Is there any more stressful phrase for new working mothers than "work-life balance"? We're supposed to want it, need it, achieve it on any given day. As the editor of Working Mother, I hated it and would try my best to keep it out of our pages—and yet, every once in a while it would sneak in.
Because who doesn't want a bit of balance in their life?
But let's get real: When do we moms ever have balance in our very real and messy lives? Is there ever a day when everything is in sync? Of course not. And that's okay if only because of all the extra effort it would take for any of us to stay in balance once we got there.
A new research report finds, however, that the days of "work-life balance" may finally be numbered because Millennial working moms just aren't buying it anymore.
The report from The Mom Project finds that for today's working moms, the key to making complicated lives work is realizing that everything has to work together throughout the day.
Call it "work-life integration," and you'll be much closer to the mark for this newest generation of working moms. As explained by one of the more than 1,000 women surveyed for the Building a Better Workplace report:
"Work-life balance is kind of an older term. Balance makes me think we work for eight hours, and then we adjust and we don't work after that. We don't work like that anymore. Sometimes it's not about purely shutting it off from 5 p.m. on. I take time for family, but then I'll get back to it at 8 p.m."
That's my life too—and I strongly suspect yours as well.
For new working moms, work-life is about integrating everything into a life that works for you and your career—and, of course, your family.
But what to do if you need more flexibility in your work life?
The first step is a simple one: Ask for it. While the conversation around flexible work is more open than before, it still remains something unconsidered by too many of us (and our managers) until it's too late, we've burned out and are ready to walk out the door… forever.
Of course, making the ask isn't always easy. To help, here are my favorite time-tested tips for making flexible-work work for both you and your boss:
Know that everyone needs some flexibility
While women still carry most of their family's mental load, it's important to realize that anyone with a doctor's appointment, an aging parent, a partner with a chronic illness, and even just a morning Pilates class they're trying to make, appreciate (and likely uses) some form of flexible work. Yes, we working moms rely on it, but we aren't the only ones.
Know what you need
Flex comes in many varieties and what works best for your office mate may not work for you. Indeed, as a long time advocate for flexible work arrangements, what's most interesting to me about The Mom Project findings is the myriad ways flexibility now needs to take shape to work for new working moms.
Beyond the traditional approach of shifting working hours or working from home, today's moms say that flexible work also needs to include options to:
- Work hours that are convenient (rather than the standard 9 to 5)
- Work remotely
- Control number of hours worked
- Work hours needed to get the job done (regardless of whether or not it results in a 40-hour week)
The dream is a workweek with flexible hours within set days to accommodate family schedules—and women surveyed add that they have no problem putting in the time needed to get the job done. Just give us flexibility on which hours we work.
Consider your boss' needs
It's important to remember that flexible work involves give and take, so make sure to consider (and call out) how it might help your team's needs. For example, will working from home a few days a week allow you to start work earlier? Will a shifted schedule allow you to jump on a late call due to time-zone differences?
Prove it can work
As a long-time manager, I know that many bosses worry that any accommodation will immediately become permanent, even if it isn't working well. To help make your case, suggest your new schedule as a 90-day trial, at which point you can both reassess whether it works for both of you.
I can report that after more than a decade of managing working moms, that the best, most productive, most innovative team you'll ever have is one that feels trusted to get their work done in a way that works for everyone, themselves included.
That's because there are few things more stressful than having to sneak around to cover a family responsibility during work hours.
Allowing working moms the freedom to be where they need to be when they need to be there is just one way managers can support this newest generation of working moms, 42% of whom ranked flexibility as more important than salary.
Allow us working moms the autonomy to do what needs to be done and you'll not only get our gratitude, you'll get our best work yet.