The recent report from gender equality charity, the Fawcett Society and Totaljobs have found that fewer than one in three working mothers have access to effective flexible working arrangements. This is something that will come as no surprise to mums like me.
The Flexibility Stats Don’t Lie
The report found that 84% of mothers faced challenges coming back to work from maternity leave and 30% received no support at all. On top of that, 19% have considered leaving their job for one with better support while a further 11% actually left. Although none of this is a surprise, it’s still disappointing to read. True flexibility means trust from employers and that is something that many working mums don’t have.
As a working mother, I’ve worked for several companies since having my first child and have had issues in most of them. Seemingly simple requests like swapping a day off to accommodate childcare or taking 15 minutes out of my day for the school run have been commented on and sometimes flatly refused. It’s exhausting to have to constantly ask for flexibility and dread the answer.
Fighting for Flexibility as a Working Mum
In one company, I was in a position where I had to pick up my daughter from across town one day a week in the afternoon. It meant I would be away from my desk for about half an hour one day a week. But would work longer in the evening. My boss at the time made out they were fine with this arrangement as long as I asked permission. Fair enough, I thought.
Only, I soon realised that I couldn’t have a blanket pass for every Wednesday. I had to bring it up and request it every week. It soon became stressful when the requests were met with sighs and comments. Such as ‘not every boss would be as accommodating as me you know’. A simple request ended up becoming so stressful that I made arrangements for my husband to do the pick-up. Which was much less convenient for him, but I just hated the humiliation of asking all the time.
But in that situation, at least I was given the time off…grudgingly. In another job, I had a boss who was also a part-time working mother. I once had a childcare issue and needed to swap my day off. But instead of solidarity, my request got squashed. I was told that I couldn’t ‘pick and choose’ my working days. Despite being in a job that could easily accommodate this and it being my only time asking. Needless to say, I didn’t stay in the role much longer after that.
Time for Employers to Embrace the Flexible Future of Work
I am just one out of possibly thousands of women who have come across this issue. I’ve moved jobs a few times to try and find the balance I need to juggle family life with work. If employers would realise this, they would save themselves so much hassle in re-recruiting. Working mothers don’t take the mickey. They always make up their hours and work until the job is done. And it’s seemingly only noticed when they are unreachable for 15 minutes out of the day.
Although I’m now in a better place professionally, I can always spot the stressed-out working mums during the school pick-up. They’re the ones with their phones constantly in their hands so they can refresh Teams every 10 seconds.
If employers educate themselves about the challenges faced by working parents and embed flexible working patterns into their work culture. We’d all be a lot happier. Mums would stop having to pretend they don’t have children and finally ignore Teams for half an hour.
If you’re a working Mum in need of a role with an employer who supports flexibility, check our flexible job platform.
Spooky season is here. While working parents up and down the country will be running around trying to find the perfect pumpkins and scouring the web to find a Barbie or Super Mario costume for their little cherub, it’s things that happen at work that scare them the most.
With certain companies removing remote working options for employers, many workers have decided enough is enough. Between that, no career growth, toxic cultures and zero work-life balance it’s no wonder that many employers are joining the great resignation and quitting their jobs.
Here are five scary things employers do that make working parents say NOPE!
1. Moving Away from Remote Working
With the pandemic now a memory, more and more companies are moving away from 100% remote working. This is inconvenient for some, but for working parents it can be a deal breaker.
Flexible childcare service, Pebble, has recently revealed that the move away from remote working is costing parents more than £600 extra per month in childcare. Many are quitting to seek more flexible options elsewhere. A whopping half of the 2,000 parents polled said they planned to quit because of no more remote working and a third said they had already moved to a company with more flexible options.
2. Not Offering Career Growth
If there’s one thing that will make an employee search for a better job, it’s offering no career growth in the one they’re in. Feeling trapped and stagnant makes people unhappy and so employers need to take note. Investing in employee development is key to keeping good workers. By providing opportunities for training, upskilling and career progression, you’re committing to their long-term success and will keep them long-term.
3. Creating a Toxic Culture
Having a toxic work culture can be detrimental for anyone’s mental health and can rightly push employees to seek opportunities elsewhere. Things like being unable to make a mistake, lack of trust, micromanaging, role confusion with no clarity on expectations and excessive stress among staff, will push workers to pastures new. Instead of this, employers should recognise and reward employees, give clear job descriptions and learn to trust.
4. Giving Employees No Purpose or Fulfillment
Having purpose and fulfillment at work is more important than people realise. Employees want to make a meaningful impact in their careers and will seek work that aligns with these values and provides that sense of purpose. If employers don’t offer that, they’re likely to jump ship.
5. Work-life balance
Different from simply more remote working, having true work-life balance means that workers – especially working parents – can properly balance their personal and professional lives. Employers need to embrace flexible working arrangements, offer hybrid work models that allow employees to work remotely part of the time. Flexible working shouldn’t be a perk of a job, it should be a right.
If your a working parent that want to alleviate these fears, take a look at our flexible working roles here.
