Flex Appeal - My Story
Mother Pukka has recently launched Flex Appeal. A ‘crusade’ to challenge the status quo on the current limited flexibility open to parents. Initially, I was going to post a picture but it didn’t feel enough. I wholeheartedly agree with Mother Pukka that there is not enough discussion around flexible working, the impact of family life, the impact felt most significantly (in my opinion) on women’s careers. So I decided to share my story. This is my experience, it may be similar or different but I’m writing it to help open the door of that conversation further.
In my pre H life I was a Fashion Buyer. I loved my job but I also was fully and completely consumed by it. The industry I worked in was one in which I regularly did a 60 hour week minimum. I never finished on time, I travelled every 6-8 weeks minimally. I couldn’t holiday unless it was out of season, I worked pretty much every christmas and my phone was glued to my side. In fact the culture of fashion/buying is so intense I was even at the office at 10.30pm the night before I flew to get married.
There are a lot of things wrong with the above paragraph. Firstly, why on earth did I work like a lunatic (it definitely wasn’t the salary!) secondly why did I do it for so long. I did love my job, the excitement, the speed, the intensity of the daily challenges. I embraced the stress and it embraced me. I could have just gone home at 5.30pm but the reality is the work level was way above the hours and on average the 200-300 emails I received daily would just mount up till I worked a weekend. Also, everyone else around me was doing the same thing and at the same stress level.
In my heart I knew my job wasn’t compatible with a family. I worked in what most people would acknowledge as an excellent company and all the policies are designed to be fair and offer flexibility. However, the reality of the role was very different. I had watched other colleagues at my level move to 4 day weeks. Essentially, now they were fitting 5 days into 4, being paid less money and their phone was still glued by their side on the 5th day. There stress levels were high and they talked of not seeing their family enough.
I also saw how the culture of the company changed. On the surface the offer for flexibility was there but the reality of it was very few people actually had it realised. On my team I petitioned to make sure a team member came back after maternity leave and could reduce her hours. She was excellent at her job and I wanted her on the team. Although the day when she wasn’t there wasn’t filled by someone else so it meant our team was short staffed. This ‘not’ filling the gap left on the extra day meant that other teams were reluctant to embrace flexible working because they knew they would be covering the gap.
In all honesty I didn’t request my job become flexible. I watched a close friend go back to her role ‘flexibly’ it saw her travelling abroad less than a month after she returned to work and spending over a week away from her 6 month old. She was told clearly she didn’t have to go but ultimately had she not gone it would have created a bigger workload for her. This combined with seeing other people being made aware that ‘flexi time’ was unlikely meant I didn’t ask. Maybe I should have done. In my heart I knew what the answer would have been.
Instead I sought to create my own ‘flexi time’ I started researching a new business, trying to think differently. I worked around H. I read, wrote, researched and planned while she slept and breastfed. I shared responsibilities with my husband who also decided to set up work from home. We planned our days differently and we worked together.
I fed H much longer than initially intended and upto 13 months I was still feeding every 2-3 hours. This meant H came with me when I went to meetings or planned way in advance. I carried out a lot of work with her in cafes, in playgroups. It wasn’t easy, but I was still seeing her more than I would have before.
We moved out of London when H was born to Norwich, so we could afford a house and some space and a more affordable way of life. The move has been incredibly beneficial and because the area is affordable and not London my parents decided to retire and move here too.
Had I stayed at my other job H would have been in childcare from 7.30am to 5.30pm at cost of about of more than half my salary. I wouldn’t have seen her and our finances would have been challenging. Either my partner or I would have had to given up our career.
Now my parents are here they look after H four days and her great auntie looks after her on the 5th day. It’s an arrangement we’ve had in place for a few months while the business launches. It means my husband and I can work, H is looked after and we see her far more than I would have done. Our office is at home and often H is with us. She joins in and while funny now has been the cause of a few deleted important emails.
However, this doesn’t mean it’s simple. A new business is incredibly handwork and after H goes to bed I am back at my desk or on my phone. But the flexibility means I can take a call on how I spend my time. If H needs me, or is sick, or if there is a special event on I take time out to be with her. The weekends are mine again which is great.
My husband and I want to create businesses that can work from anywhere and fit around our family life and so last week we went on holiday to Ibiza. I wanted to test some new summer products and get some photographs of them and we needed time together as a family. We got a villa with wifi and we made it work. Yes, it meant I worked on holiday but it worked for us. I did a little in the morning and then some more when H napped. In fact it worked so well we’ve booked to go back.
There are definitely times when you need to be in one place to do a job but I think the time of having to be tied to a desk has changed. I also think becoming a parent seriously increases your focus and ability to multi task. I am way for effective and decisive than I was before H. I would make an excellent employee but I’m not sure who would hire me on a flexible basis in my industry.
The campaign to talk about flexi appeal is important to know that parents don’t become useless when they have children but that it should be recognised that we work to live not the other way round.
I am so pleased to have set up my business but I also acknowledge I am incredibly lucky to be in a position to do this. I also don’t think this should have felt like my only perceived option. Perhaps I am wrong, I want to add that I really did enjoy my other job and this post isn’t about them but about I how I felt/feel and the decisions I took.
I would really love to hear your experiences…did you feel the same? Or does this sound crazy?