09 May How to achieve a healthy work-life balance – the three Ds
Cordi O’Hara, President, National Grid Electricity Distribution
Cordi O’Hara is President of National Grid Electricity Distribution and a member of POWERful Women’s Energy Leaders’ Coalition, leaders who have committed to improving their own company’s diversity and that of the wider energy sector. Cordi is responsible for the safe and reliable operation of the UK’s largest electricity distribution network, serving more than eight million customers across the East and West Midlands, South West and South Wales. As President, Cordi is accountable for National Grid’s £6bn investment programme that will be delivered between 2023-28, keeping clean, fair, affordable power flowing to homes and businesses across the region.
This blog is based on a POWERful Connections Breakfast Cordi hosted for aspiring women in December 2022.
Finding the right balance between our personal and professional lives is a challenge that we all face. Getting it right is not easy.
I’ve worked in the energy industry for more than 25 years and during that time I’ve had to manage the often competing demands of work and home life like millions of other people. In a way it’s a skill I acquired early in life – I think back to my own childhood when I spent time caring for four younger siblings while my parents were at work. These days, I’m working full-time, I’m married with two children, and we have Bailey the beagle adding to the chaos!
Along the way I’ve concluded that you can’t have it all and there is no such thing as perfect. But with the right approach and support network (and specifically choosing the right partner – thank you Gavin O’Hara!) it is possible to achieve a balance that works, not least by accepting that ‘good enough’ is OK.
Of course, it helps to work for a supportive employer, and I am fortunate to be part of National Grid, a business that is committed to making sure our workforce reflects the diversity of the communities we serve, including how we embrace equity – which of course was the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day.
On a personal level, there are some key strategies that I’ve found helpful – what I like to call the three Ds: Discovery, Discipline and Determination.
Discovery phase – work out what you enjoy and want to be known for
When I started out, I wasn’t sure what I wanted from my career and I didn’t have the confidence to set a clear career plan. I just wanted to please everyone, get on and achieve financial security. But over time I became more self-sufficient and my mindset shifted. I wrestled with it for a long time, but worked hard on my confidence, with the support of coaches and forward-thinking men who believed in me.
Now with each challenge I not only think about the business need, but also think about what I want: what gives me energy? What do I really enjoy versus just pleasing everyone? What should I create for myself that could also help other people? Knowing this can help you decide if you are up for certain projects or roles or not. Because you have choices and once you build the confidence to lean into things, the world opens up.
Thinking about what you ultimately want to be known for can help to prioritise: I am a portfolio player (life would be dull otherwise!) and so I considered what I could develop based on my strengths, which meant becoming a good leader and a contributor at home. Last, but not least in this discovery phase, find out who you can rely on for help along the way. I always say yes when offered coaching or mentoring, but it could equally be good friends or your mum – we all need a good support system. And don’t make assumptions about what people are thinking. Explaining your intention to your employer should get a positive response.
Discipline phase – create and stick to your rule-set
Having a clear set of rules (including a fourth D of Delegation!) is the only way I know how to juggle my work and home life. It also helps me navigate the judgement and guilt that sometimes comes with it. Everyone is different and the rules can be as wide or narrow as you like, but this is what has worked for me:
- I’m home early enough at least two nights a week to spend quality time with the family.
- When I get home, the phone goes away and everything else can wait.
- School events are sacrosanct, even if there is a Board meeting.
- I do “managed spontaneity”, where I book two days off a year, ask the kids what they want to do and we just go!
- Holidays are well planned throughout the year and a real opportunity to connect as a family with key activities and sports.
As a working mum, I’ve experienced negative and hurtful comments on occasion, but it’s important not to let them get in the way of the rules that you know work for everyone.
I’ve also learned personal disciplines that help me function:
- Get enough sleep and regular exercise – sleep is a cure-all for me, so I prioritise it over preparation and also run daily on my home treadmill (a new habit from lockdown), but I have to schedule it or it doesn’t happen.
- Make time for fun – a holiday should be a holiday not an opportunity to squeeze in more work.
- Delegate! To deliver you need to let go of certain tasks. Delegation means you can move many armies on many fronts.
Determination phase – commit to your plan but check in and be ready to flex
Finally, we need the ability to review, re-connect and change direction if necessary. Knowing the difference between having a bad day and getting your whole rule-set wrong is important. But if the rules aren’t working, step back and hold yourself to account, and let others who care about you hold you to account too. My husband and I have created a space that allows him to say when something isn’t working, and I have learned not to make assumptions. I make sure I keep the family calendar up to date so that we can both plan and life is harmonious. And we have this important failsafe: if something urgent comes up, we don’t say who’s got the most important job, but who’s got the most important day!
Of course, flexible hours are incredibly helpful for anyone with caring responsibilities – and it’s important to choose the organisation you work for carefully. I had to recondition my mindset to get over some initial resentment I felt about having to work late nights or at the weekend. If you’re going to flex, you have to be aware of that and get over it, because ultimately you will reap the benefits, at home and at work.