It’s been a long seven weeks for a lot of parents. But now the summer holidays are over, life can go back to normal and working mums and dads across the country can go back to their typical 9 – 5. Or can they? Campaign groups are warning that the cost of after school clubs and extra childcare is going to skyrocket, meaning that, if some parents can’t obtain basic flexibility at work, they won’t be able to afford to work at all.
We’ve always known that nurseries are extortionate – the average annual cost of a full-time place is now £14,836 – but after school clubs don’t seem to be much better.
National charity, the Coram Family and Childcare Trust conducted a childcare survey and found that prices were up 3% this year compared with 2022. The average cost of an after-school club in Great Britain is £67.42 a week or £2,629 during term time.
Like most things, going private can be costly. But, with demand for after school care outweighing capacity, many parents don’t have the option for school-provided after school clubs.
Catherine in Newcastle says:
“I moved house last year and the local school has no space for my daughter. I didn’t have the flexibility at work to take 40 or so minutes to drive across town and pick her up so I had to use a private after school club since the school provided club was full and had a ridiculously long waiting list. The private club cost £15 per day and I needed to use it three times a week. That £180 a month practically crippled us.”
The struggle is real for working mothers. The general opinion is that nursery is expensive but as soon as the kids are at school, it’s easy to work around them but with after school care in such high demand and so expensive, it’s not always the case.
The Early Bird
This is true for most areas of parenting but early planning is key. The most affordable option for most parents is the school-run after school club rather than the private clubs. However, these clubs are very popular and fill up fast. Parents who realise that they need after school care once their children are already in school tend to miss out.
To give yourself the best possible chance, it’s recommended to get your child on the list before they start school. Even if you’re not sure you’ll need the space. It’s better to be prepared.
Activities Instead of Childcare
It’s not the case for all but some schools offer after school activities for a small cost that can also serve as after school care. Catherine from Newcastle found this to be a better option when moving her daughter’s school:
“When we were finally offered a place in the new school, I found that Mondays were tricky for me to leave my desk for school pick up. I noticed that the school offered French lessons after school for £7.50 a class. School finishes at 3.10 and the class starts at 4pm. But, since she’s 7 now, the school allows my daughter and her friends to wait in the hall until the class starts. Which means I don’t need to pick her up until 4.45 which makes a huge difference to my working day. It’s also a huge saving from £15 a day and she might learn a bit of French!”
Flexibility Would Save The Day
The most frustrating thing about after school care for older children is that they don’t need a lot of it. Working with a toddler in tow is near impossible. But school age children tend to do their own thing and enjoy some downtime after a day of learning. If parents have the option to work at home in the afternoon and the flexibility to nip along to the school gates for pick up, we wouldn’t need expensive after school care at all.
It’s the time of year that working parents dread – the summer holidays. While kids up and down the country are celebrating, the parents and caregivers usually let out a collective groan. As it means almost seven weeks of juggling childcare around work.
We’d all love to spend the LOOOONG summer weeks enjoying lazy days on the beach. Picnics in the park and days out at zoos and theme parks but the reality for most is quite different. With over 60% of both parents working in the UK, flexibility is key to managing this extensive time of childcare.
Here are our top tips to survive the summer – with and without the coveted flex.
Talk to your boss early
It’s easy to say this in July, but explaining your situation to your manager early, may be key to negotiating time off. Working from home might help if your little ones need to be picked up or dropped off at awkward times. If working isn’t feasible, discussing with your employers early may allow you to carry over or pay for extra annual leave. Or come up with a temporary flexible solution where you can make up the hours in the evenings or weekends.
Partner up with friends
Everyone says it and it’s so true – mum friends are the best! Issues will pop up in the summer holidays for even the most organised of parents. You might find that the holiday club you woke up at 5am to get a coveted spot on actually runs 12 – 3. Or the two hour gymnastics class you were relying on is cancelled during summer. For those occasions, you need your pals. Try and book the same holiday club as friends so that you can take turns dropping off the kids. Coordinate days off so your weeks are covered and remember to treat yourselves to a glass of wine and a whine when it’s all over!
Wake up early for maximum flex power
If you’re lucky enough to get flexible hours at work (we know we all should have this but it’s not always the case) make sure you use your time extra efficiently. This means early starts before the kids wake up and later nights. If you can get in a good stint in the morning from 6 – 9, you’ll have cleared your inbox and made a good start to the day before your little cherub has demanded her cornflakes.
Buy ALL the crafts
If all else fails, and you need to work around your precious poppets at home, stock up on ALL the crafts and activities that will allow you to have some desk time while they’re occupied. Yes, there will be days when you’ll have to stick them in front of Disney Plus for the day and that’s ok but make yourself feel better by dumping some paints, glue and glitter on them and relax while they do something ‘educational’…at least for five minutes.
Working 9 – 5 in an office doesn’t work for many people but, for single parents, it’s especially hard. Having only one adult at home to help with the children’s routine and upkeep of the house can be impossible to manage if that adult must also commute to an office five days a week.
