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3 Tips to Make Flexible Working, WORK.

Flexible working has increased exponentially in the last few years, particularly for working mums. On paper it sounds great. I myself am a grateful recipient of flexible working arrangements. From personal experience, however, numerous conversations with women in similar situations and research papers it seems there is something going unsaid that really needs to be addressed if we are to have true workplace equality.

A study which surveyed more than 2,000 working mothers found that almost 50% felt their chances of promotion had been negatively impacted by flexible working arrangements with 40% doing more tasks outside normal hours, such as responding to emails in the evening. Many felt they were subject to “token” flexible working arrangements where their hours were lowered, but the expected outputs were the same as when they were full-time.

For anyone that has recently taken up flexible working arrangements, I am sure you know the pitfalls already. The sense of eternal gratitude that leads to a constant state of guilt. The extra hours, tasks and worrying that goes unnoticed. The sideways glances, attitude and questioning of your work ethic. Everyone's experience is different of course, but overall, flexible working CAN if not managed properly, contribute to additional stress levels and have a negative mental health impact - the opposite of what it's designed to do.

Don't fall into the trap! This post isn't designed to put the world to rights. We know it's a longer term problem to tackle. But what about the short-term? What about your health and well-being right now? Flexible working is designed (in an ideal world) to make your work life balance... well... work! Controversial question, but are you sabotaging your own wellbeing by worrying more, feeling guilty and creating extra work for yourself?

Here are my 3 top tips to ensure that you are making the most of that workplace flexibility you worked so hard to earn:

  1. Stop feeling guilty. Let's start by acknowledging where this comes from. You're working differently to how you have in the past, it's probably different to your peers, direct reports and leadership so therefore you feel it's no longer equal, and you're getting special treatment. The knock-on effect of feeling indebted and guilty is enormous to your mental health, leaving you in a near constant state of anxiety. Check out my post here on the negative effects of emotions like guilt. So it's time to stop. Stop feeling guilty, stop feeling like you owe more than you're giving. If in doubt remember this - you earned it. No workplace or boss would give you ANYTHING you didn't deserve and if you weren't of high value. You are a valuable addition to the team, they have agreed to this new work-life-balance and it's BUSINESS. Accept it for what it is, don't beat yourself up over it.

  2. Stop working extra hours. If you are constantly working outside of your flexible working, is it flexible working or is it paying you less to do more? This seems like an obvious one, but I'd say it's a trap most of us fall into. If your workplace want you to do five days work in four days they should be paying you a five day salary. It's that simple. If you have taken a pay reduction to create a better balance for your family, do yourself a favour and clock off when you're supposed to clock off.

  3. Don't create problems that aren't there. I don't know about you, but I tend to overthink everything. I overthink and create imaginary issues before the've happened. While this can be a good survival skill in many ways, it's also hugely detrimental to our mental health if we let is control us. Worrying about things that you don't know are true or that haven't happened yet releases the hormone cortisol, which in turn leaves your body and mind in a perpetual state of emergency. Try to deal with issues if and when they occur. So next time you're worried about leaving before everyone else, assuming everyone is judging you... don't. If they are, that's on them, but the likelihood is, they aren't! Eventually if a real problem exists, it will present itself and you can deal with it then.

There are so many benefits and yet so many problems that surround workplace flexibility right now. It's relatively new in its ubiquity and as such, many companies and personnel are still navigating their way through it. The policies aren't enough - much needs to change to make it truly work for everyone's best interests. In the meantime, it's important you look after your mental health and make workplace flexibility work for you!


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