Channelising the Care: Realistic Ways to Manage Work and Home

In one of our earlier articles, we talked about working professionals, along with the struggles faced by the two genders, and how it’s necessary that we work with each other, instead of creating battles and rivalries.

Having said that, many working professionals still struggle with missing out on important events from their children’s lives. They often end up feeling drained out and demotivated as they juggle home and work, and often at the expense of the other. Many working professionals might relate with the following anecdote:

Riya was awarded the best administrative professional this month. She had thrown a little treat for her colleagues. It was an occasion to be happy and proud of one’s self. However, Riya seemed gloomy and just not her usual self. When asked if something was wrong, she revealed that although she had got the award, she had missed her son’s school function, and missed her mother’s birthday.

She was questioning her ability to balance work and family.

Sometimes, some of us are slightly lucky, with gracious colleagues and bosses who help us make adjustments. Another anecdote will throw more light on this:

Rajeev was not in mood that day, while his boss noticed, and asked what happened? Rajeev confided that it was annual function in his daughter’s school and she had participated in it. He will not be able to attend because of the urgent meeting today. To this the boss grants him two hours short leave to attend and come back, and then give the presentation at the meeting; the boss felt that since he had everything prepared, it won’t be difficult. Rajeev was grateful to his boss and quickly attended the event and returned.

Whether you are a man, or a woman, such scenarios might be very familiar to many of you. It is a sad reality of our times.

What are some realistic things working professionals can do to balance the home and the work front?

Communication and honesty:

The first step is to admit that you are struggling, that you are indeed missing out on certain events, sometimes in the home sphere, and sometimes in the work sphere. Honesty to one’s self is the first step. The pressure to be the perfect employee and the perfect parent can be draining. Once you admit to yourself that you are struggling, you can communicate this concern to your colleagues and bosses. You can also take your family and children into this communication, in fact, and ask everyone (at home and at work) what their expectations are from you, and what sort of event means how much to them. The next step is to communicate what are the things that you will be able to manage, and what are the things that might need some management of expectations from their end. Note that you may also have to manage the expectations you have from yourself.  

Once you have expressed your concerns, the next step is to prioritise.

Prioritise and set boundaries:

Some events at home could be more important than some events at work, and vice versa. Sometimes it is not even about the scale of events, as much as what the event means to someone. As you take stock of what’s on your plate, make clear distinction between what can be absolutely not missed at any cost, for both spheres. A basic rule of thumb is to communicate to your colleagues that you need to attend an event beforehand, and not leave it until the last minute as much as possible as was seen in the second anecdote.

While being polite and respectful about the communication to your colleagues, be unapologetic to that little inner-voice that makes you wonder if something can be compromised. That inner-voice might also tell you that you will be able to manage everything, and that you don’t need to say no to anything.

But you need to remember that it is about quality over quantity. It is about attending that one important meeting, where you let go of the event at school that doesn’t mean much to your child, and it is about attending the event (big or small) that means the most to your child, and letting go of that one meeting where you don’t even need to be present. You can also team up with your spouse, and coordinate as to who will be attending office on the day of the child’s event, and who would attend the event.

As you try to lighten the burden of expectations over your shoulders, the most important thing is to be kind to yourself. Letting go of the guilt that comes with missing out on something, whether at work or at home could be an unrealistic thing to think about: the guilt might stay.

But what can be done is to at least understand that the guilt is a natural response, and that it simply shows that you care. Channelising that care in the right direction, at the right time, through realistic expectations and decisions is what matters.

The Potential of Bad Days

Good days may not always provide the opportunity to show how good you are at your job. It is a well-handled bad day that could show your full potential and value.

We all have bad days. Horrible days when nothing goes as planned, and every worst-case scenario seems to be happening at the same time. As lyrics to a popular song by John Mayer goes, ‘bad news never has good timing’.

While all that is true, what is also worth thinking about is the bad days are also wonderful opportunities.

Bad days have the potential to be turned into a very good day.

Opportunities? Bad to good? How?

What is so opportunistic about that sale going to the rival company? What is so good about multiple clients giving ultimatums? What is so good about all tech glitches during important presentations? What is so great about multiple crises happening on the same day?

As a blogpost by Farnam Street points out- you are only as good as your worst day.

It is very easy to be calm, collected and feel like you have made it in life when things are going well. It is only during the times of crises, big or small that you truly get to display your skills, competence and experience. It is only during one of those days when you truly learn how much you can handle, how much pressure you can take and the incredible potential you have to overcome any obstacle.

Those bad days are the days when all the skills and wisdom you have developed over the years come in handy. On smooth sailing days, we are mostly on the autopilot mode, and in a way end up doing very monotonous and ordinary work. The bad days shake things up and force us to up the game.

