How having a supportive team helps account director, Roberta Marcroft, maximise her work-life balance

by Liz Benson

Your age:  50
Number of kids: 2
Age of kids:  11 and 13

What’s important to you in a role? 

Variety, flexibility, collaboration and a non-judgmental, encouraging environment. At the time I started working in public relations I was doing all the basics and was working in a very small firm with limited growth opportunity, however I learnt the basics really well because I was doing them all the time. When I jumped ship to an inhouse role it was too big a leap, but I learnt resilience and developed my thick skin. I then fortunately found a nurturing agency where I could put everything I knew into practice and develop the skills and confidence I use today, that has enabled me to achieve a position that provides me with all the things that are important to me in a role.

Can you describe what’s involved in doing your job on a day-to-day basis?  

There’s not as much chit chat going on these days now I work from home during the pandemic, however I am a fan of video calls. I like being connected to my colleagues. We are a team focused, collaborative agency so while we’re working in isolation nothing is usually one person’s responsibility. My day to day activities include reviewing client plans, liaising with the account team regarding activity status, proof reading and editing copy for media releases, marketing materials and social media content. Reviewing client relevant industry publications, and other online news sources is important to remain on top of the news cycle and driving content idea generation. Often clients will call to ask for guidance on an issue or activity, and we like to take new ideas to our clients to keep their programs healthy and purposeful. There is usually at least one client meeting a day.

Did you have any personal concerns or worries in relation to family or out-of-work commitments when you started combining working and parenting? 

After my first child I returned to work part-time which provided me with some flexibility for outside of hours activities, however when I returned to work full time after baby number two there wasn’t much room for anything other than family and work. My personal circumstances weren’t very flexible, which limited what I could do however I was contracting during the first six months which meant I could set my own routine a little. My kids have both been in child care from an early age, and while it wasn’t what I would have preferred I did what was required and I was able to accept that, which helped with the guilt mothers often feel about returning to work full-time.

What kind of support do you have at work and outside of work? 

The business owners have created a very strong support network within the business, and understand the support needed for working parents, those studying, anyone needing time for personal appointments, and so on. I feel the culture of the business naturally instills a strong work ethic and everyone does what’s required when required. Outside of work I have parents and friends who are always happy to help when they can. As my boys have gotten older the support has changed from after school care pick-ups, to helping with homework and driving them to mid-week sporting commitments. As a full-time single parent, I have learned to embrace the help my village is keen to offer.

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced finding a balance between work and parenting commitments? 

Being the full-time parent for my two boys is my work life balance challenge, however it’s my guilt that is really the biggest hurdle. I feel guilty about not being able to meet some work commitments as well as guilt about being away from the children. While I don’t often have to choose, work has always been very accommodating, and I have colleagues who are always happy to step in when needed, and I fill in for them on other occasions.

How long did you take maternity leave/time out of your career with each of your children?  

With my first child I had six months maternity leave and returned to work part time. After my second I initially took six months and then resigned after that as I wasn’t ready to return to work. It was after a failed work partnership with my ex-husband that I returned to the workforce full-time.

What advice would you give someone before commencing maternity leave? 

Just like giving birth, you need to be open to changing your plans. While it often comes down to financial security, and how long you can afford to be without an income,  I suggest having a frank conversation with your employer about what you would ideally like, however discuss the options of returning sooner, or taking longer. No one knows what their baby will be like and the challenges they may be presented with, so knowing if you can have less time or longer with your child may help ease the pressure.

What advice would you give someone returning to their career after having kids?  

Stay in touch with your career during maternity leave. Technology changes so rapidly that you need to feel confident about your knowledge and skills when you return. Don’t expect to be able to pick up where you left off. Your mind will think about your child more often than you expect and you need to give yourself time to adjust to your new life and new routines.

Are there many women at your level juggling family and work at your organisation? 

Yes. I work with men and women who have children, and partners also in full-time employment, so we are all juggling. Everyone’s circumstances are different however we all have an appreciation for the flexibility available to us.

Do you find time for yourself? And if so, how and what do you use it for?  

I am continually reminded by colleagues, friends and family to look after myself, yet I admit I am my lowest priority. My kids come first. I like to have a full schedule and have been the sole parent for so long that I find it difficult to slow down, let alone stop. I have recently invested time in seeing a counsellor to help with teenage dramas, which I consider to be something for myself; an unattached person to vent to. It’s a start.

Do you have a daily routine, and if so, what does it look like? 

Depends on the time of year. During daylight savings I am usually up and out for a walk by 6.15, then manage the kids as they prepare for school. Once they’re out the door I’m at my desk, and try to fit in a walk during the day to break the routine. Then it’s all in reverse, including getting the boys to sporting or social commitments. I rediscovered reading during COVID-19 and like to wind down with a book before sleep by 10 (depends how good the book is – sometimes it’s midnight)!

If you could do anything differently in relation to developing your career over the years, what would it be (if anything)?    

I would work on building my confidence much sooner. I have really held myself back by not being prepared to take risks when it came to employment. I should have applied for new roles much earlier than I did and been confident enough to try, even if I didn’t get the job. I wasted too many years being passive.

What challenges have you faced since working from home during this year?

Working from home has made it harder to disconnect at the end of the day. The bus trip to and from the office used to provide time to remove myself physically from work and unpack the day mentally, making the transition from office to home more seamless.

Has working from home eased your parental responsibilities in any way? (e.g can get to after school appts more easily etc.)

Working from home has absolutely made things easier for the kids and I during the week. Getting ready in the mornings isn’t such a rush, I can drop them to school or the bus stop, work in the car while they’re at sports training. And I enjoy being here when they get home. Even while I’m working they know I’m close. They’ve quickly reverted to asking me to get snacks even though they were totally capable of doing it themselves before COVID-19!

What advice do you have for other mothers adjusting to this new style of working?

While I’m new to this, some of my colleagues have been doing it for many years and provided lots of advice when we first made the transition. I think everyone has to find their own groove. I don’t dress up like I did for the office and I don’t wear make-up as much, which I feel are both broadly accepted changes. I do make sure I’m not dressing down on days I have video meetings, and I’ve had to move my desk out of the kitchen as I felt like I was living in it from 7 to 7!