Is part-time work a full-time pain in the arse?

Last year I was having a really tough time with my health and knew something had to give (I wrote a blog at that time called Literally Unbalanced if you want to know why). Eventually I talked to my boss about options to either work more flexibly or reduce my hours. Honestly, I wasn’t sure it could work. People who work part time seem to be just as knackered as people who don’t. Was I pinning my hopes on a Work vs Life balance myth?

Before I started I had loads of questions – some that people were able to help me with, and some that I’ve had to learn for myself. So I’ve written about my experience to see if this helps anyone else who’s trying to make a similar decision.

I know we all have different jobs, hours and employers’ rules, so to set the scene, I do a traditional nine-to-five office type of role, for a big company, and have a fantastic boss who is open to flexible working. Yes, I know, I’m blooming lucky!!

I wanted to take Monday as a non-working day, so I trialled two different options:

  1. Full time flexible working – working longer hours Tuesday to Friday
  2. Part time – reducing my hours by 20% to four normal length days – called a ‘0.8’

Here’s what I worried about / learned…

I’ll have less money

Let’s cut to the chase – this is hard to accept. If you reduce your hours you reduce your pay – no shit Sherlock, of course you do. Of course you should. But that’s why so many of us try to flex our hours rather than cut them.

If you usually work a five day week and are considering dropping to four or three days, dropping 20% or 40% of your salary is VERY hard to swallow. And let’s just make it a bit worse… if you have a job that gets any kind of bonus, performance pay or profit share, these will also be pro-rata rates. That sucks, and you have to suck it up.

I’ll get fewer holidays

Yep. Just like pay, holidays are pro-rata. If you go part time you get a percentage of holidays cut. You may get even less than you think because you are entitled to fewer Bank Holidays too. If for example, you normally get 27 days leave and 8 days Bank holidays = 35 days total, this whole amount could reduce by 20% (or whatever cut you take).

If you choose flexible full-time pattern, and work longer days on your working days, your company will probably calculate your holidays in hours, and each working day you take as holiday is equivalent to the number of hours you would normally work that day.

Of course, you ARE getting more days off by taking a non-working day – so quit moaning! Just ask for help to calculate your allowance, so you know what you’re dealing with.

I’ll probably end up working longer hours even if I take a pay cut

This is very possible unless you are SUPER strict with your time. It’s another reason I trialled flexible working first. Unless you are clear on exactly how your workload will reduce, you will end up trying to squeeze the same work into fewer hours. And unless you are a magician, or were previously a massive slacker taking two-hour lunch breaks without anyone noticing, that’s impossible.

Consider this when looking at your workload: an hour-long meeting still last an hour, you don’t get to attend 80% of it. Same for training, appraisals and administrative tasks. All these will still need to be completed in your working hours and will take the same amount of time whether you work full time or part time. So if you are part time, the hours you have available to do your actual work is even less that you think. Discuss this with your boss and wider team.

How will my hours impact the rest of my team?

I needed to discuss that too. For example, if I need to be involved in meetings or decisions about projects I work on, does that mean that people need to wait for me to return to work? Or can someone take responsibility on my non-working day?

If someone else is going to job-share with you on some of your work, you need to build up trust with each-other and set some ground rules. Otherwise you could end up reversing decisions and pissing people off.

I’ll always need to ‘catch up’

Yep – and this is the hardest part for me. Every Tuesday I arrive to a full inbox and need at least an hour to get organised. If you miss a meeting, someone needs to update you. Even tiny, seemingly trivial adjustments can feel significant, like the fact that everyone has already discussed their weekends, and moved on. It’s not the start of the week for anyone else. They are already at full speed while I’m just getting going.

I always worried that people wouldn’t want to have to repeat conversations or ‘waste time’ helping me catch up, but actually people have been really good, and don’t seem to mind. Or perhaps they just bitch behind my back… hmmm.

Which are the best days to work / not work?

The decision for me was to do with when there’s the least impact at work. I looked at when meeting happen, when deadlines hit and who else was in or out of the office. 

