Sunday 28 April 2013

Is it worth working if I'm not earning much money?

Money, or the lack of it, can be a major stumbling block when considering going back to work. If you're looking for a more flexible job, with shorter hours, the salary can be considerably lower than the one you earned in your pre-break professional role and that can be hard to accept. If you're changing career and starting again in a new field, the contrast is likely to be be even more extreme. And if you're a working mother, childcare costs take a huge chunk of your income if you don’t have a local grandparent happy to do the childminding (and most of us don’t nowadays). 

Working for a fraction of your old salary not only has a practical impact. It can also hit your professional pride and your sense of being valued, as we have a tendency to link what we're paid with what we're worth.

“I’m not sure if I’m prepared to work for peanuts”, was the reaction of one of my clients recently when she calculated her expected after-work pay if she switched sector.

If you're finding that low financial returns is a barrier to your relaunch, try looking at all the benefits for you of working, including those that are harder to quantify. When I discuss motivations with women returners, I hear many other reasons than just the money: “I want to use my brain again”; “I want to stop apologising when people say ‘what do you do?’”; “I miss the social side, having colleagues, talking about other things than kids and schools”; “ I want to be a role model for my children”; “I want to be on a more equal footing with my partner”.

Peter Warr, a Professor at the Institute of Work Psychology, has studied what it is about working that gives us fulfilment and confirms that money is only one factor. In “The Joy of Work”, he identified the ‘Needed Nine’ – the nine main sources of happiness in any situation or role: 1. Personal influence 2. Using your abilities 3. Goals 4. Variety 5. Clear role requirements and outlook 6. Social contacts 7. Money 8. Adequate physical setting 9. A valued role.

Warr found that studies comparing women working at home and outside the home typically find that average levels of happiness do not differ much between the two groups. The difference depends both on your preferences (staying at home or paid work) and your current situation. If you feel that you have high levels of the ‘needed nine’ – using your abilities, with good social contacts, daily variety, enough money and feeling your role is valued – then unsurprisingly you will be happier than someone with lower levels, whether you are working or not.

When I was a full-time mother, what got to me from the ‘needed nine’ was the lack of variety (the Groundhog Day cycle of washing, shopping, cooking, feeding) and the feeling that I was not really using my strengths; I was never going to be the mum who made a wonderful fancy dress costume or an awe-inspiring birthday cake. The joy of working again was not so much in the pay (as a fledgling psychologist there wasn’t much of that after childcare and travel costs), it was more about regaining my professional identity and having the satisfaction of doing something where I could feel a real sense of achievement and growth.

So if you’re wondering if it’s worth returning to work if you barely break-even, think of whether working means more to you than the money. Will it make you a more fulfilled person in other ways? And remember that you're investing for the longer term: whether you’re starting on a new career track or re-establishing yourself in your old field, you are building the foundation for a satisfying and profitable working role in the future.

Further thoughts
See Carol Fishman Cohen’s of iRelaunch’s advice on investing for the future and weighing household rather than personal income against expenses here 

Posted by Julianne

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Is "having it all" a myth?

A quick ‘PS’ to Katerina’s post on Sheryl Sandberg et al…

Sandberg has dismissed “having it all” as a myth: "Having it all is the worst. No matter how much we all have and how grateful we are for what we have, no one has it all, because we all make trade-offs every single day, every single minute". This echoes the theme of Anne-Marie Slaughter's 2012 article "Why women still can't have it all".

It's easy to become disheartened as a woman returner, thinking that if these high-achieving women can't make it work, who can? In fact these comments say more about our confused definitions of 'having it all' than about whether anyone can be a fulfilled working parent. 

‘Having it all’ originally meant motherhood + career. Now we’re equating it to being at the top of the career ladder and the perfect hands-on parent (and not making trade-offs!).  Who set this impossible bar?

In fact, Anne-Marie Slaughter continued to work after she left her senior government job, returning to her academic job at Princeton University to have more time for her two teenage sons, and she has recently become President of the New America Foundation. In the UK, Penny Hughes who resigned as president of Coca-Cola when she started a family has developed a successful portfolio career as a non-executive director. And away from the headlines, I know many professional women (and men) who feel they have fulfilling careers and family lives. Most are not working at the highest level (only a few exceptional people like Sandberg can manage that), but they are happy with the trade-offs they have made, seeing them as positive choices to have time and energy for their personal life. This sounds close to ‘having it all’ to me.

Posted by Julianne

Sunday 14 April 2013

Leaning In or Hanging On?

There has been a lot of comment in recent months by senior women on how they balance a high pressure, big-responsibility role with the rest of their life.  It is a common, often internal debate, which professional women experience whether they are already working or thinking about returning.  Julianne posted about this previously and I’d like to add my own perspective.
Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, exhorting women to Lean In to their careers, has currently reignited this debate following Anne-Marie Slaughter’s contribution last summer (see links below).  Both Sandberg, COO of Facebook, and her counterpart at Yahoo, Melissa Mayer, profess to be able to have both a high profile career as well as a satisfying personal life. Sandberg’s book sets out what women need to do to follow her path.  She believes that women need to have more confidence to put themselves forward and push ahead with their careers.  She is also refreshingly candid about her own experiences and times of self-doubt.  Her response to her self-doubt seems to be to push herself even harder and achieve even more.  In the opposing camp are Erin Callan, former CFO of Lehman Brothers, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, Princeton professor and former first female Director of Policy Planning for Obama, who found that a high profile career did not suit the rest of the life they wished to lead.  It is of note that all these examples come from the USA, where perhaps there are more women in senior roles than here in the UK.

In any event, how is this debate relevant to women wishing to return after a career break who have nothing, as yet, to lean in to?  Returners can often believe that it will not be possible to combine their career with their other interests.   In my view, the question underlying the debate is how we define our success.  For women like Sandberg and Meyer, their sense of success is defined precisely as combining being a leader of a major international business and an influencer in their industry with being a wife and mother.  Callan and Slaughter, on the other hand, discovered that no amount of power, income and position compensated for the lack of balance they experienced in their lives.
For women thinking about returning to work, it is essential to be clear about how you will define your success.  Will it be getting back, as quickly as possible, to the senior level you previously occupied?  Will it be creating a portfolio of diverse activities?  Will it be working for certain defined periods of time?  Will it be turning a hobby or passion into a business?   The options are limitless while the choice of how to define your success is totally up to you: it is not for your peers, your social circle or your family to define success for you.  Getting the right the balance – for you - between work and the rest of your life is likely to be more important than your title or status.  Gaining a sense of control over your future career is a key factor in how satisfying you will find it.
For further reading:
Anne-Marie Slaughter
Erin Callan
Posted by Katerina