Look, I'm happy to admit that sometimes while I'm here slogging away at my desk in sunny Fyshwick I might choof off (mentally) to Dickson Woolworths. Yes, I shop online and some weeks I do that from my work desk. I might, before I order my groceries, check out some foodie websites to come up with a few ideas for dinner, or lunch boxes. I might even shop for a nice new salad bowl, or whacky utensil to peel and slice avocados.
I might have also, like I'm guessing 87 per cent of Canberra has this past month, tried to organise a car insurance valuation, or perhaps booked a doctor's appointment, or organised a little weekend away to fill my empty esky. All from the comfort of my desk, and all on "work time".
And I'm not alone. A La Trobe University survey of more than 4000 parents from different occupations found 86 per cent relied on additional informal "catch-up" strategies to manage work-family responsibilities on a daily-to-weekly basis.
Lead researcher Dr Stacey Hokke, from La Trobe's Judith Lumley Centre, said the study offers an Australian-first analysis into informal work practices among parents.
"We found these ad hoc self-directed strategies, such as performing family-related tasks at work or leaving early and catching up on work after hours, were common and often utilised alongside formal employer-provided flexible work arrangements," Dr Hokke said.
I tend to think no one in the office is really aware of how much we "catch up" at home. All they see is a tab open with the NRMA on it, or a parent coming in late after a school appointment, or leaving early because sports training has been cancelled due to air quality.
Many workplaces boast flexible working arrangements, short weeks, working from home occasionally, extended leave, and the like, but Dr Hokke suggests this might be not be enough.
"[These ad hoc self-directed strategies] may be a sign that parents feel comfortable enough in their workplace to accommodate some quick family-related jobs to keep the family running during their workday," she says. "Or it may indicate that despite best intentions, flexible work arrangements aren't being provided enough, or aren't meeting the actual needs of working parents."
Of the 12 informal strategies studied, the researchers found 62 per cent of parents received or sent family-related phone calls or emails at work (what are the other 38 per cent doing); 59 per cent of parents worked through breaks to leave work on time (break, what is this thing you call break?); 47 per cent of parents used their break time to attend to family matters or errands (nothing like a lunch break at the bank); and 42 per cent of parents performed household-related tasks while at work (if only I could bring my washing machine into the office).
One interesting finding from the survey was that these "informal arrangements" were not as helpful as they seemed. I know there are days when it feels like you don't stop. When, while you're waiting for something to download, for example, you're texting your mother to make sure she's OK. Or maybe you don't get to take a lunch break to take a quick walk in the sun because you work straight through it to get out in time for ballet lessons.
The researchers also looked at the relationship between work arrangements and parents' mental health. They found formal flexible work arrangements were associated with less occupational fatigue and burnout for both genders, and of particular benefit to fathers. By comparison, informal "ad-hoc" strategies were associated with worse mental health outcomes for parents including higher rates of occupational fatigue, psychological distress and burnout, even when combined with some formal workplace flexibility.
So how do working parents, who make up about two-fifths of Australia's workforce, win? Perhaps by starting a conversation with employers and with their own families as well, to work out strategies, formal or informal, which will work for everyone.
It's about being valued as an employee and as a parent; it's about gaining trust, but giving that back in return as well.
Now, excuse me, I have to go and order some school textbooks. And it's 8.05pm anyway.