The UK has around 1.8 million lone-parent families who are collectively raising more than a fifth of the country’s children. Having an environment where they can work effectively has never been more important.
Perks of the Pandemic
We all know that working from home is not the only answer when it comes to flexible working. Some employers can actually be stricter in terms of timekeeping for home workers. Making it impossible for employees to leave their desk for more than a few minutes at a time. For those in companies who have a more relaxed approach to WFH, it can be a godsend for single parents.
While the Covid-19 pandemic was devastating, it proved that WFH can be effective. For single parents, this opened a whole world of working options that were not available before. With no other adult help, WFH allows parents to keep on top of household tasks during the day. And spend less money on childcare while cutting commuting time and even allowing some much-needed time for themselves.
“I became a single mum at the beginning of 2020,” said Emma from Edinburgh.
“For the first couple of months, it was business as usual with me working full-time in the office, but it soon started to take its toll. With only me around after work and school, my evenings were eaten up by washing school uniforms, making dinner, and catching up on cleaning and that was on top of the usual homework help, bath and bedtimes. I was exhausted.
When my office introduced working from home, it really saved me mentally. I had time throughout the day to keep on top of washing and cleaning, have dinner cooking and just generally have a bit of time to take a walk or have a bit of a rest. I also gained around two hours a day by not commuting. Although I’m now expected to come into the office twice a week, it’s still a lifesaver knowing that I have those three days at home. My biggest fear is if they stop home working completely.”
The Point of No Return
And Emma is not alone with her desire to keep homeworking. According to a survey by US-based recruitment platform FlexJobs, about two-thirds of people surveyed between July and August 2022 wanted to keep working from home. However, big corporations such as Disney and Starbucks are leading the way in championing a full return.
For single parents, this approach simply doesn’t work. The burden of the daily commute and lack of support at home means that their need for flexibility is greater than most.
These workers make up such a high percentage of staff in the UK and their needs must be listened to. Like other employees, they’ve proved they can do their jobs outside the office and if employers can’t accommodate parents’ need for more flexibility around home working, they risk a talent drain as these parents seek out new roles with companies that can. Switching to outcome-based work and WFH seems the way forward, especially for single parents.
Looking for a new job can be a minefield, especially when you need your new role to be flexible. Recruiters can make new roles out to be wonderful when, in reality, they’re woeful.
Because most job seekers have cottoned on to the idea of flexible working, many companies are scrambling to make their companies sound as appealing as possible.
This can result in very vague or even false claims on job adverts to attract more candidates. Making it even more difficult for candidates to spot the great deals from the duds.
So, is that amazing sounding new job a great find or a flexible faker? Here are some reg flags to watch out for when job hunting and the questions you should always ask.
1: ‘We’re not looking for someone with a 9-5 mentality’
This may sound like music to your ears if you’re looking for a more flexible role. But beware; companies usually use this phrase to hint that they likely ask you to log on in the evening or at weekends – despite your personal schedule.
It suggests that you always have to be ‘on’ which completely underestimates any work/life balance you’re hoping to have.
While flexible working is the goal here, an official ‘end’ to the working day is also important. So any suggestion that you essentially need to ‘keep working until the project is done’ is not healthy.
2: ‘We’re like a family’
This used to be an attractive thing to hear as a prospective employee but now it just sounds creepy.
No company should want you to be as invested in them as you are your actual family.
This phrase also suggests that you’ll need to offer extreme loyalty and ‘muck in’ to get the job done. Probably not for a fair wage either.
3: ‘You don’t need to come to the office if you’re ill’
Working from home has a lot of advantages but it’s not necessarily flexible. Many companies still see home working as a bit of a treat for employees. And some even think that WFH is a great solution when you’re sick.
Being unwell requires rest.
Not physically coming into an office is great as you won’t spread germs. But you also won’t get any better if you’re not allowing yourself to rest and recover.
4: ‘We have a supportive culture for working parents’
This is great to hear, especially if you’re planning on starting a family soon. However, a lot of claims from companies are only skin deep.
They might wax lyrical about the support they offer to parents returning to work but the parental leave may be minimal.
5: ‘Flexible, Intentional Working’
The pandemic saw a massive shift in flexible and home working. What was once a rarity, offered only to a select number of employees, soon became the norm for companies to stay afloat. Some employers have decided to keep the home or hybrid working patterns while others very much want a full-time return to the office.
However, the term ‘return to the office’ is off-putting to many candidates and so employers have been a bit crafty.
Some new phrases that have been coined include ‘flexible, intentional working’ and ‘work appropriately’.
But dig a little deeper and it seems like these buzzwords and catchy phrases are just another form of fake flexibility.
As a candidate, there are many things you can do to ensure that your new role is right for you. Remember, interviews go both ways so don’t be afraid to ask some pressing questions before accepting a role. If benefits are offered, make sure you find out how they play out in practice and ask specifically about the employees who have used them.
You should also look out for a high turnover rate in staff as that’s usually a red flag. A good way for potential candidates to get a really good idea of a company and to see if their claims about flexibility are true, is to speak to current or past employees. LinkedIn offers a unique way to reach out to employees of a company you’re interested in so there are no nasty surprises when you accept a new role.
