Part-time Lover

There’s been recent media coverage of Labour’s pledge to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees from day one, and the Prime Ministers’ previous statement that all jobs should be advertised as flexible by default. I’ve also recently tweeted about organisational views of part-time employees, and in this blog I’ll explore these themes more.

This is prompted largely by my wife’s current search for employment. She has worked 3 days a week as a Chartered Accountant for four years and is approaching the end of her maternity leave. She is unable to return to her previous role (a long and scarcely believable story) and is looking for a new 3 day a week role.

Note I’m using the phrase 3 days a week here and not part-time for reasons I’ll explain later.

I’ve helped her promote her job search on LinkedIn but she’s very much her own person and is having lots of conversations with various recruiters although it isn’t really what she wanted to be spending the last two months of her maternity leave doing.

Straight away though her requirement for 3 days a week is proving a barrier. She knew that there would be less 3 day a week roles than 5 day a week roles, but it’s the attitudes of the recruiters that has been surprising.

For a start she’s on maternity leave looking after a 9 month old baby. It isn’t easy to make a short notice job interview or to respond to recruiters asking her to just “come into our city centre office” for a chat about her search. Depending on the mood our 9 month old is in, it isn’t always easy to even answer the phone or indicate a time to call back! Sometimes these informal chats need to have baby in tow too.

Obviously if I’m around it’s easy but I’m not always there.

But it’s like some recruiters have no idea what being on maternity leave is all about. It’s stressful enough without having to find a job at the end of it.

There have been recruiters who have dropped her like a stone as soon as they’ve heard her mention 3 days a week. Some have said that their clients don’t want part timers, in a tone of voice that implies part timers are less productive and effective than full timers. One said that they would put my wife in touch with their Interim desk as they themselves only dealt with permanent roles, as if working 3 days a week is somehow less permanent a relationship.

The ages of our children means a need for both of us to have flexibility to do school runs etc. It means that every day, one of us can’t start work until 9am and one of us has to finish no later than 5pm, but in practice this differs day by day and isn’t massively predictable.

My wife explained her need to be able to finish at 5pm to a recruiter and they expressed a view that their clients may be able to cope with 3 days a week, but certainly not with “reduced hours” (eg finishing at 5pm) aswell, as they need staff who are committed to staying till the end of working hours.

I find myself having to state that those with caring responsibilities are not working “reduced hours” or with reduced commitment. They’re as committed as anyone and operate with greater flexibility.

Then there are recruiters who have heard my wife say 3 days a week and have ignored that completely and keep putting her forward for 5 days a week roles as if, suddenly, their persistence can overcome my wife’s inability to work more than 3 days a week.

Partly caused by, as I’ve hinted, the label of part time. It does suggest something less than what those who are full time offer. Took literally that’s correct but it’s proportionally equal and many part time staff are more productive than their full time equivalents.

I should add that there are plenty of helpful and understanding recruiters that have contacted my wife too, and she is building some helpful relationships as a result.

I remember an HR Advisor in my team asking to return 3 days a week from maternity leave. I confess I had very similar initial reactions to the recruiters above, but never said this out loud and took time to reflect on the request. I considered that the positive impact I could have on that one person by helping her with this far outweighed any potential negative consequences for the organisation and in fact no negative consequence ever actually arose.

Lots of people in the media talk about the death of 9-5 but what they mean is the death of Mon-Fri 9-5 and the traditional working week which, as I’ve spoken about lots of times, isn’t compatible with modern family and social lives anyway.

The concept of part time is a misnomer and we should not refer to it. Instead, focus on what someone CAN offer us. In my wife’s case, 3 days a week of high quality work.

Have you come across similar outdated views and how do you suggest we overcome them?

Till next time…

Gary

Ps in other news, it’s been a busy time at home and work for all of us and we’ve been stretched really thin this last 5 weeks or so. The next 3 look the same and I hope we can cope…

Relax

Do you suddenly get a cold or other minor illness as soon as you stop work for a holiday?

I do. In this blog I’ll look at why and what it means.

This has been a thing for me ever since I was a child. I remember clearly every school holidays I would get a cold. Without fail.  I also would hardly ever get ill during school time, and don’t recall having time off at all.

But come the holidays, on came the cold.

And its been the same as an adult. I’ve been lucky enough to never feel ill enough to take time off sick, but its still a regular occurrence that when we are nearing a holiday period or just starting one that I’ll get some kind of minor illness.

It’s happened the last three foreign holidays we’ve had, and the last two UK ones, and its happened the last 5 Xmases in a row.  And that’s just as far back as I can remember.

Frankly, I’m getting sick of it.

There’s some research behind the phenomenon. Its called Leisure Sickness, as reported in this BBC article.  But despite the body of research it doesn’t appear widely recognised – and yet, I bloody well recognise it.

It always seems the same – I work really hard in the run up to a holiday, knowing I can wind down as soon as holidays come, and can feel quite stressed in the final week or so before the holiday.

And then holidays come and BANG…so does the cold.

The theory goes that its the turning off of adrenaline that allows the body to relax and become susceptible to minor illness, and I believe that its true.

But what else does this mean?

As a personal trainer I understand the value of adrenaline but also it’s downsides.

As an HR professional and leader I understand the impact this has on employee wellbeing.

If employees work so hard to “clear the decks” in order to have some time off that they expose themselves to burnout or minor injury, that says as much about the organisation and its ways of monitoring wellbeing and stress levels as it does about the individual approach to work.

I’m guilty of having bad habits, developed when I wasn’t as experienced or had made as many mistakes. It’s hard to change them.

