Updated: May 23
Whether you have children, care for elderly parents, or hold a political office alongside your job - everything takes time. In this article, you will learn how you can improve your work-life balance in the long term.
In January 2021, I had the pleasure of hosting an online event for ETH alumni on the topic "Child or career? Both, please!" A survey of the participants confirmed that all those present wanted time for their families as well as an exciting job. The traditional role model, in which one partner works full-time and the other gives up his or her job to care for the children, has definitely given way to the partnership role model, in which both parents work part-time whenever possible and care for the children equally. This shows that society is changing and that there is a shift in thinking toward more equality. In such a vision of role sharing, a 60-hour week, as is still often assumed in management positions today, has no place. On the other hand, home office, flexible working time models and new forms of work such as top sharing are all the more in demand among the 30-45 generation. Employers would be well advised to take a hard look at how they plan to retain or find talent in the future if they do not invest in modern ways of working.
As a working mother of four children aged 8 to 14, I know what I'm talking about when it comes to balancing work and family. I managed demanding change projects part-time for years, even though I had children, repeatedly completed further training and was the first person in the company to hold a management position with a 70% workload. The first three years with child I was a single parent. It was the worst time in my life. I never thought that this would happen to me. Everything was planned quite differently! And never did I think that I would be able to adapt and cope with my life in the new conditions. It was both the hardest and most educational time in my life, and it changed my perspective on many things. For example, the need not to judge people, but to take time to understand their individual situation and interests, whatever they may be, and to act within that framework. A skill that has helped me better manage projects and better clarify and communicate needs.
Later, my husband joined us with his two children from his first marriage, and two years later we had a fourth child together. Things got better, although compatibility remained a challenge for many years and I in particular had to limit my working hours because my husband always worked full-time and had a long commute. We had no grandparents to support us in our daily lives. This meant that I had to get creative, demand home office days and flexible working time models in order to be able to meet the daycare drop-off and pick-up times and was a pioneer for many other parents in the company who later followed my example.
«If you want a change, you have to go all out.»
Is it even realistic to strive for a work-life balance with a child and a demanding job? This is what I often hear from those affected: "As a specialist or manager, I am already challenged enough and am often simply knocked out in the evening. So, what is the point of work-life balance! Besides family, there is no time for hobbies, friends, sports, time for myself... That is not possible for working parents!"
I say: Yes, it is! But you have to take time for it and be creative. To get regular exercise, you can bike to work, for example, or take a concept paper out into nature and combine it with a short hike. Home office also helps tremendously with morning stress with kids and getting older kids to do homework before dinner when they get home from school in the afternoon. - When I was a single parent, I heard over and over again from people around me, "What more do you want than what you have! Just be happy that this and that." - I did not listen to them, I listened to my heart. My vision for the future was clear: I would have an exciting job with flexible work opportunities and creative freedom, take on responsibility in the future as well, and develop professionally. The vision also included a partner again because it was clear to me that I did not want to go through life alone. Later I started to do more sports and had enough time for friends and other things. Of course, it was exhausting to achieve these goals and build them up step by step, but it was worth it. Today I enjoy the fruits of my labor.
After 10 years of hard work, I am exactly where I wanted to be: I have a work-life balance, an exciting job, and a family in which all members can support each other and feel comfortable. And I am ready for the future. I can expand my training and coaching business, or I could even imagine taking on leadership responsibilities again myself in a “top-sharing” position in a few years. We will see. The prospects are there despite external constraints, because as a patchwork family there are additional complexities. It is a learning process that you can and must actively shape. If you want change, you must be willing to do tough power training, analogous to preparing for a marathon. It only works if you put your all into it and are willing to work on yourself to the limit.
5 tips on how you can achieve a good work-life balance
Be grateful for what you already have.
Think about what your true values are and how you want to live your life according to them.
Sometimes you need a jump start, e.g., other people who can show me how to get out of a difficult situation in life.