Take a look at some trusted flexible employers with Find Your Flex here.
It’s really common to feel alone. The pandemic has fuelled this even further. We all relate to the saying “we’re all in the same storm, but in very different boats”.
The feeling that everyone is struggling has become normal.
This is unfortunate because it leads to the feeling we should be able to “get on with things” even when life feels more difficult. Maybe you feel afraid to “bother” someone else with your struggle, when the person you are “bothering” is in their own storm too?
As mums many of us have experienced feeling like this before. When someone asks “how are you” and you answer “I’m fine” when the honest answer is that you’re not?
Is this the approach you take in your career too? Answer this question more honestly….
What are we afraid of when it comes to career growth?
Does sharing we are struggling make us weak?
Are we scared we’ll be perceived as not coping at work, if we share that we don’t know how to navigate the next step in our working world? Could others perceive we’re not juggling family and work life successfully enough?
I had a coaching call with a highly intelligent, extremely compassionate and successful woman last week.
This woman is under a lot of pressure at work, as are all of her team. She has spoken to “the powers that be” about her teams stress levels and the impact to their wellbeing. Also she is putting as much as she can in place to alleviate things for them.
I asked “what about you”?
It materialised, she’d been doing the “well it’s busy of course, but I’m fine” approach. She wasn’t “fine” at all. Admitting she wasn’t fine would feel like she was failing: letting people down and giving the impression she can’t cope. She did recognise that if, in three months she breaks down, she’ll be asked, “why didn’t you say something”?
Of course, our conversation was much bigger than this and I truly hope the work we did together has helped her gain a new perspective and understand that honesty is important.
Who’s supporting you and your career growth?
McKinsey found, 18 months after the start of the pandemic, women on average felt more burnt out than men.
Given that the stats show women picked up more of the home-school slack and continued to bare more (on average) of the ‘mental load’ at home, this isn’t a surprise.
McKinsey also found that women are doing more to rise to the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) challenges and contributing to wellbeing agendas in the workplace, more than ever before. (click here for the full McKinsey article)
They are taking on more work at home and in the office. With this comes a higher risk of burnout. Which in turn may mean many women will remove themselves from leadership opportunities in the future.
This is hardly helping to change the status quo and reduce the gender pay gap.
This got me thinking about how us women work.
It’s clear what we do is nothing short of fantastic.
But are we engaging with others to support us?
If we have the “I’m here to support people and look after their wellbeing, but not my own” approach, that is fast-track to total burnout and exhaustion. It’s evident that fear of failure and perception from others that we aren’t coping, traps many of us into staying stuck in this inefficient work mentality.
If you’re reading this and thinking “Rebecca is literally talking about me” – what may help you?
Allies. Get lots of them to support your career growth.
In different shapes and sizes.
Allies add more value to your career and life in general than you can ever imagine.
Allies may help you
talk things through
bring new perspective
introduce you to new people or areas
advocate for you into areas you may otherwise not have access…
Through all of these connections, your confidence will be boosted, you’ll gain new evidence to show you CAN do things you thought you couldn’t.
You may even realise you’re only human and it is ok to be honest, vulnerable and successful – all at once. Nobody is good at everything and there is no such thing as “Superwoman”.
Where can you find allies?
Whilst I strongly believe employers hold responsibility for taking care of their employees, we also need to take some initiative and responsibility ourselves. If we are to grow in our careers, it’s down to us to seek out our own allies. They can help us develop in a range of ways. So who might they be?
Here’s some examples:
Sponsors will help you build credibility. They can use their position of privilege to sponsor your cause or goal.
They can help position you where you want to be and support your career growth.
So, if you’re striving for the next step but finding it hard to access the right people or places, you probably need a sponsor.
The feeling of going it alone and all the self-doubt that can creep in can quickly push you down. Having a sponsor to elevate you and talk things over with and who can help position you, can work wonders.
>>WHERE TO GET ONE?
Maybe you can find someone more senior in your workplace to mentor you who can act as a sponsor? Think also about people outside of your workplace, who do you know that is successful in the area you are striving to reach who can be your sponsor elsewhere?
Amplifiers are able to “shout” for you in a crowded space, where you may not ordinarily be heard. They will help you have a voice. So if you’re struggling to get your message to the right people, who may be an amplifier for you?
>> WHERE TO GET ONE:
The Find Your Flex team can definitely help you find employers who are open to conversations around all modes of flexible employment opportunities.
Maybe you feel like every time you apply to a job you are just another faceless applicant in a crowded market. Who do you know – or could get to know – that works there already? They can be your amplifier!
Advocates are able to use their power, influence, status or seniority to bring you into their circle.
This can be helpful in a multitude of circumstance. Whether that’s the next career step, or simply needing someone to tell you the pressure you are putting yourself under is too much.
Rather than feeling like you are demonstrating your inability to cope (highly unlikely to be true by the way!), who can help advocate for you and your team?
