions and physical sensations provide important clues about where our lives might be getting out of control.
Once you’ve identified what you’re feeling, it’s also important to acknowledge it and accept it. Your feelings are valid, and acknowledging and expressing them can help you process them and then find solutions.
Don’t wait to ask for help
Finally, don’t wait until you’re on the edge of burnout to reach out for help! Take the time to discuss expectations and priorities with your partner, family, colleagues, and manager regularly to ensure everyone is on the same page and no one is feeling overburdened or resentful. Particularly with your partner and family, don’t be afraid to express when you are feeling overwhelmed or need more help. Ask your partner to work together and reevaluate how household duties are split, or have your children take on more (age-appropriate) chores. Remember, no one can give 100% all of the time!
You can also get help from your EAP through their work-life solutions benefits – everything from helping to find referrals for home repairs to a dogwalker. Employers can further help their staff by reminding them of these benefits and encouraging them to use them regularly.
There’s no question that maintaining work-life balance is hard, especially for women. But by being clear, proactive, and consistent, we can all help bring better balance to our lives and the lives of those we love.
WORKPLACE SOLUTIONS is a group of dedicated professionals who provide assistance and resources to individuals and families to create a satisfying and meaningful life. We’re counselors, attorneys, financial professionals, and experienced specialists in a wide variety of fields. Because life’s challenges and opportunities show up in a range of different areas, we provide assistance in a number of different ways.