3 Moms Discuss Work-Life Integration, Asking for Help, and the Importance of a Flexible Company

Sponsored by Qualtrics

Erica Hall, Ellen Loeshelle, Natalia von Oertel. and Photos courtesy of Qualtrics.

Erica Hall, Ellen Loeshelle, Natalia von Oertel. and Photos courtesy of Qualtrics.

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Fairygodboss
June 25, 2024 at 10:32PM UTC

Are you a new working parent? Still trying to figure out how to integrate your work and home lives? Well, these three leaders (and working moms) at Qualtrics have actionable advice for you!

“Take as much help as you can,” emphasizes Erica Hall, a Senior Solutions Consultant. “We were not meant to do this alone, but our society has made us feel like we are failing if we are not super moms.” Don’t compare yourself to others, and don’t be ashamed to ask for help, she continues.

Hall’s colleague, Natalia von Oertel, Customer Success Leader for South LATAM, agrees. “Raise your hand when you need help,” she urges. “You are not alone.” As such, it’s important to find your balance and support system, which will help you manage being a working mom, adds Ellen Loeshelle, Director, Product Management. And, through it all, “acknowledge that what works for you today, may not work for you tomorrow,” Loeshelle tells us. “Savor the moment, learn lots, and laugh as much as possible!” And, at the end of the day, Loeshelle urges working moms to “make it work for you.”

This advice on being flexible and finding what works for your specific journey as a working parent was shared by all three of these leaders — who each emphasized how mothers should avoid the pitfall of trying to achieve perfect work-life integration.

Achieving work-life integration every day isn’t something that you should aim for, shares von Oertel. “There are some weeks when you are overwhelmed because of your job and some weeks when you have more time to dedicate to yourself,” she continues — and that’s okay!

This variability is true throughout your career journey, too. As Hall puts it, “people go through different seasons in their lives, whether it’s the beginning of a career and pursuing ambitious roles, or stabilizing your career so that you can have more time for family.” As such, Hall notes that “the best thing is to recognize what season you are in and make sure you design your life to suit that.”

Recognizing how to make work-life integration work for your current situation is key. “Our current circumstances dictate how balance manifests,” Loeshelle notes. For example, Loeshelle’s work-life integration that currently works for her includes working later in the evening in order to focus on her family and herself during other hours. While this won’t be her ideal balance forever, “it’s what works for my family right now,” she tells us. “Having the flexibility to work differently day-to-day has made all of the difference to me.”

Want to learn more about how these three leaders navigated their maternity leaves, set boundaries, and how Qualtrics — a company with both robust parental leave benefits and a team that provides impactful parent experiences from parental leave to mothers rooms and support for working parents across the globe — supports them throughout their journeys? Read on…

Let’s begin by discussing your maternity leave. How did you prepare for maternity leave and what advice can you offer to other moms who are expecting their first child?

Hall: The company I was with at the time did not provide maternity leave, so my preparation consisted of saving enough money to take a minimum of 12 weeks off, most of it unpaid. For moms expecting their first child, assume you’ll need more help than you think. My partner and I thought that we’d be fine on our own, but we ended up not having the support we truly needed, and we barely survived the newborn phase. For our second child, we are better prepared and more willing to accept support. 

Loeshelle: I think I over-prepared for my first maternity leave! Several months beforehand, I started writing up an inventory of all of my projects, statuses, potential issues, and points of contact while I was out. All my projects were assigned to a temporary owner as well. I am not sure how much this guide was actually used while I was out, but it certainly gave me peace of mind to inventory and offload my work. 

While I was out, I did check-ins with my direct reports every six weeks to make sure that they had a space to share with me, which also allowed me to return to work without feeling blindsided. I had a hard time turning off my work brain when I first had my son, and I was eager for those initial updates. But, by the 10-12 week mark, I was at peace with not knowing. Funny how that works!

von Oertel: I created my knowledge transfer spreadsheet with enough time (more than a month earlier). I closed all my pending tasks, and I documented everything. The transfer of your daily tasks depends on your role. In my case as Success Manager, I rely on the account executives, technical account managers, and some of my peers. 

How long were you on maternity leave and what was it like to return to work?