Using a more senior or experienced voice may be the key to being heard and finding better ways of working.
>> WHERE TO GET THIS?
To find your advocate you must be honest and even a little vulnerable. Find that person who already has a “seat at the table” that you want to be sitting at. Share with them what you are trying to achieve so they can be your voice in their already existing circle of trust and influence.
Scholars are ready to listen and learn about things that impact your ability to reach your goals and can help to act or influence change. Are you working on what feels like an impossible task because one thing in your organization persistently gets in the way? Who could that scholar be that is ready to listen and understand and help remove that?
>>WHERE TO GET THIS:
This will really depend on your struggle. For example, maybe everyone else is physically present in a meeting at 4pm that you simply cannot be in due to childcare commitments. This may impact your ability to reach a certain goal as you never hear the important stuff first hand. Who may be willing to hear and learn from this and influence change? Maybe you feel there is a diversity & Inclusion issue that stops you reaching your goals due to unconscious bias. Will increasing your network and raising awareness help?
A confidant will create a safe space to express your fears, frustrations and needs – and help you navigate through them. This is that person you can be truly honest and vulnerable with. I put myself in this category as a career coach. In the example I shared above with my client, I was acting as her confidant. Nobody in her organization will ever hear that conversation, but they will, hopefully, see the results. The results will enable her to approach things in a slightly different way but gain a positive impact for her and her team.
A connector is willing and able to share useful connections to help you towards your goals.
We all know them. That person who always says “oh, I should put you in touch with X! You two would really get along / they could really help you with that / they know all about that”. These people are great for so many reasons – especially when you’re struggling, can’t see the next steps and don’t have the right connections.
SO TAKE ACTION!
You are not an island.
Nobody wins when you hit burnout or stay struggling in a job that is no longer right for you.
So let me leave you with this:
What is your struggle?
What is the one (or two & THREE!) thing that feels hardest right now?
What would you like it to look like instead?
With that in mind, what type of ally (or allies) could help you with that?
Who are they and what needs to happen for you to start that conversation? Think outside the box –allies could be peers, mentors, previous colleagues, mentors, coaches…
Engaging and building ally-ships can take some time – which you may say you don’t have. However, one thing I can guarantee is, by shifting your mind-set this way and taking time to do so, you’ll always find new ways to do things you never thought were possible. There are no prizes for doing everything alone.
We are all well aware, that recent times have shone a spotlight on how well, or not, our work and home lives blend. Research by McKinsey, Pregnant Then Screwed, Mother Pukka and many more has proven just what a negative impact the pandemic has had on women. The research has highlighted how in many cases women continue to be primarily responsible for the running of their homes and families. Covid has indirectly heightened the inequalities that women face in work and at home daily. A societal norm for mums that needs to be changed. But what does the future hold? Has this time taught us anything. Can we change to shift our societal culture for the better, for everyone?
There has been a lot of focus on the impact of work on home life. The fact women still find it hard to climb the ladder because historically flexibility hasn’t allowed for this. However I also feel there is a shift required (which incidentally, is beginning to happen) in our home cultures too.
The Socialisation of Societal Norms
Socialisation is defined as “the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society” and impacts both men and women. This starts as early as birth – think pink and blue blankets. It then progresses through how we are taught, communicated with, what we absorb from books, TV, movies etc.
Socialisation puts an almost invisible pressure on us to conform to ingrained societal beliefs. Dr Shawn Andrews has found through her work, time and time again, a family’s culture shows as one of the biggest influences of our gender beliefs and gender roles – and seems to be ubiquitous across most races and ethnicities.
We have also all heard of the “mental load”. In the majority of cases this tends to fall to the mum in a heterosexual parent family. The role of “knowing all the things”. The kids schedules, where to be when, the shopping list, meal planning, laundry, making or ordering school lunches, planning and booking in childcare. We even go as far as to say it is the mother’s salary, if she goes back to work, that must cover childcare and ideally more, otherwise her work is “not worth it”.
Why doesn’t the dad’s salary have any bearing on the cost of childcare? It becomes a reason for a mum to not be “able” to return to work. Financially it doesn’t stack up (of course there’s a whole other issue here about the insane cost of childcare in the UK, but that’s another blog!). But what about that mums career, sense of self, achievement and all else that comes with having a career?
Where am I going with this? I am not jumping off on a ranty tangent. I believe we have come to accept that it is a societal norm for mums to assume responsibility for and carry this load. It is a hangover from women not working and men being the breadwinners. Whilst women now can have and want to have careers, we haven’t relinquished the bygone responsibilities. Isn’t it time we changed these societal norms for mums?
Time to challenge the responsibilities of mums!
We don’t have much to thank Covid for. However, I have witnessed a shift in cultures at home. For many, the norm had been for dads to go to work Monday to Friday. Out of the home for the vast majority of their children’s waking hours. This has stopped. Not only has this allowed dads to be more present – it has also allowed visibility of exactly what happens at home!
