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Published by Harmonia Norah, 2017-06-29 07:22:04

IT11 - Business Section








Harmonising work, family and personal life is now an even IF FLEXIBILITY IS BUILT IN TO
tougher balancing act for mothers, writes Jessica O’ Sullivan. A JOB BY EMPLOYERS IT GOES
It has been forty four years since the legislation that prohibited married women
working outside the home has been lifted in Ireland, but the passage of time STRESS FOR PARENTS
has not eased the burden placed on mothers who find themselves working
the ‘second shift’; rather, shouldering the maternal load whilst working has often judged by the number of hours you are able
become an even heavier cross to bear. There are several reasons for this: to work, and sometimes by the availability of
Women are now more educated than ever with 55.3 per cent of women in the workers for out-of-work socialising. But caring
25-34 age group gaining a third-level qualification in 2013 (compared to 42.7 per time is more fluid and in order to do it you need
cent of men in the same age category), so personal expectations of enjoying a good to have flexibility in your work,” says O Hagan.
career are set high early on. However, the downturn in the economy has meant Studies have found that women tend to be flexible
that many companies now ask more of their employees, meaning workers must be employees, happily being available outside of set
available for longer hours and for less money. Add to this the fact that parenting on working hours, but employees lose commitment
the whole has also intensified and this creates the perfect storm for any time-poor to their employers as a consequence of flexibility
working mother who finds herself teetering on the edge of burnout. It’s clear that the only being one-way. In a survey of readers of
domestic duties that come with family life still seem to still fall disproportionately Cassidy found that the
at working mothers’ feet as illustrated by the fact that educated women today
are three times more likely than men working full-time to feel that their caring
responsibilities do not allow them to do the kind of paid work they wish to do or
that reflects their education and talents. This clearly shows that women are still
striving for greater equality both at home and in the workplace when it comes to
sharing the responsibility of parenting which remains frustratingly, for the most part,
an exclusively female concern. But why?

The Mother, The Outsider

Clare O’Hagan, author of Working Mothers in Ireland (Cork University Press)
explains that today women are expected to devote copious amounts of time and
effort to developing their children, while also committing themselves to productive
paid work, which can lead to much frustration and guilt that neither is getting their
full, committed attention. “I was a mother at the time in my career when I was
moving into positions of increasing responsibility,” says O’Hagan. “My experience
during these years was of being an ‘outsider’, and having a definite sense of
discomfort because no matter how much commitment I demonstrated in my career, I
felt that I was regarded by employers and colleagues as having conflicting priorities,
because I was a mother. I knew at a deep level, no matter how I played the man’s
game by the man’s rules, I would always be ‘different’ because I was a woman and a
mother and this was frustrating and exhausting. On the other hand, the sense that I
was failing as a mother because I was working outside the home contributed to my
frustration.” The pressure on women to forge careers has intensified, but there has
also been a societal shift in parenting styles, meaning there is less leisure time and a
greater expectation of mothers’ involvement in children’s care and education. “It has
been shown that working mothers are now spending more time with their children,
than twenty years ago,” says Elaine Cassidy, co-founder of The Working Mother
(, a website dedicated to helping Irish mothers achieve work-
life harmony. “There can also be an element of competitiveness as we are exposed to
a much wider range of other people’s parenting via social media. People can present
the perfect picture of parenting which is nothing other than a polished version of
a messier reality. It is important not to buy into this ideal and for women to share
their experience so that they know they are not alone as they try to balance, whether
successfully or unsuccessfully, family life with work life.”

Finding Flexibility

The general assumption underlying all highly paid careers is that work will take
priority over everything else. “Commitment in the workplace and productivity is


majority of women regarded flexibility as the most important thing along with Equality at Home
job satisfaction. “Most women want to work full-time just with flexibility and
that ranked even higher than payment or progression. Women want more control It will comes as no surprise that dual-earning
about how they deliver their work so that if they have to nip out to pick up their couples now make up the majority of working-age
child, that it’s not frowned upon.” She also feels that women tend to carry a lot of couples. So while societal expectations of women
guilt about needing employers to be flexible but if it was built into the job day to have changed considerably over the past number
day at work it would go a long way to alleviating stress. “When approaching your of decades, an equivalent shift has not occurred
boss about flexibility put some time and effort into preparing a proposal. Figure with the perceived roles of men. This is largely
out what you’re looking for and start with an outline of how it will work. Put due to the fact that child-bearing and caring is
yourself in your employer’s shoes and ask yourself what the benefits to them and seen as a uniquely female problem, when it should
the company will be. Is it going to cut down on commuting time allowing you to be shared equally between partners. “We’re the
spend extra time in the mornings working, or is it simply going to allow you to be ones giving birth so it naturally falls to us to do
more focused? You also need to consider any objections that might arise. Your boss a little more,” says Martina Perry, co-founder of
may be concerned that if you work from home one day a week you might spend The Working Mother. “But better options for
the time minding your children so therefore find a way of accounting for your time paternity leave could even things out more.” Other
at home. It is important to have your answers prepared. “Also take it slowly,” says countries in Europe are beginning to implement
Cassidy. “If you want to work from home two days a week you might have to start paid paternity leave – in particular countries like
with a half day or one day to prove that it can work.” Sweden and Norway and now Iceland, more
recently, where ninety-five per cent of fathers took
the three months’ paternity leave on offer to them.
“If a man also experiences the issues that arise by
caring for a new baby while their partner works
then it creates more equality in the home and in
the workplace, as employers will also have to deal
with their male employees taking parental leave,”
says Perry. “There’s also the fact that if you are the
one that stays at home, then you become the default
parent,” continues Cassidy. “You are the one the
children will go to with their daily problems. So
then it’s more natural when you go back to work
that you remain the default parent. If a man spends
time in the caring role at home then it becomes
okay for men to also prioritise their family and seek
flexibility in the workplace so they can share the
caring burden of parenting.”

