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‘I felt shattered, my job was my world’ - working mums on the struggle to retain their careers

PUBLISHED: 07:36 23 September 2018 | UPDATED: 10:25 23 September 2018

A stock image of a businesswoman speaking to young people Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

A stock image of a businesswoman speaking to young people Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

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Suffolk mums have been forced to quit their jobs and have been left feeling “worthless” as employers have not allowed them flexible working after having a baby, it has been revealed.

"I felt upset and couldn’t believe that I had been led up the garden path and such old-fashioned views were still so prominent"

Suffolk HR officer and mum

It can take years to build a successful career, but mums have told this newspaper how they had to leave good jobs behind as bosses would not accommodate their requests to work more flexibly.

New research published this week by flexible working experts Timewise found part-time workers’ progression is too often limited, with 68% of those surveyed feeling so grateful to be allowed to work reduced hours that they accept career compromises - something many mums here in Suffolk can relate to.

“I felt upset and couldn’t believe that I had been led up the garden path”

A Suffolk nurse, who has two young children, said she “felt shattered” when, after having agreed with her line manager a flexible working pattern for childcare reasons, she was then later told by the organisation she had to “downgrade or leave”.

Portrait of woman in a busy modern workplace. Stock photo Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTOPortrait of woman in a busy modern workplace. Stock photo Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

She said: “Not working was not an option for me and, after a fight to save my job, I was left with no choice but to downgrade and return to work.

“The job I had worked so hard for had gone and the emotions of being a new mum quickly took over.

“The remainder of my maternity leave was tainted and I felt low and worthless.”

Another mum, a HR officer who also asked not to be named, said she was forced to take a £10,000 a year, full time equivalent, pay cut to be able to achieve a work-life balance.

Melissa Chalmers, from Bury St Edmunds, pictured with her son Freddie. She has manaaged to return to work on a part-time basis fitting in with her family Picture: MARIAM GHAEMIMelissa Chalmers, from Bury St Edmunds, pictured with her son Freddie. She has manaaged to return to work on a part-time basis fitting in with her family Picture: MARIAM GHAEMI

In a similar scenario, she had also been led to believe she could return on a flexible working pattern, to then be told she had to go back full time.

“I felt upset and couldn’t believe that I had been led up the garden path and such old-fashioned views were still so prominent,” she said.

While happy in her new part-time job, she said she still looks back with sadness when she considers “in the 21st century a woman who chooses to have a family can lose her career so quickly all because of an employer having no flexibility in their approach to their workforce”.

Of course, there are also cases of women achieving a work-life balance through their existing employer, such as Melissa Chalmers, a teacher in Bury St Edmunds.

"I felt shattered, my job was my world. I was unable to negotiate anything that would work for us as a family and told in that meeting that my only options were to downgrade or leave"

Suffolk nurse, mother-of-two

She said: “My employer was very accommodating allowing me to pretty much choose the days that I would like to work, which made childcare easier.”

The Timewise survey findings

Timewise’s research, which was based on 1,700 part-time workers, found:

What is flexible working?

• Flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s needs

• All employees have the legal right to request flexible working - not just parents and carers

• Employees must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks to be eligible

• Employers must deal with requests in a ‘reasonable manner’

• If an employer doesn’t handle a request in a reasonable manner, the employee can take them to an employment tribunal

•An employer can refuse an application if they have a good business reason for doing so

Source: The Government

Two thirds (65 per cent) feel less connected to their own teams because social events are harder to make

More than half (59 per cent) feel they have fallen behind full-time colleagues in terms of skills and knowledge

Nearly two thirds (61 per cent) feel less up-to-date with team developments

•Nearly 7 in 10 (68 per cent) feel so grateful to be allowed to work part-time that they accept career compromises

•More than half (59 per cent) miss out on networking opportunities because they conflict with their own working patterns

Timewise’s founder Karen Mattison MBE calls this type of flexible working another type of discrimination: “flexism”.

She said: “The workforce has changed but the workplace has not caught up.

“Much of working culture is still rooted in the five-day 1950s model, with a lack of flexibility around when meetings, training and networking take place – leaving part-time workers isolated.

