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Ayesha Murray on how to find work-life balance

Ayesha Murray is a career coach and work-life balance coach, and also the host of a new workplace wellbeing challenge, BuddyBoost Balance, that will help participants to balance their work and career with a rewarding and fulfilling life. Here, she reveals more about the challenge, her own journey to career fulfilment (having felt like a hamster on a wheel), and why anyone can benefit from a bit of reflection and self-analysis.

What do you do as a career coach and a work-life balance coach?

Career coaching is applicable at any stage of your career. If it’s your first role graduating and you're thinking about what your career path might hold for you longer term, then career coaching can certainly help you define some options and explore different parts you might want to follow. And it can definitely work mid-career when you may perhaps be re-evaluating where you're going, reassessing, making sure you're still on the right path.

It works particularly well for periods of big change: Parents returning from parental leave, returning from a long-term absence, post-redundancy, or those embarking on a career change entirely. Career coaching can really help just get you back onto a good footing. And also, of course, approaching retirement. With the whole post-retirement world opening up, you might want some guidance and support with working that through. So career coaching literally works from day one of your career all the way through.

And work-life-balance coaching is obviously hand-in-hand with that. At the moment, especially post pandemic, the boundaries between work and life are very blurred. So it's become really, really important for us to maintain boundaries between work and home, to put our mental health first. If we’re parents, to realise that we're allowed to look after ourselves, as well as our kids, but it doesn't always happen that easily for many people. Life gets in the way and we end up putting our own needs at the bottom of the agenda.

So work-life-balance coaching is really about how we get our lives back in balance, and balance is unique to every individual. What works for one will work differently for somebody else. It's my role, as a coach, to help people understand what they need for themselves, fundamentally, and then what they can then build on top of that.

How did you get into this whole area?

I was in marketing for 23 years, a traditional corporate environment. I suppose, perhaps as many people did, I fell into it after university. There was no great career game plan. It was fine. It was quite fun, it was going well, but there was something missing in hindsight. And I think part of that was not really knowing why I was doing in the first place – I had just been caught up in that hamster wheel of life and carried on.

I think everyone encounters a catalyst when they review their careers and my catalyst was having my two kids, my two girls. It’s quite common for parents to think about their revised priorities. What's important to me? I thought about the role model I wanted to be for my kids as they got older. How I wanted to spend my time, given that they were young and needed me. So that gave me a chance to reassess what I really wanted from my career, so then I had career coaching about 10 years ago. And I just found it absolutely eye-opening. I spent a lot of time thinking about what was really important to me. I thought about the expectations from other people that were put on me, that you absorb and don't realise you’re absorbing. I thought about some of the beliefs I had around work and life, and what I was expected to do. It took me another six years or so after that, of slow processing of that information to realise I needed to make quite fundamental change.

So I then considered what made me happy. What brought me real joy at work? And also, what did I need from my life? One of which was income. And actually what I really loved in my work was always the people, it was always leading my teams. It was developing others. It was coaching and mentoring, and it really wasn't the marketing. I took that as my starting point and thought “What can I do with that? How can I make money and run a business that involves people-mentoring and development?” And coaching was the natural conclusion to that. I did that about three years ago now.

You’re now the host of BuddyBoost Balance. Can you explain what that's all about?

Balance is so important and people need to give themselves a space to think about what they need in their lives, for their own emotional and mental health. This wellbeing challenge is all about how to put your needs back on the agenda. So how to give you permission to create a space every day to do something for you, first and foremost. The balance element is around “How can you find a focus and a process to get your life back into balance, in terms of work and life?” And this challenge takes you through a structured process to get you thinking about certain areas in your life that you need to get back onto an even keel.

What are the areas of Balance you cover?

We start off thinking about your purpose. This can seem like a big word and a kind of meaningless word, but essentially, it boils down to: What brings you joy? How can you earn money, if that's important to you? I won’t give away the programme, but by answering various questions of ourselves we can develop a plan of action to find fulfilment and, hopefully, happiness.

We then look at your values and what you stand for. This changes throughout life – your values aged 40-plus are very different to your values in your 20s. So this gives you an opportunity to revisit your values, to understand what you stand for, what's important to you, what you won't stand for, where you're not prepared to compromise on things, and give you the confidence to live a bit more intentionally by those values. We talk quite a lot about boundaries, which are very important aligned with values.

Then, once you know what you stand for, how can you then put some boundaries around your work and your life? The programme gets people to follow various exercises and then ensures people take the opportunity for some self-reflection. The whole thing is about heightening your self-awareness, your understanding of you and what you need to basically get through this very hectic, sometimes stressful life. Working together in buddy groups is also incredibly helpful – both for feedback but also peer support.

What do you hope that the participants can gain from taking part in this? What's the goal?

I suppose the first goal is just to help people give themselves permission to focus on themselves. That is the first step, to get them to spend some time thinking about what they need on a daily basis. If we can get people into the habit of spending that time focusing on what they need, that habit will stay with them beyond the challenge. That's definitely a goal. And the second goal is just getting people to understand themselves better. So actually, if you take away all expectations, all that “I should do this, I shouldn't do that”, what do you really want? What do you need from this life? And then how do you make that work with family, friends and work, etc? So it's starting off with what do I need, but then how does it actually work in reality?

Career coaching generally feels like the preserve of top executives. Is this something that everyone can benefit from?

Yeah, absolutely. As I mentioned career coaching is beneficial throughout your career from day one right to the end. It'll perhaps take on a different lens and perspective, obviously, depending on where you are in your career, and your needs in that phase of your career. Career coaching for a junior employee will potentially look quite different to a c-suite executive but fundamentally it's still person-centric. The needs of that person are no less valid at any point in their career. So, the BudyBoost Balance Challenge absolutely applies to any stage of somebody's career. The conversations might be different, depending on where they are in their careers, but fundamentally it's about the individual, wherever they are in their career journey.

How will the Employer benefit?

I think there's probably two levels to it. Firstly, there’s the individual level. The participants in the challenge, if they commit to each day and they spend that time thinking about what they need, what they want, they feel confident and comfortable in opening up about what they need. That will create a much better relationship with their management, as long as management supports it. Much more open conversations will seep into work life, and create much better productivity and efficiency and happiness throughout the employee network. That's wonderful.

And then, there's a community level. Building those peer-to-peer relationships is vitally important in building effective teams. If companies can get those teams talking and working together well, and solving problems together and being open and honest and transparent, then you're going to benefit longer term. And ultimately a happy workforce is a productive workforce, and a retained workforce.

Lastly, if you could come up with one tip to recommend to people to take the stress out of their working lives, what would that be?

Ask for help. In whichever way that is. This challenge can help you identify what you actually need help with. Once you identify what you need support with, try and talk to the right people. Whether it’s family that you need for support, whether it's friends, whether it's management, whether it's HR, whether it's a counsellor, whether it's coaching, whatever it is, whatever the right avenue for you is, start the conversation.

To find out more about the BuddyBoost Balance challenge, visit this page.


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