Tuesday 9 July 2013

Tips for a productive summer

With the final arrival of summer you might be thinking about putting your return to work plans on hold until the autumn.  After all, nobody recruits during July and August, do they?  While recruitment does tail off during these months, there are plenty of things you can do to help you move closer to your return, so that you are better prepared when autumn comes around.  Your summer holiday can provide an ideal time for reflection, organising and testing out your skills.  You might not be able to make use of all these tips: it will depend what stage you have reached in your thinking and preparation, but there are some that everyone could start.  But don't think of these activities as homework!  You need to make the most of the opportunity to relax and have fun, so that you feel restored and ready for the next steps in your plan.

  • Create a network chart – while waiting to board

Although you might not be ready to start networking, it is never too early to start creating your network chart.  I recommend you divide your chart into three categories on which you list everyone you can think of: people who are easy to call directly; people to whom you need an introduction; people you’d love to meet but don’t know.  When adding names to the chart remember people from different phases of your life: your past – your school and university classmates as well as former employers, colleagues and employees; your present – other parents (if you have children at school) and people you meet through your voluntary work, hobbies or religious activity; your future – members of alumni networks and professional associations that you could join as well as people you’d possibly like to meet.  After the summer break, we’ll be continuing our series of posts about networking so you’ll be able to make full use of the chart you have created.  Keep adding to this chart as you think of more people and as you start to connect, long after the holiday.

  • Get clearer about what you might do next – on your sunlounger

Whether you have too many choices or too few, a useful way to think about what to do next is to think back to a work role (or part of a role) that you found fulfilling and reflect on what made it so.  Was it a group of like-minded colleagues? An expression of your creativity? Your own intellectual or personal growth? Your ability to make a difference to others? Your experience of freedom and independence?  Whatever gave you fulfillment then will be related to your deep values and will still be of great importance to you in the future.  These elements will need to be present in what you choose to do next, to give you the motivation to search for it.  Time spent reflecting on your values and the things you find fulfilling can also provide clues about what you might like to do next.  You might discover elements of a previous role that you can craft into a new one, you might develop a business idea or you might realise that you want to retrain in something which has previously interested you.

  • Practise your story – over drinks

Meeting people on holiday that you are often unlikely to see again, provides a low risk way to practice telling your story, if you have created one.  It gives you an opportunity to test out a new answer to the dreaded question of ‘what do you do?’  It might even lead to a networking opening, as I discovered when telling my story to the father of a family with whom my family had shared a hot, dusty and uncomfortable beach buggy ride.  He turned out to be a partner in a big four accounting firm and after the holiday introduced me to his head of HR, a great addition to my network.

  • Start to fill in your LinkedIn entry – when you are home

LinkedIn will be an essential tool for you when you are ready to return: it can bring you to the attention of prospective employers, build your profile through the groups you join, alert you to advertised roles and provide an additional way to network.  You can build it in steps, section by section and keep refining it as you go, so working on it can easily be fitted into short gaps in your day.  If you have developed a story (and tested it out on holiday) you can put this as your Summary.  Using your networking chart you can start to build your connections.  You can explore the groups and join the ones that look interesting. If you do a section a week, by the end of the summer you could have a complete entry.

Have a good summer, rest and recharge.  I’ll be back in late-August.

Posted by Katerina

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Do all working mothers have to feel guilty?

“Since I returned to work after my career break I feel guilty every day. Don’t all working mothers?”

Listening to this comment from a guest speaker at an event for women returners and seeing the nods of agreement in the audience, I was not surprised that many women decide not to go back to work even if they are feeling unfulfilled as full-time mothers. Who wants to sign up to years of feeling guilty?

Do all working mothers feel guilty?

The premise that a heavy burden of guilt is the lot of the working mother seems to be fairly ingrained. Not a week goes by without some mention in the media. And we are just talking about working mothers here, no-one talks about ‘working father guilt’. Just recently ...

"8 out of 10 working mums feel guilty" Justine Roberts reporting results of a Mumsnet poll at Workfest, Jun 2013
"I think all women feel guilty" Sheryl Sandberg, Woman's Hour interview, Apr 2013
"Majority of mothers admit to feeling guilty for working" Daily Mail , Jan 2013
And it's not just in the UK ...
"Working mothers still plagued by guilt" Sydney Morning Herald, Apr 2013

I'm starting to feel guilty for not feeling guilty. As one of the 2 in 10 working mothers who don't feel guilty, is there an implicit assumption that I don't care enough about either my work or my family (or both)?

Psychological basis for guilt

It's worth looking at guilt from a psychological perspective. What is the function of guilt?
"From a cognitive point of view, guilt is an emotion that people experience because they’re convinced they’ve caused harm. The emotion of guilt follows directly from the thought that you are responsible for someone else’s misfortune, whether or not this is the case." Psychology Today

So guilt is not a consequence of caring. Healthy guilt is a sign that our conscience is working effectively and can be a useful emotion if it’s telling us that something needs changing. If guilt is a warning flag that our actions might be harming our children or our co-workers, then it's served its purpose. But feeling guilty doesn't make you guilty. Working can have a positive effect on family life (see previous post). Often guilt comes from judging ourselves by impossible standards (back to the Perfect Mother and Employee) or being influenced by the perceived judgements of others. In this case, it's a destructive emotion that we are allowing to reduce our life satisfaction for no reason at all.

How to challenge guilt feelings when you are returning to work

Analyse the cause of your guilt feelings. Is the emotion telling you that you are making a decision that is inconsistent with your values? Do you rationally think that you are jeopardising your relationship with your family? If so, are you able to reduce your working hours, to shift your work pattern or to work from home some days? Do you need to think about a job or career change to get more flexibility? 

If you consider your choices and the trade-offs you are making and do not want to make any changes (or are practically unable to do so), then recognise that guilt is serving no useful purpose and let go of it. Guilt is not a badge of pride for working mothers, just a rod we have created for our own backs. 

Posted by Julianne