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Blurred lines: The balance of work and home life

5 August 2020

5 mins

Planning Officer Amanda Silverwood shares her experience trying to find the balance between her work life, her personal life and also home-schooling her child. In addition, she discusses the ideas and top tips that have been shared between parents and carers in recent ‘Connect over Coffee’ sessions held by the University’s Women’s Network, Maia.

The last time I was in my office was Friday 13 March. When I left to go home that night, I had no idea that five months of working from home lay ahead of me.  

Prior to the pandemic, I regularly worked from home once a week which allowed me to drop my son off at school instead of sending him to breakfast club, and also meant I was able to skip my two-hour daily public transport commute. Despite being an experienced home-worker, I like many others, have really struggled during lockdown.

My husband and I have battled to simultaneously work full time, home-school our seven-year-old and give him the care and attention he needs. Neither of us feels like we are doing a good job of either being an employee or being a parent.

I also miss being ‘work me’ and having the opportunity to get away from the everyday stresses and strains of family life. Although my regular commute probably seems excessive to some, I really valued having that time to myself to read and drink a coffee in peace while on the train. I miss informal chats in the kitchen with my colleagues and seeing real life faces instead of interacting with a screen all day.

I know I am not alone in feeling like this. As part of my job-share with Emma Dresser as an Engagement and Communications Lead on the Maia Women’s Network Committee, I helped to facilitate two informal online discussion sessions in June with women from across the University on the subject of home-schooling and caring during the pandemic.

It is clear that some people are really struggling and dealing with some very difficult situations.

It made me reflect on the fact that you never know what other people are dealing with in their personal lives, but during this crisis, the separation between home and work is becoming increasingly blurry and people don’t get to ‘escape’ through work anymore.

The Maia committee thought it was important to capture some of the themes of these sessions – and below you’ll find an extract of things people have found helps them to balance work and home life:

  • Creating a dedicated office space – separation of work and home
  • Letting cleaning standards slip!
  • Making time for exercise
  • Finding someone to talk to
  • Honesty from other people about how they are feeling and if they are struggling
  • Accepting it is impossible to do it all
  • Having a strict finish time every day
  • Setting small goals and expectations
  • Meal planning
  • Writing a list of all the things you have achieved during lockdown, instead of the things you haven’t
  • Focusing on children’s happiness rather than the amount of schoolwork completed
  • Communicating with your child’s school – if they are sending too much work, tell them. Equally if they are not doing enough, tell them that too.
  • Where there is more than one adult:
    • Split the day looking after your child – one takes the morning shift, the other takes the afternoon shift
    • Have a joint calendar to avoid booking meetings at the same time as each other
  • If you are the only parent in the household, speak with your line manager to discuss options for flexible working if you haven’t already. For example, you could block your diary in the mornings so people do not invite you to meetings so you can dedicate this time to home-schooling.

Following the Connect over Coffee online discussion sessions, some attendees have broken into smaller groups of six or so people to provide an informal support network to each other and share useful resources and tips.

If you are interested in joining the Maia Network and taking part in future events and discussion groups, you can find out more information here.

As the school holidays are now underway, I am grateful home-schooling pressure has eased, but there are still six weeks with limited childcare availability and little in the way of safe entertainment stretching out in front of us. 

I have stolen this quote from our Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research, Professor Steve Rothberg’s email signature as I think it is excellent advice for all of us to remember:

“Be kind to yourself; try not to judge how you are coping based on how you see others coping.
Be kind to others; try not to judge how they are coping based on how you are coping.”

If you are struggling and need advice and support, please do speak to your line manager. You can also seek free, independent and confidential advice through the University’s Employee Assistance Programme, or download the University’s LU Wellbeing app which is available on both the App Store and Google Play.

Health and Wellbeing

Wellbeing means being in a positive physical, social and mental state. Wellbeing is important to us as happy, healthy people who achieve harmony in their work / life mix are more creative, productive and help to create a great place to work.

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