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Why the Working Mother Has It Right

Before I explain why I believe the working mother has it right, I want to set one thing straight. This post is not about working mothers versus stay-at-home mothers. This piece is about people in the workforce.

Second, this piece is about those working salary jobs in an office setting. The points in this post do not apply to hourly workers with scheduled shifts; employees who cannot adjust their schedule without a different employee not previously expected to work covering their shift. I know that working mothers set great examples in those roles, too. However, the points in this piece might not directly apply.

Now, on to the post: Why the Working Mother Has It Right

There has been a lot of talks lately about equal pay for equal work. The subject is causing a lot of controversy with facts and opinions coming from both sides. One opinion that I heard was that working mothers are not dedicated to the workplace and therefore deserve to make less. Mothers are said to be less committed than a man, or a woman with no kids, simply because they have family obligations. Being less dedicated time wise must mean they contribute less to the company.

While I am a full supporter of equal pay for equal work, the key being equal work, I think there could be some underlying truth to this statement. If a man, or a woman with no kids, is putting in 60+ productive hours a week and a working mother is only contributing 40 productive hours, are they doing equal work? The employee putting in more productive hours is most likely doing more to help the company achieve their goals.

As a leader, I know that the employee who is doing more to help the company reach their goals is more likely to be promoted or given a raise. However, I also know very well that the number of hours clocked does not always equal the number of productive hours worked.

Is an employee more dedicated to their clients, projects, or other company commitments just because they clocked more hours? No.

It could be that those who are putting in more hours are contributing more to the company’s goals. Or, it could be that they are contributing the same or less when compared to the employee clocking fewer hours. Equal work should be a measure of value-add and not time.

Hearing the opinion of working mothers deserving less really upset me.

While now I have the privilege of working for myself and making my schedule, for over three years I was a mother working a corporate job. Throughout my corporate leadership tenure, I had the opportunity to work with a strong group of leaders who were mostly women and almost all had kids. Some of the most senior leaders were even single parents.

It wasn’t shameful or a curse to be a working mother in my department. Those I worked with taught me a lot about balancing being a parent with succeeding in the workplace. I saw mothers who did not think twice about staying home when their kids were sick, mothers who took long lunches to go to a function at their child’s school, and mothers who arrived early but left the office every day by 4:30 to pick up their children. I also saw these same mothers being recognized and promoted for the value they added to the company.


From my experience, I think we all need to follow the lead set by these mothers in the workforce. Why?


Goals and deadlines do not suffer

Before I had kids, I loved being busy at work. I would often ask for additional projects, backup accounts when my peers were out of the office and never turned down a request for my help. Even when it was too much to complete in the standard work day, I achieved all deadlines and goals. Promotions and reviews showed that I was a dedicated and successful employee.

After I had kids, guess what?  Deadlines were not missed, and I still achieved all my goals. I still asked for additional projects, helped out my peers, and accepted all requests for my help. None of the work slowed down because I had a child. I was even given more responsibility through projects, training opportunities, and being transferred to manage a high profile team. My reviews still showed that I was a dedicated and successful employee.

You might ask, “How did I complete the same work and more after having kids?” I became more dedicated to my work when I was in the office. I knew I had to meet my husband downstairs at 5 p.m. to make it to daycare on time. Knowing that I had this time deadline every day made me use my time wisely. I became more focused and managed my time better. Of course, when needed, I brought work home with me and completed the work after my daughter was in bed.

I’m not special; it was not just me. I have never experienced an issue where an employee (leader, peer, or individual contributor) started to contribute less in the same role or missed deadlines because of having kids. Hours might have changed, but they were still bringing the same value-add to the workplace. I also saw the same with the fathers.


It allows dads to be active fathers

When I turned in my notice, I was reporting to one of the few male leaders in my department. The working mothers in our office helped to reinforce that he could be successful in the office and still be an active parent. He left the office by 4:30 every day to pick up his daughter from daycare.

I have seen this with other men. When they have kids, they start to leave the office around 5 p.m. instead of staying late. It’s important to be a part of their kids lives; to be a part of dinner, bath time, and bedtime.

These men still contributed significantly to the company. They achieved the same levels of accomplishments that they did before children. Just like when a woman decides to be an active parent, the company does not suffer because a man decides to be an active parent.

If more companies accepted the schedule of a working mother, we might allow more men to become active fathers.


Adjusting schedules does not stop productivity

While everyone at my previous company worked a full day, our schedules differed from person to person. Some parents on the leadership team were in charge of drop off, others were in charge of the pickup, and some did both. To help with this, it became standard that any meeting that started before 9 a.m. or after 4:30 p.m. would have a conference bridge. We were productive and there for our teams even if it was over the phone.

It’s hard to put into words what it felt like working in this environment. To not be judged by your peers for calling into a meeting. To not be looked down on when you have to transition in the middle of a meeting from being physically present to being on the phone. To have you manager ask you when you walk into a 4:30 meeting if you’re sure you can physically be there or if you need to call in. To have you manager encourage you to leave and to pick up your children if the meeting runs longer than expected. It was amazing.

I recently learned that Ikea had started an initiative to adjust meeting times. They are pushing back morning meetings so parents can drop off their kids at school. It’s a simple change that is making a positive impact on parent’s lives without negatively affecting productivity.


So you do not have kids. Why should you care?


Work should be just a part of your life, not all your life

You might say that the norms in your company do not allow for this type of schedule. That is exactly my point. We need to work to change the standards. Work-life balance should not be a dirty phrase. A goal of every employee in the workplace should be to make work a part of their life and not all their life.

I’m not saying that long days are never needed. Sometimes you need to put in extra time to meet a deadline. Long days should just not be the norm.


Long work hours can cause health issues

Studies have shown that people who work long hours have more physical and mental health problems. The American Journal of Epidemiology said that individuals who consistently work extra hours, compared to a standard eight hour day, have a 40 to 80 percent greater chance of heart disease.

Think about it. When was the last time you saw someone walk out of a 14-16 hour work day energized? Long days are draining.


We all have a point of diminishing returns

There is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to hours worked. While the exact point will differ for each person, productivity will decrease after too many hours have been worked.

Look at it this way; you have two employees. Both are focused employees that spend their time working versus getting distracted by items or people in the office. One works eight hours days and the other works 10 hours days. If the point of diminishing returns is eight hours, the employee who is working 10 hours is not completing two additional hours of work. They are physically there two extra hours, but they are not 100% mentally focused for those additional hours.

If we know that employees are not completing the same standard of work after the point of diminishing returns, why make it a norm for employees to work an extended work day? If employees are not operating at their best, there is a greater chance for errors to occur that will cost the company money in rework or liability. 

My Conclusion on Working Mothers

“Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day; they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done,”  said by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson in the book Rework.

If a mother can work a 40 hour week while still completing assignments and achieving goals, why can’t everyone? Mothers are focused, efficient, and using their time wisely. Working mothers all over are showing that it is possible to succeed in the office and running their own businesses while being active with their family.

Working mothers are playing the game right. They are focused and ending the day before they are no longer productive. It is the time we start modeling after mothers in the workplace instead of saying they are subpar employees.