Monday was the best fit for work, plus it fits well with childcare plans I can make, and (bonus) I realised later, actually works out well for my holiday entitlement – I get more options for using my bank holiday allocation rather than always having to take the set bank holidays as well as another chosen non-working day. It’s complicated, but I promise it’s true. 

I’ll need to work harder to balance the inconvenience I cause

I think this is a common worry, and most flexible workers probably do over compensate a little. The key for me was to show that it is a ‘give and take’ relationship, so if there’s an IMPORTANT meeting or training day on a Monday, I will make every effort swap my non-working day to another day that same week.

We made an agreement that it would be a full-day swap, because it is not acceptable to interrupt my non-working day to ‘just attend this one meeting’ for an hour. My non-working day is exactly that. Hands off! We also agreed that I would need at least one week’s notice to give me enough time to flex my child care arrangements, or whatever is required.

In reality, that has only happened twice and I’ve had at least three weeks notice each time. The agreement means that we only prioritised the meetings that I REALLY need to attend. The rest go ahead without me.

I’ll have to be more efficient

Yes, and actually that’s a good thing. I am more efficient. Most of the time. The ticking clock makes me prioritise. I reckon at least three weeks out of every four, I think, “This week I’ll have to do a bit of work on my day off or I’ll never catch up”, but then I remember that I created that non-working (non-paid) time for a reason. And I owe it to myself to stick to it. Prioritise til it hurts!

Is it worth it?

Hell yes! You probably wont even be thinking about making a change unless you have something that’s really important to you. For me that was my health, for others it’s family. Whatever your reason, you have to make sure you stick to the plan that you make, and reap the benefits.

Monday is my rest day, it’s when I let the world slow down. It was so tempting to fill it with my to do list, or shopping, or chores or DIY. But I don’t – I rest. Because that’s what I need. That’s why I did it.

For others it’s time with their children, so they have to make sure they spend time with their children, and don’t fall into ‘I’ll just check my emails’. Unless it’s part of your agreement that you’ll be available, PUT THE WORK PHONE DOWN!

(..except for checking to see if you’ve won the work-team lottery, and if you don’t need to go into work at all tomorrow.)

So… are you wondering which option I chose?

Flexible working was great, but for me the longer days were just too exhausting. I needed to do less, not just squeeze more at other times. So it’s a pay cut, but better health – and I honestly couldn’t be happier. My boss and colleagues are superstars and I am so grateful and even more dedicated to my job. There are days when it’s hard to keep up, but every Sunday night, when I see the usual Facebook memes about Monday mornings, I have a little smile to myself and think “That’s not me, anymore”.

What a smug bitch I am! Poorer, but smug.

(P.S. I’m still Unbalanced though – aren’t we all?)

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Have you made the decision to flex or go part time? Or are you undecided? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Also check out Mother Pukka on Facebook and Instagram, who is leading a fantastic #FlexAppeal campaign to encourage more businesses to offer flexible working opportunities. She has some fantastic advice on how to broach the subject with your boss.

#worklifebalance #flexappeal #unbalanced #literallyunbalanced

The Mum / Life Balance

For quite a while now I’ve been focused on getting my Work/ Life balance right. In younger life we’re told to work hard, play hard. Then parenthood came along and I felt I needed to work hard, mum hard. So where does the play part go? 

When I do (happily) sign up to nights out with friends, I’m subconsciously calculating the correct amount I time I need to dedicate to my kid, before or after, to balance out time away from him. These are the rules that Mother Guilt has set for parents. 

It’s not actually about the night out, because of course he’s asleep for most of that – it’s the day after when I just can’t be arsed going on a day trip or getting the monopoly out. Sometimes I force myself to do stuff half-heartedly and end up grumpy and shouty which makes my hangover headache even worse, and my kid has a shit day. Nobody wins. Sometimes I think, it’s best to lay off the drink or come home early so that I can be extra special Supermum the next day. Pay the debt. Restore the Mum/ Life balance. But that’s not right either is it? Is it?