I am well aware some families already balanced things well, where as in some homes sadly no shift has happened. However in the main I see a huge amount of dads now at the school gates. I see dads doing runs to extra curricular clubs. I know in my house only about 75% of the washing is now done by the laundry fairy (that’s me by the way – and yes it’s a work in progress!). What I also hear from dads is that they are really enjoying this shift. That being present in their children’s lives and being able to share the load more is not only now possible, but bringing them fulfilment.
Don’t be a Martyr!
On the less positive side however, I hear far too much of the “it’s easier to do it myself” dialogue. Mums leaving instructions and lists if they have to leave their husband in charge. Saying things like “I’m too much of a control freak… I’d have to re-do everything anyway. If I don’t leave a list the kids will be wearing pants on their heads and eating Haribo for dinner”. I get it. We know how to run our homes with our eyes closed.
It’s hard to understand how remembering the weekend timetable of various sports activities and sorting food out appears to be so hard for the men in our life. But really? Imagine if you were treated like that at work? Someone waiting for you to fail. Just so they could jump in and make it known what a terrible job you did? Or just never given the chance at all? We have to ask have we just assumed the role and never allowed our partners to learn it?
Are you project managing your home?
If we assume the “Project Manager role” the rest of the household will always assume that too. They will always say “you should have asked!” when we get all shouty. It may often feel like life is the shortest route to done, to do it ourselves. But spare a minute to think about yourself. What does it do to you to always be the doer of all the things? And how sustainable is this if we are home a lot more lines blurring between working and non-working hours? If we carry on holding the load, we are in huge danger of making it worse for ourselves. Being at home more means we have more opportunity to do more of the “things”. If we don’t let go of some of them and pass the baton on to partners or children – we could quickly be in an even more resentful place.
Socialising Future Generations
If our own wellbeing isn’t motivation enough, how about what we are teaching future parents – our children? If we want our sons and daughters to live in a more equal world where families are teams, managing the load together, we must teach them this now to influence socialisation.
Of course one size doesn’t fit all. What works for one family is another’s idea of hell! But as we move into an incredibly exciting period of cultural change, find what works for you. As we gain more flexibility at work it is imperative we take good care of ourselves. We don’t want to end up living in a blurred workplace – family home where no boundaries or team work prevail. We can’t simply just take on more.
The Culture Shift That Needs To Happen Now
So share the mental load, make space to hop on your Peleton daily or have a clear self-care routine. Don’t let these positive changes get thrown to the bottom of the pile as soon as a family need arises. We have the privilege of being able to play an active role in the culture shift of these outdated societal norms for mums. Let’s keep flexible working alive. A societal revolution that future generations will thank us for.
Rebecca Amin is a Career Coach helping parents feeling stuck in their careers, find their paths back to career happiness. Rebecca can be found via her website; Facebook Page and Facebook Group, Career Happy Mums.
Parental leave – or maternity and paternity leave as it is commonly known – has been under scrutiny for some time. The introduction of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) in 2015 was a small step towards recognising both parents play a significant role in the first year of a child’s life. However, with only 7% of workers taking advantage of this (You Gov and Winckworth), is there more to be done by organisations themselves?
In theory SPL offers a solution to gender equality. However, it hasn’t created the big shift it intended to do. There are also many more factors to consider as parents. Birth recovery, for birth-giving parents, breastfeeding and bonding with their new child is important. However, often comes the burden of feeling like this extended leave will be detrimental to career progression for mothers. Fathers – who in most cases get the grand total of two weeks off which can suffer with a severely impacted work-life-balance. Fathers miss important milestones with their children and this out-dated, traditional model simply reinforces mum dealing with the kids, dad going to work.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Of course, if this suits your family, there is nothing wrong with this. But what about for those families where this isn’t ideal? Also for same-sex parents and adoptive parents, leave entitlement can be significantly less in some organisations. Traditional parental leave and SPL do not offer the choices some parents’ desire. It is therefore down to the organisations themselves in charge of such policies to take action.
One organisation that has done just that is Nestlé. They recognised the balance of family life and work are of paramount importance to employees. Thus saw the need for change and modernisation. Nestlé introduced their Parental Support Policy.
For Nestlé there are no longer separate policies and entitlements for maternity, paternity, adoption and surrogacy leave. They have done a fantastic job of bringing all scenarios into one policy. Not only is this incredibly easy for employees to navigate, it also encourages a gender-neutral approach. Additionally, employees are eligible for parental leave from day one of employment. As a Career Coach working mainly with mums, I know all too well the stories of “sticking it out”. Staying in a job you aren’t happy in simply because you need the good maternity leave on offer from your employer. With this available from day one at Nestlé, this will no doubt also support their hiring and attraction strategy.
Parental Leave – The Nestlé Way
The core element of the new parental leave policy at Nestlé centres around choosing to take Primary or Secondary Caregiver leave. As Primary, this looks and feels a lot like standard maternity leave (Up to 52 weeks of leave, pay up to 18 weeks with 10 KIT Days). Secondary Caregiver Leave is much more generous than standard paternity leave. Secondary Caregiver Leave allows you to take up to 12 weeks off at any stage within the first year of the new child entering your family. Four of these are fully paid. The key thing is either can apply to you – whether you are giving birth or not.