Take for example this article by a writer on Medium. She was in the middle of an important presentation when the projector decided to give up. Technical glitches are out of our control at times, and can bog and demoralise even the most prepared speakers. What did this person do? She had to show some charts and graphs about quarterly profits. So, while she did the talking and added some humour in the situation by simply acknowledging the bane of a technology-dependent existence, she passed on her laptop to everyone, and by the end of her ‘presentation’, everyone had a personal view of the profits ‘thanks’ to the glitch.

It was the glitch that enabled her to be resourceful, use her wit and deliver. A smooth sailing presentation would have enabled her to simply show the quarterly profits and how good she was at her job. The glitch enabled her to show how she is not only good at her job, but how she is also good at handling unpredictable situations, how resourceful she can be and how quick-thinking she is. All those soft skills that must have been listed on the resume got their live demonstration and justification, right there.

Horrible days are not only great opportunities to showcase your true full potential and find lessons for ourselves, but also times when a shared humanity is on display, leading to lessons for others as well.   

Take for example someone, say, a fresher who may have been sitting in the audience of this person who handled the projector issue well. By acknowledging and overcoming the issue, the presenter not only showed her skills, but also showed that it is very human to encounter these issues, and there is nothing that can’t be figured out. This must have been an important lesson for the fresher, and the presenter must have proven to be a good role model. As we say, the best way to teach someone something is to model that behaviour ourselves.

It is also the worst days that enable us to value ourselves more. When we end up being productive on a day when we thought it would be impossible for us to be productive, we gain a new sense of self-respect anda rise in self-esteem. We realise what we are capable of.

So, the next time you realise that you are having one of those days, instead of getting bogged down in a pit of resentment and frustration, consider it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Consider it as an opportunity to explore the depths of your potential, resilience, and resourcefulness. Consider it as an opportunity to renew your self-belief. You might be pleasantly surprised.

How to Handle a Newly Created Position

A newly created position means you might have to be your own mentor and create your own systems from scratch.

You have just got a new job. In fact, it is not just a new job but it is also a newly created position.

Or perhaps within your current organisation, you have been shifted to a newly created position- you are the first person to hold this title.

Companies often create new positions based on their requirements, long-term goals and even due to concerns about employee retention. While such innovation is a great idea to ensure smooth transitions on paper, implementing it in real life can be challenging.

What can you do if you have been put in a newly created position? Read on!

Define, define, define:

A newly created position has no predecessors- no former holder of the position who could mentor or looked up to. No one knows how a day at work for them is going to look like. In such a situation, it is a great idea for the employer and employee to work in collaboration and define the working aspects of the role.

  • Define the expectations
  • Define the long term and immediate goals
  • Define the duties expected and not expected
  • Define who is going to be a part of the interactions in terms of departments, personnel, and teams

It might be tempting to wing it and make the new role as it comes, but before one could have a scope to learn, adapt and improve, some structure needs to be there. Think about it this way- while working in and with a newly defined role might feel freeing, like skating in an empty rink, it is also necessary to ensure the rink itself has strong railings and boundaries, and that one has an understanding about the kind of skates to be worn to ensure a graceful skating experience. A game, no matter how new, requires some rules to ensure there is some method to the madness.

 A newly created position means it is unlikely that a system is going to be in place. Working in already established roles has the benefit of simply replacing someone in an existing system. Working in a newly created role means you may have to develop a system, and that’s an opportunity to build a best, if not the best system. And the first step to do that is to define and concretize.

Be Flexible:

On the other end of this spectrum of defining expectations is the urge to follow a preconceived template of how systems are meant to function. It is important that one keeps an open mind, and remains flexible and receptive to the possibilities that might crop up.

It is also possible that the expectations and systems that you defined and set up earlier may become unnecessary, obsolete, or may need constant tweaks for a while before something gets settled. Be open to such possibilities, rather than fretting over things going wrong.

Things might go wrong indeed, initially as one tries to apply the position into the real world, and real repercussions are discovered about certain steps. Be open to trial and error, be open to change, and be open to reworking and redrawing plans until something stable is formed. As author Jon Acuff says: ‘momentum is messy’. Creation and change can be messy because they change the existing status quo, and that can be quite a tumultuous process. But that also means that things are moving, which is a great sign in itself.

‘Hybrid’ Roles:

A newly created position is often a mix of two to three other roles, and as a result, concerned with two to three departments or teams at a time. This means a person in this new role may have to correspond with all those departments, along with the team-leaders of those departments.

A mix of multiple roles, and reporting to ‘multiple bosses’ demands a certain level of interpersonal and social skills, dealing with multiple perspectives, along with an ability to integrate all inputs into a coherent system. It helps to draw up clear expectations and a plan to balance the multiple departments.

Newly created positions are created for a reason, and it is important to remain true to that reason, and at the same time accept that one will need to take a growth-oriented, flexible and open-minded approach towards the newly created position. Creation of systems, expectations, objectives and tasks might undergo a change, and that is but a natural result of momentum.

Conversation about Careers, Equality and Respect

Having equal respect for the variety is the key.

