Friday, 6 March 2015

Flexible working - a follow up

Last week, I was lucky enough to have my thoughts on flexible working covered in an 'Industry View' piece for the Your Job supplement of the Press & Journal newspaper.

Grateful for the opportunity, I  attempted to write some meaningful words that would be relevant to the publication's readership within the prescribed word count.

In reality my 500 words only scratched the surface of what remains a contentious issue. Articles like this one here are shared and commented on worldwide.  Clearly, lots of us have strong feelings on the subject.

So what of my own deeper feelings?

As with the newspaper article, I prefer not to focus solely on flexible working in relation to women. Men are equally entitled to this choice - and the associated benefits. And if the focus has to be on those who have children, let's talk about parents instead of only mothers.

I'm not living in la-la land.  I acknowledge that it's the female of the family who is more likely to put her career on hold and "flex" to accommodate the arrival of children.  That said, studies reveal that if no stigma was attached, most men would welcome the opportunity to reduce their workload to allow more time for family or other external interests.  The excellent 'Half a Wife' by Gaby Hinsliff talks about this in more detail. It's well worth a read.

Government and organisational systems have a long way to go before they truly facilitate and support flexible working for both men and women.  But until those systems are in place, we as individuals must continue to strive to make our work, home and family lives fulfilling.  Perhaps even harder than system change, is the change in mindsets and attitudes that is required for both sexes to genuinely believe that they can achieve a work-life balance that is right for them.

I, for one, have faith in our ability as humans to facilitate this change.  Many parents demonstrate great resourcefulness and creativity in finding ways to enable their families to function. Stretching budgets, splitting roles, juggling to accommodate children's activities, living off a single income: These are all challenges that families are plunged into and cope with admirably.

Having children also frequently acts as a driver for new parents to consider paths they might never previously have trodden, such as starting new business ventures or remaining within the same line of work but on a different basis - perhaps as a contractor or freelancer.  Others still, with the right support from an employer, may remain with the same organisation but with a different remit or work pattern.  These need not be viewed as 'second best' choices but instead as meaningful - and perhaps better - alternatives.

Flexible working arrangements are not always easy to achieve, or to sustain.  Both our systems and our attitudes can be an impediment.  But I do believe that a fulfilling work life should not be at the expense of a fulfilling family life - or vice versa.  Individuals, families and organisations need to work together and strive to find solutions that allow all parties to flourish.  This might mean opening our minds to new ways of doing things and accepting the element of risk involved.

When it comes to working flexibly, we need to keep up the good fight: For ourselves, for our future - and for our families to follow.

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Thursday, 26 February 2015

Turning forty doesn't hurt...REALLY?!

"It doesn't hurt. Honest." So said a number of friends on the approach to my milestone birthday.  

I don't consider myself to be a particularly fragile person.  However three months into this business of being forty and guess what? It does hurt. A lot.

Let's get the vanity issues out of the way first, shall we? On the grey hair front, individual strands have morphed into wiry forests of full-blown white.  Fine lines have turned into crevices.  And don't even get me started on the injustice of having both wrinkles AND adult acne.  Surely one or the other is sufficient?

Maintenance costs
These are directly related to the unfortunate phenomena above.  Cleansing one's face with a baby wipe no longer cuts it as a beauty regime. Ditto to buying cheapo home hair dyes. The more mature lady requires a considerably larger budget in order to look semi-human. Enter my new obsession with the latest anti-wrinkle creams. And let's not dwell on my rocketing annual hair salon outlay.

The eye-watering expense doesn't end with beauty products though. The wardrobe needs to up its game too. Gone are the days when you can trip into New Look, select the first pair of £20 court shoes in the right colour and waltz out again.  Oh no. Forty-year old feet require quality footwear. And by quality I mean expensive. Likewise, the clothes shops of your teenage years with their teeny sizes (and teeny prices) are no longer your domain. Instead, you beat a path to the Hobbs sale because "their fit is so much more flattering."

In fairness, I was warned about this one. A super-fit forty-something friend told me that she has to "do more just to stay in the same place".  No kidding.  I've upped my own regime with no tangible improvement in - er - anything.  Then there's the aches, pains and creaking joints to deal with.  I crouched down to retrieve something in a meeting recently.  The crack from my knees almost caused an echo.  If I don't die of decrepitude, I may well die of embarrassment.

