Wednesday 16 July 2014

Making the most of the summer

With Wimbledon and the World Cup behind us, you'll probably be thinking about the long summer ahead and how to fill all those weeks until school starts again. You're unlikely to be thinking much about how you can get yourself back to work, at least until the summer is over. However, the summer can provide you with time to step away from your usual routine, to think and reflect and to implement some changes at home, all of which will lay strong foundations for your return to work. At the same time do take time to relax and recharge so that you are refreshed and full of energy when autumn comes around.

Here are some ideas of helpful and simple activities you can do during the summer:
  • Create a network chart
Even if you aren't ready to start networking, it is never too early to start creating your network chart. Divide your chart into three distinct categories on which you list everyone you can think of from different phases of your life: people from your past (your school and university classmates as well as former employers, colleagues and employees); your present (fellow parents and people you meet through voluntary work, hobbies or neighbourhood); and future (networks and groups you have yet to join). This is the kind of activity you can do all summer long, adding names as you think of them. Even if you start the summer thinking that you don't have a network, you'll be surprised how your chart grows.
  • Get clearer about what will fulfill you and what you might do next
Whether you have too many choices or too few, a useful way to think about what to do next is to think back to a work role (or part of a role) that you found fulfilling and reflect on what made it so. Our recent post describes a process for uncovering more about what gives you fulfillment.  As these factors are related to your deep values, they will continue to be of great importance to you in the future. By working out what's important to you, you'll gain motivation to search for your next role. And you can identify clues about what you want to do next: there might be elements of a previous role that you can craft into a new one or an idea for a business or a desire to retrain in an area which interests you.
  • Practise your story 
If you are going away somewhere and meeting new people that you are unlikely to see again, this provides a low risk way to practice telling your story. You can test out an answer to the dreaded question of ‘what do you do?’, refine it and get used to saying it. Telling your story might even lead to a networking opening, as I discovered when telling my story to the father of a family with whom my family had shared a hot, dusty and uncomfortable beach buggy ride.  He turned out to be a partner in a big four accounting firm and after the holiday introduced me to his head of HR, a great addition to my network.
  • Prepare your family
The summer is a great time to make changes to the family routines and responsibilities away from the hectic schedule of the school year.  If you're hoping to go back to work, you'll need to prepare your family for the changes that will be required of them.  For younger children, this might be a new kind of after school care or route to school.  For older children, you might want them to start taking responsibility for organising their sports kit, making their own packed lunches or doing laundry.  You'll know best what adjustments you will need your family to make, to support your return to work, and the more preparation they have the easier it will be.  Read our posts on combating guilt feelings if these get in the way of making the changes that will help you. 

Have a good summer, rest and recharge.  We'll also be taking time to relax and recharge and will be back in a month's time.

Posted by Katerina

Monday 7 July 2014

How to Negotiate Flexible Work

Anna Meller, a work-life balance specialist, offers her advice on how to negotiate flexible working, as a returner.

On 30 June 2014 the legal right to request flexible working was extended to cover all employees after 26 weeks' service. Many forward thinking employers have already embraced the benefits of flexible arrangements and extended these to new joiners. While this is good news for returners and everyone concerned about their work-life balance, an employer is still able to refuse a request if they believe it will have an adverse impact on their business.

Preparation is key
Time spent preparing to negotiate - reviewing your desired working arrangements and the potential business benefits of working flexibly - will be time well spent. Before you start attending interviews, develop a compelling business case that can provide a foundation for future negotiations.

Building your business case
Begin by clearly identifying the key skills and experience that make you valuable to an employer. This will not only enable you to craft a flexible role from one that’s full time, it will also enhance your confidence as you begin negotiating. In every job there are specialist tasks that will require your skills and experience and more general ones that could be delegated or eliminated.

