So the time has come. Nearly. After 10 months off work being mummy, it’s time to go back to the days of hot tea and lunches without stopping every 3 minutes to nag the 3 year old to eat her food (seriously we recently recorded ourselves telling her to eat so we could simply play it on repeat throughout mealtimes – genius eh?)
Being a working mummy
This is the third maternity leave I will be returning from and although it’s easier to get perspective, leaving my baby to go to work for the first time is still pretty heart wrenching. Once I’ve got over the initial I-can’t-do-this-maybe-I-could-find-some-other-way-of-making-money-online-betting-maybe; I’m sure I will be fine. But being a working mum is still a juggle. It always will be.
It’s hard when the meeting that I’ve been working towards all month coincides with the day that one of my babies comes down with the obligatory Reception vomiting bug. It’s hard when I drop off my poorly children at their grandparents, knowing that they need their mummy but equally accepting that my children need a roof over their head and clothes to wear.
It’s hard when I’m in the middle of an important meeting and the school call to let me know that my eldest has fallen badly in the playground and is sobbing and asking for me and could I pick her up please? (The fact that when I got there all flustered and breathless she was happily eating crisps and chatting to the receptionist is another matter!) It’s hard when I get actively left off the invite list for the after-work staff social as everyone knows I have the ‘childcare thing’.
I think you see the point I’m getting at here. Being a working parent is hard. It’s hard when you have one of those employers that get it but if you are unfortunate enough to work for a company that believe that flexible working is a term used to describe a form of muscle stretch designed for when you have been sitting at your desk for too long, well, it’s even harder. And that’s why it’s important not only know your rights but also to know your capability and more importantly, what you are not capable of.
You might be aware of the (somewhat HUGE) campaign currently being expertly run by social media influencers Motherpukka (aka Anna Whitehouse) and Papapukka (Matt Farquharson) to bring the idea of flexible working to the forefront of employers minds and give working parents the information and encouragement they need to begin the flexible working application process.
Because let’s face it, we’ve all been there. Feeling like you are juggling so many balls, spinning so many plates, whichever cliched analogy you want to use; that you are not doing anything particularly well. Well enough to get by, maybe. But to the best of your ability? Absolutely not. And this is why flexible working is so important. It shouldn’t have to be all or nothing. You shouldn’t have to leave a good job simply beacause you have a family, employers don’t need to lose quality employees just beacause they wish to work their hours in a different way.
Making a flexible working request
So here’s the deal: Anyone who has more than 26 weeks service has the right to make a flexible working request. It doesn’t actually have to be about childcare, it could be because every Wednesday afternoon you fancy sitting at home in your underpants eating Cocopops; essentially your employer must consider the content of your request, not the reasons for it.
Your employer may have a flexible working policy and their own forms. If not, you can use this one to make your request. In my experience it’s best to consider a number of different options. Think of say, three different flexible working options that would make your life easier and note them down in preference order. If your employer isn’t keen on the first option, they may be willing to compromise and offer you another one.
Obviously it’s important to ensure that its not just the hours that work for you, but the finances also – turns out these kids don’t get any cheaper. A handy tool I always use for calculating pro rata or part time salary can be found here. It doesn’t have to be about reducing your hours though. You might want to compress 37 hours into 4 days (eeesh!) or work from home one day a week so you can do the school run and take the kids to their weekly after school club. (I joke, obviously. Wouldn’t life be a breeze if all the kids had the same, single after school club once a week on the same day? Oh how we laugh.)
Your employer’s obligations
Your employer is legally obliged to consider all requests in a reasonable manner. This doesn’t mean them offering you therapy to cure your obsession with Cocopops, it means making a proper assessment as to whether your request can work for the business. By law, the process (including any appeal) must be dealt with within 3 months of the initial submission of the request, unless you and you employer have agreed an extension to this.
If your employer refuses your request it MUST be for one of the following reasons:
- the burden of extra costs
- an inability to reorganise work amounts existing staff
- an inability to recruit additional staff
- a detrimental impact on quality
- a detrimental impact on performance
- a detrimental affect on the ability to meet customer demand
- insufficient work for the period of time the employee proposed to work
- planned structural changes to the business
If your flexible working request gets turned down, you can use your statutory right to appeal this decision. One would hope though that rather than simply turn the request down, your employer will sit down with you and offer you a compromise. Even if it’s not a compromise you have already suggested, there may be alternatives you hadn’t thought of. That’s really what the meeting should be about- a discussion about your needs and what would work for the business. Then maybe meeting somewhere in the middle.
I realise that this for some, can seem idealistic. Obviously not all employers are going to be onboard with flexible working and even if they are, their idea of ‘flexibility’ might differ somewhat from yours. But times are a-changing (clearly unlike my fondness for using the song titles of 20th century hits – who can argue with a Bob Dylan classic though) and employers need to start embracing that.
However, if the worst happens and for now, your employer fails to relent, do remember that you can make a new flexible working request every 12 months. Who knows, this time next year, your employer may have finally woken up and realised that happy staff are productive staff, whether they are working 9-5 or 9-2.45 and leaving in time for the School run (or to swing by the cereal aisle at Tesco, whatever floats your boat).