A lot of women that I work with love their jobs and wouldn’t consider being a full time stay at home mum. Some mums dream of being a stay at home mum but it’s not an option due to financial considerations. I do know that whichever you camp fall into being a working mum is tough! Not just because you have to balance the needs of your family with the needs of your boss, there’s also commuting time and childcare issues to consider before even attempting to grasp some of that elusive ‘me’ time.
Flexible working is, on the whole, not driven by desire but by need. It’s not because someone would like to work part-time it’s because they need to. This is backed up by the research that around 74% of women who are working flexibly are doing so because they have children. That’s why, for me, flexible working is the female quest.
Despite the latest findings that gender diverse leadership leads to bigger profits for organisations many companies still struggle to support flexible working. Within the EU some countries have addressed this by introducing statutory rights to work reduced hours.
In Ireland there is no current legal requirement for an employer to allow an employee to work flexibly. In a 2013 study commissioned by Citrix they found that almost three-quarters of Irish organisations surveyed indicate they currently do not support a flexible working culture, and 57% are not considering changing the working culture to accommodate flexible working. The main reason given for not supporting flexible working was ‘loss of control’. This was cited by 38% of the companies surveyed.
Flexible working can be any number of things; working the same amount of hours but in a different working pattern, working less hours or part-time, job-sharing, working term-time only, or working from home or another location.
So, if there is no entitlement and no set pattern, how do you go about asking your employer to let you work flexibly? Like a knight on a mission for the holy grail, it won’t be easy. In Ireland the statistics show that 32.5% of women work flexible hours so we know it can be done, it just needs some work on your part.
Step 1 – Find out what happens in your company currently
Find out what your company policies are on:
- Returning to work after maternity leave
- Parental leave
- Flexible working
Ask your HR department or line manager for a copy of these if your organisation has them. Read through them and see if there is already provision to apply for flexible working. If there is no provision then you’ll need to do some more research. Find out if anyone in the organisation is already working flexibly and ask them how this was arranged, get as much anecdotal information as you can about current arrangements that other people have.
Step 2 – Decide on what will work for you
Consider exactly what it is you want, and what is going to be best for you and your family. Research all the options. Would you like to condense 40 hours into 4 days a week instead of 5 or would you like to work 20 hours a week but mornings only? What are the options for childcare during your proposed working hours? Once you have decided on the best options for your family – think about how this will work for your employer.
What is your best possible outcome, and what you are willing to compromise on? One mum that we worked with found that reducing her hours wasn’t an option – both for herself financially and for the role that she did. She agreed with her boss that she could work from home on a Wednesday – helping her to get a slightly better balance and be home with her children for dinner, bath and bedtime at least one night during the week.
Step 3 – Write a formal application
Make a formal application to your company. If you’re currently on maternity leave then do this at least 6 weeks before you are due to return.
If the company has an application form ensure that you complete all of it and follow the process they outline. If they don’t have a process then submit a written application to your line manager and HR departments outlining what you want (step 2) and how that will work in practice.
Make sure you consider all aspects of your job and be realistic. You need to think about the tasks, activities and projects that you currently do and how these would be managed if you were no longer working a traditional 9-5 – 5 days a week. How would you manage the impact on your colleagues, your manager, and your customers/clients? Although you may think it’s your manager’s problem to sort this out, don’t give them any reason to throw your request out without due consideration. It really will go in your favour if you’ve considered as many possibilities and solutions as you can.
Outline the benefits to your organisation of your suggested working pattern and appeal to the person’s logical side; e.g. you could talk about maintaining relationships with key clients or customers; getting the best out of you; retaining your skills and expertise; or role modelling what progressive organisations are doing to support working mums. Find their sweet spot and talk to them in their language. This will increase your chances of being heard.
Ask for a trial period with review points so that you and your manager can tackle any problems as and when they arrive. If at the end of the trial there are no issues with your proposed hours then you’ll be more likely to get this new working plan agreed on.
Suggest a date to meet to discuss the concerns they may have.
Step 4 – Think positively
Even in the more progressive organisations we’ve worked with there were women afraid to approach their manager about flexible working. If you don’t ask you won’t get.
When you meet with your employer remember to go in with a positive confident attitude. You’re offering them a win-win solution; they don’t have the time and expense of recruiting and selecting a new person for the role, they retain all the knowledge you have and they get the benefit of increased loyalty and engagement from you as you’ll be more productive by working the hours that suit you and your family.
For those of you on maternity leave there is a legal loophole that you can take advantage of. When you return to work after taking parental leave, you are entitled to ask for a change in your work pattern or working hours for a set period. Your employer must consider your request but is not obliged to grant it. To make this work you must contact your employer at least 4 weeks before your maternity leave is due to end and apply for a period of unpaid parental leave tagged onto the end of your maternity leave. This may be a useful tactic if you really feel that your employer will not be open to discussing a flexible working application.
As Gandhi once said “be the change you want to see”. If you think flexible working should be the norm in companies and not the exception then you need to lead the way and be confident in that thinking. I am hopeful that eventually we’ll get some legislation in Ireland around this but in the meantime it’s up to each one of us to do what we can to show employers that flexible working works.