Operations and Safety Associate, ITS WSP
Within 4 months of starting this new role I became pregnant and although ecstatic I felt sheer panic. I had just left my comfort zone in a job I practically grew up in, to not being in a role long enough for full parental leave entitlement.
After hiding the morning sickness sat at my desk like I was at sea and quietly nibbling away on crackers I plucked up the courage to tell my colleagues. I was relieved to find that the expected response of shock, horror and being shown the door was actually that of happiness and support. I was very fortunate that throughout my pregnancy I was fit and healthy, the role suited me to flexibly work from home and office with limited travel. I was looked after by my line manager and team and blissfully went off on maternity for 12 months at 38 weeks pregnant having handed over my project work.
*Blink twice* and what felt like 5 minutes later I was planning my return to work. I kept in touch with a number of colleagues so was happy I hadn’t missed any big changes. Three months before I was due to come back we set out a plan for me to gently return using keep in touch days (KIT days - which you can have up to 10 of) and smart use of annual leave I had accrued. I buddied up with a colleague as a return to work sponsor sourcing me interesting work and helped me transition back.
March 2020 and the day was looming that I would have to hand over my precious cargo at that first nursery drop off, but with a few settling in sessions we both started to get used to being apart and I was ready to find a little bit of me again.
Then COVID-19 happened. With a week to go before I was due to return to work, news of nurseries and offices closing and no sign of help the pressure was very different to the image of me skipping back into the office on my first day, replaced with a crying toddler wanting my attention and drawing all over the wall as I tried to run a conference call.
Having supported me to be able to spend the first year of our daughter’s life with her, my fiance stepped it up another level again when he made the decision to opt for furlough to enable me to return to work, without this option I really don’t know how we would have managed before the nurseries once again opened and I appreciate a large proportion of parents didn’t have this option.
My first few months back were different to anything I could have imagined with a mix of positives and negatives from no commute to the city centre and extra cuddles with my baby girl, to feeling like you are living at work, blurring the boundaries of office and living spaces and the very real threats of the economic impact from COVID. My project work has been largely unaffected but my aspirations to help and make a difference grew.
I am a mental health first aider and wellbeing champion so have worked closely with these groups to increase the support available to those who need it to make an impact. I also took on an operational Regional Lead role for the Midlands and North regions spanning from Birmingham to Edinburgh from July as having had the time away from work it really gave me time to reflect and realise I missed people management, developing others and working as a team to achieve personal and business goals. I share this role across the week with a very supportive Deputy Regional Lead to ensure we have cover.
So that sounds like a lot for someone who envisaged themselves taking a back seat and allowing myself time to ease back in gently and this is all within reduced working hours of 3 days a week.
Almost 3 in 10 mothers (28.5%) with a child under 14 years find themselves reducing their working hours (ONS). I really didn’t expect it to be as difficult as it was to work a short week in the beginning, my work days go so much quicker and I manage to cram a lot more in, but there is a lot of guilt not being available through the whole week so it takes a lot of coordination and handover.
Here are some myths about those working reduced hours’ worth considering:
Those on reduced hours aren’t as experienced or educated – not true some of the most experienced and qualified individuals work reduced hours.
They’re not fully committed or productive – not true, often they are more committed working extra hours and on their non- working days and making sure every minute counts when at work.
They’re not there when you really need them – sometimes true but this is down to coordination and working with individuals to ensure cover and appropriate hours to suit the work that needs to be done.
Part-time only benefits the employee – not true it can enable organisations to bring in expertise for shorter periods of time at a lower cost and help promote flexible working for attraction and retention of employees. Next time you are putting a job advert or project team together think about whether it could be done by somebody that requires a flexible arrangement, could they do a job share, be brought in for prime time, aligned to a specific project on set hours? You may be turning away some of your most qualified, committed employees when you really need them if these opportunities aren’t available. Make sure you are
Finally, there is a notion I do struggle to compute and that is a work-life balance. It makes you visualise a set of scales, one side is work and the other side is life. The idea would make you think they are completely separate, that there is a choice to be made or you have to try and achieve an ‘equal amount’, but of what? Attention, time, devotion or priorities? Before I had my daughter, I would actively ask women in leadership positions ‘’how do you do it all? ‘’ and the answer would inevitably be ‘‘I don’t know’’,
‘’I don’t think I do have a balance’’ or ‘’I couldn’t do it without support from; (family, friends, partners etc)’’. I have since found already it isn’t “ a straightforward balance but an interwoven set advertising in the right places to attract a more diverse workforce and think about reviewing your parental leave policies, are they fair to both male and female employees and to those going through IVF and adoption processes.
Finally, there is a notion I do struggle to compute and that is a work-life balance. It makes you visualise a set of scales, one side is work and the other side is life. The idea would make you think they are completely separate, that there is a choice to be made or you have to try and achieve an ‘equal amount’, but of what?
Attention, time, devotion or priorities? Before I had my daughter, I would actively ask women in leadership positions ‘’how do you do it all? ‘’ and the answer would inevitably be ‘‘I don’t know’’, ‘’I don’t think I do have a balance’’ or ‘’I couldn’t do it without support from; (family, friends, partners etc)’’. I have since found already it isn’t “ a straightforward balance but an interwoven set that pull in different directions multiple times a day and can be from the whole make up of your relationships from partners, children, family, friends, colleagues and clients. Each one can have a knock-on effect to the other and each day can feel like a rollercoaster of emotions of highs and lows, wins and losses, successes and failures, guilt, love and fear. I have quickly learned to appreciate and be in the moments, to work together in a partnership as parents and take help when it is available. Parenthood is the most exhausting yet rewarding job you could ever take, when children are young and dependent it is for such a short space of time and even if the house gets a bit messy and the dog hasn’t been walked for a couple of days, if your children are healthy and content you are doing a great job. A career takes its own twists and turns and brings its own challenges but will always be there if you are able to balance your own needs against all those stresses and strains requiring your attention. I can’t believe my little girl is now 18-month-old and becoming a kind, funny and independent individual already, I am excited to be by her side as she grows up and experiences the challenges life throws at us and I will continue to learn from her everyday as much as she is learning from me.