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As the nine-to-five workday becomes a thing of the past and the ability to balance our work lives with all other commitments grows increasingly difficult, DSB introduces a regular column with tools to help you achieve a sense of balance.

Tempting as it is to continually work in, and on, your business, it’s important to remember why we do it in the first place; to support our chosen lifestyles, so why not enjoy it once in a while?

Throughout our work-life balance series, DSB will address the key inhibitors to achieving this balance and discuss how business owners and their staff can achieve more balance in their life.

The Guilt Ceiling

DSB recently attended a professional women’s networking breakfast hosted by online recruitment service, LinkMe.com.au The topic of discussion was ‘The Guilt Ceiling, superworking, playing the game and manoeuvring through office politics’.

Key speakers tackled the topic head-on to reveal the effect today’s culture has on working women and how guilt puts even more pressure on women to secure a work-life balance.

And while the issue was most definitely swayed towards the working mother, the few males in attendance could take something from the advice as well, whether personally or for the consideration of colleagues, staff or family members.

Pru Goward, Sex Discrimination Commissioner, believes guilt can be an effective social control mechanism, but says “women have guilt in disease proportions”. In an attempt to be the perfect mother and perfect corporate executive, she says women commit themselves to be all things to all people, and because reality doesn’t allow this, women constantly feel guilt towards their colleagues, bosses, friends and families.

And her solution? Admit your ambitions, know what you’re worth and accept that giving the best you can, to all facets of life, is enough.

Alison Veness-McGourty, editor of Harpers Bizarre, and Deena Shiff, group managing director of Telstra Wholesale, spoke of the challenges they face as professional working mothers, revealing how they smash through the guilt ceiling every day.

While many would assume the lifestyle of a fashion magazine editor is all glitz and glamour, Veness-McGourty also spends her mornings packing lunches and getting the kids off to school before stepping into her high-pressure day job where she might have to skip lunch, and decide which of the mountainous number of invitations she’ll accept to evening events. But as well as having a supportive partner, Veness-McGourty maintains balance by standing firm on simple rules, such as being away from home only two nights a week, otherwise arriving home no later than 6:30pm. And she always spends weekends with the family. “I just say no,” she says with complete confidence in how hard she works, with no guilt for making her family a priority.

Veness-McGourty also instils this attitude in her largely female team, so rather than trying to do too much and burning out, they’re working as productively as they can when they’re on the job.

As business owners, it’s up to you to ensure this same attitude is present in your business, both for your own life balance and that of employees. And thanks to the recent decision of the Family Provisions test case handed down by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (see news article on p 6), male and female employees can now request up to 24 months of unpaid parental leave, doubling the current entitlement of 12 months. They may also request to return to work part-time following parental leave.

All speakers insist moving beyond guilt and embracing these opportunities is key to a healthy work-life balance, for both genders. “You’ll never get that time again,” says Veness-McGourty.

And while the seminar highlighted women’s sense of guilt, for fathers exiting the workforce to be the primary carer, this may come with its own guilt in a society where the man of the house is traditionally the breadwinner.

Times are changing and it seems once we break through the guilt ceiling and take this unnecessary pressure off ourselves, we will realise that doing our best is good enough, and we’ll be well on the way to a healthy work-life balance.

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