A common sense approach to working life

Ruth Davidson’s resignation is clearly not wholly about work life balance, but the dread of being far from her child that she speaks of is common.

Dad holding child's foot


The MP Ruth Davidson gave one of her reasons for resigning as leader of the Scottish Conservatives last week as the dread of being far from her child. Cue lots of articles about working mums.

Clearly Ruth Davidson’s situation is not representative of all working mums – whose individual situation is? – and there is slightly more to her resignation at this particular point in time than work life balance.

Irrespective of the politics of Ruth Davidson’s decision the dread issue is one that many parents confront, and one which mums feel disproportionately given that they are still usually the ones who have spent months off with their babies and are generally, so household surveys tell us, still expected to be the main carers.

Not everyone feels that dread, of course, and not everyone feels it to the same degree. Circumstances and individual perceptions are everything. What is true is that at the moment there is still too much of an all or nothing approach to work and that work pressures in many professions have intensified in the last decades, devouring more and more of our time, including our weekends, our holidays and our sick days. Middle managers have been particularly badly hit and the perception is that it only gets worse the higher up you go.

That squeezes out anyone who has a family and who doesn’t have someone else on hand to do the family stuff because time is not elastic, however much we try to stretch it.

It’s not just the time, though, it’s logistics. If you have to travel for work, for instance, things become more complicated. If that travel is regular and long it can make things more difficult, but if that travel is sporadic and unpredictable that can also be a problem – the same applies to unpredictable work schedules. Add to that being a single parent, not having grandparents at hand and not being paid enough to cover flexible childcare or nannies and you have a recipe for long-term stress. And what if it is your partner who has to travel or who works unpredictable schedules? Someone has to be on hand for the unexpected accidents or sicknesses at nursery/school.

Why do we make this thing called life so complicated and create so many barriers for ourselves? The old model of work is creaking to a standstill, not fit for purpose. For one, the economy needs all hands on deck. There are massive skills shortages. The baby boomers are ageing and increasingly in need of long-term care. We need to face up to these issues and move forwards in a realistic way – even if being realistic – or truthful – doesn’t seem to be much in vogue these days in certain circles.

Some employers have developed lifecycle approaches to work, looking at all the pressure points throughout our working lives – the need to work while studying; the demand for portfolio approaches to work; the impact of caring responsibilities; of health issues in later life; the desire for gradual retirements, etc. Such approaches mean that we are all reflected in the world of work and business and that can only be a strength. It’s the common sense way forward and it will remain so, no matter who is in power.

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