UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Integrating work and life: Carolina Women in Business Part 4


This is the fourth in a series of articles about the Carolina Women in Business annual conference. The other articles in the series focus on leaders making an impact on the global stage, women in the board room and workplace wellness.

For companies, a healthy work-life balance results in fewer stolen office supplies, lower turnover rates and improved employee performance. For women in the workforce, it provides the happiness and fulfillment they need to thrive in both their professional and personal roles. It’s clearly a win-win, but actually achieving work-life balance is a challenge.

SAS, a business analytics and software services company that has topped Fortune’s “Best Companies to Work For” list for the past four years, devotes an entire department to helping employees find harmony between their personal and professional lives.

At the 2013 Carolina Women in Business Conference on March 22, SAS work-life balance experts Laura Kellison Wallace and Sarah Atai shared strategies to help women manage their careers and families.

In addition to managing responsibilities at work, women usually carry a larger load when it comes to childcare and home responsibilities. The pressure to be superwoman can be overwhelming and discouraging, especially when women are bombarded by images of perfection on social networking sites like Pinterest.

“We go on to these sites and get the impression that all the women around us are coming home from work to make guacamole from scratch and build bookcases from toothpicks and dental floss,” said Atai. “Then our expectations for ourselves as women become ridiculously high.”

Atai and Wallace advised women to stop beating themselves up and accept the fact that they just can’t do it all. Instead, they need to focus on prioritizing their time and energy so that they can accomplish what matters most to them.

Research shows the ability to practice self-compassion after a mistake is a strong indicator of future success, said Atai. Being kind to yourself helps lower your defenses, better reflect on the experience and truly grow from it.

While women often feel like they should be able to handle all of their personal and professional responsibilities, do not let pride get in the way of asking for help when you need it. Don’t be ashamed of lightening the load and sharing tasks.

But delegating is often easier said than done, particularly when you feel as if you are the only one who can get it right. Whether it’s a diaper change or a project at work, Atai advised women to ask themselves, “Do I really need this done in a certain way? Or can I let someone else takeover?” Be sure to clarify your expectations, but recognize that different work styles can still get the job done.

Learning to say no is another key self-advocacy strategy. In many cases, women feel as if they need to give an elaborate explanation for saying no to social invitations or after-hours work functions. If you need to recharge, there’s nothing wrong with just saying that you have plans – even if those plans are sitting on the couch watching TV. At the office, ask your manager for help prioritizing. You get to avoid saying no directly, while still communicating that you have too many things on your plate. This gives your manager the power to decide how you use your time, and he or she will appreciate the heads-up.

“If you get on a plane, they tell you that if the cabin depressurizes, put on your oxygen mask before you help those around you,” said Atai. “It makes sense. If you run out of air, you’re not going to be any help to anyone. The same thing applies to your work life.”

Avoid burnout by getting enough sleep, eating three meals per day and exercising regularly. It’s also important to be aware of what helps you recharge your batteries and build these activities into your day-to-day schedule. Pencil in appointments with yourself to ensure that your needs don’t get lost in the shuffle of work and family activities.