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Does the word strange describe the experience of working parents during the pandemic? COVID-19 has thrown work-life balance into a spin and we’ve been hearing a lot of your questions around Work, Caregiving, and Covid-19. What if we told you that we’re getting these answered by reputed corporate leaders who have skin in the game? In the first edition of this special Q&A series, we bring to you, wisdom from an experienced Diversity and Inclusion expert, Anupama.
Anupama Vaish is a seasoned global Diversity and Inclusion professional with 15 years of HR experience. For the past 12 years, she has been leading, engaging and collaborating with business leaders, human resources teams and employees towards fostering an inclusive workforce culture. Her major career stint has been with IBM, and currently is the Inclusion and Diversity Manager in PwC India.
She is a mother of a 9-year-old son and feels it’s a great journey of joy, love and learning. Being a mother has taught her valuable life lessons and skills of empathy, patience and equality. Also, in the last couple of years, she has learnt to swim and cycle with her son.
What has really helped me to maintain work-life balance, especially during the pandemic is a sustainable, achievable daily routine which incorporates exercise, to release endorphins or ‘happy hormones’ in your body is a must. I found that it doesn’t have to be so structured; a long walk to take in some fresh air or a 20-minute yoga session using online guides is sufficient.
Another equally important habit is practising positive affirmations. I believe that ‘you are what you think’ and consciously worked towards cultivating positive thoughts, words, and actions. In fact, I even consumed media/content selectively. Instead of passively watching the news which bombarded us with the disastrous impact of the virus, I proactively sought out factual news at my own convenience. To keep your own psychological wellness in check, do not feel the need to ‘know everything’ before everybody else. Your sanity is of utmost importance and if it means missing out on the ‘breaking news’ of the day, it’s completely OK.
Also Read: Coping As A Parent In A Pandemic
Till date, I follow the advice of my mentor who once asked me not to mix all aspects of my life together – to ‘compartmentalize’ work, life, and everything in between. I realize how crucial this is especially at a time when the lines between work and life are blurring. I will take you through a day in my life, in the hope that it may help you to improve your work-life balance. I typically start early so I feel more in control of the day. I try to do half an hour of yoga, get my son ready for school and finish household chores before 9 am. Between 9 am to 2 pm are my core hours of work, where most of my meetings and discussions are scheduled. This is the time my son is engrossed in his online school and it is always a good idea to plan your schedule in line with your children’s. I take a lunch break of around 45 mins, somewhere between 2 – 3 pm with my son and check on him. Again after 1.5 hours of work around 4ish, I help him to start with his homework and studies and spend an hour or so with him. Then he goes off to play and I get back to work or go for a walk depending on my work.
I am not saying it is easy to follow this to the T. Often we are distracted with thoughts about tasks to be done lingering in our mind, but setting aside time as a strict routine and setting clear expectations with other family members will help significantly. It is important to also share responsibilities with your partner and model the equity that we experience at work, at home too. It is equally critical to ‘ask for help’ when you need it. Have an open conversation with your manager at work on priorities and your schedule. Similarly have a clear discussion at home – with your partner, parents/in-laws, and your children about your workload and what you need for you to achieve your goals together as a family. Let us normalize talking about family at work and vice versa.
Maintaining work-life balance and building a support system, this is a topic I am very passionate about and strongly believe that every parent, especially mothers, should build a strong support system. I don’t know what it is with us women, but we seem to think we ‘can do it all’. I will let you in on a secret – we can’t!
Start with your immediate family – get your parents and in-laws involved in helping with caregiving responsibilities and anything else you think is within the scope of what they can do. They would be happy to be part of your child’s life. The next most important part of the system is your hired help at home. I often notice that we tend to cut corners when it comes to their salaries or end up reducing their responsibilities because we want to save money. Remember, you may be spending a little more now, but their assistance has long-term effects on your career, physical health and mental peace. Finally, get your friends who are willing to chip in, into the system. Take their help to cull out some personal time for yourself – whether it is to get in some exercise, read books, or just do nothing!
This is an excellent question and a very valid concern for women today during the pandemic. The first step is for you to be crystal clear about your priorities – whether it is to stay back or to fulfil your career aspirations. Second is to be absolutely straightforward about this to the members of your family – spouse, in-laws, parents, and children. Third, have an open chat about your decision with your workplace too. It is up to you on how slow or fasts you want to proceed with your ambition at work.
Know that the workplace also has an equal responsibility to facilitate this transition in a smooth manner. For example, at PwC, we have several initiatives like the Full Circle program where the woman can take up to 3 years leave for childcare. When she chooses to come back post her leave, management helps her to find a role and transition back smoothly. We also have programs like ‘Preparing for Parenthood’ and ‘Maternity Buddy’ which allow for the organization to keep in touch with the parent through their break, keep them up-to-date with what’s happening at the workplace and also provide support to guide them through their journey. There are other avenues such as parent communities within the organization and provisions of subsidized child care in partnership with schools like KLAY; ensure you capitalize on these benefits. You could also attend expert talks on well-being hosted by the organization.
Your career is not a sprint – it is a marathon that you need to build stamina for. Get your reinforcements in place, take breaks, but come back to work. Most importantly, don’t underestimate what you can achieve. Don’t allow others to decide how big or small your dream should be. Speak up and own your story!
If you enjoyed this column and have more such questions, do write in to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. It could be anything – from taking care of yourself, dealing with uncertainty, parental guilt, etc. We would be happy to get them answered by another expert in our upcoming edition