Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a minute?” This week, struggling with the demands of being a parent and full-time worker in lockdown, fighting for a job after redundancy, and going curly at work.

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I work full-time with two children learning from home, and I am really struggling. Senior Australia-based leaders in our company are being very open about their similar struggles, however, my overseas manager is tone-deaf and despite raising my issues with him, he expects me to deliver my full slate of work. No one else in the team has young kids, so don’t have quite the same pressures. I’m usually very high energy and incredibly motivated but I am absolutely exhausted. How on earth do I navigate this without falling in a heap?

Your struggle is real, so I am not at all surprised to hear you are exhausted. What I am surprised to hear is that you have a boss who can be so lacking in self-awareness and empathy as to not realise nor ask how you are coping.

Irrespective of your boss’ personal situation or geographic location, there is literally no excuse for leaders not understanding that in this pandemic, we all have different experiences and different ways of being able to meet our work commitments. Your boss clearly has no awareness of what it’s like to have young children schooling at home while working a full-time job.

I am so cranky on your behalf. For your wellbeing (and sanity) in finding a way forward, is there another, more empathetic, senior leader in your company who you can talk to for advice?

To anyone reading this who leads others, please understand that right now the greatest gift you can give your team members – to also build trust and loyalty – is to simply say, “it’s OK”. It’s OK not to get that crucial bit of work done. It’s OK to put your family first. It’s OK to miss that meeting because your kids just had a meltdown in the kitchen.

Until then, to you dear reader, hang in there. We are all thinking of you and standing alongside you as things hopefully improve.

I’m in the process of being made redundant and five of us are fighting for two positions. My employer tried to get rid of me earlier this year via a performance improvement plan, where I was given two warnings about sub-satisfactory performance within the first two weeks of a three-month plan. I do not want to stay with a company that treats people this way but jobs in middle management are hard to come by. Do you think I should bother applying for the new role?

There is a lot to unpack here, so let me try and make sure I understand this correctly. You sound unhappy in your role and your employer sounds unhappy with you. You are now going through a Hunger Games type scenario to fight it out for limited positions in a company you don’t like and for an employer you don’t trust.

I have to tell you, if you are being offered a paid redundancy, I reckon that could be a good option. At the very least, it will give you a chance to find an employer you might feel appreciates what you offer. That is also likely to mean you will enjoy your work more than you do now. Roles are hard to come by as you say but depending on how long you have been with your current employer, your redundancy package should hopefully cover some of the transition.

This is not really a work question as such but I have noticed in your photos you now wear your hair curly. During my career I have always straightened my curly hair since I was told that was the only way to look professional. I would love to wear my hair naturally and am noticing others, like you, who are doing so. Do you think us curly haired women are having our moment?

Your question made me smile because for 30 or so years in my career I also straightened my hair and thought that was the only way to look professional. I tamed my crazy curls to try and fit in with how I thought a “professional” woman was supposed to look. What a load of rubbish.

It has been so liberating to dump the hair straighteners and other products and now wear my hair naturally. It also feels much more authentic which is important for any leader or anyone wanting to be “professional”.

Oh, and the other upside to letting those curls hang out? I can’t tell you how much time I have also saved not having to straighten my hair each morning! So, let those curls run free and if the perm ever comes back, we will be well ahead of the curve (excuse the pun!).

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to [email protected] Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

Dr Kirstin Ferguson is an award-winning leader, executive coach and public speaker. Her upcoming book ‘Head & Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership’ will be published by Penguin Random House. You can connect with Kirstin at kirstinferguson.com.

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