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From the Front Line: Lessons from Full-Time Working Moms

ThermoFisher collageManaging a career and a family can be challenging. Learn how three women at Thermo Fisher Scientific, all mothers of young children, are making it work. In this interview, emerging leaders Maggie Guliokas, Kerry Field and Sarah Fligg talk about how they stay focused on what’s most important at the moment, despite the demands on their time.

Is the concept of work-life balance even possible for someone with a demanding career and young children?

Kerry: I prefer the term work-life integration. Balance implies two separate elements, but my career and my family are an intricately interwoven web. And I definitely believe it’s possible—like anything new, you need to learn how to do it well, and have patience with yourself. When I started seeing myself as a full-time working mom rather than a full-time worker and full-time mom, something changed in my mind and behavior. These two elements of my life stopped competing with each other and now complement one another. And I’m better for it.  

Sarah: For me, it’s about making choices. For instance, do you attend your child’s baseball game or stay at work late because your manager asked you to? The choices are often not easy—and guilt can set in on either side: Am I there enough for my children? Am I neglecting some of my responsibilities at work? But if we are confident that our choices are the right ones, the guilt will pass.

Maggie: I agree with Kerry. If work and life are separate elements, something is off balance. We’ve chosen the path we’re on, and we must make the smaller choices Sarah referenced to support that decision most effectively.

What tips and tricks have you found helpful—as employee, manager, mother?

Kerry: I focus on results vs. face-time, both as an employee and manager. This enables flexibility on where and when I work. I create a “trial period” when a manager is learning how to embrace flexibility to prove that I will deliver.  I also figure out the moments that matter and I am physically present for those.  

Sarah: As a manager, I try to be flexible in order to meet the needs of the business and of my team members. Listening skills are critical here in order to understand employees’ needs. As an employee, I seek out colleagues who are on the same quest to integrate work and life and I learn from them. These relationships offer the support I need when I have self-doubt about my ability to be successful.  

Maggie: I try to spend individual time with each of my three boys, whether it’s a one-on-one breakfast or even just a trip to the store. When I’m traveling, I leave Post-It notes around the house for them to discover telling them I love and miss them. At work, I started a parents group. We have a monthly roundtable focusing on a parenting topic. We have also done group play dates and held the first “Bring a Child to Work Day” at our site. This network is extremely helpful—for new parents as well as for those of us who have been parents for a while. I’m very fortunate to work for a company like Thermo Fisher that encourages and supports these specialized networks in the workplace.

Are there skills you’ve learned at work that help with raising a family?

Sarah: The ability to prioritize is a skill I developed at work, which helps me at home. On the job, we are conditioned to plan and prioritize for the entire year. That’s not possible with a family. Instead, I find myself asking: What’s my priority for this week, or even today? They constantly change, but I focus on what’s most important at any given time.

Kerry: One skill or practice I’ve adopted is that I created my own personal board of directors. It consists of three to five leaders whom I respect and I know share my core values. I seek their guidance regularly to keep me grounded and provide a sounding board as I continue to develop.  

Maggie: In our business, we have core values that everyone in the company knows and lives by. We’ve adopted the same approach in our family—our number one rule is “be grateful.” My three-year-old repeats it often. Though he doesn’t yet know what it means, someday he will. Living and breathing the core values is far more meaningful to employees than anything you can say. This is true with kids, too. The best parenting advice I’ve ever received is: “Want good kids? Be a good adult.”

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▶ Read more from the February 2016 newsletter.

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