Hall: I didn’t work at Qualtrics at the time, so I was able to take 12 weeks, but most of it was unpaid. It was very hard leaving my 12-week-old at daycare, and I also struggled with the newborn phase as my partner had returned to work after four weeks, so it felt freeing to have something else to take my mind off of things. 

Loeshelle: At the time, I worked for Clarabridge. I was on leave for 14 weeks from February 2021 until June 2021. Being pregnant and on leave during the height of COVID-19 was weird with definite pros and cons. I appreciated that most of my friends and coworkers were at home and could meet for a mid-day walk; however, the isolation of not being able to meet other new moms or having access to postpartum programs was really challenging. I’m only now starting to understand what I missed by observing other friends with new babies and preparing for the arrival of our second baby this Fall.

Returning to work was interesting. In the first few days, I felt like a new college grad again. I couldn’t follow business conversations, got overwhelmed by acronyms, and was exhausted by the onslaught of conversations. Fortunately, these feelings passed quickly, and I regained my sea legs and jumped back into everything. About a week after I returned to the office, my boss asked me to sign an NDA and revealed that our company (Clarabridge) was in the process of being acquired. This information was not yet public, and he asked me to be part of the secret due diligence process. It was a huge change to what I expected to return to, but it gave me a new challenge to pursue. I also noticed that some of the tasks that I had handled before my departure were no longer relevant or didn’t need my attention. Some naturally dissolved; others were absorbed by team members. It was liberating.

I also continued breastfeeding for 20 months, which meant that I had to navigate pumping during the day, which was extremely isolating when I was in the office or on trips. I became a loyal advocate of MilkStork (breastmilk shipping) and was very transparent with coworkers and customers about my needs. It was challenging in so many different ways, but I am so grateful that I had the tools and support to make it work.

von Oertel: I just took three months, which was my decision — Qualtrics Argentina gives you a chance to extend it two more months. I wasn't disconnected with my accounts during my maternity leave, not because of Qualtrics, but because I really love my job. Every mom should be able to decide how to live on her maternity leave. Staying up-to-date was not hard, but reorganizing the logistics with getting Oliver to daycare and picking him up was more complicated. It took me a few months to find balance again. It's not impossible; it just takes a little bit more time. We have to remember that we are not superheroes: we are humans, and if we need help we just have to ask for it

Since becoming a working parent, what kinds of boundaries have you established to separate work and family time?

Hall: I have blocked out time on my calendar, explicitly stating that it’s family time, commute time, or daycare pickup time. I am very transparent about my responsibilities as a working parent, and I make sure I work with people who respect that

Loeshelle: I like to work in a fluid way, flexing my working hours and being available to my staff at any time, so establishing boundaries did not come easily. Over time, I have set unofficial, self-enforced working hour boundaries. I will not take calls between 7:00-8:30 a.m. nor between 5:30-7:30 p.m. There are, of course, exceptions to these rules, but the default is to preserve that time for family. I finish up my day after 7:30 p.m. when my son is asleep. My husband follows a similar schedule so we work adjacently in the evening.

von Oertel: If Oliver and my husband are at home, it's time for them. I also make time for my personal activities, like ballet classes.

Let’s talk about your company culture. How does Qualtrics support parents, and why do you think your company is a great place to be a working mom?

Hall: There is a large Working Moms group where moms share stories, resources, and tips. We also have a Working Moms mentorship program. My direct team is extremely supportive if I need to take time to take care of a sick child or tend to other personal matters. 

Qualtrics also offers coaching, mentorships, and workshops to help expectant parents learn what benefits are available to them and how to use them.

Loeshelle: I absolutely love our #working-moms Slack group — it is my favorite Slack channel. It feels exceedingly safe and supportive. Moms of all different levels and teams have a common forum to share wins and seek advice. The benefits to working moms are both formal and informal. Our parental leave policy is pretty standard and gives equal support to non-birthing parents (which is amazing!). Flexibility is established team-by-team and manager-by-manager, which allows individuals to find what works for them. 

von Oertel: Qualtrics is very supportive as an organization and gives you the chance to organize your daily job in order to accomplish your professional and personal goals. Being a Success Manager has pros and cons. (For instance, while the company and managers are supportive, customers can be demanding. It’s a personal challenge to control that level of demand and maintain balance for the majority part of the quarter.) The proper word for how Qualtrics helps me manage this is flexibility. 

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