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How new mums can get more work-life balance

Olivia Bath. Credit Penny Wincer
Olivia Bath by Penny Wincer

by Olivia Bath

Olivia is Founder of The Women’s Vault, specialising in supporting women to accelerate their careers and achieve work/life balance including negotiating flexible work arrangements. In this piece she gives her own opinion on the benefits of flexible working for mums. This article is for general informational purposes only and is in no way a replacement for legal advice. Our full Disclaimer is here.  

There are so many challenges in returning to work after maternity leave: juggling work, home and nursery drop-offs; sleep deprivation; less time to ourselves; and settling back into our role at work. A lot of women also face challenges around confidence. According to a 2018 survey by MBB magazine (reported by People Management Magazine), less than one in five mums felt happy and confident about returning to work after having a baby. For me, I often felt that I was on a ‘confidence wave’, that went up when I was feeling good and I could achieve great things, to being down where I was filled with self-doubt. I rarely had days of feeling a steady, constant sense of confidence.

There were many things that contributed to my confidence feeling constantly up and down when I returned to work. I returned to a bigger role, my son was less than six months old and we really struggled with sleep. He would be up around three times per night, more if he was unwell.

I also found my return to work challenging: the reality of being a working parent was enough let alone compressing that work into limited hours. I didn’t know anyone that had done compressed hours and so it was a matter of trying to work it out on my own. I would also undermine my own boundaries by checking and responding to emails.

But once I learned how to adjust to the juggle of being a working parent and doing compressed hours, I soon realised that I could use my day off to have quality time with my baby boy, as well as valuable time to myself to boost my own wellbeing and resilience.

I used to work late on a Tuesday night to make up my contractual hours and so Wednesdays were ours.

We’d go for long walks in the park behind our house in Sydney, which meant I had the mental and physical time and space to connect with him in the midst of the midweek rush, as well as some valuable time for me to slow down and often think up creative ideas too. Being in nature allowed me to get perspective, as well as feeling less stressed.

A few times I was able to leave him asleep in the pram while I sat on a rock, looking out across the park and treetops in silence. It was one of the few times during the week where I really stopped, was present and calm.

This is not often the picture that comes to mind when I talk about the benefits of working compressed hours.

I was also able to throw on a load of washing, allowing me to feel more in control of my week; and then finish the day with a family pub meal, which is now one of our favourite memories of living in Australia and was easy to manage with a baby who was not yet crawling. My husband and I enjoyed our chance to have valuable ‘adult’ conversation.

Since then (having also relocated to London) I’ve been able to help other women to consider and negotiate more flexibility with their employer, including compressed hours, or just different working patterns. One of my clients recently explained to me that being able to work more flexibly has led to her being more productive at work and this has ‘spilled over’ into being a happier mum.

The challenge for many women is raising this conversation with your employer.

Many women I know work part-time, four days a week but often find themselves doing the equivalent amount of work as a full time role, frequently working until 10pm most nights, which leaves them at risk of burnout and exhaustion, as well as resentful for this unpaid work, but nervous of ‘rocking the boat’ and trying to negotiate a better work situation.

As businesses make plans for how their employees will return to work over the summer, longer term flexible work arrangements will come into the spotlight. The government has also made it clear that they want to encourage more flexible working, as the recruitment website Indeed points out in this great article.

Now is the time to consider what work can look like for you in this post-covid world, including how you can gain more work/life balance for better wellbeing and less stress. So where to start with considering your flexible work arrangements? It’s important to consider your ideal scenario, including:

  • what will enable you to be a productive and happy employee;
  • how this will fit into your organisation’s culture; and
  • what is suitable for your role: eg do you meet clients/stakeholders face to face, or do you travel for work?

Consider what you may want to agree with your manager as a non-statutory arrangement so that you can trial doing a flexible work arrangement such as a Compressed Work Week, or if you would like this to be a statutory, contractual arrangement.

Here are some tips on negotiating flexible work arrangements:

  1. Be clear about your ideal flexible work arrangement and ensure that you can show you’ve considered it from your employers’ perspective;
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for an arrangement that is new for your company. In this post- covid world, your employer may be more open to different types of flexible work arrangements; and
  3. Ensure that you have prepared a business case to deliver both verbally and in writing that can be shared with relevant stakeholders, like your manager, head of department and HR team.

Further information:

Citizens Advice – Flexible Work Rights

The Women’s Business Council – Condensed Hours in the UK – 100 ways to work flexibly

The Women’s Vault – Pros and Cons of doing a Compressed Work Week

This article was reviewed by Suzy Reading and edited by Anna Ceesay.
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