Questions to consider
  • To what extent could your new job allow time and location flexibility?  How will you manage the work/non-work interface?
  • Will you always need to be in the office to carry out every aspect of your role (an increasingly unlikely proposition with technology) or can you do some of your work at home?
  • What additional support will you need to be able to work from home?
  • What’s the likely impact on your workplace colleagues, your clients and customers?
  • How can you minimise the disruptions to them and ensure smooth working arrangements?
  •  Are you happy to receive calls and emails from colleagues outside working hours or do you guard non-work time for non-work activities?

And, finally, but most importantly, how will the business benefit from you working flexibly?

By now you should have a clearer picture of your preferred flexible working arrangement and the business benefits. While you may not always be able to work to your preferences, understanding them will enable you to agree clearer ground rules with your future boss and colleagues.

It’s also useful to have a fall-back position. Are there alternative arrangements which might also suit you, or issues on which you could compromise?

Having completed this ground work you’re ready to begin negotiating.

When to start negotiating
It’s best to be upfront about your need for flexible hours. Raise the matter at the end of your first interview. The response you get will give you a good indicator of the organisation’s cultural attitude towards flexible working.

Rather than starting with a request for a specific arrangement, begin with questions. Almost every organisation now has a flexible working policy, so ask what arrangements the policy covers. What options are there for arrangements not covered by the policy? What experience does your potential manager have of managing flexible workers? Is there anyone else in the team already working flexibly?

The time to discuss the details of your preferred arrangement is when the organisation asks you back for second interview. Make it clear that, while you have a preferred option, you’re open to negotiation. And don’t feel you need to agree to an arrangement there and then. If you need time to consider alternative suggestions ask for one or two days to mull things over.

For further support
A series of forms that can help you in your planning can be found on my website here:

By Anna Meller

Wednesday 2 July 2014

How to identify work you will find fulfilling

As Julianne highlighted last week, when we think about returning to work we can focus too much on family-friendly work rather than work that will be fulfilling. In our effort to find work that will fit with the rest of our lives and commitments, we can miss this fantastic opportunity to identify what we will find sustaining and will give us a sense of purpose for the years ahead. It can be very easy, as a career break mum, to fill the days with voluntary roles, hobbies, seeing friends and caring for others.  I know - I've done it! These activities can make you feel useful and valued and busy but will they sustain you in the longer term?

The hidden bonus of being on a career break is that it allows the time and opportunity to do some thinking about what gives you meaning and what is really important to you. This is great preparation for your return to work, when you are ready, as it helps you to get a clearer idea on the direction you want to take. If you're not sure of your future path, and would like to investigate the type of work you find fulfilling and purposeful, this is a process you can follow:

  1. Take yourself away to a quiet place where you will not be distracted by tasks or people and are able to think for an hour or so.
  2. Think back over your working life and focus on one or two times when you felt a sense of personal fulfillment. Make a note of what you were doing, who else was around you, your location, your emotions and any other details you remember.
  3. Think about what it was that gave you a sense of fulfillment. This is about more than simply feeling successful, although that might be a component.  To get to what's underneath feeling successful, ask yourself what you felt successful in and what this meant to you. For example, were you solving an impossible problem, helping others & making a difference, being recognised as an expert, ...? 
  4. Think about what you were doing and what was going on around you in these times of fulfillment. For example, were you:
    1. Working alone or part of a team
    2. Part of a large organisation or striking out on your own
    3. Working with data, working with things/products or dealing with people (or a mixture of these) 
    4. Thinking through ideas and theories or carrying out practical actions with concrete results
    5. Developing/influencing others and/or developing yourself?
You might find it useful to talk this through with a trusted friend to help you to reflect on what was most important to you in these situations. Through asking yourself these questions, you will gain more clarity about what success at work means to you and the nature of the work and the surroundings you need in order to feel most fulfilled. In this way, you will start to form a clearer sense of your own purpose which can guide your search for a new worthwhile role.  What better way to spend an hour or so this Summer?

Posted by Katerina