Julie McLauchlan: Getting the right work-life balance

Sarah Jessica Parker, playing a movie role of a working mum, proudly donates 'home baked' apple pies to her kids' school fayre.

Julie McLauchlan, founder and managing director of Perceptive Communicators. Picture: Contributed

Viewers are let into a little secret that they are in fact shop-bought, but with a little home-made flourish, courtesy of a beating with a rolling pin from SJP.

This funny scene struck a chord with me about what we expect of ourselves as working parents.

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Like most mums and dads I have the daily juggling act of balancing work life and home life. With a lot of help from my amazing team (at home and work!), over the last decade we have built a successful communications consultancy from scratch. Sounds great, but like many people my life can be more like the image of a duck with its legs paddling frantically below the surface than a movie dream scene.

Within two months of setting up Perceptive, I’d got married and was expecting my first child. I was also running three building renovation projects. Whether this was productive, mad or a bit of both, this was my choice.

While not the best option for an easy life, setting up and running my own business gives me more freedom and flexibility. While there may be a few bumps in the road, remembering that this is my own chosen vision and plan is crucial.

Deciding what’s important in this plan is very personal. For me, it is a deliberate choice to split my time between work and family. While I love spending time with family and friends, I also love my work. Not a common admission, but true all the same.

Every day brings different and exciting challenges working with an expert team and really interesting clients. However, especially when my kids were tiny, I felt a bit guilty about working more than a couple of days a week; my choice was to return to work four days a week initially.

Now my kids are at school I focus most of my weekday time on Perceptive and have weekends with my family. Having the flexibility to sometimes work from home – admittedly including very early mornings and evenings – means I can collect my kids after school on most Mondays and Fridays.

Important milestones like sports days are also ring-fenced, not just for me but also for my team at work, many of whom are also working parents and are a fantastic support network for me and for each other. Whether or not my colleagues have kids, they also have family, responsibilities and a life outside work. Given the nature of our work, it is impossible to stick completely to the nine to five. But by focusing on results rather than clock watching and presenteeism, we hopefully create better work and home lives.

I am really lucky to have a very strong support network at home too. As well as paid-for childcare, my fantastic mother-in-law often steps in when our best laid plans go awry. A year into Perceptive we won a very important and time-consuming contract. My first child was still a baby so my husband took a career break for 18 months. Being able to fulfil this contract has been the cornerstone of our business.

Ten years ago, a career break for men was more unusual than it is today, but I am still struck by how many people refer to fathers “babysitting” their own children.

Building a strong network and relationships often after hours may indeed require some “babysitting”. Women are great at building relationships but are notoriously reluctant to promote themselves. On returning to work after my second child, I shifted my networking energy from one event every week to one per month, supplemented by activity on LinkedIn.

You would be amazed how many people are active on LinkedIn at 9pm on a Thursday evening once the kids are in bed. This is no replacement for face-to-face communication and relationship building entirely, but done in parallel with traditional networking it can help raise your profile and help build relationships at the touch of a button.

I’ve made lots of mistakes and life throws you unexpected challenges. A bump in the road means adjusting the plan, but my vision has remained pretty constant.

I still love baking with my kids, but have come to realise my world will not stop turning if baking gifts are shop-bought rather than home-made. And I’ve still got my rolling pin.

Julie McLauchlan is managing director of Perceptive Communicators