Jayne Nicholas helps a project manager combine an ambitious work move with her more personal aims and commitments

BD's issue was to find a rewarding career that met her work-life balance aims. Her recent experience was in project management, but having completed a specific area of work, she was wondering whether this was the time to branch out.

As the mother of three teenagers, she needed to be able to give them support at a challenging time in their lives, so a part-time, flexible role was essential. BD's current role gave her the flexibility she required for her work-life balance but not a sense of achievement.

The issue

When I first spoke to BD in February, her reason for contacting HSJ was urgent.

She was working on two 18-month fixed-term projects due to end in March and had been offered a permanent role on one of them.

We explored some of the reasons for her ambivalence about this job offer. My client acknowledged that receiving the offer letter had left her feeling deflated and undervalued.

The goal

After initial discussions, we agreed we would concentrate on her short-term goal: "To have identified and been offered a project management role which would give her job satisfaction of 7/10, by 1 May 2008".

We discussed her reasons for this change and BD felt strongly that if she could establish herself in a role she enjoyed, this would enable her to concentrate on her personal life, as the time currently spent worrying about her future was not productive and was detrimental to her family relationships.

Having identified her goal, we moved on to "possibility thinking" and BD listed all the things she could do to move towards her goal.

We established that she had already done some groundwork and therefore one sub-goal would be to pull together and follow up the work already done. While discussing her future with a good friend, BD had been advised not to "undervalue herself" and recognised this as an established trait that required focus to eradicate. We discussed writing a "self-advertisement" or strapline and establishing simple ways of remembering her positive, rather than negative, traits. This was a "lightbulb" moment for BD and one on which she needs to work to realise her goal.

At the end of the first session, BD prioritised the things she would do in the next week and when and how she would complete them. At this stage she was quite buoyed up and I could feel the enthusiasm building, which had been sadly lacking in our earlier conversation.

When we talked 10 days later, BD had managed to confirm some facts of which she had been unsure and had put a lot of thought into her future employment, established pros and cons for each of her possible ways forward and written a strapline.

She had reached the conclusion that it was the right time to do a master's degree, which would help her in any future career, and that the stress a new job would create was not acceptable at this point in her home life.

BD had identified that the main reason for her current job dissatisfaction was the absence of a colleague who was on holiday and who had been very supportive and encouraging. Her friend's absence had increased her workload significantly and added to her stress. Once the colleague returned, she felt things would improve.

This was another "lightbulb" moment for BD, as she began to realise the important ingredients for her job satisfaction.

She had also taken the unusual step of asking for advice from her children, who had slightly surprised her by their responses - especially her youngest daughter, who requested BD leave for work earlier in order to return earlier in the day, providing more support in the evening and less before school. This would quickly improve both of their work-life balances.

The review

We then reviewed the goal we had set the previous week and BD modified it to look at ways of getting the best from her current job offer, which fits with her sub-goal to value herself and her skills appropriately, and suits her current work-life balance.

The new goal was that in three months BD would be doing her current role but on a contracted basis rather than fixed term and under conditions that reflected her value.

One of the key things for BD was that she would be supported to do a master's with agreed dedicated study time, plus a salary that reflected her skills and experience and an accurate job description with agreed review dates and confirmed part-time hours.

BD's plan was to respond in writing to the job offer, setting out the terms under which she would accept, and to complete this task within three days.

Again, once BD had established what she wanted from her career, she was enthusiastic about moving forward and had a clear picture of the future she desired.

Finally we discussed how these two sessions encouraged her to become more focused and prioritise her needs equally with those of family and colleagues, and use the management skills she undoubtedly has to create her own desired future.