But I can try to change them in others who have yet to develop them. And I try to change them in organisational cultures so that no one else gets sucked in to them.

What value are you as a spouse, parent or family member if you work too hard whilst at work and are ill for half the time you’re not at work?

There’s got to be a middle ground.

Running my own business I get the freedom to work less when I want to and more when I want to. It means I can sometimes (note, sometimes) manage the peaks and troughs of work and holidays better than I used to be able to.

I get to relax without it being an all or nothing thing. Relaxation is massively important, but the act of relaxation shouldn’t be a shock to the system. It shouldn’t bring the onset of minor illness.

Otherwise, when we eventually retire we are going to have one hell of a shock.

Now I’m not advocating working when you’re on leave like some do, or operating on wind down when you’re at work like some do.

But there must be ways we can help people to relax more as they approach a period when they need to relax, so that they can actually enjoy being away from work and not be ill for the duration.

We don’t want people coming back from leave even more tired and stressed then when they went.

Within organisations, we can surely help people to learn how to relax at work – and who knows, this may even unlock some creativity and engagement.

As a PT and HR professional, I’ve got a few ideas about how – but what do YOU think?

Till next time…

Gary

Ps in other news, we’ve had a great Xmas (my minor illness aside) and it was great to get all four of my children under one roof for 24 hours on Xmas Eve / Day, for the very first but hopefully not last time.

May the fourth be with me

Many of you know that in around six weeks time I will become a father for the fourth time. I’ve talked a little bit about this in the past in my blogs and in some speeches I’ve done, and I’ll expand on these here as the due date creeps up on me.

I’ll start by saying I had to be convinced to have another child. That sounds awful, but I also needed convincing to have my third child too, having had a long break after child number two and enjoying getting something of a life back in between. And on reflection it is an awful thing to admit to, but here I’ll explain why I thought that and why I now think differently.

I’m 42 now, will be nearly 43 when child number four is born. To me in almost every sense that seems old to be a father again, considering I first became a father at age 26. It means I’ll be in my 60s and still have a child in full time education. I know people I was in the same school year as who are now grandparents, and if I’m honest I thought I was closer to being a grandparent than I was to having another child.

Although if my eldest son, now aged 16 and a half, makes me a grandparent at any point in the next ten years, I’ll have something to say about it.

I know you never stop being a parent, but I just figured that my main work was done and I could happily move into a different phase of parenthood, dealing with boyfriends and girlfriends, university and careers and the like.

But here we are, and in early May I’ll be a father again for the fourth time.

There’s so much upheaval that this brings.

We needed an extra bedroom and, not being able to afford to move to a five bedroom house, we have had to convert our garage into another bedroom.

Neither of the two cars we have are big enough to fit six people in, especially with two in child car seats. So I’m facing having to buy a people carrier or see if we can somehow go to places en famille in two cars (or three, when eldest son starts to drive perhaps).

Holidays were already hard enough with five of us, but with six it becomes almost impossible. No hotel, ship or caravan can fit us all in one room, and whilst two rooms might work on some practical levels, it doubles the cost of staying anywhere and opens up other difficulties in that the two teenagers (one boy, one girl) can’t be together in one room and that means my wife and I are likely to have to take separate rooms and split the children between us. And that’s before you try to decide on a holiday that will suit all the age groups we have.

My fourth child is going to be a boy, but my second and third were both girls, so anything we had kept in the hopes of handing down is no longer needed, and we are having to buy everything almost brand new again, and I’m notoriously tight with my money so this makes me unhappy.

It means I’ve got another couple of years of having baby stuff around the house – bottles, dummies, baby food, sterilisers, potties, and nappies.

Nappies. Just when I thought I’d changed my last bum, here they all come again.

And I’ve got up to another year of multiple wake ups in the night and feeling half dead in the morning.

And I’m older now. So much older.

More years of cleaning up sick. More years of buying school clothes. More years of dealing with the logistical mess that is the multiple school run and sorting childcare.

More years of struggling to fit in work around being a parent.

And costs of being a parent instantly going up for me by 33% for many years into the future.

So maybe you can see why I wasn’t keen at first.

But then…

I’ll be able to do all the things again that I enjoy about being a parent.

And the things I’ve done that I thought might have been for the last time and wish they hadn’t been, aren’t any more.

I’ll have more stories to tell at bedtimes for years to come.

I get to comfort someone else after bad dreams they’ve had and reassure them that Daddy will keep them safe.

I get to have someone else fall asleep on me.

I’ll be able to see another child of mine discover the same things I, and the other children, have all enjoyed, and experience them anew with them through their eyes.

I’ll get lots more cuddles for years to come.

I’ll get to hold someone else’s tiny hand in mine and know that in doing so, I’m making them feel safe and protected.

I’ll get someone else who thinks of me as a hero (if only they knew) and who worships the very ground I walk on, who loves me unconditionally and just wants my love in return, which of course they’ll have.

I’ll get more days out and play time, in places that you can only really take children and I thought I’d been for the last time. I’ll get to have more family days out with young children that I thought had gone forever.

In continuing to work around being a parent I’ll be able to set someone else an example of how being a working parent is supposed to be, and teach them about the need for flexibility in work, and work/life balance.

I’ll get the chance to teach one more person to be a human, to love, and to be kind.

In short, all the things I love, all the things that make being a parent so worthwhile, that I thought I’d done for the last time, I get to do one more time, and make more memories.

And in doing those things, no matter how old I am or get, I know I’m delaying the eventual day when I feel old.

I’m staying young at heart.

May the fourth be with me.

Till next time…

Gary

PS forgive the personal and non work related post, back to normal next time.