I look back on my pre-kid life where it felt normal, actually humanly natural, to balance a big Saturday night out with a restful Sunday. If I’ve thrown some big shapes at the discotheque, my body should have as little movement as possible the next day, otherwise my head may literally fall off my delicate body. Mathematically that makes sense. But of course life is not two-sided scales – life is 3D. Balance is much more complicated. 

My delicate body does need that rest. My head might not actually fall off, but it won’t be at its best. So why make my kid spend time time with my broken head? Is it not better to rest up and THEN be Supermum later? Or even tomorrow?

And here’s my big revelation…. my boy doesn’t actually want to spend every minute of his weekend with me. If I offer him a morning playing board games together he’ll hesitate for a millisecond before saying ‘Erm, maybe later mum. Can I play on the Xbox first?’ 

I’m now seeing that Mother Guilt doesn’t exclusively visit parents. My boy also has an inner voice telling him that he SHOULD want to spend his every waking moment glued within his mother’s loving embrace. But honestly, 3 minutes is plenty. Perhaps longer if we’re snuggled together on the sofa watching a film. Otherwise, he has boy things to do. He wants to spend time with other people, he wants to spend time on his own. That’s OK. In fact that’s fucking brilliant. 

So here I am, with my feet up, writing, dossing, resting. And there he is, in a different room, happily playing without me. Later we might watch a film, snuggle up on the sofa, together but still resting. This week is half term, I’ll be back in full-on mothering mode, and I will Mother the shit out of him, as my best self, rested and all the better for a night out with adult friends. 

Mother Guilt ignored. Mum / Life Balanced restored. 

I’m a Tapas Mum

Since going to see the film ‘Bad Moms’ I’ve been thinking about which stereotype of the mums I most relate to. Stay at Home Mum; Working Mum; Single Mum; Yummy Mummy etc etc. I’ve decided none of them sound quite right for me. So how about a new one… The Tapas Mum.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve never ‘wanted it all’ as the phrase goes to describe those who want a perfect family, great career and to be a permanent Goddess in the bedroom and the kitchen. I’ve never quite believed in that!

I do like the idea of having just a taste of each though. A little bit of everything. Like choosing a few small Tapas plates, instead of a massive portion of one meal.

For example:

  • I don’t need to be a high-flying, top of my organisation, cracking-through-the-glass-ceiling, role model career woman.
    But I do want a job that I enjoy and that I feel I’m pretty good at. 
  • I don’t need to be perfectly turned out in full make-up and 4 inch heels whenever I leave the house.
    But I do want to feel good when I go out to nice places. 
  • I don’t need a perfectly presented show home and a manicured lawn.
    But I do like to be able to relax in the evenings without spearing my bum on a pile of toys or yogurt-smeared cushions.
  • I don’t expect to have weekly meet ups with my girls for cocktails, dinner and dancing.
    But I do enjoy the occasional chance to get together with a friend or two for a brew or a shit-load of wine. 
  • I don’t need a pre-planned date night and a massive bunch of flowers delivered on a whim.
    But I do appreciate the times we get to go out and be a couple in a kid-free / no judgement, adult environment. 
  • I don’t expect my kid to be an Olympic-level athlete, mastermind of science or musical prodigy.
    But I do want him to have nice manners, have enough confidence to have a go at stuff and laugh a lot. 
  • I am never EVER going to be Nigella Lawson, in cooking skills or body confidence.
    But I will occasionally make a nice family meal that tastes half decent and give my husband a snog by the sink. Sexy! 
  • I most certainly don’t bake delicious pastries for the school summer fayre.
    But I do show up, donate a load of supermarket-bought chocolate for the tombola, and happily hand over every coin in my purse for the lucky dip. I even buy and eat the cakes that other people have made (that’s really not a chore, I really love the school fayre!)

Being a Tapas Mum is pretty great. So what do you say… can we create a new stereotype?


(This post was also shared on SelfishMother.com)

Today I’m going to get it right

I’ve decided to make a big change – to have a ‘Positive Mindset’ as the books say. I will visualise ‘the me I want to be’. 

