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Are you focusing on doing your job too well to progress?

The well-known PIE model from Harvey Coleman’s book Empowering Yourself: The organisational game revealed, suggests that as little as 10% of career success is down to job performance, whilst a staggering 60% is to do with your exposure within an organisation or industry. In this context, are many working parents setting themselves up for long term career stagnation?

As a parent who is returning to work after a period of leave, much of your focus is likely to be on the logistics of making it work.  Have you got reliable childcare?  How are you and partner (if you have one) splitting pick ups and drop offs?  Have you been able to negotiate working hours and days that work for your organisation and you? Plus, what do you need to do to get back up to speed with your old role and any changes that have happened while you’ve been away?

This focus on the initial return is understandable and obviously essential to get things started but what it does tend to involve is that your previously fluid relationship with the length of the working day becomes more rigid as you fit work around a specific number of hours before dashing to pick up your child from their childcare setting.

On our programmes, we coach many people who adapt to the time constraints on their working day by doubling down on their effort while they are at work and being very efficient. This tends to be particularly true of those working flexibly or reduced hours who often come up against flexibility stigma and feel the need to prove they are still able to perform and are committed to their career.

This desire to prove they are still ‘up to the job’ combined with reduced time means that anything seen as peripheral or not of immediate importance, such as networking and profile-raising tends to be removed or deprioritised. But, is this very natural instinct to maximise efficiency actually counter productive and should parents be focusing less on doing their job well and more on being seen?

The PIE model would suggest that by solely focusing on doing your job well at the expense of raising your profile and image you are decreasing your chances of future career progression. And while career progression may be the last thing on your mind in the sleep-deprived fog of the early months of a return from parental leave, that may not always be the case.

So, if 100% of your effort is going into something that only has a 10% impact on your future success, are you really being as efficient with your time as you thought? Perhaps it is time to consider building in some of the ‘non-essentials’ as they may prove to be more essential than you think.

In practice how can this be achieved without adding ‘yet another thing’ to an already overloaded schedule? Here we look at a few areas to help you think about how you can start to give profile-raising some attention to ensure a focus on ‘getting the job done’ doesn’t leave you invisible when it comes to future career progression.

  1. On your return, make time to reconnect with your network, let them know you are back and schedule time for informal or formal catch-ups as an integral part of your return process.
  2. Think about what kind of networking is important in the context of your role and organisation and then prioritise based upon what is achievable in your schedule. Focus on what has the most impact and accept that you won’t be able to (or necessarily want to) attend everything.
  3. If some level of networking outside your set hours is important, include that as part of how you divide work and home responsibilities with your partner or try and factor in some additional childcare costs as part of the price of future career opportunities.
  4. Enlist your manager’s support – often well-meaning managers will try to reduce the pressure on a newly returning parent by giving them less high-profile projects. Unless you specifically want this, make it clear to your manager that you’d appreciate the exposure that higher-profile projects might bring.  In addition, who in your organisation is it important that you have exposure with and how can your manager support that in happening?
  5. Figure out what are your top priorities and what do you need to say no to? Saying no can feel daunting when you are trying to re-establish yourself at work after parental leave but being clear about what you can and can’t do helps prevent your time being drained by others’ priorities.
  6. As a new parent it is unlikely that you’ll be joining the after-work drinks too often, but are there other social settings where you can join in? Is there a parents’ group, a book club or running club at lunchtime? This has the dual benefit of helping you meet a range of people within your organisation in a more informal setting where you also share a common interest and are doing something of personal value to you.

None of this is intended to be a prescriptive list of what to do but more a prompt to ensure that as a working parent you have one (doubtless half-closed and sleepy) eye on the future and can start to make some choices at work that means your focus on doing a job well is ultimately rewarded.

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