Flexible working challenges and solutions

I found myself pregnant again as I was preparing my return to work after my first maternity leave. Not only could I not bear the thought of leaving my first born, but I had witnessed what happened when other women returned from maternity leave, pregnant again. To put it politely, it could not be described as positive. I felt I had no other choice but to resign from a good job, with a great company to raise my two daughters, who were born 19 months apart. Safe to say it was a busy couple of years!

I spent months trying to find a new role with a flexible company but ultimately had to throw the towel in and apply for full time jobs. Whilst many companies allow mothers to return from maternity leave part time, trying to find a company that would allow me to work part-time as a new recruit was near impossible (at that time).

I secured a good job at another great company, but it was full time so my plan was to apply to reduce my hours after six months but as time went on it became clear that applying to reduce my hours would be career suicide and frowned upon even though the nice glossy policies were there to support it. As much as I was pained with the fact that my daughters were spending more time at nursery than they were at home, I continued to work full time to progress my career.

The years of working full time were tough, and as many working parents will testify; the name of the game was to work as if you didn’t have kids, and to parent your kids as if you didn’t work, whilst of course only feeding them organic, sugar free homemade meals and avoiding screens.

When I was on maternity leave with baby number three, I wrote a flexible working application to reduce my hours to three days a week. The company did not agree to my initial request but we reached a compromise, and this is where my journey to excellent flexibility and agile working began. The compromise was to work four days a week, three in the office and one at home, which was quite revolutionary at the time as presenteeism was the only acceptable evidence for your work and commitment. The rest of the journey was not planned but circumstances enabled a level of flexibility and agile working that I could never have imagined in the absence of any role models working flexibly.

My role was based outside London and on those days when I travelled to the London office, I would work on the train during my commute to make the most use of the time. It was acceptable to arrive a little later and leave a little bit earlier when working from a different office, so when my role was moved to London, I was allowed to continue to work on the train in the morning and evening as a 'sorry for the inconvenience' and therefore arrive later and leave earlier to avoid too much of a disruption to my personal life and ensure I could continue to do drop off pick up.

I have been working in the office, working on the train, and working from home for over three years now and I have finally found a bit of a balance between work and family life, with management also being happy with my performance!

Have I felt like my career goals and commitment is questioned due to my work style? Absolutely! Surely someone who is not in the office all the time cannot be serious about progressing in their career!

Have colleagues looked at me as if I was receiving special treatment? Oh yes, and there seemed to be a view that I was taking up all the flexibility, rather than it being the catalyst for more people to work flexibly.

Has it got better? Yes! I have even changed jobs and kept the same flexibility. My company actually rolled out policies allowing all staff to work flexibly to balance work and life, whether they have children or not!

And then what? The Covid -19 pandemic hit and it turns out all computer based staff are able to efficiently work from home, some even with their children present! I truly believe this is the start of flexible and agile working becoming an acceptable and celebrated way of working in the financial industry!

Written by Maria Tonnessen, Associate, Lloyds.

If you'd like to contribute, please email Kate.

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