Holly and I have been social media friends for a while, and just as I’ve talked lot about the difficulties of returning to work, so has she on her blog, Pitter Patter Pither. She’s also in PR (which I didn’t know before but is nice to learn!) and is a new mum to little Amelia.
I’m happy to share a post from her on tips for negotiating a flexible return to work in the hope that it helps what can be a stressful and difficult time for parents.
10 tips to negotiate a flexible return to work
If you don’t know much about me then let me introduce myself. I’m a Holly Pither, I’m a mummy blogger, new mum to baby Amelia, wife to James and a fitness fanatic. I’m also perhaps what you might call ‘a career gal’ through and through (for all the negative and positive connotations that brings!)
I’m also not ashamed to admit that I simply love my job as a PR director… so much so, that as I neared the end of my pregnancy I dreaded going off on maternity leave. I was terrified of letting go and putting my career on pause, if only for a short while. Most of all I was terrified that it was my career that defined me. However that story, and everything I have learnt on that journey, will have to wait for another day (or feel free to read about it here) because today I’m talking about flexible working.
I’ve recently returned to work after 11 months of maternity leave and whilst it hasn’t been without its issues (for example I’ve struggled with leaving my baby and having to take time off work due to her being unwell), my discussions with my boss about returning to work were relatively smooth. However, like many parents, something had to give, and as such I needed to negotiate some degree of flexibility in my role. Without this I don’t think I would have been able to cope or reach any form of work/ life balance.
So if you’re in a similar position, and perhaps looking to return to work soon after maternity leave, then here are my top ten tips on how best to negotiate a flexible return to work.
1. Make a plan in advance: We will all want to enjoy every moment of our maternity leave, but I promise you getting a plan in place early will allow you to relax into motherhood. Going back to work is stressful enough without having a decision like this hanging over you.
2. Document everything: Whether you end up speaking to your boss in person or not, whatever you do make sure you write it all down and save your correspondence. This is a very important decision that will no doubt affect your future employment contract, so it’s best to get a written record of everything, even conversations over email that may seem irrelevant to the negotiations. This is especially important in case things go pear-shaped, let’s hope they don’t of course, but you can never be too careful.
3. Think about what you offer: Begin by clearly identifying the key skills and experience that make you valuable to your employer. If you’ve been away from the workplace for some time, identify what new skills you may have acquired during your maternity leave. Pull out your recent appraisal forms and highlight your strengths, as well as what you have brought to the business during your time there. It’s time to showcase why you’re so great and how having you back on your terms is significantly better than not having you back at all. Do not let that dreaded imposter syndrome get the better of you.
4. This isn’t just about you: I know you are negotiating ‘your’ flexible working hours, but spend some time considering the potential impact of your working arrangement on your work colleagues and your boss too. If you can show your boss you are doing what’s right for the business too, you will have a much easier conversation. Try to consider all parties in this arrangement as much as possible.
5. Be open and honest: There is no point in saying what you think they want you to say and then later regretting it. Be honest and explain to your boss what you think you need for a good work/ life balance. Likewise if you feel your employer is being unfair tell them. This is no time to be a wall-flower.
6. Don’t just expect they will just give you what you ask for: They don’t call it negotiating for nothing! Make it clear that whilst you have a preferred option, you’re open to negotiation. Find a suitable middle ground and don’t be worried if there is a lot of back and forth, this is a big decision.
7. Speak to your colleagues: Find out what they agreed and what was declined when they returned to work. Chances are your workplace will want to be as balanced as possible, so you might find that if something wasn’t allowed for someone else, you may struggle to push it through. Likewise though, if something was agreed for a colleague, you should find that, in the interests of fairness, you can make a real case for it.
8. Don’t take anything personally: This is certainly easier said than done, but try to remember that if your line manager declines your offer or sends you rather formal responses, it’s only because they are trying to do what’s right (most of the time) for the business. This can be especially tricky if you have a strong relationship with your boss or line manager or if you are used to a fairly informal conversation. Negotiations like this are likely to become quite formal and detailed, so if you feel yourself getting emotional, take a step back and remember it’s nothing personal. Don’t forget your emotions may be running extra high and you may need to step away and consider if you are looking at this objectively.
9. Go back for a KIT Day/ Days: Keeping in Touch (KIT days) are so important in my opinion as they can really help you to feel what its’s like being a working parent in real-time. They can also reassure you that you will be able to get back into the swing of things easily when you return properly. I found them a great way to ease myself in and remind myself that I can still do my job just as well as before baby.
10. If all fails, why not try something new: If I have learnt anything whilst being on maternity leave, it is that maternity leave is a time to think. It is also a time to reevaluate. Remember you’re under no obligation to stick with the organisation you left (obviously be aware of the rules around leaving and having to pay back your maternity pay). If your current role doesn’t end up working, perhaps it’s time to take the plunge and move on.