Working flexibly is a constant balance of priorities

EY Australia

Hear from Julian Tai, a Director at EY, on how he works flexibly:

I started with EY Melbourne as a Vacationer in our Assurance practice back in 2008 and returned for a Graduate role in 2010. After almost 10 years I still work in Assurance, now as a Director working on audits of large ASX 50 listed companies, government organisations and various private clients.

I took primary carer parental leave in February 2017 after my son, Sage, turned one, to support my wife’s transition back to full-time work and now that we were lucky enough to have a daughter, Piper, back in December 2018, I’ll look to take up Round 2 of parental leave early in 2020 to again help support my wife’s transition back to full-time work.

When I first needed to apply for parental leave back in 2017 I was admittedly apprehensive in asking about it, but in the end, was overwhelming pleased with the support I received from my colleagues and more importantly all Partners in the firm that I discussed this with.

What I have found that has changed in my office since two years ago is that it's now become the “norm” in our office, as well as celebrated and embraced, for Dads to take up the parental leave benefit and have their time to be the primary carer whilst their partner gets a “break” and goes back to full-time work. In fact, its not just encouraged, but my experience now in recent years is that it’s almost assumed that Dads will be taking it.

So, whilst the conversation of supporting women and men back to the workplace after having children needs to continue (and acknowledging we do have some ways to go and room for improvement), its also great to see how far we’ve come in the EY Melbourne office over a relatively short period of time.

Separate to the formal parental leave period however, it has been important for my family’s and my own well-being about working flexibly on an informal basis. I prefer and sometimes need to work a bit later than normal so I’ll generally start my working day later than most, unless I have a meeting or client that needs to see me first thing in the day. I spend that extra time at home helping my wife take care of Piper if she’s unsettled at night or getting Sage ready for childcare.

It's now become the “norm” in our office, as well as celebrated and embraced, for Dads to take up the parental leave benefit and have their time to be the primary carer.

From my experience now having a young family is that it’s important to remember that the role of full-time parent is sometimes just as demanding as full-time employee, and both roles may sometimes have conflicting priorities. Whilst flexible working arrangements, such as “working from home”, has been a great support for me when my wife needs some extra help with our kids, sometimes it can prove calamitous when your child starts screaming for you in the background on an important conference call, and you’re not on mute because you’re midway through speaking!

Or other times when I would have liked to work from home to help out my wife, sometimes there are certain meetings which I’ve made the decision to be there in person for or if I’ve felt that my teams need assistance and helping remotely is not giving them the right level of support especially if the work is of a certain priority.

In the end, I find that working flexibly is game of averages, and whilst sometimes work priorities and family priorities (and luckily for me not too often) will conflict with each other, its about finding a balance and taking the opportunities to prioritise my responsibilities with my job when I definitely need to and my family doesn’t urgently need me, but then quickly switching that priority back to my family as soon as I can.

Ultimately, I try to set an example of being open with my teams about communicating that on-going balance of priorities given that I’m aware sometimes my flexible working arrangement may conflict or be at the inconvenience of someone else’s priorities and working hours. It’s important for our well-being to feel empowered about utilising flexible working arrangements when we need to, and more often than not it will be definitely be supported by your colleagues.

However, it’s also being mindful of their working style and their own priorities, so communicating on your plans to work flexibly, particularly for informal flexible working arrangements, is key. Given the diverse people that we work with on a daily basis and the different circumstances we all have, if you try to accommodate for them as best as possible, no doubt they’ll do the same for you when you need it.

This article was first published by Julian Tai on LinkedIn.