Altogether stronger: Striking a better balance for working parents

Jessica English, Project Administration Manager, discusses how Seymour Whyte provided incredibly valuable hands-on training, as well as providing flexibility during her pregnancy and return to work.

Jess started her career in construction as the first female employee at a Gold Coast contracting firm as a Traffic Controller.

Before her construction job, Jess worked in hospitality doing long hours in the kitchen, waitressing, and attending to construction sites in a lunch truck, all the while looking after her younger siblings.

In search of a sea change, Jess joined the construction sector to be able to support her family.

"It was very interesting when I started. The firm wanted to change the way they acted at work. And I was very keen to fit into their world. At the same time, I didn’t expect to be treated differently,” she said.

“I also did a lot of labouring which involved compaction work on a ‘wacker packer’ [plate compactor], road sweeping and helping with laying pipes among other things. It was hard work.”

“I earned a lot of respect because of my work ethic; and was later offered an office role – which I initially declined because I felt it was a demotion to be in the office.”

“After a while, I accepted, to learn a new skill set doing invoicing, purchasing, client claims and community relations.”

A few months later, Jess was made redundant.

“I was just in my early twenties and loved my work. Through the hurt and the tears, I was keen to turn a bad situation around.

Jess said, “A key to coping with redundancy lies with your networks. I contacted a former client – Seymour Whyte Supervisor, Brook – whom I’d been subcontracted to as a traffic controller.”

“Whether it was luck or hard work, I had a new job within a week as a Costings Officer with Seymour Whyte on the Gold Coast Rapid Transit project.”

“It was a great job as it allowed me to develop new skills in commercial administration. Besides entering dockets and invoicing, I was now doing payment and progress claims as well as all the administration on site; and I got to travel with the company.”

Then a new challenge was upon Jess. She found love and settled down to start a family. First came the pre-natal appointments, morning sickness, maternity leave and coming back to work; and having to leave work early, sometimes unexpectedly.

Jess says that the more notice an employee can give their workplace, the more time the organisation has to work out ways to accommodate the needs for new parents.

“I discussed my needs with my on-site project manager; and he was very supportive in making sure that everything including my transition back to work after my maternity leave was seamless.”

“It may be daunting for new mums – especially in a male-dominated industry – but I think because I’d had the discussions early, everyone was prepared, to support me as a new parent,” said Jess.

New mum Jess admits that she felt guilty having to leave work early for pre-natal appointments because she once upon a time was quick to judge those that left work early.

“Now that I’m a mum, I understand that you may sometimes need to leave early – not all the time – as long as your work gets done. There has to be a balance for everyone.”

“My advice is to make sure you’re not leaving colleagues to pick up your slack when you do clock off. First, really focus on the work you’re doing while you’re at work.

“It’s about showing your manager and your teammates, that you’re managing priorities and working hard during your assigned work hours, so that there is no perception of what you’re achieving or not achieving”, said Jess.

Jess accepts that “work-life balance” is constantly in flux as we all try to be incredible at our jobs, be a great friend, a supportive partner, a mum or a father, and a fit human all at once is impossible and the sooner you cut yourself some slack and allow yourself to not be 100% perfect, the sooner you’ll feel a bit more on top of life.

“Sadly, there’s no secret to balancing work and life but allowing myself the leeway to focus on work when work is crazy, and on social activities and family when I’m not at work, helps me to feel in control.”

“If your understanding of work-life balance is 50% of what you do at work and 50% is personal, then the balance becomes really difficult.

Balance means equality on both sides. Harmony then comes when you are happy with the amount of time you invest in both parts of the ‘work-life’ equation”, she added.

Jess has recently been promoted to Project Administration Manager, where she is responsible for the plant department and a team of site contracts administrators.

While she has taken on more responsibilities at work, she is very thankful of her partner, her team and managers.

“I have a great team and I can’t thank them enough for their drive to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

“The one thing I appreciate the most about my role is the respect that I have from my managers as they’ve given me the ability to push on, learn, implement plans and be innovative in our processes and procurement.”

Jess has come a long way in her career; and her biggest challenge is being a role model mum.

The support she’s enjoyed from her team and partner has played a key part in achieving ‘harmony’ to be the best mum and partner, she says.

Altogether, striking a balance has given Jess the time to enjoy motor cross riding, camping, long weekend trips to Fraser Island and raise her daughter.