Hell, I can have it all, I can find that work / life balance, and I can be That Woman.

My new Balanced Woman Resolutions…

  1. I will work my designated hours, nothing more, and I will mentally switch off and stop thinking about work in the evenings and weekends 
  2. I will spend more time phoning or making plans to see my family and friends and less time making hilarious quips on Facebook to people I hardly know
  3. I will keep a tidy house, and I will complete DIY tasks the same week as I start them rather than a year later 
  4. I will eat only healthy food, be ‘drink aware’ and take up yoga, so I can show off my new body balancing skills as well as my happily balanced life skills. I will not quit after 3 classes. 
  5. I will go to a personal shopper in an expensive department store and ask them to find my true, inner style-goddess who has been hiding under ‘jeans and a top’ for the best part of a decade
  6. I will make myself presentable by actually washing/ styling my hair and putting make-up on before the school run instead of praying for rain so that I put my hood up and my head down and not scare anyone with my tangled, Medusa style mop
  7. I will be socially organised and remember significant dates for the people I love. I will even buy birthday cards and presents way in advance instead of running to Tesco two hours before a party to see which box of chocolates / kids toy looks least like it came from a supermarket
  8. AND I will recycle everything, actually use that compost bin, be a good neighbour, join the PTA and perhaps volunteer to organise a community event, and.. and… and spend quality time with our cats.

April fool!!

FUCK THAT unachievable dream. I’ll be the same unbalanced mess I always am, winging it everyday and enjoying the chaos. On the rare occasions I get any one of those things ‘right’ I will celebrate those moments as exactly that – a lovely moment. But a woman (or man) that’s perfect all the time is only found in Disney films.

Viva la Unbalanced Life!
(Ooh I really must learn to speak another language too)

April1.jpg

#UnbalancedLife #Worklifebalance #Aprilfool

Literally Unbalanced

Hypothetical question: Due to illness you are told that you need to do less and rest more, you can probably only manage 80% of what you did before the illness. Would you:

  • A. Cut down your work hours, and therefore your salary
  • B. Spend the weekend resting at the expense of family time
  • C. Make like an ostrich, stick your head in the sand and pretend you can still be Wonder Woman (until you collapse).

This is the question I’m currently battling with, and the reason I started writing as Unbalanced Woman. It’s become a sort of therapy – a way to get thoughts out of my head and make sense of them. A way to accept that I’m not Wonder Woman and stop (try to stop) feeling guilty about it.

(If you’re interested in what’s wrong with me you can read What’s wrong with the miserable bitch anyway? below – but I’m giving you the option to skip the moaning parts and get straight to the point)

Here’s the point… Illness or not, do lots of women battle with this conundrum? I know I did before I was poorly. I can name so many Wonder Women in my life who struggle to manage everything they want to do, think they have to do, feel they don’t have choices. Is this part of the female make up?

This is probably illustrating that I have so far been attempting Option C – refusing to admit that I am not Wonder Woman. Of course I covet her figure, her graceful running ability and her sparkly knickers. Who doesn’t? But Wonder Woman is also a Super Hero. She can sort out the world, do the right thing, make everything better, and of course with glossy hair and full make-up every minute of every day. She’s like a modern day Facebook thread. You’d never see her posting photos of her losing the battle with the bad guys because she’s got a phone in one hand, a child on her hip and wearing old, elasticated-waist pants because her lycra body suit is still in the wash.

Well this Wonder Woman is admitting defeat. I’ve tried. God I’ve really tried. But I’m knackered. I’m fucked. I’m crying. Is this the point where something has to give? But again…. what?

I still can’t shake the feeling that being poorly is an ‘excuse’. That I need to get over it. People talk about ‘invisible illness’ being so hard to explain to others, but actually it’s so hard to explain to myself. I have got into a habit of saying “Last year I got dizzy. I still get a bit tired some days” – soft, non-threatening words to gloss over a problem and move on.

