Our Lead Mama Lead community have generously shared some details about how they are making their flexible and part time work ….well… work for them! We hope these stories and tips from other mama leaders will give you some ideas to help you negotiate your own flexible work arrangement – and some ideas of the challenges you may need to overcome in your workplace. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean you can’t ask for it. Want to know what you are entitled to ask for? See our recent article on returning to work from maternity leave.
How many days/hours do you work, and from where?
Mama leaders often work flexibly, in and out of the office, between school runs, running their own businesses while the kids are in bed, or working flexibly in an office based environment. Some mamas found that they could take on new leadership opportunities while working part time:
While pregnant with number 3 I was offered an acting role which I took on the condition I worked four days. It’s was a real struggle to get the work done in that time, to manage a team, but I decided to do it for the experience. [However], in order to do my job well- meet deadlines, prepare for meetings etc, I was required to take work home regularly or log in remotely on my days off.
This mama was able to vary her hours across the week and work from home.
I was fortunate enough to negotiate a work-as-needed basis, which meant I could spread my 0.6 load according to the requirements of the team, which some weeks meant working a few hours every day, and other weeks more intensively. I worked from home and tended to complete my work in the evenings, which meant I was much more productive and achieved a faster turnaround on projects than I would have otherwise achieved. I travelled to the office occasionally and was available 24/7 by phone and email.
When and how did you negotiate your flexible or part time work?
This mama’s negotiations took place before the legal rights were in place to return from maternity leave to the same job or to a similar role, and to work part time hours on return to work. Her boss saw the merits of not losing his mama leader employee by agreeing to her proposed flexible work arrangement, but intervention from a manager made her return to work very challenging:
During my final trimester, we had an organisation restructure and merger, which meant my boss and his team were appointed a new manager. My boss and I still had our arrangement in writing, and this was agreed to by the new manager, and I commenced parental leave without a hitch. The problems started when I was due to return to work. Two weeks before my agreed recommencement date, the new manager decided she didn’t like the arrangement and put my return on hold. My boss and I were both furious, and HR was USELESS. Instead of returning on the date agreed, I did not recommence paid employment until 4 months later, and was shifted into a new team on my originally agreed-to terms. In the meantime, I completed work for my company as a paid contractor. It was an absolutely ridiculous situation which only arose because of the need for one person to micro-manage my return to work.
Other mama leaders I contacted had a smoother path, generally initiating a conversation with their workplace while in the second or third trimester of a pregnancy, and keeping in touch as their return to work date drew nearer.
Did you get what you asked for?
This mama didn’t take any parental leave for her second and third babies, because her company culture was so hostile to the idea of part time work of parental leave, that she didn’t think they would honour an agreement. No, this wasn’t in the 1970s, this was in the 2010s!
I birthed #2 at lunchtime on a Wednesday, and was home that night replying to emails and sending completed documents. I didn’t actually notify my workplace officially that I had my son for two weeks (although my immediate team knew), and I birthed #3 on a Sunday and met all my deadlines over the following week. I had all the relevant medical clearances and met my legal obligations, so there was no risk to the employer – my approach was purely in response to the behaviour of managers who would have used the births to exclude me from work if I took leave. Isn’t that awful? I have since left that organisation (and am personally much happier for it).
Some workplaces think they are flexible, but managers haven’t quite got the idea of what part time means:
My workplace says they are extremely flexible, and they are in theory. They will pretty much let me pick my hours. In practice, my work isn’t really set up for part-time. I remember a job being explained to me, then at the very end my boss said…’so how many days do we have you?’…he just explained a full time job, with a ‘just do what you can’ attitude. Pretty much all our ‘part-time’ jobs are like that, which puts a lot of pressure on us part-timers to feel like we are performing. Honestly, also, the job I described, I should have been paid full-time because if I was working doing what I was doing in 3 days, they still would have been happy. But we only know how to measure time, not output.
The other mama leaders I contacted had better experiences, with their workplaces agreeing to their original proposals, and generally supporting their return to part time work or transition back to full time hours.
What are your best tips for other mama leaders negotiating flexible or part time work?
Here are the top tips from our mama leader community on what you could think about when negotiating your own flexible or part time work:
- Work out what is going to suit your situation and family. Have a clear idea of what is and isn’t acceptable to you and how this fits into the organisational policies.
- Find areas where you can be flexible, e.g. if your childcare is flexible on days – advise your management of your preferred days but indicate you may have some flexibility; or if you are willing to log in to work after hours – then offer to do so on days you might need to leave early.
- Look at job sharing options and think about the type of work you were doing prior to your leave that might suit a flexible working arrangement.
- It can be tempting to check emails on your days off. Think about whether you are likely to be logging on out of hours, and when you want to formalise this or not. Some mama leaders draw a hard line and say “I won’t be doing this”. Some do it, without payment, and work many extra hours a week. My approach was to limit the hours to 12-2pm on my days at home, and only log on between those hours. I’m on top of emails when I get back to the office on Fridays, and in touch with my team every day. And I get paid an extra four hours a week for work that I would have been doing anyway!
- Ask for what you want. I remember a wonderful senior executive explaining how she was scared to ask to work a day at home. Then she asked, and they said yep, what else. Longer days, working from home, it’s all possible. Your won’t know unless you ask, and if you don’t ask then you don’t give them a chance to say yes!
- Ask your workplace to change for you if they can…e.g. ask them to move a team meeting to a day that you work, ask them to allow remote log in, ask them to look into job sharing. Just because they don’t currently do it this way doesn’t mean that they won’t change under your influence.
- Sometimes, you have to let go of work. Unfortunately, you will miss important meetings, people will follow up on your work without you, and there is an art to caring less when things get done a different way – or don’t progress on your days away from paid work.
- Think about yourself as a gain, not a loss for your workplace! We all know that mama leaders are the most productive workers anyway!
I had a great boss who said ‘I’m gaining someone for 23 hours a week, not losing a full-timer’. When we go part-time, people think of losing a full-time employee. However, if you were ever approached by another team who said ‘we have this person who has a spare 23 hours a week, do you want them to do some work for you’ we would jump at that and realise how great that would be. Try and keep that mindset when you are going back…they are not losing a full-timer, the are gaining a resource for x hours per week.
Take this topic further:
- Flexible workers are productive, happy workers! Learn more about flexible working and how to battle “flexism” in your workplace by visiting Vanessa Vanderhoeck’s flexible working day website, which includes fantastic resources to help you and your workplace.
- Need some help working out how you want to be working, or building your confidence to return to work? A coach might be just what you need to take the next step in your leadership journey. Find out more about our affordable coaching packages.