But if you try sometime, you might just find, you get what you need.
The Stones were onto something here. And we all know that if you don’t ask you don’t get. Think the kids have grasped this one too! (repeatedly, loudly, simperingly…)
But it’s always a bit harder when it comes to work isn’t it. Pay-rises, promotions, working hours… It can be awkward to ask and you often don’t get. And it’s tougher still when kids are in the mix.
Take one of our favourite subjects – flexible working. Only 1% of jobs are offered on a part time basis from the get go, which means that the starting point for employment for a lot of working mums is not what we want or need. Personally I have been waging the flexible working war for two years, from when I was on maternity leave with my second.
Before I knocked off to give birth I had been working a four-day week, like many women in my office, and this hadn’t raised any eyebrows. But as my maternity leave sped by I realised how much I was enjoying time with my big girl as well as my baby boy and I wanted to have as much time as possible with them when I went back. My role didn’t involve being on hand for daily client calls or anything like that, so I had convinced myself that a three-day week was going to be quite a simple sell to my boss.
The first challenge was finding an appropriately serene and professional time to make the call while on maternity leave with a demanding and vocal baby and three year old. The problem was that there wasn’t really a guaranteed period during the working day when both monkeys were ever likely to be quiet and content at the same time – for five minutes – let alone half an hour that I might need for the call.
This called for reinforcements.
I was due to visit my sister the next week (with her two year old and brand new baby…) and my parents were going to be there too, so I could easily nip off to make my call leaving three responsible adults to look after four kids. The ratios were good. A serene and professional call was assured.
We had been enjoying a fun and relaxing day with the family when the allotted time for my call drew near. I suddenly felt very nervous and not at all confident that my sell of the three-day working week nirvana, which I had come to so desperately want, was going to do the trick. I felt very far removed from the working life I was about to dial in to, as I sat in my sister’s house surrounded by nappies and wearing a top that was unprofessionally tainted with baby dribble, breast milk and probably worse.
It was time to step out of the kitchen and into another world. I briefed my three year old daughter, who had been playing charmingly with Granny and her cousin all morning, that I needed to make a call to work: she was to play with Granny and I’d be back in a few minutes. Well, it was like I’d told her that she’d never be able to have a doggy ever (which is also true). Or a cat. She was snivelling, crying, screaming and snotting all over my leg as I tried to make good my escape. Granny was trying to cajole, distract and bribe her with promise of games, books and biscuits but my little Pickle was inconsolable. And this was just to make a call ABOUT work. Now I was getting stressed as I was going to be late to dial in to my very punctual boss who would be sitting at his desk, in a suit, behind his computer, a million miles away in London.
With a very business like twist and little hop I managed to extract my leg from the tear and snot covered arms wrapped around it and ran off with my mobile to the far side of the house. Where the screams still sounded very near. And very loud. And not diminishing into quiet sobs that you wouldn’t be able to hear at the other end of a business call.
I don’t remember the particulars of the call, just that it was very long, and that the wailing in the background was persistent. I had written my argument for the three-day week down so at least I managed to make my points. There was a lot of push back about precedent (lack of it, and the reluctance to create one) for this arrangement, changing business needs which would see my role being more fundamental (for which read more work needing to be done etc) and other very friendly but irrefutable challenges. I felt deflated and defeated.
But my boss, being a nice man and not someone who enjoys direct conflict didn’t turn me down outright, instead he turned to a platitude much loved of mothers: ‘we’ll think about it…’
Two months later I hadn’t heard. Three months. Four months.
Then it was the month in which I was returning to work.
Had they had time to think I wondered?
Eventually there was an eleventh hour ‘no’.
Disappointed doesn’t cover it.
But then I was back to work and throwing myself into the business of not looking like a baby brained ditz who had lost touch with the working world. Now was not the time to mention baby, let alone petition for a shorter week. And I was massively busy and struggling to fit my workload into my four day week anyway: although of course I couldn’t mention this to anyone as it would raise issues that I did not want raised so I struggled on, under an overwhelming work load, still dreaming of three days.
Six months later I plucked up the courage (on a screaming child free email and via a friendly intermediary line manager – so not really very courageous at all) to ask again. This time for a four day week one week and three the next. Surely they would buy this.
A month passed.
Still no reply.
I pushed again.
It was a no.
Damn it. I was desperate for some form of compromise here. So, my last and pathetic bid was for four days one week, three and a half the next. This would barely impact on my working week at all but would be really significant for me at home, meaning I could drop my daughter at school and pick her up an extra day every other week. Please, please say yes.
And they did. I could have kissed my boss. In fact I think perhaps I did.
Or at least a hug.
Which was a little one way.
But at that point I didn’t care. I was ecstatic. This was a very small, very slow, but massively important (to me) victory.
I could have cried and whooped.
That trial period ended three months ago but it hasn’t been mentioned again and I sure as hell am not raising the issue. So please don’t mention it as they might notice and get HR involved…
In the mean time I’m loving my weird and hectic half days when I am half mum half working woman.
Are you getting what you want? If not, do ask… Hopefully you’ll get there quicker than me… Good luck!