Q&A with entrepreneur Jessica Chivers on work/life balance

  • Posted on April 24, 2015

Balancing motherhood or other caregiving roles with a professional career can sometimes feel like a juggling act. We asked Jessica Chivers, UK-based coaching psychologist and author, for her perspective on the topic.

What is the single most important thing you do to achieve work/life balance?

Jessica:I detest the phrase work-life balance as it suggests work is something separate rather than integral to a rich, gratifying life. I encourage women to think about setting work boundaries, intuition and to appreciatively inquire as to what it takes for them to be at their best.

One thing I do about 90% of the time is draw up a list of professional, domestic and personal priorities for the week ahead, on a Sunday night. This gives me focus, allows me to spot where help needs drafting in and ensures I'm not overwhelming myself professionally and it includes things like go for a run X1 X2 X3, which reminds me self-care is as important as everything else. I also draw the line for work activities at 9pm.

What is the best career advice you have been given? What impact did it have on your career?

Jessica: When I was nearing 30 and had already been working for myself for five years, a wise older friend told me 'you don't have to get it right, you just have to get it going.' That was enough to get me writing my book Mothers Work! How to Get a Grip on Guilt and Make a Smooth Return to Work(Hay House, 2011) which was the platform for starting my second business, The Talent Keeper Specialists in 2012. It's such a liberating idea isn't it? Just do something, get it moving and refine it as you go – nothing needs to be perfect.

What is your company doing that you think is working to attract, retain and promote women professionals?

Jessica:The Talent Keeper Specialists works to support our clients to do those things. We educate employers about the importance of well-managed maternity transitions – a key time for loss of great women – and provide comeback coaching to returners and produce guides and other support materials to line managers. Our work is about shaping cultures more broadly too – take a look at http://www.talentkeepers.co.uk.

Additionally, we run free maternity and career comeback workshops (for people who've taken longer out of their career than just a maternity leave) to help people re-ignite feelings of competence and confidence.

Thinking about life inside the business, we all work flexibly and that's very helpful to colleagues in many ways. It's not just parents of young children who want that.

All around us we interact with and use many devices and technologies to communicate with our coworkers and teams. From your perspective has this helped women balance work and home life or has it hurt – and why?

Jessica: It's hurt and helped. There's scope for technology to be more of the latter and less of the former if we agree ground rules with our team mates about how we're going to use technology. For example, agreeing that we won't send each other e-mails after 9pm or before 6am (because doing so is at risk of sending an implicit message 'I'd like you to respond to this' or 'I'm working now, it's reasonable to expect that you are too') is really important. We've got to have time where we disconnect without feeling guilty or wondering whether somebody is expecting something of us.

What's really great about technology is how liberating it can be yet I'm constantly disheartened by the number of people who are operating in 'bums on seats' cultures who don't feel this way. We've got the potential to work anywhere, which means greater scope for combining all the important strands of our lives in new and convenient ways but many of us aren't. This has to change, otherwise what's the point of much of it?

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