Workingmums.co.uk’s annual survey shows nearly a fifth of mums have been forced out of a job due to flexible working being denied.
We asked some of those who had had their requests turned down what impact it had had. All of the respondents wanted to remain anonymous and pseudonyms have been used. This shows the sensitive, often complex nature of the issues involved and how any attempt to push for employment rights can have a lasting impact on a career.
Amanda was a senior manager in a manufacturing company and considered deputy to the company directors. She had been at the company for 11 years service. After returning from her second period of maternity leave, she requested to work flexibly, but was refused. She says there was a big impact on both her feelings towards her company and her stress levels. “I lost motivation and loyalty to the company,” she says. “I felt torn between a company I had enjoyed working for and my parental responsibilities. I felt constantly stressed trying to get to work on time and leaving before my team to be home in time to see my kids. The constant pressure was draining.”
She feels her request was turned down due to a culture of having to be totally flexible to customer needs. “It was not considered possible to be in a senior or customer-facing role and not work full time and be totally available at a moment’s notice,” she says. “Ironically, many of the customer contacts worked part time, but suppliers are almost expected to pick up their work when they are not in the office.”
Amanda, who has two children aged three and one, didn’t appeal as she felt there was no point. Instead, she left her job and underwent a period of retraining into HR. She will soon be starting an interim role, which is not currently flexible but which she hopes can be once she has more experience. She is earning approximately £50k less than at her previous job.
Anita’s case shows how just a small change in work location can have a massive impact. She was working in translations as a proofreader/project manager. She had been working for her company for three and a half years when she requested home working after her work location changed. Although the move was only a change of two miles, it meant she was two miles away from the nearest train station. At the time she didn’t have a car so would have needed to use public transport. She also had no family living within 200 miles so her daughter would have had to go to private day nursery with additional hours at the start and end of the day to allow for her extra commute.
The company had set down a rule that they would not accede to any new homeworking requests after the move. They did, however, offer Anita the option of working part time in-house, but, she says, taking into account the costs of childcare and transport, anything she earned would have totally disappeared so the decision not to go back to work was in effect made for her. She has since had two more children and says when she does go back to work she will be looking for a flexible arrangement which “fills me with a certain amount of apprehension”.
After having her first daughter Narda returned to work full time, balancing a very demanding job with three mornings of nursery and her parents managing childcare. However, after her maternity leave for her second daughter, she wanted to reduce to three days a week, ideally on school hours initially, with a change to her job role where she would be managing local/smaller clients rather than large European/major accounts. She suggested she could then increase this over the next two years. She had been mainly working from home, but her office expected at least two days a week in the office or travelling.
She says: “I always knew in my heart I would not be granted any flexibility as I had seen colleagues even in office-based admin roles be rejected for working from home without even reducing their hours. I had a senior client-facing role so knew significantly reduced hours would not be granted. I returned to work full time thinking I would try it out, but within a week I handed my notice in as I realised I needed to be at home at least two days a week and needed to stay local at all times for the children. Long 12-hour days and travelling was no longer viable.”
She adds: “I felt disappointed that, despite working very hard and making a difference for many years (nearly 18!) in the industry and six year in that business that a little flexibility could not be offered with a view that as my children grow and go to school I would increase my hours.”
Since leaving, she has applied for part-time roles, but there are few in her field with any flexibility. So she has decided to go freelance as a sales and marketing consultant. She says she left without even applying for flexible working because she knew any request would be rejected. “The stress of even applying made me stop from doing so. I knew the grilling to be told no wasn’t worth it. The demands of the job were such that they could not be achieved in three days or less. I believe the roles in my team which was going through a lot of change could have been adapted as a trial, though. I have left on good terms, but do feel disappointed I had to leave a job I love.”
She adds: “I have been really disappointed at the lack of support from businesses to offer flexibility. Even with the guarantee of long-term loyalty with initial flexibility whilst children are young with a view to growing working hours as the children go to school has really been frowned upon by businesses. Such a shame as mums can often be the most loyal, flexible and hardest working and entrepreneurial! I have seen many highly professional women give it all up due to lack of flexibility.”