‘In Australia, we seem stuck in our unproductive ways.’
Returning to work after becoming a mother was a total game-changer for me. Something happened to my mind and it had nothing to do with ‘baby brain’. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
My thinking became sharper, focusing on the things that mattered. I pushed myself to do the best and most efficient job possible so I could leave work at a reasonable time to go home and be with my child.
Mamamia’s Jamila Rizvi discusses returning to work after having a baby:
I became intolerant towards anything that wasted my time. No longer could I stomach long lunches, political whisperings over coffee or lengthy aimless meetings. Instead, I focused on making a real impact so I could walk out the door at 5pm guilt-free.
Was I praised or recognised for my newfound addiction to productivity? Nope. In fact, I received quite the opposite.
I was taken off a project when I asked for meetings to be scheduled during regular office hours instead of in the evening. I was told to make ‘more effort’ to travel for meetings instead of conducting them via videoconference.
But the final nail in my career coffin came when I asked to work a four-day week so I could spend just a little more time with my son. For this, nearly half of my key responsibilities were handed to another team member.
The message was loud and clear: if you want us to take you seriously, you need to make yourself more available. And here lies the problem with the concept of ‘productivity’: not all of us see it the same way.
Productivity can be an archaic and subjective notion used by managers to control their team’s availability and physical presence. A skewed version of commitment that rewards people for the number of hours they are willing and able to sacrifice from their personal lives, rather than their actual output.
I’ve seen this version of productivity lobbed like a grenade into online debates about workplace flexibility, especially for women who wish to re-enter the workforce after having children.
“When you leave early to pick up your kids, spare a thought for the rest of us who have to stay behind and pick up your slack,” is the common complaint I read.
But what exactly is that slack? There is a growing body of research that claims working longer days does not necessarily mean you deliver much more for your employers than your colleagues who work shorter days. Some research goes further, suggesting it is humanly impossible to be genuinely productive for eight hours straight.