Louise Chamberlain was contemplating taking a career break earlier this year. Despite loving her senior full-time role at residential property developer Bellway Homes Ltd, where she worked for nearly five years, her family circumstances meant life had become overly stressful.
But her employer didn’t want to lose her so they considered other options and offered her a newly created role working part time and mainly from home.
Louise is clearly passionate about her work. When she joined Bellway she had been a field sales manager at another developer firm. Bellway was opening a Manchester division and the managing director was looking for someone who wanted to move up to director level. Louise came in at sales manager level and had worked her way to sales director designate when she went on maternity leave around two years later in 2016.
A few months after returning from maternity leave she was promoted to director.
Although her job didn’t change, her responsibilities grew as her division expanded.
Louise says Bellway has been very supportive throughout her time there and mentions Bellway Manchester’s managing director Stuart Gray in particular for praise. She says that, through speaking openly about his own experiences as the father of a young family, he created the kind of supportive culture where parents could flourish.
Two years later in January 2018, however, Louise made the difficult decision to hand in her notice, even though she had no idea what she would do when she left. Her husband, who was the director of another company, shared nursery pick-ups and drop-offs with her, but was often away for work. His family did not live nearby and Louise’s mother had been diagnosed with cancer.
The couple’s son was often the first into nursery and the last to be picked up. Louise felt she was not spending enough time with her son. Something had to give. “Sometimes my husband and I would both have important meetings early in the morning and we would debate whose was more important. It seemed greedy. I couldn’t get the balance right for me between work and time with my son,” she says. “It was my decision entirely. It all depends on your personal circumstances and support network.”
She adds that her decision had nothing to do with her ambition and drive. “Before I had Ellis working late didn’t bother me. I loved the job. It was more stressful having to leave the office before nursery closed than it was to stay until late to finish a job, before I had him. It’s that countdown clock in your head,” she says. “And then he went through a stage of having to deal with various bugs they pick up at nursery which my husband and I split between us to take time off work to look after our son. I look back at that period with dread.”
When she told her manager of her decision to leave, he said they should discuss how to make it work, but Louise knew her job could not realistically be done part time. What she didn’t count on was that Bellway didn’t want to lose her. They offered her a sideways move to a part-time role as head of sales performance at Bellway Group.
The position is two days a week, mainly working from home with some travel around the country to various meetings. “Bellway could not have been better,” she says. What’s more, it also worked well for the company. The department needed someone else as they were expanding. She knew the company well and it meant they could retain her skills.
Louise agreed to stay in her original role until a replacement was found in May and then worked alongside her on a part-time basis for three months to help her bed in.
She started her new role in early August and says her job is more strategic, involving monitoring and assessing sales performance across the divisions of the company. “It means I can keep my hand in the housing industry and have an overview of the business. I see it as a layering of different areas of experience and I hope eventually to return to a full-time position when the time is right,” she says.
Louise recognises she is lucky to be in a position to be able to go part time, but feels she has made the right decision and is very grateful that Bellway has supported her to do so. “At the time I handed in my notice I asked myself when I look back what will I regret more – not having more time with my son or having a break in my career,” she says. “It broke my heart leaving the Manchester division, but I could not put that before my son. Now I don’t have to make that decision to take a career break. I have never felt happier since starting a family.”