I shared some of the detail with some working mum groups on Facebook. Some were a little shocked. Why would a mum only want 12 weeks off? Doesn’t she need to recover and establish breastfeeding? Don’t the titles reinforce stereotypes of being a primary or a secondary carer for your own child? My answer to all of this is, “but isn’t in fantastic to have the choice? Isn’t it wonderful to not dictate what should happen in your family because of gender or route to having a child?”
The reality is, since the introduction of the policy just 7% of those taking primary caregiver leave have been male. However, prior to the policy, the option would not have been available in this form – only via the constraints of SPL could they have got anywhere near. We can expect numbers to increase as at present it’s early stages.
Holly Birkett, Co-Director of the Equal Parenting Project at the University of Birmingham, has spoken about the positive knock-on effect. “While at an individual level more time off and maternity pay for women may look positive, actually it can lead to more women dropping out and it affecting their earnings and career progression (negatively) over time,” she says.
Having a choice about parental leave at Nestlé is key
Several of those I conversed with about this policy really saw the benefit. The key theme being the benefit of choice. Many birth-giving mothers may well still take Primary Caregiver Leave. However, for any that would prefer to return to work sooner, there is now a choice.
Nic Hammarling, Head of Diversity at Pearn Kandola says “I constantly hear from men that they want the opportunity to take a more active role in caring for their children. However, many are intimidated by the idea of asking their employer for time off work. In a workplace environment, to be nurturing and caring isn’t often expected of men and. As such, many are wary of the backlash they may receive for asking for time away to be with their children. Increasing paternity leave from two to four weeks, for example, could actually move us further away from equality because it still reinforces that the mother should be the primary carer,” she has said. With Nestlé’s policy not stating maternity or paternity, but allowing parents to choose the role they take is a huge move towards a more equal space.
This benefit was also noted by a mum who works in a senior role within FMCG. She shared “I would imagine, when a father-to-be shares that the baby is on the way, just having this policy in place means a conversation happens. A Conversation at work that asks which type of leave best suits his family. This results in a further conversation at home to make that decision. This can only be positive as it triggers the switch to talk about balance. To talk about who will do what and how involved will each parent be. It allows the father to have a conversation he may not otherwise have felt comfortable raining himself at work. If this was an option for my husband when my children were born, I think we would have gone for it. At least with the second one – with my partner taking Primary Caregiver Leave”.
Nestlé supporting decisions
The mum I quote above is right. Nestlé provide all parents to be with a decision tree to help them figure out which type of leave best suits their family unit. They also ensure parents know that they can take advantage of parental mentoring through the Parent Pal mentoring scheme, join the online parenting community Parent Talk, and use an online parent coaching app to further support their parenthood journey.
There of course is still a long way to go to get this totally right. I doubt as a society we will ever reach the perfect plan for parental leave. As more organisations shift their thinking as Nestlé has, we will begin to see the change we all hope for.
Nestlé and inclusivity
Of course many families will still choose to take the more traditional pattern of leave. This is totally fine – not everybody needs or wants to do anything different. But by allowing choice and recognising all parents equally, Nestlé at least are moving towards becoming much more, truly inclusive. I can’t wait to see the journey at Nestlé and learn more about phase two.
Rebecca Amin is a Career Coach helping parents feeling stuck in their careers, find their paths back to career happiness. FindRebecca via her website www.rebeccaamincoaching.co.uk; Facebook Page and Facebook Group, Career Happy Mums.
March 23rd 2020. The day we heard our Prime Minister say “From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home”. The day working from home, indefinitely, began.
Fast-forward over 13 months. Many are still working full-time from home. Some are gradually finding their way back to the office. There are organisations that have managed things brilliantly and seen this as an opportunity to shape flexible working. Some have managed things terribly and are already making unnecessary demands to fully return to the office, with no clear business need. Some employees are desperate to get back, some are desperate to retain the flex they have had forced upon them.
As we emerge from these unprecedented times, the waters feel muddy. There is little consistency across employers or industries. What is clear is that many of us are feeling the burn out from living at work with little to no break and a year of no holidays.
So how are we planning for the post-Covid future?
Many organisations have hit the press for their positive moves towards supporting employees well-being and flexibility. For example, Dropbox have made working from home a permanent move. Microsoft is moving to a 50:50 homeworking to office working model. John Lewis head office is taking a hybrid or blended working approach. Having spoken to a wide range of parents, the general consensus seems to be a 50% office based role will become the norm.
Whilst it is clear from this study and many others – such as the research conducted by the childcare provider, Bright Horizons – working parents are overwhelmingly in favour of a continuation of flexible hours and some form of hybrid working. Christelle who works for a large energy company shared:
“Having the flexibility to do the school run and eat together at the start and end of the day as a family, has had a huge positive impact on our family dynamic”.
