How do you juggle your family life and work-life? What helps and what hinders being both a parent and a PRO? One thing that is vital is the ability to work flexibly, but it is also important to be organised and have a passion for what you do. Parents who work in PR share their secrets for balancing careers and children.
Trust is important
Carrie Wieteska, account manager at agency Clark Communications: Trust and accountability are key for juggling work and a busy home life. I leave the office early for nursery pick-up and my time is always respected. Everyone trusts that I do my work despite my slightly shorter day, and working a four-day week, and I know that I am responsible for ensuring it is done.
“Evenings are always a rushed attempt to get my daughter to bed on time, which is where strict routines help. After she’s asleep I take a few minutes to mentally prepare myself for work the following day, including packing my bag. It is certainly a juggling act, but it’s worth it. “
Do what you love
Sarah Moloney, managing director of PR agency KWT Global: “For years I’ve tried to balance being a leader with being a parent and the honest truth is, it’s not easy, in fact at times it’s beyond challenging. There are times when work impacts your home-life and when your home-life impacts your work. That doesn’t make you a failure, it makes you a more well-rounded and self-aware individual who proudly became a parent and worked hard to become a leader.
“Progressive agencies that offer flexible working make a huge difference when it comes to striking a better work/life balance; feeling supported makes you more determined to achieve. The best piece of advice I can give is – love your job and love your family; if you’re like me, you’ll need and appreciate both.”
Have the right mindset
Mike Robb, co-founder and managing director of new communications agency Bold White Space, which launches in April: “A mix of good technology and the right mindset is the key to enabling the right balance of home and life, but many agencies are failing to deliver. It’s no surprise to me that high churn remains an issue and many bright minds end up leaving the industry altogether.
“The only way to juggle home and work life is to work somewhere that makes the merging of the two absolutely seamless. This means an end to formal working hours, radical flexibility and next level of trust between employer and employee.”
Plan, plan, plan
Tracy Nolan, co-founder of journalist request service PressPlugs: “Running PressPlugs along with my husband, whilst having secondary school children, and no family support, means precise planning. As a business consultant once told me: ‘Master time or it will master you’.
“Whilst that’s true, life is what happens in-between. Sometimes meetings have to be cancelled, rearranged or turned into Skype as we don't have a crystal ball. It all requires planning and a little luck.
“It’s stressful, but it also means we have a tight-knit family where our children also understand the world of work and business in a way that most of their peers don’t. It’s hard work, not an exact science, but I feel we’ve got it as good as the best of those fighting for that golden work/life balance harmony.“
Learn to switch off
Holly Pither, MD and founder of agency Tribe PR and mummy blogger at PitterPatterPither: “My only rule is that I always switch off when I do bath time and milk with Amelia in the evenings. I’ve always seen this as sacred family time (same with mealtimes) and if that means someone gets an email response later on then so be it. Honesty is key here. I always explain to my clients that if I send emails after hours, I don’t expect them to reply and that on account of having a baby I tend to work unusual hours. They all seem fine with this. For me, it’s about doing the work, not when you do it.“
Be your own boss
Claire Gamble, managing director of agency Unhooked Communications: “When I had my first child about six years ago, it was a big factor in me leaving my employed role and setting up as a freelancer. Since then, my business has grown and I now run a virtual PR agency with a collective of other PR freelancers and consultants – some of whom are also parents. On the whole, I feel lucky to have a job that I can pretty much do from wherever and whenever, providing I've got a laptop, phone and broadband. One of the key challenges is that news is 24/7 and we can always be connected to work because of our smartphones. There's a temptation to constantly be 'on', checking the media for relevant stories for clients and replying to emails straight away.
"But this isn't sustainable or healthy – regardless of whether or not you've got young children. Weaning myself off Twitter, rolling news and also my emails for the sake of my sanity and family life is a work in progress, but it's important to have boundaries and set working hours. It's also helped me to have a team of amazing PRs around me who I can fully trust to support with client work. And having good relationships with clients is key. I think there's a fear sometimes with bigger agencies that we can't let clients know that we're real people with lives outside of work. But things happen – kids get sick, there's school holidays, or you want to go and see them in their class assembly. That's all OK and clients know we're not machines!"
Ilonka Waterdrinker, founder of Well PR: “Going freelance has been my best decision for a balanced work/home life. The main tools of our trade are a laptop and phone: being in an office is no prerequisite for delivering client results (but it’s nice to speak people IRL). So, when the kids are ill or off school, I can still get on with my work.
“I also have more control over the way I work with my clients: I can be clear from the outset that I am not available during the school run unless there is a genuine crisis.
“Yet, it’s not all beer and skittles. Work never seems to slow down during the holidays and with the kids now too cool for holiday clubs, keeping clients happy and the kids entertained is a delicate balancing act. However, honesty and a willingness to put extra hours in during evenings or weekends goes a long way.”
Flexible working is key
Alexa Hopkins, senior associate at PR agency Cirkle: “What helps balancing home life and work life? Two words: flexible working. I can leave the office at a sensible hour and be home for bedtime, you can’t put a price on that as a working parent. What hinders the balance? I am going to be hugely unpopular for saying this, but policies which discourage/ban emails after a certain time in the evening are really unhelpful. I rely on that post-bedtime window to catch up on emails and get on top of things for the next day. I certainly don’t expect those emails to be read or actioned, but that time is crucial for me to keep the plates spinning and is all part of the bigger flexible working proposition.”
Mark Stuart, senior account director at digital communications agency Battenhall: “Working in a progressive PR team is key. I’ve been lucky to work both in-house and at agencies where flexible working and remote working is built into the DNA of the business. It can sometimes be a challenge, as meetings, client needs, travel, and out of hours working all need juggling, but technology helps minimise the impact on family life. “We all have an extremely high-tech setup, with all staff given £1,300 to kit themselves out when they first accept their job. We work in an agile way and the ethos is focused on helping those who have kids to be there for them at the most pressing times. I’ve had to rejig work to be home when my son is ill and can’t go to school, or do the afternoon pick-up on occasion, and of course making it to the school concert without the need to book a half-day off. It means working different hours occasionally, jumping onto video conference calls more often, but most importantly communicating with colleagues about my schedule and needs. It works for us, and I believe it should do for any modern day PR.”
Mark McMeekin, digital PR consultant at marketing agency AGY47: "As a relatively new parent, learning how to juggle home life with work life was always going to be an important part of becoming a dad for the first time. One thing that I learned quickly was I needed to spend as much time as possible with my son, Leo.
“Going back to work after paternity leave was tough and I think if I hadn't of struck the right balance between work and home I would of found myself hugely demotivated. It goes without saying it's important to have an employer and a partner that are both hugely supportive, and I definitely have both.
“Having the ability to work remotely and work flexibly have really helped, and I think without that there's a huge risk for new parents to become unhappy in their roles if they feel they're always in the office."
Setting up on your own may give you freedom to set your own rules, but it also comes with a lot of stress. Of course, stress goes with the territory when you are a parent, but if you are an employee, it certainly helps if your company offers flexible working and the chance to work from home.
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