Learn to communicate your needs and to say no occasionally.
Become active. Decide to start on the path and take the first step.
Admittedly, compatibility is sometimes difficult to handle! Especially when the kids are up at night and you do not get enough sleep. Your work-life balance also falls by the wayside. That is and was also the case for me. However, I am convinced that creating a work-life balance is also possible for you. With a plan, perseverance, and a benevolent inner attitude towards yourself. You can do much more for it than you might think now!
Here is what you can do:
First, be grateful for everything you already have! Especially for the little things and beautiful moments in everyday life. A roof over your head, the flowers that bloom, the green of a fir tree, a person who smiles at you... There is so much in life for which you can be grateful. Everything you have is your foundation. You just need to recognize it so you can build on it. Start today with three things you are grateful for and keep adding to the list each day.
Second, take time to think about your values and how you want to live. Imagine there were no restrictions. What would you do then? How much time would you have available for an exciting job? How much time would you want to invest in your children, a partner, yourself, other things that are close to your heart? Develop your vision that way.
The answers to these questions depend very much on your personal feelings. Only you know what is right for you. Find out what type of person you are. If you have a partner, create a family model together that meets your needs and is right for both of you. If you need support, let a coach accompany you.
A short excursus on the subject of guilt
I hear all the time from working moms that they feel guilty for not being there enough for their kids. Non-working moms feel guilty for not taking advantage of their good education. There is no right or wrong here. The child needs a reliable caregiver who gives them security. So, if you enjoy working full time, go for it. Conversely, there is no reason to be ashamed if you enjoy having more time with your child, not working at all for a while or working part-time. There are good reasons for all models. Your child notices when you are doing well, and everyone benefits.
Third, get to know your needs better, share them, look more closely to see if they are really a priority at this stage of your life. Many things can be done in parallel, with creativity and constant adaptation, but there are also limits. To weigh these things more clearly, it can be helpful to turn to a trusted person to get an outside perspective or food for thought on how to move forward with your situation and what options might still be available. Then you are ready to have the necessary conversations with your partner or employer and advocate for your needs.
Maybe you want to make a career change to have more time for your other areas of life? Have you thought of all the possibilities?
Fourth, "Be your own chairman, the chairman of yourself. Listen to your inner voices-your various needs, desires, motivations, and ideas."
– Ruth Cohn: "Von der Psychoanalyse zur Themenzentrierten Interaktion"
Take responsibility for yourself! If it's stressful at work and someone puts you in a meeting just before closing time, even though you have a "blocked" in your calendar, say, "I'm sorry, I'm already scheduled. But we can talk about it first thing in the morning. Check my calendar for a slot, it's current." Seek out conversation with your partner or employer. Share your wants and needs and stay in dialogue. You will see so much can be accomplished if you just start by addressing it! If you know what you want, it will be much easier for you to say "no" when something does not match your desires. It will be much easier for you to say "yes" when an offer comes along that aligns with your interests. Learn to distinguish one from the other and act accordingly.
Fifth: Your resources are limited, and your energy should be enough for everyone. Therefore, take time for yourself regularly, reflect on where you are in achieving your goals, and only then take the next step. Find a sparring partner who regularly reminds you of your goals and wishes, challenges you and encourages you to take the next step. This way you will reach your goal safely!
"It sounds so easy, yet so exhausting!"
A good work-life balance is not something that comes naturally. It takes courage to stand by your own needs and actively work on your professional development. The employer's expectations are not always the same as yours. That is why negotiation and excellent communication skills are especially important. These can be learned, and with practice you will find it increasingly easier. - Not everything can always be realized immediately. But with a plan, patience, and a strong reason, you too can take this step. Dare to try it out and see it as a learning process that actively challenges you and brings you great joy! Step by step you will come closer to your vision and finally realize it. It is your life and your decision what you do with it. So do not let others unsettle you and above all, stay true to yourself.