Alison Davies returned to work after a career break through Vodafone’s award-winning returner programme.
Alison Davies is a senior customer experience lead in Vodafone Business. She has been in the job for two years after returning from a three-year career break to look after her daughters.
Her return to work was eased by Vodafone’s award-winning ReConnect programme which helps returners transition back into jobs which capitalise on their skills and experience. The programme scooped the 2019 workingmums.co.uk’s Best for Returners Award.
Prior to her career break, Alison had worked for 15 years for Microsoft, latterly as a partner account manager focused on customer experience. She loved her job. Her husband also worked at Microsoft and both of their jobs involved travel. With two young daughters – at the time they were nine and seven – life was very stressful.
“It was a logistical nightmare,” says Alison. “I vividly remember my daughter asking who is picking us up today. They had also started to notice the logistical process going on every day. I felt they needed some continuity. It felt like the right time to take a break.”
Nevertheless, as anyone contemplating a career break knows, it is not an easy decision to make. “You put so much into your career and taking time out is very daunting. It’s not a decision you take lightly,” says Alison. “I think I made the right decision and I am really grateful that I was in a position where I was able to take that decision.”
However, although she loved being around for her children, after 12 months out of the workplace she began to get itchy feet. “I had been doing very purpose-driven work which was very empowering. I had to adapt to not having that sense of working towards certain goals,” she says.
As her elder daughter approached the start of secondary school, she started contemplating returning to work, but felt she was “looking into a black hole”. “I didn’t know where to begin,” she says. “You do start to question your ability and value after taking a break. You wonder if you still have what it takes. Can I still perform at pace? ”
Another problem was the lack of flexible jobs which limited her search. “I have a lot of highly professional and experienced friends, but because they want to work flexibly their pool of possible jobs is quite limited. You end up having to use your personal network,” says Alison.
She heard about Vodafone’s ReConnect programme for returners through a friend who had seen an advert in the paper. “I instantly thought that it was a genius idea, getting to an untapped pool of skill, a pool of people who can hit the ground running,” she states.
The fact that Vodafone offers flexible work and that returners are welcomed back on reduced hours were additional bonuses.
Alison sent her cv in and was contacted very quickly by an executive recruitment manager who wanted to know all about her. “I was interviewed as an individual to see if I was the right cultural fit for Vodafone,” she says. Once they knew she was, it was just a question of waiting for the right role to come up. “It’s a clever approach, matching people to the right opportunity. It’s a really personal approach that totally puts you at your ease. The manager worked in the ReConnect programme and understood everything I was feeling about my career break. I was encouraged to talk and reminded about what I had done.”
Alison says the ReConnect programme helped rebuild her confidence as she realised her skills were still relevant.
At the time there were new jobs coming up in customer focus in Vodafone Business – a natural fit for Alison. She was given a mentor and she linked up with other reconnectors.
“It is like a club which provides mutual support,” she says.
As part of the ReConnect programme, for the first six months she worked 80% of full-time hours on full pay to ease her transition back and to give her time to get used to the logistics involved in returning to work. She could work those hours how she wanted, whether that was five shorter days or four days. She was also given additional training to get back up to speed and took part in initiatives aimed at educating line managers about returners.
After six months Alison chose to keep to four days a week and reduced her salary on a pro rata basis. “I had already shown I could do the role in four days. Doing that allows me the balance I need and means that I can be totally focused on work when I am there,” she says.
She tends to get into work very early so she can leave earlier and have the evenings with her children.
Alison feels she now has the best of both worlds: “I find my work very fulfilling. My family is hugely important to me and getting the balance between work and family is hard. Not having one of them doesn’t feel right.
“I know now that I need to be at work. I am more motivated and happier. It is good for my self esteem and my confidence and now I have the right rhythm in terms of work life balance.”
She adds: Employers need to be smart like Vodafone and adapt more so their employees can manage the different parts of their lives.”