Thursday, 11 November 2010

Catch 22

This post has been brewing within me for a while, but what really prompted me to write was The Writing Workshop on Sleep is For the Weak. I've never yet taken up the challenge of writing to one of Josie's prompts but as I'd been thinking about this for a while, I felt I was ready to have a go this time. I'm worried it might turn into a bit of a rant but I won't know until I try.

I've been looking for a job. A part time one. Apparently, that automatically means I only want a particular type of job. I'd like, if possible, to work from home, as that would give me the greatest flexibility in terms of working hours and anyway, I have pretty much all the right equipment to do so. Apparently, that means that I want to work for a pittance, not get paid for several weeks after the work has been done, have little status or opportunity to network with peers.

That's a fairly cynical view, but honestly - where ARE the proper family-friendly jobs for working parents - you know, the ones that challenge the mind, that stretch the employee and allow them to contribute to the common cause, with decent pay and prospects? It does seem that those that have that sort of job are the ones that were already working for their employer before the arrangement was put in place. They are largely those who have had the law on their side, who have used the legislation on flexible working to negotiate an acceptable arrangement for all.

Even then, that's not easy to do. I was full-time in a job before having Monkey, returned temporarily part-time when pregnant with Missy Woo but when I applied to return part time after maternity leave, I was turned down, despite there being insufficient work for me to keep me occupied for 37 hours a week. I had to take them to a grievance in order to get them to agree to any form of part time working and that was on the basis that they would turn it into a jobshare. The second person to share my job was never actually recruited and I never had too much work! The stress I went through dealing with the grievance was unimaginable  - I can see why some people just won't fight if they get turned down. But at least, the law was on my side.

But I don't work for them any more. If I talk to recruitment agencies, you can hear the incredulity in their voices when I say I want to work part time, preferably from home, like I have just asked for a solid gold laptop and an expense account to rival those enjoyed by MPs until recently.

Is it so bad to want to do something approaching the skillset and brainpower required in my last job as a part time job? After all, you'd think employers would perhaps look at their profit and loss account in the current economic climate and be happy to take on someone skilled and experienced for part of the working week - or even have two people sharing a full-time job. After all, each employee has their own experiences and ideas to contribute, and the more the merrier. If you have 100 staff filling 80 jobs, you have 100 lots of ideas for the cost of 80 people! Surely, that's good financial management. And if some of them work from home, you need less office space, which means further cost savings. Yes, working from home does give you control issues - but I worked 200 miles from my boss for 8 years and probably had the same amount of supervision as a homeworker.

I accept that working in IT does require an element of anti-social working - certain tasks have to be done out of hours to avoid disruption. I accept that customers expect a service in office hours. What I can't accept is that there is no way of making jobs family friendly and flexible for those that want it. I'm sure they'd say the demand is not there for it. But I went to an interview in June for a part time IT role working 20 hours per week. The shortlist was extensive and varied - I saw two other interviewees; both were male, one was young, the other probably close to retirement and they interviewed all day. Now, possibly these people applied for this job because they felt that any job is better than none and needed a job but I don't believe for a minute that employees don't want jobs that offer flexible work.

It seems that I am in a Catch 22. If I want a job I want to do, I need to get full-time work and forget being a parent, something I don't want to do. If I want a flexible job, be that at home or elsewhere - and a job that gives me employee status and regular pay - then the options are limited, the work far less challenging, verging on boring. Something I also don't want to do.

What do you think? Do you work flexibly? If so, what do you do and how did you get the job? Did you apply for that job, or did you negotiate the flexible working with your existing employer? Should there be more jobs that allow flexible working? How can we change attitudes to part-time working and stop seeing part time workers as second class citizens?
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