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Annabel: Parents with children under 17 have the right to make a flexible working request. This can be a request for a change of hours, time of work, or location (e.g. home working). Requests are usually for shorter hours, or some element of home working (or both). Although these are called ‘flexible working’ requests, once granted they form the basis of a revised contract, and they do not usually give rise to a right to work ‘flexibly whenever I can or need to’.
Laura: Many women make flexible working requests during their maternity leave so that they can return to work on shorter hours. With childcare so expensive, most parents are calculating how much each partner earns versus the cost of childcare. If your employer offers childcare vouchers, snap them up as they are still good value for money, and can save you money, even though the rules and tax savings have recently changed. Just ask your place of work about the scheme, or ask for one to be set up.
Annabel: While it is very important for parents to work out how they will care for their child, I am often astonished at how little thought has gone into the flexible working request. When a parent makes a formal request, the legal requirements are that it (1) is in writing; (2) states that it is a statutory request for a contract variation, and explains how you qualify for the right; (3) states whether a previous application has been made; (4) sets out the changes wanted, and when it is proposed they become effective; (5) explains what effect the parent thinks the change will have on the employer, and how that change could be dealt with.
Whilst many parents complain that their requests are rejected unfairly, I see requests that never could work in organisational terms. The key to success is to go beyond just what you want, and figure out how to make it work for your boss.
Laura: The emotional stress of having a baby – be it a euphoric positive effect or depressive episode – usually takes women by surprise. Becoming a mother is a massive change to a working woman, the way they think, feel and behave may change with the stress, and this can lead some Mums to feel that they are being unfairly treated when they aren’t (some are!) because they don’t think of the business, just of their new baby and how they have the extra responsibility to juggle with a career.
If the money is reduced as a consequence of changing to part time hours, it suddenly becomes unfair in an emotional way because the Mum can feel that the company is literally stealing from the mouths of babes. The secret for the employer is communicate, communicate, communicate . . . get the full picture and understand why a reasonable, hard working, loyal employee has suddenly made an odd or difficult request (if that is what it seems like) and help and support her to do what is right for her and her career. If she knows the company is looking after her, especially in this economic climate, she is likely to return, find her feet and flourish again in her career.
Annabel: It is important to come up with a proposal that works for your boss and to ‘sell’ it to them so they can see how it could work for them. If you just walk in there and say “the crèche hours mean I have to leave at 4pm every day and never work Mondays or Fridays”, then you are not giving anyone any reason to work with you on this. If you go in with, “I have looked at our department and the peak hours of customer demand are (x to y, day to day) and I can be available for all those hours but I would like to be off from 4pm every day when there are normally more than enough staff to cope “ – then that is a different proposition.
When your new baby is the entire focus of your existence, it can be hard to imagine that anything needs to be said other than what they need. But, in the world of work, getting the job done and satisfying the customers has to come into it. Of course, we can’t all work 3 days a week, school hours only. And if there are already other people in your role who do that, it may make it increasingly difficult for your boss to agree to you working similarly, unless you come up with a really good plan to make it work.
Laura: Well said – Be realistic – It’s how you present your case. Be honest, think it through very carefully, test childcare arrangements, think of all the reasons your employer may not be able to accommodate your request, and be proactive with solutions. Make sure that it will work for your family, think it through, get the right advice – it doesn’t matter what your neighbour or parents think they don’t know your situation, only you do.
If you can – speak to other people in the department that manage flexible working successfully, take them for a coffee and get the real picture for your company – ups and downs and how they manage things. It is logistics not emotions that count, and if you agree to something you can’t fulfil further down the line, then everyone suffers.
Annabel: Don’t be over ambitious in what you propose. If you exhaust yourself and really mess up your job, you can put yourself under enormous pressure. You need to be realistic about what you can achieve within the given time/arrangements. I often come across women who get part time working, but then work full time and more to keep up with the targets and goals they have agreed to. If you go part time, you will be on part time money. Be realistic about what can be achieved in the working time that you have.
Do you have a query that you’d like Laura or Annabel to answer? Follow this link and post your question for them – http://balancingthebump.com/contact/
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Posted by on 26/07/2011 09:48:00
Jackie Groundsell is known as the queen of women's business networking lunches - the connector. She supports thousands of small business owners through her events and lunch-time meetings