The first week of September marks the start of the new school term. While for parents of older children this means a frantic rush of sorting out uniforms, arguing over shoes and finding last year’s pencil cases, for parents of children starting school for the first time it is a period of trepidation and excitement.
For working parents it also involves trying to juggle school start and finish times and other school-related activities with the demands of their jobs – and their bosses.
I was lucky. As well as being married to a teacher, which made half-terms and school holidays much easier, I had a boss who believed it was important for parents to be there when their children needed them. While my husband was usually responsible for picking up the children after school, this meant I could drop them off in the mornings – very important for maintaining relationships with their teachers and other parents. It also meant I could attend parents meetings, school plays and sports days as well as being able to look after them if they were ill without having to beg for time off.
Sadly I know that not all parents are this fortunate.
For any bosses or managers rolling their eyes at this flexibility, I would say that in return for this approach I was always happy to go over and above my normal working day when needed – whether that meant coming in earlier or staying later, or altering my hours to deal with a crisis.
When I became a manager I adopted this flexible approach with my team. My first day speech to new staff always included a section of the importance of work/life balance (people who know me well will be laughing at this point as I very rarely took my own advice!). But that was my choice and I wanted to make sure that the whole team knew I would support them if they needed flexibility to look after their family.
If this meant coming into the office later so they could drop their children off at school, or leaving the office earlier so they could pick them up and then work from home to make up their hours, that was fine with me. I also knew the difficulties of finding someone to look after a sick child at short notice (the downside of being married to a teacher meant it was harder for them to take time off during term time – the lack of a press officer at a council meeting was much less of a issue than a missing teacher at the front of a classroom).
Of course there were some times when it was just not possible for someone to leave early or stay at home at short notice but these were few and far between and the team knew that in normal circumstances I would always try and be flexible. I managed a team for more than 10 years and never once did the job fail to get done.
I feel strongly that this flexible approach should be the norm with all organisations but unfortunately this is not the case – even with those which call themselves ‘family friendly’. All too often a company or organisation claims they have such policies in place, but then an individual manager decides it will not work in their area. It may sound naïve but I believe that it will work in any area – you just need to trust your staff.