Online form filling
Always a tedious exercise, this has reached a new level of discomfort.  I've now joined a bracketed age group that extends to 55.  Then there's the scrolling backwards to find one's year of birth, which takes an eternity.

I do, however, always like to end on a high. With that, let's consider my new eligibility for the veteran's category in running events. It may seem depressing, however it also means that I'm no longer competing against lithe eighteen year olds.  

As one fellow forty said: "Let's enter everything this year, while we're still the youngest."

Amen to that.

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Thursday, 19 February 2015

Excuses of a homeworker (and what they really mean)

Having freelanced for around a decade now, I've shared a lot of stories with others whose roles also involve an element of homeworking.  

There's a unique quality that you need to become a successful homeworker. No-one really warns you about it though. It's nothing to do with organisational skills or self-discipline, however handy these may be.

It's the art of ad-libbing, thinking on your feet and trotting out smooth explanations without a trace of hesitation. Ones that make it sound as though you're operating from a purpose-built glass-walled office when the reality of your working environment is something entirely different...

Here are just a few examples. (They're not all mine. Promise.)

Sorry I missed your call. I had to step away from my desk for a minute.

Translation: I nipped downstairs to shove the third load of washing into the machine.

I'm away from my desk today with limited access to email.

Translation: I rashly volunteered to help out in my child's class today.  I will be furtively checking emails during break time.

I have someone with me right now. Can I call you back?

Translation: My bewildered-looking partner has just entered the room clutching a shopping list and in desperate need of further instruction.

Please excuse me. I'm just about to pop out to a meeting.

Translation: The meeting is with my own offspring who are about to exit the school in three minutes. 

I am on annual leave this week.

Translation: I have decided to swap the stress of dealing with you for the stress of dealing with my children full-time for the next seven days.


Once you've got this little lot down pat, you really can't go wrong. After all, the ability to think on one's feet is surely attractive to potential clients?

Addendum: If any of the fabulous people I work for ever actually read this, please know that I love doing what I do for you.  Despite the lack of glass-walled office.

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Friday, 13 February 2015

Five things you want to say to your tween daughter after an argument (but don't)

I thought about writing and posting this in the direct aftermath of our ugly row.

But I decided that wouldn't be fair.  It wouldn't make for particularly balanced reading either.

The dust has now settled and our differences are patched up, Yet I still find myself reflecting on what was possibly the first of many similar scenarios to follow over the adolescent years ahead.

So, while they remain imprinted in my mind, here are the things I wanted to say to my ten-year-old after our argument but didn't:

1. Even though others had warned me this stage was coming, I naively thought that it wouldn't happen to us. And I'm not handling it as well as I'd like to.

2. I was mad at the world at your age too - possibly even more so.  Despite this, I was terrified at the level of anger pouring out of you, directed at me.

3. That thing we were arguing over? It'll mean nothing in five years' time.  Chances are neither of us will even remember it.

4. You might be the one sobbing.  But I'm howling on the inside too.

5. We'll get past this argument. And many, many more. And I'll always love you.

Come to think of it, perhaps I should go ahead and say that last one?

One of my own favourite bloggers, Kristen Welch of We are THAT Family, describes parenting teenagers as a hard kind of beautiful.  Some days are more hard than beautiful.  But we get through the hard ones, in the hope that beautiful ones will follow. The key word here is 'hope'.

How do you cope with the challenges of parenting a tween? Leave a comment and let me know.

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Thursday, 29 January 2015

Climbing out of the comfort zone

This week someone I know and respect gently accused me of backing down from a project because they suspected I felt 'out of my comfort zone'.

I seized on the phrase like a drowning person would cling to a raft: "You're exactly right, I am out of my comfort zone!" Then I waited to be let off the hook.

That's where things took an interesting turn.  They had no intention of letting me off the hook. Quite the contrary.  At the end of our 'phone call, I was still very much on that particular hook.

Even more surprising is this: I'm not ecstatic about it but I'm OK.  This is NOT my average response to doing things I'm less than 100 per cent sure of.

