‘I’ve struggled with confidence returning to work after mat leave… and working from home wasn’t necessarily best for my wellbeing’

Cali Gold_YuLife (4)

Cali Gold, Head of People at insurer YuLife, is a refreshingly honest interviewee, especially one from the supplier side of the wellbeing industry.

In this interview she sheds light on important flexibility issues that employers must address, referencing her own wellbeing challenges in the process, without then arguing all these can be solved by purchasing YuLife’s product. A wellbeing washer, she is not.

She hopes her willingness to be vulnerable will continue the important discussion about how people can feel more comfortable in their skin at work, particularly after a change, like becoming a parent.

We spoke to her to find out more.

As Head of People at a wellbeing company, YuLife – what do you think is the biggest challenge currently facing the industry?

Flexible working – but not for the reasons you might think I’d say.

Flexible working is obviously an incredible opportunity because, previously, many people were alienated from working, such as carers and the disabled.

But employers are not doing enough to measure the impact on businesses of flexible working.

Why is it such a problem that companies are not measuring flexible working enough?

On the face of it, it sounds great to say as an employee ‘I can work flexibly and look after my wellbeing and have worklife balance’.  

My challenge with this is that businesses aren’t tracking systematic data on how their employees working flexibly is impacting them, or their employees. 

Without this data, we can’t plan to ensure that businesses are still best supported and thriving, and there’s still a productive workforce. 

Can you give an example of how businesses should be measuring the impact of flexible working?

Obviously it’s different on a case by case basis. But let’s say an employee is in a sales role and needs to meet with clients, presenting and pitching regularly. This would be best done, for most businesses, between 9am and 5pm in the traditional working day. 

However, if this person is a carer, they might choose to work flexibly in the evening, and that’s their prerogative. What businesses are not doing currently is looking at whether this employee’s targets and client meetings are being impacted by the fact they are working flexibly.

Do you think there could be cases where flexible working actually negative impacts wellbeing as well as targets?

Yes. Imagine this sales role again. It could potentially create pressure, anxiety and stress for them if they are unable to effectively perform their tasks because of the hours they are choosing to work. 

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So companies need to ask themselves difficult questions like: are our targets also flexible, because our working patterns are flexible?

Typically, I’d guess that working flexibly should not impact results in most jobs. But not all. The fact is we need to have data to know which jobs are adversely affected.

What needs to happen, in your opinion?

Businesses need to create a practical framework to measure how flexible working is impacting their business, even though this is challenging due to the fact it needs to be done on an individual basis. 

There need to be systems and data points in place to monitor and assess flexible working requests, too. I’m not saying we shouldn’t accept them, or be excited about them. 

I’m also not suggesting companies pull back on offering flexible working; we know that this is now a big factor when employees choose a place to work, more so than salary often. 

Organisations need to make sure they are creating flexible working opportunities, especially to retain diverse talent.

We just need more thought and structure around what these new roles should look like.

Businesses need to do this in addition to looking at the effect of flexible working on the employee’s wellbeing.

What about the fact that some employees are choosing to work flexibly, and/or from home, because it is easier logistically for them – but not necessarily the best option for their wellbeing. Is this an issue too?

Yes! And I hold my hands up to this being relevant to me personally. I’ve recently returned back to work after maternity leave and I have incredible flexibility. I can choose to work from home, or go to the office. 

Having two kids, I’ll admit that working from home allows me to get through my ‘tick list’ more efficiently, and ‘feel’ as if I’ve got more work life balance. And, until very recently, I was a big fan of working from home. 

However, I’ve struggled returning to the workplace after maternity leave and I don’t think working remotely has helped this. So I’ve made more of an effort to go into the office because I know I can build relationships quicker this way. I also know it’s a better way to deal with my feelings of imposter syndrome, which are common for women trying to build their confidence up again after a break.

Playing devil’s advocate, are there any other reasons working from home might not be good for a business?

Yes, businesses are losing information. When you work from home you’re in your cocooned environment so you don’t come across those important nuggets of information that might help you. It could be a chat with someone in your team, or from another department. 

We shouldn’t underestimate the power of being around our colleagues in an office and hearing conversations going on. It’s so impactful and it can’t be replicated on Zoom.

You’re a fan of boundaries. Tell me about the role of boundaries in making flexible working work for everyone.

When you’re operating in a business where there’s a lot of flexibility, that’s wonderful, because it signals to employees that you treat them as adults, empowering them to make their own decisions.

But people work at their most productive and best when there are boundaries and frameworks in place. Frameworks are different to ‘hard rules’. They are suggestions and principles. 

Do you think any employers are currently doing this well?

The tech giants, like Facebook and Google. They offer flexibility and allow their employees to choose the days they come into the office. They also make clear they need their people in the office because they need to collaborate in person, knowing that this is more impactful when colleagues are physically together. 

You mentioned feelings of imposter syndrome returning to work after maternity leave. How could employers help women (or, the few men who take significant parental leave) with this more?

For me, I feel the business sees me as the same person that I was before I went on maternity leave. But I’m not. I struggle with confidence, especially in a company that is growing so fast – which is wonderful – but you’re coming back to people who don’t know you, so you have to earn credibility all over again. That’s really challenging. 

There needs to be more conversations around this.

I would love businesses to create frameworks and structures around coming back into the workplace as a parent. 

Businesses often have great onboarding processes for people joining the workforce, what about for people returning to it? That’s true for older workers, too.

It’s great that you’re so open about how vulnerable you feel because that will help other readers in your position. Does being open lessen the feelings of imposter syndrome?

Yes, it’s liberating and it’s freeing. I don’t need to pretend to be something I’m not. It’s actually empowering to be honest and say ‘I can feel my imposter syndrome creeping in here’. Especially because I’ve never felt like this before in my career. 

There’s strength in being open and vulnerable.

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