I work full-time, have 3 small children and work a flex schedule. This works really well for my family but my male co-workers get frustrated when they can’t reach me during traditional office hours. I’m getting all my work done but I’m worried they’re not viewing me as an equal colleague because they don’t always see me in the office.
–Trying to Find the Balance
Dear Trying to Find the Balance,
As a working mom myself, I get how difficult it can be to balance the demands of your job and the needs of your family. But as you have seen, it is important to be aware of how that might be viewed. In my research for The Male Factor, I saw a perception held by nearly all men (and, often, executive-level women).
The men may logically know that an offsite colleague is working lots of hours, but it doesn’t feel the same for one reason: they don’t see the person as sharing the same pain.
The men I interviewed often mentioned a sports analogy: in the heat of the summer, football teammates would bond during sweltering two-a-day practices, getting in shape to win their games. Never would one teammate say “Coach, I don’t have to practice with the others, because I can get in shape on my own time over here in my air-conditioned gym.” He might technically be correct, but his teammates would not look at him the same because—you guessed it—he didn’t share the same pain.
So what does this mean for you? First, acknowledge to yourself that by not being available during the regular hours, you may not actually be sharing the same pain… and if you were in your colleagues’ shoes, you might be frustrated too. So without compromising your flex priorities, look for ways to improve the relationship.
Since you’re already ensuring you get your work done, you may want to next look for ways to demonstrate to your “team” that you are sharing their pain, you’re just spreading it out over different hours. You know that committee no one wants to lead? Lead it if you can. Offer to be the one to make the phone call to the awkward client. If you work after the kids are in bed, don’t hesitate to send the email with the midnight time stamp – and don’t mention your late hours the next day.
But second, and most important, never lose sight of the great gift you have: you’ve found a work schedule that meets your primary priority of being able to balance work with family. Don’t apologize for that.
If you handle it well, it might even give some of the family-oriented men in your office a precedent so they can do the same.
Helping people thrive in life and relationships is Shaunti Feldhahn’s driving passion, supported by her research projects and writing. After starting out with a Harvard graduate degree and experience on Wall Street, her life took an unexpected shift into relationship research. She now is a popular speaker around the world and the author of best-selling books about men, women, and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).
Her newest book, The Kindness Challenge, demonstrates that kindness is the answer to almost every life problem, and is sparking a much-needed movement of kindness across the country. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.