Time Well Spent

That working mothers experience a shortage of
time is not a new issue. It is well documented that
women in dual-earner couples have significantly
higher total-work burden than women in male
breadwinner couples. Consequently, women
experience more time poverty and time pressure.
Email and smart phones can mean employees are
expected to be on call even during holidays. It is
all too easy for an employer or colleague to get
in touch. “Set boundaries as to what’s acceptable
and what you’re willing to do and communicate
this to your employers or your colleagues,” says
Martina Perry, co-founder of The Working Mother.
“But do bear in mind that in some professions a
lot of stuff gets done outside of office hours over a
cup of coffee or over a glass of wine,” she advises.
“Sometimes the best ideas come when you’re not
in that office environment and it’s more relaxed, so
it is very important to maintain some semblance of
socialising with your colleagues. Obviously if it’s a
client-driven business then socialising is absolutely
necessary. The important thing is to have a really
good support network to allow you to focus on
that part of your career.” She also feels that mothers
in general tend to be good organisers but tend to
forget about themselves. “If you are going to be a
positive force in the other areas of your life, then
you have to take care of yourself – see going to an
exercise class or sitting down to read a book over a


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Let’s talk about: Davina Greene is a
coach, trainer and
MULTITASKING people consultant. Find
out more about her at
If you are not doing one thing well, chances are you are doing many things badly
– or, at least, less well, says Davina Greene

having comfort that we performed them well. Our stress levels
build from the sheer volume but also from our agitation at our
own exhaustion. If we manage to give our time to people after all
that work, then it becomes a lower quality of time with a more
frazzled version of us.

Research at Stanford University has recently shown that
multitasking actually damages your brain and adversely impacts
performance, leading to disorganised thoughts and poor filtering
of important information. Our sense of attention is diluted,
recall is less effective and nothing ever seems to come to a
clear conclusion because of all of the ‘bouncing over and back’
between tasks. At the University of London, they found that
multitasking lowers your IQ to a similar degree as smoking
marijuana or staying up all night – for men, multitasking lowered
their IQ scores to the range of an eight year old. Even more
worryingly, the University of Sussex found that high multitaskers

As the saying goes, the better you are, the more work RESEARCHERS FOUND THAT MULTITASKING
you’ll be given – unfortunatley in today’s workplace LOWERS YOUR IQ TO A SIMILAR DEGREE AS
that can mean that enthusiasm and good work can be SMOKING MARIJUANA OR STAYING UP ALL
‘rewarded’ with the eventual overloading of a highly
reliable individual. NIGHT

We each have only one brain, and it is really designed to cope hold lowered empathy and emotional control.
with one thing at a time. Unfortunately our modern world has
pushed our multitasking to extremes, even in instances of fun or So why do we continue to do it? As adults we are supposed to
relaxation – be honest, how many of you have had a telephone
conversation whilst watching TV and at the same time checking understand trade-offs – if you have a week off, you cannot spend
your social media account?
it in both Spain and the USA simultaneously, you have to choose;
I view multitasking from three angles – the life angle, where
we try to squeeze in a superhuman amount of activities across the if you have one free evening and two movies you want to see,
board; the higher-level work angle, where we try to squeeze in a
superhuman amount of projects and extra work, and the lower- you have to choose. But this logic disappears a lot of the time –
level work angle, where we lose the quality of basic activities by,
for example, emailing whilst sitting in a meeting (and maybe even in my experience as a coach, this seems to hinge mainly on ego,
whispering to the person beside us whilst doing both of those).
security, or both.
How does multitasking affect us? It can play havoc with our
self-management. We lose touch with the notion of being ‘in flow’ We love to claim we’re busy (despite the fact that, by now,
– that is, of focusing on key tasks, performing them well, and
most people are quite bored by the, ‘poor me, I’m run off my

feet’ spiel). We love to look important, knowledgeable, capable

and irreplaceable. In a performance-driven world, we (or perhaps

our bosses) think that multitasking is performance – the term

THE RULES comes from computing and, in reality, many of us do compete

• ‘Focus’is a higher-performance, with computers for our position in the working world. At work,
lower-stress state.
• Your family are not mind-readers. multitasking is quite the female affliction. In fact, we often brag
• How much of your workload has Again, quantify and discuss.
been created by you versus by about that. We seem more comfortable in the multitasking space,
others? Why? • Manage interruptions – set some
rules. accepting multiple simultaneous tasks, helping others, minuting
• Is your multitasking successful?
Contentment, output quality, reward • Don’t interrupt yourself – have meetings at which we are also representing our functions.
and relationships are factors worth a notebook for new ideas, have
thinking about. a‘Don’t Do (Yet)’list for known Add to this the quest many women now hold to have it all, in
interrupter tasks which are generally
• Your boss is not a mind-reader. tasks you prefer. general, and this mounts to a lot of activity. do?
Quantify any overwork and call a
meeting to discuss. • Stop speaking in the passive. Own Push yourself if you wish to, as long as you understand
your workload and do the necessary
with it – that is train, delegate, delete. what it will achieve for you. Show off your skills Send your
and make life interesting, absolutely. But remember, work dilemma

you only have one life, and it is no life if you live it to irishtatler@
in a constant state of exhaustion. Nobody else can

manage that for you. n

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