As Women’s Day as approaching, familiar conversations about gender and women empowerment would be coming up. While equality remains a common point of conversation while talking about these issues, it is also worth examining what are we genuinely looking for when it comes to equality, and if there are areas where we need to understand if equality is something that is the genuine need, or perhaps something more nuanced.

Respect and Equality:

The way men and women have to take up roles and responsibilities in a family setting, typically is not the same. While conversations about redefining gender roles and having a more ‘equal’ atmosphere abound, the reality is that the genders are different, and how a woman might handle a conflict, raise a child or manage her work will be different than how a man does.

Equality doesn’t simply denote ‘sameness’; it should and denotes equal respect. Perhaps, the need then should be to pay equal respect to approaches that a man and a woman might take to their responsibilities instead of simply saying things like ‘men and women are equal’. Men and women are different, with different ways of approaching personal and professional lives, and it is the differences that need to be equally respected.

The Different Approaches to Career:

Take for example the way a woman’s career trajectory is often looked at. Many times, life-stages like motherhood are considered impediments to her career! Not to mention how men are most of the times denied the importance of paternity leaves. How ‘gendered’ is our notion of a career! Organisations and personnel connected to management might benefit by understanding the difference in approaches to career, specific to the demands the two genders are faced with. An article by Harvard Business Review brings to notice some crucial points to keep in mind when it comes to questions about careers of women:

  • Pausing one’s career to look after domestic demands is not a bad thing. In fact, it is sometimes necessary and even in that pause, development doesn’t stop. Skills from time-management to personnel management are developed through the domestic duties that women often traditionally end up taking.
  • A slow pace is still progress. Say Mrs. A had a child, and in balancing her professional life, and looking after a small child, her career’s pace got slowed down. She remained in one post for around 8-9 years. Does that mean she would have no opportunity ahead? Does that mean she shouldn’t resume at a faster pace when the child has grown up enough? Does a slow pace mean a complete impasse? Of course not. A career can still be fruitful and successful, even with a slow pace. One can take pauses while climbing the ladder.

In other words, the time and intensity with which women can engage with their careers will be different than how a man does. As a result, the approach they take will also be different. That difference in approach, rather than being seen of a lesser value, and as makeshift, should be seen as an approach that is as necessary, valid and respected.

In an age of uncertainty, and of times when both men and women are faced with crises that challenge them to be better versions of themselves, it makes sense that we all act in support of each other, rather than competing unnecessarily. Variation in approaches in problem-solving, whether personal or professional, should be explored with an open mind, and a curiosity, rather than rivalry, animosity or the need to overly simplify ‘equality’. The first step lies in establishing respect for the differences.

Team UHR extends warm wishes for Women’s Day in advance!

A Different Approach to Decision-Making

Decision-making does not have to be daunting and stressful with these different approaches.

When we think about making a decision about something, we almost always think about two roads diverging. A fork in the road. A choice to make.

Metaphors like this can be very daunting and overwhelming. Decision-making as a process can be pressurising by itself. So instead of increasing the pressure with such heavy metaphors, why not think of some lighter metaphors for decision-making?

A Closet Full of Jackets:

As a conversation between authors Ryan Holiday and Tim Ferris brings to our notice in The Daily Stoic podcast, when we think about decisions, when we think about the ‘choosing one of the forks in the road’, we think going back on the ‘other’ road is not possible.

Ferris suggests that instead of the fork, the process of decision-making could be seen as a process of opening a closet and choosing the jacket you wish to put on. If you don’t like the jacket, you can always put it back and choose something else that suits your needs better. No drama, no do-or-die anxiety to deal with.

Decision-making often is actually a matter of trial and error in the process; of choosing the right jacket from the closet.

It’s not a ‘wrong fork’ you chose- it’s actually just a different jacket that’s needed! Say, you decided to change your career, and it didn’t go according to plan and now you decide to go back to your old career. Viewing that decision as the ‘wrong fork’ would make you feel horrible about the change in plans. However, viewing it as the time to go back to wearing your old jacket would enable one to de-escalate the pressure, see it for what it is- an experience to learn from, instead of an experience to be bitter about. Just a jacket to change back to.

There are More than Two Forks on the road:

Some of us would still be sceptical of this approach. What if we don’t wish to go back? Some decisions are indeed irreversible.

In that case, one more approach comes in handy- why see only a two-forked road? Why not think of the forked road like a cutlery fork- having multiple forks, multiple arrows, each leading to a different outcome? Having a sense of more choices, instead of a ‘this or that’ approach would be freeing. There isn’t just a plan B, but also a plan C, D and E.

There are not just two roads diverging- there are perhaps four or five roads, and we have the choice to weigh in our options, and then make a decision.

So, the next time you find yourself at cross-roads and a decision must be made, remind yourself that you are not actually at cross-roads and are instead looking at a process of trial and error. You are looking at a vast closet full of different jackets to try out, and you just need to pick the one that helps you combat the weather. If it doesn’t, you can always go back and change! You are looking at a road with multiple forks, and you have a broad set of potential outcomes to choose from!