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Work/life balance: parenting

While this blog is mainly aimed at parents, it’s important to stress from the outset that a healthy work/life balance should be the goal of everyone, regardless of whether they have children or not. We all have commitments, outside interests and a life away from work, but the majority of articles written on the subject seem to focus on “family life” above those who don’t have those responsibilities, and so, advance apologies for this. As if the quest for a better work/life balance wasn’t hard enough, for parents of younger children it can even more of a minefield, given their eating and sleeping schedules are traditionally much earlier than our own. As the classic 9 to 5 job disappears, leaving the office promptly is also becoming a thing of the past. While flexible hours and locations are great, the work culture of many companies has become a greyer area, where the employee leaves when their work is done rather than when the clock strikes 5. Staying late to finish something, even for 15 minutes for commuters who might miss a train, can have the knock-on effect of committing the parenting sin of “missing bedtime”. Because kids’ bedtimes often involve some kind of ritual (a bath, stories in bed etc.), a lot of parents can be consumed by guilt if they miss it. Not all them – I know at least one father who will park around the corner from home if he’s accidentally home early to make sure he misses (the hell of) bedtime! Explaining to little people exactly why you miss bedtime sometimes and what work actually is can be difficult – there’s even a book out to make this easier called Tick Tock Till Bedtime, which also celebrates working parents and helps make the challenges faced by them more understandable for young children. It not only enables parents to have a conversation about the world of work, but also readies children for the positive message that careers are important – for both parents – and sows early seeds about the importance of getting the balance between work and home life right. Research shows that almost a third of parents miss bedtime at least three nights a week, due to working late. But parents aside, there have also been countless surveys on the negative impact on mental health of working long hours, and plenty of articles about presenteeism still being an issue, so while adding children into the mix is one extra obstacle, it’s never been more important for all of us to continue striving for that healthy work/life balance.

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Why employee perks aren’t always as generous as they seem

The never-ending quest for the ultimate work/life balance, coupled with differing generational attitudes to careers in general have put more and more emphasis on employee benefits over recent years. Today, rarely do jobs shout about starting salary alone, but champion all their associated perks too, as a total compensation package. But are all the bells and whistles as amazing as they sound, and do they in fact contribute to the elusive perfect work/life balance at all? Often stemming from companies with “cool” images in Silicon Valley, countless employee perks that are often no more than gimmicks aimed at the predominantly young workforces of the Googles of the world have been adopted worldwide. Table football, anyone? And while the beanbags of a chillout area or even a nap pod may well attract crucial Gen Z talent for those tech firms, they often mask a lack of genuine benefits. Why? Because those are more expensive. What happens when the younger tech talent reaches their 30’s, has a family and then realises there’s no extended parental leave? How good does that shiny ping-pong table (a fraction of the cost of parental leave) look then? These gimmicky perks are also subconsciously meant to make you think your job is fun or some kind of lifestyle choice, rather than the fact that you’re actually there to pay the mortgage or rent. As well as being cheap, the other huge upside for the employer is once you think it’s fun, you’re likely to stay there longer per day and longer in your career. Which brings us to the next cynical look at benefits – the ones that are designed to keep you as near to your desk as possible! Free food, in-house yoga lessons, even the famous nap pods are all there for one reason and it’s not employee health – it’s to stop you leaving the building. The cost of a masseur or fitness instructor visiting the office versus the time spent by employees travelling to and from the gym is a no-brainer, adding up to potentially hundreds of man-hours per year saved. How many employers got so fed up of people not coming back from the pub on a Friday lunchtime that they installed a free beer fridge for Friday afternoons? Even the more serious benefits attached to roles often have a darker side that works in favour of the company. Company phones, iPads and laptops all imply that you’re expected to be on call and checking emails when you’re away from your desk. As company property, they can also be monitored, so if you think your location can’t be checked, think again! On the financial side, healthcare and pension providers aren’t chosen by employees, and while there’s a solid logistical reason for that, it’s not like there’s ever an option to not go with the one that works best for the company. Does all this mean that candidates shouldn’t consider benefits as deal breakers and only look at salary? Not at all. Some benefits may suit an individual perfectly at the right time in their life, and that may sway a decision when choosing between job offers. Besides, it’s not like you can always trust the salary number anyway – there can be deferral amounts in the smaller print, and stock options typically accrue over a number of years – both retention tools to keep you on board for as long as possible!

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