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Can you have it all? Fitting career development into work and life

By Professor Clare Kelliher


As a society, we increasingly talk about the importance of striking a work-life balance. Here at Cranfield Executive Development, we devise programmes that enable people to fit career development around their day-to-day work. But what if you want all three – a career, a life outside of work and to develop your professional capabilities? Can you have it all? And, if you can, how do you avoid burnout?

Professor Clare Kelliher, Professor of Work and Organisation, give us her practical tips…

1. Talk to your line manager

If you are undertaking any kind of career development, it is a good idea to have a conversation early on with your line manager. If you will need time away from work to attend a training course, it’s important to establish what will happen with your work while you are away. A one-off absence of a day or two may be accommodated without having to put cover in place. If you are going to be spending quite a bit of time away from the workplace, it’s really important to have a conversation about this to allow you to participate in that development to its fullest extent. You might, for example, need to reduce your workload, or simply have more leeway when it comes to timescales for delivery on projects. If your development is being funded by your employer, this should be an easier conversation. Without making reasonable adjustments that will allow you to really engage with your studies, your employer is unlikely to gain the best return on their investment.

2. Think about your priorities

We are increasingly moving away from narrow, traditional definitions of ‘work’ and ‘life’, and there is a growing understanding that people may undertake more than one form of work, and have commitments in their wider non-work life that extend beyond caring for children or elderly relatives. These may include, for example, religious, community or sporting activities. Career development may also fit under your non-work life too, if it is not related to the work you currently do, but instead reflects either a new career path you would like to take in future, or simply a desire to learn new things. If your development is self-initiated and self-funded, you will need think about how it will fit in with the other things you value in your life. Consider whether or not you can really juggle all the things you want to do at the same time, and what the implications might be if you drop the ball in any one of these areas.

3. Be realistic

Executive-level training courses are not just about the days you spend studying in the classroom. Often, higher level training comes with work that participants are advised to complete in advance of the course to help aid their understanding or to foster discussion and debate. Similarly, after any course, it is important to reflect on what you have learned and how it can be applied. Otherwise, there is a danger that the return to your busy day-to-day life will offer distractions that will lessen the impact of your learning and development. Both this pre- and post-course work must be accounted for when thinking about undertaking career development if you want to gain the most benefit from your investment. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you only need to commit time for the two or three days the course runs for. Make time to prepare and reflect, and reap the rewards.

4. Give yourself a break

Don’t take on too much. There is a wealth of evidence out there about the negative effects of working at high levels of intensity for sustained periods of time. If you are juggling development with work and a busy home life, don’t forget to take time out to relax and de-stress too. Don’t make the mistake so many do of thinking this isn’t as important as everything else you are doing, or can wait until after this intense period has ended. Do a hobby you enjoy or go for a walk. If that means asking others to help take on some of your responsibilities, either at work or at home, do it. You’ll find it makes you more efficient and effective when you get back to your study or work, and more present in your home life.

5. Find a mentor

If your career development is fuelled by desires to climb the corporate ladder, or pursue a new career path, it can be helpful to have a mentor who may have made similar choices in the past. Perhaps they have studied a similar programme, or maybe they have just experienced enough of the workplace to be a great sounding board for your ideas. Having a mentor or someone else in your workplace that takes on a coaching role can help you work through any problems you might encounter along the way.

6. Review your choice

When you sign up to a development programme, it can be difficult to understand what it will involve. As mentioned above, there may be pre-work to do, and reflection time needed afterwards. Bear in mind that you will not necessary be able to forecast when this additional time will be needed, and the impact it will have on your work and home life. So don’t just sign up, make the arrangements you think you will need to make it work, and leave it at that. Be aware that you might encounter difficulties as you move through the programme, and that things might need to change. Review what you are doing on a regular basis, and make sure that your arrangements are still working for you. If they aren’t, make the necessary changes.

7. Enjoy the benefits

We talk about work-life conflict, about too much time and energy spent in one being at the expense of the other. But experts now are also talking about work-life enrichment, that being that the things you do in one area can bring benefits in another. For example, being involved in a community activity may bring experience and skills that can help you at work. Even if initially designed to be about work, career development – particularly leadership skills – may bring about personal growth that will help you understand yourself and those around you better, improve your relationships and make you more efficient: all things that will benefit your home life too.

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