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Your McMurray Career Advice

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Creating a Family-Friendly Workplace

The idea of returning to work or entering the workforce, for a parent with young children, can be quite daunting. As a mother of two, going back to work was not an easy decision for me. Fear of being consumed by my ‘mommy guilt’ and the feeling that I would miss out on quality time with my children was hard to overcome, but I also knew that I wanted to get back to work because I missed the interaction and missed working with and helping people. I wanted the best of both worlds; to work in my field, to achieve my career goals and to be there for my children so I could to see all their milestones big and small, there was no compromising for the latter. Once I made the decision to return to work, the question then became how would I manage the work/life balance and feel fulfilled in both? This is a question that so many of us face and there are many things to consider when it comes to true work/life balance for a working parent in Fort McMurray; shift work, childcare costs, out of school care costs, pick and drop from school, medical appointments, sports trips and the list goes on.

These days families need more flexibility, because both families and the workplace are much more diverse than before. There are fewer households now that have a stay-at-home parent because it is no longer the traditional norm for the man to earn the bread while the woman stays home to watch the children, women are as educated, as career minded and as passionate about work as are men. In addition to this, the cost of living in Fort McMurray means that many households require two incomes to get by. That being said, employers must find ways to respond to the needs of today’s workforce.

This can be achieved through flexible work arrangements that give employees some choice about the hours they work, maybe even the place and the amount they work and to help them meet the needs of both work and family life. I was lucky to find an employer that understands the importance of work/life balance and the importance of family, so I could still drop my kids to school every day while working a full time job. For me this meant ‘modified work hours’, taking a shorter lunch so that I could start work late. For others it could mean finishing work early to take their kids to swimming class. Other flexible work arrangements would include a compressed work week; working additional hours daily to earn a day off every week or two weeks, part time work; working less hours during the week or limited days/times such as evenings/weekends and job sharing; two people ‘sharing’ a full time position by working a 50:50 split or dividing it in a way that works for them.

Though flexible work arrangements are ideal as an incentive for working parents, it can also provide options for anyone that needs it; as it could mean you are able to schedule days off or hours of work with a partner that works shifts, the ability to participate in other activities that would typically conflict with the working day/hours, it could offer the ability to schedule work during quiet times to accomplish more, or it can give you more control over your time off and in busy places it could even help avoid rush hour commutes.

From an employer’s perspective, flexibility in the workplace leads to improved employee satisfaction and retention, increased morale and overall mental health and well-being of staff which in turn would lead to increased productivity. This means ability to attract and retain workers and showing them that they are valued by recognizing their other commitments and interests, it could lead to a reduction in absenteeism, illness and stress and increase employee commitment to the workplace as well as resulting in positive contributions to the team.

Fort McMurray is a wonderful community in which to raise children and also a wonderful place to build a career. We are fortunate to have many employers here that recognize and understand the importance of family and reflect this through flexible work practices. Of course an employer would have to ensure that any practice or option does not cause hardship or negatively impact operations but if the question of work/life balance is as big for you as it was for me then talk to employers and do some research to find out what your options are. It was possible for me and is possible for you to have the best of both worlds!


Samra Ilyas works for Alberta Works/Human Services in Fort McMurray, providing employment and financial supports and services. With expertise in career development and years of experience, she shares some advice and ideas through the YMM Career Advice column.

Samra is also a community leader and dedicated volunteer; participating in various boards/committees such as the RMWB Landlord and Tenants Advisory Board, Collaboration for Religious Inclusion, Northern Lights Sisters Association and a local school council. She is a strong advocate of Fort McMurray and actively encourages and promotes volunteerism as a way to give back to the community.

Got a question or have an idea for a topic? DM and follow Samra on Twitter @ilyasSamra.