Going the extra mile
Alison Cann handed in her notice shortly after the birth of her second son. She had just moved house and faced a four-hour a day commute to work, had a young baby to look after and her older son was in the process of being diagnosed with Asperger's.
“I felt it had become untenable to do the four-day week I had been doing since my first son was born. It was all too much and I didn't feel I had a choice,” she says.
However, when she went to hand in her notice her manager asked her what work pattern she felt she could do because she was keen to retain her skills and wide experience.
Alison works for Barts Health Trust in London which was created earlier this year due to the merger of Barts, the Royal London, Newham and Whipps Cross hospitals. She is a senior clinical adviser and her job involves planning new hospitals and new buildings for the trust, giving clinical advice to architects about things like demographics and new practice. She has been in post for 10 years and in the NHS since 1985.
During her time in the NHS she has done a variety of roles, from working in A & E to managing an acute admissions unit and being a service manager.
Alison had worked full time until her son Thomas was born in 2003 and then went four days a week, putting him in Barts' creche. At the time she lived in Canary Wharf, but during her second pregnancy three years later the family moved to Guildford and she transferred Thomas to a local nursery.
Alison and her manager agreed that due to her particular circumstances she could work two long days a week, from 8am to 6pm, and term-time only.
“My manager valued my experience and there was no other way round it for me due to my particular circumstances. I was also fortunate to be in a position where I didn't need to work full time,” she says.
Flexibility works both ways
In return for the flexibility she has been offered Alison goes the extra mile for her employer, logging in when she is not at work and doing around an hour and a half a day checking emails and reading. She also checks emails while on holiday, particularly the long summer break and says she would be prepared to go into work if it was important for her to do so.
Her employer doesn't ask her to put in extra hours, but she feels she has a good deal and that there should be give and take on both sides. “I think it is reasonable to expect me to put in extra,” she says, “and I don't want to go into work to five or six pages of emails.” Instead, she uses her time at work for meetings with clinicians.
The days she does - Wednesdays and Fridays - are very long and she says she doesn't really see her children on them since she leaves at 6am and doesn't get home till after 8pm. “I write those two days off in terms of seeing the children,” she says.
She finds her work hugely satisfying, but says the one thing that would make it easier was having a shorter journey to work. She's not complaining though and says her experience shows that many employers are prepared to be flexible to retain experienced staff if employees offer them a variety of possible solutions and are prepared to give a little.
She says: “My best tip for working mums would be to be honest and open with your manager - and try and offer solutions rather than problems. If you are a valued employee there are often ways to overcome difficulties.”