14 shades of (flexible working) grey


Author of Mothers Work! (Hay House, 2011) and founder of the Talent Keeper Specialists (www.talentkeepers.co.uk), Jessica Chivers implores us to broaden our thinking when it comes to pitching for flexible working.

In this post I’m talking about the fifty – give or take a few -shades of grey when it comes to returning to work (or not). If black is giving up work completely and white is working the same way you did before becoming a parent, I think we’d all do well to see that there’s much in between.

Last week I was mesmerised by a baby with the best laugh in the world to the point I think I actually felt my womb contract in a way that said ‘go one, use me again, I dare you.’ Not actually needing an excuse to talk to his mum as she pushed him through the park (I love talking to strangers) we struck up a conversation about the ease or difficulty of returning to work when motherhood feels as good as it clearly did for her at that moment in time. I saw her again by chance this week and she beamed as she said “I went into work this week and you’re right, it’s not all black and white. It looks like they’re going to create a three day a week role for me.”

Goings on behind the scenes

In the case of gorgeous laughing boy’s mother, the opportunity for a three day week came about because of a restructure she hadn’t known anything about it until she raised flexible working at a Keep In Touch day. I know you often feel your head is about to burst from all the knowledge you possess (pertaining to childcare arrangements and work in particular – with precise detail on the former to permit the latter to happen) and that you are bright, capable and possess all manner of other fine attributes. HOWEVER, you probably don’t know all the strategic and organisational change plans afoot within your organisation (I’ll concede that those of you who are OD consultants and board members jolly well do) and how you may be able to swing a new style of working as a result.

It’s crucial to pitch for what you want even if you don’t think you have a chance because you just don’t know what might be around the corner – your asking may fit in nicely with change rumblings behind the scenes.

More than a fantasy

Imagine for a moment you were able to work in a way that made good use of your talents, paid a decent amount, enabled you to ‘deliver’ for your organisation and was shaped in such a way your personal life hovered around ‘satisfying’ most of the year. Hmm, who needs the sun when a fantasy can fill you with heat like that? You probably want to take more than a moment to figure this one out and it’s as relevant an exercise to women who’ve been back at work years as well as maternity leavers preparing to make their comeback. After you’ve drafted your ideal scenario the second thing is to assess what your organisation wants from you.  Thirdly it’s thinking about how you marry the two up so that both you and your organisation gain.

In chapter two of Mothers Work! (Keep in touch and ask for what you want) there are some great examples of women who have done this. The crucial thing is to think creatively and not rely on well trodden paths walked (or limped lethargically as the case may be) by women before you.

14 shades of grey

I know women who:

  1. Trialled FT hours then built a case for PT when back in the saddle and feeling strong
  2. Work two days a week from home
  3. Go offline between 3-5pm
  4. Arrive in the office after 10am twice a week
  5. Reshaped their roles significantly and now work just two days a week but at the same ‘level’ as before baby
  6. Were the first to get PT working in their organisation
  7. Work term-time only
  8. Leave the office at 4pm
  9. Have an au pair to enable them to start early and finish early
  10. Secured a role that was advertised as FT and got PT because her experience made her the ideal candidate
  11. Work two days one week and three days the next
  12. Travel significantly then take whole days back in lieu
  13. Work over the weekend to give them more time with their children after school mid-week
  14. Conduct meetings on the train to get home earlier

What could your shades of grey be? Go on, be bold, be yellow – be different. You won’t know unless you ask and if Addison Lee are tolerating babies in the office then why not one of your less outlandish suggestions?

Jessica Chivers is the author, Mothers Work! How to Get a Grip on Guilt and Make a Smooth Return to Work (Hay House, 2011). “This is THE book employers should be giving all their women returners.” Professor Karen Pine.

Follow Jessica on Twitter @jesschivers and The Talent Keeper Specialists @TalentKeepersUK



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