Likewise John, who works for an IT company said:
“The time I have had to become more involved in my son’s life has been amazing. If allowed to continue, I believe this will have a life-long impact to our relationship, having been around so much in his formative years”.
It is also clear the general consensus is that the pandemic has allowed us to prove such a model could work. However, more than half of employees involved in the Bright Horizons research thought their employers were likely to be unresponsive to demands for greater flexibility once the pandemic dissipates. Denise Priest of Bright Horizons shared “There seems to be disagreement between some organisations and their workers about what normality should mean”. This is backed up by the research I conducted. A mum working for a large US Bio-sciences organisation is shared her worries that, “whilst all the right things are being done now, will these have the longevity that society needs?”
So what is the right answer?
The only very clear thing in all of this is one size does not fit all. We knew this anyway, but employees, pre-covid, bent over backwards in many case to mould themselves, their families and other commitments to fit the requirements of work. Whilst we have been missing social contact, there is a clear preference amongst the majority of parents to combine office with working from home in the future. Seven in ten (73%) employees wish to adopt a hybrid work arrangement – blending working from home with the communality of the office – and to retain the flexibility and control over their working pattern from which they have benefited under lockdown.
I am hearing of a huge amount of examples of organisations asking their employees what works for them? One FMCG company has even gone as far as introducing a whole new contractual way of working. Allowing some individuals to work on a retained project basis. They are then able to dictate their working hours – fitting work to their lives, rather than fitting life to their work.
All this said, there are some that working from home is not good for. I say “not good for” because I don’t just mean convenience. I mean their mental health is suffering because of the isolation this can bring. If you are younger, live alone or in a shared house environment. If you wish to reap the social rewards of the young, working generation. Many of these people NEED the office environment in order to protect their mental health. This sentiment was clearly shared by one person I spoke with from the Oil & Gas industry, who said:
“ I have genuine concerns for a single, female colleague who has clearly struggled mentally with the stay at home message”.
Flexible Working is the way forward.
It truly feels the power is shifting. People have proven a flexible model to suit individuals – IS achievable. There are organisations taking this on board and adapt to their staff. Allowing work to fit with life, rather than forcing employees into an unmanageable, unsustainable, unnecessary, unhealthy work pattern. These organisations will be the winners in the long run.
“I will seek alternative employment if pushed too far to revert to old ways of working. It is clear this is a preference, but with no clear justification, in my organisation. Which could result in me seeking alternative employment”.
What about well-being support?
It seems many organisations are focusing on what the working week should look like. However, what hasn’t been shared as broadly is what organisations are doing to support the mental well-being of employees.
The University of Southampton Study shared that maintaining working from home during the pandemic, whilst may have been in some ways more efficient, has taken its toll on mental health and well-being. In fact, responses on this area in their study found ranking very low. 47 out of 100 – measured against the World Health Organisation WHO-5 global standard. AXA back this up further. Finding that two-thirds (64%) of those working across the UK and Europe said their stress levels increased compared to pre-pandemic. Of these, eight out of ten (81%) describe themselves as having a “poor” or “low” state of mind.
Given for many the kitchen table has become the office with home / work boundaries becoming uncontrollably blurred. It stands to reason that burnout is a very real prospect.
What are the effects of this?
On the flip side, organisations are planning for future and maybe even dictate what this future will look like. Although it may be that some do not feel ready to commute or be in the office. A mum working for a small start up shared with me:
“I am not prepared to return until I am vaccinated. This has already happened for my boss so we are at slight odds around timing. Which is causing a bit of of stress and anxiety”.
Some have been shielding, may have vulnerable family members. Many have adapt childcare provisions and may not easily be able to reinstate wrap around care. Either because it is not available or because they are not inclined to revert back to the old ways. Such as running from breakfast club, to the train, to work, to after school clubs. And various other activities without having a minute for any family member to breathe.
As a backdrop the pandemic has triggered significant emotional, physical, and economic burdens:
Working from home while caring for children and other family members
Exposure to the virus – personally, via loved ones, or from working on the front line
Experiences of long-covid
Mental health care advocates believe Covid can cause many to suffer from something close to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In August 2020 the CDC published results of a large US web-based survey of more than 5000 adults. In which over 40% demonstrated experiencing at least one adverse mental or behavioural health problem related to the pandemic. Including symptoms of anxiety or depression (30.9%), substance use to cope (13.3%) and considering suicide (10.7%). This suggests a flexible work environment is something employers must consider when working in a post-covid world.
What needs to be done?
Many parents have shared a number of initiatives their organisations are doing to support well-being. These include
virtual coffee chat drop-ins
access to counselling
access to the office for those struggling working from home
but is this enough?
Workers have proved they are highly adaptable in these unusual times. One senior music industry employee shared, the pandemic has propelled flexible working forward by ten years, if done right. However, employers’ focus must now be on well-being. On supporting people through this next phase of transition. Above all else it is our well-being and mental health that has suffered most. I wonder how well organisations will take account of this as a factor of our return? This is a whole new phase. A positive shift hopefully, but one that needs managing with great care and support.