How I found flexible work to fit around my family life

Nicola Emmett

When Nicola Emmett returned to her marketing role after maternity leave, she found the hours and commute no longer worked for her. She needed flexible work that would fit around childcare so she quit and – after a long, hard search – landed the dream job…

I heard it talked about quite a lot when I was pregnant. The working mum’s Holy Grail – working three days a week. That flexibility was something I had wanted but wouldn’t have been possible in the job I had whilst pregnant, since I’d heard the perennial excuse of ‘if we let you work part-time then we’d have to let everyone else in the team have the same flexibility,’ and ‘I don’t think some jobs can be done part-time.’

The thing is, I worked for a company that said it would consider flexible working requests, but in reality flexibility meant giving you the equipment to work outside the office but visibility was considered too important to let people work from home on a regular basis. There were other factors too, like the long commute and the rising cost of rail fares. So I left, just like thousands of other women in Britain do.

Anna Whitehouse, aka Mother Pukka, does lots of campaigning around flexible working, after being pushed out of her own job due to the inflexibility on the company’s part. She is keen to highlight that in 2017, around 54,000 women in the UK were forced out of their roles after becoming pregnant or returning to working post baby. This statistic comes from research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

So, why was the three days a week so important? Well, for me it is all about balance (I’m very much a Libran). I wanted to have some quality time with my son and be able to manage my home life but I also wanted to use my 10 years+ experience in marketing communications and keep my skills up-to-date and relevant.

I wanted to earn my own money and work when I’m young so I can have a more comfortable life when I’m older. I don’t think that’s unreasonable. Throw in the fact that my husband travels abroad at least once a month with his work, which means that I have to do every childcare drop-off and pick-up and suddenly, having flexibility is a must.

I’m very focussed and committed for the three days I’m in the office

I hoped I’d be able to return to a marketing and communications job with an employer that did understand the broader sense of flexibility. Once my little boy had turned one, I started the job hunt. I registered with some local agencies that specialised in flexible jobs but I knew I would have to spend some of my time searching for the right role, so I sought out employers in my local area that I thought would be more open to flexible working: local hospices, a local NHS trust, my local council and my local housing association.

Guess what? It paid off, although it did take a while (nearly an entire year, and it didn’t come without a few setbacks). I hadn’t had an interview for six years and I didn’t get the first job I interviewed for. When I applied for another job that offered four days a week for the right person, it became apparent in the interview that this wasn’t going to be the case. I also got asked, ‘Why do you want this job?’ by recruitment consultants because they could see I was over-qualified and had earned substantially more money in the past. I had to explain that that was the price I had to pay for flexibility.

I had got to the point where I thought never mind, I’m just going to stay at home and be a  mum for a bit longer, it wasn’t as if I hated what I was doing. Quite the opposite; my son was becoming more interactive every day and was more of a toddler than a baby – so I was really enjoying this time with him. But when I saw a job advertised that was local, in marketing and two days a week, I jumped at it.

I got shortlisted and attended an interview five weeks after applying for the role, which seemed like a long time. I felt the interview went well but again had the feeling that I came across as someone used to leading on projects and campaigns, rather than assisting. Then to my surprise the unthinkable happened. I received a phone call and was told that I was being offered a job… whoo hoo!

However, it wasn’t the job I interviewed for. They felt that I was more suited to the full time role they had been recruiting for. My skills and experience were a better match for it and they asked if I would consider doing it three days a week. Yes, the holy grail. A full-time job being offered to me at three days a week.

What astounds me is that this organisation does not have a flexible working policy

After going through some questions with my manager, I felt confident that this was the right job for me and with the right organisation. What astounds me is that this organisation does not have a flexible working policy, since there are many roles where this wouldn’t be manageable but they get it – they understand what the broader sense of flexibility at work means.

Some of my teams work outside normal working hours to get their job done and avoid the commuter traffic. Occasionally, people work through their lunch hour so they can leave a little bit earlier. There are less meetings compared to my previous job so more time for people to get their work done within the working day.

I find that I’m very focussed and committed for the three days I’m in the office. My workload is varied but often, I’m using technology to schedule emails communications and social media posts to go out when I’m not in the office. Some members of my team pick things up when I’m not there but I also pick up tasks from them when I am in the office. Team meetings are planned mid-week making sure everyone can make them.

It’s win-win, so far, and makes me think that flexible working is really about listening and appreciating what the person doing the job really needs. They need balance, they need understanding and just a bit of consideration. Then, in return, they will offer these things back to their employer and those they work with.

My mindset is going to be how much I can do in three days a week, rather than thinking what I could do if I had more time. My son is going to get a mum who is more fulfilled and my husband will get a more contented wife. My employer gets my gratitude, loyalty and commitment by giving me a job that allows me to have some balance. Now, what price would you put on that?

Have you managed to find flexible work that fits with your childcare needs?