A little while back, I wrote a post about getting and having part-time work. Despite the fact that I think part-time work creates more hassles than any flexibility you gain because if you are a women you often get to work, and still do all the home/child related stuff. Despite the fact you can end up working longer hours than you get paid for. Despite the fact that most organisations organise important meetings during the times you don’t work and so therefore exclude you. Despite the fact that it’s rare you would be considered for promotions. Despite the…..ok. I’ll get off my soapbox. I know part-time work is important for some women (and men for that matter) and you should pursue this if it is. And I did write a pretty good post about it!
I personally think flexible work is more important (and way better) than part-time work because you get to still a whole job and get all your pay, but perhaps not in the traditional male defined, specified and dominated 9-5 way. Flexible work (in my opinion) is one of the key things that helps women stay in the workforce and progress.
I was inspired to write the post from one of the Facebook groups I belong to in Singapore (Singapore Ladies with “Trailing” Spouse). It’s a group for women who moved to Singapore for their job, not their husbands or partners (which unfortunately is the norm). The amount of times I have been ignored and people only ask Arran about his job and why he moved to Singapore! He is great at putting them in their place. Anyway it’s a helpful supportive group for all sorts of stuff including help with career advice.
Here's what I think. Men don’t stress about taking time from their work day to do other things. They just take it. Women stress about it continually and feel guilty.
A couple of personal stories on the differences in flexibility for women and men as I see it:
Flexibility for Women
One leader I worked for (when our working relationship was new) continually complained to me about the people in the previous office he was based. He complained that they would come in at 9 and leave at 5! And most of them worked from home on Friday! He told me this story a number of times, which a) I didn’t give a shit about, and b) what was his point?
In my view he was having an issue with my start and finish times and thought the passive aggressive approach of dealing with it was the way to go. So I gave him some hard truths (in a less passive way). Which went like this:
- I am in the office by 8am most mornings (to beat the traffic which meant I left home between 7 and 7.15am). I leave at 4.45pm to also beat the traffic and to be home before 6.30pm to have dinner as a family. (at the time I was working in Tuas a very industrial part of Singapore at one end of the island. The traffic getting there was awful). I didn’t move countries to not see my kids! I attend calls in the early mornings and late evenings so I don’t see this as an issue.
- I travel a lot for the company so if I want to attend something at my kids school or maybe take a day in lieu for the travel I have been doing, I will.
- You will know where I am at all times and you can ring me and I will assist you.
That was the last time I heard about that other office and it got to the point he said I didn’t need to tell him where I was. Sigh.
Flexibility for Men
My husband works quite close to home and if he is going into the office he gets there around 9/9.30 after picking up his third or fourth coffee for the day. The time he gets there depends on whether he has been out riding his bike and already had coffee with a number of cyclists. Apparently this is “networking”. He then comes home for a leisurely breakfast before conference calls at 8am.
When he is in the office he might pop out during the day for a training session at an indoor bike training place. If he works from home he often goes for a cycle at lunch time, or later in the afternoon. Sometimes he meets me for lunch. If he does go to the office but has calls in the evening he will come home early (at 5pm) and have a break. He watches TV or goes for a run or might take our youngest to soccer.
Did he get permission for all this? Does he tell his boss where he is at all times? Does he negotiate the days he works from home? Does he clearly articulate or write down his “non-negotiables” so he sticks to them? NO. Big. Fat. NO. He just does it. Does he get questioned? NO. Does he feel guilty? NO.
The playing field is somewhat tipped in his favour.
A few weeks ago I told my boss I was working from home on Friday. This was because I had an appointment close by to my home. By working at home I could work more hours because less time would be taken traveling to the appointment. When I told my boss he gave me a pained look. Which I ignored and worked from home anyway!
Anyway, if we accept that the playing field is tipped in favour of men and that women want flexibility to see their kids during the week and oh maybe have some time to themselves for exercise and other sanity supporting activities, then the wise women of Singapore Ladies with “Trailing” Spouses have some great advice:
- Just assume flexibility and not ask for it.... if you do this from the get go then they will just ‘get’ that that’s how you work. (Comment from Lisa: This is what men do!)
- On days where you have evening calls, block out your diary post-5pm (or whenever time you think is appropriate) and tell your colleagues and line manager you’re heading off as you have calls later in the evening.
- Block off one day a week (or what is appropriate) and work from home. I don’t always stick to it but it helps protect some time.
- I also stay home on Monday mornings until about 10am as it’s the only quiet time of the week!
From “Emily” I took my current role and immediately acquired a new boss who didn’t hire me. His kids are grown up so I got chatting about his kids and asked him how he managed the worklife balance when he was climbing the ladder and the kids were young. This opened the conversation up nicely to my general rules of:
- I go to work late on Monday because the US is offline (I balance this by checking emails on Saturday mornings)
- I only do evening calls after kids bedtime on Tuesday or Wednesday’s
- If I travel overseas I work from home the first day I’m back so I can send the kids to school and be home when they finish
- Think about where your boss is based. Put a schedule together that then gives your boss more access to you than if you worked 9-5 would be a positive and proactive way to handle it
- The kids do like to know when I’ll be around. They know I’m never around Monday or Thursday but always home Tuesday and Wednesday plus they know if I’ve been away I’m home the next day.
- Have a whiteboard so the kids know mummy time for the week. Mine always check ours for “family dinner”
- I’ve learnt over the past to just ask and don’t over think what the boss may think as they may surprise you. I just work from Home on Monday’s and do a compressed week so I could have wed off... ok so I had a toddler and a father in law with dementia to manage... but I never thought they would agree or continue to support for multiple years.
- Once you prove you deliver they won’t complain I remember a Manager once said I’d rather have Kiran for 4 days then another person for 5.
- Go into the conversation and ask if you can work from home one day a week, say you will be flexible and happy to change days as the business demands.
- Then approach the commute. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say you wish to leave say at 5 to be able to log on in the evening. Suggest a trial period and if it doesn’t work then you revert to what you do now.
- You need to rope your husband/partner in on this. You are both parents. In our house we review a weekly schedule and ensure that if one has late calls that the other is aware so one tries to be home for the kids.
- The helper does the heavy lifting of school pick up cooking etc but I think a parent to do the emotional catch up and check on the kids is essential.
- Don’t now feel like you should do everything. If your job is changing maybe your partner needs to flex too-eg on the nights you can’t get home, he does bath time.
- Just pick a special thing... I love taking the boys to bus drop off and we read, cuddle and I send them off to school happy... I am not always home for bedtime.
What else would you add?
You might also like my post on Working part-time: How job sharing can work