For Working Mothers of Young Children, Job Flexibility is Gold

It isn’t easy to find a balance between work and family, but it doesn’t have to be a pipe dream.

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- Posted on Jun 22, 2020

A mother gets her daughter ready for school.

Summer school and activities are beginning to heat up now—either virtually or, perhaps tentatively, out in the world. Regardless of circumstances, if you have kids, the school break usually means they’re home more and that you want to keep them active, healthy and engaged. If their break also includes schoolwork, you’re probably in charge of seeing that it gets done, as well. Oh yes, and then there’s your own work.

When you’ve got a job and young children, your day is ever fluid and impossible to predict. Your family’s needs are your top priority, but you also value your work and want to do it well. If you haven’t already found it, you crave a doable schedule that allows you to handle all you need to do without sacrificing your emotional—not to mention physical—well-being. You need a give-and-take, a good work-life balance. It’s that sought-after concept: job flexibility.

“Allowing employees to work flexibly reduces the conflict that we all experience between our personal and professional lives, and equips everyone to better meet their mental, emotional, and physical needs,” said Sara Sutton, founder and CEO of FlexJobs. According to the job search site’s most recent Work-Life Relationship survey, flexible work is popular.

Of the survey’s 3,900 respondents, 54 percent with flexible work options said their work-life balance was either great or very good, compared to only 29 percent of those without flexible work options who reported the same thing. Twenty-one percent of respondents with flexible work options said they were currently stressed by their level of work-life balance, while 43 percent—more than double—working without flexible options responded as such. Entirely remote work was the top preference for flexible work (80 percent), with flexible schedules a second preference (55 percent).

Women who have children and jobs are especially likely to value flexibility.  In fact, flexibility was among the top three factors working moms considered when choosing a new job, right behind job security and pay  according to The Working Mother Report from the Working Mother Research Institute.

Eighty percent of respondents said that having flexibility increased their productivity, while three quarters said it boosted their morale and motivation and raised their commitment to their employer.

Finding a work-life sweet spot can be particularly challenging for women. In a 2018 Harvard Business Review article, academics Joan C. Williams and Marina Multhaup noted that workplace bias against parents, especially mothers, has been well documented.

“We call it the ‘Maternal Wall,’ and we’ve been studying it for years, researching how women who have always been successful at work sometimes find their competence questioned when they take maternity leave or ask for a flexible work schedule,” they wrote, adding that flexible hours benefit both parents and non-parents. “For parents with very young children, their work schedule can be tied to the baby’s sleep schedule. Parents with older kids may need to work around inflexible school or activity schedules. This helps parents be more productive with the time they have, and helps them balance their work and lives easier.” Of course, the types of flexibility that are feasible, the researchers noted, “depend on the workplace and the job.”

The good news is that flexible jobs do exist. In 2018, the Indeed Hiring Lab mined hundreds of millions of job postings to answer the question, “What are the most family-friendly or flexible jobs in the U.S.?”

There was a variety of promising results. Sales managers and sales engineers topped the list, but the top 20 also included occupations requiring a spectrum of training and skill sets, from lawyers to software and chemical engineers to personal financial advisors, computer support specialists and home health aides.  

Home health aides, which ranked #14 on the Indeed list, administer healthcare and support to the elderly, ill or people with disabilities. Shifts can be arranged to fit your schedule as a busy mother, you can work close to home and job training is provided. Not only that, you can make new friends and make a big difference in someone’s life. If you are a nurse and want to work in home health, you may also be able to draft your own schedule for greater flexibility. (It’s important to discuss on-going safety protocols for Covid-19 with any agency you may be working with.)

As everyone knows, life is a work in progress. You figure it out as you go along. But know that there are meaningful ways to work that can make it easier to keep a close eye to your loved ones.

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