A CEO and a single parent, how Natalie Cummins makes it work

Natalie Cummins is Zenith UK's new CEO and a single mother of three children. Here, she argues people should stop trying to achieve work/life balance; blending the two is a more effective way to manage your time.

As a lone parent of three children who has recently moved into a CEO role, I thought it might be worth sharing something that I believe has helped me manage my time in a way that has made this progression possible. 

We hear a lot – especially as parents – about work/life balance, but Zenith (and Publicis Media) have begun to look at a way of time management that I believe is better, which is more like ‘work/life blend’. 

What do we mean by this?

I have a personal life that is a whirlwind of au pairs, homework, playdate logistics, plumbers, delivery men, school plays… and a work life (like many other people’s) that is full of deadlines, meetings, catch-ups, events and fires to put out.

I’ve realised that the best way to deal with this smorgasbord of shit regularly going down is not to do ‘some of this’ and ‘some of that’ (the old work/life balance approach, which always implies tension and ‘give’) and hope for the best, but instead accept my life for what it is and use the time I have each day to weave work around life, and vice versa. 

So, rather than resolutely deciding not to work in the evenings, it’s leaving early to catch the kids’ swimming lessons but working for a bit after bedtime. Rather than ruefully accepting I can’t go for a run because I’ve got a meeting over lunch, it’s actually going for the run at 11am and not feeling bad about it. Instead of refusing to do any work on holiday at all, it’s plugging the kids into tablets on the plane on the way home, so I can catch up on emails knowing I’ll go in late on my first day back so I can take them to school. 

I think this stuff should apply just as well to those without kids as those with kids. As long as we trust that people are grown-ups and will deliver, why shouldn’t we let them mix it up rather than carve an artificial divide between work and life?

At Zenith we have a ‘dishwasherman rule’: if you need to get a man round to fix your appliance and you have to be at home, you should work at home, get it sorted and come in later. There’s nothing more limiting and more stressful than an inability to make things fit together and around each other.

The days of presenteesim are over, and a commitment to a work/life blend is, I believe, the way to lead from the top and something that all talent divisions should be exploring. 

I fully believe a commitment to work/life blend is the reason I have been able to combine the full-on nature of my home life with a successful time (so far) at work. Of course, I still don’t believe I’m doing any one single thing brilliantly, but then who does?   

Natalie Cummins is CEO of Zenith UK 


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