Recently, I posted on the Pharmacist Moms Facebook group this question:
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about balancing work and life?
The answers and attention this conversation drew up were all at once fascinating, heart-breaking, inspiring, and complex.
Aside from the comments and discussion that followed, there is an interesting debate related to whether or not the term ‘balance’ is accurate. This phenomenon of being balanced with all areas of life seems achievable, and perhaps it is. The term ‘work-life balance’ made a re-emergence in the 1980s when the Womens’ Liberation movement started up and many women started entering the workforce part-time or full time.
If you Google ‘work-life balance’, you will get 106 million results. (only a few things to sift through, right?). This infographic demonstrates some of the most shocking facts about work-life balance in the U.S.:
- The U.S. ranks 30 out of 38 countries in work life balance, with 11.4% of workers working more than 50 hours a week
- Women, despite entering and remaining in the workforce at higher rates, are still taking on more of the share of household activities (2.24 hours a day compared to 1.38 hours that men contribute)
While this data is encompassing of all industries, the struggles of making work and life happen simultaneously are not unfamiliar to pharmacists. Here are a few of the struggles that women in pharmacy are facing:
Mom Pharmacist #1: “The most challenging part is trying to be a great mom and a great pharmacist at the same time.”
Response: What would you do differently if this challenge wasn’t an issue?
Mom Pharmacist #1: “First, I would be more happy and productive in both roles. I would focus on my work more and take on more challenges. The stress would be less so I would enjoy my life as a mom and a pharmacist instead of running everywhere like now.”
Mom Pharmacist #2: “I would love my job so much more if it allowed me more time with my family.”
My heart sunk. Women are not feeling adequate in any of their life roles and as a result are feeling pulled in many directions without feeling a sense of accomplishment. I have talked to many women who feel like they are “spinning their wheels” or they are unsure about the value they bring to their organization. Employers can help address this issue by providing public recognition of their pharmacists and having open discussions about work-life integration to determine what will help each pharmacist achieve their version of success.
Mom Pharmacist #3: “One day at a time and try not to worry about tomorrow because it ruins today. Try to stay organized at home and at work. Communicating with my husband on things going on with our kids. Division of duties works for us so we know who is doing what. I think the hardest part is just the mentality of being spread too thin. I always feel like I’m not a good enough mom, not a good enough pharmacist, and not a good enough manager. I think just knowing that you aren’t Superman and that you’re doing a good job helps. My kids are really little and they think I’m awesome so that helps.”
Response: What strategies have you and your husband found helpful in streamlining communication?
Mom Pharmacist #3: “We just text all day. but we have a clear division of labor. We are equals as parents. When I’m working it’s seamless and he gets all the tasks done. He is in charge of 1 kid in the morning and getting him to school, I do the other two. We have a family google calendar so that keeps us pretty organized, too.”
Mom pharmacists who have “made their partner their partner” reminds me of the advice from Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In “The most important career decision you’ll make is who your life partner is.” Anecdotally, I would argue Sheryl is 100% spot on with this message. I could guarantee if my husband wasn’t supporting me I would not be able to accomplish or be satisfied with my career pursuits. I would be lying if I said those conversation are easy or seamless, but open communication, as Mom #2 mentioned, is essential.
Mom Pharmacist #4: “Trying to work like you have no kids and be a mom like you are not a pharmacist. Both scenarios wants you to negate the other, it’s really quite exhausting.”
Moms are physically and emotionally drained. How could they possibly being fulfilling their potential at work? The “Invisible Workload” that weighs on working moms and working fathers warrants a change in the way we approach, address, and discuss work-life integration regardless of gender. Inflexible, long-hour jobs that don’t allow employees to disconnect from work and reconnect with family are weighing on parents as they attempt to perform at work and have enough energy to care for their family.
Other challenges parents face:
- lack of adequate maternity/paternity leave (in both compensation and time),
- lack of the ability to use PTO,
- lack of enough time to take care of themselves by working out or enjoying a hobby.
Some moms feel like they need to take work home with them, or that they can’t bring family concerns to work. Many vocalized concerns about lack of flexibility or the ability to take time off when family members are sick.
Perhaps the biggest thing that came from this conversation was the impending doom of “mom guilt”. The feeling of not being a good enough mom because of committing to work, or not doing enough for your children, or not being present enough at home.
Mom Pharmacist #5: “Guilt of missing seemingly everything your kids do and that they can’t do because Mommy works.”
So I asked: Mom guilt has certainly been a recurring comment. How might we approach conquering this?
Mom Pharmacist #5: “And when I’m home, I try really hard to leave work at work. I experience the guilt when I have to tell them I can’t chaperone a field trip or come do something at their school because I have to work that day and I didn’t have enough notice to try and get it off. Or we have to attempt an act of Congress to see if we can manage a swim class schedule around our work schedules. It should really be the other way around.”
And even if women try to find a more flexible situation such as seeking out part-time opportunities, this new work arrangement has its own challenges:
Mom Pharmacist #6: “I do this now (3days/wk) and while I enjoy it....there is sooo much I miss those 2 days I'm not at work. And of course, no one tells me anything. I find out last minute or from other stores. Also, I second guess myself a lot now where I never did before.”
This mom also discussed the concerns of lack of consistent and quick access to basic drug information resources, the need for communication from management to entire team (including personal emails if important changes are made and work email can only be accessed on site) and the lack of breaks to eat a meal or even a snack to prevent feeling ‘foggy’ at work.
Some moms are feeling pulled in many directions:
Mom Pharmacist #7: “The feeling that you are doing everything halfway. It’s hard to do well at things when you are stretched so thin, motherhood included!”
And some feel misled….
Pharmacist Mom #8: “In school one of the perks of pharmacy they told us was flexibility. Not sure where they came up with that! I have none.”
I know that’s what I thought as well. Pursuing a career in pharmacy seemed like an excellent work-life situation in comparison to other health professional careers.
Moms with school-age children attempt to plan their weeks and schools prevent them from being able to plan with short notice assignments, trips, and activities.
One white paper the American College of Clinical Pharmacy published in Pharmacotherapy in 2010 noted that managers often underestimate the important of work-life balance to front-line practitioners(1). Further, the article goes on to explain that of all pharmacists surveyed, only 10% were offered work-life balance tips through their mentoring relationships at work while 71% indicated that this would be an important mentoring activity.
A more recent article in AJPE from 2017 indicated that women pharmacists in academia (especially those in the first few years of their careers) experience more emotional exhaustion and depersonalization for reasons such as: children ages 1-12, lack of a mentor, lack of a hobby. (2)
What can employers do?
- Include personal goals within performance evaluations
- Work with administrators to provide more flexible work arrangements (4-day workweek, paid maternity/paternity leave, remote working opportunities)
- Eliminate unnecessary meetings/email
What can we do? Moms are figuring it out:
- Find new/more flexible work arrangements
- Work for an employer that allows for remote work
- Set clear boundaries with work (i.e. check your email only during business hours)
- Delegate and outsource if possible (cleaning, yardwork, laundry, etc)
- Goodwin SD, Kane-Gill SL, Ng TMH, et al. Rewards and Advances for Clinical Pharmacists. Pharmacotherapy 2010;30(1):68e-85e.
- El-Ibiary SY, Yam L, Lee KC. Assessment of Burnout and Associated Risk Factors Among Pharmacy Practice Faculty in the United States. Am J Pharm Educ 2017;81(4):1-9.
Jackie is a coach at the Happy PharmD. She loves her family, changing the world, and pharmacy. 🙂