Finding the right balance

Tess Swann has found the flexibility she wanted after returning to a stressful job which, although four days a week was really full time. She tells how the site helped her.

Tess Swann had a busy job as a product developer when she became pregnant with her first child Gabriel. She knew that when she went back to work after maternity leave she wanted some degree of flexibility and her employer encouraged her to go for a four-day week. However, things changed during her maternity leave and when she went back the business really needed someone full time.
Tess tried to do what was basically a full-time job in four days, but she says it was “a nightmare”. “I was desperate to leave by the end of the day. I was torn between wanting to get the job done and needing to leave to pick up Gabriel,” she says. “I loved the job, but things had changed and I couldn’t do it to the same degree I had done before. I felt demoralised, my confidence started to go. Looking back, I realise it was not really my fault as there is only so much you can do in four days.”
Her bosses were “lovely”, she says and she had been there for four years, but the company was small and she felt that her working four days a week created “a bit of a problem” for them. “It was not said directly, but it became very stressful,” she says. “I would wake up crying and feeling very emotional.”
She says her priorities had changed since having Gabriel and she was trying to fit her old life into her new one. She started looking around for part-time work using her old contacts, but found that, whereas before, she would get people jumping when her CV landed on their desk, she had to chase all the agencies for work. “It was really hard,” she says. “There did not seem to be any new jobs advertised in my sector which were part time.”
Then someone recommended workingmums and another flexible work site. “When I looked at the site I was completely relieved that there were people who were prepared to employ a mother. It was quite a life saver as I had felt that I was unemployable,” says Tess.
She applied for a few jobs and had a good response. “I felt I had a choice,” she says. She decided she wanted to work three days a week at something which was not unchallenging but which she could leave in the office. “I wanted something that used my skills and experience, but which I didn’t think about at nights and weekends,” she says.
Working mums
She finally took a job as office manager at Hillgate PR, a strategic and creative PR consultancy specialising in the interiors, home interest and lifestyle fields. She says the interview was very thorough with the chair ironically worried she would not enjoy being as busy as she had been in her previous role.
When she started, Tess was the only working mum at the company besides the chair. However, most of the staff are women and quite a few have since had children. Now Tess finds herself dealing with the day to day management of flexible workers. “You have to put more effort in and think ahead, but I would recommend it,” she says, adding that companies get committed, reliable staff in working mums who often have a lot of experience.
Tess had her second son around a year after starting at Hillgate in August 2007 and the company went back to for her maternity cover. Her experience of returning to work after maternity leave the second time around was much less stressful, she says. “It was really straightforward,” she states. She works 9-5.30pm three days a week and can stay later occasionally if there is work to finish. On the other days, she teaches an exercise class and is with the children. Gabriel will start school in the autumn and Noah goes to nursery.
Tess says she thinks she has got the balance right now. “I see my children and I am around young, vibrant people at work and I can be myself. It’s easy as a mum to get so absorbed in the mum role that you forget about yourself.”

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