How to talk to colleagues and executives about your family and personal life issues?
One of the biggest barriers to a successful work-life balance is a work culture with a negative view toward the family concerns and personal life needs of employees.
The fear of talking about one’s family and children, and expressing one’s concerns or needs outside of work to colleagues and executives negatively affects both women and men. This fear is based on the idea that talking about the said things can negatively affect your career, becoming a pretext for colleagues to question your motivation. 22.6% of Lithuanians believe that men who take a period of incapacity for work due to family responsibilities (for example, due to their child’s/family member’s illness) are treated unfavourably at work, and 18.3% think that women going on leave under the said circumstances are also treated unfavourably at work.
Even though there is an increasing number of fathers who are involved in parenting and family matters on an equal footing with mothers, women are still typically viewed as the primary carers of their family. And this is often an obstacle for them to move up the career ladder at work. Knowing this, we can help them (as well as men who are actively involved in family care) by changing the work culture and making it more friendly for life outside of work.
Employees should not avoid or feel bad when talking about their family or personal life and the challenges associated with it. Admit it – you will rarely find a colleague or executive who does not have his or her own personal life. Just like you, many of them have a family, children, and other personal responsibilities, so it should therefore be recognized that there are often urgent family matters or issues that need to be addressed here and now. Your openness and addressing these matters on a regular basis will help make the work culture friendlier and safer for everyone.
It should be borne in mind that colleagues who do not have children or family responsibilities also have the need to balance work and personal life. Their needs should also be respected, by enabling them to find a balance between their professional and personal life.
Here are some tips on how to make your work environment friendlier in terms of your personal life:
- Try to talk openly about your life outside of work. Talking about your family (or other aspects of your personal life, or your needs) will encourage your colleagues to also communicate openly about their needs to balance work and personal life. The more men talk about their needs related to parenting, the less it will seem like a “women’s affair”.
- Do not hide the real reasons of why you need to leave work earlier, if they are related to your family matters (for example, when you need to pick up your sick child from school, drive the child to his or her extracurricular activity class, attend a parent meeting, etc.).
- Try to communicate openly about the issues related to your personal life (for example, issues related to caring for family members, the need to pick up a child from an educational institution earlier, participate in an event important to the child (school event, competition, etc.).
- Do not be afraid to ask your colleagues about their families if you know that they have encountered certain challenges related to their personal life. This way, you will create a practice to share concerns among colleagues.
- Support colleagues with family responsibilities (children) and help them balance family and work by proposing to not organise meetings at the beginning of the workday or just before the end of working hours, since your colleagues who are raising children may need to take them to or bring them back from school during that time.
- Support your colleagues when they need to leave work earlier, reschedule the planned works or meetings, etc. Help them out by being understanding and supportive.
- React and express your disapproval when you hear sexist or humiliating jokes and comments related to caring for one’s family matters. Regardless of whether they are directed toward women or men. Do not stay silent about a work culture with existing negative gender stereotypes.
- Support working mothers who are actively balancing their professional and family responsibilities. This support may be expressed in small and simple ways, such as a compliment or a thank-you for a well-done task, a speech during a meeting, etc. Studies have shown that one of the biggest challenges for women returning back to work after parental leave is loss of confidence in their professional skills, thus your support can help them regain their confidence more quickly and get back to work more effectively. It is also often difficult for these women to return to work at full capacity due to their new responsibilities at home and situations where they have to choose which role to prioritize. Therefore, executives and colleagues can help these women by supporting them, reducing their guilt, and showing that they understand the situation and can cover for them and help with their work tasks when needed.