There’s a constant struggle that comes with being a working mother. On one hand, you really want to be with your children, but on the other, you want a fulfilling career as well. Is it possible to have it all? Sher-Li Torrey is the founder of Mums@Work, a social enterprise that supports flexi-work arrangements for mothers in Singapore. In this article, she shares the things you need to know about working on flexible time.
Like many first-time mothers, I was in for a shock when I gave birth to my first child. She was a quiet and well-behaved baby, and slept like a log through the night. However, her arrival meant my dream to rule the world was dashed.
Suddenly, 24 hours was not enough for me to play the roles of mother, employee, employer, daughter, wife, daughter-in-law, sister and friend. I had a great boss that allowed me to try out a flexible work arrangement. Despite that, I found that I needed even more flexibility.
Feeling stretched and helpless, I started looking for a job that allowed me to work from home or part-time. I soon discovered that the number of flexible roles for professionals and executives were limited. I also realised that there were many talented mothers like myself who wanted to work, but on their own terms. At the same time, there were also employers who were on the hunt for top talent.
So I decided – why not create a portal for mothers like me? That was how Mums@Work became my second baby in May 2010. Now, two kids later (my son arrived in 2012), I am proud to say that Mums@Work has listed more than 1500 flexi-jobs and held more than 200 events. What started as a hobby developed into an online career portal with more than 11,500 member-mums. We also support Mumpreneurs (mothers who start a business from home), and work with employers on the implementation and managing of flexi-workers.
The greatest misconception about flexible work is that it only comprises of part-time work. Flexibility is actually, in terms of time (flexi-hours or part-time), place (work-from-home) or duration (contractual or freelance project work). While being able to work on your own terms sounds ideal, there are several factors you need to consider before approaching your boss:
1. Able to design your own schedule
Because you now have more opportunity to design your own schedule, you can prioritise accordingly. This generally gives a sense of control, resulting in less stress (and often less guilt) for mothers.
2. Having the best of both worlds
Although it’s not always 50-50, the division of time by a flexi-work mum is likely to be more balanced than a full-time working mother. For some individuals, this may help them to relieve some of the stress they feel trying to meet both family and work commitments.
3. More confidence
In most cases of flexi-workers I encounter, mothers who were previously staying at home often speak of a new confidence after re-starting work. Although I personally think that all mothers (whatever their career choice) are equally amazing, there are women who prefer to peg their self-worth to both fulfilling maternal roles and establishing a small career.
4. A renewed hope
Many flexi-work mums that have come through Mums@Work’s doors often speak of flexi-work as providing them with a sense of hope. Some of these mothers had chosen to return to the workforce and were not sure if they were ready for a full load after being away for a few years. The flexi-work arrangement allowed them to work at a pace that was comfortable to them, and prepared their engines to take on full-time roles months or years later.
1. Long days, Role creep
One of the greatest challenges that work-from-home employees face is role creep – an inability to distinguish between their duties. Sometimes while “at work”, they have to stop and take on mother duties. Or while watching their kids at a swimming meet, they have to answer work calls. This constant volleying between roles can often lead to long days of trying to meet all demands.
2. Misunderstood availability
Just because you work from home does not mean you have all the time in the world to cook meals, drop off parcels at the post office, run daily errands, wait for the plumber, etc. Sometimes your spouse, friends or family members may assume that your flexible work arrangement allows you all the time to do everything else. They forget that you have deadlines to meet too.
3. Financial stresses
Some flexible work arrangements may result in a decrease in household income, which can be a source of stress on both the mother and father. This is why it’s important to have heart-to-heart discussions with your spouse before you take the plunge, and to assess how your decision would impact the household income.
4. Professional image compromised
When you work from home, you may find it very difficult to take work calls with a baby crying in the background. If you run your own business from home, a home office can also be viewed as being unprofessional.
One thing I often highlight is that a flexible work arrangement is not for everyone. Some of us are Separators, with a need to compartmentalise the different areas of our lives. Separators prefer keeping work and family apart. For such individuals, working from home can be very challenging. It is therefore important to know what you want and what your personal flexi-style is, before asking for a flexible work arrangement.
About The Author: It is no secret that Sher-li wishes there were more than 24 hours in a day. Besides climbing Mt Fuji and publishing a book, she thinks her biggest achievements are giving birth to two kids who keep her busy with their energetic pursuits (which include ruling their mummy’s world).