Back to work – could flexible working be an option?
When it’s time to return to work, flexible working (any pattern that’s been adapted to suit an individual’s needs) may be an option. It can mean compressed hours (working your contracted hours over fewer days), flexitime (where you choose your work hours – although there’s usually a ‘core’ period when you must work), job sharing or working from home.
Even if this isn’t a long-term option, you may want to consider reducing your hours. Career psychologist Sherridan Hughes, a mum of twins, advises: “A part-time return is perhaps the best bet initially. It will break you both in and not lead to so much angst and guilt – and perhaps jealousy of the person who’s caring for your baby.”
Childcare issues and parental leave rights
If they’ve been employed by the same company for a year or more, parents of children under 5 have a statutory right to take unpaid time off work to care for them – 13 weeks in total for each child until their 5th birthday, but no more than four weeks for any one child in any year.
However, the government requires that you give 21 days’ notice if you intend to take this parental leave, which must be booked in week-long blocks and so cannot be used in emergencies. Also, you and you partner can’t transfer you leave to each – for example, your partner can’t take three weeks and you take 23 weeks.
But as we all know, last-minute crises do crop up. Fortunately, everybody is entitled to time off work to deal with emergencies involving ‘dependants’ – a spouse or parent as well as a child. You can take this time off regardless of your length of service, but you should let your employer know as soon as you can and try to cause as little disruption to your workplace as possible. So if your child’s carer suddenly develops chickenpox, rather than dashing out of the office and disappearing for a fortnight, try to see if a grandparent can do a spot of babysitting while you look for a replacement.
Settling in at work
When you’re back at work, remember that it’s good to talk, particularly if problems arise. If it is your boss being difficult, address the situation. Patricia suggests: “If your boss isn’t supportive, don’t moan about it behind his or her back; deal with the problem.
“If you’re working fewer hours this may be putting more of a burden on your colleagues, so be tactful, but don’t feel you need to be apologetic. The law is usually on your side and you are entitled to expect a level of support.
“If you’ve had to take time off and your employer thinks it’s been placing excessive strain on the business, they have to tell you so, and you will need to work together to develop a solution to the situation.
“If, despite your best efforts, you still feel isolated and out-of-touch, don’t feel you have to do everything by yourself. Chat to whoever covered your role; remind your contacts that you’re back in the hot seat; catch up on developments in your field.”
Whatever you decide, don’t persist with it if it’s not working for you. Patricia says: “Remember that whatever you decide about work, it’s rarely irreversible. Be prepared to be flexible and to change your mind. Knowing that it’s not a decision for life can help you with any doubts that may linger after you’ve made up your mind.”
Tips to make returning to work easier
- Do a trial run. See how long it takes to get you both ready, travel to the carer and then on to work.
- Write a checklist of things you need to take to the carer, and organise a bag the night before so that you’re not rushing around in the morning.
- Stay focused at work. Don’t keep ringing the carer or bringing out the baby pics every five minutes!
- Look the part. “Turn up at work well-presented and, as far as possible, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, however many times you’ve had to get up in the night!” advises Sherridan Hughes, career psychologist.
- Try Community Legal Advice for free legal aid covering employment, money and benefits: call 0845 345 4345 or visit the community legal advice website.
“I’m glad I took a year off work as my son and I bonded in the last six months”
“I love my job, so it was always my intention to go back to work after having my baby. I do 25 hours per week, and Trey goes to a lovely local day nursery. I’ve been with my employer for four years and when I told them I was pregnant they were pleased for me, but I was surprised that they made no attempt to disguise how hard it would be to recruit cover, pay me, redistribute work and so on.
“Their policies are very mum-friendly – good maternity pay and leave, childcare voucher scheme, flexible working – but there’s still a mindset among the old guard that mothers shouldn’t be allowed to work and that it’s a cheek that we get paid to ‘do nothing’ for six months! According to my contract, I was entitled to six months’ leave on full pay and then nine months unpaid, but in the end I took 12 months in total. My colleagues sent me newsletters and updates, and I went in for a few team meetings to keep up to date.
“Before I went back, Isaac had a couple of days’ trial at the nursery and loved it, which made things a lot easier. Everything’s going really well. It’s a bit of a novelty going to the loo on my own and not having to share my lunch! I’m really pleased I had a year off, as it took me a while to adjust to motherhood but I really enjoyed the last six months – that was when Trey and I bonded. So although I’m skint, it was worth it!”
Dana, 27, mum to Trey, 12 months
“When you go back to work, make sure you ask your boss about flexi-time. It can make all the difference to spending more time with your new arrival.”
Susan, 27, mum to Georgie, 18 months
“As well as being a wrench to leave your baby, going back to work when you’ve got a newborn can be exhausting. Try to negotiate at least one day working from home, so at least you don’t have to face a rush hour commute for one day of the week.”