Tag Archives: Working mum

GUEST POST: 10 tips to negotiate a flexible return to work

0A9D254A-3031-4C07-9CD2-31D29C7A8D3AHolly 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 reevaluateRemember 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

Five inventions the world is definitely missing

InventionsIt’s 8.14pm. I’m lying on the bed gently overheating in my new furry slippers, laptop optimistically open and my work emails up but I’m actually starting to daydream because I’m tired. A day in London does that now – packing in five meetings, a snatched lunch and a rush to and from the station. But I enjoy it, punctuating my month with a slice of the capital.

Now late September, school is officially underway and half term discos, books at bedtime and Trick or Treating are already hovering on the horizon. I’m not quite sure where the last few weeks have gone but they’ve hopped, skipped and jumped past me, leaving behind only vague memories of Facebooked school uniform photos and the name tag ironing frenzy.

My work emails are still open (it’s 8.22pm now) and instead of following up with my meeting notes I’m thinking about inventions that would help improve my life. Here are a few that spring to mind:

  • Non-colour-mixing playdoh – no more inevitable green, sludgy mess – playdoh yellow is always bright and fresh and the special edition pink sparkle version stays forever pink and sparkly
  • A wearable hair dryer – so I can wander around upstairs hands-free in the morning supervising the children as they hide and refuse to get dressed
  • The school uniform folder-upper and hanger-upper (because Scrip clearly doesn’t understand the concept) which doubles as a clean clothes sorter and distributor (there’s a theme here)
  • Never-ending cereal – to avoid the endless squabbles over the last three Shreddies
  • The shoe auto-organiser (why is there always one child’s shoe missing?)

It’s 8.32pm and I think my curfew might be 9pm tonight. I’ll be dreaming of hairdryers, cereal and playdoh.

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Guest post: Are you driven by guilt or aspiration?

I know all too well how hard it is to strike “the balance” (I’m not sure I ever have done). My talented, driven, inspirational friend Lucy – who managed to create and launch her halterneck support product, Halto, with her sister whilst also being a working mum and singer – talks about her lightbulb moment.  Thank you Lucy 🙂

Lucy CoxHaving worked harder than average to get pregnant and then being blessed with a healthy baby girl, being a mum became both my conscious and unconscious priority in life from that moment on. The role to rule over every other role. But something surprising shifted in my mind-set last week, and I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner!

Just to scene set for a moment. Although we couldn’t really afford it, after having our daughter I took the full twelve months off work, and again with questionable affordability, decided to go back to work part-time. It felt right to build every detail of my life around my daughter. I had been waiting a long time for her, and this is what being a proud mum was all about, right? We needed to live, but my daughter needed me more than ‘stuff’, so that’s what she got. Me, as close as I could to 100% of the time. For five years.

Over this period I had also started a small business with my little sister, Halto, which we worked around the kids and other ‘stuff’. This was to be our ‘get out’ from the shackles of paid employment and enable us to spend more time being mums. The kids came everywhere with us, and anything we couldn’t do with the kids was banished to the twilight hours. It grew from a very small acorn, and soon gathered momentum.

I would tell people how lovely it was to work part-time, and how proud I was that I had built my life in this way, and I meant it. I focused solely on the positives of this situation, until I had a few health problems in 2015 that made me really question my lifestyle choices and I became far more aware of getting a better balance in life.

It took me far longer than it should have to understand that if you expect yourself up to be the perfect mother, wife, employee, friend, sister, daughter and business partner, you will fail. You will be enough to adequately label yourself as all those roles, but you won’t be 100% of what you aspire to be in any of them, and (from a bar set high in the first instance) that doesn’t feel good. It is so draining.

Fast forward to the present day, and during a business coaching session last week, I came to the crashing realisation that I had become driven more by guilt than aspiration. Satiating guilt was a much bigger priority than satisfying my own ambition. I keep my own business under the radar as much as possible, often being quite apologetic for it, and try to work when my family is either in bed or out so it doesn’t impact on them at all. And when it does, I feel guilty. I tie myself up in logistical knots making sure that I am there at the school drop-offs and pick-ups every day despite my ever-growing to do list, and I am so exhausted.

The coach at this session was discussing innovation, and what was stopping us achieving the goals we have for our businesses. Many talked of financial challenges, or finding the right staff. For some, it was how to access new countries or develop new products. Right at that moment it hit me so hard between the eyes. My attitude was the sole barrier to me and my business achieving. As long guilt was my main motivator, I would never be fully committed to growing the business to its full potential.

Another thing struck me at the same time. I had arrogantly always assumed that my family, friends and colleagues actually all wanted me 100% of the time! I had never asked them whether more was better? Perhaps less, but better quality would actually be preferable to all (including my sanity!).

The first thing I did was ask my family if they minded me condensing my employed hours into fewer days (meaning my daughter would need to go to after school club two days a week), and I would then take one whole day a week on my own business. To my delight (and frustration) they both said they were very happy with that. In fact, my daughter (who had been bugging me about going to after school club for months) actually sounded like she had just won the lottery!

So here we are, about to embark on a new chapter where I am no longer apologetic for being a working mum. I will never shed myself of mummy-guilt completely, because I am a great mum. But from now on I plan to be, at the very least, a realistic mum who can demonstrate a more balanced life.

And who knows, maybe my daughter will take over the family business one day!

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