Since women began entering the workforce, how to achieve the perfect balance of home and work life has been a growing question. Many women wonder if the best balance is even possible or they should endeavour to have it all. If recent research is anything to go by, many South African women still haven’t found the answer.
A 2015 study by Pharma Dynamics which looked at 900 women across the country found that a staggering 38% of South African working mothers felt stretched beyond breaking point. According to findings, many women were spending almost 80 hours a week on work and home responsibilities.
Life coach Gail Cameron, founder and managing director of the Image Excellence Group, says many women are juggling too many balls.
“We treat many clients who suffer from stress, and they’re not coping with their work-life integration,” she says.
Despite the progress that’s been made in redefining gender roles in the home, women still bear the brunt of household chores. Not only are they working to realise their career goals, they also have to contend with responsibilities at home.
United Nations Women estimates that if women around the world were paid the minimum wage for the extra work they did outside their paid jobs, it would amount to $10 trillion in value.
Cameron, who’s written the book Authentic African Leadership, says the primary way to achieving work-life integration is by practising mindfulness, which is a conscious awareness of yourself – heart, mind, body and spirit.
“What typically happens with working moms is that they give all their energy to everybody except themselves,” she says. “They’re looking after the family, their responsibilities at work, their social needs, their husbands – and the person who gets the short end of the stick is the mother.”
Cameron says women need to try to understand their personal values and who they are. By asking what their values are and what vision they have of their lives, they’ll get to a point where they can make better choices with their time.
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“Our values are crucial; our greatest stressors happen when our values are trod on because they aren’t negotiable,” Cameron explains. “It’s all about discovering who you are, knowing your purpose and having a vision for your future.”
According to The Harvard Review, having a vision of where you want to be as a working parent will give you set goals to work towards. “Your vision might be to ‘grow this business at double digit rates while spending two hours a day with my kids’ or ‘make partner while ensuring my children grow into healthy, self-sufficient adults’,” it says.
Once a woman knows what her values are, Cameron says, she’s able to be empathetic to herself and care for herself well enough to be able to give to the people she loves as well as to her job.
She adds that companies are starting to realise the importance of having women in positions of power, and that women should be able to negotiate more time for themselves. But they need to be secure in their own power and have enough self-regard to be able to negotiate downtime.
“When you have a healthy self-regard, you can stand up for yourself in a non-destructive way,” she says.
She also suggests that women use their intuition to determine whether they’re honouring themselves by the choices they make, and to ask for help if they need it, whether from their spouse or their managers. When it comes to finding more flexibility at work, the Harvard Review suggests selling an idea to your boss in a compelling way that makes it clear that the company is also benefiting from the arrangement.
Women also need to learn to take on less, according to the publication. Instead of having the saviour complex, it recommends delegating some tasks and not saying “yes” to everything.