“With as few as six per cent of people thought to work a traditional ‘9-5’, we have a strong mandate for change.

“Part-time and flexible aren’t the future of work. They are the now.”

Fiona Cannon OBE, group responsible business and inclusion director at Lloyds Banking Group, said: “At Lloyds Banking Group, we recognise that today’s business environment is changing dramatically, driven by changing consumer expectations, technological advancement, rapid globalisation and new societal values.

“New models of work are required to respond to this changing environment.”

The case studies in full:

A Suffolk mum and HR officer, who asked us not to include her name, felt forced to leave her job after having her baby

She said: “I worked full time as an HR officer at a school. I was over the moon to find out I was pregnant and happy for my employer to tell me that it was likely that I could return after my maternity leave on reduced hours of between two or three days.

“This was great to hear as I wanted to return to work, but I always had the intention of spending as much time as I could with my new family.

“I never imagined there would be any problem with my return after having these conversations. But I was wrong.

“After being away from work for about 12 months I returned to have a meeting with my managers only to be told that they would only allow me to return on my original full-time hours as they required consistency for the position.

“This was really upsetting. I told them that I couldn’t return full-time as I wanted to be with my new baby and could a job share be considered.

“This was rejected and so I was unable to return. I felt upset and couldn’t believe that I had been led up the garden path and such old-fashioned views were still so prominent.

“After four months of being without a job I applied for a job which paid £10,000 fte (full time equivalent) less than what I was paid before but for two days a week.

“I was successful and am pleased to now be working with a lovely team of people in a job with no stress and a better work-life balance. “However I still look back with sadness when I consider that in the 21st century a woman who chooses to have a family can lose her career so quickly all because of an employer having no flexibility in their approach to their workforce.”

Mum-of-one Melissa Chalmers, a teacher from Bury St Edmunds, has felt supported by her employer to achieve a work-life balance

Mrs Chalmers, 35, who works at Westley Middle School in Bury St Edmunds, said: “I was full-time until the birth of my son Freddie, now age two and a half.

“When Freddie arrived into our lives we had to make the decision about my employment. We decided that after my maternity leave I would go back to work on a part time basis, working two days a week.

“My employer was very accommodating allowing me to pretty much choose the days that I would like to work, which made childcare easier.

“Even though I only work part-time my employer has been very helpful by allowing a flexible working environment, allowing me time off for important commitments.

“If I wish to undertake any form of training they would fully support me in that. In the future if I wanted to increase my hours I would have the opportunity to do so.”

A Suffolk nurse and mother-of-two, who asked us not to include her name, had to compromise her career to fit in with childcare

She said: “I was working as a sister grade nurse when I embarked on maternity leave with my first baby,

“My manager was thrilled for me and looked forward to my return. Unfortunately we were only financially in a position for me to have six months off work so when my little boy was three months old I began the process of negotiating my return to work.

“My manager and I exchanged a few emails where I shared what I felt was achievable for me. This included working every weekend but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make if it meant my six-month-old baby didn’t need to go into a nursery to be looked after.

“My manager agreed what I wanted would work and I thought ‘great, I can still maintain my career and be a mum’.

“A few weeks later I received an email from a more senior manager to inform me that due to my grade I needed to negotiate my return at a higher level and not with my line manager.

“As requested I attended a meeting to discuss negotiations only to be informed my initial requests were not an option as due to my grade my presence was required to be more flexible.

“I felt shattered, my job was my world. I was unable to negotiate anything that would work for us as a family and told in that meeting that my only options were to downgrade or leave.

“Not working was not an option for me and after a fight to save my job I was left with no choice but to downgrade and return to work.

“The job I had worked so hard for had gone and the emotions of being a new mum quickly took over.

“The remainder of my maternity leave was tainted and I felt low and worthless.

“On my return it quickly got the better of me and I searched for a new role. I was very fortunate to find a fantastic team who allowed me to work shifts that fit in with my family. I love the role and feel completely valued at work.”

•What are your stories of returning to work after having a baby? Let us know by emailing mariam.ghaemi@archant.co.uk

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