How Jess balanced care of her two sons while re-opening a Woolworths store following the NSW floods


Jessica Lees managed to balance re-opening Lismore Woolworths after the horrific NSW floods while balancing caring for her mother, and two boys with the help of Grace Papers coaching.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, and the work you do.

I am a Mum, Wife and Store Manager for Woolworths Supermarkets. I have 2 young vibrant and cheeky boys aged 8 yrs and 2 yrs old. 

What’s one strategy that you’ve taken away or put into action after going through the GP platform/coaching call with Grace Papers? 

Taking out the time at the end of each day to create a plan priority list of what needs to be done to assist me in being able to switch off and value the time I have at home with my family. Having an accountability buddy also can be very helpful to hold you accountable to sticking with the boundaries at the end of the day too.

What hurdles did you come up against on your journey to balance both career and care? 

It’s an ongoing journey. It is far from mastered! I need to work on it every week, trying to find the balance of both work and your family time, but it’s important to prioritise family, Eg athletics carnivals, school events, weekend events and time for self.

Your Store has just opened again 130 days after the NSW floods – you must have great resilience. How did you tackle it? 

These past few months have been a constant battle in trying to be there for my mum and other family members who were greatly impacted by the floods. Also many in my team were also greatly impacted. It has been challenging trying to make the right decisions to best serve our community who are greatly hurting. 

These past few months have seen me prioritise so many others over my family and myself. I am lucky that my husband and boys are a great support. We have now rebuilt our store and reopened, so I can finally begin to concentrate on my family and myself. I realised how exhausting this was after having a 4 weeks holiday and being sick for 3 of them. The reminder that I am no good to anyone if I don’t look after myself!

What have you learned about yourself through the process? 

That I need to trust myself more and that it is okay not to have a routine every day – the world continues on.

What would be your advice to anyone on parental leave & how they can best use their keeping in touch days?

To anyone in Stores and taking parental leave my advice is find out what Keeping in Touch Days are and how you can best utilise them. You are entitled to 10 paid days which you will need to organise with your line manager. I encourage my team members to shadow a person that is doing their role 1 day a week in lead up to their return. This will help you to integrate back into the role and to understand changes that may have occurred, such as rosters and process changes, so you are more comfortable upon your return. Another use of some of the Keeping in Touch days are to catch up on any outstanding training or courses you might need to complete or to simply connect with your store team. These can all assist in making your return to work much smoother and less stressful.

What would be your advice to any Store Manager in terms of enabling their staff to balance both career and care? 

To have a really clear conversations with the Group Manager/ Culture & People Partner around expectations and flexibility that suits both your family and the business needs. That it is okay to ask for help, say no to additional tasks and remember to cut yourself a break – it’s hard work and you are your harshest critic.

What words do you live by?

“If I can’t control it don’t stress about it”. The past few months have shown me that there is so much that has been out of my control, both personally and professionally. On reflection, what would have once kept me wound up I have now have perspective and certainly feel these words have kept me grounded.

What I’ve Learned is a series dedicated to sharing the collective wisdom of the Grace Papers’ community.