My Neuro Physiotherapist (who knew they even exist?) is a wonderful lady with a heart of gold, a wicked sense of humour and some hard truths. Her tough love is just what I’ve needed. She says the only way I will face up to what’s really happening is if I start being honest about it. She has urged me to start to tell people that I’ve had, and I quote, “a horrendous brain dysfunction” and actually also makes me say “not had, but have” – present tense, because – and this is the hard bit – I’m not better. I’m significantly better than I was a year ago, but I’m not fully ‘recovered’. I might never be.

That shit is hard to say because it’s hard to accept. If I say it, it means I believe it. It means it’s true.

I’m trying it out, I’ve said it to a few people but it’s so dramatic and it turns into a longer, more invasive talk. Whilst I’m a confident person, this type of attention actually makes me squirm and I just want to go back to being a Wonder Woman impersonator, using my metalic wristbands to deflect any uncomfortable sympathy.

But again it makes me think… we all do it. All the time. A woman who feels like she should have cartoon-style match sticks holding her eye lids open will typically say “Yes, I’m fine. Just a bit tired. Anyway how are you, you look amazing!” and then order a triple shot coffee and anything with sugar in it.

Deflect. Cope. Crack on. (Crack up?)

Can I change? I think I have to. I’m told by everyone that my health comes first. Perhaps I need to listen. But why didn’t I listen before I became ill? Why don’t any of us?

I’m really trying to lift my head out of the sand. Perhaps I can do it bit by bit – be an ostrich but wearing sparkly knickers and shiny wristbands.

Now there’s a picture I like. Can someone draw that for me? I think that would help!

x

What’s wrong with the miserable bitch anyway?…..
I year ago I started feeling dizzy. Just for a few minutes here and there. I remember the first instance was in the shower and I had to hold the walls to finish getting washed. It was a really weird sensation.

As the days and weeks went on it happened more and more often so I went to the doctor. Assured that dizziness was almost always an ear infection or low blood pressure I continued putting up with it. But when I got worse and worse and it became clear that it was neither. A couple of MRI scans and visits to a Neuro Consultant, I was diagnosed with a ‘Vestibular Dysfunction’ which means that my brain had forgotten how to balance properly and had to work much harder to keep me upright.

It’s relatively new in terms of understanding it, which is why it’s hard to explain what’s wrong and when I need help. But I’ll try.

Where our brains normally scan our surroundings and ‘orientate’ to judge space and distance, my brain will respond to all movements by becoming disorientated – whether that is me moving, or things moving around me. So I could sit still, in an room where nothing else was moving and feel fine. But if I walk, go to a busy place or even watch ‘action’ on TV, my brain gets confused.

The same for ‘scanning’ with my eyes. So reading and shopping (looking around for things) can completely throw me. Even now.

In the past I have described my symptoms as like being permanently drunk. At my worst I would wake up feeling like I’d had about three glasses of wine – a bit floaty and not too confident in myself. I’d be able to walk, but not too quickly, and certainly not drive. As the day went on, it was like adding several shots of tequila – feeling like I should sit down and be looked after until someone could take me home and put me to bed. At worst, it’s like being in a washing machine or on the waltzers and even when lying down with my eyes shut, I can’t get off the ride.

Lots of people said that feeling permanently drunk must feel fantastic – cheap date etc, but it’s also like having a hangover at the same time. And sometimes I will look like I’ve been drinking – I’ll walk unsteadily, needing to hold on to things. I’ve heard of others becoming quite reclusive because they are scared to be in pubic in case they fall or people judge them for daytime drunken behaviour.

I considered wearing a T-shirt saying “I’m not a drunk, I’ve got a vestibular dysfunction”, but no one knows what that means anyway.

I’ve been very lucky to be referred to an expert Consultant and Neurological Physio who have helped me to retrain my brain, eyes and vestibular system to balance me again. I have great understanding of my triggers which means I can avoid certain activities and I know when I need to rest.

As I say, I’m not recovered, but I’m doing really well and I’m incredibly grateful for the progress I’ve made. I know there are many, many others who have not had the same support and have to cope with life on long term medication just to manage the nausea.

