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Returning to Agency Life After Parental Leave: Tips From a Head of Strategy

By Victoria Berry, Head of Strategy at FutureBrand Australia.

January 2018 marked both the beginning of a brand-new year and my return to work after having my firstborn, Leo. I’d survived the first year of motherhood in typical fashion – with love, overwhelm, joy, exhaustion, and everything in between – but I was excited to be getting back to the job, company, and colleagues I loved.

I’d read enough headlines and listened to enough podcasts to know it would be hard. And it is! But, just like the delicate dance of workload and deadlines I had mastered in my work life, I figured it would all come together somehow. To ‘prepare’, I even thought up a New Year’s resolution to keep it all on track. With a smile plastered ear to ear, I would tell myself said mantra – ‘just make it work’ – multiple times a day, and, while it was a pithy little reminder you can often find a way, sometimes as hard as you try, there’s only so many hours in the day, and it takes more than force-fitting square pegs into round holes to make it through.

Four years, another baby, and a step-up in my role at FutureBrand Australia, later, I’ve got a little bit more than a mantra to keep me and my little family going.

If you can, when you can, say ‘YES’

Life is unpredictable at the best of times, and with kids, even more so. Just like Sheryl Sandberg told my generation to ‘lean in’ before kids, I feel the same remains true for the big and small moments at work – and in life – once the kids have arrived. Do that call, make that meeting, go the extra mile – when you can – because there will be times when you simply can’t, and you don’t want that chipping away at any goodwill or the respect you deserve.

Stay in the moment

It sounds a bit cliched but someone I admire very much once told me that the key to balancing it all is learning to focus your mind on the task at hand and blocking out everything else until it’s time to tackle it. She was a very senior executive with a busy family life with whom I had the pleasure of travelling on a few different occasions. We talked at length about the benefits of training yourself to truly live in the moment, and I try to remember that when I’m feeling overwhelmed and pulled in a million different directions.

Work with people who get it

While not every industry or job, finding or creating a work environment that’s conducive to life outside the nine to five seems to be getting easier, COVID is only changing behaviours and challenging norms around where and when work can happen. Look for a culture of flexibility when it comes to start and finish times, above-average parental, sick, carers and personal leave, and other meaningful perks – like FutureBrand Australia’s four ‘Healthie’ days which we all take off on the same day mid-week to be spent exactly how we would like, with no pressure, expectations, or prior commitments. Whether it’s hobbies, exercise, or caring for kids or other family members, work with people who understand, respect, and support your whole life so you can do your best work.

Less stuff, less problems

Before kids I was a minimalist, after kids I’m a militarist. You don’t need to hold onto every toy and book your kid has ever been given or seven lunch boxes and five water bottles to be fulfilled or even prepared. That tupperware cupboard spilling out onto the floor every time you go to open it – or constantly tidying, sorting, and tidying again – only intensifies the stress levels. Clean out regularly, donate often, and only buy what you really need, with one spare. It won’t only help our planet; it will save your sanity too.

Systems over routines

Before COVID, and with only one child, I was much more regimented, and routine driven. Organisation soothes my soul but juggling two children and the unpredictability of life and schedules, I’ve had to adjust to setting up processes and systems rather than sticking to inflexible routines. Divide up the domestic load, outsource where possible, and automate what you can. Whether it’s repacking school bags as soon as you get in the door, doing the online grocery shop at the same time every week, or sorting through kids clothes on the first Sunday of every new season, putting these systems in place can help you cut the mental load and carve out more precious time to do the things you love (or know you need) to do.

Cloud-based everything

Whether you’ve got four hours of focused work time carved out – or ten minutes between pick-up and swimming lessons – always having access to your work can make a big difference to your productivity and stress levels. Email on your phone is one thing but using and having access to other digital programs and tools like Miro, Slack and Evernote has been an absolute game-changer in staying connected, overseeing progress, and getting work done.

Find your village

Clichéd but true, no one can do it all, all the time. Finding those people in your life – and at work – who can help out when you need it is what it’s all about. Quoting Sheryl Sandberg again – she once famously said the most important career choice you’ll ever make is who you choose to marry – so whether it’s a domestic partner or others, empowering your team and those around you is how you make it through, together.

As I’ve had time to think about the year ahead over the summer break, 2023 is going to be about focusing on family, friends, work and me. Plus, keeping my expectations realistic – and flexible!

About Victoria Berry

Victoria Berry is head of strategy at FutureBrand Australia and she is passionate about creating and transforming brands through the local team’s bespoke strategy offering. In her role, Victoria leads the strategy team to work alongside FutureBrand’s clients and develop rigorous but simple solutions that impact real change for clients to help their businesses grow. Her 15-year career has taken her all over the world – from Sydney to Dubai then New York and now Melbourne. Victoria started with the FutureBrand family in New York in 2008, working with some of the world’s most recognised tourism and FMCG brands. In that time, she was also the lead strategist on the FutureBrand Country Index, FutureBrand’s annual report measuring the strength of perception of the World Bank’s top 75 countries. Victoria joined FutureBrand Australia in 2012 and since then she has worked with Air Tahiti Nui, Entertainment, Guide Dogs Australia and Flight Centre Travel Group, among others. Victoria has a BA Psychology & Gender Studies and lives in Melbourne with her husband and two young children.


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