FLEXIBLE AND HAPPY by guest blogger Simone Hart

January 26, 2016 12:21 pm

What does it take to be happy working flexibly? How do you get to the euphoric state of work/life balance?

Do I have the answers………no.

Reason – different things work for different people, a one size fits all is not the solution…… The reality is you need to do what works for you and your situation BUT an option is to listen and learn from others, hoping it might provide a different perspective or approach that you haven’t explored.

So here is my story……

For the last ten years of my career I have worked flexible hours.  The results have been very positive and have enhanced the quality time I spend at work and the priceless time I am able to give to my family.

In our early thirties, my husband and I embarked on a new chapter in our lives.  Our careers were relatively well established and we felt that we were ready and mature enough to bring others into the world and able to look after them.

After my son arrived, I had twelve months off work and then decided, as a number of mothers do, to go back to work on a part time basis.  My husband decided to also work part time and share looking after our son which meant we only had one day a week to find care and we were fortunate that Grandma was there to help.  This was the first of many decisions and sacrifices we made as a family to ensure our children got the best care and that we were ‘present’ in their lives.  Obviously with both of us working part time financial challenges did occur, but the benefits we all got from our decisions were irreplaceable.

I had decided to leave the organisation I had previously worked in, so I didn’t have a job which presented another challenge of trying to find a part-time senior HR role. I started, as most do, leveraging my networks.  Fortunately at this time a colleague, from my previous organisation, was in the same situation so we decided to join forces and package ourselves as a job-share arrangement – back then, this was pretty forward thinking.

Our proposition was one FTE, same salary divided by numbers of days we each worked (I was the three days and she was the two).  Same performance rating, bonus etc. – a true full time offering but with two people.  This really intrigued employers, but they found it difficult to get their minds around the concept.  Their focus, in interviews, was on the job share arrangement and how it could possibly work, rather than the skills and experience we both had to offer.

As it turned out, our previous employer had an opening and of course were aware of our experience and capabilities and therefore willing to give this arrangement a go.  It was the start of five years of a partnership that was by all accounts a very successful venture.  Our role was largely a relationship driven one which created more challenges for us in making it work but our clients seemed to love the broad knowledge and skilfulness we both brought to the role. Working in a job share arrangement is hard work – people did try to challenge the arrangement and play us off each other but we had full confidence in each other’s ability and backed each other 100%.  We did have to do a lot of work outside our “normal” hours to ensure we were both kept up to date and to ensure our client’s experience was seamless.

When child number two came along (funnily enough at about the same time for both of us) we took parental leave again.  As our children grew different challenges presented themselves and my job share partner decided she wanted to be there for her kids as they embarked on their school years, so our partnership ended after 5 years.

I continued with my role three days a week but made the decision not to pursue working in a job share partnership again.  I believe the key to a job share success is the people that are in it and I just wouldn’t have been able to match what I had with my last partner.

As my children grew and flourished, my husband decided to start his own business which meant longer hours (more than a full time job) and I also progressively started to increase my hours from 3 days in the office, to 3 days in the office and the 4th day from home during school hours only.

Working part time does have its difficulties but I do think they are more personal challenges than anything. Juggling your children’s busy lives as they grow and change, your family unit, your relationship with your husband and a career (whatever that looks like) is hard work.  It’s tiring and sometimes I do feel like I don’t do things properly as I juggle many balls in the air at once, but is there anything worthwhile in life and that we are proud of that doesn’t come from hard work?

So, what does it take to work flexibly and be happy? Being able to work part time and be happy is mainly about our own mindset and what we think and do to ourselves – you have to be comfortable with where you are and be clear on what you want. I have made choices to not necessarily pursue more senior roles or progress up the corporate ladder because I don’t want to give up the time I wish to spend with my family – it’s my choice.

I often hear people say that when you work part time you don’t get the same opportunities for career progression. I haven’t experienced that.  The reality is that if you want a more senior role, whether you are part time or not, you have to be able to give more, especially in the early days of a new role, which are always the more challenging. For me this is not something I want to pursue right now – that might change in the future.

Statistics do show and the hard facts state that those that work part time tend not be rated as highly performance wise and/or are not in the higher end of the salary scales.  I think we should all continue to strive for equality and fairness especially as our world starts to open up to more and more opportunities for people to work flexibly and a global network of knowledge workers present themselves.

Finding the right organisation and the right people leader is key. I’ve had girlfriends leave organisations because their people leaders can’t wrap their minds around the fact that in a modern world people want flexibility. These leaders won’t survive moving forward and I applauded my girlfriends for having the courage to assert that these leaders don’t suit them and seek an alternate opportunity.

I’d love to see a world where it’s about people having choice, the choice to balance their lives and their work without feeling guilty about not ‘being visible’ in the office. Our mindset needs to shift and our paradigm should be one of what we deliver and achieve not how long it takes us to do it or where we are when we do it.

I think the key is surrounding yourself with people that are aligned with your own values and the principles you believe in and what you want to get out of your career – whether that’s about aligning yourself to the organisation itself or the people you work with…….thankfully for me I’ve managed to do this and in addition now have the opportunity and privilege to further influence this type of thinking across our organisation of 15,000 employees!

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