TV Voiceover… If you have been affected by any of the issues covered is this blog, you may find this website useful:
http://vestibular.org/understanding-vestibular-disorder

Confessions of an Unbalanced Woman

Today I experienced sheer horror, and it was my own doing. I heard myself saying to a friend, “Want to pop round for a quick coffee?” and as she said yes, I pictured my house. The state of it.

I knew, in that moment, that I would have to apologise. For dirty breakfast dishes that haven’t quite made it to the sink; for laundry decorating every radiator and for the bathroom. God forbid she would want to use the bathroom as it is left after my family use it in quick succession in the rush to school and work.

“Yes, that would be great.” she said, “But can you give me half an hour first? I just need to pop to the post office.” I wanted to kiss her.

The relief. I would have time to destroy all evidence of my disgusting normality. And instead greet her with my Fake Reality – the perfect level of tidy, that shows I’m naturally clean but not obsessive. It’s a fine art.

Do we all do this? Do we all have those little things that we can’t even reveal to our close friends? I think we might. So I’m sharing a few of my Fake Reality secrets…

1. My towels don’t match and co-ordinate with my bathroom tiles. Of course I have a set that do, and they are brought out fresh and smelling of Spring Meadow fabric softener when we have guests. But the rest of the time, it’s every man for himself. Grab any towel you can find that’s not been taken to the swimming baths, left on the shower floor or covered in toothpaste by a small child.

2. And that posh ESPA hand wash goes back in the cupboard when you leave, to be replaced by a normal Tesco one. Sorry.

3. I always have flowers on my table. That’s one of my things. But before they reach a vase or the table they will have spent around two days in a pint glass of water near the sink, still suffocating in their supermarket wrapper.

4. There are cupboards and drawers (within touching distance of any surprise guest) that are filled to bursting point, and I don’t know what with. Most probably items that were hastily hidden when someone else popped round, and then long forgotten. If I ever clean out a drawer I’m so pleased with myself that I expect someone to give me a certificate of excellence for my genuine (temporary) tidiness.

5. That storage box in the corner is propping a skirting board that came away from the wall about five months ago. Of course I should go to the garage, get out a hammer and panel pins from our great assortment of DIY nonsense. Of course I could fix it in about three minutes. But, well the box was there already… or in the same room at least. And you’d never know if I didn’t tell you…

Celebrate your imbalance

I have read so many articles about ‘Work / Life’ balance. They all show images of old fashioned cooking scales or a tightrope. It would be easy to think that the secret to a happy life is just a little two-sided equation – we can find the perfect balance and ‘have it all‘. If you’re pulled too far in one direction, take a little out of the left, add it to the right and you’ll be back on track. Easy.

But, I’ve kept feeling that there’s something missing… ‘Having it all’ seems more than two categories. I can’t capture everything that makes up ‘Life’ on one side of the scales, if the other side is filled with ‘Work’.

For me, a better image is hundreds of spinning plates and me running between trying to give each one enough attention. 

I have many friends who don’t ‘work’ (we’ll debate that definition another time), who still have uncountable plates threatening to crash to the floor at any time.

Even if I give a name to all the plates… children, husband, parents, exercise, house, friends and so on and so on, there are still so many subsets, it blows my mind.

So, for many years, I have tried to give all my plates suitable attention, petrified that it would be my fault if they smashed and were irreparable. God forbid anyone even sees any of them wobbling.

And there we have it. Guilt. Stigma. Fear of judgements.
  • What if I don’t spend enough quality time with my children?
  • What if I don’t have my hair highlighted and legs waxed?
  • What if I don’t provide a great, healthy Sunday dinner for the family?

But it’s exhausting. I’ve decided that ‘having it all’ is too much. I’m going to let some plates crash and not feel guilty. Well, I’m going to try.

So here I go. Letting my kid play on the Xbox, while I sit watching TV, with my grey roots showing and long trousers to cover my unsightly body hair, deciding that today Sunday dinner will be sandwiches.
Smashed it.