The saying goes ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. But what if you don’t have a village. What if its just you, an expensive child care bill and a daily Usain Bolt style dash to make it to the childminders on time. This is the reality for many of us trying to juggle work and motherhood. Mine is also a blended family, meaning we have lengthy trips up and down the M6 to ensure my son sees his father. Despite concluding that one day we will all sit on the M6 and never move anywhere, this is a non-negotiable part of our lives. It also adds an extra layer of logistics to our already hectic schedules. Leaving me continually pondering the question — how do I work and manage the family?
As a mother I have worked full time, part time and on a remote basis. For much of this time as a single parent. I was very fortunate to have a flexible employer who evaluated me on output and not just presenteeism. My needs changed as my son went from nursery to school and my employer allowed me to change my working hours around this. When I relocated and changed to working remotely, it was a different way of working but no less productive. Communication becomes key as does effectively managing your hours. In return I was a loyal employee willing to go above and beyond to not just ‘get the job done’ but to achieve the highest possible standard.
After having my second child, I became a stay at home mum. The difficulty I now face, is not just flexible working but flexible hiring. I know what a positive thing flexible working can be, with mutual benefits for both the employer and employee. But the sad fact is that up to 54,000 women a year lose their jobs because of inflexibility and maternity discrimination. Despite many thousands of highly skilled people wanting to return to work only 1 in 10 jobs are currently advertised as being flexible at the point of hire. It means there are few flexible options if you want to return to work or move jobs. Imagine the untapped skills market, simply because an organisation doesn’t consider a ‘flexi’ approach when writing their job descriptions!
In 2015 I took a part time job which on paper looked like a solution to my flexible working problems. It was a step back career wise, but it fitted around school hours and in desperation I reasoned to myself that (for my sanity) it was at least one foot out of the door. I soon discovered that part time actually meant full time work squeezed into part time hours for very low pay. I may have achieved the goal of having a daily conversation with someone other than my three-year-old but that was about it. After more than a year of dementedly running between work and school, desperately trying to keep all the work and parental plates spinning, something had to change. There had to be a better flexi way forward.
According to the organisation Timewise, most people would work flexibly if they could — 87% in fact. Whilst my desire for flexible working is based around motherhood that’s not the case for all. Flexible working is for everyone with 57% wanting more control over their work life balance, 50% finding it generally more convenient and 30% cutting down on commuting time. How many people do you know spend at least 2 hours a day commuting? Think of what could be done in that time.
We are now all so connected that being away from the office doesn’t compromise on professional image or customer service. A friend of mine was recently asked to travel to a meeting abroad. In total it would have involved four days away. Instead he asked to participate via video conferencing. There was no travel time or jet lag, no time away from his family. He was able to work the rest of the week as normal and he saved the company money. Flexible working isn’t just about working from home. It’s about finding smarter ways of working.
With 12.5 million working days lost to work related stress, depression or anxiety (According to HSE), one of those smarter ways could be to have a change in perspective.
To shift the cultural view from a five day working week to four. The idea being to work less but in a better way. Graham Allcott, founder of Think productive, implemented a four-day working week as detailed in his blog post — Lessons from a 4-day working week. Resulting benefits included more motivated staff, better balance, increased productivity and a rise in staff retention.
It seems common sense to me that working in a way that finds a better balance between work, life and family is going to improve mental health and thereby empower us to approach the time we spend working in a more positive and productive manner.
For a long time flexible working was something talked about in articles or think tanks about how good things could be. The future of the modern work place that some quirky start up company might showcase, whilst the rest of us got on with the daily reality of going to work. But things are changing. Flexible working has gone from being a conversation to a movement. Support for campaigns such as Digital Mums #workthatworks / #cleanuptheFword, Mother Pukka’s #flexappeal and Pregnant Then Screwed #marchofthemummies shows a real drive for change.
For me, I’ve yet to find a solution to my flexible working needs. This part of my journey is just beginning. But the movement is happening and there are options out there. Flex and the City was born out of frustration. Frustration that having children should equal the end of my career aspirations. I can work successfully without compromising my career goals if only I am given the opportunity of working, yep you guessed it…flexibly! By supporting the campaigns above, busting some flexi myths and shouting loud and proud about the mutual benefits of flexible working I hope that Flex and the City will be a positive force for change.
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