What gives? Well, on turning forty I made myself a promise.  My new catchphrase would be - cringes inwardly - 'Forty and fearless!'. I'm only three months in but so far I've stuck to my guns.

So how does a cowardly control freak like me climb out of her comfort zone? The as-yet-unpatented three-step plan goes as follows:

Research  Spot the marketing girl (again).  It might be new to you but chances are that someone, somewhere has done it before you.  And they'll have generously shared their experience online. Get googling and get to grips with your challenge. The more you discover, the better prepared you'll be.

Supporters Your supporters don't need to have particular knowledge of what you're trying to do. They just need to be people who believe in you.  And who'll help you to believe in yourself. Surround yourself with them.

Worst case scenario  Better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all? I still have issues with this one, to be honest.  I've a real fear of failure.  But I do force myself to think through the repercussions of not achieving my goal.  Letting your mind go there is painful but liberating.

Of course the flip side of the worst case scenario is thinking through how good you'll feel if you achieve what you've set out to do...

Regardless of your plans for 2015 - fitness challenges, career goals, lifestyle changes - I wish you the very best of luck. Let's all enjoy the view from beyond our personal comfort zones.

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Thursday, 22 January 2015

A life lesson learned

Life was chuntering along at Average Towers. Then all of a sudden it decided to play a little game with me.

Just as my workload began to gather pace in January, my 'average' technology proved it wasn't even worthy of that adjective.

First it was the printer. Which decided to only print when it felt like it.  Not ideal when my work demands thorough proof-reading.  

Next up was the laptop. Its operating system had a nervous breakdown. This necessitated an emergency shopping trip to Argos for a new version.  Several weary hours installing Windows 8.1 added to the thrill.

I was back up and running until a storm blew in. No prizes for guessing what that did to my broadband connection.

And there you have it.  A fortnight into January and I was already behind with my workload. Naturally I did not keep this state of affairs to myself.  Oh no.  I moaned about it to anyone who would listen until I was back online. Then I moaned about it on social media too. 

It didn't end there however. As we approached the coldest weekend of the year, the heating at Average Towers decided to pack in. Best not tell you what I thought about that.

Just over 24 hours later, normal temperatures (and tempers) were resumed. Since then, I've taken stock of the events of the past fortnight.  It's part of our culture to expect certain things to work.  How we deal with it when they don't is quite revealing.

I'm not particularly proud of my surly humour and petulant attitude.  Once Average Towers was cosy and comfortable again, I was forced to acknowledge that there are many people who can't afford to heat their own homes.  And my technical issues and project deadlines? Hardly a matter of life and death compared to the work of our emergency services, aid workers and the like.

Which brings me back to appreciating how much I actually do have.  It's so easy to get caught up with small gripes. And to take many, many luxuries for granted.  Me? I think I need to reacquaint myself with gratitude lists.  And keep thanking the printer when it performs on demand...

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Thursday, 8 January 2015

Blogging resolutions for 2015

Better late than never, I hear you say.

What with it being a brand new year and all that jazz, I felt it was time I pulled my blogger's socks up.

With just a little bit of effort, I think this wee blog could be sooooo much better. Here's what I propose to do about it...

1. Get on with writing my own posts instead of wistfully re-reading Mumsnet's 'blog of the day' and despairing of ever writing anything half as good.

2. Write less of the long rambling posts. And more of the short, easy-to-read ones. Promise.

3. Finally get round to uploading a photo (preferably soft focus) on the 'About Me' page.

4. Upload same soft focus photo of choice to BritMums, thus avoiding having the same standard cartoon head as several hundred other members.

5. Swallow my pride and ask my lovely neighbour and fellow blogger at Storm In A (Vintage) Teacup to explain to me how Google + actually works (blushes furiously).

6. Implement some of the great blogging and SEO advice that the talented Tarana at SandInMyToes regularly dispenses.

7. Pluck up the courage to join a few more link-ups.

8. Perhaps most importantly...Reply more promptly to the lovely comments that some of you are kind enough to leave.

Happy 2015 folks.  Did I mention that I don't really 'do' New Year's resolutions?

Do you believe in New Year's resolutions? Leave a comment and let me know.

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